This week, we’re sharing stories from Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Ellen Pao, Henry Wismayer, Taylor Harris, and Jeff Maysh.
For New York Magazine‘s The Cut, Ashley C. Ford writes about the burgeoning plus-size fashion business, and how much of a surprise missed opportunity it’s consistently been for major manufacturers and retailers. When you consider that some 67 percent of women reportedly wear size 14 or larger, it’s remarkable how hard it is for them — Ford included — to find a selection of “fun and quality” clothes designed specifically with larger bodies in mind.
Ford comes at the story from a personal angle, not only as a plus-size customer, but also as someone who was discouraged away from her dream of designing plus-size clothes.
I began my freshman year of college double-majoring in fashion merchandising and apparel design. At the end of my first semester, a professor told me I would be better off changing my major. I had earned an A in her course — for the first time in my life, I was a perfect student. But I was already a size 12, inching closer and closer to 14 each day. My professor was also big, and she told me there was no place for a body like mine in the fashion world unless I was a man or a genius, so I was wasting my money and my time. I don’t believe she meant me harm. I believe she meant to save me: Her experience working in fashion as a fat woman had been abysmal. I wasn’t even comfortable enough to go into some stores at my size, so how was I going to design for them? I changed my major to psychology.
This week, we’re sharing stories from Steve Kolowich; Stephanie Clifford and Jessica Silver-Greenberg; Taffy Brodesser-Akner; Carolyn Murnick; and Jamie Lauren Keiles.
New York Magazine has an excerpt of The Hot One: a Memoir of Friendship, Sex and Murder, by Carolyn Murnick.
Murnick recalls learning in 2001 that her childhood best friend, Ashley Ellerin — an ex-girlfriend of Ashton Kutcher’s — had been stabbed to death at 22 in L.A. Ellerin had visited Murnick at college in New York just eight months before. During that visit, Murnick got a peek into the fast life Ellerin had been hiding from her parents and others who’d been close to her growing up.
On our walk from the subway across 110th Street toward my apartment, she told me that her part-time job at Sephora was just something she held on to so her parents would stay off her back. Actually, she was spending more of her time — and making a lot more money — at a strip club, working bachelor parties and pole dancing for tips; occasionally there were arrangements that happened in hotels, too. She relayed the information with the same casual remove she had used to give the waiter her order at lunch: The chopped chicken salad, no onions, honey-mustard dressing on the side.
You had to have a manicure and pedicure every week, she was saying, which was kind of a drag, but even a tiny chip in your nail polish could ruin the fantasy. She usually did light colors or French; once she had put baby blue on her toes and it hadn’t gone over well. Tanning too — religiously. Men expected you to be a certain way, and attempting to work around that was more trouble than it was worth.
I tried to appear blasé, to take it in stride, but what I really felt was utter confusion. Was I angry at her? Was she telling me this to brag? Should I be wearing my concerned hat now, or would that be unfairly judgmental? I hadn’t yet seen any comparable life developments in a friend and didn’t know what it all meant, for either of us or the two of us. Maybe this was good, cool, right — To each her own? You go, girl? — and I was the one with a problem, a prude. Did everything make sense now, or did it all make even less sense than before?
We rounded the corner onto Amsterdam Avenue. Ashley’s confessions were picking up speed — actors, crystal meth, the lease to her car being paid for by some guy in his 50s, how much she charged for an hour. She talked of martinis and pills and being on top during sex; the guys always told you they wanted you to go as slow as possible, but she still found ways to get through it quickly. It was almost as if she needed to get everything out before we entered my apartment, an unmasking in public so we could be on the same page in private.
“I don’t like the way he talks about women, I don’t like the way he talks about our friend Megyn Kelly, and you know what, the politicians don’t want to go at Trump because he’s got a big mouth and because [they’re] afraid he’s going to light them up on Fox News and all these other places,” he said. “But I’m not a politician. Bring it. You’re an inherited money dude from Queens County. Bring it, Donald.”
This was in 2015, a year before the money manager began supporting Trump’s bid for president. But like all Trump hires, there’s almost nothing Scaramucci has said in the past his new boss will hold against him. As White House Communications Director, this is a helpful indicator of how reliable their future statements will be, too.
A New York Magazine story on climate change is making the rounds on the internet, frequently being shared by people characterizing it as a “terrifying” “must-read.” “It is, I promise, worse than you think,” writes David Wallace-Wells, who goes on to tell his readers that even the most anxious among them are unaware of the terrors that are possible “even within the lifetime of a teenager today.”
What many readers seem to be overlooking is how frequently words like “may” appear in the text of Wallace-Wells’ article. “May” is in there seven times; “suggest” six times, “possible” and its variants a few more. Wallace-Wells is, of course, referencing the positions of scientists, whom he says have become extra cautious due to “climate denialism,” steering the public away from “speculative warnings” that could be debunked by future scientific progress, weakening their own case and giving weight to their opponents.
As Jack El-Hai wrote for Longreads in April of this year, science editor Peter Gwynne is still dogged by an article he wrote for Newsweek more than 40 years ago, “The Cooling World,” which predicted — wrongly, as it turns out — another Ice Age. The prediction at the time was supported by evidence, he claimed, that was mounting so quickly, “meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it.” The evidence Gwynne relied on has since been disproved — a phenomenon not uncommon a field as relatively young as climate study. As El-Hai noted:
The study of the world’s climate was still primitive in the 1970s. Few meteorological scientists then knew how to interpret trending temperature information, and the cause of climate changes was mysterious. The information that climate researchers had collected was incomplete and easy to misread. The biosciences have advanced by huge leaps since then, and many more scientists now study the climate.
Gwynne’s article was used for decades as fodder by those who trade in what Wallace-Wells dubs “climate denialisms,” showing how those determined not to believe in a certain scientific finding can benefit from the natural trial-and-error of most scientific inquiry.
After Wallace-Wells’s piece was published, climate scientist Michael E. Mann took to Facebook to criticize his story. (He also claimed Wallace-Wells interviewed but didn’t quote or mention him). Mann is equally critical of “doomist framing” and “those who understate the risks” of climate change, and argues that Wallace-Wells’ article includes “extraordinary claims” without “extraordinary evidence” to back it up.
About the risk of catastrophic methane released by melting permafrost, for example, Mann says the science “is much more nuanced and doesn’t support the notion of a game-changing, planet-melting methane bomb. It is unclear that much of this frozen methane can be readily mobilized by projected warming.”
Mann also highlights Wallace-Wells’ referencing of “satellite data showing the globe warming, since 1998, more than twice as fast as scientists had thought.”
“That’s just not true,” writes Mann. “The study in question simply showed that one particular satellite temperature dataset that had tended to show less warming that the other datasets, has now been brought in line with the other temperature data after some problems with that dataset were dealt with… The warming of the globe is pretty much progressing as models predicted… which is bad enough.”
Mann’s position is that the evidence supporting the notion that climate change is “a serious problem that we must contend with now” is overwhelming enough without a doomsday narrative that he fears has a “paralyzing” effect and makes people feel hopeless, potentially deterring efforts to mitigate the human-caused harm.
There’s an argument to be made in defense of Wallace-Wells’ meltdown-style writing, however. As Atlas Obscura staff writer Sarah Laskow noted on Twitter, the exploration on which he embarks is hardly novel — New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert won a Pulitzer this year for a book on the topic, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. Yet, Wallace-Wells’ story got readers’ attention in a way that seemed to suggest it was news they’d never encountered before.
For scientists like Mann, it’s true that the evidence easily at our fingertips is compelling enough to warrant immediate mitigating efforts. But not everyone is a scientist like Mann. As El-Hai noted in his piece on Gwynne’s disproved Newsweek article, a U.S. Senator held up a snowball on the Senate floor in 2015 as part of an argument that global warming isn’t real. Today, Antarctica is poised to shed one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, while the Trump administration is abandoning international climate agreements, undoing dozens of environmental regulations dealing with everything from methane to grizzly bears to chemical spills and using the agency meant to protect the environment to launch a program challenging climate science. In light of all that, it’s just as easy to sympathize with Mann’s concern about making people feel so hopeless they believe there’s nothing left to be done, as it is hard to blame Wallace-Wells for despairing.
Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a beautiful black boy coming of age in a dreadfully under-resourced section of Miami. As with any great work of art, it’s the tiniest details that reveal the most — the inflection of a phrase, the subtlety of a glance, the seconds of silence. Adapted from Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue, with cinematography so lush, the balmy humidity of south Florida oozes off the screen, Moonlight is filled with moments like this. It happens when young Chiron avoids eye contact with a drug dealer during their first encounter, and again when Chiron welcomes an unexpected friendship on the soccer field with clear hesitation. You can see it every time Chiron flinches at his mother, and in the need that remains in the shadows of his eyes when he does. It happens when his mother makes Chiron read books instead of watching TV. “Find something for you to read,” she says.
The first time I saw Moonlight, these small revelations of humanity disarmed me. I felt exposed, and had to turn away from the screen. How did the filmmakers know, I wondered, that growing up black could be so contoured with dark peril, so layered with pure, sweet joy? That yes, absolutely, a drug dealer could be a respite, a much needed stand-in for a father? I realized its novelty is due in large part to the sheer, sad fact that it is rare to see black characters coming of age on screen. Two thirds of the movie is dedicated to Chiron’s childhood and adolescence; we see his intelligence and sensitivity unfurl, retreat, and finally unfurl again.
In a revealing memoir piece at New York Magazine, Jerry Saltz — the magazine’s art critic — retraces his early years as an artist in 1970s Chicago (spolier alert: it didn’t work out). It’s a gripping read not just for artists and art lovers, but for anyone who’s ever grappled with the tricky interplay of productivity, mediocrity, and coming to terms with one’s own limitations. Despite his failure to build a career as an artist, I loved how absurdly (admirably?) ambitious his plans were for his magnum opus: composing 100 illustrated altarpieces for each of Dante’s Divine Comedy cantos, for a total of 10,000:
I began my “Inferno” project just before dawn on the Thursday before Easter 1975, because Maundy Thursday is when Dante’s story begins in the poem — lost in “the dark wood of error,” having strayed from the “true way.” I planned to finish on Easter, the same day Dante finished his own journey, in 1300. I would finish in 2000, by which time I would have made 100 opening-and-closing altarpieces for each of the 100 cantos of The Divine Comedy. The 10,000 finished altarpieces were supposed to represent an idea of the infinite and a way to set myself free. Why Dante? Especially as I barely read at all and didn’t believe in God? I think because The Divine Comedy, which is a gigantic organized allegorical system where every evil deed is punished in accord with the law of equal retribution and divine love, supplied me with the formulated structure I craved. The highly established internal architectonics, the almost primitive definitiveness, what Beckett called the “neatness of identification,” were psychological shelter and weapons of revenge for me. A way to right my own world, to grasp an order like that in the Bible: “all things by measure and number and weight.” Most of all, it was a vision of justice — the good being rewarded and the bad getting their punishments.
This week, we’re sharing stories by Reeves Wiedeman, Monica Mark, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Daniel Duane, and Danny Chau.
At New York Magazine, Reeves Wiedeman profiles Brace Belden, aka @PissPigGranddad , a Jewish, 27-year-old anarchist, provocateur, and former punk musician from San Francisco who is just finishing six months in Syria fighting against ISIS with Kurdish rebels. Belden—who flew to Iraq and had himself smuggled into Syria because he felt an urgent need to take action—is conflicted about becoming visible within the conflict
Belden was an unlikely recruit. He had spent most of the previous decade working in flower shops in the Bay Area and had LIFE STINKS / I LIKE THE KINKS tattooed on his left bicep. The Kurds in his tabor had taken to calling Western volunteers by their nearest celebrity doppelgängers, which made Belden, who is Jewish, with floppy brown hair and black-rimmed glasses, glad that they hadn’t noticed any resemblance to Woody Allen — nor had they seen the Annie Hall parody, Annie Crawl, that Belden had posted online several months earlier, in which he played Allen’s character as if he were a dog. Instead, the Kurds called him “Mr. Bean.”
But by the time we spoke, Belden had become — at least to American leftists — a prominent figure in the Syrian Civil War, to his surprise as much as anyone else’s, thanks to the humorous and often crass dispatches he posted to Twitter under the handle @PissPigGranddad: photos of himself giving a peace sign in front of a tank or holding a grenade with a cigarette dangling from his lips, jokes about how difficult it was to find a place to masturbate, and occasional analysis of the political and military situation. Belden, who had gone from a few hundred followers before leaving San Francisco to more than 33,000 by the end of March, was less the war’s George Orwell than its digital Hunter S. Thompson. “Sorry I haven’t tweeted I’ve been (lowers shattered sunglasses revealing empty, bleeding eye sockets) killing ISIS guys,” he wrote, after returning from his first trip to the front.