To Queen Aretha Louise Franklin, With Love

When Aretha Franklin remade Otis Redding’s 1965 song, “Respect,” in 1967, she transformed a sexist song of domestic submission into an empowering anthem for the civil rights and women’s rights movements. It became a ballad for the people, especially anyone who was or is marginalized or oppressed and, quite frankly, sick and tired of feeling sick […]

Scars Like Lace

David Owen wrote a 2012 personal history “Scars” as “a life in injuries” for The New Yorker. This short piece was inspired by Owen’s essay.   The faintest imprint of honeycombed scar tissue crisscrosses the back of both of my knuckles. Family folklore has it that while my mother was giving birth to my sister […]

Mackin’s Time

Will Mackin became a literary friend when we both wrote briefly for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. His excellent “Dispatches from Iraq” there (written as Roland Thompson) were sharply observed and sometimes surreal. “I can understand the dogs, too,” he says in the final installment. “[One] looked at me and said, ‘Sometimes sedition, sometimes blight.’ Months later, after […]

Hope in a Glass

Forty years ago, on July 25, 1978, the world’s first “in vitro fertilization (IVF) baby” was born to Lesley and John Brown in Oldham, United Kingdom. For millions of people who have created, or are in the beginning stages of creating, their families via IVF, Louise Joy Brown’s 40th birthday is cause for global celebration, […]

Enticing Our Better Angels

“I generally avoid temptation unless I can’t resist it.”      —Mae West   Changing or improving human behavior is hard. Even with the most dedicated and resolute will, redirecting one’s energies from destructive or simply undesired action takes dedication, adequate resources, time, and support. Addicts know this. Psychologists know this. Turns out, behavioral economists […]

Friends Indeed

Most everyone knows that bit from Thoreau on technology and communication in his time:   “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. […] We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important […]

Deadheading Begonias

The other morning, I discovered a pot of once regal and Grateful-Dead-inspired scarlet begonias on my back porch. They were in desperate need of a good deadheading. The rich red blooms were obscured by long-expired flowers and dead brown leaves. Sad, just sad, I thought to myself. As a working mother of a 16-month-old toddler […]

Oddly Cool

Take Highway 55 east from St. Louis, to Illinois 70, then into the rolling hills, soybeans, and hamlets where Lincoln lunched to find Carlyle Lake, the biggest manmade lake in Illinois. The Army Corps capped 69 oil wells and dammed the Kaskaskia River to make the 15-mile-long lake, which was finished in 1967. There’s a […]

“So-called children’s books”

“[S]o-called children’s books I don’t like and don’t believe in,” Chekhov wrote to a friend in 1900. “Children ought only to be given what is suitable also for grown-up people.” He had in mind the tales of Tolstoy and books of history and travel such as The Frigate Pallada, by Ivan Goncharov, about a Russian […]

Thirty-nine and Holding

As I approach my 40th birthday, I have become increasingly aware of what psychologists call the “nine-enders.” What-if, perhaps indulgent, end-of-decade questions hum in the background of my everyday life. When will I finish the book I am writing? Will I finally learn how to make yogurt and cheese? Is there still enough time in […]