“In writing about Benjamin Percy’s werewolf novel, Red Moon, Roxane Gay’s review transforms into a fascinating essay with bite. She sums up the challenge authors face when examining the militarization of everyday life since 2001: ‘It’s a tricky thing to address pressing issues of the day in fiction without making prose do the work of preaching.’ Artistic success has eluded great authors who took the subject head on and Gay suggests that allegory is the platform that can let the author speak loudest. When I started writing my novel The Blondes I didn’t know that is was about these same subjects but by the time it was finished the world had crept in.
“Since writing a novel about a worldwide calamity and how its narrative unspools through the media, I’ve been haunted by its resonances with real events, but tragedy and unspeakable crime have always been documented. Today, we crowd source reflexively filmed camera footage to solve cases, but in the aftermath of the Second World War a Hollywood contingent hunted down and sifted through the propagandists’ own footage to build evidence against the Nazis for the Nuremberg trials. Budd Schulberg was a morally complicated screenwriter and author of the classic Hollywood novel What Makes Sammy Run? In ‘Budd and Leni’ Bruce Handy tells the story of how Schulberg arrested director Leni Riefenstahl. The story is complex, the material is harrowing, and the facts sometimes blur into strange humor, such as the Communist guard who is also a film critic.”
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Mark Sundeen, writing for Outside, traveled to the National Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs last summer and talked to some of the tiny house movement’s pioneers, including its “godfather” Jay Shafer. Over a cigarette break in the woods — away from all the tiny space swooners, wannabe-minimalists, and sales reps — Shafer tells him a bit about his design philosophy and the purpose of material objects.
Shafer was raised in a large suburban house in Orange County, California. “I never had a true sense of home,” he said. After attending the University of Iowa, he got a master’s in fine art in New York City. But urban life didn’t suit him. He returned to Iowa City, where he taught art, living in a pickup and later an Airstream. Although he considers himself secular, as an artist he was drawn to sacred symbols and icons. “I got tired of building shrines I couldn’t live in,” he said.
I asked him if he’d been on any of the tiny-house shows.
“I was on Oprah.”
“What was that like?”
“Like watching Oprah on television, but in 3-D.”
During a commercial, she told him that he had inspired her to get rid of one of her mansions. “I wish she would have said it on camera.”
Shafer went on to describe design in a language I had not heard at the Jamboree—or anywhere. “Integrity is my word for God,” he said. It was wrong to conceal structural elements or disguise materials, and purely ornamental features were like a comb-over. Both attempted to convince us that the homeowner (or the hair owner) felt secure but of course revealed insecurity. “My best designs come only when my ego gets out of the way, when the higher power flows through me.” He had a sense of humor about it all, too. “I spent weeks trying to design a dining table that would convert into a coffee table. Finally, I figured out that all I had to do was turn the thing on its side.”
He described himself as a “meaning addict,” always looking for higher significance in material objects. “A gate in a picket fence that opens onto a narrow path that leads through a yard to an open porch that covers a door,” he said, “is a set of symbols we recognize as signposts guiding us through increasingly private territory toward the threshold of someone’s clandestine world.”
I finally got it. I had not understood why Williams’s house felt so authentic while so many of the blocks on wheels felt awkward or false. This subculture, although it seemed to be about nifty gadgets and Murphy beds, was at its heart the expression of our longing to find our place in the universe, to become as beautiful and functional as nature itself.
To understand the tiny house movement, Mark Sundeen attends its big annual gathering—the National Tiny House Jamboree in Colorado Springs—to learn from its luminaries.
Here are four pieces exploring different approaches to space and home—from living on wheels to escaping the grid.
For my husband and me, 2014 has been all about downsizing: we got rid of 80 percent of our belongings, moved out of San Francisco and into my parents’ home, and are currently building a 131-square-foot tiny house on wheels. While this path to minimalism is winding, our goal remains clear: to experiment and create a home that makes sense for us. Here are four pieces exploring different approaches to space and home—from living on wheels to escaping the grid. Read more…
[Fiction] A family of children escape starvation in North Korea:
“The day the siblings left to find their mother, snow devoured the northern mining town. Houses loomed like ghosts. The government’s face was everywhere: on the sides of a beached cart, above the lintel of the post office, on placards scattered throughout the surrounding mountains praising the Dear Leader Kim Jong-il. And in the grain sack strapped to the oldest brother Woncheol’s back, their crippled sister, the weight of a few books.
“The younger brother Choecheol ran ahead. Like a child, Woncheol thought, frowning, though he too was still a child, an eleven-year-old with a body withering on two years of boiled tree bark, mashed roots, the occasional grilled rat and fried crickets on a stick.”
Mary O’Connell | Longreads | September 2017 | 18 minutes (4,609 words)
How we loved his very name: Monsignor Thomas O’Brien. The elevated French title — that magnificent silent “g” — coupled with his sturdy Irish name, which, imbued with our cultural bias, suggested all good things. Monsignor O’Brien can tell a joke like nobody’s business! Monsignor O’Brien loves Jameson shots and telling stories late into the smoky night! Monsignor O’Brien always carries Tootsie Rolls to give to children! Monsignor doesn’t stand on ceremony, no sir! Did you hear him mumble “Holy Shit” when his sleeve brushed the altar candle and caught fire?
Now Monsignor O’Brien belongs to a lost age, our personal Pompeii. Excavate us from the lava ash and see us in our innocence: our voluminous eighties hair and hoop earrings, our hands clutching cassettes tapes, The Go-Go’s, A Flock of Seagulls, LL Cool J. See the random fortune that shaped our days and gave us our bold, laughing profiles, the lowered eyes and caved shoulders of a different experience. It was a time when “monsignor” or “priest” was spoken without the slightest wince, without the explicit worry — uh-oh — before the saddest of the sad trombones replaced the golden crash of church bells at Midnight Mass, before the newspaper stories and the movie and the documentaries told a truth more devastating and inconvenient to the faithful than anything Al Gore could conjure, before Sinead O’Connor ripped up a photo of John Paul II on Saturday Night Live. (Note to my outraged 24-year-old self: Go ahead and proclaim Sinead a delusional attention whore, for that will amp up your moral vigor and you will feel ever so righteous, ever so wholesome! But she knows things.)
Back then, we believed the Monsignor was a holy man, but he also walked among us as a totally regular guy, so we pitied him his natural yearnings stemmed by sacrifice. We mourned with him when he gave a Mother’s Day homily about missing his own mother. We spied him driving through McDonald’s with nobody in the passenger seat, nobody in the backseat. The lonely subtext: Having a family of his own to sit down to dinner with was pretty much off the table.
Yet we imagined that loneliness as sublime. It was the waxen sweetness of ivory altar candles and spent wedding roses, the scrape and rasp of his black wing-tips on the icy church steps at dawn, a dinner taken by himself, something hearty, we imagined, something priestly: Shepherds pie chased with Folgers coffee in an earthenware mug stamped with a chunky Celtic cross. Later, if he craved a treat and if it wasn’t Lent, Monsignor O’Brien might eat an off-brand sandwich cookie leftover from a funeral luncheon while he watched the Chiefs on the small TV in the rectory. Later still, he might lay in bed with a notebook, laboring over his upcoming homily.
Perhaps he would rise and pace for a bit; the business of inspiration and enlightenment was surely stressful, the word of the Lord so far-off, so starry and oblique. In his endearing humility, Monsignor O’Brien would never quite feel up to the task of interpreting God for the rest of us. Did he console himself by thinking that the valor was in the effort, not the accomplishment? Did he click off his bedside lamp and listen to jazz on his AM/FM clock radio as his eyelids fluttered shut? Did Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman take him to his rest? Goodnight, Monsignor O’Brien. Goodnight, Jesus. Goodnight to all those saints and angels who have sung your praises throughout the years.
Britney Wilson | Longreads | September 2017 | 18 minutes (4,410 words)
He pulled up on the wrong side of the street fifteen minutes late for my pick-up time. I was sitting outside, in front of the New York City office building where I work, in a chair that the security guards at my job have set aside for me. They bring it outside when I come downstairs in the evening and take it back inside whenever I get picked up, so I don’t have to stand while I wait anymore. I was on the left side of the street; he pulled up on the right. I stood when I saw him, and taking a few steps closer to the tide of people rippling endlessly down the sidewalk that early evening, I waved one of my crutches in the air trying to get his attention. He looked up and down the street. I wasn’t sure if he’d seen me.
“Excuse me,” I said, taking a few more quick half steps forward, trying to catch the attention of a passer-by, “do you see that Access-a-Ride across the street?”
“The what?” the passer-by asked.
“The Access-a-Ride,” I repeated. “That little blue and white bus across the street.” I pointed my crutch in its direction, and his gaze followed its path.
“Oh,” he said. But just as I was about to request the man’s assistance, I saw that the driver had finally spotted me. He put his hand up as if to tell me to stay put.
“Nevermind. I think he sees me,” I said. “Thanks anyway.”
My Access-a-Ride driver, a skinny older Black man with glasses and a graying beard, exited the vehicle and crossed the street toward me. I bravely parted the latest oncoming wave of pedestrians and made my way to the curb to meet him.
“Come on,” the driver said when he reached me, urging me to step right out into traffic on Broadway and cross with him, but I was reluctant.
“I’d rather wait for the light to change,” I said.
“Don’t worry, I’ll stop traffic for you,” he said, moving toward the middle of the street, his right hand extended making a “stop” motion toward the oncoming cars. I tried to pick up my pace while also being careful not to place my crutch tips on anything slippery, or get too close to other pedestrians rushing to the other side of the street.
“Take your time. I’ll make them wait,” he attempted to reassure me. I wasn’t reassured.
The first nine days of Anthony Scaramucci’s tenure as the White House’s director of communications was a combination of bluster, bullying, and charm mixed with a bit of crazy. But, then again, that’s the sort of recipe favored by Donald Trump, a president who acts with impetuosity and has little time for strategy.
In the end, Scaramucci was too much even for Trump, and on the tenth day, the former hedge fund executive found himself amongst a long list of White House staffers suddenly on the outs with the president: Citing a wish to give new chief of staff John Kelly a clean slate, Scaramucci stepped down (or was removed, depending on your interpretation of reports) from his position. It’s a week Scaramucci will likely ponder over and over again in the coming months:
Scaramucci’s brief White House stay also set an (unofficial) record for shortest tenure for a communications director, besting the previous mark of eleven days set by John Koehler in 1987. Though Ronald Reagan won the 1984 election in a landslide, thoroughly thrashing Walter Mondale, the end of his second administration was beset by staff upheaval and intense intra-cabinet bickering and back stabbing. Sound familiar?
Reagan had appointed Treasury Secretary Don Regan as his chief of staff in 1985, setting off two years of feuding between Regan and First Lady Nancy Reagan; in his 1988 memoir, Regan portrayed Mrs. Reagan as a puppet master who heavily relied on an astrologer to help guide and influence decision and American policy. Coupled with the Iran-Contra scandal, the executive branch of government seemed paralyzed. Perhaps the most illuminating example of the administration’s disarray during the last 24 months of the 40th president’s time in office was the appointment of Koehler as the new comm director, replacing Pat Buchanan, who resigned in January 1987 (and had his own issues with Regan and was mulling a run for president in 1988).
Mrs. Reagan was Koehler’s advocate within the administration. Largely on the advice of Charles Wick, head of the US Information Agency, Mrs. Reagan felt Koehler, a German immigrant who served as interpreter for the U.S. Army in World War II and former managing director of the AP’s world services, could best shape the president’s message, and rushed through his appointment. “It was done quickly and without running the usual traps,” a White House official told the Washington Post at the time, which is why no one discovered that Koehler, as a 10-year-old, had served for six mouths in a Nazi youth group in Germany known as Jungvolk.
Regan wasn’t consulted before Koehler was brought aboard, and since Koehler didn’t list his participation in the youth group “on his resume,” the chief of staff said the West Wing had no way of knowing his past activities. Sensing a much-needed opening to possibly decrease the First Lady’s influence, Regan immediately shifted blame to the East Wing—aka Mrs. Reagan—for the hiring. Meanwhile, Koehler reportedly couldn’t understand the uproar: growing up in Dresden, Koehler said his participation was “almost mandatory” and that he left Jungvolk because “[he] was bored.” And, in a bizarre deflection, he told the Los Angeles Times that both his first and second wives were Jewish, adding, “What does that make me? A Zionist or a member of the Stern gang?”
Asked whether his appointment was in jeopardy, he said it would be a “black day in journalism” if he was ousted. And yet, in early March 1987, 11 days after being named the new communications director (and five days after he officially began the job), he was asked to effectively resign, following Regan out the door, who the president had ousted the previous week before (the coincidences are quite eerie). Unsurprisingly, Dutch sided with his wife, telling Regan, “[Nancy is] being blamed for Koehler and she’s seen unfairly.”
Trump consistently refers to the Reagan years as a golden period in American history, that he wants to make America great again like it was in the 1980s. Certainly, the events of this past week show how the 45th president is following in Reagan’s footsteps, though it may not be the path Trump thought he would encounter just seven months into his administration.