Happy Thursday, loyal readers, and thank you for opening up today’s issue of the newsletter. Before diving in, let me start by saying, “Wow, Nikole Hannah-Jones , wow.” Longtime subscribers know I’m a huge fan, so I was extremely happy this week when I found out she had declined a job offer from the
Happy Thursday, loyal readers, and thank you for opening up today’s issue of the newsletter. Before diving in, let me start by saying, “Wow, Nikole Hannah-Jones, wow.” Longtime subscribers know I’m a huge fan, so I was extremely happy this week when I found out she had declined a job offer from the University of North Carolina to accept a professorship at Howard University. Even more impressive was her statement explaining her decision. Someday, maybe Ms. Hannah-Jones will stop by and say hello to our reading community. Who knows: Maybe she’ll become a subscriber?
Aspirations aside, this week, I’m trying something new: spotlighting an outstanding author and dedicating an entire issue to their work. That author is Barrett Swanson. Many of you — I see you, Article Clubbers! — already know Mr. Swanson. But it’s altogether possible you’ve never heard of him. He’s remained mostly under the radar at The Highlighter, even though “Lost in Summerland,” this week’s lead piece, was one of my favorite articles last year. I was reading his book of essays this week (also outstanding), and it dawned on me: “This guy has been in The Highlighter a lot!” And so I did a search, and sure enough, Mr. Swanson’s work has appeared many times.
The reason? The guy knows how to write. No matter the topic (e.g., TikTok influencers, scary water parks, masculinity retreats), Mr. Swanson is funny, sensitive, and deep. He knows about longing, depression, postmodern neoliberalism, conspiracy theories, and the absurdities of life. You’ll want to keep a dictionary nearby (in a good way). Most of all, I like how Mr. Swanson has empathy for his subjects, never judging them, choosing instead to interrogate his own choices. And he loves his brother and isn’t afraid to cry.
I hope you’ll read one or all of Mr. Swanson’s pieces this week, and I’d love to know what you think. All you need to do is hit reply. Please enjoy.
+ This month at Article Club, join us for a discussion of “Private Schools Are Indefensible.” Writer and former teacher Caitlin Flanagan is both snarky and serious as she slams elite independent schools. I especially welcome you if you haven’t tried Article Club before. Here’s more information, and here’s where you can sign up.
Lost In Summerland
After recovering from a traumatic brain injury when he was 22 years old, Andy Swanson started hearing things at home: creaky footsteps in the hallway, stray voices in the closet. When his dad showed up, concerned, Andy’s first words were, “There’s someone in the room with us.” The chandelier in the room flickered on its own.
This article, told from the point of view of his little brother, Barrett, explores Andy’s developing identity as a psychic and a medium. Most of all, though, this is a story of two brothers, their relationship, and their trip one summer to Lily Dale, New York, where every year, 20,000 Spiritualists gather to perform readings, conduct seances, and build community.
At the retreat, Barrett notices his brother’s rising confidence and sense of calm. But he’s also aware of his own uneasiness, acknowledges his history of depression, and recounts an incident from his past, when his big brother’s powers may have saved his life. (44 min) (Issue #225)
Men At Work
If you’re a man, and you’re feeling despondent or purposeless, or you’re exhibiting signs of toxic masculinity, maybe it’s time for a retreat in the woods, away from your friends and family, where you and 50 (white) strangers can participate in “manhood-confirming adventures,” including holotropic breathwork and anger ceremonies.
No, I’m not a proponent of this behavior. But we know that men are hurting. They make up 79% of suicides and 80% of violent crime, and their life expectancy continues to decline.
That’s why Evryman and other men-centered self-help organizations have become increasingly popular. They promise a “new masculinity” by supporting men to connect with their feelings and build emotional intelligence. But Barrett Swanson wonders whether this approach does anything to ameliorate the structural causes of men’s malaise. (41 min) (Issue #218)
The Anxiety Of Influencers
Last year during the pandemic, English professor Barrett Swanson needed a vacation. His teaching had become less about analyzing James Baldwin and more about tending to his students’ anxieties and their comfort animals. Prof. Swanson wondered, Was there another way to support young people as they headed into adulthood? Indeed there was — at the Clubhouse for the Boys mansion, a collab house in Los Angeles where TikTok stars “hone their voice.” One of the owners says, “We really see ourselves as an influencer university.” Tons of layers here. (38 min) (Issue #294)
For Whom Is the Water Park Fun?
Need a break? No summer is complete without a visit to the local water park. Don’t concern yourself about potential dangers or tragedies. Turn a blind eye to the 2 million gallons of water they waste every day. Instead, simulate the effects of climate change at the Big Kahuna Wave Pool, with mammoth rogue waves and parents exhorting their children to save themselves. If fear or excess overwhelms you, distract yourself with a large funnel cake. (12 min) (Issue #201)
: In addition to his writing, you might enjoy this recent interview of Mr. Swanson on the Longform Podcast.
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