Women We Read This Week

1. Rahawa Haile’s “Going It Alone” in Outside

Haile recounts her experience through-hiking the Appalachian Trail alone as an African American woman. She explores the history of the American wilderness; the question of who is allowed and intended to explore this wilderness; and the way in which people of color are consistently forced to confront politics, history, and danger in areas that white people take for granted as outside of political-cultural spheres.

Every day I eat the mountains, and the mountains, they eat me. “Less to carry,” I tell the others: this skin, America, the weight of that past self. My hiking partners are concerned and unconvinced. There is a weight to you still, they tell me. They are not wrong. My footing has been off for days. There were things I had braced for at the beginning of this journey that have finally started to undo me. We were all hurtling through the unfamiliar, aching, choppy, destroyed by weather, trying not to tear apart. But some of us were looking around as well. By the time I made it through Maryland, it was hard not to think of the Appalachian Trail as a 2,190-mile trek through Trump lawn signs. In July, I read the names of more black men killed by police: Philando Castile, Alton Sterling. Never did I imagine that the constant of the woods would be my friends urging, pleading, that I never return home.

2. Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s “We Have Found the Cure! (Sort of…)” in Outside 

Okay, I know I just highlighted work by Akner last week, but she’s insanely prolific and talented, and also, I want to point out that the latest issue of Outside is a women’s issue. Check it out!

I imagined that all my stress would bind to the crap inside me and I could shit out everything that troubled me and maybe I’d emerge from it a clean slate, a version of myself that had not ever eaten a hamburger or drank too much. Maybe all my mistakes would be wiped clean. Maybe underneath the poisons that had invaded my skin I was someone who could do life better—it wasn’t too late, it couldn’t be too late. I could wake up very early and meditate. I could be faster and more efficient and check Twitter less often. I could exercise regularly and floss every day, twice even. I could learn to say “take care” instead of “buh-bye” at the end of a phone call.

3. Dyan Neary’s “We Need to Talk About Frankie” in New York Magazine

An extremely disturbing and important piece about pharmaceutical companies, doctors (many with ties to pharmaceutical companies), and private institutes (funded by these companies) promoting off-label use of powerful anti-psychotic medications–intended for schizophrenic adults–as treatment for ADHD in toddlers and children.

With anti-psychotic drugs, though, off-label use seems to have occurred at a particularly alarming rate. Those for whom the drugs were initially intended — adults with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder — make up, respectively, just 1 and 1.5 percent of the U.S. population, so drug companies have also promoted the use of anti-psychotics to treat sleeplessness, anxiety, and mild to moderate depression. A 2015 American Journal of Psychiatry study found that more than one of every five patients who visited a psychiatrist for anxiety in 2007 left with a prescription for an anti-psychotic drug. By that time, half of Johnson & Johnson’s Risperdal sales came from off-label prescriptions for children and the elderly.

4. Rebecca Mead’s “Margaret Atwood, The Prophet of Dystopia” in The New Yorker

This just goes without saying. Brilliant writer profiling brilliant writer. Don’t miss it.

Now, Atwood argues, women have been put on notice that hard-won rights may be only provisional. “It’s the return to patriarchy,” she said, as she paged through the clippings. “Look at his Cabinet!” she said of Trump. “Look at the kind of laws that people have put through in the states. Absolutely they want to overturn Roe v. Wade, and they will have to deal with the consequences if they do. You’re going to have a lot more orphanages, aren’t you? A lot more dead women, a lot more illegal abortions, a lot more families with children in them left without a mother. They want it ‘back to the way it was.’ Well, that is part of the way it was.”

5. Pam Houston’s “My Father Gave My Jobless Mother $200 Every Other Week. Is That Where My Ambition Came From?” in Elle

Pam Houston on ambition, workaholism, and freedom. I love Pam Houston’s work, and think of her as one of those dreamy imaginary writer-mentors, like Mary Karr and George Saunders, who I would just love love love to have as a teacher and go to coffee with and get notes from in the margins of workshop essays.

If your mother runs away from Spiceland, Indiana, to Broadway at 13, if she spends the last 30 years of her life begging her husband for the money back that she earned to pay the dry cleaner for his freshly starched shirts, if the single most powerful emotion in your family’s home is her soul-shattering grief over the absence of meaningful work, that is likely to inform your relationship with ambition. And if most of my striving has therefore been away and not toward, does that mean I’m not as different from the ambitionless women as I thought I was? Does this mean that in some Condoleezza Rice–like way I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, too? Did my mother drink the Kool-Aid? Who made the Kool-Aid? Who sold it to my mother for five cents a glass?


On Vela this week

We published “SuperBabies Don’t Cry,” a gorgeous, powerful feature from Heather Kirn Lanier, about raising a daughter with a chromosomal deletion and cultural attitudes about disability. A taste:

By eight months Fiona developed a love for clapping. At nine months she had her first grand mal seizure. At eleven months she rolled from front to back. At one year old she weighed twelve pounds. During that first year, her syndrome revealed itself to be simultaneously life-altering and, in some strange way, just fine. A new normal. Her medical issues were manageable. The problem, it became clear, was mine: I wanted her different. The daily prayer inside me was an impossible wish to scrounge the earth and find that missing bit of her fourth chromosome. I imagined it was buried among fossils in an ancient, surreal sand dune.

On Bookmarked, Courtney Balestier recommends five multigenerational cultural narratives. A taste:

My work explores the intersection of place and identity, so I am drawn to stories that create atmospheres both physical and cultural—that investigate the embedded, omnipotent role that our collective histories, and the places where they’ve unfolded, play in our lives.

The following books translate those histories gracefully between characters separated by generational divides (and, sometimes, by death). They also achieve a deep cultural knowledge, conveyed in a thousand microscopic mannerisms and thoughts, which can be so difficult to express to the uninitiated reader and, indeed, so difficult even for the initiated writer to excavate from the familiarity of lived experience.


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