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Late one night on a hot summer five years ago, I found myself in a room packed floor to ceiling with bunk beds and sweating human bodies. This was no prison or hippie commune, mind you; I had just embarked on the Camino de Santiago — a grueling journey of 800 kilometers that starts from a small village in the south of France, crosses northern Spain, and ends a mere 90 kilometers from the Atlantic ocean in the town of Santiago de Compostela. In medieval times, the road to Santiago (as the name translates to) was a major pilgrimage route culminating at the town’s eponymous cathedral, which, legend has it, holds the remains of Saint James, one of Jesus’s apostles.

I am not religious, but neither were most of the thousands of people who would walk the Camino that summer. Unlike the ragged, world-weary, indulgence-seeking travelers of old, modern pilgrims come here clad in high-tech mountain gear for reasons ranging from the lofty to the prosaic. Among the people I met at various points were: Catholics looking for divine communions; garden-variety spiritualists on the hunt for energy fields and epiphanies; hedge fund managers in the throes of midlife reckonings; recent graduates desperate to ward off adulthood for as long as they could; and a slew of curious, more practically motivated characters hoping for a soulmate, weight loss, and cheap thrills.
More… “Millennial Sin”

Elitsa Dermendzhiyska is an entrepreneur in London who builds digital products, travels the world and studies mental health. In 2016, she took a break from business to research the links between genes, genius and madness. Her writing has appeared in the award-winning book Not Knowing: The Art of Turning Uncertainty into Possibility.
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When I was seven, I moved out of the room I shared with my older brother and into my own room. I don’t recall what caused my parents to decide this — perhaps it was a birthday present for my brother turning ten — but for me it was nothing if not a mixed blessing. I mean, I loved getting my own desk and new wallpaper that I picked out and my own bed, all the trappings of a room to grow up in. But without my brother there with me, there was something truly terrifying about being alone at night in the dark.

Not that my brother was much of a protector. More often he’d attack me in my sleep, steal and break my toys, and “dead-arm” me over and over again for his sadistic pleasure. But in my room alone, all alone, I felt susceptible to all the forces of darkness — the monsters under the bed, the prowlers lurking at the window, the creepers in the closet waiting to kidnap me. I had no protection at all. Leaving the safety in numbers of my brother’s room and the comfort of our New York Giants’ helmet night light filled me with imaginings of untold peril.
More… “Halloween is Cancelled”

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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 and of a forthcoming collection of essays, Culture Fever.
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My youth was filled with warnings. “Just Say No,” “This is Your Brain on Drugs,” and “No Means No” pervaded the cultural ether in the early ’90s. The advice came from our teachers, police officers who came to our classrooms, and my parents. My mother was particularly good at training me to recognize and avoid stranger danger. As a kindergartner, I learned adults never ask for help from children (which now as an adult myself, I can confirm; they are useless at directions). If a stranger attempted to pick me up, I was to yell “NOT MY PARENT” as I melted into dead weight, rendering me nearly impossible to transport into a vehicle. And if a family friend came to pick me up from school, my parents and I had a secret code to ensure they were legit messengers vetted and verified (PocahontasDaisy, if I recall correctly). As far as I can tell, no attempts were ever made, but I was (and continue to be) on the lookout for shenanigans. My friends have similar stories regarding the ways in which they were warned against becoming victims — with similar threads — stranger dangers, candy vans, and codes. Our parents clearly survived their youths in order to pass down these lessons, which made it all the stranger that they were so afraid we wouldn’t survive ours.

By my birth in 1985, there had been two world wars that affected generations of our families. Men came home traumatized, women shifted their priorities, children adjusted until they inevitably feared Russians and nuclear war. As if Charles Manson’s destruction of the ’60s had been a battle cry, the 1970s and ’80s saw the proliferation of high-profile serial killers like John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Robert Hansen, Richard Ramirez, and the Zodiac Killer (and that’s just a handful) invading the public’s conscience. They were the “everyman” who lived in any town next to any person. Bundy was a charmer who volunteered at suicide hotlines. Gacy and Hansen were pillars of their community. And the nameless — like Zodiac — were so adept at blending in they were never caught. More… “Girl Afraid”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.
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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”

Matt Nesvisky lives, for the time being, in Philadelphia.
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Netflix’s newest series, Stranger Things, premiered July 15, and it has swiftly become one the most talked about shows of the summer. Each major media outlet has published their own think pieces, quizzes like “Which Stranger Things Character Are You?” have circulated, and Winona Ryder (who stars in the series) has made her comeback as a magazine cover girl.

There aren’t spoilers in this essay. Or shouldn’t be, unless you consider the lack of information an incredible spoiler (and I hate these type of concessions, because plot is secondary to the creation of character, formation of relationship between audience and narrative, and the feelings depicted and attached to the narrative). The only spoiler I’m going to provide happens by episode three, when teenager Barb goes missing, pulled by a monster into a pool and through to the “other side.” Despite being a minor character, I became infatuated with Barb.

More… “We Got to Talk about Barb”

Melinda Lewis has a PhD in American Culture Studies. She knows more celebrity gossip than basic math and watches too much television.
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Here in the crowded retina clinic, we’re waiting to have pictures taken of our macula with marvelous cameras, the backs of our eyes are about to be zapped with lasers or, like me, our central retinal veins have occluded — fancy term for a blood clot — and the retinas have swollen. The result is blurred and distorted vision. Luckily, only my right eye is afflicted.

I’ve already read the chart — could barely make out the large E at the top — and have had dilating drops put into my eyes, so now I’m waiting for my pupils to become pie tins, big enough for someone to look all the way into my soul.

Albert DiBartolomeo is the author of two novels, several short stories, numerous commentaries for the Philadelphia Inquirer and other publications, and has written for Readers Digest, Philadelphia… More…

Why have there been so many earthquakes lately? Do you think it’s a sign that the end of the world is coming? How should we prepare? — Jackie

 

Oh boy. If you’re looking for signs that the end of the world is coming, you can find more convincing ones than earthquakes. From what I understand, earthquakes happen all the time. The Earth’s plates get the urge to shift, kind of like when you get the urge to turn over in your sleep, and so they do, producing seismic waves that most times go unnoticed. Only sometimes do they damage local infrastructures, and that’s when we hear about them. It’s heartbreaking — the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile are devastating in objective terms of damage and loss, and devastating on the internal landscape of anybody who has a heart…. More…

 

I have a rare form of cancer. I only have a few months left. Can you offer any consolation? — Yuki M.

I will try. I don’t know if you’re afraid or not, but I would be, and maybe what you’re afraid of is not dying, but rather love. I guess that does sound a little far-fetched, but when you look at it another way, it’s the only thing that makes sense.

Crater Lake

There was a war between good and evil. We decided to call the body good.

That made death evil. It turned the soul Against death completely.

Like a foot soldier wanting to serve a great warrior, the soul wanted to side with the body.

It turned against the dark, against the forms of death it recognized.

Where does the voice come from that says… More…

I was recently sitting in the back of a cab with a boy, the radio on. A commercial began with a woman telling her husband in a teasing, sexy voice that she had something that would excite him. Instead of a trip to Turkey or a pair of handcuffs and a paddle, the item was revealed to be a new set of curtains. The man playing the husband sounded bemused at best. Although it was just another poorly produced local radio ad, dread crept in. I imagined myself finding sexual pleasure in textiles made of synthetic fabrics, yelling at my husband for not picking up his socks, and wearing only practical underwear for the rest of my life. I turned to the boy and without explaining myself announced, “I never want to get married.”

A Vindiction of Love by Cristina Nehring. Harper…. More…