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Sari Botton is a writer living in Kingston, NY. She edited the award-winning “Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving & Leaving NY” and the NY Times Bestselling “Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for NY.” She is the essays editor for Longreads, and teaches at Catapult. She tweets at

How to Stay Out of Your Editor’s ‘Jerks’ File

Blue retro typewriter with screwed up paper balls

As an editor receiving 50 to 100 essay submissions per week for roughly 125 slots per year, I pass on exponentially more pieces than I accept. This unfortunate math makes me anxious, not only because I’m an incorrigible people-pleaser who hates having so many humans unhappy with me, but also because I’m a writer myself, and I know how frustrating and heartbreaking it can be not to land your work where you want to see it published.

Most of the time writers are understanding and gracious, not only about my passing, but also about my only responding if I’m interested in their piece, as I explain in my submissions guidelines. But now and then, someone will fire off a mean email. Obviously (well, to me, anyway) this is not a good strategy for anyone who wants to eventually have their work accepted!

Mcsweeny’s Internet Tendency editor Chris Monks feels my pain. In an essay for Vulture, he writes about some of the jerky replies he receives when he passes on humor submissions, and provides screenshots as well (with names and other identifying details redacted).

I empathize with the frustration of not getting your work published, but it still sucks to receive these sorts of emails because, you know, I have feelings. By nature, I flee from any signs of interpersonal conflict, so I rarely engage and fire back an equally snarky response. Instead, I place these mean messages in a folder I’ve titled “Jerks” and occasionally share screenshots of them (with the names of the jerks redacted) to my followers on Twitter.

I know all about rejection. Sure, I dole it out frequently, but I’ve been on the other end a lot, too. I, too, am a veteran struggling humor writer. I know what it’s like to work forever on a piece, meticulously crafting a joke, until it feels just right and worthy of submitting. I am familiar with the adrenaline rush of clicking “send,” and the overwhelming wave of dread and second-guessing that follows. And I am no stranger to the interminable waiting for an answer back, a yes or no, please not a no, but, yes, it will probably be a no. It always feels like it’s going to be a no.

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David Letterman Is Truly Sorry

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 07: David Letterman speaks onstage during the 32nd Annual Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony at Barclays Center on April 7, 2017 in New York City. The broadcast will air on Saturday, April 29, 2017 at 8:00 PM ET/PT on HBO. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame)

The #metoo movement has yielded far too many cowardly, unsatisfying apologies from men in entertainment, but comedy writer Nell Scovell managed to get a pretty satisfying one from David Letterman, her one-time boss.

Ten years ago, Scovell — who quit her job on Late Night with David Letterman in 1990 after just five months because of sexism and “sexual favoritism” — called out Letterman in a Vanity Fair piece, published following the revelation that he was cheating on his wife with various women who worked for him. Recently, she sat down with the newly chastened late night host on the condition that he finally read her 2009 piece, which he said he avoided at the time because he was working on repairing his marriage and his family.

Scovell finds Letterman to be kind and genuinely contrite. She accepts his apology, but notices he still has blind spots and isn’t willing to easily let him off the hook. How else will things sufficiently change?

Dave using his family as an excuse for neglecting his professional duties is a luxury no high-level female could ever afford. He faced no corporate punishment after his on-air disclosure. The network continued to pay him an estimated $30–$35 million a year while then CBS chairman Leslie Moonves looked the other way. I publicly accused Dave of fostering a hostile work environment, yet no one from the show’s human resources department ever contacted me as part of an investigation.

Dave wasn’t just a product of our culture; he helped create our culture. In the generation and a half that Dave reigned on TV, comedy could have made a giant leap toward greater representation. Instead, he fronted an institution that systematically amplified the voices of guys who looked like him. On camera, the show favored male standups over females by an overwhelming margin. Only one female comic was booked in 2011. This denial of equal opportunity is part of Dave’s legacy. Self-reflection can save a marriage, but it can’t change history.

Whoa, you’re thinking. Dave apologized. Why are you still so angry, Nell?

Dave still carries around his guilt and I still carry around my anger. Despite this, we can have a productive and even pleasant talk. There’s a faction in the #MeToo movement that believes “it’s time for men to shut up and listen.” Some men, like Matt Damon, have echoed this attitude. I get it, but it worries me. Too many men are panicking over the miniscule possibility of being falsely accused, and this irrational fear is causing male managers to avoid mentoring and meeting with female coworkers.

We need more dialogue so men can understand the difference between criticism and condemnation. And we need more dialogue so women can voice discomfort without fear of retaliation.

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Airbrushing Out the Evidence of Her Son’s Differences

For Dame, Alysia Abbott writes a personal essay about the importance of presenting her autistic son on social media — fostering inclusiveness, normalizing his differences, connecting with other parents with similar children — but also confesses her tendency to only show him in the most flattering light.

I could select which photos I would share online. I would highlight those with his eyes open, his gaze steady, maybe the rare shot where he does look at me with a smile. At the right angle, and in the right light, Finn truly is beautiful. Friends and “friends” alike have commented on how much he resembles a young Paul McCartney. He has the full cheeks the cupid bow mouth the large brown eyes and soft mop of hair. Without fail, I will share those photos where that beauty is on display.

Here’s what you won’t see: images where he looks developmentally delayed, what we used to call “mentally retarded,” or just “retarded.”

I actually remember a turning point on trip to a local apple orchard when my son was maybe 3 years old. We say we go apple-picking in order to make fresh crumbles and apple sauce but we all know it’s really about the family photo op. Sipping cider on hayrides, small children sitting in a great big pumpkin patch–what could be more quintessentially wholesome and fall-like? On this particular visit, there was a beautiful late afternoon light and I was posing Finn inside a large apple crate, where he seemed happy to sit and play in the leaves. Later that night, scrolling through photos deciding which to share, I found one that captured an expression I’d never noticed on my son before, a slightly twisted open mouth grin that looked different, that looked more autistic. At the time I had a hard time seeing Finn’s diagnosis with any clarity. This photo helped me do this, but it wasn’t a photo I wanted to share.

With social media, I was able to create an idealized version of my son, writing posts that can accurately describe our days together, but accompanying these posts with photos that make him look like any other kid his age. In this online life, I could erase those aspects of his presentation, that peculiar autistic mien, that might make others uncomfortable.

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Memorializing a Glacier and Hoping for the Future

A monument is unveiled at site of Okjokull, Iceland's first glacier lost to climate change in the west of Iceland on August 18, 2019. (Photo by Jeremie RICHARD / AFP) (Photo credit should read JEREMIE RICHARD/AFP/Getty Images)

We hear every day about ways in which accelerating climate change threatens life on earth, but scientists struggle to communicate that if we don’t significantly reduce our carbon footprints, we’re history. In Iceland, glaciologists and public officials have resorted to a different approach: staging a funeral for a melted glacier, now demoted from that classification to “dead ice,” and marking the occasion by installing a plaque with a “letter to the future.”

At the New Yorker, essayist Lacy M. Johnson attends a funeral for “Okjökull” — once a glacier with a surface of 16 square kilometers, and now “only a small patch of slushy gray ice.” In personifying shrinking masses of ice — key geographical features of the area, and the planet — officials hope to impress upon people the dire extent of climate change, and the need for humans to stop living in ways that threaten themselves, and all life forms.

Among others, Johnson talks with Iceland’s leading glaciologist, Oddur Sigurðsson.

When I asked him directly if glaciers were living, he hesitated. Things that grow and move, we tend to consider animate, he said, even if we resist the idea that every animate thing has a soul. A healthy glacier grows each winter more than it melts each summer; moves on the ground under its own weight; and is at least partially covered with a thick, fur-like layer of snow. Glaciers also move on their insides, especially in Iceland, where the glaciers are made of temperate ice, which exists right at the melting point. This sets them apart from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which are frozen and older by hundreds of thousands of years.

In Iceland, Sigurðsson said, the oldest ice was born more than a thousand years ago, before the Little Ice Age, on the north side of Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in the country. Vatnajökull is roughly the area of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, and stands almost as tall as the Empire State Building. Okjökull, by comparison, was small and young when it died; ice covered the mountaintop for only a few centuries. Sigurðsson knows this because he had counted the glacier’s rings, which were formed by dust each year—not unlike the rings on a tree. The rings contained a sort of memory—a record of pollen clouds, volcanic eruptions, world wars, and nuclear meltdowns. When a glacier melts, Sigurðsson explained, its memory disappears.

Having “memory” is just one of the many ways scientists refer to glaciers in terms that make them seem alive. They also “crawl” and have “toes”; when they break off at the ablation edge, they are said to have “calved.” They are born and die—the latter at increasing rates, especially during “the great thaw” of the past twenty years. When Sigurðsson conducted a glacier inventory in the early two-thousands, he found more than three hundred glaciers in Iceland; a repeat inventory, in 2017, revealed that fifty-six had disappeared. Many of them were small glaciers in the highlands, which had spent their lives almost entirely unseen. “Most of them didn’t even have names,” he told me. “But we have been working with local people to name every glacier so that they will not go unbaptized.” Now, he intends to complete their death certificates and bring a stack of them to meetings.

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Same Sh*itty Media Men, Different Day

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 24: Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer attend Cocktail party to celebrate ASP - The World Surf League at Jimmy at the James Hotel on July 24, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Clint Spaulding/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

The more things don’t change, the more they remain the same. At The Cut, Rebecca Traister reads Ronan Farrow’s damning new book, Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators (out today!), and realizes that those executives at NBC who colluded to obstruct Farrow’s ground-breaking reporting on Harvey Weinstein — and who protected Matt Lauer from sexual misconduct accusations — remain in charge today.

The reveal in Catch and Kill is not that there are corrupt people; it’s that corrupt people are in control of our media, politics, and entertainment and that, in fact, many of them remain in control — two years after the mass eruption of stories of harassment and assault that Farrow played a big part in precipitating. In his detailed laying out of systemic dread, Farrow does much to vividly describe the kind of horror story we still live in, when it comes to harassment and assault and, more broadly, to power imbalances and abuses.

Farrow, like his New York Times peers Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in their recent book She Said, has chosen to frame his narrative around his own journalistic project — how he came to publish the blockbuster story of movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s serial sexual predation. But unlike Kantor and Twohey’s triumphal tale of working within a supportive news organization, much of Farrow’s story is about working against the news network, NBC, where he was employed as an on-air investigative journalist and where he did much of his reporting on Weinstein, though that reporting would never air. (He eventually published in The New Yorker).

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Losing the Plot

Illustration by Giselle Potter

Sari Botton | Longreads | December 2018 | 23 minutes (5,667 words)

When I graduate from college in May of 1987, I receive a call from the Sephardic Brotherhood, an organization of which my father is a lifelong member. After congratulating me on this milestone, the man on the phone suggests I begin planning for another bigger one down the road: Would I like to be buried in their section of a Jewish cemetery in New Jersey? If I sign up now, I can lock into their special rate of just $90 per year.

I’m only 22 at the time, but I’ve just put myself through four years of college by working and scrimping and saving and worrying, and damn if I don’t recognize a bargain when I hear it — not to mention an opportunity to gain a sense of control over something. I mail off a check and then go about the business of hunting for my first real job in journalism; beginning my adult life while responsibly covering my bases for the end of it.


Two years later I marry for the first time, and the Sephardic Brotherhood calls again. Would I like to have my husband — he’s 25 — buried beside me?

“Hang on,” I say to the man on the other end. “Honey?? Do you want to be buried with me in the Sephardic part of a Jewish cemetery in New Jersey? It’s $90 a year.”

“I don’t know,” my husband shouts from another room in our small apartment. “Can we think about it?”

“I’ll get back to you,” I tell the man.

That weekend, at dinner with my in-laws, we inform them of the wonderful opportunity before us. “What?!” my mother-in-law shrieks. “But we’re already paying for plots for you — and your children — with the Shpitzernitzer* Society!”

(*In America from the late 19th to the early 20th Century, European Jewish immigrants formed hundreds of groups like the Shpitzernitzer Society and the Sephardic Brotherhood. Originally these societies served multiple purposes — helping members find jobs, learn English, and navigate immigration issues and assorted other legal matters. Many also became discount burial plot brokers.)

It’s news to us that our corpses and those of our theoretical future children are already spoken for, but we aren’t about to argue over it. On Monday I call the Brotherhood and cancel my burial plan. They issue a full refund.


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For Each Survivor of a Mass Shooting, a Different (Slow) Road to Recovery

At Esquire, Libby Copeland sits down with survivors of a mass shooting at a high school in Chardon, Ohio six years later, observing the various ways they live and cope with lasting trauma. All the people she speaks with — students, teachers, parents, school staff — continue to struggle with the memories and things like survivor guilt and PTSD, and no one can predict when or if they will ever fully recover. Some have made strides with the help of therapists, and treatment with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

For Jen Sprinzl — the principal’s secretary, who’d encountered the shooter in the hallway, mid-rampage — even more than therapy, it was her husband’s understanding that helped her recently get to a new place with her grief.

She said that, despite therapy, she continues to struggle. Recently, while standing in a restaurant buffet line, another diner started to choke; the commotion that ensued sent Jen’s whole body into a state of panic, her heart racing, her breath fast and shallow. Just the other day, a student pulled out what looked to be a pocket knife, and it terrified her, until he opened it up to reveal that it was just a comb. She said she knew that some of her colleagues thought she should be over this by now, six years later, but it wasn’t that easy.

Even so, things had improved over the last year. “I let him win for five years,” she said, referring to the shooter. Then one night, she’d had a kind of breakthrough. She and Joe went to dinner down the road, and she told him, “I’m sorry if I’ve been a burden. I can’t control this.”

“You’re not a burden,” he told her. He was there to help her, he said. However long it took.

And after that, she said, crying, “it was like I was free.” In that moment, Joe had taken a great weight from her. She realized she didn’t need to protect him from her pain; he could help her carry it.

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The Post on Anti-Semitism I Never Thought I’d Write

Businesses and properties owned by Jews were the target of vicious Nazi mobs during a night of vandalism that is known as "Kristallnacht". (Photo by © Bettmann/CORBIS/Bettmann Archive)

Today begins the anniversary of Kristallnacht, a nation-wide pogrom against Jews that took place across Germany and in parts of Austria on November 9th and 10th, 1938. Over the course of those two days, Germans smashed the windows of Jewish businesses and homes, burned synagogues, and committed deadly violence against Jews in the streets. Many consider the mass destruction that took place then to have marked a shift from ongoing, rampant anti-semitism to the official beginning of the Holocaust.

As a kid, in the ’70s, although I was occasionally made fun of for being Jewish, I thought that level of hatred and violence toward Jews had been relegated permanently to the past. But now, 80 years after Kristallnacht, I’m seeing I was wrong. Anti-semitism is on the rise again — in Europe, South America, the United States, everywhere.

It’s in my city of Kingston, New York, too. In my neighborhood. On my street.
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A Confederacy of (Dangerous) Dunces

In her new column for The Guardian, Rebecca Solnit makes a solid argument that Donald Trump’s presidency, and his fervent support from white racists, mark an attempt of the American Confederacy to rise again.

We had an ardent Unionist president for eight years, and now we are 21 months into the reign of an openly Confederate president, one who has defended Confederate statues and Confederate values and Confederate goals, because Make America Great Again harks back to some antebellum fantasy of white male dominance. Last weekend might as well have been Make America Gentile Again. And then came the attack, last Tuesday, on one of the signal achievements after the end of all-out war between the states: the 14th Amendment, which extends equal right of citizenship to everyone born here or naturalized.

So much of what is at stake is the definition of “us”, “ours” and “we”. “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union,” says the preamble to the Constitution. It was murky about who “we” were, and who “the people” were. That document gives only some white men the vote and apportions each state’s representation according to “whole Number of free Persons, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons”. “All other persons” is a polite way of saying enslaved black people, who found the union pretty imperfect. “Who’s your ‘us’?” could be what we ask each other and our elected officials.

“You will not replace us,” shouted the mobs of white men marching through Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 in a rally organized in response to the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee. When Dylann Roof murdered nine black people on 17 June 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, he declared: “Y’all are raping our white women. Y’all are taking over the world.” His “us” was white people, perhaps white men, since “our women” seems to regard white women as white men’s possessions.

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Help Us Fund More Original Essays (and Great Art to Go with Them)

It’s that time of year again, when for two weeks, my Twitter feed reads like a public radio fund-drive. That’s right, it’s Longreads’ annual member drive.

We’re working hard right now to raise $50,000 for our original story fund by Sunday, November 4th — a number that turns into $200,000 when you consider that matches every dollar contributed times three. We need your help to achieve this goal — to be able to fund more original stories.

At Longreads we pride ourselves on paying contributors fairly. The money we raise during our member drive is used to pay writers, editors, art directors, fact-checkers, copyeditors, illustrators, photographers, transcribers, translators and others who help us publish original pieces throughout the year.

It’s used to fund not only ground-breaking journalism — for instance Leah Sottile’s article and podcast series, Bundyville, a collaboration with Oregon Public Broadcasting — but also personal essays, which we’ve been publishing more of than ever before.

As Longreads’ Essays Editor — and a reader — I feel strongly that personal narratives have never been more important than they are now, when the world needs more awareness of, and empathy for, people’s different experiences. Publishing personal essays allows us to amplify diverse voices, and also to give chances to new writers who are just starting out. I believe personal essays can be as effective as hard reporting in conveying important ideas, and perhaps even more so in terms of opening people’s hearts and minds.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to get to work at a publication that recognizes the value of personal essays, pays writers fairly for them, and makes room in its editorial calendar for two or more of them each week.

Becoming a member — or making a one-time donation whether or not you already are a member — helps us to keep publishing a broad mix of essays from a wide variety of writers.

It’s impossible to choose my favorite particular essays that we’ve published, but in the interest of persuading you to contribute, I’d like to point to a few that have made me especially proud to have the opportunity to do this work, and to be part of the incredible Longreads team. Please notice, too, the art that accompanies these pieces — original illustrations by various artists, and collages by our art director, Katie Kosma. Member funding helps pay for these, too. Read more…