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As a writer, I’m only anything if observant. And yet I have frightening blind spots. Despite the low square footage of my Harlem apartment, too often I can’t find things in it. Clothes, shoes, the remote. Even the can opener, which has only one place of keeping, the utensils drawer, which I search through and swear doesn’t contain the utensil it inevitably must. On the other hand, things I can find easily — and know I can find easily — I waste my time finding (my wallet, keys, and phone), a vestige of my childhood compulsions.

Such as knowing the location of my security animals. As a child I had a stuffed Tigger which I brought on sleepovers and errands with my mother. Around the third grade I added a rhinoceros named Rhino.

The night I couldn’t find Rhino, we were shacked up in a transitional apartment; we were moving about an hour away from where I had great friends and awesome sports teams and a sense of home. I wasn’t inconsolable, but unconsciously desperate. Searching not my room, but some proxy box-with-bed, I felt poles of sick hope and futility pulling from each end of me, with the magnetic force of an ultimatum I hadn’t agreed to. Too young to question the imperative of Rhino’s presence, my dread that he was still missing bemused me. Childhood is rife with navigating conflicting feelings. Most of the time, that’s when you called for Mom. More… “A Year in Psychoanalysis”

Brian Birnbaum grew up just outside Baltimore. An MFA graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, his work has been published or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Atticus Review, 3AM Magazine, and more. Brian is a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) working in development for the family communications access business. He lives in Harlem with MK Rainey and their dog.

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James Forman Jr. is an academic who studies the criminal justice system, which is not unusual for a former clerk to a Supreme Court justice. But Forman also worked for years as a public defender in Washington, D. C. This gives him profound first-hand experience of the system that is less common among legal scholars. In Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, Forman calls on both his experiences and the latest scholarship to tell a story that complicates our understanding of mass incarceration in the United States. While in Philadelphia earlier this month for a reading, Forman came by the offices of The Smart Set to discuss his book. A passionate critic of the system, despite the often depressing tale he tells, Forman comes across as an optimist who believes, even in the face of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that we can continue with widespread criminal justice reform.

More… “Forman for Reform”

Richard Abowitz is the editor of The Smart Set. Get in touch at rabowitz@drexel.edu.

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A former hedge fund manager’s recent decision to increase the price of a pill from $18 to $750 has sparked interest in prescription drug pricing and sales. This drug isn’t optional: It’s the standard treatment for taxoplasmosis, an illness that mainly affects those with compromised immune systems due to HIV or cancer. But when it comes to non-lifesaving pharmaceuticals, companies rely on advertising to get the word out. In article from our archives, Greg Beato discusses how the restrictions on drug advertising may be helping out the advertisers in the long run.

Critics of prescription drug ads contend that one reason they’re so effective is because they’re so misleading. But while it’s true that few prescription drug ads, if any, go out of their way to call attention to the shortcomings of their products, there’s an alternate explanation for their success: Prescription drug ads are amongst the most honest content that appears on TV. •

Read It: Drug Deals by Greg Beato

Get in touch with The Smart Set at editor@thesmartset.com.

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Fifty years ago, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg published The Yage Letters, a book largely consisting of the correspondence between the two on their separate treks through the Peruvian rainforest. Although their travels were a decade apart, both went in search of yagé — an entheogenic drug better known as ayahuasca. Burroughs’ quest for what he would wind up calling the “space-time drug” was motivated, in part, by the promise of a cure for his heroin addiction. But both beat writers were also lured by rumours that the drug provided answers to the mysteries of god, the universe, everything.

Fast-forward a half-century and it’s no longer the counter-culture’s very outer fringes heading to Peru to try ayahuasca. Drug tourism in the Amazon is a veritable small industry, with hundreds of shamans in Iquitos, Pucallpa, Puerto Maldonado and Cusco offering “trips” to North American and European tourists. Some — like me — even book an ayahuasca… More…

I’ve smoked a lot of weed in my day. Blunts with boys on stoops in bad neighborhoods, metal pipes with middle-aged Buddhists, roaches with an old man hooked up to an oxygen tank at a Dead concert, and gravity bongs made out of POM bottles. I would never classify my avocation as an addiction. But perhaps an appetite? Something old Aristotle might say is “the cause of all actions that appear pleasant”? I’d say so.

One would assume that a philosopher would approve of such appetites. Weed does, after all, inspire thinking, pondering, concluding — all that good stuff. But reading a line from his Rhetoric gave me a twinge of uneasiness, as though an assumed supporter no longer stood by me. He writes, “A ‘criminal act’ … is due to moral badness, for that is the source of all actions inspired by our appetite.”

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