Proof of the Soul?

    When golden light breaks through a streaky pink and orange sunset, it is easy to imagine we are seeing Heaven itself. Standing atop a mountain, we are at one with the whole world. Marble altars feel colder, paler, and more remote these days, and many of us seek nature’s wonders as eagerly as […]

Why We Need Touch

    In my starving-grad-student days, I took money to let both men and women feel me up. They were medical students, and I was to give feedback about their first, fumbling forays at a breast exam. What fascinated me was how different each attempt was. Some were tentative, some grabbier than a bad date, […]

Sometimes Symmetry Is Overrated

          The neighbors must worry about me; I have been desperately tending one of the two flowerpots in front of our house. It must catch a harsher slant of afternoon sunlight, because every year, the pot I place on that side of the door scorches first. Grunting, I hoisted it up […]

A Woman in a White Dress

  There is winter white, a disappointed cream just waiting to be kicked aside by linen. There is ivory, the word itself luxe, fitted for wedding gowns and trousseau satin peignoirs. But for a summer dress, simple white suffices. The appeal is so universal, I have heard more than one man rhapsodize over seeing a […]

Our Doomed Pursuit of Happiness

It always depresses me to see how accurately Alexis de Tocqueville, a twenty-five-year-old upstart, took our measure two hundred years ago. He started out admiring and found himself predicting (quite accurately, as it turns out) a sad and shallow trajectory from heroism to petulance. How sharply modern it sounds, his observation that Americans are “restless […]

They Snuck Into the Panthéon and Saved Paris

Once, in the middle of the night, six Parisian teenagers managed to get into the Panthéon in Paris. It turned out to be so easy, they woke up the next morning thinking: Okay, what next? Les UX—The Urban eXperiment—was born. Next was the Ministry of Communications—where, in the dusty basement, they found maps charting the […]

Steinbeck Could Not Save to the Cloud

    Carpenters used to seem so lucky. They sweated and got splinters, but they could see the result of their effort. Those of us who pushed paper around knew a stray cigarette ember could char a month’s work into ash. Doctoral students kept their dissertations in the freezer, surprising anybody who helped themselves to […]

There It Is (Again), That Funny Feeling

  I have written before about preparing book manuscripts for publication. But not only does each time feel different; assembling my own collections feels different from finishing single-arc books, and editing others’ books feels different yet again. A few weeks have passed since I finished writing, editing, and organizing the manuscript for my new essay […]

Whacked Out Sports: A Cultural Clue?

    “What in holy hell are you watching?” My husband should have the grace to look guilty; instead, he just grins. On the tv screen, young women in bikinis jiggle as they spike a volleyball, giggle as they play an uncomfortably suggestive game of leapfrog. “It’s Whacked Out Sports,” he replies. I blink. Now […]