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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Mooney

Notes from a Clamshell Path | No. 6

I had every intention of posting this before we went on our winter sojourn to Jamaica last week. No matter how much I plan, or how early I start, there is always one-more-thing-to-do-before-we-go. This time around, it involved an awful lot of overpacking. Lots on my mind lately ...

Thinking About:

  • American Tourists. Right before we leave on our trips, I check the resort reviews on an hourly basis. Mostly I'm looking for confirmation that I'll have fresh papaya every day and for tips on where the quiet spaces are, but this time I found something incredibly bothersome. One person took the time to complain about the "homeless man" outside the wall of our resort. He even provided photos. On a separate site, another visitor mentioned the same "homeless person", sharing his name, the fact that he owned the land next door, that his family lives there, that he sells wooden carvings by the beach, and likes chicken patties. He even went so far as to encourage people to "show him some love." Guess which one is American? 

  • The Human Genome Project. Have you ever wondered how the seemingly unrelated pieces of your life fit together? I spent a few years working at a biomedical research institute when they were working on the Human Genome Project, including that breathtaking sprint to complete the rough draft so it could be part of the public domain. Anyway, it came up several times recently. The first was when Eugene mentioned it on The Walking Dead. The second was on the cancer episode of CBS Sunday Morning. And the third was much more personal, as I received genetic counseling and considered genetic testing, which would never have been possible had that project not been completed. It is amazing how far we have come in such a short time and I worry that this administration is going to do irreparable damage to our science community and our collective health.

Thankful For:

  • Modern medicine. I had eight medical appointments in February. Most of them were routine. One was scary. And I was able to see some of my insides, including all the bones and nerves in my head. All I can say is my orthodontist is a rock star because my teeth are neatly lined up in a orderly row. Also, part of my neck looks weird, which wasn't at all what we were looking at. But I am now obsessed with it. I have at least five more appointments this month and next. Depending on the results of one, there may be more. And, at least once a day, I say: "why don't they tell you these things about getting older?" I'm doing everything now because who knows what health insurance will cover next year. Make those appointments you've been putting off, friends! You never know.


  • Bold Questions from The Atlantic. These animated three-minute videos feature some wonderful people  -- like Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- talking about "the power of curiosity." My favorite is Chimamanda Adichie discussing "What Americans Get Wrong About Africa." 

  • Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis. I'm always curious how people manage to survive the aftermath of tragedy. The lead singer of Eagles of Death Metal is best friends with the lead singer of Queens of the Stone Age (which I only know because Tony Bourdain had them on one of his shows.) This movie is as much about that incredible friendship as it is about what happened at the Bataclan in Paris that night. 

  • Time: The Kalief Browder Story. Truth: I watch this because Jay-Z produced it. Anything he takes the time to do is worth investing in. Kalief spent 3 years in Rikers Island, much of it in solitary confinement, without a TRIAL. And he was 16 years old. Everything about that is horrifyingly wrong. 

  • Kiki. Gosh, where do I start? This is an amazing documentary about LGBTQ youth who find their strength and home in the African American ball culture. Most of the featured people are trans. Their backstories will break your heart and their sparkly costumes and death drops will dazzle you. 


  • Disco ball purse. No idea why it took me so long to do this! I was playing around with my clutches for our resort trip -- adding a tassel or two here and a sparkly brooch there. It never occurred to me until now to attach one of my gazillion disco balls to one!


  • The Piglet 2017. I don't cook. I don't even read cookbooks. But I love following this bracketed cookbook showdown every year.

  • "Why Humans Love Crispy Things."  It's evolutionary! All week in Jamaica, I kept saying I needed something crispy because, with the exception of the skin on the jerk chicken, nothing was crunchy. It also explains why I add toasted panko crumbs to EVERYTHING I eat. 


  • Songs from Zion from Kristine Alicia and Rorystonelove. After discovering this beautiful compilation of songs, I saw a short interview with Kristine Alicia who shared that "Zion" to her is peace. These songs are technically gospel reggae -- a lot of reggae songs are since "Jah," the Rastafarian name for God, is a frequent subject. I especially love her song "Key Lock," which is somehow simultaneously uplifting and melancholy. Also check out her video for "Freedom Fighters." It was filmed in 2015, but is so relevant to what is going on today.

  • George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo on Audible. I recently finished his freaky short story collection, Tenth of December, just in time for his first novel and epic 166-person audiobook. Featuring people like David Sedaris, Julianne Moore, Megan Mullally, Jeffrey Tambor, and Ben Stiller, part of the fun is figuring out who is who. 

  • Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi "The Four Seasons." You will recognize part of this from the theme song for Chef's Table. You may remember that I have a fear of flying issue that I've battled with over the years. One of the things that helps is classical music (and TV theme songs like Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, and Westworld.) I don't listen to it at any other time in my life but it engages the areas of my brain enough to distract it from any fear triggers. I'm sure there is some science to it!

Eating + Drinking:

  • Throat Coat Herbal Tea. I developed a yucky hacking cough before vacation. In addition to some grape-flavored children's Dimetapp, this stuff really helped calm down the coughing. It's made with slippery elm (be sure to check the interwebs for any interactions it may have with other things you take.) 


  • Interesting fact: did you know that crossing your arms in front of your chest confuses your nervous system and can relieve pain?? With chronic pain, it was pretty easy to test this out. It actually works for low pain days. Adding this to my little box of tools.


  • Heating my pillow with a heating pad. I sleep with a heating pad draped over my right side every night. Somewhere along the way I discovered if I turn it on and let it warm up on my pillow while I get ready for bed, it creates a nice toasty place to fall asleep.


  • CT as a dad. First, I am admitting that I am watching The Challenge, even though I said I wouldn't. But, come on! CT has a baby now! I have to watch that. Really, for all the terrible things this show represents, we at least have the positive evolution of CT from hotheaded Masshole who beat up everyone on every show to a mature-ish and responsible father. Contrast that with Bananas who started out as a d-bag and turned into an even bigger d-bag. No growth there.

  • Sphynx 3-in-1 Anywhere Razor. This is the ultimate travel razor. It's ROUND and when you turn the dial you find a small spray bottle for water. Turn it again and you get soap. The last two turns each have a razor attached to them. Brilliant, right?


  • Carrying my phone around in the house. Do you do this? It's totally nuts, right? I'm trying to leave my phone in just one room so I'm not constantly checking it. Also, I lose track of it at least once a day. 


  • Brushing Stephen's teeth. Stephen's vet has been on me to brush his teeth. Have you ever tried to brush your dog's teeth? Yeah. I started by feeding him his $25 toothpaste as a treat for a few weeks and then stuck my fingers in his mouth any time I could so he'd get used to it. We're now at a happy medium where he lets me do it but he's not super-psyched about it. For more information about why it is so important to my Boo Boo's health, read this article.

  • Power Hour. I recently read about a technique to get stuff done, which is something that has challenged me now that I have all the time in the world to do things. It's a simple premise where you set aside one hour and crank out as much as you can. Simple, right?

Planning + Organizing:

  • Next year's winter trip. We booked next year's trip already! We're going back to our favorite resort, our true love, Couples Negril. We've been there four times already but we haven't been there since 2014. 

  • Preparation for Mercury going retrograde on April 9. Ever since the year I flew to Palm Springs on the first day Mercury was in retrograde and the whole airline system went down, stranding me in SFO for 8 hours, I plan my life around this. Call me Woo Woo, I do not care. But if you are truly interested, start with this really helpful article, "What to Do BEFORE Mercury Retrograde."


  • Speaking of the whole system going down, why aren't we all in the motherfucking streets??!!???

  • Critical Reading/Listening. "Is Donald Trump an Untreated Al-Anon?" One of my favorite pastimes is analyzing people and this one, my friends, this one is GOOD. "5 Ways Not to Bite the Trump Hook." First way: "Rather than scanning the environment for confirmation or denial of your worst fears, scan it for someone who could use a kind word or glance." "How to Argue." Definitely listen to both episodes! In the first one, he shares the story of how he, a black man, befriended a Grand Dragon in the KKK. And the second one covers the techniques he's learned to talk to people who are bat-shit crazy, I mean, have different beliefs. I plan to watch the documentary about him, Accidental Courtesy, on Netflix soon. "How an Immigration Ban Would Affect the Spice Trade." The things we take for granted. And, as I scream at least a few times a day now, "Trump RUINS EVERYTHING!!"

  • Action. Sign up for the NiemanLab newsletter. For interesting news about news. From Harvard. Eat at a Sanctuary Restaurant. These places are actively resisting 45's deportation threats and advocating for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. They also promote a completely welcoming environment to everyone who eats and works in their restaurants.

Because so much is happening in the world and my brain is in overdrive, the next edition of this newsletter will be up soon. Thanks for following along!

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