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Author Archive

The Best Medicine

February 25, 2015 | by

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“He just simply couldn‘t stop it / He never knew when it was coming”: Winsor McCay‘s Little Sammy Sneeze, 1905.

If you’re not sick, you soon will be, and all the hand sanitizer in the world won’t save you. Everyone is a potential foe; no one wants to admit it. This morning on the subway, everyone was coughing and sneezing with varying degrees of discretion. The only people who seemed at all comfortable were two Japanese tourists wearing paper surgical masks. Well, maybe also the old man with a roll of toilet paper hanging around his neck on a loop of string. I envied all of them. 

All you can do is read Mark Twain. He wrote “How to Cure a Cold” for the Golden Era shortly after arriving in San Francisco in September 1863. Twain may never have actually said the famous thing about a San Francisco summer being the coldest winter he’d ever known, but the Bay Area fog was presumably enough to aggravate a lingering head cold—well, that or a nineteenth-century cross-country train ride. According to a series of humorous letters to the editor Twain sent in to the Call and the Enterprise around this period, he’d had the cold—and an ensuing bout of bronchitis—for at least a month when he wrote this piece chronicling various home remedies. Read More »

And Frank O’Hara As Himself

February 24, 2015 | by

Warning: going down the Frank O'Hara reading rabbit hole can swallow your day. It’s not that the poet’s reading of Lunch Poems is such a revelation, by which I mean different from what you might have imagined in your head. Rather, he reads them exactly the way you imagine them, or even read them aloud yourself: conversational, matter-of-fact, and incidentally just touched with Boston. He’s who you’d cast to play him. 

It’s gratifying when things look or sound or act as we picture them; it’s nice not to have the limits of our imagination challenged. Or maybe that’s what imagination is. Anyway, it doesn’t happen often, and if we are surprised nowadays, there’s nothing to blame but laziness. The last time I remember being pleasantly surprised by the synergy of a voice and a face was when I first saw a picture of Brian Lehrer.

We Have the Stars

February 23, 2015 | by

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The other side of the red carpet.

Over the past several years, a series of reports have said that fewer medical students than ever are choosing to go into psychiatry. There are factors the authors generally cite: the wider availability of prescription drugs, the decline of analysis, the range of alternative therapies. There are fewer stigmas about seeing a psychotherapist nowadays—and people who might once have visited a psychiatrist can now avail themselves of yoga, meditation, and other means of self-help.

Having watched the Oscars red-carpet coverage last night, I have yet another theory: E! From what I could gather, every member of the network’s team—Ross Mathews, Kelly Osbourne, special correspondent Khloé Kardashian, the inevitable Giuliana Rancic—is well versed in the jargon of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (Doubly impressive as they are also all trained in fashion law enforcement.) They threw out self-diagnoses with the confidence of a 1960s Jungian analyst: Osbourne was “obsessed” with Marion Cotillard’s dotted Dior; Zoe Saldana’s post-baby body was “literally insane.” Countless things were, of course, crazy. I started to keep a tally on a paper napkin, but I couldn’t bear to watch the whole thing, so my results were compromised. (I already had a little hieroglyphic army, though.) Read More »

Making the Mummies Dance

February 20, 2015 | by

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Photo: Ralph Hockens, via Flickr

In honor of the Metropolitan Museum’s birthday, I’d like to suggest a fun weekend read: Thomas Hoving’s Making the Mummies Dance: Inside the Metropolitan Museum of ArtHoving, who died in 2009, became the Met’s director in 1967, and in his decade-long tenure he made the museum the world-class institution (and moneymaker) it is today, influencing the whole industry in the process. It was Hoving who created the Fifth Avenue plaza, the set of shallow steps that lead up to the museum’s doors, and the big banners that announce exhibitions. He added gift shops and splashy special exhibitions, courted donors like crazy, and expanded the physical space into Central Park—facing opposition all the way.

Hoving’s biggest innovation, though, was his approach to acquisition: rather than build up a deep, conservative collection of small pieces, he decided to splurge on big-ticket masterpieces from all over the world. As a result, the Met is now home to such pieces as Velázquez’s Portrait of Juan de Pareja and the Temple of Dendur, and since his time, directors have followed this model. Read More »

Climate Change

February 19, 2015 | by

WhiteHope

From the cover of Cartoons Magazine, January 1916.

Like everyone else, I am weary of talking about the weather. But it’s not the banality of the talk that bothers me. Talking about weather is as endlessly fascinating as weather itself—even if, nowadays, conversations about the weather are no longer guaranteed to offer refuge from discussions of religion or politics. I’m just sick of how babyish everyone’s being.

Yes, much of the country is experiencing a cold snap. It’s been very chilly for the past few weeks. Because it’s winter. People react with indignant surprise to learn that they’ve somehow woken up in a temperate climate that gets cold every year, and that they, personally, are being forced to deal with it. It’s not just that everyone is displaying an unbecoming lack of stoicism—I am not referring here to the denizens of The Paris Review office, who closed the Spring issue without heat or hot water, in their coats.) Rather, I hate that it leaves us open to the inevitable taunts of people in sunny climates, or the tiresome one-upmanship of those in Canada and Minnesota, who just love an excuse love to show off their thermometers and scoff at our softness. Read More »

The Cold Snap

February 18, 2015 | by

Max Klinger, Paraphrase on the Finding of a Glove (detail), Second Etching, 1881.

Now “happy” is something extremely subjective. One of our sillier Zemblan proverbs says: the lost glove is happy. Promptly I refastened the catch of my briefcase and betook myself to another publisher. ―Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

Much of the USA is in the grip of a cold snap, and so too the season of lost gloves. While some might rejoice at this random harvest, and the liberated gloves may be delirious with joy, it is dispiriting indeed to reach into your pocket and realize you’re going to have to brave winter temperatures with a bare hand. Every year I consider swallowing my pride and buying some of those elastic mitten-clips little kids wear—a small price to pay when you consider the accumulated cost of replacement gloves over the course of an adult lifetime. At least for the scatterbrained. Read More »