Here are five stories that moved us this week, and the reasons why.

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1. Homegrown and Homeless in Oakland*

Kevin Fagan, Sarah Ravani, Lauren Hepler, J.K. Dineen | San Francisco Chronicle | November 3, 2021 | 4,639 words

There’s not a major city in the state of California that hasn’t found itself grappling with a decade-long explosion of homelessness, and not a discussion that doesn’t devolve into blaming decades-older canards like deinstitutionalization and drug abuse. But as this exhaustively and empathically reported piece shows, it’s never as simple as a talking point. For the sixth in the Chronicle’s annual Homeless Project series, the paper crosses the Bay to profile four unhoused people in Oakland — all of whom grew up in the city, and all of whom owned their own home at one time. In their stories of loss and perseverance, accompanied by photography and data visualizations that are breathtaking for all the wrong reasons, we find ever-present reminders that there is no one cause for this epidemic. The only universal, it seems, is the tragedy and struggle that ensues when this country fails its own citizens. —PR

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2. Selling Certainty

Eric Boodman | STAT | October 20, 2021 | 7,300 words

Imagine being in such intense pain that it hurts to put on clothes. When a physician finally provides a diagnosis, it feels like a guess. Then along comes a blood test that promises a definitive answer and access to a clinical trial that could change everything. Who wouldn’t seize the opportunity? This is what happened to fibromyalgia patients who took the FM/a Test, produced by a company called EpicGenetics. Problem being, as Eric Boodman explains, the manufacturer was “using an aborted trial to sell an unproven test to people who were desperate.” Boodman’s feature is a Russian doll of scientific mysteries: Why doesn’t the FDA vet all home medical tests? How do companies get away with false advertising? What is fibromyalgia? And there are some genuinely eyebrow-raising tidbits along the way. Case in point, a health executive “who went back into retirement to focus on writing novels to rescue the reputation of the historical Dracula.” —SD

3. A Death Full of Life

Gabrielle Anctil | Beside | September 27, 2021 | 2,200 words

Reading Gabrielle Anctil’s piece for Beside I was struck by how unusual it was. While people talk about death, the issue of what we do with our physical remains still feels like something we speak about in hushed tones, the mere thought of lifeless bodies conducive to nervous looks and anxious gestures. I was therefore impressed with the understated and matter-of-fact way Anctil tackles a fascinating subject: How our approach to our earthly remains has evolved along with our religions and beliefs. Cremation did not become popular until the ’80s, but now we often “see urns resting upon mantelpieces, if departed loved ones’ ashes haven’t simply been scattered in a meaningful place. The cemetery has lost its nobility.” Anctil also addresses an issue I had not yet considered: The environmental impact of what we do with the dead. I was amazed to learn that funerals use enough wood “to build 4.5 million houses,” while embalmed Americans are “buried with 19.5 million litres of embalming fluids.” Even a single cremation uses “two full SUV gas tanks of fuel, to say nothing of the carcinogenic particles that are released into the atmosphere.” Despite this harsh reality, quiet beauty still reverberates through this essay, as Anctil acknowledges our need for “a site where we can feel the pain of separation and continue to nurture our relationship with those who have passed on.” —CW

4. Cresting the Wave

Joe Hagan | Texas Highways | October 28, 2021 | 3,307 words

“[E]very attempt to catch a wave felt deeply personal, a test of will against the world, the desire to surf as powerful as the desire for identity itself.” There are so many gorgeous lines in Joe Hagan’s recent essay in Texas Highways. He reminisces about learning to surf and growing up on the shores of Padre Island in Texas. Beautifully recalling these memories, Hagan writes of personal reinvention, and of the search for identity. In this process, he discovers deeper layers within his rich and complicated family history and faces an earth-shattering truth about his birth. Amid all of this is the anchor of place — the Gulf Coast, Bob Hall Pier, the waves themselves — and the memory and truth it can hold. I’m inspired by this story — it moves me to write. —CLR

5. Finding Joy in the Unknown: an Interview with Dara McAnulty

Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee | Emergence Magazine | October 26, 2021 | 5,722 words

At Emergence Magazine, Dara McAnulty talks about his book Diary of a Young Naturalist, his love for the natural world, and what he’s learned from writing and publishing a book as a teen. Reading Diary helped me appreciate McAnulty’s deep commitment to the environment. In nature McAnulty finds joy and delight, feelings often tempered by the despair of human ambivalence toward our planet. What’s most inspiring about this interview is McAnulty’s renewed faith in the artist’s power to persuade others to help preserve Earth for future generations. “The entire battle of the book for me…is this inner struggle in me about whether or not art or writing or music is worth it. Can it make a difference? Can it change people’s minds? Can it change the world? I think at the end of the book, I realized that yeah, it can. It’s done it before. It changes people’s minds. It shows people the way that the world could be, in spite of the way that it is now. And only by seeing that future can we work towards it. That’s the artist’s job: to show the way that the world can be.” Longreads ran an excerpt of Diary of a Young Naturalist earlier this year. It’s worth your time. —KS