Vol 2, Issue 6 June, 2020

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Three questions with...
2020 Fellow Daniela Lamas

You are a pulmonary and critical care doctor at the Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston and have been treating patients with COVID-19 and writing about your experiences in a series of op-eds for the New York Times. What is the hardest thing to communicate about this crisis to those outside of the medical field?

One of the hardest aspects to communicate is how profoundly sick our patients are, and how much their families suffer. We all have an idea of what it is to be sick and likely have lost loved ones, but there is something different here, at least in part as a result of the fear of contagion and the isolation that we have required. Our patients and their families are truly suffering, days to weeks waiting for improvement that might or might not come, and this is something that occurs behind closed doors and that the public likely does not see. There is also something uniquely devastating for us in recognizing how our patients likely became infected. The patients we have seen toward the latter part of this crisis have been the vulnerable—food delivery workers, cab drivers, nursing home workers and group home residents. In many of these cases, it is painful to recognize that if these people had been able to quarantine, they would still be healthy.

Were you always a writer and did you always know you would write about your medical work? Has writing about your experiences influenced how you approach your work as a doctor?

I have long found myself drawn to writing. My college identity revolved far more around my work for our daily paper than my pre-med classes, and I worked briefly as a reporter for the Miami Herald after my graduation. But I found myself drawn to medicine too, and left journalism for medical school, hoping I would find my way back but not sure how. Though I did not always know that I would write about my medical work, being a physician offers me a view into some of the most profound and beautiful and tragic moments of what it is to be human—even with all of the ethical challenges and negotiations of writing about patients, it is unparalleled fodder. For me, writing allows me to make sense of my experiences and reactions through the creation of narrative. I think this has made me a better communicator, and in that way a better doctor, too.

What is your process like for writing about your work and patients? Do you take contemporaneous notes or sit down to write after your shifts? How has that changed since the pandemic hit Boston?

You assume I have a process! I find that I compose most of my short essays in my head and play around with them until I feel ready to sit down and write—which I do in off moments, the quiet minutes of an overnight call, days when I am not at work. I try not to think of a moment as a good story while I’m still in it, because I worry that it distracts me, or keeps me from being fully present. But small details, these little kernels of story, stick with me and the ones that remain and don’t fall away—I write. Since the pandemic and this feeling I have that everything we experience is important, I have been taking notes. I don’t want to lose anything.

Hot Off The Press

Billion Dollar Burger: Inside Big Tech's Race for the Future of Food

The riveting story of the entrepreneurs and renegades fighting to bring lab-grown meat to the world.

Publication date: June 16.

Available for pre-order through our bookselling partner Solid State Books here

By: Chase Purdy, Class of 2019

Learn More


A boy caught between the ancient and the new navigates modernization on his own terms. By becoming a lion (anbessa) he can fight back against the forces outside of his control.

By: Mo Scarpelli, Class of 2018

Stream Here

Two Cents

Suzy Hansen, Ted Johnson and Marcia Chatelain on how they make physical space and headspace for working at home.

1: I designate a block of time and then I subdivide it, so that I don't get too distracted with news or social media. For example, I'll put 120 minutes in my morning productivity bank and then I designate two, 45-minute blocks for writing, and with the remaining 30 minutes, I may designate 10 minute blocks for looking at Twitter, ordering something online, or checking headlines. By setting these mini-alarms, I can stay on track. — Marcia Chatelain, Class of 2017

2: I set aside creative space in my house a couple years ago—a standing desk by a window with just enough room for pacing when I need to work out the phrasing of an idea or construction of a sentence. — Ted Johnson, Class of 2017

3: I had a separate office in Istanbul which I used exclusively for work purposes, but it was trickier to figure out how to configure the temporary sublet I'm in now—the important thing seemed to be again marking off a space in the living room that would be exclusively used for work purposes. It feels better if even the books and papers I'm using for research are confined to that section of the room so when I finish work for the day I can leave it all behind. — Suzy Hansen, Class of 2020

Two Cents

Azmat Khan and Sarah J. Jackson were both named 2020 Carnegie Fellows. Through humanities & social sciences Carnegie Fellows help us better understand where we’ve been, where we’re going & the enduring challenges we face.

Mosi Secret and Matthieu Aikins were both named 2020-21 Berlin Prize Fellows.

Christopher Leonard's book Kochland was named an honoree of the Society of Midland Authors Award for Adult Nonfiction.

Vann R. Newkirk II's podcast for the Atlantic, Floodlines, was included in Vulture's list of the best podcasts of the year so far, calling it "the best audio documentary to come out this year so far, hands down." Floodlines was also included on AnOther magazine's list of the best podcasts to listen to right now, Elle's list "The 11 Best Podcasts of 2020 (So Far)," and Time's list "The Best Podcasts of 2020 So Far."

David Rohde’s book In Deep was chosen as a New York Times Editors' Choice and as one of the 10 best books of May by the Christian Science Monitor. He was also interviewed in Vox, on KCRW's Press Play with Madeleine Brand, and on the Arik Korman Show about his book.

Zia Haider Rahman delivered his essay Few Good Trade-Offs on BBC Radio 4's A Point of View, exploring the morality of trade-offs in the context of the coronavirus crisis.

Josh Chin reported on China's plans to impose new national-security laws on Hong Kong in a video for the Wall Street Journal.

Two Cents
Go To This

The top 3 New America online events we recommend you check out. Now.



Pop-Up Magazine's the Spring Issue: At Home

Check out Pop-Up Magazine's first ever online show—the Spring Issue: At Home. The show brings never-before-told stories to life with intimate, funny, moving performances; stunning video, art, and animation; and an original score. Learn More


Book Talk: Why White Evangelicals Support Trump

Join the Political Reform program for a discussion of Unholy, the past and future of the relationship between Trump and evangelical leaders, and its consequences. Learn More


Chase Purdy, Billion Dollar Burger: Inside Big Tech’s Race for the Future of Food

Join the Fellows Program and Future Tense for a discussion with author Chase Purdy on his new book Billion Dollar Burger. Learn More

Reading this month

A Strangeness in My Mind is one of the best books I've read about the history and formation of Istanbul, and maybe about the evolution of any city—I'm reading it for the second time.

— Suzy Hansen, Class of 2020

Learn More

A mad, poetic, infuriating, brilliant book on Jewish history and modernity.

— Molly Crabapple, Class of 2020

Learn More

Steadfast Democrats is a really interesting academic text on how racialized social constraints can compel black Americans to vote for Democrats even when their self-interest or ideological preferences would suggest they'd exercise different political behaviors.

— Ted Johnson, Class of 2017

Learn More

Free Swag

Our monthly swag give-away remains on hold, but our Fellows' books are still available for purchase through our bookselling partner Solid State Books.

We hope you will consider supporting Solid State or your own local bookstore!

Wishing you all safety and wellness in the month of June.

Shop Now!

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