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My Worst Best Friend

My Worst Best Friend

I had no friend quite like Ed. We also hated each other.

He was with me all the time. He knew all my secrets. When I was in high school, all I wanted was to be perfect. At 5:30 a.m. I would run six miles. Then, after school, I would study until 10 p.m., breaking only for dinner. I always had to get an A. He understood why I would wrap my hips and abdomen in duct tape to keep it all in, so that my tight pants would fit perfectly and no amount of fat could bubble over the top.

When we had meals together, he would reassure me that it was okay to eat only fruits and vegetables. He would agree when I would say, “I'm fat, I need to lose weight.” He saw what I saw in the mirror.

This Is How We Celebrate Our Dead

This Is How We Celebrate Our Dead

Last week when my two young nieces were in town, we went to a local theater to watch Jorge R. Gutierrez’s The Book of Life, an animated children’s film that is part heavy-handed love story, part love letter to Día de de los Muertos, the holiday on which those who have died are celebrated, a ritual that goes back 3,000 years. On NPR, journalist Karen Castillo Farfán wrote that the practice was developed by the Aztecs, who believed one should not grieve the loss of a beloved ancestor who passed. Instead, “the Aztecs celebrated their lives and welcomed the return of their spirits to the land of the living once a year.”

The Book of Life is one big visual representation of everything we have come to associate with the holiday: “dark” Mexican folk art, sugar skulls, papel picado in every color, and altars adorned with seven-day candles, orange marigolds, and pan dulce. The movie is bright and visually stunning, despite being about death—and the same could be said about Día de los Muertos.

Call for Submissions: Frenemies

"Frenemies": friends with fewer benefits. It's often an apt term to describe our working lives, where polite interactions mask fierce competition. But it applies to other domains as well: from the love-hate relationships of siblings and lovers, to the tangled web of international relations (take, for example, longtime allies Germany and the US, recently in a bitter spat over American espionage). Yet having a frenemy is not necessarily a bad thing. Musical rivalries produce great songs (see the hit musical Beautiful). One-time political opponents sometimes become the most formidable of allies (see Bush v. Gore veterans/gay-marriage crusaders David Boies and Ted Olson).

RIP Robin Williams

RIP Robin Williams

Yesterday, the world lost one of its great talents. Robin Williams was found dead in his home Monday from an apparent suicide. The sadness of his loss is matched only by the joy he brought the world over his life.

While early obituaries I've read have lauded his acting triumphs (i.e., Good Will Hunting, Dead Poet's Society), equally important to my childhood were Robin Williams' less acclaimed works, from Jumanji (50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) to Hook (31 percent) to Flubber (23 percent). Few actors have achieved such generational impact, making his death all the more painful.

The Poetry of Pussy Riot: A Review of Words Will Break Cement

The Poetry of Pussy Riot: A Review of Words Will Break Cement

Journalist Masha Gessen wrote a well-received biography of Russian president Vladimir Putin two years ago. In her new book Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot, she profiles Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk activist group whose members have become the international faces of anti-Putin protest.

In recent years the group has won a global following—including the likes of Madonna and Paul McCartney—for their offbeat acts of civil disobedience against the Russian government. One of their best-known protests—a controversial “punk prayer” performance in a Moscow cathedral in 2012—eventually landed three of its members in jail. Gessen, a Russian American journalist and herself a critic of Putin, follows the personal histories of these three members: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadya), Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Stanislavovna Samutsevich (Kat). Most of the book was culled from Gessen’s reporting from their trial and her correspondence with Nadya and Maria while they were in prison.

Messy and Beautiful

Messy and Beautiful

Diversity in literature is something I’ve been thinking about quite a bit lately. Last month I attended a workshop run by the Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation (VONA), which sponsors programs for writers of color working in a variety of genres. I sat at the orientation looking around in disbelief at more than 150 writers crammed into a room at UC Berkeley, thinking, “Holy fuck, I had no idea there were so many of us.”

Don’t Underestimate Vladimir Putin

Don’t Underestimate Vladimir Putin

Speaking at West Point on Wednesday, President Obama touted his administration’s response to Russia’s recent belligerence in Ukraine. “Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away,” he said. The public outcry and the pressure exerted by international institutions, he added, have served as an effective “counterweight” to “Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks.” In spite of the crisis Ukraine has gone on to hold elections—“without us firing a shot.”

Unfortunately, Obama is mistaken. The momentum is still on Russia’s side. It has forcibly seized and annexed the strategically valuable peninsula of Crimea. It has succeeded in destabilizing eastern Ukraine through a proxy war­—secretively supporting ethnic Russian rebellions against the Ukrainian government there. It is quite possible Ukraine will end up losing more of its territory.

May Is the Cruelest Month

May Is the Cruelest Month

May in Los Angeles is breathtaking. I know this because it’s all people talk about when the city explodes in Technicolor and flowers rip open. Everything is lush and living, or so they say. I live in Los Angeles too, but I don’t see it the same way. Not anymore. The sunshine is harsh. The colors unkind.

When I walk to the corner liquor store with my sunglasses on and hoodie pulled up, hoping to be left alone, neighbors still yell out, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” I smile politely, nod. Always polite.

I stood on this same street four years ago, a few days before Mother’s Day. It was early in the morning, around 3 a.m., and I was on the phone with a steely 911 operator, wondering why she was being so cold to me. I realize now it was probably better that way, but in those moments I hated her. I remember saying, “This doesn’t feel real. This feels like a movie. Is this real?” There was silence on the other end of the line.

The Lethal Snows of Everest

The Lethal Snows of Everest

Today, twelve Sherpas died in an avalanche on Mount Everest, the worst accident in the mountain's history. (Four are still missing.) The Sherpa community, an ethnic group in Nepal renowned for their mountaineering skills, has long guided foreign visitors up the world's tallest peak. "Sherpas bear the real burden of climbing Mount Everest," American mountaineer Conrad Anker told National Geographic. "They're the ones who take the biggest risks."

Last year we published a story by Stephanie Lowe that described the growing dangers of the mountain and the concerns of the Sherpa guides, whose very job is to risk their lives on Everest's slopes.

Call for Submissions: Resistance

Ukraine. Venezuela. Thailand. The Arab Spring. We are living in a time of vibrant protest, captured and magnified by cellphone videos and Twitter feeds. On both the political right and left, grassroots movements have emerged everywhere—including America and Europe—to resist authority and overturn the establishment.

We want to hear your stories of resistance: from powerful mass movements to personal relationships.

Losing Mama

Losing Mama

At the height of my teenage apathy, my mom made me squeal with delight by smuggling a kitten into our home in a cardboard box she’d found at work. She burst into my bedroom excitedly and shoved the box toward me. When I saw its tiny, grey nose and bright, yellow eyes, I fell in love just like my mom.

My dad, however, had a strict "no pets" policy. Caring for a cat would cost too much money, he said. He and my mom already struggled to afford food. For days, my parents fought over the kitten while I held out hope I could have this one little, good thing in a house that all too often felt devoid of good things.

Best of In The Fray 2013

Best of In The Fray 2013

Out of everything we published this year, our editors chose the following pieces from each section for being standouts among their peers. As we see it, they best represent what In The Fray is all about: stories that further our understanding of other people and encourage empathy and compassion.

Click here to read our best commentary, news, photo essay, culture, and blog pieces from 2013.