Good stuff online: NY Times Magazine and T Magazine

September 10, 2021

A shout-out to the New York Times Magazine for an especially good September 5 edition. I knew I wanted to read Ismail Muhammad’s intimate profile of Maggie Nelson, whose last book The Argonauts knocked me out and whose new book (On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint) I’m now eager to dig into. I glanced at the cover story about Terry Albury, the black FBI agent who spent four years in jail for leaking classified documents, and at first I thought, “Oh, I know all that, I don’t have to read that story” (a frequent assumption facing such articles). But Janet Reitman’s story hooked me, and I wound up glad that I read this account of a principled American in law enforcement coming up against all the ways that post-9/11 “homeland security theater” got used in vicious ways to prop up the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy (thank you, bell hooks) while pretending to protect American citizens. As Albury puts it, “I helped destroy people.” He’s one of the heroes of the resistance who hasn’t gotten as much attention as Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, or Reality Winner, but his story is just as compelling.

Similarly, I glanced at “The Ceremony,” David Treuer’s piece about an Ojibwe grieving ritual, and thought, “Oh, I know what that is.” I did not. Treuer leads with a moving description of his state of mind after a series of intense losses. “In the summer of 2020 I was — and there’s no fancy way to put this — falling apart.” He proceeds to share with respectful delicacy some details about the tradition of the Big Drum.

“Ojibwe Big Drum society, or ‘drum,’ as we call it, is a large, loud, social healing ceremony that takes place in dance halls designated specifically for that purpose in communities mostly in Minnesota and Wisconsin, throughout the year. To be seated on a drum, to be a member of the society, is both an honor and a profound, lifelong duty,” Treuer writes.

“There’s a process that sometimes occurs (not always or even often) during the Big Drum to help end a family’s mourning called ‘wash their tears.’ Typically, men will wash up men, and women will wash up women…A family is seated in chairs near the drum, and the veterans approach them with bowls of water and soap and combs. They literally wash the faces of the bereaved, and comb and braid their hair. These big men, with their strong hands, wash and comb with a delicacy you wouldn’t think possible. In so doing, they wash away our sadness.”

The details of how this ceremony evolved and the impact is has on its community are moving and powerful. Read the whole story here.

While I’m on the subject of the New York Times (which I used to write for and is also where my husband works), I want to sing the praises of Hanya Yanagihara, editor-in-chief of T Magazine, the Times’ fashion supplement. I never read Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life; some people love it for its honest portrayal of the damage wrought by childhood sexual abuse, and others object to its relentlessly grim portrait of gay male life. All I can say is that I appreciate the courage, determination, excellent taste, and unerring discernment Yanagihara has brought to representing queer and BIPOC culture in the glossy pages of T Magazine. The high literary quality and the diligent hunt for new/untold stories and perspectives surpasses just about any gay publication I can think of right now. Where else would I read about several young queer Asian female pop musicians (“Are You Listening?” by Ligaya Mishan) or the trans artist who calls herself Puppies Puppies (“Who is She?” by Jameson Fitzpatrick). I would be intrigued to read about these people in some arcane gay art magazine. It’s such a Sign O’ The Times (as the Purple One would say) that I’m reading about them first in the New York Times, which has sometimes been dismissed as “the Gray Lady”…but not so much anymore.

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