The writer on losing his mother to cancer, and on the science of grieving:
My mom died on July 18, 2013, of pancreatic cancer, a subtle blade that slips into the host so imperceptibly that by the time a presence is felt, it is almost always too late. Living about 16 months after her diagnosis, she was "lucky," at least by the new standards of the parallel universe of cancer world. We were all lucky and unlucky in this way. Having time to watch a loved one die is a gift that takes more than it gives.
Psychologists call this drawn out period "anticipatory grief." Anticipating a loved one's death is considered normal and healthy, but realistically, the only way to prepare for a death is to imagine it. I could not stop imagining it. I spent a year and a half writing my mother a goodbye letter in my head, where, in the private theater of my thoughts, she died a hundred times. In buses and movie theaters, on Connecticut Avenue and 5th Avenue, on crosswalks and sidewalks, on the DC metro and New York subway, I lost her, again and again. To suffer a loved one's long death is not to experience a single traumatic blow, but to suffer a thousand little deaths, tiny pinpricks, each a shot of grief you hope will inoculate against the real thing.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 3, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3466 words)
Rosanne Cash on life in Tennessee and memories of her father, Johnny Cash:
My second Tennessee began in 1967, when I was twelve years old. My parents had just separated the previous winter, and that first summer my mom let my sisters and me go to Tennessee to spend several weeks with my dad. He had just bought the big house on Old Hickory Lake in Hendersonville, about twenty miles from Nashville.
Dad was just emerging from the depths of his drug addiction, but he was clean and sober, if gaunt and a little shaky. He and June were not married yet, but she and her daughters, Rosie and Carlene, were around a lot and we befriended our soon-to-be stepsisters. The next several summers were glorious, each better than the one before. Dad had a little speedboat, and he taught all of us to water ski. He was the most patient teacher in the world. We jumped in the water, hooked our feet into the skis, and he gunned the engine. We fell and fell and fell. And then, eventually, we got up and he whooped and waved his arm at us as he pulled us around the lake. We did this every day for hours. Once I was sitting in the boat with him while he pulled one of my sisters up on the skis when the glove box popped open and money—bills of all denominations—flew out and away. My dad glanced at the currency as the wind carried it out of the boat, but never looked back, never said a word. That gave me an insight into my dad’s relationship with money: He let it fly and never looked back.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 25, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5580 words)
Our recent Longreads Member Pick, now free online: Gordon Grice’s devastating essay about the loss of a child:
That was my daily routine. Sometimes the woman I loved would come with me. I envied her. She seemed to know how to grieve. To let herself feel things, to take time. She wrote letters to our stillborn daughter. She ordered photographs from the hospital and put them in a scrapbook. She talked. Most of these activities were strange to me, though I clumsily tried to emulate her for the sake of my mental health. I wanted to have my private scene at the cemetery, unwitnessed, and be cured for good, or at least for a little while.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 21, 2013
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5264 words)
PUBLISHED: Nov. 21, 2013
LENGTH: 26 minutes (6561 words)
Andrew Romano sets out to debunk Malcolm Gladwell's argument in Outliers that the Beatles made their success through the "10,000-hour rule"—in this case, spending thousands of hours of playing in Hamburg:
But this isn’t even the real problem with Gladwell’s theory. The real problem is that while the Beatles’ marathon stints in Hamburg did transform them as a band—they were so vibrant, so tight, and so unrecognizable when they returned from their first campaign that the crowds in Liverpool mistook them for a blistering new German combo—the “complex task” they had now “mastered” was not the same task that would eventually earn them world domination.
Being able to mach schau in a small club was a pivotal part of the Beatles development: it won them a fanatical following in Liverpool, which in turn drove their debut single “Love Me Do” up the charts even when the suits in London refused to promote it, and it was also the reason the Fabs were able record an LP as a thrilling as Please Please Me in a single ten-hour workday. But beyond that, Gladwell is wrong. The Beatles’ “excellence at performing” is not “what it took” for them to become the greatest rock band of all time. In fact, the Beatles were stuck in a rut even after they returned from Hamburg in 1961—and their live expertise was not enough to get them out of it.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 11, 2013
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3502 words)
When the math and business model don’t quite work out for a tech startup, even if the product is beloved:
While its talented team obsessed over the look and features of its product, user growth failed to keep pace. Starting in June, Latour tried to raise $5 million to give Everpix more time to become profitable. When those efforts faltered, he began pursuing an acquisition. Everpix had tentatively agreed last month to be acquired by Path, according to a source close to the social network. But Path’s executive team killed the deal at the last minute, leaving Everpix adrift.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 5, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2861 words)
Meet the hit man who also teaches Sunday school. “Special Agent Charles Hunt” is paid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to pose as a hit man. He’s hired by people you might, and might not, expect:
There are of course lunatics who come up with painfully stupid ideas: A convicted rapist in Florida wants the judge who sentenced him killed, and so he orders a hit, from prison. But there are also people with higher standing in the community: An Air Force sergeant wants help eliminating someone who heard him threaten his squadron leaders. An entrepreneur in Kentucky, facing a financial setback, thinks about having the hit man blow up his movie theater with his business partner in it, but decides instead to just have him killed at home (tonight). Love often plays a predominant role in the stories of people who hire hit men. The jilted and the scorned. The hopeless and the desperate: A woman in New Jersey wants her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend shot in the head (“Gone, gone to the moon”) and the boyfriend shot in the foot. She’s already picked out her black funeral outfit. Women. Men. Old. Young. This race or that.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 4, 2013
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4839 words)
Walsh was an artist, activist and investigative journalist whose book Operation Massacre is credited by many as the first “nonfiction novel,” having been published years before Truman Capote defined the term with In Cold Blood. Phelan explores Walsh’s life and impact on Argentina:
Having famously declared, “The typewriter is a weapon,” he had come to doubt that words alone were any real substitute for bullets in effecting change, and particularly the fine words of literary artists. “Beautiful bourgeois art!” he later wrote. “When you have people giving their lives, then literature is no longer your loyal and sweet lover, but a cheap and common whore. There are times when every spectator is a coward, or a traitor.”
PUBLISHED: Oct. 30, 2013
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4800 words)
The story of Lauren Kavanaugh, who was locked up, starved and tortured for six years by her birth mother and stepfather when she was barely two years old. Kavanaugh, now 20, is still figuring out how to live on:
“We know that for at least five or six years, she was tied down and locked up,” said Emily Owens, a child-abuse detective for the Dallas County district attorney’s office who worked 18 months on the case.
“This was during those formative years when you’re supposed to be bonding and the years when you’re supposed to be learning love and trust. All she got was pain. How do you ever get past that?”
That is the central question in Lauren’s life.
PUBLISHED: Oct. 21, 2013
LENGTH: 78 minutes (19583 words)