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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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A hotel is a living organism, a microcosm with a strict hierarchy, an orchestrated timetable of actions and events that unfold according to a particular dramaturgy. Some hotels have even reached the status of living myths — they have succeeded in forming an identity of their own. And in many cases, their status is owed to the writers and actors that have stayed in them. Agatha Christie stayed in room 411 of Istanbul’s neo-Rococo-style Pera Palace Hotel and is said to have written Murder on the Orient Express there. The Park Hyatt Tokyo certainly owes some of its appeal for foreign visitors to Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, who filmed substantial parts of Lost in Translation there.

More… “If Walls Could Talk”

Bernd Brunner writes books and essays. His most recent book is Birdmania: A Particular Passion for Birds. His writing has appeared in Lapham’s Quarterly, The Paris Review Daily, AEON, TLS, Wall Street Journal Speakeasy, Cabinet, Huffington Post, and Best American Travel Writing. Follow him on twitter at @BrunnerBernd.
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Sitting at yet another job interview for an NGO, the question arises again. After hearing it repeatedly over the past three months, I am prepared for it.

“But, what are you doing in India? What made you move here?”

The interviewer is curious, perhaps because she hasn’t come across many like me. We, the children of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), who want to live and work in their parents’ respective countries, are a rare breed.

“Honestly, I am here because I see a real need for education reform in this country, but also because I really love India.” The former, a statement that would help me land me the job. The latter, intended to satisfy curiosity.

The interviewer moves on to the next question, but after hearing the second part of my answer, most people press onwards.

“You love India? Compared to America?” they ask, as if it is unfathomable. More… “Going the Right Way”

Kanan Gole has written for Table Matters (on, ironically, her inability to cook) and The Smart Set, and enjoys writing about her Indian heritage and her travels. She currently works and writes in Pune, India.
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I’ve always been a storyteller. In middle school, I came in every Monday with a story to tell my friends as we sat on the windowsill in our homeroom. At the time, my mother was in prison. I was sharing a small room with my younger brother and living with a family that had three daughters, girls who had been my friends for years. I remember once my half-sister came to visit from Florida. She was an only child who lived with my father and her mother. She marveled at the fact that all us kids lived in that small house. If it appeared fun to her; that’s because, most of the time, it was. This is the thing about being one of the “unfortunates”: If you survive, it’s because you learn how to spin gold from the thread life has given you to hang yourself with. That’s what storytelling is.

In that house, we all wrote stories. We were the children of Caribbean parents who had pushed our noses into books so young that when they stopped pushing, we just stayed there. Writing was naturally the next step. Bringing these stories in to share with my friends at school followed. More… “For Post-Graduate Starving Artists”

Kesia Alexandra is a freelance creative writer from Washington, DC. She can be found on Twitter @kesialexandra and Instagram @kesia_alexandra.
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Once we were mighty. Once we were legion. Once we reigned over colleges and universities like demigods. Well, OK, we English majors were never that important, except maybe in our own eyes. According to a report in the New York Times, degrees awarded in English at American universities fell from seven point six percent of the total in 1971 to three point one percent of the total in 2011 — which goes to show, I suppose, that the golden age was never quite so golden. Still, better the periphery than where we are now — the periphery of the periphery.

One of the less-happy consequences of my decision to major in English 40 years ago is that I haven’t met many (or any) people who share my enthusiasm for the writings of John Dryden. Another is that I make about as much money as a janitor and live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. I knew what I signed up for. My life sentence as an English major has taught me not to care overly much about what are laughingly called “the good things in life.” For better or worse, I can’t look at the glossy advertisements in The New Yorker without a feeling of cognitive dissonance. How could anyone who reads the poems and short stories and criticism in that magazine really want all that crap? If that’s a prejudice, the fault lies in me, not in my discipline, which includes plenty of practitioners with a somewhat more realistic financial outlook than my own. Anyway, for me, it’s less a discipline than a passion. I expect that that beleaguered three point one percent on campuses today feel much the same way. Against the advice of their parents, the social pressure of their peers, and the severely utilitarian direction of American society, they obdurately go on piling up their useless, unremunerative literary courses. See the trouble you get into when you listen to your soul? More… “English Majors’ Twilight”

Stephen Akey is the author of the memoirs College and Library and of a forthcoming collection of essays, Culture Fever.
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In the 1984 novel The Boys on the Rock, by John Fox, a 16-year-old student relays scandalous information about a pair of identical twin brothers on his high school swim team. “I was forever hearing rumors about them being incestuous and things like that from guys who didn’t even know them,” the narrator reports. “They got called pretty insulting things right to their face but they didn’t give a shit.” On this the teenager offers clarification: “I don’t mean they just pretended not to give a shit, I mean they truly did not care what anyone thought about them.”

This passage resurfaced from the depths of my consciousness recently while I read every extant interview with Woody Allen I could get my hands on, though I’m not alluding to sexual innuendo about the director. Yes, Allen did seem oblivious to the uproar that ensued in January 1992 after Mia Farrow — his longtime romantic partner and the star of 13 consecutive films under his direction — discovered in his Manhattan apartment racy photographs of her 21-year-old daughter Soon-Yi Previn, whom Allen later married. Eric Lax, whose updated Conversations with Woody Allen (2009) is the most recent edition of book-length Allen interviews, dealt with the Soon-Yi material previously in the revised 2000 edition of Woody Allen: A Biography. “Woody has a remarkable ability to compartmentalize his life,” Lax wrote then of the custody battle that ensued over Farrow and Allen’s three children. By so saying, Lax seems to have originated what is now the most oft-repeated maxim about the filmmaker: in Woody Allen: A Documentary (2012), the director Robert B. Weide assembled a brief montage of Allen’s friends and colleagues, each repeating the same line about Woody’s ability to compartmentalize his life. All evidence points to Allen similarly taking this compartmentalization approach toward allegations that he sexually molested his and Farrow’s seven-year-old daughter.  (After an investigation, the police brought no such charges against the director.) Allen himself explained at the time of his legal wrangling that, in all the months of public and private turmoil (which cost him $7 million in lawyers’ fees alone), he was not distracted for a moment from his creative work. When he informed his friends of this fact, they thought something was wrong with him — that he had a surprising lack of feeling, as Allen phrased it. “But it isn’t so,” the director insisted. “I had the appropriate feeling at the time, but my work is a separate thing.”

More… “The Teflon Director”

Myles Weber is the author of Consuming Silences: How We Read Authors Who Don’t Publish. His literary criticism appears frequently in such journals as The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, New England Review, The Kenyon Review, The Sewanee Review, Salmagundi, and Michigan Quarterly Review. He is an associate professor of English at Winona State University in Minnesota.
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I was 16 years old when I ran away from home on a December night in Ottawa, Canada where the typical monthly temperatures range from ten to 21 degrees Fahrenheit at night. I had no choice. My mother was an alcoholic and I was the only family member left on whom she could vent an increasingly dangerous rage.
More… “Try a Little Tenderness”

Wendy McElroy is the author of thirteen books, several dozen documentaries and hundreds of articles that have been published in venues ranging from Penn State University to Penthouse magazine.
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If you’re in the midst of a career change, I’ve got some advice: dress for the job you want. So, do you want to be a D.C. reporter? Or a punk rocker? (Lapham’s Quarterly, The Smart Set)

Once you’ve landed the job (no doubt due, in part, to your stunning wardrobe choices), celebrate your newfound success with a classy vacation. Paris, perhaps? The louvre? See the Mona Lisa, a work famous for its mystery — first for its perplexing theft (initially pinned on Pablo Picasso) and now for its enigmatic subject. (The Smart SetOpen Culture)

Once you’ve got the dream job and seen the world, you may be thinking of starting a family. Whether you are a SINK (Single Income No Kids) or half of a DINK (Double Income No Kids), you just want the best for your potential offspring. Which may, it turns out, mean having fewer juniors than previously thought. (The Smart SetJSTOR Daily) •

 

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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From Mad Men and White Collar to Dirty Jobs and Grey’s Anatomy, TV may tell us a lot about how we view our work — and, moreover, how we should. For some, it’s just a job, but for others, it’s a life calling. Maybe we can learn more about our professions by staying on the couch than we can by joining the workforce. (Aeon)

Ad blockers are gaining popularity, maybe because they can save mobile users more than just the headaches caused by strobe-like video ads. A new report by the New York Times shows that, depending on the ratio of advertising to content, blockers can shave seconds off loading times and cents off data bills for each page. (The New York Times)

There’s a constant battle to explain why the rising price of a college education seems to raise demand, defying the usual models. There’s a term for this — a Veblen good — and it’s got mostly to do with the price of prestige. (The Baffler)

Is it time for “he” and “she” to go the way of “Miss” and “Mrs.”? Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin argues that gender, like marital status, should not be brought up in journalistic stories unless pertinent. Here’s a historical and political case for the singular “they.” (In These Times)

Looking for something to read this weekend? Sink into some science. (Seed Magazine) •

Maren Larsen is the associate editor of The Smart Set. She is a digital journalism student, college radio DJ, and outdoor enthusiast.
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Amina sits idle in the shade of her makeshift restaurant. A pot of boiling kidney beans near her toes and a cardboard case of fifteen brown eggs remind her of the work to be done, the work she can’t do yet. She counts the eggs again, tapping her henna-orange fingernail on the shit-and-feather encrusted shells, one by one. She arrived in the upper-class Hara Mus neighborhood of Djibouti City in the gray dawn haze before the construction workers appeared, before the first call to prayer, before the sun slinked through low clouds over the Gulf of Tadjourah.

Rachel Pieh Jones is a writer raised in the Christian west who now lives in the Muslim east. Her work has been published in the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, and the Huffington Post among others. Find out more at her website here.
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