Maddie worked as a travel guide in Argentina and a teacher at several educational nonprofits in San Francisco before joining Mother Jones. She’s also written for Outside, the Bay Citizen, and the Rumpus. She manages Mother Jones' Ben Bagdikian Fellowship Program.
For an end-of-year playlist, I was tempted to focus on the glittering dance tracks, hip hop ballads, and crashing rock numbers that propelled 2014's late-night bar crawls and caffeinated road-trips. Much of the past year's standout music packed momentum and pizzazz; new songs by TV on the Radio, Spoon, Taylor Swift, Run the Jewels, the Black Keys, and St. Vincent come to mind.
But for when you're at home during the grayest and shortest days of the year, none of that will do. Here's a playlist for afternoons spent hibernating in sweatpants and flipping through photo albums while the snow piles up outside. The best introverted music of 2014. Songs that pair well with nostalgia, daydreaming, the settling feeling of having nowhere to go but the kitchen for more tea. In the words of Axl Rose (as quoted on featured band Luluc's website): "Said woman, take it slow and things will be just fine."
You can also listen to the playlist nonstop via Spotify (embedded at the bottom).
1. The Barr Brothers, "Love Ain't Enough"
This playful and eclectic Montreal-based group experiments with obscure instruments like the African ngoni, dabbles in Delta-inspired blues, and knows how to really bang it out during live shows. But this tender track, with Sarah Page's hypnotic harp and front man Brad Barr's ragged voice laid out bare, is a clear standout on the band's new album Sleeping Operator.
2. Brandi Carlile, "The Eye"
This song is steeped in regret and remembrance, and it rings with simple and assured harmonies. Singer-songwriter Carlile's forthcoming album The Firewatcher's Daughter is set to land March 3, 2015. "Vulnerability is all over this record," she told NPR, and maybe nowhere more than in "The Eye."
3. Luluc, "Small Window"
Australian duo Luluc has opened for the likes of Lucinda Williams and Fleet Foxes. In this gentle tune, singer Zöe Randell murmurs of dreamy reflections from an airplane seat. The echoey blend of her voice with partner Steve Hassett's will make you want to float away.
4. Marissa Nadler, "Drive"
Nadler released a burst of new music in 2014: An album July, and then Before July, an EP full of unreleased songs including a fresh take on Elliott Smith's "Pitseleh." Like much of her music, something about "Drive" feels haunted—Nadler's delicate voice and the track's minor chords swirl together and summon dark woods and lonely highways.
5. James Bay, "Let it Go"
Breakout crooner James Bay perfectly evokes the torturous process of untangling from a lover. This song helped make the soulful Bay a Brit Awards Critic Choice Winner of 2015, and all before releasing his full-length debut, Chaos and the Calm, due out in March.
6. The Staves, "In the Long Run"
Combine the sounds of folksy trio Mountain Man and the ever deep Laura Marling and you get The Staves, a perfect answer to midwinter melancholy. Their angelic voices, flawless picking, and thoughtful harmonies make me want to listen to this bittersweet song on repeat.
7. Sharon Van Etten, "Our Love"
Moody yet transcendent, "Our Love" showcases Van Etten's vocal control. Paired with this steamy video, the tune is the ideal backdrop for an afternoon make-out session.
8. alt-J, "Warm Foothills"
One of the songs off of alt-J's latest album, This Is All Yours, samples Miley Cyrus, but I prefer the velvety female vocals of Lianne La Havas and Marika Hackman on "Warm Foothills," a song braided together with glimmering guitar, silky violins, and hopeful whistling. The lyrics are full of playful poetry: "Blue dragonfly darts, to and fro, I tie my life to your balloon and let it go."
9. José González, "Every Age"
"Some things change, some remain, some will pass us unnoticed by," González chants in this pulsing paean to life's journey, the first single off of his forthcoming album. "Every Age" is a "beautifully spare, existential meditation," writes music critic Robin Hilton.
Not so fast. It turns out New Year's Day is the deadliest day to hoof it home, according to a 2005 study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that looked at every pedestrian death from traffic collisions between 1986 and 2002. Nearly half of the fatal accidents that occurred on a January 1 took place between midnight and 6 a.m. And on an even more sobering note, 58 percent of pedestrians who died that day were legally drunk, according to their blood alcohol levels at time of death.
But maybe people have gotten way better at ambulating under the influence since 2002? I asked the IIHS to crunch the most recent data available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Turns out, not much has changed. Between 2008 and 2012, more pedestrians died in traffic crashes on New Year's Day (and Halloween) than on other days of the year. IIHS also found that 59 percent of pedestrians killed on New Year's Day were drunk, compared to 34 percent of pedestrians in fatal crashes every other day of the year.
There's no mystery here: Drunk walkers are much more likely to engage in risky behavior like crossing against a sign, jaywalking, or lying down in the roadway, says Dan Gelinne, a researcher at University of North Carolina's Highway Safety Research Center. "Intoxicated pedestrians frequently cannot fulfill the perceptual, cognitive, and physical skills required to cross safely in the complex traffic patterns seen in most urban cities," wrote New York University School of Medicine researchers in a 2012 review paper in the journal Trauma.
Of course, NYE teetotalers still have drunk drivers to contend with. In nearly half of the traffic crashes that killed pedestrians in 2012, the driver or the walker (or both) had consumed alcohol, according to the NHTSA. But get this: Pedestrians in these crashes were more than twice as likely as drivers to have had a blood alcohol level greater or equal to 0.08 grams/deciliter, or above the legal driving limit—34 percent of walkers versus 14 percent of the drivers.
"Watching a sporting event on TV, you're bound to see at least one ad reminding people not to drive after drinking," says Gelinne. "The risks associated with drinking and walking aren't as clear to the average person." Freakonomics author Steven Levitt compared the risks of drunk driving versus drunk walking in his 2011 book SuperFreakonomics. "You find that on a per-mile basis," he writes, "a drunk walker is eight times more likely to get killed than a drunk driver."
If you're lucky enough to survive the impact, healing from wounds becomes trickier when you have booze in your system. "Alcohol impairs the ability to fight infections, repair wounds, and recover from injuries," says Elizabeth Kovacs, the Director of the Alcohol Research Program at Loyola University's Stritch School of Medicine. Alcohol impairs the white blood cells responsible for clearing out debris and "eating garbage" on skin wounds, she says.
"Alcohol impairs the ability to fight infections, repair wounds, and recover from injuries."
If you do miss the last train home and walking becomes unavoidable, try to remember these tips from a trauma surgeon: Don't wear dark colors, stay out of the road as much as possible, and walk in a group (ideally with some sober folks sprinkled in).
Better street lighting and lower speed limits near popular hangouts would help too, says Gelinne, along with campaigns encouraging bartenders to cut the taps when solo customers start getting sloppy. In San Francisco, the Vision Zero campaign aims to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2024 by restructuring high-risk roadways and lowering speed limits. Los Angeles and New York have taken similar measures, thanks in part to $1.6 million in grants to promote pedestrian safety from the US Department of Transportation. IIHS's Russ Rader points to new car technology like Subaru's EyeSight camera system, which automatically hits the brakes if it thinks there's a pedestrian in your path, as a good step forward, though a tiny fraction of cars are currently equipped with these features.
Bottom line: As you ring in 2015, if you can't call a cab or squeeze onto the subway, your best option is to grab a pillow and stay put. Or reconsider your choice of merriment-enhancement for the night. As it happens, the safest day of the year to walk down the street is 4/20. Make of this what you will.
Michelle Tea skipped college and spent her 20s and 30s in grimy houses, drinking herself unconscious and getting herself fired from every entry-level job she took. She eventually sobered up, landed a teaching gig, published several books, and won over the love of her life—a polished businesswoman named Dashiell. Her "meandering and counterintuitive" path may not inspire imitators. But Tea's candid and colorful writing, chronicling her emotional wedding, stabs at Buddhism, devotion to eccentric fashion, and attempts to get knocked up with "sperm shooters," speaks to her ability to function as an adult without losing sight of her wackier self.
People in the United States have been going to Planned Parenthood for nearly a century, ever since Margaret Sanger opened her first birth control clinic in Brooklyn in 1916. But it wasn't until 1977, after the US had already celebrated Roe v. Wade, that Colombian women had any equivalent organization to turn to. That was the year Dr. Jorge Villarreal started Oriéntame, a women's reproductive health clinic now credited with inspiring more than 600 outposts across Latin America "and for reshaping abortion politics across the continent," writes Joshua Lang in a story about the Villarreal family, out today in California Sunday.
In the 1950s, botched abortions caused nearly 40 percent of Colombia's maternal deaths.
Jorge Villarreal Mejía graduated from medical school in 1952 and soon took the reigns of the obstetrics department at Colombia's national university. During that time, botched abortions caused nearly 40 percent of the country's maternal deaths. "Women in slum areas were putting the sonda (catheter) inside of them without any sonography," his daughter Cristina Villarreal told Lang. "They used ganchas de ropa (coat hangers), anything." When these women showed up at general hospitals, they were shamed and quickly given basic medical attention at most.
So in 1977, Jorge opened a stand-alone health clinic in Bogotá called Oriéntame. Abortions were illegal, so Oriéntame had to focus on helping women who were already suffering from bad abortion attempts, or "incomplete abortions." Colombians had to wait another thirty years before their mostly Catholic country legalized abortion, under pressure from a coalition that included Cristina Villarreal. (Abortion is now legal in Colombia when a mother's physical or emotional health is in danger.) In the meantime, Oriéntame continued its mission to heal and empower women, using a sliding-scale payment model in order to reach poorer clients. In 1994, Cristina assumed leadership of the organization, which had grown to include a second nonprofit to help doctors around Latin America open their own Oriéntame clinics.
Not unlike the volatile abortion politics in the US, across Latin America, "for every political action, there seems to be an equal but opposite reaction."
Lang's story, an eye-opening and educational read, details the Villarreals' persistence in the face of police and priests, health administration raids, legal battles, money troubles, and social stigma. Not unlike the volatile abortion politics in the US, across Latin America, writes Lang, "for every political action, there seems to be an equal but opposite reaction," making Oriéntame's success "all the more unlikely." Today, the organization continues to struggle for funding. But fortunately for the estimated 4.5 million women seeking abortions every year across Latin America, and countless others looking for reproductive guidance, Oriéntame's network has already laced together a much-needed safety net that will be difficult to undo.
Her pack was too heavy, her boots too tight. She didn't know how to read a compass. But that didn't stop first-time backpacker Cheryl Strayed, then 26, from embarking on a soul-searching 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, from Southern California's Mojave Desert to the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon.
Yet the physical feat of the hike is not the true star of Strayed's 2012 memoir about the journey, Wild. Rather, Strayed's recovery from a near-addiction to heroin, a young divorce, and her mother's death from cancer take center stage. The story so resonated with readers, they kept it at the number one slot on the New York Times' bestseller list for seven weeks straight.
Wild also captivated Reese Witherspoon, who purchased the rights and portrays Strayed in the film version directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyers Club), out on December 3. Novelist Nick Hornby signed on to write the screenplay after reading the book and writing Strayed a tender fan letter. The film has garnered early praise, and speculation that it could lead to Oscar nominations for Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, who plays Strayed's mother in the film. After Wild premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in August, the New York Times' A.O. Scott wrote: "Ms. Witherspoon is both an entirely believable modern woman, defying conventional categories and expectations, and also, for that reason, an excitingly credible feminist heroine."
I caught up with Strayed to talk about Oprah haters, backpacker backlash, and her Hollywood mind meld.
Mother Jones: The movie version of Wild opens soon. Is Reese Witherspoon the first person you would've thought of to portray you?
Cheryl Strayed: It's funny, it never occurred to me that a movie star would play me. But now that she is playing me, it's like, of course, it couldn't be anyone else! I don't know if you've seen pictures of Reese and me and Reese and my daughter Bobbi, who's named after my mother, and also plays me. There's a kind of resemblance. What's interesting is how much more perfect she's become over time. Watching the movie for me is uncanny, because they have her wearing the clothes I wore. They put her hair in a barrette the same way I put my hair in a barrette. She just became me in a way that's like, shocking.
MJ: How involved were you in the production?
CS: I was involved from the beginning. Reese was always very concerned that the film would honor my life and the book. And Nick Hornby, who wrote the script, had read Wild before he was involved, and out of the blue had written me the kindest fan letter. That just blew me away. When Jean-Marc Vallée, the director, came on board, it was just this wonderful piece of luck, because we have a similar artistic sensibility. The film was shot in Oregon and California, and I was welcome on the set. If the director had his way, I'd have been there every day. I'd give Reese tons of advice about the character and backpacking, and teaching her how to do this, that, and the other thing. The art department looked at pictures of my family and the prop people took my backpack. The gear I had on the trail—I have most of it still—they re-created for the film. I probably saw seven or eight versions, and I offered feedback, and Jean-Marc listened very seriously. [Unlike] every bad story you've ever heard about Hollywood from writers, with this everything was fun and golden.
Reese Witherspoon on the set of WildFox Searchlight
"It never occurred to me that a movie star would play me. But now that she is playing me, it's like, of course, it couldn't be anyone else!"
MJ: Were there any scenes you lobbied for or against?
CS: Let me think. I wanted to make sure that the love and respect was there that Cheryl felt for her mother, who's played by Laura Dern. I weighed in pretty strongly that, even amid some tensions between mother and daughter, there's a lot of love and tenderness. It mattered to me that they portrayed that accurately.
MJ: Your epic solo walk on the Pacific Coast Trail came more than a decade before Wild. How did you reconstruct it?
CS: I liken it to when you run into an old friend from high school and you get to talking and suddenly you're remembering things you'd thought you'd forgotten. There are different patches that open up in the brain. I also kept a journal, not just because I was on the hike, but all through my 20s and 30s. When I would meet somebody, I would write the way a fiction writer or a memoirist writes about them. And I did research, the good old-fashioned, "Let's see, what flowers were growing in that field when I might have passed by that time?" Obviously memoir is subjective truth: It is my memory, my perspective, that's the beauty. But I still wanted to be as factual as I could.
MJ: You wrote, "I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told." What had you been told about the wilderness prior to setting out?
CS: I grew up in northern Minnesota on 40 acres of wooded land 20 miles from the nearest town, and so the wilderness was home. It was not an unsafe place. I had that advantage. But there are so many representations of the wilderness being dangerous. You know, depictions of wild animals attacking people. It's like, "No, we kill those animals in far greater numbers than they kill us." So on one hand, because the wilderness was familiar to me, it really helped me be brave. But it still was scary sometimes. I had to say to myself: "Chances are, you're not going to be mauled by a bear."
MJ: The people who get rescued from wilderness areas often turn out to have been ill-prepared. Do you worry that some people might take your book too literally and set off on a three-month hike with little preparation?
CS: If you want to read anything nasty about me, just go to the backpacker websites. I mean, lots of outdoor people love Wild, but there's this kind of elitist branch where they really believe that I had no business going backpacking. I get blamed: "Oh, Cheryl Strayed, it's her fault if somebody needs to be rescued." First of all, things have gone awry in the wilderness well before Wild was ever published. [Laughs.] But I actually don't have any fear of people reading Wild and going out unprepared. Because one of the best things that ever happened to me was that I went out unprepared. And when you really think about it, all I did wrong was that I took too much stuff, which is the most common backpacker mistake. The part that I wasn't prepared for is the part you can't prepare for. You can't replicate walking 94 days through the wilderness by yourself with a really heavy pack until you do it. I had to learn how to do a lot of stuff on the trail, that's true. But I was the one who suffered the consequences.
MJ: So you'll be cool with it when your kids announce their plans to hike the Appalachian Trial alone?
CS: That would make me so happy! I would feel like I had parented them well. I would take full credit. [Laughs.]
MJ: NPR did a segment on a woman who read your book only to realize that you were her half-sister. Have you met her?
CS: I knew her first name, but she doesn't have our father's last name anymore, and I don't either. [Strayed chose her new surname in her early 20s after divorcing her first husband.] When I got the email, she didn't say in the subject line, "Hey, I think we're related." It was just like, "Wild," and it seemed like just a fan email, and I sometimes will sort of skim those. She said what a lot of people say: "Oh, we have so much in common. Your life is so much like mine." And just when I was about to move on, she says, "You know, I actually think we share a father."
MJ: Way to bury the lede!
CS: Exactly! In the second or third paragraph, I'm not kidding you! I almost missed it. And I knew the moment she said my father's name. So I wrote her back, and we bonded. I haven't met her yet. She lives across the country, and we've not had occasion to get together because life is complicated. But yeah, isn't that crazy?
MJ: Yeah! So let's talk about Oprah. As someone who had gone through an MFA program and been to writers' conferences, what was your view of Oprah's Book Club before she asked to feature you?
CS: Oh, I have always been a great fan. I guess I got kind of politicized about it when that whole Jonathan Franzen thing happened: He was picked for the club, and then in interviews said things that seemed to be disparaging. I was really offended by that. I really hate snobbery, especially in literature. And I do think it's funny: People get away with criticizing Oprah: "Her book club is low-brow," or whatever. They forget that many of Toni Morrison's books, two of Franzen's books—Faulkner is an Oprah Book Club pick! I'd say 98 percent of the criticism directed at her, what they're [really] saying is, "Well, her audience is female. So if women like it, it must not be high art." Any time you have a group that is primarily women, there's gonna be a whole bunch of snobs who step in and say, "Oh, that's beneath me." Is it such a terrible thing that a bunch of people read novels that no one would've read had it not been for her? Wild was a bestseller before she came along, but some books wouldn't have ever had the audience they got. And it was all because of Oprah. That's the first thing I said to her. I said, "Thank you so much for being such a supporter of literary fiction."
"If you want to read anything nasty about me, just go to the backpacker websites. There's this kind of elitist branch where they really believe that I had no business going backpacking."
MJ: So are you feeling hungry for your next project, or do you just need a break?
CS: Both. To me, a bit of a break would be getting to write again. My life has been so outward—the book is still on the best-seller list and all that stuff. So that's been busy enough. But now with the film everything's amped up even more. I am hoping 2015 is all about me going back into the cave and writing.
MJ: What are you working on?
CS: I'm sort of working on a novel and a memoir. I don't want to talk about it too much. It's kind of a prequel.
MJ: For a time, you also had a gig as Sugar, the advice columnist for the Rumpus, the online literary magazine. Is Sugar on hiatus, or has she retired?
CS: I don't know. I really did mean for it to just be a hiatus when I took off with Wild and the book tour and all that stuff, but I've never not been busy, so I don't know what's gonna happen. I also started to reach a point where I feel like I've spoken my piece. If you read [the "Dear Sugar" collection] Tiny Beautiful Things, I so universally answer so many questions, there'd be a point where I'd start repeating myself.
MJ: If you were to seek advice from Sugar, what would you ask?
CS: "How do you say no?" It's so much easier said than done. Because I'm being asked to do so much, and my friends are saying, Cheryl, you just have to say no. I like to be generous; it's truly part of my personality, so to have to manage that in a way that keeps me sane and healthy has almost been impossible.
MJ: As Sugar, you're frank and validating without being snarky. How do you avoid the snark trap, given how the internet puts a premium on humor with an attitude?
CS: That's why I thought I'd be a failure with Sugar: I'm not funny and I'm not going to be able to be glib and all the stuff the kids like these days. I said, if I do this, I'm just going to have to be what I am, which is direct and candid and very sincere and very loving—and not hiding behind a kind of mask of cunning witticisms. Ultimately, Sugar makes you cry more than she makes you laugh. I was so afraid that people wouldn't like the column because I wasn't snarky, and it turned out that's the reason they like it so much. People really were hungry for sincerity. And not just people, but young San Francisco hipsters who read the Rumpus. People who you would think would just roll their eyes. But no. They were like, "Oh Sugar, please help me."