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Senior editor, Longreads. Chief Semicolon Advocate, WordPress.com. Professional writer, editor, napper, and dog-snorgler. Knows you are, but what is she?

Bagels are the Best Ring-Shaped Breakfast Food and I Will Brook No Other Opinion

Biggie Bagel wins a race with a Dunkin Donut and a cup of coffee during a football game between the Detroit Lions and the Atlanta Falcons, 2012. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

I love bagels. A fresh everything bagel with scallion cream cheese is one of the world’s most perfect foods when done well. But I don’t know if I love bagels as much as Lloyd Squires, owner of Myer’s Bagels in Burlington, Vermont, loves bagels. His day starts at 1:15 AM (!!), ends at 7:15 PM, involves 3,600 hand-rolled bagels, and has been lovingly chronicled by Evan Weiss in the Burlington Free Press.

3:32 a.m.

The rolling begins.

The room already smells of honey and toasted sesame seeds.

3:40 a.m.

The boiling begins.

As Lloyd drops the first gluten-full bagels, he says he sees money differently. “When I bought a car, I went, ‘That’s 15,000 bagels. I have to make those!'”

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Bread, Disrupted

People — frequently women — have been baking bread without recipes, or measurements, or fanfare, for 6,000 years. In the past few years, people — mostly men — have been been baking bread with spreadsheets, and multi-volume cookbooks, and intensive Instagramming of “crumb shots.” At Eater, Dayna Evans explores the (classist, gendered) sourdough boom running rampant among tech bros.

Hallelujah, bread is back. But these new bread beasts are not the bakers of yore, early risers peacefully toiling at their craft, their secrets trapped just beneath the crust of a fresh loaf whose sweet smells are wafting through the streets. No, this bread is engineered. With custom-made bread ovens, temperature-controlled proofing boxes, at-home grain mills, laser thermometers, and a $600, 52-pound cookbook. A sample caption from breadstagram: “Loaf from yesterday’s cut video. 80% bread flour, 20% whole wheat, 80% hydration, 2% salt, Leaven was 100% hydration, whole wheat, young (4 hours), and comprised of 10% of total *dough* weight (60g for a 600g loaf). Hand mixed via Rubaud Method for 10 minutes. Bulk for 3.5 hours, low 80s F, with coil folds at 60 minutes and 120 minutes (around 40% rise in volume).”

Bread requires little and it has existed in some form for thousands of years, relatively unchanged, because it’s simple to make and it feeds you. But if you were to scroll through Instagram, or watch recent YouTube tutorials, or read the libraries of blogs and self-published e-books, you might come away thinking that making bread was more challenging than performing brain surgery. That’s because bread-baking in America has, of late, found a friend in the unlikeliest of people: engineers, technologists, and the Silicon Valley-centric and adjacent. The image of a folksy baker laboring from muscle memory over her humble daily loaf, this is not.

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But Who Gets Custody of the Dog?

Image by ninjatacoshell via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

America is an uneasy amalgam of people with very different ideas of what government — and life — should look like. So what if we codified the political and cultural divisions that already exist? Secession is one option, but almost no one actually wants that. The U.S. Constitution provides another mechanism that would allow a constructive split while still maintaining a federal government: interstate compacts.

In New York Magazine, Sasha Issenberg walks us through what that version of the U.S. might look like. Some of it’s great. Some of it’s not. All of it’s fascinating.

It was not just manufacturing and resource extraction that boomed in the Red Fed. As soon as the Blue Fed established its single-payer system, medical specialists began taking their practices to states where they wouldn’t be subject to the Regional Health Service’s price controls or rationing. Sloan Kettering now treats New York as little more than an administrative base; the majority of its hospital rooms are in Texas. Johns Hopkins considered closing its medical school when nearly half the faculty decamped en masse to Baylor. Wealthy Blue Fed residents willing to pay out of pocket now invariably travel to Houston when they want an immediate appointment with a specialist of their choice. The arrivals area at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport is packed with chauffeurs from van services run by clinics supported by specializing in such medical tourism.

Auctions of public lands across the interior west, along with the privatization of the Tennessee Valley Authority, generated a quick gusher of cash. Vowing not to let the new government wealth create more bureaucracy, Red Fed leaders deposited it all in a Free States Energy Trust Fund that would pay out an annual dividend to every adult and child in the region — a no-strings-attached cash transfer of hundreds of dollars per year. The Southern Baptist Convention encouraged its members to tithe their dividend checks directly into new aid societies to help the least fortunate. The most popular charitable cause has been a relief society to aid religious conservatives in the Blue Fed seeking to migrate to the Red Fed.

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You Can’t Escape Everything in the Ivory Tower

Photo by J.B. Hill via Flickr (CC-BY-2.0)

At Tin House, Jaclyn Gilbert explores the emotional legacy her father heaped on her, and how she coped as so many of us do: by turning the pain inward, and writing it on her own body. For her father, Jaclyn is an extension of his failed marriage and a debt to be managed rather than a daughter to be loved — something which she long understood instinctively, and her father found ways to drive home explicitly.

An hour later, when I opened the attachment, I found a copy of my parents’ original divorce agreement from the nineties.  I was eighteen by then, of legal age to change the terms my mother had negotiated when I was six.  If I signed, he would no longer have to contribute toward my or my sister’s college tuitions.

The pain and shock I felt in that moment is still hard to explain.  It wasn’t as simple as the question of money, of refinancing my education.  If it were, I would have signed in a heartbeat.

It was the fact of what I represented to him.  Debt, the object of a war he’d lost to my mother and was still searching to recover through me, his eldest daughter.  It was his plotting over the years—as if every time he’d asked me to ignore his absences during visits, his neglect when he wasted afternoons calling his bookies, his insults—he’d been preparing me for this larger acquiescence.  And yet to voice my anger would be to become my mother incarnate, a barrier to his complete financial freedom.  Signing this document not only meant choosing his story over my mother’s, but it meant doing so at my own expense, denying my autonomy.  The conditionality of his love blurred the document on my computer screen. My body seemed to be spinning into tiny pieces, no longer centered, no longer believing in myself as someone individual, separate, or whole.

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Positivity Is Relative, Depending on Which Side of the Fighting You’re On

U.S. Army soldiers from Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division in the Amariyah neighborhood of west Baghdad, 2007. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Phil Klay is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq War and the author of Redeployment, which won the National Book Award in 2014; in Iraq, he was a media officer, reporting on major news stories but also responsive for finding the “Positive News Story of the Day” — something he and the Iraqis saw very differently. In an essay in America, The Jesuit Review, he traces his understanding of America’s and his role in the war through the lens of his waxing and waning (but ultimately waxing) faith.

My understanding not simply of the war but of myself shifted. I was not a fallen creature in a broken world reliant on grace, but a Marine in a successful army that had all the answers. I was justified not by a cross, but by an interpretation of public policy, not by the cruel and barbaric torture and murder of an innocent man, but by politics. If the surge had saved lives, turning a monthly death toll of 1,802 to 554, then the month of January did not just make me right and the antiwar folks who had opposed the policy wrong, it made me morally better than them by exactly 1,248 dead Iraqis.

It did not occur to me that I could be right about public policy and still be a sinner, or wrong about public policy and still be redeemed. And so I set aside the moments of doubt. I set aside the experiences that gave me pause. Like, for example, that moment I stood in that small Iraqi town, the town I thought I knew everything about, stared down a street and heard a voice, my voice, saying: I do not know where I am, or what I am doing or what we are doing, and none of the Marines around me do either.

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We Could Fell a Redwood Forest With This Anger

Photo by Richard Sunderland via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

As increasing numbers of Americans walk around brimming with rage, increasing number of Americans need an outlet so the anger doesn’t turn inward. Organizing and activism is productive and takes the edge off, but sometimes, the boiling cauldron of wrath overflows. Megan Stielstra found an unexpected but in retrospect eminently understandable outlet: axe-throwing. She writes about it with great eloquence and clarity for The Believer.

Competitive axe-throwing goes back to lumberjacks in the late 1800s, but its contemporary indoor equivalent was started by a guy in a Viking metal band. He threw parties in his backyard in Toronto with axes and booze, and people showed up via word of mouth until they had an informal league. Scoring was added—each ring around the bullseye holds a different points value—and in 2011 they moved into their first warehouse. Now there are dozens of axe-throwing centers in Canada and across the United States.

Of the two in Chicago, one is twenty minutes west of our apartment. I learned this in September on the day Betsy DeVos rescinded sexual assault protections on college campuses. I’ve been teaching creative nonfiction for twenty years and long ago lost count of the young women and queer and gender nonconforming people who put their hearts on pages and hand those pages to me saying please, please, please don’t tell because they don’t trust the systems that are supposed to protect them. I choke on that word: protection. We shouldn’t need protection. We should be able to walk into the classroom or dorm or boardroom or bar or park or grocery store or anywhere without needing a bodyguard or a wing person or a knife in our goddamn pocket and while the protections under the Department of Education weren’t perfect, they were something, a start, a way of saying we see you and you matter and we’re trying.

My husband found me crying in the bathroom and asked how he could help.

Vote. Donate. Teach our son to dismantle the white cis hetero patriarchy.

“I would like to throw axes,” I said.

We got a babysitter.

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Consider Who Can Afford the Oyster

You may know Ruby Tandoh as the runner-up from season 4 of The Great British Bake Off; you may not know that she’s a thoughtful writer working hard to stretch the boundaries of what “food writing” means. In Vice UK, she uses the life of ur-food writer M.F.K. Fisher — whose Consider the Oyster is about to be republished — as fertile ground for an exploration of the limits and potential of food writing.

The boundaries of food writing are hard to trace, but what is clear is that in spite of the soaring popularity of the food memoir and its ilk, little editorial time and space is being given to topics that sit in more overtly political territories. The Guardian‘s Feast magazine, and many other national food supplements, are rich with imagery, whimsy, and culinary flights of fancy, but largely apolitical. Famine, urban food deserts, food legislation, and the workplace rights of restaurant employees lie outside of the remit of much contemporary food writing, shoved sideways instead into environmental or political journalism and often taken off the plate entirely…

“Pearls,” Fisher explains, “grow slowly, secretly, gleaming ‘worm-coffins’ built in what may be pain around the bodies that have crept inside the shells.” Just as the parasite, the wound and the body converge in the milky stillness of a pearl, food writing must allow itself to crystallise around points of tenderness. Moving away from the assertive “you are what you eat,” we can venture into a more uncertain, questioning space: Why do you eat what you eat? Who has the freedom to eat for pleasure, and who does not? Why does food matter at all? We start, but do not finish, with the Fisher-esque culinary selfie. The gastronomical “me” is no longer a monolith but an anchor point: a place in time, space, family, and culture from which we might turn our lens outwards to explore issues of hunger as well as comfort, suffering as well as joy.

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Maybe Beauty Doesn’t Have to Mean Pain

Emma Blakley helps Gabby Sporleder with her position during an advanced ballet class at Midwest Dance Mechanix in Wichita, Kan. (Jesse Brothers/The Hutchinson News via AP)

At BuzzFeed, former dancer Ellen O’Connell Whittet interrogates ballet: a beautiful but demanding art form that exacts a high price from the bodies of the women who practice it — Whittet already lives with chronic pain stemming from a fractured spine she suffered during a rehearsal.

“I think you need to be asking whether you’ll ever walk without a limp,” the doctor told me. My parents drove three hours to come get me and bring me home, and I had to relearn how to do daily tasks with chronic and acute back pain, like drive a car or put on pants. A few years later, after I had healed enough, I joined a small dance company, but the pain in my back forced me daily to take stock of my own body, its needs and limitations, and to either continue hurting it or to use it to navigate through a world without ballet. Eventually, the culture of ballet was not inclusive enough for me to stay — it wouldn’t work with my limitations, and it required me to sacrifice my time and body in the name of art. Ballet was an austere and unrelenting master to me, one that asked more of me than I could give. I have missed ballet every day since, and yet I am disturbed by what, exactly I’m missing.

But the issues with ballet aren’t only around physical injuries from misstep or overuse. The physical pain is just the obvious symptom of a deeply sexist (and not a little racist) medium that regards women as implements rather than people.

Women’s contributions to ballet have historically been the most ephemeral: They are the archetypal ballerinas, whose careers depend on the constant vanishing point of dancing, over as soon as it happens. The parts of ballet that last past the moment of its occurrence — choreography, teaching, and artistic direction — have long been dominated by men. And this moment, which offers us a chance to have a mainstream conversation about the sexism of ballet, is also an opportunity to seriously consider what ballet’s future might look like. What needs to change to make it less damaging to women, while still preserving its value and beauty? And who needs to be more included in order to effect that change?

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‘Do you like scary movies?’

Image by Nicki Dugan Pogue via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In an essay in Electric Lit, Megan Pillow Davis explores horror movies — why we love them, how we experience them in our bodies, and how they can help us deal with our own real-world traumas — like Davis’ own near-rape at the hands of a former coworker.

I watched the taillights of Daniel’s truck recede into the darkness. I thought of how Paul was the only thing that had kept me from becoming Mari Collingwood or Phyllis Stone, the girls who are raped and killed in The Last House on the Left. Daniel did neither of those things. But I could still feel a scorching anger welling up inside me. In a matter of seconds, I became not Mari or Phyllis, but Jennifer Hills from I Spit on Your Grave, the rape and revenge film that had called up old memories and given me nightmares for a month the first time I watched it. I had tried to forget about that film. But now it felt like my territory, my home. I could feel Jennifer unzipping my skin like a dress and climbing inside me. I imagined cutting Daniel’s dick off, clean as Chuck cut off the head of the coral snake. I imagined spitting and pissing and shitting on Daniel’s grave. And then, just before his truck disappeared behind a dark curtain of trees, I became Charlie. I willed Daniel’s truck to explode. I wanted his body to sear in the white-hot flame of my fear and shame and rage until there was nothing left.

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We’re Fat, Not Stupid

I wasn't about to put a cliché photo of fat headless bodies on this, so here's a photo of awesome fat model Tess Holliday being fat and awesome as she arrives at a movie premiere on April 17, 2018, in Los Angeles (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Michael Hobbes‘ Highline story on the critical need to rethink how we understand and approach fatness is not without issue — It’d be great to see an actual fat activist who’s been writing about this for years get attention, and “obesity” is a loaded word — but the bigger issue of how society treats fat people is the most important thing, and the story is a good one. How does society treat us? Like crap, and pointing that out isn’t just about not wanting to have our feelings hurt: it’s about pointing out the very material ways fat-shaming impacts our lives, our health, our relationships, and even our careers.

This is how fat-shaming works: It is visible and invisible, public and private, hidden and everywhere at the same time. Research consistently finds that larger Americans (especially larger women) earn lower salaries and are less likely to be hired and promoted. In a 2017 survey, 500 hiring managers were given a photo of an overweight female applicant. Twenty-one percent of them described her as unprofessional despite having no other information about her. What’s worse, only a few cities and one state (nice work, Michigan) officially prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of weight.

Paradoxically, as the number of larger Americans has risen, the biases against them have become more severe. More than 40 percent of Americans classified as obese now say they experience stigma on a daily basis, a rate far higher than any other minority group. And this does terrible things to their bodies. According to a 2015 study, fat people who feel discriminated against have shorter life expectancies than fat people who don’t. “These findings suggest the possibility that the stigma associated with being overweight,” the study concluded, “is more harmful than actually being overweight.”

Come for the excellent story, stay for the excellent (and sometimes heartbreaking) photos — representation matters.

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