Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles good for slow consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.
This week Masha Gessen and Michael Errard both take a close listen to what's coming out of Donald Trump's mouth — not what he says, but how he says it.
Errard's piece is a quick read on Trump in transcription, validating (unfortunately) that our country's chief executive is just as batty as he sounds, and may be making us a little crazy, too, simply by the structure of his speech. That feeling of being gaslit every time you hear our president? This is how he does it.
Gessen's article is longer, more serious, and sort of terrifying if you have any interest and/or faith in language. Trump is overwriting the meaning of our language until, like an overused palimpsest, it no longer holds meaning at all. Here's a battle that writers are uniquely suited to fight.
Trump’s word-piles fill public space with static. This is like having the air we breathe replaced with carbon monoxide. It is deadly. This space that he is polluting is the space of our shared reality. This is what language is for: to enable you to name “secateurs,” buy them, and use them. To make it possible for a surgeon to name “scalpel” and have it placed in her open palm. To make sure that a mother can understand the story her child tells her when she comes home from school, or a judge can evaluate a case being made. None of this is possible when words mean nothing.
Start with the premise that if treatment for a particular disease exists, then people deserve access to it, especially if treatment is relatively simple and affordable to the US health system. Now throw in racism, poverty, and national politics, and you get the infuriating situation in Marion, Alabama, where tuberculosis — utterly curable and manageable — has moved in to stay.
In October 2014, a nurse practitioner tore into [Shane Lee's] office with a fresh medical mask over her mouth, frantically waving an X-ray film. The mask, a tight-fitting turquoise respirator, was unusual. And then he looked at the radiography, which showed that the patient’s lungs were nearly completely whited out. It was the worst case of tuberculosis that he had ever seen.
Since then, Marion, a town of 3,500 and the seat of Perry County, has been grappling with a historic outbreak of a disease that has vanished from worry in much of the United States. Thirty-four active cases have been found; if that doesn’t seem like a lot, consider that the rate of infection — what the World Health Organization uses to determine severity — is almost a hundred times the national average, and higher than the rates in India, Kenya, and Haiti.
Rafe Bartholomew’s father tended bar at the famous McSorley’s Old Ale House for decades, then transformed himself by self-publishing The McSorley Poems. Great piece on pride, resilience, and the false romance of the writing/drinking life.
In the end, it took two years of course work and arriving right at the edge of a decision to leave McSorley’s for my father to realize he wanted to stay at the bar. He didn’t need to change careers to find satisfaction. He just had to find a way to inject the bartender’s life with a greater sense of purpose. The solution was obvious: He had to write again.
Most of us experience surgery from the sharp side of the knife, with all the attendant glory of hospital gowns, IVs, and iconic fluorescent lights. Scottish novelist William Boyd charts a recent increase in memoirs by the women and men who do the cutting — a reader’s guide to a professon in which the gruesome reality of flesh opens big questions of life, death, and trust in another human’s skill.
For the non-surgeon, I would claim, the sight of a dead human being, supine, spatchcocked, heart removed, would be a life-changing horror. The fact is that for surgeons the interior of the human body – its glossy organs, its swelling fluids, its lurid blood – becomes a very normal, unremarkable sight, an everyday arena of activity, very quickly losing its freight of torrid emotion and associated gag reflex. I put this to Moran and he admits to never having felt squeamish. Maybe this is the crucial first requirement.
Apropos of nothing, except a stray thought that the blaring noise coming from social media is just the opposite of what Joan Didion described in 1961 as self-respect — in a Twitter-like assignment to fill a gap in Vogue, left by another writer, exactly to the character.
The charms that work on others count for nothing in that devastatingly well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with oneself: no winning smiles will do here, no prettily drawn lists of good intentions ... The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others—who are, after all, deceived easily enough.