This week, we’re sharing stories from Caitlin Dickerson, Aaron Edwards, Alice Su, Jia Tolentino, and James Somers.
The first image posted by xychelsea87 was a pair of black, brand-new Chuck Taylors, shot from above on a plain wood floor like any good Instagram influencer who “has a thing with floors.” Next up, a slice of pepperoni pizza, a hand, and a sleeve of a black and white striped shirt. “So, im already enjoying my first hot, greasy pizza.” Next post, the same hand, the same striped shirt, with two glasses of champagne. “Here’s to freedom and a new beginning.” And on May 18, Manning turned the camera on herself for the first time. It’s a carefully-styled image—her Instagram has been a study in carefulness—as she reveals a portrait on her own terms for the first time since her release. The sun is on her face — she’s outside. “Okay, so here I am everyone!!”
Chelsea Manning didn’t get to chose the image that defined her for the seven years she was in prison, a blurry shot in a blond wig, smiling in a car while on leave in the US during her time in Iraq. The leave was essential to her decision to leak the files she had downloaded as an intelligence officer, she explains to the New York Times.
Jared, meet Kamiia Warren. Your company nearly ruined her life.
ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis has an infuriating new story in The New York Times Magazine on a company called JK2 Westminster L.L.C., which for years relentlessly pursued former tenants of its Baltimore-area housing developments for unpaid rent. In Warren’s case, the single mother of three had received written permission to break her lease early, and she owed no rent, but Westminster sued her anyway — for $3,014.08. She ended up losing on a series of technicalities — she did not have a lawyer — and the company went so far as to garnish her wages from her in-home elder-care job.
The company, meanwhile, ignored multiple complaints about poor upkeep and disrepair in its housing developments. Read more…
Leslie Jamison is stepmother to Lily, age six. Lily’s mother died of cancer just before she turned three, and in this essay from the New York Times Magazine, Jamison explores fairy tale stepmothers both as the rare “port in the storm” and the much more common “stock villain” stereotyped by cruelty and abuse, as she navigates the fraught role of stand-in parent.
The evil stepmother casts a long, primal shadow, and three years ago I moved in with that shadow, to a one-bedroom rent-controlled apartment near Gramercy Park. I sought the old stories in order to find company—out of sympathy for the stepmothers they vilified—and to resist their narratives, to inoculate myself against the darkness they held.
My relationship with Lily, too, was not like the story we inherited from fairy tales — a tale of cruelty and rebellion—or even like the story of divorce-era popular media: the child spurning her stepmother, rejecting her in favor of the true mother, the mother of bloodline and womb. Our story was a thousand conversations on the 6 train or at the playground in Madison Square Park. Our story was painting Lily’s nails and trying not to smudge her tiny pinkie. Our story was telling her to take deep breaths during tantrums, because I needed to take deep breaths myself. Our story began one night when I felt her small, hot hand reach for mine during her favorite movie, when the Abominable Snowman swirled into view on an icy mountain and almost overwhelmed the humble reindeer.
For me, the stakes of thinking about what it means to be a stepmother don’t live in statistical relevance—slightly more than 10 percent of American women might relate!—but in the way stepparenting asks us to question our assumptions about the nature of love and the boundaries of family. Family is so much more than biology, and love is so much more than instinct. Love is effort and desire—not a sentimental story line about easy or immediate attachment, but the complicated bliss of joined lives: ham-and-guacamole sandwiches, growing pains at midnight, car seats covered in vomit. It’s the days of showing up. The trunks we inherit and the stories we step into, they make their way into us—by womb or shell or presence, by sheer force of will. But what hatches from the egg is hardly ever what we expect: the child that emerges, or the parent that is born. That mother is not a saint. She’s not a witch. She’s just an ordinary woman. She found a sled one day, after she was told there weren’t any left. That was how it began.
In the New York Times Magazine, Thomas Chatterton Williams profiles John Edgar Wideman, MacArthur genius and author of more than 20 books including his latest, Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File, about the father of Emmett Till.
Wideman’s own life has been marked by tragedy:
If they knew any of that about Wideman the writer, they would also have to know this about Wideman the person: He is the older brother of a man convicted of murder, serving a life sentence without the chance of parole; the uncle of a young man shot execution-style in his own home; the father of a boy who, at age 16, woke up one night while traveling with a group of campers, got out of bed and stabbed his roommate to death while he was sleeping. The drama of Wideman’s personal history can seem almost mythical, refracting so many aspects of the larger black experience in America, an experience defined less by its consistencies, perhaps, than by its many contradictions — the stunning and ongoing plurality of victories and defeats.
Now 75, Wideman is noticeably gentler-looking than the severe ice-grill that has glared from dust jackets for so many years. After Bahaj left, he confessed to me that he had been reading reviews of his newest book, “Writing to Save a Life,” published in November. He noted that critics tend to write about him as an isolated and haunted figure, an idea he has resisted but has been coming to accept about himself. “I mean, if everyone tells you your feet stink, after a while, you may think you washed the boys, but everybody can’t be wrong.” He laughed at himself but then soberly conceded, “I always felt extremely isolated.” That loneliness Wideman speaks of is twofold: both peculiar to him and quintessentially black, especially for more talented men of his era. I have seen this loneliness, too, in my father, a man of Wideman’s generation and the first in his family to break out of the segregated South and get a college education, a dual triumph that simultaneously freed him and left him a consummate outsider.
In more than 30 years of membership, Annie’s descendants became interwoven in the life of the tribe. They married other Nooksacks and had kids; those kids had kids. But once the disenrollment process began, people chose sides. “It was just like a light switch,” Elizabeth Oshiro, one of the 306, told me. People she knew for years “all of a sudden had a different heart.” …
On the reservation, Michelle Roberts found that people who babysat for her as a child or attended her wedding would no longer make eye contact with her. “The most important thing isn’t friendship,” says Diane Brewer, who no longer speaks to her former best friend, one of the 306. “The most important thing is the tribe.”
–In the New York Times Magazine, Brooke Jarvis chronicles the legal battle over the “Nooksack 306,” members of the tribe who were disenrolled over questions about their identity.
On Thursday, I got two new tattoos. One was impulsive; the other, planned. The latter is above my right knee, in small print, all-caps: REDEEM THE TIME. It’s something my favorite English professor used to drawl in class. It’s from the book of Ephesians: “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, / Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
The days are evil because they will come to an end. In Christianity, mortality is a result of mankind’s fall from grace. Before Adam and Eve partook in the Garden of Eden, they were destined to live forever. No more. Everyone dies.
If I dwell too long on my own mortality, I have a panic attack. I have to come at death sideways–through headlines about celebrities, say, or poetry. How can something so real and (relatively) imminent feel so unreal? And then, you get the call—from the doctor, the police, your mother, whomever. It doesn’t matter who calls; the call will come.
So I got a second tattoo, because it’s all going to end. It’s a three-inch blade turned down towards my ankle, modeled after Joan of Arc’s sword. “I know it’s cliche,” I joked to Emily, and she smiled but didn’t deny it. I texted a picture to my friend. “You’re a warrior,” she sent back. I don’t know about that.
On Saturday, I’ll join thousands of people at the Women’s March on Washington. I can’t say I’m not afraid. I’m afraid of our president-elect and his supporters. My ever-present anxiety regardign death has my brain concocting bizarre and terrifying scenarios in which the march on Jan. 21 become a massacre. I am afraid my first protest will be my last. I know I am not alone in my fear, and I don’t want to let my fear of death hold me back.
The stories I’ve included this week are about eternal life and the fear we feel while contemplating the lack thereof. Read more…
If you read enough #longreads about parenting in The Atlantic, New York Times Magazine, and Slate, then eventually you will discover you are an awful parent. But there is nothing so satisfying for us awful parents as reading stories about parents who are more insufferable than we are. So it is with great pride I share this piece by Melanie Thernstrom, who profiles a “free-range” parent who lets his children play on the roof of their house and then rubs it in the face of his neighbors – thereby forcing the other parents to become imagination-quashing killjoys, AKA people who try to keep their kids from potentially breaking their necks. (But hey, my neighbor says the odds are low, and life-endangering activities are mother nature’s way of thinning the herd! I guess it’s fine!) Read more…
In Italy once, I was given a private tour of a beautiful castle, led by the owner through room after impeccably furnished room, only to glimpse at the end through a half-open door a tiny, cavelike space crammed with all the evidence — a gas stove, a television, a tatty sofa — of daily life: This was clearly where the family spent their time. I have often looked at photographs of writers in their elegant book-lined studies and marveled at what seems to me a mirage of sorts, the near-perfect alignment of seeming with being, the convincing illusion of mental processes on public display, as though writing a book were not the work of someone capable of all the shame and deviousness and coldheartedness in the world.
— In The New York Times Magazine, Rachel Cusk meditates on the ways our homes are simultaneously the places we live, and set pieces that we art-direct.
Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.