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 […]

How to Become a Mentalist

      How does one prepare to have lunch with a mentalist? Caffeine to keep the brain alert? A mantra to stay resolute, braced against a mind meld? Do they even do that? Gary Chan performs at corporate events, at professional conferences, and most recently, for the FBI, who were impressed. He calls himself […]

Fart Proudly

      The best scatological words are onomatopoetic. There. That sentence should remove any chance of sounding as gleeful as a fifth-grade boy who just learned to make his armpit fart. (Or should that party trick have a different name, as its toot arrives reeking only of boy body odor?) I tried using the […]

The Tree

    On a trip to the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis this summer, a wonderful thing happened: my younger son suddenly thought of something he would like for his birthday. My kids do not want things, usually, which makes holiday gift-giving difficult, so I was happy to hear it. We were in the […]

Strangers Still Rescue Us

      After any catastrophic break in routine, what feels remarkable is the everyday normalcy that preceded it. Washington University’s campus was flooded with students again—too soon, too hot for a fresh fall start. Pulling breath through air thick with humidity, I trudged over to Kaldi’s for an iced coffee. The line, widened by […]

How to Get Our Attention Back

      After I thank D. Graham Burnett for his lyrical introduction to the book Affinities, we exchange a few emails about the importance of attention—how it is being stolen from us and how, if we want to stay sane, we need to seize back the reins. “You might want to review a little […]


      It took four dogs for me to admit that my blithe offers of leashless abandon often ended in disaster. I wanted each dog to be able to run free, ears flying in the wind—and then run straight back to me. After leading me on long gleeful chases at the park, taking victory […]

The Bias in My Bedtime Reading

      It is thrilling to see literary fiction, crime, every category of fiction expand. We have learned enough about how brilliant White opium addicts and spunky old White ladies solve crimes. Stories set deep inside another culture fascinate me, and I love how sneaky they are, educating me without a hint of teaching […]

Wounds Heal Faster When—Covered?

      First came the swell of pride: I had pedaled my bike into a whir and taken a dramatic fall Then came tender attention and a chance to be heroic all over again by barely wincing at the Bactine’s sting. But best of all was the moment the Band-Aid, my temporary badge of […]