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Welcome to The Monthly Missive (and its annual facelift), and a special welcome to all the new subscribers this month. If you want to save these stories to read later, I recommend using Pocket. As always, get in touch by replying to this email or following me on the social network of your choice. 
- Sophie

Features and investigations.

"Dee Dee wanted her daughter to be sick, Gypsy wanted her mom to be murdered" by Michelle Dean, Buzzfeed 19/08/16
Reading time: 25 minutes
To her friends, family and neighbours, Dee Dee Blancharde was a devoted mother who cared tirelessly for her daughter Gypsy, who suffered from numerous illnesses and disabilities. However, it turns out there was nothing wrong with Gypsy at all -- something that was only discovered after she and her secret boyfriend murdered Dee Dee and scarpered. Dean has done great work with the interviewing here, as well as explaining what Munchausen-by-proxy actually is. 

"Gypsy still doesn’t feel she actively deceived anyone. “I feel like I was just as used as everybody else,” she said. “She used me as a pawn. I was in the dark about it. The only thing I knew was that I could walk, and that I could eat. As for everything else… Well, she’d shave my hair off. And she’d say, ‘It’s gonna fall out anyway, so let’s keep it nice and neat!’” Gypsy said her mother told her she had cancer, too, and would tell her that her medication was cancer medication. She just accepted it".

"My four months as a private prison guard" by Shane Bauer, Mother Jones, August 2016
Reading time: 1 hour
Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer spent four months working in a private prison run by CCA, the United States largest private prison operator. The result is this meticulously researched story about the brutal conditions experienced by prisoners and guards alike as a result of the merciless drive for profit. The guards are paid 28% less than their government prison counterparts and prisoners are left locked up all day because the prisons won't pay for more staff to supervise them. This story took 18 months to put together and has sparked huge consequences for prisons in the State. It is a loooong read, so I recommend saving it with Pocket or Instapaper and reading it in a few sittings. 

Back in the barn office, Gary pulls a binder off the shelf and shows us a photo of a man's face. There is a red hole under his chin and a gash down his throat. "I turn inmates loose every day and go catch 'em," Chris says, rubbing the stubble on his neck. "And that was the result to one of 'em."

"A dog, when he got too close to him, bit him in the throat," Gary says.

"That's an inmate?" I ask.

"Yeah. What we'll do is we'll take a trusty and we'll put him in them woods right out there." He points out the window. The trusty wears a "bite suit" to protect him from the dogs. "We'll tell him where to go. He might walk back here two miles. We'll tell him what tree to go up, and he goes up a tree." Then, after some time passes, they "turn the dogs loose."

He holds up the picture of the guy with the throat bite. "This guy here, he got too close to 'em."

"The real roots of midlife crisis" by Jonathan Rach, The Atlantic December 2014
Reading time: 7 minutes
Midlife crisis is real, and a natural part of the move from youth to old age. Science says so.

"Science has a great deal to learn about the intersection of aging and happiness, but I don’t think it is too early to begin spreading the word about the U-curve. And so I tell people in their 30s and 40s that nothing is written in stone, and that they may sail through midlife in grand emotional style—but if not, they aren’t alone, and usually it gets better, so march through it and don’t do anything stupid. When George Orwell was 40 (he died at only 46), he wrote: “Any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.” He was wrong, thank goodness—as perhaps I am gaining the wisdom to see."

"Why did the harrowing personal essay take over the internet?" by Laura Bennett, Slate, 14/09/2015
Reading time: 10 minutes
I can see why many website editors love publishing first-person essays. They're cheap, they can drive huge amounts of clicks and generally don't need to be legalled. However, do editors have a responsibility to make sure these essayists know that sharing their harrowing life stories means these details will be associated with Google searches of their name forever? Are these stories really of universal value?

"The mandate at xoJane, according to Carroll, was: the more “shameless” an essay, the better. Carroll describes how “internally crushing” it became to watch her inbox get flooded every day with the darkest moments in strangers’ lives: “eating disorders, sexual assault, harassment, ‘My boyfriend’s a racist and I just realized it.’ ” After a while, Carroll said, the pitches began to sound as if they were all written in the same voice: “immature, sort of boastful.” 

"Tracks of tears" by Ricky French, The Weekend Australian 
Reading time: 12 minutes
It's rare that a month goes by without a Melbourne Metro train line being closed due to a person being hit on the tracks. Suicide by train impact is so incredibly awful for everyone involved, but until recently the train drivers were just expected to carry on after what has been a very traumatic event. The rail industry has caught up, but this piece details the anguish these poor guys (and they are nearly always men) go through and the PTSD they inevitably develop. If you're feeling a bit fragile, maybe save this to read later (or never, that's ok too).

"Maher recalls his immediate reaction to his first fatality, speaking as though he's detached from his body, hovering above himself, watching someone else dissolve into blackness. "Every noise you hear, everything you see, everything that goes on, is on a little video in your mind, playing and replaying. You're thinking of everything: the person you've just killed, their family. And you don't see it as a suicide; you see it as a person you've killed."

Podcast: "Battle of the brewery" by Ann Arnold, Background Briefing 28/08/16
Listening time: 30 minutes
I'm not sure how well known this issue is outside of Melbourne, but for weeks many pubs in the city's inner suburbs have stopped stocking Carlton United Breweries products (Victoria & Melbourne Bitter, Carlton Draught and many others) as a gesture of solidarity with CUB workers who are striking in protest of a grossly unfair and unethical wage deal that saw many made redundant, only to be offered their old jobs back if they accepted a considerable pay cut. Ann Arnold heads on down to the picket line and digs into how this deal was struck in the first place.

"Get over it. Look around at the mediocre men who were hired just because they were men. Get hired because you are a woman or person of color and then do a bloody brilliant job in that role."


I've read a lot of books this year that have been hyped by the Melbourne lit scene and/or made it onto award shortlists. Frankly, a lot of them have been disappointing to the point where some of these lists are, to me, becoming a list of books to avoid. "The Island Will Sink" by Briohny Doyle is the first book lit/culture magazine The Lifted Brow has published, and if you like dystopian sci-fi, you should definitely check it out. 

I also blazed through "The Argonauts" by Maggie Nelson. I'm very hesitant on memoirs, but Nelson's writing has given me faith in the genre again. It is a very small book -- don't be put off by the sex scene on the first page. 

"Those people nowadays who say they would have stood up against the Nazis – I believe they are sincere in meaning that, but believe me, most of them wouldn’t have."

I am as guilty as anyone about whinging about being busy and wishing I had more hours in the day. Over the last couple of years I've made peace with the reality that I need at least 8 hours of sleep a night, and realised that working myself into exhaustion regularly isn't helpful for anyone. So, how do I best use the hours in the day I have left? Reading Cal Newport's book "Deep Work" has given me a few ideas -- namely, that in order to get some serious shit done, you need to make the mental (and often physical) space for it. Those lifehacker articles about "productivity hacks" just won't cut it. Meanwhile, here are a few more reads on the topic of the endless drive to do more more more more. 

"How to be mediocre and happy with yourself" by Manuela Saragosa, BBC News 22/08/16
Reading time: 5 minutes
"The messages are always do more, be more, sacrifice sleep for productivity, bigger is better, rush, rush, rush," she says.

"It just destroys me. I feel like that isn't life and I don't want it and I can't even begin to keep up. So many of us just want to get off that hamster wheel and just breathe."

"Stop telling me how exhausted you are. It doesn't make you important" by Bridie Jabour, Guardian Australia 31/08/16
Reading time: 5 minutes
"We’re all tired, damn it! But there has sprung a desperation to make meaning from it. It’s not the working class who are striving for this, those in tough, manual, menial jobs of long hours and awkwardly timed shifts seem the least likely to complain, at least in public or with a measure of pride. Parents of fresh babies with no outside help and a list of tasks that stretches into the ether don’t have the time to tell you how much they are doing. Their work is a means to an end. It’s the professionals, the middle class, the adequately compensated who seem so intent on telling us how hard they’ve got it."

"Having it all kinda sucks" by Amy Westervelt, The Huffington Post, 15/02/16
Reading time: 5 minutes
"No woman (or man, for that matter) ever said, 'hey, you know what would be great? If I could get up at 5 a.m., make breakfast for everyone, then get dressed (with heels, natch), drop my kids off at daycare, go to work for 10 hours, pick the kids up, come home, cook dinner, clean up, put the kids to bed, work in bed ‘til midnight so I don’t get behind at work, then do it all again tomorrow on 5 hours sleep'. It’s like we all said hey, let’s change the narrative for women, but not change anything else. And then expected women to be so grateful that we’re allowed to have casual sex and work now that we wouldn’t notice that we’re being pushed toward an ever less attainable and less desirable goal."


Copyright © 2016 Sophie Benjamin, All rights reserved.

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