Pretend You Are Doing Research in Antarctica

The photographs make me shiver. Antarctica. Vast white mystery. The snow an endless slick of white, broken only by gray rocks on the coast and blue-shadowed glaciers. Ninety percent of the world’s ice is here, yet because Antarctica is so dry—the coldest, windiest, iciest, driest place on Earth—the continent is categorized as desert. I close […]

The Zoo of Human Quarantine Behavior

The other day I played hooky, drove across the river, met a friend for an hour’s walk at Forest Park, met another friend, chatted, picnicked, went back to the parking lot, in a brief concession to the workday, to do a phone interview from my car—and realized I had lost my phone, whose holder also […]

Playing Possum

Late Sunday night, I went outside to add something messy to the garbage my husband had already rolled to the curb. And what to my wondering eyes should appear? A small—not baby, maybe teenage—opossum, backlit by a streetlight in the autumn mist, its pointy little face and long tail silvery white. “No,” I hissed at […]

The Inner and Outer Lives of Oliver Sacks

  The new documentary Oliver Sacks: His Own Life is the first whole-life film biography of the neurologist famous for some sixteen books, including Awakenings (also a film with Robin Williams, as Sacks), The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and An Anthropologist on Mars. Sacks died from a recurrence of cancer, at […]

Yard Sign Politics

Every time I walk the dog, I hope to run into the neighbor with the Black Lives Matter sign in their front yard. I want one, too. In our sweet but painfully white town, I figure the more the better. Then I pass three houses with “Pritzker Sucks” signs in their front yards, and my […]

The Seat of Power

“Two-thirds of the people in this world don’t even sit on a chair,” a Jesuit once pointed out, a gentle corrective to one of my many first-world assumptions. I had no idea if this was an exaggeration for effect; how does one fact-check? Besides, his point was inequity, and that was irrefutable. The sentence returns […]

Willy Wonka Rides Again

      An old friend (his name, coincidentally, Charlie) bought my kids and me a present recently: A chance to find a golden tag and then to win a candy factory. Fans of the Willy Wonka movies and books know the basic plot, but it has been updated for real life. In this version, […]

The Sweet Smell of Success

  If you have ever been truly poor (or a soldier or mountain man), you understand that having potable water, edible food, immediate physical safety, lifegiving medicine, heat in the winter, and basic hygiene of body/clothes/housing (including an absence of vermin), are what matter. There is, in fact, a relief in knowing what the basics […]

The Poet and the Priest

As an undergrad, slumped in the library pretending I was studying, I overheard a little egg-shaped Jesuit earnestly apologizing to the kid working the desk for keeping a few books past the due date; he had been in Korea. Later I learned that the Rev. Walter J. Ong was the premier scholar of Saint Louis […]

The Return of the Muumuu

You suck in your tummy and hold your breath while your husband zips you and tries not to grunt with effort. Then you slip on shoes with heels like icepicks and take tiny steps to the car. Halfway through the evening, all you want to do is kick off your shoes, take off the heavy […]