Denise Grollmus’ essay on the disintegration of her marriage to Black Keys frontman Patrick Carney is so achingly beautiful that it’s undoubtedly going to become one of my favorite longreads of 2011. The framing device she uses — that of various objects from their relationship — is so appropriate and painful, a reminder of how much emotion we can attach to things during our ill-fated relationships.
One of the few pieces I’ve read that can bring tears to my eyes. Read it.
Nathan Heller has written one of the most powerful, moving pieces of 2011 (already!) by describing The King’s Speech through the eyes of a stutterer:
Stuttering, in my mind, is a word that conjures beiges and grays: the feeling of always being lusterless and square in conversation; of woozy headaches brought about by gasping through my sentences; of childhood boredom in stuffy, cork-tiled offices where speech therapists told me to slow down and read long lists of words aloud. Somehow, I never wanted to slow down, and still don’t; and in this respect stuttering also signifies a bargain I have spent adult life trying not to make. The disorder is not what might be called “a given” from birth for me, though it’s been a looming specter for as long as my memory reaches. I started speaking in sentences shortly before turning 1. At 3, those sentences first met with some resistance on my tongue, the way a car moves off asphalt, onto dirt—and then, finally, across rocks that jolt the tires and make it hard to track where you are headed. Today, I am still being jolted, and the jagged terrain behind bears the track marks of my own innumerable small humiliations. In the seventh grade: A substitute asks the class to read out loud, and when I stumble over my first sentence, she inquires of the other students whether I’m “OK” and “always like this,” and while I continue fighting with a pr sound, my ears tune in to every judging shudder in the room—the creaking chairs, the restless exhalations, the uncomfortable shifting, in the desk beside me, of a girl with many colored pens who seems to me in some way very beautiful. In high school: A medical assistant taking down my charts asks whether I just have a problem with my speech or whether there is mental retardation, too. (“As far as I’m aware …” my answer begins.) In college: I slow down several seminars trundling through fragile language meant for clever tongues. And so on. In each case, what I feel most impelled to explain to the people who can hear me is just: This is not my voice.
Legendary Jeopardy! contestant Ken Jennings writes on what it’s like to lose to a machine (via Linda Holmes):
Indeed, playing against Watson turned out to be a lot like any other Jeopardy! game, though out of the corner of my eye I could see that the middle player had a plasma screen for a face. Watson has lots in common with a top-ranked human Jeopardy! player: It’s very smart, very fast, speaks in an uneven monotone, and has never known the touch of a woman. But unlike us, Watson cannot be intimidated.
Mark Bowden’s “The Case of the Vanishing Blond” unfolds like a television police procedural, which is why it’s all the more impressive that it thrills you even in print form:
From the start, it was a bad case. A battered 21-year-old woman with long blond curls was discovered facedown in the weeds, naked, at the western edge of Miami, where the neat grid of outer suburbia butts up against the high grass and black mud of the Everglades. It was early on a winter morning in 2005. A local power-company worker was driving by the empty lots of an unbuilt cul-de-sac when he saw her.
And much to his surprise, she was alive. She was still unconscious when the police airlifted her to Jackson Memorial Hospital. When she woke up in its trauma center, she could remember little about what had happened to her, but her body told an ugly tale. She had been raped, badly beaten, and left for dead. There was severe head trauma; she had suffered brain-rattling blows. Semen was recovered from inside her. The bones around her right eye were shattered. She was terrified and confused. She bent English to her native Ukrainian grammar and syntax, dropping pronouns and inverting standard sentence structure, which made her hard to understand. And one of the first things she asked for on waking was her lawyer. That was unusual.
Nancy Cott approaches the very emotional topic of gay marriage from the best angle possible: the historical/legal one. With magnificent detail, she explains that modern marriage was the result of literally hundreds of years of evolution. Allowing gay marriage will simply be the next step:
The ability of married partners to procreate has never been required to make a marriage legal or valid, nor have unwillingness or inability to have children been grounds for divorce.
And marriage, as I have argued, has not been one unchanging institution over time. Features of marriage that once seemed essential and indispensable proved otherwise. The ending of coverture, the elimination of racial barriers to choice of partner, the expansion of grounds for divorce—though fiercely resisted by many when first introduced—have strengthened marriage rather than undermining it. The adaptability of marriage has preserved it.
Cord Jefferson argues that he knows PRECISELY when the end of the world began:
Most people don’t know this, but the beginning of the end of the world happened on October 5 of this year. That’s the day Frito-Lay announced it was ceasing production of most of its compostable bags due to customer noise complaints. That is, full-grown adults had whined so much about the biodegradable bags’ unusually loud crinkling that Frito-Lay caved and returned to housing its chips in standard, difficult-to-recycle mylar containers. It was one of the dumbest decisions made this year, and it went largely unnoticed for the abomination it was.
Chris Jones, on the strange happiness of the emergency medic:
[P]aramedics are a surprisingly sunny bunch. They understand that it’s all so much randomness anyway, a cosmic confluence of vectors. One night, four kids got into a car and raced down the slushy streets until the driver lost control. The car spun like a roulette wheel before it was finally stopped by a streetlight. One kid, unlucky enough to have chosen the seat that ended up with the streetlight in it, suffered massive head injuries. The other three walked away. They knew the out-of-body feeling that follows the cheating of death, the feeling that every day between that day and their last will be a gift that so easily could have gone unopened. Paramedics know that feeling better than anyone, because they walk out of nightmares unscathed again and again. They know what a genuinely bad day really looks like, and they know that day will come for them, too, but today is not that day, and that knowledge alone was reason enough for Suzanne to smile.