In my childhood, I had many painful goodbyes with Dad, including two during my four months in hospitals when I was thirteen. One, the evening after I’d had a long operation, was compelled by the visiting hours that English hospitals strictly enforce.
In My Beginning
Last Saturday, here in Brooklyn, the wind brought a freshness to an afternoon that otherwise would have been too hot. It brought to mind a late afternoon in Montreal forty-five years ago, even though this is now mid-spring and that was oppressive
Prayers for the Reluctant
When someone offers to say a prayer for us, can it be offensive? My religion-skeptic father is seriously ill. One of his friends prayed for him right there in the hospital room, while another said she would do so on her own. Ever unwilling to rock
Can Morality Move the Needle ?
When does morality make a difference? This question came to mind as I listened to a Freakonomics podcast on possibly viable meat alternatives and the environmental damage done by meat production. One of the podcast’s interviewees, Mike Selden,
Crane in the Clouds
Up there, in the mist and passing clouds, is a yellow crane: not the bird, but the manmade mechanism whose arm rises as it lifts heavy objects, moves sideways somewhere, then lowers as it deposits them. How can a heavy machine like a crane stay so
The Cougar Within Us
A beloved uncle and aunt, husband-and-wife farmers, named their first cow Rebecca, a lovely, sweet-tempered red and white Ayrshire, and we all fell for her. My uncle and aunt couldn’t bring themselves to have her killed, and so she died of old age.
Must Politics Dictate Art?
I’ve just finished reading the 2018 edition of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s venerable Best American Short Stories (BASS), and I feel I’ve been brought up to date with my politics, above all, the political grievances I ought to feel. But should
Who Said That?
Did Mark Twain say, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why”? The quotation was included one morning in a post to a list for writers that I belong to. A man I’ll call Pangloss, after the
Do Worry, Be Happier
Stephen Colbert looks at a black man and declares, “I don’t see race.” Don Quixote catches sight of windmills and sees giants, along with the opportunity for a glorious knight’s errand. The idealism in both instances is both laughable and laudable.
Most history books focus on the ideas of great thinkers, the bravery of warriors, the charity of saints and the creativity of artists. They have much to tell about the weaving and unravelling of social structures, about the rise and fall of empires,
Detained at the Southern Border
In 1974, I took a bus to Montreal from a distant part of New England. At the time, I was a British citizen with alien status in the United States. Recent events at the United States’ southern border, though far more serious than mine at Canada’s,
Guns and Supposes
Arguments can bring out the contrariness in me: “Yes, but suppose…” By “arguments,” I don’t mean fights. I mean the honest effort to challenge beliefs and preconceptions. Friends who recently returned from France told us that people there are
Collected Excerpts from my Darien High School Memoir
This 73-page post is a compilation of the nineteen excerpts from my unpublished Darien High School memoir that I posted individually to my website between May and November of 2018. To repeat, almost all names are changed, along with some personal
Blue Sky Over Texas
1 In yards opposite each other on a Texas suburban street were a Ted Cruz and a Beto O’Rourke sign. My wife’s brother fantasized about going out in the middle of the night and switching the signs. But he’d told them about it and so couldn’t act on
Just as we choose our friends but not our family members, as children we don’t choose where we live. Only as adults can we make that decision, even if our options are limited. And just as we might love family members we don’t much like, along with
Donald J. Trump’s Short but Unabridged Dictionary of American English
A+. The grade I gave myself in the friendly confines of Fox Television for my performance as president; equivalent to my Wharton MBA. See “Fox Television”; cf. “Wharton.” Attorney General. My personal lawyer. See “personal lawyer”; cf.
Majority and Minority Perception
The story of the blind men and the elephant regularly comes up in news analysis, such as when the author or presenter is claiming that someone’s perspective is too narrow. Few people know the end of the story as it seems it was originally told. I
The House Takes an Ax to the ADA
Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted to put obstacles in the way of disabled people seeking freedom of access under the Americans with Disabilities Act. See these articles from The Hill and the Washington Post. I’m re-posting the article I
Note: A revised version of an essay I posted on July 4, 2016 after my wife and I traveled to Italy. Is it lack of imagination that makes us come to imagined places, not just stay at home? —Elizabeth Bishop, “Questions of Travel” I concluded the
Remembrance of a Banker
Is it possible to like your banker? If any writer can make finance interesting, it’s Ron Chernow, author of the celebrated Alexander Hamilton (2004). One way he worked his magic in an earlier book on the history of finance was to assign it a title
Even though I used to find public speaking a nightmare, I consented to be the senior speaker at my Amherst College commencement. I say “consented” because I’d promised Andy, the friend who nominated me, that I would go ahead if elected, as I was.
That Friday afternoon last month, a Green-Wood Cemetery employee named Katie escorted Laura and me as we toured options for our future remains. We walked from buildings to open areas with ponds and vistas, on to another building, and then to yet
A Lost Writer
1 Bonnie and I were close my freshman year of college, her senior year at a neighboring women’s college. She came from a traditional military family and had traveled around the world, not just with her family—in fact, mostly on her own. My feelings
Grandma: A Reminiscence
The gulf in experience between Grandma Spratt and me is captured in two words from her letter of July 18, 1977: “at Wisconsin.” She lived in the town of Darlington, England. When I was four, my parents, brother and I, who were all born there, moved
Legacy of a Cat
Fifty years ago this month, my parents told my brother and me that we were to emigrate to the United States in November. Within weeks, our cat Monty, who had been on this earth two years longer than me, died. He didn’t die in order to become a symbol