Essay

176 articles
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Fascinating Fascism

On a book of photographs shot by Leni Riefenstahl in the 1950s and 1960s depicting an African tribe.

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The Original Gone Girl

On Daphne du Maurier and her novel, Rebecca.

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Life Atop Ground Zero

The rebirth of the World Trade Center.

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Why I Write

An essay on motivation.

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Disaster Aversion

The quest to control hurricanes.

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The Bull on the Mountain

A hike gone terribly wrong.

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On Self-Respect

An essay on understanding our character, worth, and limits.

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Writing From the Black, Twitchy Place

A fiction/essay hybrid on the lies of storytelling.

"This stuff you don’t recall so much as suspect. Usually dark, not-so-nice things you think you could have witnessed, or had done to you, or – even worse — did unto others. Maybe there’s even a dim recollection – your cousin Johnny’s gray eyes with the bottom half flooded for instance, or your mother’s grim little smeared-lipstick smile, or the sound of your sister throwing up on the other side of the bathroom door. But really, these things are so shadowy and faint you can’t be certain of any part of them. You’d have forgotten these ghost-memories a long time ago were it not for one thing that seems completely unrelated and it’s this: there’s a dark and oversensitive stain on your heart."

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My Father’s Fashion Tips

The writer on his father's religious devotion to personal style. Among the maxims: "the turtleneck is the most flattering thing a man can wear"; "there is nothing like a fresh burn"; and "always wear white to the face."

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Home for the Holidays

On heading home for Thanksgiving:

How I envy people who enjoy the company of their parents without the aid of pharmaceuticals.
Reprinted from Home for the Holidays and Other Calamities.

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Me & My Monkey

Confessions of a white-collar dope fiend.

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When Books Could Change Your Life

On the power of youth literature.

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The Fourth State of Matter

A week in the author’s life when it became impossible to control the course of events.

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Light Entertainment

An essay on Jimmy Savile, British television and child sexual abuse.

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The Kindness of Beasts

On the moral behavior of animals.

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Death of the American Hobo

The last men who ride the rails, “where silence and lawlessness still reign.”

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God Wielded the Buzzer

On a biography of David Foster Wallace.

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A Splash of Red

A mystery writer moves into an apartment where a grisly crime was committed.

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On Falling Apart

On being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

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The Trouble With My Blood

Diagnosed with a rare blood disease, the author reflects on illness and addiction.

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Diary: In Brighton Beach

New York’s Russian community in Brooklyn.

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Down and Out in a Repurposed Troop Carrier

Writing a “stunt memoir” in the waterpark capital of the world.

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Rotary Dial

An essay about phone dials and a response to the end of blogging.

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Confessions of a Black Mr. Mom

An essay on African-American fatherhood.

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Superman Comes to the Supermarket

On JFK and the 1960 Democratic National Convention.

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In Hollywood

On Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, screenwriters.

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Diary of a Mad Fact-Checker

On “soldiers for credibility” and the tug of war over truth.

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Go Away

On working in an artists’ colony.

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The Archipelago of Arrogance

A meditation on the “out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant.”

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Last Morning in Al Hamra

On living in Saudi Arabia.

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I'm Dying to Meet You in the Next Life

An essay on Alcor – “the Arizona cryonics company that has put the body of Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer Ted Williams in cryogenic suspension, in the hope he may one day rise again” – and the desire to live forever.

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Penis Rays, Self-Loathing and Psychic Voodoo

Autobiographical cartoonists on truth and lies.

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Anatomy of a Divorce

The author ponders the dissolution of his own marriage, and others.

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man

On the O.J. Simpson verdict and the Million Man March.

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Church Is Wherever You Are

An essay on televangelists and a missing mother.

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My Platonic Sweetheart

In a posthumously published essay, Twain recounts dreams of a long-lost love.

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Some Jews & The Gays

Vidal on Midge Decter, homophobia and a proposed alliance between Jews and gays.

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How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance

This isn't an essay or simply a woe-is-we narrative about how hard it is to be a black boy in America. This is a lame attempt at remembering the contours of slow death and life in America for one black American teenager under Central Mississippi skies. I wish I could get my Yoda on right now and surmise all this shit into a clean sociopolitical pull-quote that shows supreme knowledge and absolute emotional transformation, but I don't want to lie.
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Billie Holiday

Watching the jazz singer in New York.

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Confessions of an Ex-Mormon

A personal history of “America’s most misunderstood religion.”

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My Bird Problem

A personal reflection on bird-watching and relationships.

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American Vespers: The Ebbing of the Body Politic

A longtime Harper’s contributor considers America as he dies: “When I died, I died of many things: the failing systems; the weakening of age; the exhaustion of the long war against dying. Finally, I succumbed to the lack of ethics in a California hospital, killed by filth and neglect.”

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I Used to Love Her, But I Had to Flee Her

The psychic benefits of leaving New York.

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Reimagining Recreation

On New York City’s “Young Turks of radical urban playground design.”

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A Journey Into The Mind of Watts

On life in Los Angeles, and the specter of a second riot.

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My Life as a Bibliophile

On collecting books.

I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live from books. And it was through books that I first realised there were other worlds beyond my own; first imagined what it might be like to be another person; first encountered that deeply intimate bond made when a writer's voice gets inside a reader's head.

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The Comfort Zone

Growing up with Charlie Brown.

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Chris Bell: That Don't Get Him Back Again

Listening to the Big Star songwriter, who left the group before dying in a solo car crash at 27.

His voice, on the recordings, is too sensitive. That's meant not as an aesthetic judgment. It wasn't too sensitive for the material, in other words. It was too sensitive for life. You listen to him sing, closely, and if you don't know another thing about what happened to him, you know that the guy with that voice is not going to last.

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A Few Words About Breasts

Nora Ephron on adolescence.

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My Father's Voice

Remembering George Plimpton’s old-fashioned style.

Above all, he was a gentleman, one of the last—a figure so archaic, it could be easily mistaken for something else. No, my father’s voice was not an act, something chosen or practiced in front of mirrors: he came from a different world, where people talked differently, and about different things; where certain things were discussed, and certain things were not—and his voice simply reflected this.

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The Fall of the Creative Class

The case against Richard Florida.

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My Mother, My Daughter

“My mother became my daughter when I was nine years old.”

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Local Bounty

Visiting his daughter in San Francisco, the author longs for food delivery in Manhattan.

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Daddy: My Father's Last Words

An essay on language, fatherhood and forgiveness.

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The Machine-Tooled Happyland

A trip to Disneyland in the mid-1960s.

Previously posted on Longform.org on January 25th, 2012.
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The Truth Is Out There

On conspiracy theories in sports, from the ‘85 NBA draft lottery to Michael Phelps’ gold medal performance in the 100-meter butterfly.

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A Dog Named Humphrey

The author recounts playing herself – best-selling author Sloane Crosley – on an episode of “Gossip Girl.”

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A Psychotronic Childhood

Growing up on B-movies.

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To Be or Not to Be?

An essay on the “history, meaning and practice of suicide, from third-century Christian death cults to the Aurora Bridge.”

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The Cooler Me

A married father of two tracks down his free-living doppelgänger, a musician who has avoided responsibility at every turn, to see who’s happier.

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Music Is My Bag

A childhood spent with the oboe.

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An American (Working) in Paris

An advertising copywriter adjusts to daily life in Paris, and works in a dysfunctional office.
Office culture in Paris held that it was each person's responsibility, upon arrival, to visit other people's desks and wish them good morning, and often kiss each person once on each cheek, depending on the parties' personal relationship, genders, and respective positions in the corporate hierarchy. Then you moved on to the next desk. Not everyone did it, but those who did not were noticed and remarked upon.
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I, Turbo

On spending six months on the southern coast of Argentina with the “Jane Goodall of penguins” and several hundred of her research subjects.

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The Penge Mystery: the murder of Harriet Staunton

On a Victorian-era murder case, and the novel it inspired.

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Come as You Are

On fashion, gender, a finding oneself in a pair of drop-crotch pants.

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L.A. Weirdos

On singer-songwriters Harry Nilsson, Randy Newman and Van Dyke Parks.

I get the sense that the labels' attitude toward these guys wasn't altogether different from a parent's attitude toward gifted children: Get them through the system, but make sure to give them a clean little corner to doodle in and pat them on the head when they show you what they've done, whether you understand it or not.

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How My Aunt Marge Ended Up in the Deep Freeze...

The real-life events that inspired the new Richard Linklater dark comedy Bernie:

It’s a story about people believing what they want to believe, even when there’s evidence to the contrary. It’s a story about people not being what they seem. And it’s a story, as the movie poster says, “so unbelievable it must be true.” Which it is. I know this because the widow in the freezer was, in real life, my Aunt Marge, Mrs. Marjorie Nugent, my mother’s sister and, depending on whom you ask, the meanest woman in East Texas. She was 81 when she was murdered, and Bernie Tiede, her constant companion and rumored paramour, was 38. He’ll be eligible for parole in 2027, when he’ll be 69.

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My So-Called Ex-Gay Life

A young man’s personal account of undergoing “ex-gay treatment.”

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Why Are So Many Americans Single?

On living alone, which more people are doing today than ever before.

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The Invaders

A writer’s trip home to Hot Springs, Arkansas, and the racetrack inextricably linked with the histories of his family and his hometown.

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Concentration Camp

An anonymous essay on time spent in “protective custody” at a Nazi camp.

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The Aquarium

A father and his daughter’s brain tumor.

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All We Read Is Freaks

Teaching Emily Dickinson at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, Florida.

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Speaking in Tongues

A literary exploration of Obama’s voice.

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I Was a Teenage Gramlich

On competing in the High School Fed Challenge Championship as "Ed Gramlich":
A team of five students prepares and presents a 15-minute analysis of the US economy, recommends a course of action with respect to interest rates, and then withstands a 10-minute question-and-answer period from a panel of Federal Reserve economists. To prepare for the competition, students look at the same economic indicators and the same forces influencing the economy that our nation's economic leaders examine. And to lend extra verisimilitude to the whole proceeding, competitors are also advised, as we were, to act out the parts of real members of the Federal Open Market Committee.
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The New Anarchists

The architect of the Occupy movement on the state of “anti-globalization” activism at the turn of the twentieth century.

Over the past decade, activists in North America have been putting enormous creative energy into reinventing their groups’ own internal processes, to create viable models of what functioning direct democracy could actually look like. In this we’ve drawn particularly, as I’ve noted, on examples from outside the Western tradition, which almost invariably rely on some process of consensus finding, rather than majority vote. The result is a rich and growing panoply of organizational instruments—spokescouncils, affinity groups, facilitation tools, break-outs, fishbowls, blocking concerns, vibe-watchers and so on—all aimed at creating forms of democratic process that allow initiatives to rise from below and attain maximum effective solidarity, without stifling dissenting voices, creating leadership positions or compelling anyone to do anything which they have not freely agreed to do.

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In Which We Don't Do Coke in the Bathroom of the Restaurant

“My name is Jackie and I am addicted to waitressing.” An essay on waiting tables.

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Native Tongues

The making of the “five-thousand-page, five-volume book, known formally as the Dictionary of American Regional English and colloquially just as DARE”:

What joking names do you have for an alarm clock? For a toothpick? For a container for kitchen scraps? Or an indoor toilet? Or women’s underwear? When a woman divides her hair into three strands and twists them together, you say she is_____her hair? What words do you have to describe people’s legs if they’re noticeably bent, or uneven, or not right? What do you call the mark on the skin where somebody has sucked it hard and brought blood to the surface?

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On the Market

An essay on working at Sotheby’s.

Art pricing is not absolute magic; there are certain rules, which to an outsider can sound parodic. Paintings with red in them usually sell for more than paintings without red in them. Warhol’s women are worth more, on average, than Warhol’s men. The reason for this is a rhetorical question, asked in a smooth continental accent: “Who would want the face of some man on their wall?”

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A Question of Identity

On the “unfair significance” of Jeremy Lin.

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Listening to Books

An essay on audio books.

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How I Killed My Mother

Exploring the relationship between authors and their parents.

It mattered to her that she could have, or might have, been a writer, and perhaps it mattered to me more than I fully understood. She watched my books appear with considerable interest, and wrote me an oddly formal letter about the style of each one, but she was, I knew, also uneasy about my novels. She found them too slow and sad and oddly personal. She was careful not to say too much about this, except once when she felt that I had described her and things which had happened to her too obviously and too openly. That time she said that she might indeed soon write her own book. She made a book sound like a weapon.

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The Disadvantages of an Elite Education

What happens when top universities focus on careers rather than minds.

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“I See Everything Through This Tragedy”

An essay on “how we ignore the long-term effects of violence on children, adults and our communities.”

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The Me Who Knew It

On Alison Winter’s Memory: Fragments of a Modern History, and issues of memory in the 20th century.

Underlying the compelling feeling that we are our memories is a further common-sense assumption that our entire lives are accurately retained somewhere in the brain ‘bank’ as laid-down memories of our experience, and that we retrieve our lives and selves from an ever expanding stockpile of recollections. Or we can’t, and then that feeling that it’s on the tip of our tongue, or there but just out of range, still encourages us to think that everything we have known or done is in us somewhere, if only our digging equipment were sharper.

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My Debt to Ireland

An essay on heritage, history and literature.

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The first sexual revolution: lust and liberty in the 18th century

A history.

 The explosion of publishing created a much more democratic and permanent network of public communication than had ever existed before. The mass proliferation of newspapers and magazines, and a new-found fascination with the boundaries of the private and the public, combined to produce the first age of sexual celebrity.

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The Mother Courage of Rock

On Patti Smith.

It was easy for lazy journalists to caricature her as a stringbean who looked like Keith Richards, emitted Dylanish word salads, and dropped names—a high-concept tribute act of some sort, very wet behind the ears. But then her first album, Horses, came out in November 1975, and silenced most of the scoffers.

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The Embarrassment of Riches

A pre-recession essay on becoming extremely wealthy.

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Laissez-Faire Aesthetics

A critical look at the contemporary art marketplace.

The trouble is that a business model has come to drive the entire art world, and like the corporate executive who regards the launch of each new product as a challenge to the success of the last one, because you must keep growing or you will die, the arts community finds itself in a state of permanent anxiety. There always has to be a new artist whom the media will embrace as enthusiastically as they embraced Warhol; there always has to be a show that will top the excitement generated by the last blockbuster at the Modern or the Met.

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Every Thing In It

Inside the Shel Silverstein archive.

One of the things you learn is that “polymath” doesn’t even begin to describe Silverstein. His creativity extended in so many directions that his archivists must be versed not just in turn-of-the-century world children’s literature, but Waylon Jennings’s deep cuts; not just in reel-to-reel tape preservation, but how to keep an old restaurant napkin scribbled with lyrics from falling apart.

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Mirrorings

The writer contemplates beauty and identity following reconstructive surgery.

There was a long period of time, almost a year, during which I never looked in a mirror. It wasn’t easy, for I’d never suspected just how omnipresent are our own images. I began by merely avoiding mirrors, but by the end of the year I found myself with an acute knowledge of the reflected image, its numerous tricks and wiles, how it can spring up at any moment: a glass tabletop, a well-polished door handle, a darkened window, a pair of sunglasses, a restaurant’s otherwise magnificent brass-plated coffee machine sitting innocently by the cash register.

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A World on Fire

The story of eight young people who died in a New Orleans squat fire.

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Little Boy Lost

On a child diagnosed with autism:

The worst part was that I knew he sensed it, too. In the same way that I know when he wants vegetable puffs or puréed fruit by the subtle pitch of his cries, I could tell that he also perceived the change—and feared it. At night he was terrified to go to bed, needing to hold my fingers with one hand and touch my face with the other in order to get the few hours of sleep he managed. Every morning he was different. Another word was gone, another moment of eye contact was lost. He began to cry in a way that was untranslatable. The wails were not meant as messages to be decoded; they were terrified expressions of being beyond expression itself.

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Stories to Live With

Coping with a brother’s suicide.

We tell stories about the dead in order that they may live, if not in body then at least in mind—the minds of those left behind. Although the dead couldn’t care less about these stories—all available evidence suggests the dead don’t care about much—it seems that if we tell them often enough, and listen carefully to the stories of others, our knowledge of the dead can deepen and grow. If we persist in this process, digging and sifting, we had better be prepared for hard truths; like rocks beneath the surface of a plowed field, they show themselves eventually.

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You Say You Want a Devolution?

Why little has changed in popular American style in the last 20 years.

Why is this happening? In some large measure, I think, it’s an unconscious collective reaction to all the profound nonstop newness we’re experiencing on the tech and geopolitical and economic fronts. People have a limited capacity to embrace flux and strangeness and dissatisfaction, and right now we’re maxed out.

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Slumdog Golfer

 The same forces that put his family in the slum also gave him the golf course on the other side of the wall, and the teachers and sponsors, and the strange ability to hit a ball with a club. But it still doesn't make sense. Sometimes it seems as if fate is wrestling with itself, making sure the circumstances of his birth are always conspiring to take away whatever gifts might allow him to escape it. He lives in two worlds, each one pulling away from the other. Anil is in the middle, trying to keep his balance.
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Where We All Will Be Received

Paul Simon’s Graceland at 25.

The Paul Simon who, on a bus en route to New York City told his sleeping girlfriend that he was empty and aching and he didn’t know why, that Simon belongs to our parents. My generation may love him but he’s not ours. The Simon who is soft in the middle (or at least feels an affinity for men who happen to be), however, the one who reminds young women of money, who has been divorced and has a kid to prove it, and who has the means to catch a cab uptown and take it all the way downtown talking dispassionately while doing so about the comings and goings of breakdowns, that Simon belongs to us as much as he does to our folks because he is our folks.

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Grief and Solemnity

On the American way of death, burial, and mourning, from war heroes to Elvis:
At the scene of his mother’s funeral, Elvis Presley — invincible sex symbol, cocksure performer, the man who changed the world and music forever — was reduced to a pathetic, blubbering mama’s boy. “Mama, I’d give up every dime I own and go back to digging ditches, just to have you back,” he told her body while it lay in repose the night before the funeral. At the service, according to biographer Peter Guralnick, "Elvis himself maintained his composure a little better until, towards the end, he burst into uncontrollable tears and, with the service completed, leaned over the casket, crying out, 'Good-bye darling, good-bye. I love you so much. You know how much I lived my whole life just for you.' Four friends half-dragged him into the limousine. 'Oh God,' he declared, 'everything I have is gone.'"
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Alone at the Movies

Afternoons with Altman and Allen.

For a year or two during the mid-1970s, living in New York, I was a moviegoer. I was in my early 20s then, working off and on, driving a cab, setting up the stage at rock shows, writing occasional pieces for The Village Voice. But there were also long empty spells. I tried to write some fiction and couldn’t, tried to read and could—but only for so long. I ended up going to the movies.

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The Cloud Appreciation Society

I first learned about cloud lovers in a police report concerning a man who received a blowjob from a young woman and went mad. The man — let's call him Carl (police reports have the names of suspects and victims redacted) — was in his 40s, and the woman, let's call her Lisa, was almost 18. The two first met in the fall of 2003 at a local TV station that was holding a contest to find the best video footage of Northwest clouds. According to the report, which was lost when I cleaned my messy desk in 2005 (I'm recalling all of this from an imperfect memory), Carl, who was married and well-to-do, fell in love with Lisa, whose family was not so well-off, upon seeing her for the first time. He had a videocassette in his hand; she had a videocassette in her hand. He showed his tape to the station's weatherman (sun, sky, clouds). She showed hers (clouds, sky, sun). During the contest, his eyes could not escape her beauty. After the contest, the impression she made on his mind intensified. That bewitching coin in the short story by Jorge Luis Borges, "The Zahir," comes to mind. If a person sees this coin only once, the memory of its image begins to more and more dominate his/her thoughts and dreams. Soon the coin becomes the mind's sole reality. Lisa's face was Carl's Zahir.
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How to Be a New Yorker

Rule #5: “Be unflappable.”

In that first New York City apartment, not once but twice, cops came to bust brothels operating on our floor. When they attempted to batter down our door instead of our neighbors', we opened up, pointed them in the right direction, and explained cheerily, "Oh, we're not hookers!" To our great satisfaction, the mystery of why that man was always washing sheets in the shared laundry room had finally been solved.
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Pipe Dreaming

Considering the screen saver.

Even when napping, the computer seems beset by iterative nightmares of a deadline. The pipes come to represent, rather than imaginarily suspend, the clogging of the task queue when one is away. When the screen has become as dense as Celtic knot-work, the entire image cracks and dissipates, as if burned out from its involute frenzy—before beginning again in the dark.

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My Life in Therapy

Assessing 40 years of treatment.

My abiding faith in the possibility of self-transformation propelled me from one therapist to the next, ever on the lookout for something that seemed tormentingly out of reach, some scenario that would allow me to live more comfortably in my own skin. For all my doubts about specific tenets and individual psychoanalysts, I believed in the surpassing value of insight and the curative potential of treatment — and that may have been the problem to begin with.

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My Misspent Youth

Life, and debt, in New York.

I've historically been pretty good at getting by on what I have, especially if you apply the increasingly common definition of "getting by," which has more to do with keeping up appearances than keeping things under control. Like a social smoker whose supposedly endearing desire to emulate Marlene Dietrich has landed her in a cancer ward, I have recently woken up to the frightening fallout of my own romantic notions of life in the big city: I am completely over my head in debt. I have not made a life for myself in New York City. I have purchased a life for myself.

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The Year of Reading Differently

The author reluctantly commits to a Kindle.
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The Jewish Holly-Go-Lightly

Love advice from a beloved aunt.

I try to call my Great Aunt Doris every day. She's ninety-years old and lives alone. I love her desperately and as she gets older, especially of late as she becomes more feeble, my love seems to be picking up velocity, overwhelming me almost, tinged as it is with panic -- I'm so afraid of losing her.

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Wealthcare

On the phenomenal, disturbing influence of Ayn Rand.

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My obsession with a New York cup of coffee and a doughnut

When a writer’s daily routine gets out of control.

One morning, as I gobbled my doughnut and slurped my coffee, thinking to myself, "What a fantastic doughnut, what an amazing coffee," I realised that I had not just thought this but was actually saying aloud, "What a fantastic doughnut! What a totally fantastic experience!", and that this was attracting the attention of the other customers, one of whom turned to me and said, "You like the doughnuts, huh?"

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"I Just Called to Say I Love You"

On cell phones and the decline of public space.

One of the great irritations of modern technology is that when some new development has made my life palpably worse and is continuing to find new and different ways to bedevil it, I'm still allowed to complain for only a year or two before the peddlers of coolness start telling me to get over it already Grampaw--this is just the way life is now.

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Chat History

Nearly four years later, I sometimes type his email address in the search box in my Gmail. Hundreds of results pop up, and I’ll pick a few at random to read. The ease of our everyday interactions is what kills me.

Remembering a relationship through IM.

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Pashean Play

At a dinner party, the author meets one of Afghanistan’s last remaining maskhara  an entertainer, thief and murderer.

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The Crack-Up

If you are young and you should write asking to see me and learn how to be a somber literary man writing pieces upon the state of emotional exhaustion that often overtakes writers in their prime -- if you should be so young and fatuous as to do this, I would not do so much as acknowledge your letter, unless you were related to someone very rich and important indeed. And if you were dying of starvation outside my window, I would go out quickly and give you the smile and the voice (if no longer the hand) and stick around till somebody raised a nickel to phone for the ambulance, that is if I thought there would be any copy in it for me.
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Life After Death

How is Canada’s “post-AIDS” generation coping? Not that well.

[I]n some ways we are still hopelessly lost. A generation of men who could have been our mentors was decimated. The only thing we learned from observing them was to ruthlessly identify “AIDS face,” that skeletal appearance the early HIV drugs wrought on patients by wasting away their bodily tissues. But those faces grow more rare each day.
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Window Shopping

Dreaming of the perfect apartment.

Should anyone ever choose to remake and bastardize Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I propose an opening sequence re-imagined to reflect more contemporary preoccupations. The revised opening scene should be filmed against the backdrop of an early evening in Brooklyn. The throngs of suits coming home from their nine to five grinds in Manhattan would be emerging from the subway stairwells like ants from an anthill, rushing off down various streets towards their various homes and families and dinners. All except for the would-be protagonist who, as the crowd rushes past her, makes her way to the closed-for-the-night real-estate storefront opposite the subway station. Somewhere, “Moon River” might still be playing, as if it had never stopped. Disheveled, lugging her purse and gym bag, she pauses for a number of minutes to read listings she has already read, and which she committed to memory weeks ago: a studio on Pineapple Street; a loft on Gold Street; a townhouse on Argyle Street; a two-bedroom coop on First Place; a one-bedroom condo on Carlton Avenue; a brownstone on Henry Street. It’s fall and the leaves blow in eddies on the sidewalk. She gets cold and turns away from the window to walk off down the street just as dusk begins to arrive in earnest. The occasional “For Sale” sign swings on its hinges, and the story of the day ends only to begin again in the morning.

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Did Robert Johnson Sell His Soul to the Devil?

Another look at a popular myth.

For the longest time blues fans didn’t even know what their hero looked like—in 1971, a music magazine even hired a forensic artist to make a composite sketch based on various first-hand accounts—until two photos of Robert Johnson finally came to light.  The dapper young man pictured in the most famous photo, dressed in a stylish suit and smiling affably at the camera, hardly looks like a man who has sold his soul to Lucifer.

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Death in a Box

The truth and consequences of reporting from a war zone.

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I Bought a Bed

I felt, in some substantive yet elusive way, that I had had a hand in killing my mother. And so the search for a bed became a search for sanctuary, which is to say that the search for a bed became the search for a place; and of course by place I mean space, the sort of approximate, indeterminate space one might refer to when one says to another person, "I need some space"; and the fact that space in this context generally consists of feelings did not prevent me from imagining that the space-considered, against all reason, as a viable location; namely, my bedroom-could be filled, pretty much perfectly, by a luxury queen-size bed draped in gray-and-white-striped, masculine-looking sheets, with maybe a slightly and appropriately feminine ruffled bed skirt stretched about the box spring (all from Bellora in SoHo).
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The Age of Mechanical Reproduction

An essay on a pregnancy attempted:
When I tell people what we are doing, they want to hear about the room where you produce. I tell them that there is a lot of paperwork. That they take your picture and look at your license. Then they walk you back to the room. You are handed a list of instructions and some stickers and a plastic cup. The cup has a forest-green lid. In the room is a VCR. I like to write down the names of the videos so I can share them with my wife and friends: Ass Angels #4, Original Black Queens of Porn (Afro-Centrix #113), and Chock Full of Asians. The latter features a woman with enlarged breasts so swollen they look luminous, like the sense apparatus of a recently discovered deep-sea fish.
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I Thought You Were a Poet

An essay on poetry and madness.

People still think of poets as an odd bunch, as you’ll know if you’ve been introduced as one at a wedding. Some poets spotlight this conception by saying otherworldly things, playing up afflictions and dramas, and otherwise hinting that they might be visionaries. In the past few centuries, of course, the standard picture of psychopathology has changed a great deal. But as it’s often invoked, the idea of the mad poet preserves, in fossil form, a stubbornly outdated and incomplete image of madness. Modern psychiatry and neuroscience have supplanted this image almost everywhere else.

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How to Mend a Broken Heart

A visit to the Museum of Broken Relationships.

Olinka and Drazen are artists, and after some time passed, they did what artists often do: they put their feelings on display. They became investigators into the plane wreck of love, bagging and tagging individual pieces of evidence. Their collection of breakup mementos was accepted into a local art festival. It was a smash hit. Soon they were putting up installations in Berlin, San Francisco, and Istanbul, showing the concept to the world. Everywhere they went, from Bloomington to Belgrade, people packed the halls and delivered their own relics of extinguished love: “The Silver Watch” with the pin pulled out at the moment he first said, “I love you.” The wood-handled “Ex Axe” that a woman used to chop her cheating lover’s furniture into tiny bits. Trinkets that had meaning to only two souls found resonance with a worldwide audience that seemed to recognize the same heartache all too well.

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My Father Is an African Immigrant and My Mother Is a White Girl from Kansas and I Am Not the President of the United States

 The writer speaks with his father for the first and last time.

My father moved back to Nigeria one month after I was born. Neither I nor my sister Ijeoma, who is a year and a half my elder, have any recollection of him. Over the course of the next 16 years, we did not receive so much as a phone call from him, until one day in the spring of 1999, when a crinkled envelope bearing unfamiliar postage stamps showed up in the mailbox of Ijeoma's first apartment. Enclosed was a brief letter from our father in which he explained the strange coincidence that had led to him "finding" us.* It was a convoluted story involving his niece marrying the brother of one of our mother's close friends from years ago. As a postscript to the letter, he expressed his desire to speak to us and included his telephone number.

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The Birth of 'The New Journalism'; Eyewitness Report by Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe on the development of ”New Journalism,” an unconventional reporting style which he helped to pioneer.

I had the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that I was doing things no one had ever done before in journalism. I used to try to imagine the feeling readers must have had upon finding all this carrying on and cutting up in a Sunday supplement. I liked that idea. I had no sense of being a part of any normal journalistic or literary environment.

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Mr. X

A scientist writing on his experiences smoking weed.

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Good Manners in the Age of WikiLeaks

On secrets that surprise no one:

This is the paradox of public space: even if everyone knows an unpleasant fact, saying it in public changes everything.

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Scent of a Woman's Ink

An essay on gynobibliophobia and the critical reception of women writers.

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You Blow My Mind. Hey, Mickey!

A journey to Disney World with kids and weed.

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Feet in Smoke

An essay about the weeks after the author’s brother nearly died.

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Apologia to My Second Child

A letter to his unborn son about the wonders of being an only child.

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My Mom Couldn't Cook

A personal essay about family through the lens of mashed potatoes.

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The Legacy of Malcolm X

As surely as 2008 was made possible by black people’s long fight to be publicly American, it was also made possible by those same Americans’ long fight to be publicly black. That latter fight belongs especially to one man, as does the sight of a first family bearing an African name. Barack Obama is the president. But it’s Malcolm X’s America.
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Sad as Hell

"I have the sensation, as do my friends, that to function as a proficient human, you must both 'keep up' with the internet and pursue more serious, analog interests."

An essay on technology’s reach into daily life.

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Who You Are and Who You Say You Are

Thoughts on the current era of online anonymity.

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May Your Hair Mark the Path Behind You

The Jheri Curl revisited.

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Confessions of a Prep School College Counselor

“I had inherited a Rolodex full of useful phone numbers (the College Board, a helpful counselor in the UCLA admissions office), but the number I kept handing out was that of a family therapist.”

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Confessions of a Juggler

On the dilemmas facing a (very famous) working mother in New York City. “It is less dangerous to draw a cartoon of Allah French-kissing Uncle Sam—which, let me make it very clear, I have not done—than it is to speak honestly about this topic.”

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More Harm Than Good

On Huck Finn, the book Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, and the evolution of language and race in America.

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The Web Is a Customer Service Medium

But the web is not just some kind of magic all-absorbing meta-medium. It's its own thing. And like other media it has a question that it answers better than any other. That question is: Why wasn't I consulted?
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Wake Up, Geek Culture, Time To Die

On how 21st century culture shifts killed the nerd and what lies ahead.

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Internacionalista

Memories of the expat revolutionary scene in 1980s Nicaragua. An excerpt from Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War.

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Bring Back the Rails! [Part 2]

“It is simply not possible to envision any conceivable modern, urban-based economy shorn of its subways, its tramways, its light rail and suburban networks, its rail connections, and its intercity links.”

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The Glory of the Rails [Part 1]

“The world before the railways appeared so very different from what came afterward and from what we know today because the railways did more than just facilitate travel and thereby change the way the world was seen and depicted. They transformed the very landscape itself.”

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Combinations of Jacksons

The author of True Grit on growing up in Arkansas during World War II.

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Unpacking My Record Collection

Walter Benjamin, mp3s, and what collecting says about us.

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Why Nicolai Ouroussoff Is Not Good Enough

The uneasy dance of the architecture critic, the big-name architect, the towering new building, and the city beneath it.

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What I Learned from My Father, The Grifter

“My father didn’t believe in things that were a reminder of the past because he had never had things in the past, and, more important, he had never had a past—not a past that mattered, that should be passed on to me, his son.”

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How I Became a Con Artist

A lifetime worth of little scams adds up.

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My Lost City

When New York was perpetually on fire.

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The Guiltless Pleasure

An ode to mayonnaise.

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Death of a Pig

On the grief that comes with losing livestock.

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The Frozen Ladder

Notes on a summer spent aboard an industrial fishing boat off the Alaskan coast.

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Generation Why?

The difference between a social network and a movie about a social network, and what it says about the Facebook generation.

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The Myth of Charter Schools

A critique of Davis Guggenheim’s Waiting for 'Superman'.

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Prada Prostitutes

Booker winner Howard Jacobson on the bumper crop of hooker memoirs and what they say about our understanding of paid sex.

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The Coming Death Shortage

Many experts believe it’s inevitable that in the coming decades, humans will figure out how to live considerably longer lives. It might not be a good thing.

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Still Cranish After All These Years

A writer struggles to understand, among other things, why humans do more for whooping cranes than for themselves.

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And Such Small Deer

A writer struggles to defend his arbor vitae trees from a pack of hungry deer—“an episode of great vexation and buffoonery.”

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The Great Divergence

A series on the growing income inequality gap in America.

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About Motorcycles

The poet and his love affair with Italian motorbikes (and also lots of women.)

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A Pigeon in Piketown

The shooting death of the last wild Passenger Pigeon, atomic energy, mastodon watering holes, and other footnotes in Ohio history.

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Dead Man Talking

Brian Hickey, a journalist who was induced into a coma after being left for dead following a hit and run accident, reports the story of his recovery.

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The Genesis of the Gang

Jacob Riis, writing in 1899, on how a childhood spent in New York City’s tenements led a 15-year-old boy to be convicted of murder.

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Letting Go

David Sedaris on smoking and quitting.

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Love in the Age of the Pickup Artist

What the great romantic novels of history can tell us about “seduction theory” and the cult of the pickup artist.

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The Hit Parade

Clay Shirky, writing in 1999 on the Web eclipsing TV’s reach: “We will always have massive media, but the days of mass media are over, killed by the explosion of possibility and torn into a thousand niches.”

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Field of Dreams

The importance of the sports metaphor in the American consciousness and why Lewis Lapham didn’t join the C.I.A.

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Obsessed With As The World Turns

“As a middle-aged queer, I could not break cover. And, as a middle-aged black man, I was embarrassed that these white boys from this melodrama mattered to me anyway.”