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Think Big

January 14, 2015 | by

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

We are told it is a liability to be thin-skinned, and it’s true that these are bad times for it. When an Internet slight makes you question your path in life, an encounter with a surly stranger results in canceled plans, and the day’s news derails your day, you are at the whims of fortune. And a life without perspective, like a painting, is disorienting.

But the porousness goes both ways, doesn’t it? And if everything looms large, the world’s kindnesses are equally outsized, like in that store Think Big, which only carried enormous versions of things. Maybe you didn’t want a giant jar of mustard. But the fact that it existed meant that you could also have a six-foot Dixon Ticonderoga No. 2, so. Read More »

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Bring Up the Bodies

January 13, 2015 | by

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Photo: Golden Globes

Last night—or early this morning, I guess, around four A.M.—I woke up from a dream. I’d been reading a Hilary Mantel novel and watching red-carpet recaps before bed, and the two apparently melded in my brain in the most literal way imaginable. In my dreams, Thomas Cromwell attended the Golden Globes. Or Mantel chronicled them. I’m not sure which—but this is how it went down. 

It is the awards season. Lupita in silks and nosegays, Felicity stately in Dior. Photographers line the strip of crimson worsted like so many starlings on a line: here a Michael Kors, here a Givenchy. Lacquered hosts prattle now of jewels, now with furrowed brow of news from abroad.

“Alchemy,” says George Clooney, boyish and urbane. He is at his ease, of a mind to talk of brass rings and love.

Kevin Spacey is at the podium, eyes narrowed in a mockery of evil, bent on revenge. Jeremy Renner stands at his ease and leers, “You’ve got the globes, too.” 

Virgins win, and Birdmen. 

Cromwell stands with the others and prices the finery, an old habit not easily lost.

“There was a time,” he says, “when the carpets were not ruled by the stylists. There was Marlee Matlin then, and Bonham-Carter. We knew risk then, and yes, folly, too. I saw once a woman dressed in the plumage of a swan.”

And around him, etched in jewels, he sees the motto: “Je suis Charlie,” they say. “I stand with France.”

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Simon Says

January 12, 2015 | by

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Photo: Toy Whirl, via Flickr

Not very long ago, family friends got in touch with me. Their son, Luke, was moving to New York for med school; it would be great if I’d see him and told him where to go in the city; he would be in touch. He was. 

“This is three hours of my life I’ll never get back,” I said bitterly to my boyfriend.

“What’s wrong with him?”

“Oh, nothing. He’s fine, from what I remember. He’s a perfectly nice guy. But, well, frankly … his parents carry on like he’s some kind of celebrated wit.”

“How do they do that?” Read More »

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Are You Okay?

January 9, 2015 | by

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Illustration: Mohamed Ibrahim

As the hostage situation in Paris unfolds, the correspondents on CNN keep using the word okay. Are the hostages okay, how many are okay, et cetera. Okay means “alive,” of course. It’s a strange euphemism.

We have all heard the theories: OK is of Choctaw derivation, or possibly West African. Some linguists attribute it to the “comical misspellings” craze of the 1830s, while others cite Martin Van Buren’s Old Kinderhook campaign, or attempts to lampoon Andrew Jackson as an illiterate who couldn’t manage “all correct.”  

What is pretty generally agreed is that the first published usage dates from 1839, in the Boston Morning Post. Describing an outing by the Anti-Bell-Ringing Society, the paper reports: Read More »

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No Object

January 8, 2015 | by

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War and Peace’s Natasha Rostova in a postcard by Elizaveta Bem, 1914.

Yesterday, amid the headlines and hashtags, the footage and pictures from Paris, came an e-mail. It was from a publicist. It reminded us that this month marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of War and Peace

Well, sort of: the first installment of what was then titled 1805 was indeed published in the January 1865 issue of Russkiy Vestnik. It ran in serial form for the next two years. However, Tolstoy wasn’t happy with this version and reworked much of the book—which he called “not a novel, even less is it a poem, and still less a historical chronicle”—before publishing it as War and Peace in 1869. 

Arguably, a sesquicentennial is a tenuous peg in any case (it doesn’t even have an honorific, like gold or diamond). But in dark times, you don't need an excuse; they are reason enough. I’m not suggesting that whenever there is tragedy in the world you drop everything and pick up a fourteen-hundred-page novel; there is life to lead and news to read and, yes, social media to follow, too. Besides, you’d be reading all the time. But it’s like Mr. Rogers said: when the world is frightening and violent, look for the helpersRead More »

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Notes on Becoming a Crank

January 7, 2015 | by

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Gerard Dou, Woman Reading a Bible, ca. 1630.

There are many benefits to being a grown-up. Using stoves unsupervised, buying things online, enjoying herring. As children suspect, you can set your own bedtime; as adults know, this can be as early as you like. 

One of the worst things—besides the loss of innocence, I mean—is becoming a crank. When you’re a kid and you’re opinionated, it’s cute. Less so when you’re a teenager—you morph into an ass—but people forgive that, too. As a young adult, maybe you’ve become a jerk, but whatever, you still have idealism and fire in your belly. Then one day you wake up and you’re just a crank. Read More »

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