The Memorial to Joan Didion in NYC

    The memorial service for Joan Didion, who died December 23, 2021, was held this week at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. (You can watch it here. There is no audio during the slideshow at the start.) Organizers explained the service had been delayed due to Covid, but […]

Why Our Minds Wander

      Even as I read an article about mind-wandering, my mind wanders away from its own topic, jolted by mild panic because I forgot to defrost the chicken breasts, seduced by the chance of crisp autumn weather next week, tempted to buy cider and spiced donuts…. Is this evidence, then, that mind-wandering helps […]

When the Void is Loud

    Sometimes when you feel the weight of everything—all those space rocks grinding away senselessly, nebulae billowing, nuclear fires ejecting plasma, the oppressive silence of your own existence building on some little planet of a Sunday afternoon to the realization that buying that eggplant on a whim at the supermarket on Thursday created a […]

As Seen on TV

      I am watching, God help me, broadcast tv. Worse, I am watching the commercials. And every last one of ’em sucks me in. I want to believe their claims; I want to order their product and own its magic. I wanted those slick copper pans, too—where have they gone? For months, I […]

The Art of Conversation

        My secret dream, could I travel back in time, is to be Madame de Staël in eighteenth-century Paris, hosting salons of witty, intellectually curious writers and thinkers and artists. She was not beautiful, but her conversation was luminous and seductive, pulling from her guests ideas they had not realized they were […]

How to Start a Book Club—and Keep it Going

        Over a half-dozen years ago, at least, I proposed to Gene Dobbs Bradford, then the executive director of Jazz St. Louis, and Phil Dunlap, the organization’s education director, to launch a book club. I am not sure what made me want to do it. It was not as though I lacked […]

The Keys to Your Kingdom

      Researchers in the U.K. are studying tiny, everyday objects in the Early Middle Ages—keys, shoes, floor tiles, chests—and tracking their passage from person to person, which is quite a detective story. Looking at the artifacts, I think about the many ways keys still pass from hand to hand. How ceremoniously we are […]

Found Objects: Sludge

    A multinational corporation was investing in environmental initiatives, and I hoped to write about them. Their main project was highly technical; for background they had me email two university scientists. The scientists could not easily explain to a layman what they did, and besides, they admitted, what they were working on would not […]