The Longreads Blog

Ayahuasca 2.0: Journeying to the Swampland of the Techie Soul

Photo by Terpsichore, via Wikimedia Commons

I live in Ulster County–hippie country–not far from a longstanding “Church of Ayahuasca,” where devotees take what they describe as life-altering psychedelic trips induced by drinking a precise mixture of B. caapi tea and chacruna leaf. While I’ve been curious about the experience, I haven’t been enough so to get past the vomiting that’s pretty much a standard part, and the stories I’ve heard about bad trips.

At The New Yorker, Ariel Levy reports on ayahuasca’s recent uptick in popularity in San Francisco among young people in the tech world, and in New York City among the young and the hip. As part of her reporting, she braves one of the ceremonies in Williamsburg, led by an ayahuasquera called Little Owl .

One at a time, we went into the front room to be smudged with sage on the wrestling mats by a woman in her sixties with the silver hair and beatific smile of a Latina Mrs. Claus. When she finished waving her smoking sage at me and said, “I hope you have a beautiful journey,” I was so moved by her radiant good will that I nearly burst into tears.

Once we were all smudged and back in our circle, Little Owl dimmed the lights. “You are the real shaman,” she said. “I am just your servant.”

When it was my turn to drink the little Dixie cup of muck she presented, I was stunned that divine consciousness—or really anything—could smell quite so foul: as if it had already been vomited up, by someone who’d been on a steady dieta of tar, bile, and fermented wood pulp. But I forced it down, and I was stoked. I was going to visit the swampland of my soul, make peace with death, and become one with the universe.

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Girlhood Gone: Notes from the New Nashville

Photo by Brent Moore, via Flickr Commons

Susannah Felts | Longreads | September 2016 | 18 minutes (4,439 words)


At 18, I knew only that I wanted out.

Out of Nashville, Tennessee, out of the whole Southeast. Free from region. If you’d asked, I could have told you why, but I didn’t yet know how deep a print the South had left on me, only the urge to reject its further touch.

* * *

Back then, the Nashville I knew was defined mainly by the limited spheres of a middle-class adolescence: home, school, and a 20-mile stretch of I-40 that I drove many hundreds if not thousands of times, back and forth, east and west, repeat. My family lived on one side of the city, my friends and classmates on the other, hitched together by a private school that sat roughly in between.

To a lesser degree I knew my hometown to be a place defined by country music and Christianity, home of the Grand Ole Opry and Buckle of the Bible Belt. This identity seemed distinct but remote: I did not listen to country, did not go to church. Music City? To a kid who was rock-n-roll crazy pretty much from birth, the nickname seemed almost a cruel joke. This was not my Music City. Read more…

All Hail the Queen: Five Stories About Pageants

Photo: UrbanPromise

On Sunday, the first openly gay Miss America contestant will vie for the crown on national TV. She’s Miss Missouri, Erin O’Flaherty, and her platform centers on suicide prevention—a particularly prescient topic, since LGBTQ-identified teens are far more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. I’m excited for O’Flaherty and hopeful her presence will increase awareness of the abysmal suicide rates among our community. On the other hand, I take issue with O’Flaherty’s declaration that “the Miss America Organization has always been open and accepting of women of all backgrounds.” This, as I learned during my reading this week, is simply not true. Black women were prohibited from competing until 1950. Women who had abortions or were divorced could not compete until 1999. Until recently, the “swimwear” modeling portion accounted for 15 percent of each contestant’s overall score; this year, it’s 10 percent. These are just the facts.

Miss America isn’t the only pageant out there, of course, and this week, I learned about Miss Rodeo America and Miss Gay America, too. In this list, you’ll find stories about drag royalty, the price of the perfect Western wardrobe, the perils of butt glue, and more. Read more…

The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Photo: Tech Crunch

Below, our favorite stories of the week.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox. Read more…

Revisiting the Ghosts of Attica

Inmates at Attica shouted their demands during a negotiating session with state corrections officials in September 1971. ASSOCIATED PRESS
Inmates at Attica shouted their demands during a negotiating session with state corrections officials in September 1971. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Tom Robbins | The Marshall Project | September 2016 | 22 minutes (3,722 words)

The Marshall ProjectThis story was co-published with The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the U.S. criminal justice system. Sign up for their newsletter, or follow The Marshall Project on Facebook or Twitter.

On the morning of September 13, 1971, shortly after state police launched an armed assault to retake Attica prison from its rebelling inmates, a trooper emptied his .357 magnum pistol into a prisoner named Kenneth B. Malloy. As Heather Ann Thompson recounts in her wrenching and minutely detailed recounting of that day, Malloy’s death was one of the most hideous on a morning of hideous deeds, one that saw 39 people killed by police, another 89 wounded. Malloy, an autopsy later showed, was shot twelve times at close range by at least two guns. He was hit with so many bullets, Thompson reports, “that his eye sockets were shredded by the shards of his own bones.”

Not far away, an inmate named James Robinson was fatally wounded with a .270 caliber bullet fired by a police rifle. As he lay dying, another trooper stepped up and finished him off, firing a load of buckshot into Robinson’s neck. Afterward, a police sergeant snapped a photo of Robinson, who, like many inmates, had donned a football helmet in feeble hope of warding off the baton blows they imagined were the worst they might suffer in the retaking. His body lay splayed on its side, a state police tag looped around his empty right hand. A second photo, taken moments later, shows Robinson in precisely the same position, except that a curved sword has now appeared beside him. The trooper who shot him later insisted he did so because the inmate had charged him with such a weapon.

“Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy,” Heather Ann Thompson, Pantheon Books 2016 KNOPF DOUBLEDAY

“Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy,” Heather Ann Thompson, Pantheon Books 2016 KNOPF DOUBLEDAY

The name Attica still registers dread and sorrow in Americans old enough to recall that drizzly and blood-flecked week at the upstate New York prison. No matter who you blamed for the carnage, the slaughter that gray September morning in a tiny rural hamlet thirty-five miles east of Buffalo, a place few had ever heard of, evoked anguish and fury. Photos and film clips of raincoat-clad troopers stepping through the mud amidst tangles of dead and wounded men, of long snaking lines of inmates stripped naked, their hands atop their heads, settled deep into the marrow of those who saw them. Charles Mingus and John Lennon set music to the tragedy. Muhammad Ali composed a fierce bit of doggerel that he read on TV: “Better than of this prison rot / If there’s any chance I’ve got / Kill me here on this spot.”

Even those innocent of any knowledge of the riot and the rage it inspired, can still recognize its incantatory power in Sidney Lumet’s 1975 “Dog Day Afternoon,” as Al Pacino riles up a crowd outside the Brooklyn bank he is robbing by crying out, “Attica! Attica!” Read more…

Roald Dahl at 100: A Reading List


When I was in elementary school in the eighties, being read to in class was such a treat — and something I really miss. The weekly reading hour that I looked forward to the most was when my favorite librarian came to read a few chapters from a Roald Dahl story. (And over the years, she read them all.) I could hardly wait to hear the next prank Mrs. Twit would play on Mr. Twit in The Twits. Another favorite, The Witches, remains one of the stories from my childhood that really opened me up to the magic of reading. Dahl’s whimsical yet macabre and darkly comic stories piqued my imagination for the first time in those years, and — being a shy, quiet kid — showed me that anything was possible.

September 13 is Roald Dahl’s birthday, and 2016 marks 100 years since his birth. To celebrate, here are seven stories about the bestselling novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, fighter pilot, and British spy. Read more…

I Want to Know if Love is Real: Springsteen on His New Book, Born to Run

Photo by manu_gt500 (CCBY SA 2.0)
Photo by manu_gt500 (CCBY SA 2.0)

Springsteen may today be a man who splits his time between a horse farm in his native Monmouth County, a second home in New Jersey, and luxury properties in Florida and L.A., but Born to Run is an emphatic refutation of the notion that, as a songwriter, he can no longer connect to the troubled and downtrodden. Especially in its early chapters, the book demonstrates how honestly Springsteen has come by his material. Cars, girls, the Shore, the workingman’s struggles, broken dreams, disillusioned vets—it’s all right there in his upbringing.

“One of the points I’m making in the book is that, whoever you’ve been and wherever you’ve been, it never leaves you,” he said, expanding upon this thought with the most Springsteen-esque metaphor possible: “I always picture it as a car. All your selves are in it. And a new self can get in, but the old selves can’t ever get out. The important thing is, who’s got their hands on the wheel at any given moment?”

At Vanity Fair, David Kamp interviews Bruce Springsteen on his upbringing, depression, and the seeds of his upcoming book, Born to Run.

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Choosing to Set Him Free: The Stillbirth of Charlie Showman

Photo by Steven Lilly (CCBY SA 2.0)
Photo by Steven Lilly (CCBY SA 2.0)

My son was born in Toronto on September 15, 2010. He had dark, wet hair, and when I cradled him, he was warm and damp, swaddled in a flannel hospital sheet. He smelled just how you would think a newborn baby would smell. He had a pink, thin upper lip and a button nose. His eyes were closed, but the death certificate later said they were brown.

At The Walrus, Georgina Blanchard reflects on the stillbirth of her son, Charlie Showman.

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