‘The Most Difficult Essay I’ve Ever Written’: Meghan Daum on Her Mother

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If you asked me what my central grievance with my mother was, I would tell you that I had a hard time not seeing her as a fraud. I would tell you that her transformation, at around the age of 45, from a slightly frumpy, slightly depressed, slightly angry but mostly unassuming wife, mother, and occasional private piano teacher into a flashy, imperious, hyperbolic theatre person had ignited in her a phoniness that I was allergic to on every level. I might try to explain how the theatre in question was the one at my very high school, a place she’d essentially followed me to from the day I matriculated and then proceeded to use as the training ground and later backdrop for her new self. I might throw in the fact that she was deeply concerned with what kind of person I was in high school because it would surely be a direct reflection of the kind of person she was […]

It was September. Autumn, New York’s most flattering season, was preparing to make its entrance. I had just got engaged to my longtime boyfriend, which had made my mother very happy.

“Our recommendation would be to transfer to another level of care,” the oncologist said.

Hearing this, I moved my chair closer and grabbed my mother’s hand under the blanket. I did this because I felt that if we were in a play this would surely be part of the stage directions. I was also afraid the doctor would judge me if I didn’t. If I just sat there with my arms crossed against my chest, as I was inclined to, the doctor would make a note in the file suggesting that I might not be capable of offering sufficient support to the patient.

I retrieved her hand from under the blanket and squeezed it in my own. She did not reciprocate. She didn’t pull away, but there was enough awkwardness and ambivalence coming from both sides that it was not unlike being on a date at the movies and trying to hold hands with someone who’d rather not. I think we were both relieved when I let go.

- In the Guardian, Meghan Daum explores how to live and love in the wake of her mother’s dramatic, calculated persona and imminent death. “All About My Mother” is excerpted from Daum’s new essay collection, The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion, released November 18.

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Photo: Via Twitter

Profiling the Difficult Subject: Our College Pick

GMU

Journalists select profile subjects for any number of reasons. The person could be famous or newsworthy or simply serve as the face of a big, complex issue. Other times, they are just characters the community at large should know about. Those are the hardest ones to write because the writer has to hang the story on the individual instead of a news event or issue. And if the subject is not immediately likable, the writer has to work even harder to find the reader a way into the story. In his profile of a nontraditional student at George Mason University, writer Hau Chu does not try to make his subject, Ray Niederhausen, sound like anything other than he is: a 37-year-old undergraduate working to overcome a lifetime of addiction and bad choices.

A Second Chance at Life

Hau Chu | Fourth Estate | 13 minutes (3,184 words)

Mike Nichols: 1931-2014

Photo via Wikipedia
Photo via Wikipedia

Mike Nichols, the beloved director of stage and screen—from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Graduate, to Barefoot in the Park and Working Girldied Wednesday at the age of 83. Here are four pieces on the life of the artist. Read more…

The Old Music Industry: ‘A System Specifically Engineered to Waste the Band’s Money’

Shellac, with Albini. Photo by goro_memo
Shellac, with Albini. Photo by goro_memo

During the 90s there was something of an arms race to see who could write the biggest deal. That is, the deal with the most money being spent on the band’s behalf. In a singularly painless contest the money would either be paid to the band as a royalty, which would take that money out of the system and put it into things like houses and groceries and college educations. Or it could be paid to other operators within the industry, increasing the clout and prestige of the person doing the spending. It’s as if your boss, instead of giving your paycheck to you, could pay that money to his friends and business associates, invoking your name as he did. Since his net cost was the same and his friends and associates could return the favour, why would he ever want to let any of that money end up in your hands? It was a system that ensured waste by rewarding the most profligate spendthrifts in a system specifically engineered to waste the band’s money.

Now bands existed outside that label spectrum. The working bands of the type I’ve always been in, and for those bands everything was always smaller and simpler. Promotion was usually down to flyers posted on poles, occasional mentions on college radio and fanzines. If you had booked a gig at a venue that didn’t advertise, then you faced a very real prospect of playing to an empty room. Local media didn’t take bands seriously until there was a national headline about them so you could basically forget about press coverage. And commercial radio was absolutely locked up by the payola-driven system of the pluggers and program directors.

International exposure was extraordinarily expensive. In order for your records to make it into overseas hands you had to convince a distributor to export them. And that was difficult with no means for anyone to hear the record and decide to buy it. So you ended up shipping promotional copies overseas at a terrific expense, never sure if they would be listened to or not.

-Music producer and Shellac frontman Steve Albini’s reminder about what the “good old days” of the music industry were really like for artists.

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The Bureaucracy of Death: A Reading List

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Although more and more countries are abolishing capital punishment, over half the world’s population lives in four of the countries that continue to use it: India, Indonesia, China — and the United States. U.S. public opinion continues to move against the death penalty, but while some states have overturned capital punishment (or never had it), most still sentence people to die. These four pieces examine the range of flaws in a system whose irreversible outcome can ill afford them.

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When Dave Chappelle Met Rob Ford

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I know this is the exact opposite of more privacy, but what would the world have to do for you to get active on Twitter or Instagram? Because that’d be hilarious.
I have a pretty dope selfie gallery.

Do you really?
Kanye, Kim, Jay and Beyoncé. Jessica Alba. There’s a great picture from Radio City of me, Chris Rock, and Aziz. Selfies are my shit. I love taking selfies…. Rob Ford.

Holy shit. Rob Ford?
Seriously, you can Google it. I was in Toronto for a few shows, and they told me I couldn’t smoke onstage. And I was like, “Well, can’t you just waive the rule tonight?” And they’re like, “It’s a citywide ordinance.” So I got up the next morning and went to the mayor’s office. This is before all that shit about him came out.

What happened? You actually met him?
I was like, “Is the mayor in? Could you tell him Dave Chappelle is here to see him?” He was in a meeting. I said, “I’ll wait for a few minutes.” So I just walked around his office. The walls were lined with all these disparaging political cartoons. And I asked somebody, “What is this?” They’re like, “He thinks that motivates him.” I thought that was an interesting character nuance. I had never seen him before, but he looked like Chris Farley in the pictures. He walked in and was like, “What can I do for you?” And I told him, “These ordinances exist in the United States, but they’re often waived in contexts of performance, because it’s an integral part of what I do.” He replied, “That’s it?” “That’s it,” I said. Then he told me, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you. The laws of Toronto are the same for everybody. We appreciate you coming, we’re glad you’re here, but we can’t change the law because it disagrees with you.” He really gave me this whole speech. I should have said, “You didn’t let me finish: ‘smoke crack rocks onstage!’ ” Maybe a year after that was his first scandal.

— Dave Chappelle, in an interview with GQ Magazine, on the first time he met Rob Ford.

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Photos: Davej1006 and Shaun Merritt

For the Public Good: The Shameful History of Forced Sterilization in the U.S.

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Belle Boggs | The New New South | August 2013 | 62 minutes (15,377 words)

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We’re proud to present, for the first time online, “For the Public Good,” Belle Boggs‘s story for The New New South about the shocking history of forced sterilizations that occurred in the United States, and the story of victims in North Carolina, with original video by Olympia Stone.

As Boggs explained to us last year: 

“Last summer I met Willis Lynch, a man who was sterilized by the state of North Carolina more than 65 years earlier, when he was only 14 years old and living in an institution for delinquent children. Willis was one of 7,600 victims of North Carolina’s eugenics program, and one of the more outspoken and persistent advocates for compensation.

“At the time I was struggling with my own inability to conceive, and the debate within my state—how much is the ability to have children worth?—was something I thought about a lot. It’s hard to quantify, the value of people who don’t exist. It gets even more complicated when you factor in public discomfort over a shameful past, and a present-day political climate that marginalizes the poor.”

Thanks to Boggs and The New New South for sharing this story with the Longreads Community, and thanks to Longreads Members for your helping us bring these stories to you. Join us.

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Meet the Woman Who Protects Drake’s Voice

Photo by nrk-p3
Photo by nrk-p3

The first three years, everyone thought I was his mom. Sandy is a cute Jewish woman who looks nothing like me, but you’ve been in the club, you know—if I’m older than everybody, and I’m in the VIP, I must be Drake’s mom!

So he’s standing there, his hand wrapped around the neck of this thousand-dollar champagne bottle. I pull it to me. I’m not a big drinker, I’m a total lightweight—I’m a daiquiri drinker, or margaritas, but champagne just knocks me out. So I don’t know anything about it, don’t know this one’s so expensive. I’m like, “You don’t think you’re gonna drink this whole thing, do you honey? You can have a GLASS.” He looks at me like I’m crazy! So I call over the management and tell them Drake needs water, and they bring me a whole case! There are more and more people crowding in here, I’m getting crowded to the back, so I start passing a bottle of water through the crowd. His bodyguards are all looking back at each other, like, “What is this?” And I’m just mouthing, “GIVE IT TO DRAKE.”

Finally it gets to Drake, and the bodyguard just points right at me. Literally, Drake’s shoulders go down six inches. Totally resigned. But, he drank the water. He got it!

What a dude.

I’ve never had anyone trust me implicitly like he did. He really opened up his heart and his brain. Even after all this time, he rarely doubts me. He wants to get better and he did from the very beginning. I’m very proud to say that even when I’m not there, he’s drinking water. He says “Goodnight, God bless, I’m Drake, take care,” and he gets offstage and starts cooling down his voice. He takes a chef with him, he works out. He’s doing it on his own now.

-Jia Tolentino, at Jezebel, in a long conversation with Dionne Osborne, the vocal coach who helped train Drake.

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