The pandemic is not a friendship litmus test

A man playing chess with a friend over a video call.
A man playing chess with a friend over a video call.
Photo: visualspace/Getty Images

For me, the loneliness is the worst. I haven’t touched another person since I broke up with my partner in April. Over the past few months, in my desperation for human connection, I’ve taken to texting my friends way more than I otherwise would. When they don’t respond — right away, or sometimes ever — the loneliness spirals. …

Small amounts of gold used in electronics quickly add up to environmental and humanitarian disasters

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Illustration: E S Kibele Yarman

Gold is a valuable metal in the tech industry and not just because of its shine. Although it isn’t the most conductive metal, its malleability and resistance to corrosion make it a key ingredient for product longevity. Apple and other smartphone manufacturers use gold for pins, relays, and connectors — components that send signals or need to remain flexible for the lifetime of the device. In iPhones — by far the most popular smartphone brand in the United States — cameras, wireless charging coils, and logic boards all use gold.

The amount of gold in any one iPhone is pretty small, but the numbers add up quickly. “In iPhone XS, for example, gold represents less than 0.01% of the overall product mass,” or up to 0.018 grams according to the Apple’s 2019 Environmental Responsibility Report. But Apple reportedly shipped nearly 200 million iPhones in 2019 alone. …

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Pitching, get it?

Selling a story to a magazine can seem impossible, especially if you’ve been sending out email after email with no reply.

The good news is it isn’t personal. The problem may be with your pitches. Luckily, there’s a formula to help you get them right.

To write pitches that sell, make sure you include the following elements.

Are You Sending Your Story to the Right Place?

The number one reason pitches get rejected—or the dreaded non-response—is that they haven’t been sent to the right editor. Many writers even send pitches to the wrong publication.

Before you hit send on your pitch, ideally before you start writing it, you have to figure out the right publication for your story. How do you know which publication is right for you? …

The strongest relationships are the ones that recognize that

Closeup on two people’s hands, one person’s holding the others’.
Closeup on two people’s hands, one person’s holding the others’.
Photo: LaylaBird/E+/Getty Images

“Do you have a second to listen to me vent?” I recently texted my friend Nikki.

It’s a text I’ve sent many, many times before. Nikki, who I’ve known since we were both in graduate school together, is my go-to for messages like those. She’s always there for me, ready to listen to any of my drama when I’m desperate for an ear — except for when she’s not.

Nikki is one of the busiest people I know: She’s got a husband, three kids — one each in elementary, middle, and high school — a career as a poet, and a job as an adjunct professor. She’s also an artist, and lately her art has started to garner attention and gallery shows. She barely has time to balance all of her obligations. And even though she loves talking to me, those venting talks can use up a lot of emotional energy for both of us, especially if we’re worked up. …

‘Hang in there!’ can do more harm than good

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Photo: Picture Alliance/Getty Images

When my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 52, I was flooded with emails, calls, and in-person pep talks from friends and acquaintances. Anyone who’d ever met me, it seemed, was eager to offer up a platitude. “Think positive,” they told me. “It will be okay. He’ll get through this.”

But his cancer didn’t go away, and neither did the deluge of optimism that flowed over both of us — my dad, the patient, and me, his sole caregiver. It was wearing him down, and me along with him.

During one visit, family acquaintances kept steering the conversation back to a supposed Amazonian miracle cure they’d read about. My dad should try it, they said. You never know. When I pointed out that he wasn’t exactly in a condition to travel to South America, they suggested I go hunt it down and bring it back. …

A shift in mindset to keep you activated in the face of an insurmountable challenge

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Photo: Westend61/Getty Images

When it comes to climate change, it’s easy to feel paralyzed. You’re just a single person staring down an inevitable force, one that’s being driven in large part by massive institutions and governmental failures.

It’s glaringly, urgently true that larger systemic change is necessary, requiring buy-in from both government and industry. (Just 100 companies have been responsible for more than 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, according to the Carbon Majors Report of 2017.) It’s equally true that no one person’s individual actions can make much difference. …

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“Don’t quit your day job.” If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard that before. And there’s some truth to it. According to a survey by the Authors Guild, the median annual income for writers in 2017 was $20,300. On the other hand, I know several writers who will make six figures this year. It’s even within the realm of possibility that I might, too, which makes me very skeptical of that data.

It’s true that writers don’t get paid enough, but for a lot of us, it isn’t as hard out here as it seems. Perhaps part of it is a squeaky-wheel fallacy: we hear the voices shouting about not making enough to get by because they’re the loudest. …

An election-day guide to dealing with any obstacle you may face trying to cast a ballot

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Photo: Hill Street Studios/Getty

Experts are predicting near-record highs for voter turnout in the midterm elections this year — which, unfortunately, may mean that voters encounter a near-record number of issues as they try to cast their ballots. Exercising your right to vote should, in theory, be a straightforward act, but any number of obstacles can arise, from the professional (getting time off to vote) to the logistical (finding a ride) to the legal (voter intimidation and harassment).

Which means that one of the best things you can do in advance of Election Day is prepare for the worst. …

Power Trip

What’s the best way to stifle environmental opposition? A massive lawsuit.

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Photography by Erika Larsen

When 77-year-old environmental activist Maggy Hurchalla stepped out of her deposition on the morning of July 16, 2018, she was surprised to find a sheriff’s deputy blocking her way to the parking lot. He held a thick stack of papers.

“Give me your car keys, or we’ll have to tow your car,” said the deputy, holding out his hand. He had a court order to seize her white 2004 Toyota Camry and two of the kayaks at her house. The car, with 207,000 miles on it and no working air conditioning, had sentimental value: It had once belonged to Hurchalla’s sister, former U.S. …

A little while ago, I asked my Twitter followers to share their favorite books with me. I received tons of responses. I was floored! A bunch of people also asked me to name mine. So here they are.

My Top 10 Favorite Novels

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The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss:

This was the first book I read after my father died. It got me through that rough time, and I’ll always remember it for that. Bonus points: it’s also one of the most brilliant fantasy novels I’ve ever read.

From Goodreads: “Told in Kvothe’s own voice, this is the tale of the magically gifted young man who grows to be the most notorious wizard his world has ever seen…A high-action story written with a poet’s hand, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that will transport readers into the body and mind of a wizard.” …


Rebecca Renner

Journalist and fiction writer. Bylines: the Atlantic, the Washington Post, Paris Review, Tin House, The Guardian, National Geographic, etc.

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