A Real New Year’s Vow

    I was at the Schnucks after lunch on New Year’s Eve, picking up finger foods for later. The checkout line was longer than I have seen in four years of living here. It ran the length of impulse buys, about a third of the width of the supermarket, from coffee and filters, past […]

Jeanne Dielman As the Best Film Ever?

        The news broke last month. Sight and Sound, the British Film Institute’s magazine, published its famous once-a-decade list of the hundred best films. And Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles had bumped Hitchcock’s Vertigo from the top spot. “Such a sudden shake-up,” the BFI marveled. (Jeanne Dielman, made in […]

The Softer Sex

      Life moves from softness to constriction, then back again. Babies are swaddled in flannel, dressed in soft cotton shifts that slide right over their downy heads. Then, little by little, life becomes uncomfortable. First the tight plastic pants, then the zips and buttons and layers. Long, itchy pants and awkward tights. Bras […]

An Atheist and an Agnostic Walk Into a Bar….

      The atheist is my friend Susan Barker, a naturalist and science teacher who has been skeptical about the God stuff since she was five years old. Me, I am an agnostic soaked in Roman Catholicism, rinsed in Episcopalianism and toweled off by Taoism. We are talking about the meaning of life—at least, […]

Holy Daze

      “Get ready for fun,” I inform my husband and our dog. “It’s the holy-daze!” I pronounce “holidays” with a long O and a silly Z, because I am desperately trying to be merry. Every December, we wish we had kids, grandkids—even a nearby sibling or two would do. In their absence, I […]

Why We Hate the Poor

      A cartoon in the San Diego Union-Tribune shows a father walking his little girl past a man and woman seated on the grass by the side of the road. Their heads are bent over a baby cradled in the woman’s arms. “No, honey,” the father tells his little girl as they pass, […]

Driving Is Better Than Most Brain Tests  

      When we were young and cruel, our reflexes lightning fast, our vision 20/20, a friend of mine imitated an old person driving. He slid down on the leather seat, death-gripped the wheel, hunched toward the windshield, and slowed to eight miles an hour. Gasping in mock protest, I had to laugh. He […]

The New Bibliophobia

      Bibliophobia was once thought to be a rare anxiety disorder, characterized by an intense fear of books. The etymology was simple: biblion, Greek for book, and phobia, Greek for fear. Diagnosis was equally straightforward: the mere thought of reading a book induced an irrational panic, and the stress response then triggered physical […]

Why You Have Never Heard of Mickey Hahn

      A New Yorker writer with a penchant for pet monkeys and a past as an opium addict, hard-partying expat, foreign correspondent, mining engineer, and confidante of Madame Chiang Kai-shek grew up in St. Louis? So much for stereotypes. Emily “Mickey” Hahn’s father was a dry goods salesman. He had proposed to their […]

Is Your Soul Immortal?

      Through the front door’s smeary glass and between the leaps of our self-appointed guard dog, I could just make out the hope-brightened faces of two middle-aged men. Then I glanced down and saw a fat leatherbound book with gilt lettering tucked under one man’s arm. “Aw,” I thought, silently quoting a line […]