An essay about our personal libraries and combining our bookshelves with our partners.
In the days following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, more than 100 cities experienced significant civil disturbance. In New York, everyone expected riots but they never came to pass, in large part because of the actions of the city’s then mayor, John Lindsay.
The author reflects on her Marxist upbringing and attempts to untangle a family lineage where the past is conceived as “a lore of what could have been rather than of what really was.”
When it comes to elective surgery, you can plan for almost everything except the price:
Here’s what happens when you have urethral surgery. You arrive at the hospital in a tracksuit with your mom and your best friend in tow. They give you hugs. An administrator swipes your credit card for an “estimated payment” of $3,200 and change. Then you change into a gown and hairnet, and sit in a small room while various people ask you to verify your name and date of birth. You sign consent forms. The surgeon and his assistant come to tell you that everything’s going to go great. Your mom and friend are permitted one last hug and squeeze of the hand. Finally you’re escorted down the hall, around the corner, and through a door into a very bright room in which a team of people are moving purposefully. You lie on a large metal bed and are promptly covered with blankets. The IV goes in. Suddenly you’re floating. Someone puts a clear plastic mask over your mouth and tells you to take 10 deep breaths. Your skin prickles all over.
What It’s Like To Be 9 Years Old and Playing Video Games with Allen Ginsberg:
The following night, after Ginsberg’s poetry reading (why would I want to go to that?) a group of students eager for him to impart morsels of omniscience were forced to wait outside my room while we played video games on my Atari 2600—I destroyed Ginsberg at Frogger, but he eviscerated me on Combat. In a lame attempt at armistice he explained something about angles of trajectory and mathematics, but I went supervoid. He said he’d never played Combat before, but nobody is above suspicion.
Before returning to the U.S., the author is asked what he’ll miss about living in Leipzig, Germany and discovers that the answer is complicated:
“Why do I live there, I then ask myself. The recent revelation that the TSA may record every phone call, and hopes to record social media interactions as well, suggests we’re now a nation of suspects—America has become one big terrorist watch list. Everyone is on it. As I think about expatriating, if only to object to a life inside that complex, I know, if they’re monitoring me, it won’t matter if I expatriate. It would only continue, perhaps even increase, the move confirming whatever theory had put them onto me, should that even be the case. It would be enough that I would find it objectionable, and it shouldn’t be.
“I think of the Chinese dissident who, when he learned he was being spied on by the state, said, ‘I’ve been trying to get them to listen to me for years.’ If they were spying on me, I would want to take the TSA on a tour through the Stasi museum.
“See all they did to try to control their citizens, I would say.
“See how it failed them.”
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?”
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.”
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?“
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.'”