“No matter how iconic she became, Joplin was always judged as a woman: audiences embraced her talent but never forgave her for using it. Jagger and Lennon were met backstage by adoring fans willing to do anything for their company, but while Joplin had her fun, Echols describes a scene that typifies her frequent desolation: after acing her New York debut, at the Anderson Theater, Joplin found herself alone as her bandmates in Big Brother and the Holding Company went off to party. She wandered to a dive bar, where a journalist approached her; as she complained to him about the guys in the group, he “fantasized shutting her up with the ultimate put-down: ‘You forget you have acne.’””
“I used to believe that hurting would make you more alive to the hurting of others. I used to believe in feeling bad because somebody else did. Now I’m not so sure of either. I know that being in the hospital made me selfish. Getting surgeries made me think mainly about whether I’d have to get another one. When bad things happened to other people, I imagined them happening to me. I didn’t know if this was empathy or theft.”
“Being on that train on a bright summer day, on vacation with the person I loved most in the world, I felt the possibility of loss and danger, and so I retreated to the dining car and glutted myself with liquid food that returned me to my childhood…”
“Many years ago, reading “Harriet the Spy” for what was probably the ninth or tenth time, I realized that both novels contain meaningful scenes in which the protagonist dresses up as a foodstuff. (This may sound silly, but bear with me.) About halfway through her story, Harriet is cast, much to her chagrin, as an onion in her school’s Christmas extravaganza. At the end of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Scout is conscripted to play the part of a ham in a Maycomb Halloween celebration. The distaste that Harriet and Scout have for these roles can be read as evidence not only of their discomfort with the idea of the traditionally feminine—soft shapes without hard edges—but also with the idea that existing in the world often requires the assumption of costumes, the displaying an inauthentic self, and even lying. But each comes to learn that subterfuge and dishonesty are occasionally useful, even necessary. About three-quarters of the way into “Mockingbird,” Scout and Dill meet Dolphus Raymond, a white male who lives with a black woman. Raymond, who is always seen sipping from something in a brown paper bag, explains that he only pretends to be a drunk so that the residents of the town will tolerate, if not fully accept, his unorthodox relationship. “It ain’t honest but it’s mighty helpful to folks,” Raymond tells the children. “Secretly, Miss Finch, I’m not much of a drinker, but you see they could never, never understand that I live like I do because that’s the way I want to live.””
“"The world has signed a pact with the devil; it had to. The terms are clear: if you want to live, you have to die; you cannot have mountains and creeks without space, and space is a beauty married to a blind man. The blind man is Freedom, or Time, and he does not go anywhere without his great dog Death. The world came into being with the signing of the contract. This is what we know. The rest is gravy." I honestly do not know what she is talking about at such times. The only thing I could swear to is that the writing here leaves something to be desired. "What’s going on here?" is one of the author’s refrains. "The creator loves pizzazz," she answers herself.”
New York Times | Eudora Welty reviews Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) // Underrated: critics flatly admitting their utter bemusement.

This essay by Sarah Marshall in the new issue of The Believer—about Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan, the bizarre attack by a hit-man hired by Harding’s ex-husband against Kerrigan at the 1994 US Figure Skating Championships, the subsequent media frenzy and its peak, or deflation, at the 1994 Olympics—is so excellent.

Watching the Olympics that night, viewers witnessed not just the end of Tonya’s career but the extinction of a whole era of ladies’ figure skating. If Tonya was a T. Rex, lumbering out of her enclosure and bringing chaos to the night’s well-ordered spectacle of heavily regulated female strength, then Nancy was a velociraptor, hissing with stifled aggression as her turf was overrun by tiny, quick-blooded mammals. As Nancy warmed up with the final group, she found herself surrounded by teenagers: Tonya may have famously trained in a mall, but Nancy had to compete against girls who looked like they would have been more at home shopping in one. Nancy delivered a beautiful routine that night, elegant, nervy, and technically flawless. But it was also the skating of a grown woman, and she narrowly lost both the gold medal and the crowd’s favor to Oksana Baiul, the bubbly, crowd-pleasing sixteen-year-old orphan in pink marabou. However much the public had tried to situate Tonya and Nancy as enemies, they remained united, if only in their representation of the sport’s old guard, and of the last gasp of a period during which skaters could just possibly be seen as women and not as girls.

There are things you read and appreciate because they made you care about a thing you thought you wouldn’t care about, but then there are things you read about things you already care about that make you realize you had absolutely no idea about that thing you thought you cared about in the first place, and for me this is the latter.

I was nine when the Harding/Kerrigan stuff happened and a minor figure-skating nut, and it was sort of Baby’s First Media Scandal for me. So many of the images and the narrative elements are familiar, but blurrily so, and it’s weird to see it all flayed out in such detail—and galling, because the coverage was so deeply, viciously warped against Harding, in ways I couldn’t have sensed as a kid but that seem far too familiar now.

What also hit me was Marshall’s point that the 1994 Lillehammer games—which I watched, in complete rapt awe, as much of as my early EST bedtime allowed—were such a turning point for women’s figure skating, a pivot away from “women” and towards “girls.” I remember Harding and Kerrigan (and Katarina Witt and Kristi Yamaguchi, and Surya Bonaly who gets no mention here but, uh, BACKFLIPPING BLACK FRENCH LADY? HELLO? BEST?) all seemed like such grown-ups to me. Even Oksana Baiul—who was sixteen, and who Marshall positions as a harbinger of all the waifs to flood the rink in years to come—seemed very grown-up to me. When I thought about this years later I figured that was because they were teenagers and I was a kid and everyone over the age of 12 seemed to me like some kind of unfathomable adult being.

But as it turns out, they kind of were adults! Harding and Kerrigan were in their 20s, at least. Marshall’s dinosaur references above are perfect, an extension of the detail that Harding did her free skate to the theme from Jurassic Park, which I had somehow forgotten, though I remember so many other things about the games: I have not forgotten about the torch-bearing skiier or the fact that Dodge was a sponsor for NBC’s coverage and ads for the Neon were shown at every commercial break. I was quite set on a teal and purple one by the end of the games. Teal and purple—are there any more 1994-y colors? I don’t believe so. I remember watching the games with my best friend Alison, who was about to move with her family to Virginia; we made worry dolls from instructions we found in American Girl magazine, and probably ate pretzels and Sprite because that was Our Snack. I’m sure we had feelings about Nancy and Tonya and though I don’t remember them now, either, they were probably the same as everyone else’s.

Anyway, it’s a great essay, recommended even if you don’t give a lick about mid-90s competitive figure skating. (If you think you don’t care, I dare you to watch Oksana Baiul’s “Swan Lake” short program and not at least entertain the possibility of weeping.)

“When life gave Ephron lemons, in other words, she made a giant vat of really good vodka-spiked lemonade and invited all of her friends and her friends’ friends over to share it, and gossip, and play charades. Whereas when life gave Joan Didion lemons, she stared at them for several months, and then crafted a haunting bit of prose about the lemon and orange groves that were razed and paved over to make Hollywood, in all of its sooty wretchedness—which is precisely what this mixed-up world does to everything that’s fresh and young and full of promise.”
“This anxious double consciousness—it’s not me/it will be me—may be part of the price we pay for living with, and around, machines. Whenever we enter a moving vehicle, for example, or a plane, haven’t we always, already, in our minds, crashed and become corpses? Even before receiving our salty pretzels we see ourselves screaming and praying, falling through the sky, incinerated. And if we’re in that Warholian moment, everything else is false advertising. That’s another ongoing attraction of Warhol: whenever it’s strongly implied that we are going to live forever (almost every ad, TV show, and magazine—in-flight or otherwise—does this) we can think of Andy (who used the commercial language of these mediums) and know, deep in our naked selves, that it isn’t true.”
“The year I was a freshman cheerleader I was reading 1984. I was fourteen years old then and failing algebra and the fact that I was failing it worried me as I would worry now if the Mafia were after me, or if I had shot somebody and the police were coming to get me. But I did not have an awful lot of time to brood about this. It was basketball season then, and there was a game nearly every night. In Mississippi the schools are far apart, and sometimes we would have to drive two hundred miles to get to Panola Academy, Sharkey-Issaquena, funny how those old names come back to me; we’d leave sometimes before school was out, not get home till twelve or one in the morning. I was not an energetic teenager, and this was hard on me. Too much exposure to the high-decibel world of teen sports—shrieking buzzers, roaring stomping mob, thunderous feet of players charging up the court—kept me in a kind of perpetual stunned condition; the tin-roof echo of rural gymnasiums rang through all my silences, and frequently at night I woke in a panic because I thought a player was crashing through my bedroom window or a basketball was flying at me, about to knock my teeth out.”
“I’m not saying that the writer’s voice is always the highest standard; only that a lot of writers who are fine stylists and whose work I love wouldn’t make it past a contemporary copy editor armed with the Chicago Manual, including some of the greatest writers and stylists of the 19th and 20th century. It’s not as if we’re the French, with the Academy, striving to keep the language pure—fine to correct honest mistakes, but quite apart from questions of punctuation and grammar—of using punctuation and grammar for cadence—English is such a powerful and widely spoken language precisely because it’s so flexible, and capacious: a catchall hybrid that absorbs and incorporates everything it comes into contact with. Lexical variety, eccentric constructions and punctuation, variant spellings, archaisms, the ability to pile clause on clause, the effortless incorporation of words from other languages: flexibility, and inclusiveness, is what makes English great; and diversity is what keeps it healthy and growing, exuberantly regenerating itself with rich new forms and usages. Shakespearean words, foreign words, slang and dialect and made-up phrases from kids on the street corner: English has room for them all. And writers—not just literary writers, but popular writers as well—breathe air into English and keep it lively by making it their own, not by adhering to some style manual that gets handed out to college Freshmen in a composition class.”
“The mattresses were so skinny they could be rolled up, and they smelled heavily of mold. But the deserted grand hotels that might or might not be torched at the end of each season were still an answer to a teenager’s dream. It’s too bad no one wrote songs about them — we were probably too limited a demographic: Kids in the Catskills making out in abandoned hotels. And what fine little love nests they were: Force open a window of the Takanassee Hotel in Fleischmanns, slip inside, wonder about the detritus left behind — a cook’s big white apron, a few pots. But you don’t think about it long. Busboys don’t get a lot of time off.”