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    Entries in - Personal essay (86)


    Learning To Take A Stand


    I’d just moved to Venice from the Middle East, where my wife was a foreign correspondent. For years I played a supportive role, mostly raising our young daughter around the region—from Saudi Arabia to Iraq, Turkey to Lebanon—always in a kind of panicked hypervigilance because of the shoot-out on our block in Beirut, more than one car bomb elsewhere in Lebanon, and all the other rigors of being a parent in a faraway place.

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    Wayne Barrett, The Best Reporter I Ever Knew


     My first day working for Wayne Barrett in the fall of 2004, I was one of six terrified interns, all of us sitting in a windowless room at The Village Voice, listening to a man in Brooklyn barking orders over a speakerphone. I was somehow nominated the stenographer and tapped furious notes—pausing to stare at the others in bafflement—as this loud and blunt man, Wayne Barrett, rattled off assignments.

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    Against Travel


    So deep was my sleep on a recent flight from Moscow to L.A.— a complete darkness, as if I was where I should be—and yet when I opened my eyes, seeing instead the hard light of a plane and not that place I suppose I hoped I had finally found, I clenched my teeth, it having become clear yet again that we were neither here nor there, and it was with a bit of anger, some disappointment, and not a little bit of regret that I found myself thinking again about the Rome of a day before as much as I was anticipating the heat of the California I’d see tomorrow, all the while attempting to forget a Phnom Penh that had started it all, not to mention the various cities in between that my wife and I had tried and failed over 15 years of roaming—this long and more or less continuous effort to make some place the place.

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    Letter of Recommendation: New Balance 990s


    The first time I even considered buying a pair of New Balances, I was 27, bronzed and lean, standing in a frigid sporting-goods store in Biloxi, Miss., having walked there from New York. The year was 2007. Four months earlier, I had experienced that spiritual crisis stereotypical of young people — the one in which you can’t seem to square the scope of your ambitions with the limits of your daily life, which in my case was spent in a Midtown Manhattan cubicle. So I packed a bag and said goodbye to everyone I loved, including my wife, who was ecstatic to see me go.

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    LA WEEKLY - 11 JUNE 2015

    After five years in the Middle East, my wife, daughter and I moved last year to Los Angeles, which turned out to have more in common with Beirut or Baghdad than I might have imagined. The specifics here were, of course, different — malnourished sea lions, homelessness, gentrification, tourism, nimbyism — but the manner by which I began to grasp them was similar. To find out more about where I lived and why it felt so insane, I decided, as I'd done many times (from Sanaa to Beirut, Baghdad to Doha), to take a long walk, in this case from Marina del Rey to Pacific Palisades.

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    Where We Used to Live


    My wife and I lived in a tiny co-op here for years, then we moved to the Middle East. My dad died and Kelly moved to Iraq and then we tried to make it work in Beirut. On leave one winter, I decided to walk from Eldridge Street all the way to the Rockaways. It was snowing and sleeting. I drank a lot of coffee. What death hadn't ruined, the hurricane had taken care of. I've tried to figure out how to come back to New York. Still looking for a way. But not that hard.

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    Party Bus

    THE BUTTER - 7 APRIL 2015

    We live in the future, so I’m on a bus in Los Angeles and log onto Twitter to write a note to the author of a book I’m reading: “Loving yr novel. Managing to focus on its pages during a manic bus ride to Venice Beach, during which a drunk guy fell on me”

    “Thank you so much,” writes the author, Rabih Alamaddine. “Haven’t had a drunk guy fall on me in ages!”

    This is a story about a bus ride on a Saturday night just before sundown. Things get intense. The bus to Venice Beach is no joke. Neither is life, writing, or a good book.

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    Amazed and Confused: My Night at the Movies


    For part of my 20s, I worked as a journalist in New York, writing and editing news, and shepherding various forms of what I thought were important stories from pitch to completion. Then, in 2008, my wife set out to work full-time as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and I tagged along. Over the next five years, I watched her covering difficult stories: the growth of al-Qaeda in Yemen, the supposed wind-down of our war in Iraq, the failed revolutions in Bahrain and Syria. Faced with stories more urgent, perhaps, than the ones I’d known in New York, I became convinced that what I thought I knew about how cities functioned and how people ought to act with each other was untrue or at least incomplete and probably down-right naïve. In my new life, while my wife roamed the globe, I was meanwhile often a single parent, and with a great deal of effort I was attempting to find meaning in this new role. So I wrote personal essays. Some of them were uncertain, others emotional, and most of them raw and strange and inconclusive.

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    The Greatest Rock Show I'd Ever Seen


    At 16 years old, I interviewed Ian MacKaye.

    Standing in a weird sort-of tiki hut behind a rock club in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, on April 2, 1996, I stubbed out an unfiltered Camel and asked strange, sometimes stupid questions to this punk rock iconoclast, the lead singer of post-hardcore band Fugazi.

    I was talking to the man who founded enormously influential Dischord Records, who created (and later disbanded) hardcore punk legends Minor Threat, who then somehow brought out another great band in Fugazi. With a hooded sweatshirt and combat boots, a dedication to veganism and an élan for eschewing drugs and alcohol, this guy could count himself among the godfathers of American punk rock. And all I wanted to know is whether he might equate the health risks of caramel with the supposed evils of eating meat.

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    Growing Up and Plugging Out


    It’s Sunday and my neck is still sore. I don’t have meningitis and I wasn’t in a car wreck. What I did was buy a turntable, and on Friday night we played it loudly. Here’s why and what it might mean for you, especially if you are a dad:

    A year ago, I was living in the Middle East. My wife was a foreign correspondent and for five years she and I quite happily turned over our cultural life, such as it was, to the digital realm. Doing so was convenient, fast, and avoided the strict censorship rules unique to various countries we called home (Saudi Arabia, Turkey) and also meant we could stream NPR and download Mad Men and follow friends and read the novelSwamplandia when we heard about how awesome it was. (It was phenomenal.)

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    The Year in Nathan Deuel, 2014 Edition

    It was a crazy year. We left Beirut. Before 2013 ended, I was teaching at Deep Springs College. Then we moved to Los Angeles and settled into a tiny cottage in Venice Beach. The first months of 2014, I was either hammering on things at the house or preparing for a tour to support my first book. As the pub date approached, I tried to sell excerpts. I did lots of interviews. Then I read from the book — some events well attended, others not—and suddenly it was summer. I got a job at UCLA, and I started writing up a course. I had no idea what I was doing. But I did my best. Now I’m on holiday in Central Illinois, where most of my family lives. I might have one more piece publish before the year is up and if I do, I’ll update this. Update: I wrote about buying a turntable for Pacific Standard. It’s been a huge honor, to write for big (The New York Times MagazineHarper’s) and the less-so (Trop, American Circus). I love to write. And here are Update: seventeen things I did in 2014.

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    How Waze Has Changed Driving, For Better And For Worse

    BUZZFEED - 15 OCTOBER 2014

    It was August; California was boiling with heat; and I’d mapped out a plan that would find me driving nearly 6,000 miles, mostly back and forth between grandparents in the Midwest. I was looking forward to doing so with my phone, which I could do without hesitation or equivocation, because my wife — who hates when I use electronic devices, especially near our daughter, and who in general prefers spontaneity and inefficiency — would be flying. I readied for the first leg of an epic summer: just me, a 5-year-old, and an open road to Missouri.

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    12 Jobs From My Recent Past

    GAWKER - 18 SEPTEMBER 2014

    I've never been particularly good a having a "traditional" job—a byproduct, perhaps, of a lenient upbringing, attendance at a magnet high school for the arts, my birth as an American, and then a variety of other luck and circumstance that has permitted me to be at times fickle, but more often or at least most simply stated: Unlikely to keep a job.

    This is my first month as a real college professor. I walk around a campus in Los Angeles, where there is a significant stadium and various country-club level amenities, such as four different pools, immaculate lawns, various libraries. There is apparently so much money floating around for a population of mostly 18- to 22-year-olds that I find it staggering to calculate how this all works—what kind of jobs will they get?—and then I remember: This is a college, and the core point of attendance is for the young to learn, and I am among the adults charged with doing some of that teaching. I have learned some things. These are my experiences so far.

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    On Maleness and Deep Springs College


    Deep Springs College has been around for almost a hundred years. In 1917, a crew of about a dozen students, mostly ruddy young things from back east, were brought to a remote desert basin halfway between Yosemite and Death Valley by an entrepreneur and educator named L. L. Nunn. His idea was to form “whole men” — and only men, it being Nunn’s contention that a single-sex institution was the ideal way to achieve his goals — who would be as comfortable at a desk as in the field. He offered the boys two free years of education in exchange for a pledge to devote their lives to serving humanity. The first group built the dormitory by hand.

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    That Time I Took the Bus and Everything Was Great

    GAWKER - 7 AUGUST 2014

    The other night, I was going to the launch party for my new book, but the hosting bookstore happened to be on the other side of town, in Los Feliz, while I meanwhile was a new resident of Venice, an hour's drive away—or more in mid-afternoon traffic—so I considered my options.

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    You're Not From Here


    I still hadn’t fully processed our move to Venice, California, when I came face to face with the grizzled guy on our block who rides around on the yellow scooter. “You grow up here?” he asked.

    I hadn’t. For the last half decade, I’d lived in the Middle East with my daughter and wife, Kelly, a foreign correspondent. No one during those years ever asked where I’d grown up. Because of wars and revolution and worse, everything always felt intense and exciting. There were more important things to tend to than asking questions about the origins of a stranger like me. Now, exhausted from all the bombs and barricades in Lebanon, we were back in the States.

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    Book Notes - Nathan Deuel "Friday Was the Bomb"


    After the big blast in Beirut, when the country's top intelligence chief was killed, I started a playlist. By this point, we'd lived in the Middle East for nearly half a decade. Our daughter had been born in Riyadh, we'd traveled to Yemen, where the little girl caught measles, and when my wife took a posting in Baghdad, I moved to Istanbul, where Loretta learned how to walk as her mom covered the "end" of a war. Then, in the fall of 2011, we moved to Lebanon, where everything was supposed to be different. There were mountains and beaches and great wine and a solid crew of fellow foreign correspondents, many of them with children. We allowed ourselves to relax, to unpack our books, set up a stereo, light some candles, and consider a dinner party. Then there was a seven-hour shoot-out just down the block from our house, followed not long after by a massive car bomb.

    Scrolling through all the playlists I've made over the years, I can retrace the path:

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    Land of Milk and Money

    GUERNICA - 2 JUNE 2014

    It’s rush hour on a Friday, and I’m driving through San Jose traffic during the Bay Area’s second big Web boom. I’m surrounded by Google buses, eBay shuttles, BMWs, Audis, and Teslas—the daily northerly conveyance of tens of thousands from Silicon Valley back to San Francisco, our new dork overlords on the move, inching up the fright-scape that is Highway 101. Though the story of tech and the Bay Area is more complicated than wealth and movement and also simpler and older than anything that requires tech at all.

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    Welcome to Venice Beach 

    TROP - 21 MAY 2014

    Monday morning, I’m pulling a trailer containing a four-year-old girl, en route to preschool, both of us coming off a half-decade in the Middle East, and I’m feeling a little shaky about how things are going, wondering how it is I should think about our new life in Los Angeles. I’ve just turned down a tenure-track job offer, an essay collection (not mine) is taking the world by storm, and as ever it’s never particularly easy to find the time to write—nor is it clear why one should bother. There’s a house to work on and a kid who needs raising and a marriage to maintain and yet, that compulsion, every day: To sit down and type.

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    The Cantina Scene 

    THE MORNING NEWS - 20 MAY 2014

    It was a midsummer night a few weeks after I’d left the Middle East for the American Midwest. My wife, Kelly, and I had spent five years in some of the world’s toughest corners—Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Turkey, and Lebanon—as she covered the news, and now we were at last bringing our four-year-old daughter home. (Whatever that meant.)

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