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Julia Wick
Julia Wick is a contributing editor for Longreads.

A Profile for #BachelorNation

Photo: ABC

Last January, the massively talented Taffy Brodesser-Akner profiled Chris Harrison, the longtime host of The Bachelor, for GQ. The brilliance of a Brodesser-Akner profile is in the way she treats her subjects: with steadfast humanity, even (and especially) in situations where a lesser writer might mock or ever so slightly sneer. Which is not to say that she sacrifices an ounce of humor in her refusal to condescend; the piece is often hilarious, but honestly so.  To borrow a phrase from Bachelor parlance, she’s there for the right reasons. Anyway, as The Bachelor enters its 20th season, the time seems right to revisit her profile. A brief taste:

Later, when Chris and I meet up with Gwen for salad—amicable, amicable—she tells me that he was born knowing exactly what to say and how to say it. I can’t attest to how far back this skill of his stretches, but I can confirm that he’s still got it. Chris Harrison is one of the smoothest motherfuckers I’ve ever met. On-screen he is able to do something that I believe men are generally not wired for: He can sit there and listen to a woman, allow her to emote and cry, and never interrupt, never try to shut her down or clean her up. Sure, it’s good television to let the tears flow, but still, it’s rare to find a man who can allow himself to allow it. When it’s time to ask a contestant to leave, his face is the face you want: lips mashed mournfully together, eyebrows up, big sigh.

Even off-camera, he speaks in crisp sentences. He doesn’t stumble. He doesn’t stammer. You should see my interview transcript; it came back from the transcriber as if it had already been edited. Gwen says Harrison is just as he appears on TV, “but funnier. People don’t realize how funny he is.”

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The Strange Plight of YouTube’s ‘Middle Class’

Writing for Fusion, Gaby Dunn has a fascinating piece on the bleak economics of internet fame.  Dunn struggles to make ends meet despite being a YouTube personality with more than half a million subscribers, and her position is not unique:

The disconnect between internet fame and financial security is hard to comprehend for both creators and fans. But it’s the crux of many mid-level web personalities’ lives. Take moderately successful YouTubers, for example. Connor Manning, an LGBT vlogger with 70,000 subscribers, was recognized six times selling memberships at the Baltimore Aquarium. Rosianna Halse Rojas, who has her own books and lifestyle channel and is also YouTube king John Green’s producing partner, has had people freak out at her TopMan register. Rachel Whitehurst, whose beauty and sexuality vlog has 160,000 subscribers, was forced to quit her job at Starbucks because fans memorized her schedule.

In other words: Many famous social media stars are too visible to have “real” jobs, but too broke not to.

Platforms like YouTube mirror the U.S. economy’s yawning wealth gap, and being a part of YouTube’s “middle class” often means grappling daily with the cognitive dissonance of a full comments section and an empty wallet.

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Why You Should Bake Cookies for Your Mail Carrier

A writer becomes a carrier for the United States Postal Service out of a long-held love for the mail, but instead of a dream job she encounters a dark world of dog bites, labor violations, and screaming supervisors. Jess Stoner detailed her horrific experiences as a Texas letter carrier in an essay for The Morning News that ran last September, derailing the wouldn’t-it-be-fun-to-work-as-a-letter-carrier daydreams of Americans everywhere (myself included):

I cried once more, a few weeks in. The mail was heavy, and I was covering a route with a number of apartments whose mailboxes were old, often wouldn’t budge, and even when they did, residents so rarely checked their mail that I had to painstakingly fold and squish letters to fit them in. Then I dropped my scanner and it broke. I called the station to tell them I was running late. My supervisor screamed, “YOU’RE HORRIBLE,” and I said, “I’m doing my best,” and I meant it. When an assistant supervisor showed up to help 20 minutes later, the strap on my satchel also broke. I thanked the supervisor for her help, although even she couldn’t get the mailbox closed, and turned away so she couldn’t see my face. I drove to my next loop and sobbed aloud as I tried to shove thick magazines through thin, razor-sharp mail slots that made my fingers bleed. I kept crying, from exhaustion and frustration, as I walked through hedges and tree branches. When I finished and arrived at the station, my supervisor asked if I had been crying. I told her my allergies were terrible. Another carrier had already told me to never, ever show them what they do to you.

If Stoner’s essay leaves you newly inspired to remember your neighborhood letter carrier this holiday season, don’t forget that federal regulations prohibit USPS employees from accepting cash. Gift cards (no more than $20 in value) can be accepted, as well as other small gifts and perishable items like cookies.

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The Definition of Grace

Definitions of grace have been refined and amended often over the centuries. Many understandings of it bleed into one another in the human imagination, mixing with emotions and resulting in grace being looked at often less as a matter of doctrine than of nostalgia. But the catechism defines grace as “favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life.” Grace manifests as both God’s disposition and God’s action; it is an atmosphere of salvation for humanity to dwell in, but can quickly be made manifest and intervene in human affairs.

Flannery O’Connor recognized our failure to identify grace when she wrote, “Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which precede and follow them.” I read this line in my early twenties when I was making my way through O’Connor’s collected works and intentionally widened my gaze in search of grace at work. I imagined it as a substance that blanketed creation, an unearned pardon on top of an already abundant and generous gift rendered invisible by being taken for granted. It was like the Dark Matter taking up most of the universe, or even the carbon particles in our own corner of the galaxy, but if I watched closely enough, I could see it act on objects.

—Alana Massey, in a wonderful essay about losing faith while at divinity school that appeared on Hazlitt.

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A Father’s New Face

Three months ago, Patrick Hardison’s face belonged to someone else—a young Brooklyn bike mechanic named David Rodebaugh. Writing for New York magazine, Steve Fishman tells the story of the most extensive face transplant yet performed, including the entire scalp, ears, and eyelids, and the two men involved (Rodebaugh was killed in a bike accident and Hardison lost most of his face in a fire 14 years ago). The entire piece is deeply compelling and raises interesting questions, like how a man’s children can adjust to a father emerging from surgery with a new face:

The next step in Hardison’s recovery was to reintroduce himself to his five kids, his mother, sister, brother, and Chrissi. It was the kids he worried about most. Nine weeks after the operation, on October 8, they walked tentatively into his hospital room. Hardison bounded toward them with a surprisingly quick step. His face was slowly healing, but the rest of him was fit, almost athletic. Hardison hugged each one fiercely, grabbed tissues to wipe the tears that seeped out from under his new eyelids.

The youngest especially, the 10- and 11-year-old boys, put on brave faces. “No matter how big of a medical miracle it may be, that doesn’t make it comfortable for his kids,” said Chrissi. “It’s still having to adjust to someone else’s face on his body.” After all, a face is more than a face. It’s an identity, a signal to the world of who a person is. By four months of age, infants’ brains recognize faces at nearly an adult level—especially the faces that belong to their parents. The younger boys touched his hair, now a half-inch long. One of the boys joked that he’d buy his dad earrings for his pierced ears. “Hell, no,” said Hardison. It was reassuring to hear his response, so typical of their dad. Still, they wanted to recognize him, to know him. “When I see his face, I want to memorize it, so the next time I see him, I know it’s my dad,” said one son.

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When Cecil B. DeMille Went Way Over Budget

The costs were mounting even before DeMille arrived in Guadalupe to begin shooting. Preproduction expenses were already approaching $700,000—an astronomical sum in the early days of Hollywood. More than a million pounds of statuary, concrete, and plaster were used to construct the 120-foot-tall, 800-foot-long temple and surrounding structures, and whole plaster sphinxes were sculpted and loaded onto trucks bound for the dunes. Every day on location meant feeding and housing the thousands of workers and animals. DeMille drove his construction team to work faster. Paramount Studios, the film’s backer, began sending DeMille increasingly desperate letters demanding that he cut costs. One receipt, for $3,000 spent on a “magnificent team of horses” for the pharaoh, pushed the studio over the edge, according to Sumiko Higashi, a professor emeritus at The College at Brockport, SUNY, and author of Cecil B. DeMille and American Culture: the Silent Era, a biography of DeMille.

“You have lost your mind,” telegraphed Adolph Zukor, founder of Paramount Pictures. “Stop filming and return to Los Angeles at once.” DeMille refused. He took out a personal loan and waived his guaranteed percentage of the movie’s gross to ensure the production continued. “I cannot and will not make pictures with a yardstick,” he wired back to the studio. “What do they want me to do?” he was rumored to have said, according to Higashi. “Stop now and release it as The Five Commandments?”

—David Ferry, writing in Outside about the extravagant faux-Egyptian set built for Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 film The Ten Commandments. DeMille’s set—the biggest, most expensive one ever built at the time—was later buried beneath sand dunes on California’s Central Coast. The decades-long quest to unearth it, which Ferry covers in his story, is its own epic.

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Johnny Appleseed and the Golden Days of Hard Cider

Up until Prohibition, Michael Pollan wrote in The Botany of Desire, in rural areas “cider took the place not only of wine and beer but of coffee and tea, juice, and even water.” It’s easy to see why: Until the 1900s, most water was contaminated with bacteria. Beyond issues of sanitation, cider was America’s homegrown answer to wine — our native grapes weren’t sweet enough to ferment. And just like European wines, American ciders could be incredibly complex, even nuanced — that’s why Thomas Jefferson grew cider apples at Monticello, where Hewes Crabs are kept to this day.

Cider, not snacking, was the real reason John Chapman — better known as Johnny Appleseed — was flinging seeds and setting up nurseries through the Ohio Valley and the Midwest in the early 1800s. Growing apples is easy, but cultivating a tree that bears palatable fruit is rare. Most of the chance seedlings that germinated in Chapman’s wake weren’t fit for his tin-pot hat — but they were plenty suited for a decent quaff, or even a nip of applejack. In fact, Chapman couldn’t possibly have known what he was growing. Apples are extremely heterozygous, meaning each seed contains the genetic makeup for a completely new and different type of apple tree. If you were to plant a seed from a McIntosh apple, the one thing you could be sure of is that the sapling it produced wouldn’t be a McIntosh tree.

Christopher Hughes writing for Boston Magazine about America’s early history of hard cider, and the search for the next great apple.

Ten Years After Juilliard

In 2004, Daniel J. Wakin of The New York Times tracked down the instrumentalists of Juilliard’s 1994 graduating class, whose members were by then in their 30s and “mostly embarked on careers and family life.” Though now over a decade old, “The Juilliard Effect: Ten Years Later” stands as a compelling look at the difficulties of making a living in classical music after training at one of the world’s most prestigious conservatories:

The results suggest how hard it can be to live as a classical musician in a society that seems increasingly to be pushing classical music to the margins, even as Juilliard and scores of other music schools pour out batches of performers year after year. Orchestras and chamber ensembles are under increasing financial pressure as subscriptions have dropped and government arts financing has dried up, the recording industry has shrunk and the median age of classical audiences is not getting any younger.

Sometimes the struggle is just too much, and many drop out, perhaps disillusioned with a once-sacred endeavor that has come to seem a cold, unforgiving trade. Others, like Mr. Alexander, are simply sick of the financial grind: the low pay, the lack of benefits, the scramble for work. But many others make it, and what also came clear from the analysis of this class were the high levels of dedication many of the graduates maintain and the satisfactions and excitement of expressing oneself through one of the purest forms of communication: the making of music.

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Looking for Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles

Hollywood, 1923. Photo: Library of Congress

Judith Freeman | Pantheon Books | December 2007 | 38 minutes (9603 words)

Judith Freeman traces Raymond Chandler’s early days in Los Angeles and his introduction to Cissy Pascal, the much older, very beautiful woman who would later become his wife.  This chapter is excerpted from Freeman’s 2007 book The Long Embrace: Raymond Chandler and the Woman He Loved, which Janet Fitch described as “part biography, part detective story, part love story, and part séance.” Freeman’s next book—a memoir called The Latter Days—will be published by Pantheon in June 2016.

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Exorcism and the Catholic Church

Although there are several types of exorcism, the one most commonly imagined in popular culture is the solemn or “major” exorcism, a ritual to rid a possessed person of the demon or demons that inhabit their body—not merely a prayer for spiritual healing. Solemn exorcisms can be performed only by Catholic priests, and only then with the express permission of a bishop. Exorcism is not one of the seven Catholic sacraments, but the ritual is sacramental, meaning that the rite’s success is not dependent on the formulaic approach common to Catholic sacraments, but rather the exorcist’s faith and the authorization of a bishop.

In light of the Vatican’s concerns over heightened demonic activity around the world and the apparently urgent need for more exorcist-priests, training courses have been offered to equip the next generation of exorcists with the spiritual knowledge they need to expel demons from their non-consensual hosts. More than 170 priests and laypersons alike gathered in Rome for the most recent course, which was held at the Sacerdos Institute, an organization of priests affiliated with the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum, an educational institute of the Catholic Church. The course, which costs around $330, covers numerous topics, including the theological, liturgical, and canonical aspects of exorcism, as well as its anthropological history, its potential place within the criminal justice system, plus medical and neurological issues surrounding demonic possession.

—Dan Shewan, writing for Pacific Standard about the business of exorcism. The casting out of demons has also become a lucrative cottage industry outside of the Catholic Church, with dozens of self-styled exorcists plying their trade across America, as detailed in Shewan’s piece.

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