The writer, an idealist, discovers how difficult it is to figure out how to help with human rights issues in North Korea:
"Blaine Harden, author of the book about escaped prisoner Shin Dong-hyuk, has said before that North Korea’s diplomats '"go nuts" and leave the room' when the subject of the camps in broached in any discussion of human rights. But Hawk says it’s essential, particularly since negotiations on nukes have been set back by North Korea’s nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. 'The idea that you would keep human rights off of the agenda for 20-30 years while [North Korea] does economic development and allow the present prison population to die off is, to me, extraordinary.' Harden estimates that up to 400,000 people have already died in the North Korean gulag.
"'Few people outside of the pro-apartheid figures in South Africa argued to ignore apartheid for a generation until the economic situation of the South African population improved,' Hawk said, sounding genuinely moved and outraged. I asked him what I could do to help. The best thing, he said, was to encourage my government—to send a letter urging my foreign minister to support U.N. resolutions on North Korean human rights.
"I’ll admit I was hoping he’d tell me to jump on a flight to Seoul tomorrow, decked out in camouflage gear with a knife between my teeth. Wasn’t writing letters to the government the kind of thing done by old people and crack-ups? Anyway, hadn’t those people heard of email?"
PUBLISHED: Nov. 14, 2012
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4905 words)
How musical therapists are helping patients in a care center in southeast London:
"For about 10 minutes, Gibbes hits the djembe in a 3/4 beat while Prince accompanies him in making what sounds sort of like a flamenco song. Gibbes stares off into space while pushing the song up to its crescendo, then rolling it back down again. He takes his time and does this more than once. Eventually the sound of Prince’s guitar lowers to a whisper and Gibbes is only rubbing his hands in rhythm over the rope-tuned skin on top of the drum. Then comes a long silence. Prince doesn’t say anything. So after about 30 seconds, Gibbes starts to speak.
"Prince can’t understand him so Gibbes tries again. 'You are not…?' Prince repeats back to him. But that’s not it. So Gibbes tries again. He does this five, six more times. Eventually, Prince pieces it together and repeats it back to him: 'Oh! You were lost in the rhythm!' he says. 'Well why didn’t you just say that?' Gibbes just rolls his eyes and laughs."
PUBLISHED: Sept. 25, 2012
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5533 words)
A writer on his experience spending time in an artist colony—and why they actually work:
"The poet in the studio next to me, Kathryn Levy, was at the time revising her work by reading it aloud, recording it, and playing it back to herself. The murmur of it was reassuring somehow. Years later, when I remembered it to her, she laughed and said 'I don’t work that way anymore.' I recently asked her about thoughts on colonies, and she said: 'You have all the solitude you want, with none of the usual distraction of daily life at home, and then when you want to be in a social situation with interesting people, you have that as well. I find that I experiment in colonies more often than I do at home because I have such an expanse of time, and that I not only write more and think about writing more, but think about life more as well.'
"Colonies also teach lessons. Typically, there are older, more experienced artists who offer tips on, for example, finding and maintaining silence. I also learned there is almost nothing better for your work than having someone cook and clean for you who is neither a relative nor someone you’re sleeping with. I am something of a cook, for example, and between food prep and shopping, I spend about 14 hours a week on meals. But when I go away to a residency, that becomes writing time. I gain two whole working days from the week.
"And so sometimes people would complain about a meal and my only thought was What is wrong with you?"
PUBLISHED: Aug. 13, 2012
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4404 words)
Long after the 1960s, a researcher into the effects of LSD makes the case for a return to studying it:
"On a Saturday last October, 45 years after dispensing those last legal doses, James Fadiman stood on stage inside the cavernous hall of Judson Memorial Church, a long-time downtown New York incubator of artistic, progressive, and even revolutionary movements. High above him on a window of stained glass, a golden band wrapped Escher-like enigmas around the Four Evangelists. Fadiman appeared far more earthly: wire frames, trim beard, dropped hairline, khakis, running shoes—like a policy wonk at a convention, right down to lanyard and nametag.
"A couple hundred people sat before him in folding chairs and along the side aisles of the hall. He adjusted his head microphone, then scrolled his lecture notes and side-stepped the podium. He felt fortunate to be there for many reasons, he said, including a health scare he’d had a few months back—a rather advanced case of pericarditis. 'Some of you, I know, have experimented with enough substances so that you’ve "died." But it’s different when you’re in the ER.' He chuckled. 'And you’re not on anything.'"
PUBLISHED: July 26, 2012
LENGTH: 29 minutes (7415 words)
Two friends decide to participate in the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona:
"We talk about our plan of action one last time. We remind each other to stay to the inside on the turns. We remind each other that the most important thing is to keep our center of gravity so we stay on our feet.
"'If you lose a shoe, keep going,' Dan says.
"'Yeah, glass in your foot is better than being trampled—by people or bulls.'
"'If you fall, don’t try to get up. Just cover your head and roll to the side.'
"'And if you see a bull on its own, try to get out.'
"This last point may be the most important in terms of living and dying. From what we’ve been told, bulls together are not as frightened as bulls alone. Bulls together tend to stay on a path, assuming they keep their footing. Frightened bulls directly charge people."
PUBLISHED: July 13, 2012
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4269 words)
Revisiting—and correcting—the stories of Frances Farmer. The star of 1930s and '40s Hollywood was once thought to have been lobotomized after being involuntary committed to an institution:
"Let’s make something perfectly clear: Frances was not lobotomized. Granted, Dr. Walter Freeman did visit Steilacoom and perform lobotomies while Frances was incarcerated there—but correlation isn’t commission, obviously, and, more importantly, Frances’s medical records confirm that she wasn’t operated on for any reason whatsoever at Steilacoom. This according to Jeffrey Kauffman, a musician and historian, who describes himself as 'the first person to obtain access to pertinent medical and court records [that] clarify many aspects of Farmer’s history.' Furthermore, no one during Frances’s lifetime claimed or even implied that Frances had been lobotomized—not Frances, not her doctors, not her family, not her bitter former lovers, not her ex-husbands three, not even that veritable (albeit charming) bullhorn of calumny, movie gossip columnist Louella Parsons. No one."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 22, 2012
LENGTH: 27 minutes (6977 words)
100 ways to say the words to that special someone:
"(36) She stands on the unpaved road with your newborn son on her breast. Even though she can’t hear you over the sound of the helicopter, you’re screaming the words. Six months and you’ll send for her. You promise.
"On a rainy midspring morning 26 years later your son appears at the electronics store where you are senior sales. He’s been looking for you for 15 years, since his mother brought him to the States. He asks to buy a VCR. All you can see is that he’s a young guy, good-looking, but nervous. That’s normal; even at $200 it’s still a big-ticket item for a lot of people."
PUBLISHED: Feb. 14, 2012
LENGTH: 9 minutes (2277 words)
Since I am not married and because my parents are loving and kind, my mother has borne the brunt of my physical and emotional caretaking these past few months as I struggled with decision-making and the eventual decision’s realities. She’s the one who has heard me most often respond to the question, “Do you want me to bring you a book?” with a matter-of-fact, “No, I’d rather watch TV.” Each time I’ve heard myself say this, I’ve watched her try not to judge me out of parental concern.
PUBLISHED: Dec. 8, 2011
LENGTH: 14 minutes (3669 words)
Comedy is also an industry of paying dues: Many long-time performers regard their first ten years as a kind of clueless wandering, and veteran comics tend to treat newbies like replacement troops: They are young, dumb, and could be gone soon, so it’s best to wait till they survive a while before learning their names. This is all to say that the term “comic” is subjective and nebulous, and even geographically variable: larger cities, with their heightened competition for stage time, are famous for relegating working comics from smaller markets like the Midwest or Florida back to open-mic status, causing many visitors to experience a kind of outraged existential crisis. When two comics meet for the first time, they act like dogs sniffing each other’s butts, asking loaded questions like, “You been doing it long?” or “You been busy?”
PUBLISHED: Nov. 28, 2011
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2927 words)