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Posts Tagged ‘depression’

Terra Incognita

March 13, 2014 | by

Remembering Sherwin Nuland, the author of How We Die, who died last week.

THUMB_NULAND

Photo: Yale.edu

I attended the Yale School of Medicine when Shep Nuland taught there, and despite our both being surgeons, I know him best in my capacity as a reader. I don’t recall when I first read How We Die—I was just finishing high school when it came out—but I do know that few books I had read so directly and wholly addressed that fundamental fact of existence: all organisms, whether goldfish or grandchild, die. His description of his grandmother’s illness showed me how the personal, medical, and spiritual all intermingled. As a child, Nuland would play a game in which he indented her skin to see how long it took to resume its shape—a part of the aging process that, along with her newfound shortness of breath, showed her “gradual slide into congestive heart failure … the significant decline in the amount of oxygen that aged blood is capable of taking up from the aged tissues of the aged lung.”

But “what was most evident,” he continued, “was the slow drawing away from life… By the time Bubbeh stopped praying, she had stopped virtually everything else as well.” With her fatal stroke, Shep Nuland remembers Browne’s Religio Medici: “With what strife and pains we come into the world we know not, but ’tis commonly no easy matter to get out of it.” Read More »

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Sweets for the Sweet

February 6, 2014 | by

cookie carnival

A still from “The Cookie Carnival”

I devoutly hope there is an academic somewhere writing a serious essay about the role of anthropomorphic comestibles in Depression-era cartoons. I am no authority, but it seems pretty clear to me that, besides the obvious economic implications, all this humanized food has a great deal to do with gender norms, and attitudes toward food, and probably class, too. Disney’s 1935 Silly Symphony “The Cookie Carnival” would have to be the centerpiece of any such argument.

“The Cookie Carnival” is a Cinderella story that focuses on a sort of proto–Miss America boardwalk parade in which various confections compete for the title of “Cookie Queen.” In describing the plot, I can do no better than Wikipedia, which undertakes the task with commendable thoroughness:

Various sweets and goodies of Cookietown are preparing to crown their new Cookie Queen. A parade of potential candidates passes by, all based on various cakes and sweets. Far from the parade route, on what would appear to be the wrong side of the peppermint stick railroad tracks, a gingerbread drifter overhears an impoverished sugar cookie girl crying. Upon hearing that she cannot enter the parade because she hasn’t any pretty clothes, he hurries to remedy this, concocting a dress of colored frosting and candy hearts. He covers her brown hair with golden taffy ringlets and adds a large violet bow to her dress as a finishing touch. Thus attired, she is entered as the final contestant in the parade: Miss Bonbon. Read More »

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Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: Modernists Go Off-Menu

January 2, 2013 | by

The opening scenes of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times demonstrate the indignities mechanized factory production perpetrates upon the bodies of its workers. The first shot, of sheep herded into a pen, dissolves into one of men leaving the subway. They’re bound, the viewer assumes, for the kind of job in which the next cut finds Chaplin’s Little Tramp: working on an assembly line, his motions so repetitive that they become reflexive. He can’t stop twisting his wrists, as if to tighten bolts, even when he leaves the station where he tightens bolts all day. His body is so bound to the line and to the factory that the same boss who controls the conveyor belt’s speed also controls the movements of the Tramp’s body. Finally, the factory extends its control to the Tramp’s last autonomous function: eating his lunch.

A salesman so committed to mechanization that he lets a machine speak for him has brought to the factory boss’s office a prototype of “the Billows Feeding Machine, a practical device which automatically feeds your men while at work.” He asks the boss to pick one of his workers for a demonstration, and of course Chaplin’s Tramp is volunteered. Strapped into the machine, hands incapacitated, the helpless Tramp watches the machine rotate plates before him: soup, air-cooled between spoonfuls; corn, spinning on its cob; cubes of meat, pushed by a mechanical arm from the plate into his mouth; and finally cake for dessert. The machine promises to “eliminate the lunch hour.”

Even before the machine goes predictably haywire—speeding up, spilling soup on the Tramp’s shirt and cake in his face (always pausing, hilariously, to wipe his mouth)—it’s clear to the viewer that some kind of line has been crossed. Read More »

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The Human Centipede; Or, How to Move to New York

November 1, 2012 | by

I moved to New York for graduate school. I was in my mid-twenties, and what do we do when we’re in our mid-twenties? We move to New York with very little money and very high hopes. Like many, I entered into the nexus of love and wealth and fame looking for a piece of the glistering and transmutable dream itself. In short, I was here to write a book.

But standing on the threshold of this dream, I began to panic. I thought, I have arrived, and thought nothing of how far I had to go or what it would take to get there. I could see downtown Brooklyn from my window, and most days my impression of New York came from inside my bedroom. Outside, the sidewalks were cobbled and uneven, and the houses and apartments looked like replicas of the houses and apartments I’d watch on TV.

I’d lived in Brooklyn less than a month but had already settled into an inexplicable depression I’d nicknamed The Darkness. I couldn’t leave my apartment, except to attend class in Manhattan two nights a week. Sitting on the F train, I felt sure no one could lived in New York without a constantly replenished supply of antidepressants, courtesy of some kind of pharmaceutical Fresh Direct. Read More »

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Life-Affirming Reads

September 21, 2012 | by

Dear Paris Review,

I am currently suffering from a major depression, which has caused me to lose my job and my relationship. I see a therapist and a psychiatrist, and I believe and hope I’m beginning to recover. I have been a major reader all my life, but the depression has made it difficult for me to concentrate, so I haven’t been able to read much lately. I’ve been reading bits and pieces of books I’ve read before many times (Darkness Visible, Diving Into the Wreck), trying to get something from them.

I suppose I’m looking for two different types of book as I recover: books that will show me why to live and how, and books that will allow me to escape my present torture. Both need to be pretty easy to follow—for instance, I recently bought The Myth of Sisyphus after reading William Styron’s reference too it, but it’s too difficult for my slow brain right now.

Thank you.

Dear friend,

I’ve been where you are and know exactly the state you describe: one of the many distressing aspects of depression is the inability to lose yourself—and for those of us who have always found comfort in books, this is particularly scary. It goes without saying that everyone’s recovery process is different, and without a sense of your exact tastes—although it is clear you are an ambitious and curious reader with wide-ranging interests—it is a little tricky to suggest comfort reads. (After all, that is so bound up with one’s history and associations, no?) But I can tell you what has worked for me, and for some people I know, and hope that the suggestions, and the knowledge that you are in good company, will prove helpful.

Read More »

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My Little Pony, Typography Humor

August 22, 2012 | by

  • “What did the horse say to Bordeaux?” Typographic humor.
  • Bravery, boldness, folly: six insane acts of writing. (Some more literally so than others.)
  • “I took little snippets of text and ideas from some of my favorite authors, and let the words be a springboard for an illustration. The illustrations incorporate and interact with the text and hopefully add up to something that engages the mind as much as the eye.”
  • “Twilight’s libraries are profoundly disorganized.” A human librarian gives a professional critique to Ponyville’s My Little Pony librarian, Twilight Sparkle.
  • Nothing you didn’t already know: books can indeed treat depression and anxiety.
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