The Killing Game

      In anguished tones, my husband recites the names of all the characters slain in Star Trek: Picard. One after another, killed needlessly and deliberately. Is this laziness or sadism, he wants to know. He blames Game of Thrones. I am nodding in sympathy, wondering if the potatoes are done. Later, though, his […]

Naming Trees

      During the pandemic, staunch botanists hung “Essential Worker” signs on the big, gracious trees that line Washington University’s Danforth Campus. Consider the oxygen, the shade, the cleansing of the air, the shelter for insects, the feeding of squirrels, the holding of the soil…. The more I learn about trees, the guiltier I […]

Tax Season Rage

        Cast your mind back to the Friday before tax day. No doubt you have properly submitted your forms and already received a refund, but our new tax preparer is still working on our taxes. She is not the tax preparer who was warmly recommended, but someone he called in to help. […]

Madame X

      Love at first sight, without knowledge or experience—is it possible? Safely, with art. I loved John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X the instant I saw it. The subject, I imagined as a coolly aristocratic Frenchwoman in her early thirties. The artist was a man half in love with her—and half in […]

The Integrity of ‘Tori and Lokita’

    Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgian documentarians and filmmakers, have an astonishing number of Cannes wins in their filmography: seven of their 12 films won awards in various categories at the festival over the years, including two Palme d’Ors (for Rosetta, 1999, and The Child, 2005), the only Belgian films to receive that honor […]

An Elegy for the Literary Lunch

  How I yearned to be a fiction writer. Not to write fiction, mind you. Not to invent plots or breathe life into characters. I much preferred digging around in the real world. No, what I wanted was for a literary editor to take me to lunch. In New York. Someplace with white tablecloths. In […]

Banksy Does Not Approve

    The traveling Banksy exhibit looked good in the online ad, and there was a warning of “high sell-out risk.” I bought quickly, for two of us, mine a VIP ticket for extra access, so I could write about everything there might be to see, and it came with an exhibit poster. A few […]

Turning Spit to Silk

      If anyone is handing out alternate lives, I will take Chiara Vigo’s. On moonlit spring nights, she slides a white tunic over her head, murmurs a prayer, and dives into the Mediterranean. Entering a network of underwater caves off the coast of Sardinia, she probes the seafloor for rare, giant mollusks, Pinna […]

Starry Starry Skies (No More)

    Boy, did I get schooled fast. After reading article after article about how we are blasting artificial light into the night sky, erasing stars, confusing plants and animals, and confounding astronomers, I learned that there are now “dark sky” towns dotted around the world. My little town seemed a natural for this project, […]

The Technium, and how Kevin Kelly Changed His Mind

      Thirteen years ago, Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, wrote a book called What Technology Wants. What Kelly wants is a way to combine technology and wisdom, cold machines and a warm Earth. Luckily, he has a genius for the big picture, the sweeping statement, the aphorism. Pushed too […]