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What it’s like to be a child of war, a school-shooting support group for principals, a 1981 feature on rodeo queens, on becoming a woman in NYC in 1978, and the San Francisco donut shop that hasn’t closed in over 50 years.

1. ‘I Remember The Silence Between The Falling Shells’: The Terror of Living Under Siege as a Child

Zarlasht Halaimzai | The Guardian | October 31, 2023 | 3,572 words

In the last few weeks, the Israel-Gaza war has amassed horrific statistics: the number of hostages, the number of refugees, the number of injuries, the number of deaths—and the number who were children. Yes, the number who were children. As Zarlasht Halaimzai states in this extraordinary, harrowing piece for The Guardian, “Children bear the brunt of war.” Writing of her personal experiences—of another war, at another time, with the same consequences—Halaimzai pulls us down from lofty statistics into the raw reality of being bombed, day after day. She was 10 years old when US-funded mujahideen bombarded her home city of Kabul. Ten years old when “bedtime, schooltime, playtime, and dinnertime all vanished.” Small things make her retelling incredibly powerful: How, after the rockets stopped, her granny would “produce a jar of honey and feed us children a spoonful, trying to wash the taste of terror out of our mouths.” How Halaimzai “couldn’t look at my little sister and my little brother because somehow, I felt ashamed that this was their childhood.” And how “The sound of a rocket hitting a solid object enters your body and lives there forever.” Sentences to pierce your psyche. This essay reminds us of the many conflicts that have come before; Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine—to name a few. It reminds us of the many children who have suffered. Of the many killed. The many to learn the same life lesson as Halaimzai: “that there are no monsters in the dark. Only adults who are terrified enough to kill.” If you want to restore your faith in humanity, this is not the piece for you. If you want to understand the humanity beneath the bombs, it is. —CW

2. The Club No School Principal Wants to Join

Gloria Liu | Men’s Health | November 1, 2023 | 5,411 words

After reading Gloria Liu’s piece on the support group for principals whose schools have experienced gun violence, I realize that most news stories about school shootings cover the victims, the survivors, and the shooters. Rarely do I read pieces focused on the school leaders who are left to pick up the pieces; we expect such individuals to be strong and resilient enough to carry their communities through such traumatic events (or, in some cases, expect them to take the blame). Liu recounts the formation of Principal Recovery Network (PRN) in 2019, which has since grown to 21 members, including former and current principals of Columbine, Marjory Stoneman Douglas (Parkland), and Sandy Hook. After a school tragedy, PRN reaches out to the principal, offering advice and simply letting them know they’re not alone. You don’t even know what you need right now, one of them will say, but here’s my number—call anytime. The fact that this club needs to exist is heartbreaking. But it does. Through this outlet, these individuals have given each other emotional support and a much-needed space for self-care and healing. —CLR

3. Cowgirls All the Way

E. Jean Carroll | Outside Magazine | April/May 1981 | 2,910 words

One of the week’s nicest surprises was Outside digging into its formidable archives to republish this 42-year-old E. Jean Carroll feature about that year’s Miss Rodeo America competition in Oklahoma City. New Journalism had been around for nearly two decades by the time the piece first came out, but Carroll’s vignette-first approach fits snugly into the form. (In a companion Outside interview about her career, Carroll cops freely to this: “There’s a lot of Joan Didion in that piece.”) The pleasure here is more cumulative than linear: you’re there to soak up Carroll’s scenework and side-eye as much as you are to learn anything about the actual competition, and the piece oozes with both. These rodeo queens are caught between impossible expectations—subjected to “cosmetic sessions” and paraded in front of the press in skimpy nightgowns, while also expected to deliver congenial speeches and display horsemanship. That Carroll captures all of this without a giant flashing neon sign is marvel enough; that she does so in vivid detail in her first published story makes clear that her trajectory was all but inevitable. It may clock in at fewer than 3,000 words, but like the very best magazine writing, it will stay with you well beyond the time it takes you to read it. —PR

4. 1978

Amy Margolis | The Iowa Review | Spring 2023 | 3,478 words

I love it when a personal essay can take me to a time and place I’ve never visited. Amy Margolis does just that in “1978,” for The Iowa Review. Enter, stage left, a young woman leaving Kansas City to become a dancer and make a home in New York City. Margolis, naive but ambitious, clad in leotards and Lee jeans, is going to live with a sister she barely knows who aspires to be an actress. In this essay though, the women are not the stars of the show. It’s the gay men in Amy’s life—Paul and Phillip—who steal it, as they befriend her and, in her own words, teach her “how to be a woman.” “Paul was long and lean and attenuated, like a dying note,” she writes. “It was the year my whole life started.” Paul and Phillip feed her, both literally and figuratively, give fashion advice, and teach her about sex. (Dear reader, fair warning: we are not in Kansas anymore.) Above all, the men model what it means to love oneself. “In New York, I am always afraid, but never with Paul and Philip. Paul and Philip are men, especially Philip. They’re towering figures both, and unabashed, and at home in their skin,” Margolis writes. With friends like these, indeed, there’s no place like home. —KS

5. San Francisco’s 24-Hour Diner Stops the Cosmic Clock

Chris Colin | Alta Online | September 25, 2023 | 3,736 words

I did not expect a feature on an iconic restaurant to start out in a “small potato-farming village in the Arcadia region of Greece’s Peloponnese.” But then again, this—like many stories of the American dream—starts out somewhere else. For Alta Online, Chris Colin introduces us to proprietors George and Nina Giavris, but this profile focuses on the Silver Crest Donut Shop, a 24-hour diner they bought in 1970 that has been open every moment since, where the “new gal” has 30+ years on the job as a waitress. Time has stood still at the Silver Crest, and Colin lovingly documents the artifacts of the past that make up the diner’s interior. What’s a little more difficult to capture—and what Colin does best here—is highlight the intangible: the je ne sais quoi of the atmosphere that, along with George, Nina, and the Silver Crest, is the fourth character in this piece. “You could do worse than to age as the Silver Crest ages—no struggle, full acceptance,” writes Colin. “Once again, I find the Silver Crest a reprieve from something. Outside those doors, San Francisco teeters, democracy teeters, the ice caps teeter, sense itself teeters. . . . But here there’s no room for nonsense. You order your food, you eat your food.” With this piece, you might come for the food, but you’ll stay for the feeling. —KS

Audience Award

Here’s the piece our readers loved most this past week:

The Lurker

Erika Hayasaki | The Verge | October 25, 2023 | 7,751 words

When we think of the victims of stalking we don’t often think of college professors, but in this investigation, Erika Hayasaki discovers many concerning incidences involving student obsessions. Hayasaki concentrates on the distressing experience of three professors in Connecticut, and the online abuse they receive is nothing short of extraordinary. The psychological horror of social media bullying is ripped open in this well-reported piece. —CW