Ingrid Rojas Contreras’s “All Good Science Fiction Begins This Way” in The Los Angeles Review of Books
In a beautiful, lyrical essay, Contreras explains her memory loss after a bicycle accident that happened just three days before her wedding. The essay is not only brutally honest – she writes that she cannot remember her family or her fiancé and she looks through her wallet for clues as to her identity – it also traces the contours of memory and what it means to love.
My memory loss looks like a barren rocky island shaped by an ocean that is no longer there. The horizon, once blue never-ending water, is a canyon. I trace the steep cliffs, the striations in the rocks, the slope down to the sea floor.
In her essay, the mind is both dangerous and beautiful, known and unknown. It’s also about storytelling and the ways in which we construct our identities out of facts and feelings. Ultimately, though, the story is about love and how we never forget.
Maria Konnikova’s “How Stories Deceive” in The New Yorker
Konnikova’s piece is, at first glance, about the way con artists use narrative to deceive us. However. in doing so, she also tells the story of how we use and are used by stories. This isn’t to say Konnikova doesn’t celebrate stories, which, as she says, “bring us together…. shape our shared future. Stories are so natural that we don’t notice how much they permeate our lives. And stories are on our side: they are meant to delight us, not deceive us—an ever-present form of entertainment.” But, as Konnikova writes, they do deceive us.
The visceral, emotional hold of stories, be they the story of a con artist or the story behind a scientific research theory, convinces us to believe them. “When a fact is plausible, we still need to test it. When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.”
Konnikova doesn’t offer answers. She doesn’t indict the story, nor does she defend it. But her words resonate with me long after I read them. They remind me both why I love stories and why I must sometimes be vigilant against them, depending on the day, the context, the story.
Jeanne Marie Laskas’s Helium Dreams in The New Yorker
In her first piece for The New Yorker, Jeanne Marie Laskas leads her readers into the overlooked industry of modern airships. Laskas does here what she does best: guides us into a world populated by fascinating characters who are seriously passionate about their work. In this piece, we meet Igor Pasternak, whose obsession with airships began at age twelve in the Ukraine and is being realized in a former B-52 hanger in California; we meet Bob Boyd, at Lockheed Martin, who takes Laskas on a simulated flight; we meet Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson, who also happens to be an experienced pilot and airship aficionado. (Laskas tells us that, while “it is difficult to compare airship enthusiasts…only one has written and recorded an eighteen-minute hard-rock ballad to an airship, backed by cellos and violins.”) Throughout, Laskas clues readers in to relevant moments of airship history that go beyond the “H-word”–“Every airship engineer I talked to asked me to disregard the Hindenburg”– and explains the salient technology and design that drive airship flight and production, all without losing her signature sense of humor or style.
Paula Young Lee’s “The Three Letter Word Missing From the Zika Virus Warnings” in Dame Magazine
It seems like every day there is a new story about the mosquito-borne Zika virus—new cases diagnosed in the U.S. and Europe, new info from researchers about how these cases of microcephaly are far more severe than usual. But as Paula Young Lee points out, something has been missing from most of these articles: Men. I’m so glad that someone finally pointed out the absurdity of solely holding women accountable for procreating. I also hope that the news of Zika being sexually transmittable will further force men into the conversation. I get so tired of news pieces that assume all pregnancies are planned, that any contraception is 100 percent effective, or that women are fully in control of every sexual encounter. This piece offers a sharp assessment and damning critique of the one-sidedness of our global assumptions surrounding sex and reproduction, many of which are antiquated at best and dangerous at worst.
Rather than telling women to “avoid pregnancy” in the manner of avoiding a pothole, why are none of these assorted agencies telling men to stop having procreative sex until we know more about Zika? Why does the very suggestion of any government recommending men to practice abstinence for two years seem like a joke? The cultural reflex to hold women accountable for male lust and subsequent reproduction is so ingrained that we don’t even notice the asymmetry. … women do not “get pregnant.” Men impregnate them.