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When the stubborn, stabbing nerve pain in her abdomen wakes her in the middle of the night and she can no longer endure it, my 15-year-old daughter quietly calls to me and we descend the stairs together and curl up on the couch, under cover of darkness, and seek out the quiet reassurance of a sure and steady friend: home shopping television.

Home shopping is the best 2 a.m., lull-you-back-to-sleep TV I know. There’s no dramatic music, no cliffhangers, nothing to get you hooked. In fact, they pretty much say the same thing over and over and over again. Talk about staying on message. And even when it doesn’t soothe you back to slumber right away, there is something oddly comforting about it. The hosts are so happy. They’re self-satisfied, but somehow inviting, with their facile stream of conversation punctuated by nearly incessant, yet strangely not unpleasant, laughter. What I wouldn’t do for an ounce of their easy, self-assured chatter at a cocktail party or a school function. More… “Home Shopping Network”

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My dissertation was about women’s authorship and sitcoms. Authorship is a key word here. It wasn’t about “writers,” but about those who left their marks on the text, their control over character, storylines through aspects of performance and utilizing their star power — for most of my case studies (30 Rock, Girls, and United States of Tara) the examination did focus on writing, but what I found while returning to the archives was the thread of women’s narratives that dealt with writing without words. Lucille Ball never wrote for I Love Lucy nor was she the head of Desilu, but as Madelyn Pugh Davis, one of the show’s writers, notes in her memoir Laughing with Lucy, Ball exerted authorship through performance and her refusal/approval to perform certain scenes. Amy Poehler wrote a handful of Parks and Recreation episodes, but her iconic status in improvisation as a founding member of Upright Citizen’s Brigade and successful sketch career at SNL brought her a certain level of authority to the series, a sentiment continually asserted in interviews with the cast and crew. Mary Tyler Moore is also part of this legacy of women’s negotiation and “writing.” She wasn’t a writer but owned her performances. She owned her brand and in doing so provided opportunities for writers to develop their own. Mary Tyler Moore owned Mary Richards, who helped women figure out their place in feminism’s upheaval of roles and norms. More… “Left Wanting Moore”

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My first idea was to compile a brief and brisk user’s guide to recent rock memoirs, a sort of Consumer Reports of the best and the worst, perhaps grading them with an A minus or a C plus, the way Robert Christgau used to do with his surveys of pop records in the once-influential Village Voice. So I started with Keith Richards’s Life, Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, and John Fogerty’s Fortunate Son before realizing that this whimsical vacation in reading was likely to turn into an unfinishable slog. Even as I read Keith’s (A), Bob’s (A plus), and John’s (C minus) revelatory or not-so-revelatory accounts of the rock ’n’ roll life, more kept issuing from the presses. Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney), Viv Albertine (the Slits), Donald Fagan (Steely Dan), Steve Katz (Blood, Sweat and Tears), Greg Allman (the Allman Brothers Band), Peter Hook (New Order), Bernard Summer (New Order), Brian Wilson (the Beach Boys), Mike Love (the Beach Boys), Nile Rodgers (Chic), Richard Hell (Television, the Voidoids), Kristin Hersh (Throwing Muses), and the drummer from David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars band (Woody Woodmansey): all have had their say, and that’s not even to mention continuing contributions to the genre by such heavy hitters as Bruce Springsteen, Robbie Robertson, Chrissie Hynde, Peter Townshend, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, and Morrissey. Where would I ever find the time to read all of these musicians’ books if I was ever going to read anything else? Or listen to their records? Or vacuum my living room? And then I read Petal Pusher by Laurie Lindeen and decided: the others can wait. More… “It’s the Drummer That Matters”

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I could die. Me. Personally. Could. Die. Well, I sort of always knew this, but remotely, so remotely, in the manner that we acknowledge, and with the same measure of anxiety, that someday the sun will flame out. But now — revelation! — I suddenly realized I actually could die — like at any moment.

This knowledge is what has propelled me into engaging simultaneously in two genres that I fundamentally loathe: the memoir and the medical essay. Along with my traditional reporter’s disdain for employing the anorexic pronoun, I believe that unless a memoir is written by an extraordinary individual — Augustine, Springsteen — I see no point in inflicting a memoir on readers. And I surely do not number myself among the extraordinary. Indeed, one of the things that drove me out of academia was when my English Department introduced a course on writing memoirs; the notion of 18-year-olds doing so is worse than cringe-worthy. Read the story of someone who has lived an exceptional life? Sure. Read stories of the pimpled masses who have not lived any lives whatsoever? Better to read the conditions you must accept before installing your latest app. More… “I Could Die”

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A political pop quiz: which of the following is a quote from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign?

1. “The politicians just talk. In the meantime, the rich ruling elite just ignores [workers] . . . We need jobs. Now. Not later, now.”

2. “How many Mexicans are there in the United States? No one seems to know . . . statistics show that while Mexicans make up approximately five percent of the total American population they commit about 87% of all violent crimes.”

3. “It is our right, as a sovereign nation, to choose immigrants that we think are the likeliest to thrive and flourish . . . most illegal immigrants are lower skilled workers with less education, who compete directly against vulnerable American workers.”

4. “We are devoted to the restoration of the American republic and the preservation of American sovereignty.” More… “Trump Speaks Far-Right”

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Some stories have fantastical endings. Matthew Vollmer’s forthcoming Gateway to Paradise, a smart collection of short stories, begins with “Downtime,” wherein a dentist named Ted Barber is haunted by the loss of his wife, Tavey, who drowned on their honeymoon. He flew back to Valleytown, North Carolina, knowing that his wife’s body was stowed in the cargo bay of the plane he is on. He is now having a hot affair with his assistant, who is formidably competent and would be a great wife, but images and reminiscences of Tavey keep pulling him away from Allison. He has weird imaginings, weird dreams, or perhaps they are hallucinations. They are certainly hallucinatory. He swims with Tavey off the coast of Mexico and, after trying to shake her off — her dimly lit, sketchy, almost transparent body — he gives up. She hangs in and he finds himself giving into her. He allows her to find places in his body where she can hold onto him. He knows this is slightly insane, but he finally decides both women will be with him: one in the real world, one in another world. As odd or weird as this sounds, it is simply a metaphor for how a man whose wife has died must accommodate both the memory and the reality, the woman lost and the woman he needs now. At the same time, the image of the husband taking his dead wife’s corpse into his own body makes a striking impression. It is not unrelated to Franz Kafka’s insect in the Metamorphosis. And if you have not read the Metamorphosis, you must put down this essay right now and go straight there. Then read “Downtime.” More… “Imagined Endings”

Dr. Louise Hurrell and Dr. Inez Bentley in the men’s ward at an American Women’s Hospital in Luzancy, France, 1918

. . . Come on! Here is work! Here is opportunity! Here is equality of reward . . . when ‘the world is made safe for democracy,’ Democracy will be made safe for women.

— Dr. Frances Van Gasken, Professor of Clinical Medicine, Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, 1917

Nearly 70 years after women officially entered the medical profession, they still did not have the right to vote in the United States of America. Though the role and prominence of female physicians progressed parallel to and was sometimes intertwined with the struggle for equality, for many women — those working inside and outside the home — the right to vote was not necessarily a priority. But as women entered professions and the industrial workforce in increasing numbers and the United States engaged in war, American women were undertaking more than ever the responsibilities of citizenship without the accompanying rights. More… “The Hippocratic Vote”

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In the last century, originality has killed one once-flourishing art form after another, by replacing variation within shared artistic conventions to rebellion against convention itself.

I blame the Germans.

It was the German Romantics who introduced the idea of “original genius” to modern society. The artistic genius, according to 19th-century romantics, is a special kind of human being with unique visionary powers. In ancient Greece and Rome, poets had sometimes claimed vatic powers; the “bard” sometimes posed as a quasi-prophetic figure, not a mere versifier, though this pose was usually not taken seriously. It was only in the 19th century, however, that the notion of this kind of visionary genius was generalized outside of poetry to what became known as the “fine arts,” including painting and sculpture and even architecture. Earlier, all of these arts had been classified among the utilitarian “crafts,” like textile-making and tile-making. More… “Originality Versus the Arts”

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The other day I was working at the kitchen table. It was a sunny afternoon, the autumn air cool and crisp. As I often do when the weather is so agreeable, I raised a couple of the kitchen windows and delighted in the fresh air, and the sounds of the breeze whistling through the trees in my backyard. More… “Oh, Give Me a Home . . .”

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The apocalypse is all the rage these days. Of course, it’s a topic that never completely goes out of fashion. There’s always some person raving on a street corner about how all is lost and a few folks huddled around him or her, eager to listen. But these days, what with climate change, bees dying, ebola, and, of course, the recent election, it’s a topic on a lot of folks’ minds (at least judging from my social media feeds).

It’s a topic that’s on the mind of cartoonist Julia Gfrörer (pronounced “gruff-fair”) as well, or at least it’s the central setting of her latest graphic novel, Laid Waste. Gfrörer isn’t interested in depicting wanton death and destruction a la Michael Bay, however, as much as she is in depicting her characters’ attempts to find some sense of hope or solace in a world that is swiftly falling down around them. More… “Wonderful Waste”