When did the universe begin—or did it? And what are we doing in our little piece of it? And …

Theoretical physics doesn’t come easily to me, but Sean Carroll manages to put more of it across than I’d have thought possible for someone whose math education stopped at intermediate algebra. His book From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time asks the question: Why does time only move in one direction? The answer, says Carroll, is connected to the phenomenon of entropy, which also goes only one way: it increases. Exploring this connection leads him through some of the deepest questions scientists ponder: relativity, spacetime, quantum physics, the nature of the universe, and, ultimately, the meaning[…]

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My house is my castle

Many old houses in Brooklyn’s brownstone neighborhoods have beautiful ironwork enclosing their yards. For example:           (Click the photos to see the details more clearly.) First-floor windows, easily accessible from the street, often have iron grilles to prevent break-ins. These too are often quite handsome. Years ago I played host to a group of visitors from a small town in Ohio who laughed merrily when they saw similar grilles on houses on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They couldn’t get over the idea that all these people were putting themselves behind bars. Imagine living like[…]

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Where does writing come from? (part 1)

I’ve been mulling over some journal entries by Flannery O’Connor, written in 1946–47, when she was twenty-one and a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. The entries show her struggling with the tension between her ambition to be a successful writer and her desire, as a devout Catholic, to think about God “all the time.” You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. … what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it[…]

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The writer and the archetypes

In the late 70s–early 80s I volunteered in a shelter for homeless women run by nuns. It was the era of “shopping bag ladies,” women who lived on the street and carried their possessions around in bags. To the non-homeless they were mythical figures; no one knew where they came from or why they “chose” to live that way. Theories abounded, and their contradictions intrigued me. I decided to discover the reality. It turned out to be pretty prosaic. The largest single factor in making these women homeless was a political decision: emptying the state mental hospitals without making adequate[…]

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Between the Door and the Street: the stoop, and a conversation

Sitting by a stoop in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, with three other women, discussing gender politics—as an art form. The yellow scarves signal that we’re part of Between the Door and the Street, a work of socially engaged art by California artist Suzanne Lacy. We were among 84 groups on stoops along the block, “performing” our unscripted conversations for a large crowd that strolled the sidewalk, stopping and listening at different stoops as they chose. We stoop sitters represented a huge range of local activist groups. My own group’s subject was second-wave feminism—how it changed us, how it changed society—and what[…]

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EGGxercise: movement and inspiration

You might think a choreographer wouldn’t have much to say to writers, but you’d be wrong. Twyla Tharp has been creating dances for a long time, and from what I can tell has fought and won all the battles involved in making something out of nothing. Her book The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life absolutely nails the issues any creative person faces. For example: “Writer’s block means your engine has shut down and the tank is empty. Being blocked is most often a failure of nerve, with only one solution: Do something—anything.” Then she gives a bunch[…]

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Did I pen this blog post?

Of course not. I typed it on my computer keyboard. But have you noticed how commonly pen is used to mean write? In this age of the keypad and touch screen, pen is such an anachronism that it jars me every time I see it. The Wall Street Journal noted last December that Cyndi Lauper had “penned an essay for Rolling Stone” describing how going off the fiscal cliff would harm LBGT youth. The New York Observer reported that former Lehman Brothers vice chairman Thomas Russo “has penned a book about this country’s pressing financial calamities.” A blurb for The[…]

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Floored by a foot

A six-by-three-foot foot. It sat like a huge bench right by the elevators at the Asia Society, part of an exhibit titled “Pilgrimage and Buddhist Art.” This gigantic stone carving of the Buddha’s right foot, inscribed with 108 auspicious symbols, packed a wallop, more than anything I saw in the exhibit rooms. It felt personal and close, as though the Buddha had just been there, striding through the lobby on his way to the galleries. You could sense the sculptor’s pure longing to feel his presence. I had never seen a Buddha footprint before, and went home to figure out[…]

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Where’s the OUTRAGE?

A city dweller—a true child of concrete—once spent the weekend with a friend in the suburbs. The friend’s cat snared a bird and as cats will do, deposited the corpse as a gift on the doorstep. The city visitor was indignant. “Aren’t you mad at Rudy for killing the pretty bird?” she demanded. “Why should I be angry at a creature for acting according to its nature?” the friend responded. Even at the time, I perceived a real wisdom in this answer (that city creature wasn’t me, by the way). But only recently do I see why. Not long ago[…]

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I’m moderating! Book collaboration basics at 2012 ASJA conference

As a professional freelancer, book collaboration is probably my greatest expertise. So I’m totally tickled to be moderating a panel where I can spill all my secrets at the American Society of Journalists and Authors annual writers conference next April in New York City. I’ve been on my share of panels, but this is my first chance to moderate and shape the content of a session. I lined up two panelists who have even more experience than me: agent Madeleine Morel and author Nancy Peske. The three of us will walk everyone through the subtleties of contracts and payments, division[…]

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