Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Wait: Is There Such a Thing as a Good Miscarriage?

Photo by Michael Coghlan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The due date was July 5. I let this day pass like all the others, without even mentioning it to anyone. By this point, a couple of days will go by without my thinking about the baby I would have had, about what all our lives would have been like. It’s a Sunday, and I spend the day watching my daughter play in a tiny pool shaped like a giant turtle. She climbs in and out, in and out.

At Lenny, Jessica Grose recounts the agonizing waiting period after an inconclusive ultrasound and considers whether there is such a thing as a good miscarriage.

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The Race to the Bottom of the Sugar Bowl

brown and white sugar cubes

Beth Kowitt, in Fortune, explores food manufacturers’ race to find a sugar stand-in that ticks all the boxes: cheap, “natural” (i.e., plant-based), and actually tastes like sugar. Amid the science, stevia leaves, and sucralose, she takes a step back: if sugar is such a health hazard, why don’t we just… eat less sugar?

There seems to be an obvious solution to all of this that would be much easier for everyone: Why not just eat less sugar? “As we move away from sugar, we are facing this dilemma that nothing tastes like sugar,” says consultant Woo. We know, after all, that our expectations are not set by nature. In the U.S. products tend to be sweeter than in Europe. For example, a liter-size bottle of American Dr ­Pepper has 108 grams of sugar, vs. about 73 grams for the U.K. equivalent. Why not just drop the threshold in the U.S. market too?

Several of the big food and beverage manufacturers have pursued this path, vowing to cut sugar in their products. Coca-Cola says it has already reduced it in more than 200 of its sodas. For its part, PepsiCo has committed that by 2025, at least two-thirds of its volume will have 100 calories or fewer per 12 ounces. (A can of Pepsi has 150 calories, for example.) General Mills has begun slashing sugar in its cereals and yogurt. Nestlé and Dr Pepper Snapple have made pledges of their own.

The challenge stems in large part from what the rest of the market is doing. “They’re afraid that consumers will taste 20% lower sweetness and go to a competitor,” says DuBois. Paul Bakus, Nestlé’s president of corporate affairs, told me that the company has to walk a narrow line between being nutritionally superior to the rest of the market and not sacrificing taste. “We want to reduce sugar where possible as long as we don’t put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage,” he says. “How do you compete if your competitors aren’t following the process or rules or guidelines?”

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Portrait of the Risk-Taker as a Young Man (or, There’s Something About Spencer)

x-ray of a broken arm

In Victory Journal, Laura Yan profiles Spencer Seabrooke, who breaks world slacklining records walking across loosely tensioned, inch-wide pieces of polyester suspended hundreds of meters in the air. Early in the piece, she talks to his mother, who knew early on that there was something a little different about Spencer.

“He’s never experienced pain like other kids,” says Maureen Kimble, Seabrooke’s mom. She is a sprightly woman with bright eyes, a closely cropped pixie cut, and an enthusiasm she clearly passed on to her son. She tells me about an instance shortly after he started kindergarten when he was run over by a bus. He had multiple fractures in his arm and tire marks in his skin. Kimble met him in the emergency room. “He was so not worried about it,” she says. The tread marks were etched in his flesh for weeks.

While he was getting his cast changed, a stranger saw him in the elevator.

“What happened to you, little boy?”

“Oh I got ran over by a bus,” Spencer lisped. “But it was just a little bus.”

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‘Three Hours of the American Way of Life’: Football as Fantasy in Ukraine

football sitting on a field

Photojournalist Alexey Furman and writer Robert Langellier spent time with the Azov Dolphins, a football team in a town close the front lines of the violence in Ukraine. In a sad, intimate piece in Roads & Kingdoms, they explore the hope and hopelessness of young Ukrainians.

“I really like history,” he says. “I found a source that says the U.S. owes Russia $12 trillion. So Americans started this war in Ukraine against Russia, so that the documents proving this will be burned. It says the Americans want to start a third world war to find these documents and burn them.”

Being in the epicenter of a reality-bending information war between Ukraine and Russia, Dima, like most in Mariupol, has no idea what to believe. Half the time, people don’t even know who the combatants are. Some think the shelling from the rebels was actually the Russians, some the Americans. Some believe the Ukrainian army shelled itself in order to blame the rebels.

What is beginning in the U.S. has been ongoing for years in Ukraine. Disinformation has split a country into brutal civil strife.

American football, though, is an escape. Dima likes the Miami Dolphins, though he can’t name the players. “They create miracles on the field,” he says. The only place he knows he wants to go besides Kiev is Miami, Florida. He wonders if football can someday take him there.

“When I play American football, I feel like I’m in America,” he says. “When I’m in practice, I imagine playing in the NFL on one of the great teams in one of the great stadiums with lights shining on me and people applauding me. I’m jumping to catch the ball. It’s a great moment.”

Dima mentions that dolphins, by nature, aren’t supposed to be in the Sea of Azov. They aren’t well-suited to the pollution and the increasingly shallow depth, so when they slip through the Kerch Strait and find themselves in the Azov, they often get rescued and thrown back into the Black Sea.

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‘I Still Live in a Small Town That I Hate’: Roxane Gay’s Perspective on Her Success

Photo by Eva Blue, via Flickr Commons

This week, a number of people heard of Roxane Gay for the first time when Simon & Schuster canceled its plans to publish controversial alt-right author Milo Yiannopoulos’s book. (In the weeks prior, Gay had withdrawn her forthcoming book, How to be Heard, from the publisher because they were giving the former Breitbart editor a platform.) For most writers, there’s no such thing as a bad way to be discovered by new readers. But it can be annoying when those who’ve just become aware of your work perceive you as an overnight success, especially when your career has been building for years. In a profile for Brooklyn Magazine, Molly McArdle asks Gay for her perspective on her success.

“A lot of people think it’s been overnight,” Gay says of her success. “In many ways my life hasn’t changed. My friends are still my friends. I still live in a small town that I hate.” But some things have started to shift. “It’s easier to pay my bills, certainly,” she says. “There’s a lot more scrutiny and attention.” There’s also a new apartment in Los Angeles, where she lives when she’s not in Indiana teaching at Purdue. (“It’s a workable compromise.”) There’s new creative projects in new genres: comic books, screenplays, occasional radio. Gay is the first black woman to write for Marvel, and her series, World of Wakanda, spins off from Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther, tackling romantic love between queer black women in a way that is both literally groundbreaking and utterly natural. Still, Gay sees herself first as a writer of short fiction. “I’m relatively new to nonfiction,” she says. (I have to respectfully disagree with the bestselling essayist, a phrase so rare it’s practically an oxymoron, on this point.) With only one novel, she adds, “I’m a beginning novelist.” But Gay also sees growth, accomplishment: “My writing is more confident,” she says. “I’ve always taken myself seriously as a writer. Now other people take me seriously.”

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photo by SEIU 775 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In this week’s Top 5, we’re sharing stories by Michael Hall, Molly McArdle, Mehreen Kasana, Helen Hollyman, and an interview by Kate Harloe.

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The Needle and the Damage Done: ‘What kind of a childhood is that?’

Photo by Urban Seed Education (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At The Washington Post, Eli Saslow profiles Zaine, Arianna, and Zoie Pulliam — three kids 17 and under deemed “opiate orphans.” The Pulliam kids exemplify a generation of children whose parents have died of drug overdoses as a result of the opioid epidemic.

Nearly everyone in Zaine’s life had been anxiously monitoring that line for the past year and a half, ever since both of his parents died of heroin overdoses in April 2015. His parents had become two of the record 33,091 people to die of opioid overdoses that year in a national crisis that has been worst of all in rural West Virginia, where health officials estimate that overdose rates are now eight to 10 times higher than the national average. Middle-aged white men in this part of the country have lost a full year of life expectancy during the past two decades. Middle-aged white women have lost more than two years. The opiate epidemic has essentially wiped out an entire generation of health advances, and now West Virginia has begun to focus more of its resources on prevention and preservation among the next generation entering into the void.

These children are sometimes referred to by health officials here as opiate orphans, and three of the most recent ones live in a small house in South Charleston: Zoie, 10, who believed that her parents had died in their sleep; Arianna, 13, who was just starting to wear her mother’s old makeup; and Zaine, 17, who had been the one to discover his parents that morning on their bedroom floor, and whose grades had begun to drop ever since.

Madie, 53, had retired from her maintenance job at the public schools and moved into the house to help take care of the children after the overdoses. “Mah-maw,” they called her, and she told salty jokes, cooked their breakfast and slept in Zoie’s bedroom when she had nightmares.

But, on some nights, it was Madie who couldn’t sleep, when neither her doctor-prescribed antidepressants nor her occasional swallows of Fireball whiskey could quiet her grief or her rising anxiety. She had once struggled with addiction herself before getting clean. She had raised a daughter who had become an addict. Now she was responsible for three more children in a place where that same disease had officially been classified as a “widespread, progressive and fatal epidemic.”

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A New American Pastime: Putinology

Photo by Kai Schreiber, via Flickr Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

For The Guardian, Russian-born journalist and author Keith Gessen breaks down seven theories about Vladimir Putin that have gained traction as a result of a diversion that’s become popular with Americans in the Trump era: Putinology.

Putin’s recent ubiquity has brought great prominence to the practice of Putinology. This enterprise – the production of commentary and analysis about Putin and his motivations, based on necessarily partial, incomplete and sometimes entirely false information – has existed as a distinct intellectual industry for over a decade. It kicked into high gear after the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, but in the past few months, as allegations of Russian meddling in the election of President Donald Trump have come to dominate the news, Putinology has outdone itself. At no time in history have more people with less knowledge, and greater outrage, opined on the subject of Russia’s president. You might say that the reports of Trump’s golden showers in a Moscow hotel room have consecrated a golden age – for Putinology.

And what does Putinology tell us? It turns out that it has produced seven distinct hypotheses about Putin. None of them is entirely wrong, but then none of them is entirely right (apart from No 7). Taken together, they tell us as much about ourselves as about Putin. They paint a portrait of an intellectual class – our own – on the brink of a nervous breakdown.

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Weighing the Impact of Nationalized Medicine

Carol Von Canon, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

When the ACA was passed in 2010, Ana Maria Garza Cortez could hardly believe it. She’d spent decades trying to help poor people in San Antonio get health care. She knew the barriers they faced because she’d faced them too. She’d grown up in West Side housing projects, and her family never had health insurance. She and her seven siblings didn’t go to the doctor when they were sick. “That was a luxury,” Cortez says. “My mom loved us, but we were poor. She would wait to see if whatever we had would go away.” If it didn’t, she would take them to the neighborhood clinic or, more often, the emergency room. Since Cortez graduated from Our Lady of the Lake University, in 1990, she has worked with nonprofits, usually in health care. She serves as the vice president of development and marketing at CentroMed, one of the city’s sliding-scale, safety net clinics, with 23 locations in the area, many in the city’s poorer neighborhoods. She became one of the leaders of EnrollSA, along with Guajardo and Joe Ibarra, the deputy state director and operations manager at Enroll America. Among the city’s health care advocates, Cortez is admired for her energy and passion. “We call her ‘Santa Maria,’ ” Guajardo says. “She lives for the community. It’s in her bones.”

Now that President Obama had pushed through a law making health insurance available, at least in theory, to everyone, Cortez was elated. She knew Texas needed help—the state had five million uninsured residents, more than any other—and her hometown especially so. Officials figured there were 300,000 or so uninsured in the city and surrounding Bexar County. Latinos make up 60 percent of the San Antonio population, but 75 percent of the city’s uninsured. On the South Side, which has a significant Latino population, rates of diabetes, hypertension, and obesity were higher than average. For generations, says Santos Hernandez, who grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and now works as an application counselor at CentroMed, many in the poor Latino population, rural and urban, have had a three-step system for dealing with illness. “First you go to church, light a candle, and pray. Second, you see a curandero. Finally, you borrow money and take your kid to the doctor.”

In Texas Monthly, Michael Hall surveys the Texans whose health has dramatically improved after receiving medical coverage through President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and discusses the group who labored to get them enrolled. The question that lingers now is: what will happen if the ACA gets repealed?

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You’re Fired! The Unemployable Trump Administration

You're fired, White House!

At the one-month mark, we now have a working theory of what makes an employee fireable (or not even hireable) in the Trump administration. There are two main types.

Fireable Offense Type #1: Be Drop Dead Scandalous

1. In December, Jason Miller, who was tapped to be the White House communications director, quit after another transition official, A.J. Delgado, tweeted her jilted love at him. Miller and his wife were expecting a new baby, so, via Twitter, “Delgado congratulated ‘the baby-daddy’ on his promotion,” ominously adding: “The 2016 version of John Edwards.”

“When people need to resign graciously and refuse to, it’s a bit … spooky,” Delgado then wrote. When an old law school friend asked on Twitter to whom she was referring, Delgado replied: “Jason Miller. Who needed to resign … yesterday.”

Delgado then deleted her Twitter account and, after Politico reported on the rumored affair, privately disclosed the details of the relationship to the transition team.

If you reach back into the deep part of yourself where you catalog other people’s misbehavior, you may even recall that Page Six reported back in October that, the night before the last presidential debate, Delgado and Miller, along with several journalists, were spotted together at the world’s largest strip club. Read more…