Photo: Chris Goldberg

Women We Read This Week

1. Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s “The High Price of Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Life” in The New York Times Magazine

This piece has rightfully garnered a ton of attention. It’s my favorite kind of journalism, weaving solid reporting with the personal and the philosophical, and full of voice without being showy. It left me pensive and a little haunted.

They all took a breath and laughed at themselves again, and then they went silent, and in their silence was their uncertainty, now familiar, of whether these questions would ever be answered, and if they could talk enough about it to the point where they would ever feel normal. God, would it ever feel normal?

2. Leslie Jamison’s “In the Shadow of a Fairytale” for The New York Times Magazine

Oh, this one, this one. I shared it right away with my stepmother friends and one wrote back almost immediately to say it slayed her, which made me want to go read it all over again. So layered, so complex, with so much feeling but never maudlin, it’s Jamison at her best. Nothing makes me happier than to see such a talented writer take on parenting.

As a stepparent, I often felt like an impostor — or else I felt the particular loneliness of dwelling outside the bounds of the most familiar story line. I hadn’t been pregnant, given birth, felt my body surge with the hormones of attachment. I woke up every morning to a daughter who called me Mommy but also missed her mother. I often called our situation “singular,” but as with so many kinds of singularity, it was a double-edged blade — a source of loneliness and pride at once — and its singularity was also, ultimately, a delusion. “Lots of people are stepparents,” my mother told me once, and of course she was right. A Pew Research Center survey found that four in 10 Americans say they have at least one step relationship. Twelve percent of women are stepmothers. I can guarantee you that almost all these women sometimes feel like frauds or failures.

3. Mya Frazier’s “What Would Jesus Disrupt?” in Bloomberg Businessweek

This piece focuses on a Cincinnati megachurch’s efforts to run a startup accelerator, portraying support for young startups as a charitable and godly service, and defining Jesus as an entrepreneur. If that sounds creepy, it is. There is something quintessentially American and disturbing about this piece and its characters, and it made me wish for a documentary on the subject.

There are smoke machines and LED screens, harnessed climbers scaling a scaffold “mountain” and raising their arms in symbolic victory over the startup world’s arduous climb. There’s talk of destiny-defining “exits.” Of Jesus and his disciples: “The most successful startup in history!” Of the parable of the talents, in which two servants are lauded by their master for turning a profit with money he staked them: “The first recorded instance of venture capital and investment banking in history!” Of ancient business elites: “A church is the oldest marketplace in the history of the world.”

4. Rebecca Sabky’s “Check This Box if You’re a Good Person” in The New York Times

This is simple, straightforward, and resonant, a piece that stands out because of the clarity and power of the message. I wanted to send it immediately to every parent I know.

The most surprising indication of kindness I’ve ever come across in my admissions career came from a student who went to a large public school in New England. He was clearly bright, as evidenced by his class rank and teachers’ praise. He had a supportive recommendation from his college counselor and an impressive list of extracurriculars. Even with these qualifications, he might not have stood out. But one letter of recommendation caught my eye. It was from a school custodian.

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.

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