Riding in the Jenny Biplane, an American Icon

It was all safe as houses, and twice as fun—an opportunity of a lifetime, and powerful enough an experience that I still have a hard time overlaying it on my childhood dreams of flying in a Jenny. For now, let me say that on this day a complicated little freedom machine called the Jenny—built to aid warfare, at once fragile and powerful in its utility, and as beautiful as a moth in the daylight—transported me through time and space and let me return to people I love.

Is Everything Alive?

Organized religions, at least the traditional monotheistic ones, are stingy in assigning a soul (only to humans) and defining its fate (blackened by sin). They bottle up the holy water, decree which acts are sins and which are virtues, box up God in a package of their own design. Why not let divinity spread out and envelop us, until we can see some faint glow of energy even in the inanimate?

The Authentic Imposter

The first woman to paint the official portrait of a U.S. president, Greta Kempton also painted Cabinet officials, governors, senators, the head of the Atomic Energy Commission, two Postmasters General, a Supreme Court justice, several university presidents, and a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church. But what would have happened if she had painted a self-portrait?

Putting on Superman’s Cape

The idea of CPAC made me sore afraid, so of course I wanted to go. I felt like the boy in the daguerreotype who has climbed a tree in order to better view the state funeral cortege.

Thoughts on The End and How We Go On

Dying is something we all do. Saints, film stars, Olympic athletes, con artists. I feel calmer every time another cool friend pulls it off; if all these smart, funny people have managed to die, could it be so awful to share their fate? Yet much of what we call culture is created to deny death, or at least distract us from it.

The Pilgrimage to the King’s Heartbreak Hotel

The real Elvis is American, remember, and America is a consumer society. The desires we project, the stuff we buy—that is what feels real to us. It lets us have any Elvis we want. He left plenty of kitsch in his wake, plenty of pseudo-religion, plenty of Elvis jokes—but he was not, is not, a joke. He lived our contradictions, released our inhibitions, and lost himself in the process.

Right-Minded Electricity, Anyone?

Distrustful of (some) digital technology, yet resentful of the power others might gain by its use, CPAC attendees were asked almost nonstop to consume “conservative” or “alt-tech” technologies. In the hours-long general sessions each day, in a ballroom with thousands of chairs, flashy, high-tech displays showed video ads between every speaker or panel—for The Right Stuff (“a dating app for the right wing”), Tusk (“The Freedom-First Web Browser developed exclusively for Conservatives”), Parler (a “free speech” clone of Twitter), FourSure (“a powerful remote control for the content you already share” so you “Don’t get hacked or canceled”), and other tech companies.

The Joy of Cruising

When I visit places, it never occurs to me to take photos of them. I also know that if I take a photo, I will never look at it again. As a traveler, a place has meaning while I am there at the moment, however slight that meaning may be. It is the experience of the moment that matters, not a memory of it, which is what a photograph is.

Carny World: Sideshows, Freaks, Oddities, and Curiosities

In the way that burlesque, roller derbies, and tattooing and other body modifications were reclaimed in the postmodern age (though not without detractors), sideshows and freak shows have tried to become something different than their earlier iterations. Many say they intend to be inspirational, empowering, and to realign conceptions about difference.