Kasbeer holding Blackie, and Black holding Kasbeer
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I found my soft, shiny stuffed dog on a tree of puppets at a souvenir shop in Big Sur. He was the color of asphalt with glossy plastic eyes that disappeared under his dark fur and floppy ears, making him look more like a bunny than a black Lab. His rear-end was plump and his tail thick. Through an opening in his chest, you could slip your hand inside. The feeling was intimate, like reaching into a shirt when one of the buttons has been undone.

The first time I did this, he came alive, opening his mouth to show off his pink tongue. I asked if he wanted to come home with me, and he nodded, his tail wagging from the flicker of my fingers. When I scratched behind his ears, he lifted his head as if he were relishing in the feeling. More… “Everyone Gets a Dog”

Sarah Kasbeer’s writing appears or is forthcoming in Elle
, The Hairpin, Jezebel, The Normal School, The Rumpus, Salon, Vice
, and elsewhere. Her essay, “Is it Cancer” received notable mention from the Best American Essays 2015.

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I’m sitting next to a wall covered in photos of Umm Kulthoum. From behind her omnipresent sunglasses, she looks down sternly on the crowded teashop, sharing wall space with dozens of other notable personalities from the Middle East. Along the ceiling hang WWI-era rifles, dusty phonographs, and lank flags discolored by years of cigarette smoke. My new friend Omar orders us another round of Karak Chai and resumes his animated explanation of why the pop star Shakira is such a great dancer — he insists it’s because she was born in Bahrain; I learn later she was born in Colombia. While Omar speaks, all sweeping gestures and croaking voice, I take a sip of scalding tea and compose my face, trying not to betray the fact that my heart is lurching wildly, like a drunk trying to skip rope. I take another sip and tell myself it’s just the highly-caffeinated, sugary tea, and not the heart attack my anxiety disorder insists is imminent.

I’m on the island of Muharraq in the Kingdom of Bahrain to explore Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy, a site known colloquially as the Pearling Trail. Currently in the midst of construction, the serial heritage site will encompass a segment of the seafront, three offshore oyster beds, and 17 buildings connected by a three-and-a-half-kilometer pathway running through a historic neighborhood. The Trail is Bahrain’s second UNESCO World Heritage Site and will offer visitors a vision of the culmination of the 7,000-year Arabian Gulf pearling tradition. This summer, over and over again, I keep returning to walk this path with my notebook and water bottle in tow. “But it isn’t finished yet,” people tell me, worried I’ll be disappointed; but seeing it at this time, in the midst of its birth, when some parts are done and some parts are still old and crumbling, is exactly why I can’t stay away. After a year when my world was swallowed up by cataclysmic anxiety, this is supposed to be the summer that I change, too, and so I keep returning to be near something else that is being transformed. More… “Pearls of Wisdom & Fear”

Natasha Burge is a Pushcart Prize and Sundress Best of the Net nominated writer from the Arabian Gulf region, where she is the writer-in-residence at the Qal’at al-Bahrain Museum. Her writing has appeared in Pithead Chapel, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and The Establishment, among others. More can be found at www.natashaburge.com.

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We all have fears, dark premonitions about the future, troubling recollections of the past, anxieties about the present that weigh on our minds and ruffle our sleep. Have I been a loving parent? Was I to blame for my divorce? What possessed me to vote for a Republican? Is she faking her orgasms? It may be that my life is very far from being the model of responsible engagement that I like to imagine it is, but there’s one particular fear that haunts me above all the other slippages, insecurities, and moral failings that must be held to my account: I worry that I’m Cecil Vyse.

Cecil Vyse, for those unfamiliar with E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View, is the priggish, snobbish, supercilious, sexless aesthete that Lucy Honeychurch almost makes the mistake of marrying in the 1908 novel. Even now, my Vysian tendencies betray me: “for those unfamiliar with E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View.“ Why should I assume, if only by implication, that anyone should be familiar with A Room with a View? Read it if you want to, don’t read it if you don’t. Ah, but things are rarely that simple for “artistic” spirits like Cecil and me. Against everything my education and reading have taught me, against everything I believe about respecting the subjectivity of all personal experience, I find it hard to avoid the conclusion I would like not to draw: I’m moved to rapture or wonder or fury by this or that artistic expression. You’re not. What’s wrong with you?

More… “I, Cecil Vyse”

Stephen Akey is the author of the memoirs College and Library. A collection of his essays, Culture Fever, was published in January.

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My library has a display shelf, near the main circulation desk, of recently returned books. I love this shelf. They’re just random books, new and old — novels, cookbooks, photography books, biographies, how-to manuals, self-help. I often find something I want to read amongst them. It’s anti-curation — my options are reduced, but there’s no discernible algorithm behind the selection. They are not even recommended.

It reminds me of a game my brother and I used to play in the backseat of the family car. We’d flip through a catalog from a toy store or Sharper Image and choose the one thing we most wanted from each full-page spread. In airport bookstores, my husband and I like to go row by row and choose which bestseller we’d read if we had to read one. We don’t buy the books, of course; we’ve brought our own. As kids, we didn’t get the toys. But the act of choosing was a form of entertainment. Choice itself is pleasurable. More… “On Choice”

Elisa Gabbert is the author of L’Heure Bleue, or the Judy Poems (Black Ocean), The Self Unstable (Black Ocean) and The French Exit (Birds LLC). Follow her on Twitter at @egabbert.

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On a gray morning in Paris, I pushed back the heavy velvet curtains in my hotel room. There, just across the street, almost close enough to touch, was Charles Garnier’s extravagant opera house — the Palais Garnier. I didn’t know where to look first. The Corinthian columns with gilt capitals? The rose granite friezes? the shiny tips of gold Pegasus wings?

 

I left the curtain open and padded into the bathroom. A glance in the mirror over the sink revealed a sight anything but grand: the face, so pale; the multidirectional hair, frizzy with split ends; the pajamas, gaping around the shoulders. After gazing at the confectionary Opera, my reflection nearly gave me culture shock.

Mustn’t look in the mirror again today, I thought, and dressed quickly, keeping my gaze trained out the window.

The Opera’s busy style… More…

The day K. came in and said, “I don’t care anymore,” was a revelation. By then, the communal living space/art collective housing 17 artists and hangers-on that was my home had been battling bedbugs for three months. Only four of the 17 rooms (mine not included) were actually infested, but communal living as it is, we all had to share in the initial bedbug cleansing procedures familiar to anyone who has had or read about bedbugs — the thorough packing all personal items in plastic, the taping of holes and cracks in walls and furniture, the wrapping of each bed in a plastic sack not unlike those used to wrap corpses at homicide scenes. We tried not to let hysteria get the best of us as we emptied our rooms of every doodad, every picture, and watched the mountain of 17 people’s-worth of belongings mushroom in the gallery space. We… More…

A friend was relaying his fears for his niece, a 16-year-old trapped in the Slough of Despond. He wasn’t sure how to reassure her. I don’t really remember the problem or situation — with 16-year-old girls, it could be just about anything. When I asked what he eventually ended up telling her, he shrugged and told me, “I just said it gets better.”

On Balance by Adam Phillips. 336 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $26.

This was months before the web campaign of the same name. Started by Dan Savage after a string of news reports about teen suicides, gay men and women posted personal videos on YouTube; its goal is to reassure terrified teens with stories of how survival ultimately transforms into a flourishing life. Celebrities and non-celebrities discussed their own despair and isolation, and… More…

In old novels and plays, the woman who blushes is invariably described as lovely and virtuous. Jane Austen, for instance, created charming characters whose blushing was a sign of modesty and sincerity. Paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries often display pink-cheeked women looking sweet. Think of the many beautiful and blushing young women Auguste Renoir painted over the years.

But today, instead of being viewed as attractive, blushing is seen as an expression of shame and embarrassment. Contemporary accounts of the blush portray it almost entirely in negative terms. The blusher’s red face seems to unmask a person who just isn’t right with the world, quite literally an uncool character, one who has somehow crossed the boundary between the outside social world and the private inner life.

People who blush a lot are sometimes called “pathological” blushers. They blush at unexpected moments over nothing in particular. The psychological-physiological tic… More…