Lessons from My Mother

James Wood, writing for The New Yorker:

In the hospital room, grief conspired with natural curiosity: so this is how a body near death functions; this is how most of us will go. . . . Six or seven seconds passed between deep breaths; each was likely to be the last, and the renewal of breath, when it came, seemed almost like a strange, teasing physiological game—no, not yet, not quite. In the days before she died, a sentence from “The Death of Ivan Ilyich” kept coming to my mind. Peter Ivanovich is looking at Ivan Ilyich’s corpse: “The expression on the face said that what was necessary had been accomplished, and accomplished rightly.” Those words sustained me. A long life, a fulfilling career as a schoolteacher, a merciful end (relatively speaking), three children and a devoted husband: what was necessary had been accomplished, and accomplished rightly.

This was the first non-Trump and/or politics piece I’ve read since August that I felt compelled to post here. Beautiful writing and an honorable story, I was moved to tears as I read it, sitting next to my daughter as she watched The Muppet Christmas Carol. It’s one of the great cruelties of art—that so often the people who inspire the most moving tributes aren’t around to witness them, and even more so, that their absence is what inspired the creation.


The American Thanksgiving

Sam Sifton, writing for The New York Times:

Americans all come from somewhere. Their families may have roamed the continent for thousands of years before the Mayflower dropped anchor. They may have been on the ship. They may have come on later ones, freely or in chains. They may have come by truck, train or airplane. They came. And their journeys are reflected in the food they or their descendants eat. The Times asked 15 families from across the country to show us the holiday dishes they make that speak most eloquently about their heritage and traditions. The stories of these home cooks help tell the story of the nation, the story of who we are.

This piece—the videos and the pictures and the recipes and the families—is a pitch-perfect representation of what makes America so unique, and because of that, so great.

Question the agenda of anyone who tries to convince you otherwise.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


Bryant Park: A Memoir

Hilary Mantel, writing for The New Yorker:

There are some women who, the moment they have conceived a child, are aware of it—just as you sense if you’re being watched or followed. I have never had a child, but once in my life, a long time back and for a single day, I thought I was pregnant. I was twenty-three years old, three years a wife. I had no plans at that stage for a child. But my predictable cycle had gone askew, and one morning I felt as if some activity had commenced behind my ribs. It wasn’t breathing, or digestion, or the thudding of my heart.

I’ll be honest—I’m growing a bit numb to reading what is essentially the same alarmist, predictive article that those opposed to a Trump presidency have been writing as of late. And so I approached this collection of “sixteen writers on Trump’s America” with trepidation, literary firepower notwithstanding. Mantel’s piece takes a different approach, though, and because of that, it becomes something pretty special.


Stress Over Family Finances Propelled Hillary Clinton into Corporate World

Amy Chozick, writing for The New York Times:

Even some of Mrs. Clinton’s allies privately say they are mystified by her choice to make the Wall Street speeches, given the likelihood that they would become an issue in a presidential campaign. And to some of them, her financial moves clash with the selfless Methodist credo to do good for others that she so often says guided her toward a life of public service.

But her longtime friends say the contradiction is rooted in Mrs. Clinton’s practicality and the boom-and-bust cycles that have characterized her life with Bill Clinton.

At no time did those stresses fall more squarely on Mrs. Clinton’s shoulders than in the difficult two-year period in Arkansas when she and her husband found themselves cast out of office, financially strained and deeply uncertain about the future. And the memory of that time shaped her desire to be free from financial burden.

This is almost getting boring at this point, but I really want people to read this entire piece, and then imagine that, instead of a woman at the center of it (I suppose some of you will have to block out the Clinton surname as well), a man is.

Because if HRC were a man, every single campaign speech would begin with this story. The sacrifice. The setting aside of arbitrary principles to protect your family. The buckling down, the survival. It’s the kind of self-made, up-by-the-bootstraps tale that is, frankly, quite Republican.

But, because she’s a woman, and because there is something inherently unsettling to some on the right (and very much so on the left) about a woman in power, making the money, rolling her sleeves up and getting dirty, this story has to be sought out. Discovered.

Hillary Clinton is by no means a perfect candidate. But anyone who tries to boil it down, make it simple, explain it all away in a soundbite? Be careful. They’re probably banking on you not digging too deep.


How Capicola Became Gabagool: The Italian New Jersey Accent, Explained

Dan Nosowitz, writing for Atlas Obscura:

“Don’t eat gabagool, Grandma,” says Meadow Soprano on an early episode of The Sopranos, perhaps the most famous depiction of Jersey Italian culture in the past few decades. “It’s nothing but fat and nitrates.” The pronunciation of “gabagool,” a mutation of the word "capicola," might surprise a casual viewer, although it and words like it should be familiar to viewers of other New Jersey-based shows like the now-defunct Jersey Shore and The Real Housewives of New Jersey, where food often drives conversation. The casts are heavily Italian-American, but few of them can actually speak, in any real way, the Italian language. Regardless, when they talk about food, even food that’s widely known by the non-Italian population, they often use a specific accent.

And it’s a weird one.

A pesky kid, I learned the answer to where all the end vowel-dropping came from a long time ago, but I’m glad the rest of the Atlas Obscura-reading world gets to know now too.


An NPR Reporter Chauffeurs A Chinese Couple 500 Miles To Their Rural Wedding

Frank Langfitt, writing for NPR:

I went to Rocky's wedding in part to try to understand how he'd made the leap from farmhouse to Shanghai law firm — quite a feat in China's hypercompetitive society.

Xiao Piao offered one theory: "The entire village thinks his family sits on good land, good feng shui," she said, referring to the house's location vis-a-vis the natural environment.

Rocky politely disagreed: "Everyone's fate, career and job are the result of one's struggle. If I didn't take the bar and sat around at home, what use would good feng shui have been?"

There’s the single chocolate chip world that you know—and then there’s the entire rest of the cookie. Take five minutes out of your day and treat yourself to this piece—you won’t regret it.

/via Ben Thompson


‘Up North’ by Charles D'Ambrosio

Charles D’Ambrosio, The New Yorker:

Caroline brushed her hair free of a few tangles and clipped it back in a ponytail that made her look a decade younger—say, twenty years old, taking her back to a time before I’d met her. Perhaps in reflex I remembered the sensation I’d had the first night we slept together, thinking how beautiful she was, how from every angle and in every light she was flawless, like some kind of figurine. Now she examined herself in the small round mirror she’d pulled from her purse, grimacing. The shallow cup of the compact looked to be holding a kind of flesh dust, a spare skin. She dabbed powder around her cheeks, the set line of her jaw. She took a thick brush and stroked a line on either side of her face, magically lifting her cheekbones. She traced her lips lightly with a subdued shade of red and suddenly she was smiling.

“Up a ways there’s a fork,” she said. “You want to stay right.”

Before I could start the car again, two men in orange caps crossed in front of us, rifles slung over their shoulders. They stopped in the road and waved, the ears beneath their caps like pink blossoms in the raw cold, and then they bumbled into the woods. I stared at their fresh footprints in the snow.

“You know them?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

Technically, this is a Thanksgiving story, but I think it works equally well if you’re looking to wallow in the overall despair of the holiday season.


Dispatches From the Baby’s Room: The Right to be Picky When Bored

We realized that we had three tomato plants growing in the pot that holds our fledgling lemon tree. The cause, we deduced, was our compost, which we’d used when we planted the tree. The tomato plants had finally grown much taller than the tree and we had to get them out; we didn’t want anything to happen to the lemon tree.

For the past few days, Luna has been challenging us during meals. She can’t be allowed to see what’s coming next (peanut butter sandwich after strawberries), because if she wants it (peanut butter sandwich) more than what she’s eating at the moment (strawberries), that’s it, she wants the sandwich, no matter how much she enjoys strawberries. And she can’t be given what she likes best first, otherwise she won’t want what comes after it. But, if you give her too much of the stuff she’s so-so on, she’s full by the time you get to what she likes most.

(How much of this is actually true, a conscious decision on her part, as opposed to deductions and inferences we’ve made to keep ourselves sane, is up for debate and will come into play in a minute.)

I decided yesterday to go to Home Depot before lunch to get the dirt and pots we’d need to deal with the tomato plant/lemon tree situation. In the past, we’ve tried to only run errands after Luna has eaten. But with the finickiness of meals lately, I reasoned that maybe her eating exactly at noon wasn’t necessary; it’s a short drive, a quick errand, and a beautiful day. I brought a pouch with me just in case.

There were no outbursts. Lunch commenced when we got back at 1pm and every morsel was eaten. Luna’s 3:00pm nap was, as it has been lately, an exercise in futility (a topic for a different Dispatch, once we actually glean some fucking wisdom from trudging through that specific hell) and by 4:30pm, having had some coffee, I decided that it was now time to transplant the tomatoes and deal with some other smaller gardening issues, normal 5:00pm dinner time be damned.

To wrap this no longer “paragraph-long(isn) tip” up, I’ll tell you what you’ve probably already guessed—kept busy by dirt and bugs and plants and her water table, Luna hummed along outside with me for 90 minutes. We cleaned up and cleaned off and she didn’t eat dinner until 6pm. When she did, she ate everything—peas, applesauce, and meatloaf.

I’m famous (in my house) for being a prickly, wishy-washy disaster when I’m bored and hungry. I lose the ability to make decisions or even come up with ideas. My common refrain: honestly, all this talking about what to eat and where to eat is making me never want to eat again. Combine low blood sugar with a flair for the dramatic and, well—luckily, I married a patient woman.

All of this—the tomato plants and the errands and the meal times and the fussiness—finally triangulated in my mind. I realized that the common denominator for Luna’s pickiness lately—was boredom. When kept busy with the ebb and flow of daily activity, meal times stopped being another stopwatched, frustrating experience (strapped into a chair for an hour) and became a welcome surprise. Just like the rest of us (and in Luna’s case, exactly like her father), a 15 month-old has the right to be picky when bored.


Dispatches From The Baby’s Room are paragraph-long(ish) tips on how to maybe make the act of raising a child easier. Or maybe just slightly less insane. Or, in twenty years from now, a guide on how to mess a kid up real good. DFTBR are easily digestible, hand-held, and best of all, free. They are the things Joe Stracci thinks about while putting all of the Mega Bloks back in the bag, making the sound the duck makes, and changing diapers in the dark.


‘It doesn’t have to be understood to be real.’

Andrew Solomon:

Peter hadn’t seen his son for two years at the time of the Sandy Hook killings, and, even with hindsight, he doesn’t think that the catastrophe could have been predicted. But he constantly thinks about what he could have done differently and wishes he had pushed harder to see Adam. “Any variation on what I did and how my relationship was had to be good, because no outcome could be worse,” he said. Another time, he said, “You can’t get any more evil,” and added, “How much do I beat up on myself about the fact that he’s my son? A lot.”

The further we get from the Sandy Hook Massacre, the less sure I feel that gun control laws are the appropriate response to trying to prevent something like it from ever happening again. And that isn’t to say that I don’t believe in gun control; my purely theoretical beliefs about guns would have second amendment supporters foaming at the mouth. But Solomon’s piece about Peter Lanza and his deeply damaged son tells a complex, nuanced tale about an ongoing struggle that, with the clarity of time spent reflecting and time spent away from the raw emotions, obviously could not have been easily solved by one action or even two or three. And not to be spoiler-y, but what Peter Lanza admits in the final paragraph of this piece—it cut me to the bone.

If you find the piece as compelling as I did, consider listening to the author on this week’s episode of The New Yorker Out Loud podcast—he goes into more detail about the interview process and discusses the themes and questions he raises.