We had climbed halfway up the staircase of a Valparaiso sidewalk when Salvador Dalí appeared. He was stenciled to the landing above, waiting for us with his perked up handlebar mustache. For a closer look, my fiancée Melanie and I stepped around another stray dog, his long body blocking almost the whole width of the concrete step — Valparaiso’s take on multi-use public space.

Morning had barely arrived and cargo ships at the port, in the distance below, had probably unloaded enough plastic silverware to outfit Chile’s entire fast food industry. Meanwhile, the hung-over hills overlooking the port still slept, still hugged a blanket of overcast gauze. I wondered how many cans of Escudo beer the town had put back last night. And how many new stencils had been tattooed to its buildings?
More… “What the Walls Taught Me”

Darrin DuFord is the author of Is There a Hole in the Boat? Tales of Travel in Panama Without A Car, silver medalist in the 2007 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Awards. He has written food and travel pieces for the San Francisco Chronicle, BBC Travel, Roads & Kingdoms, Gastronomica, and Perceptive Travel, among others. Follow him on Twitter at @darrinduford.

In the very last volume of Proust’s very long novel, the narrator attends an afternoon party where everyone seems to be wearing a mask. He can recognize the voices of his long-ago friends and acquaintances, but their words issue from faces that are all strangely slackened and faded, or hardened and rigidified. They seem to be wearing powdered wigs. Even his host, having disguised himself in the same manner as his guests, appears to have taken on the role of one of the very last stages of the Ages of Man.

What has happened, of course, is the passage of time. These people have aged.

This quality of the aging face, in so many respects like a living mask, was something I had hardly considered until I began to notice the fine crosshatching beneath my own eyes and the first tracing of lines across my forehead. It was disconcerting, these creeping forerunners of age — of aging. The only face I had ever known as my own — a face resolutely unwrinkled for over three decades — was somehow being impinged upon, irreversibly. I knew that, unlike a spate of pimples or the red peel of sunburn, these new lines and creases were here to stay, and they would only grow more pronounced.
More… “The Aging Face”

Alyssa Pelish writes and edits in New York. Her essays, articles, fiction, and reviews have appeared in Harper’s, Slate, Science, The Quarterly Conversation, Denver Quarterly, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, among others.


I celebrated my 39th birthday the other day, and, for the first time ever, I legitimately felt a year older. Times have been hard lately. I discovered two totally new emotions — hopelessness and panic. I realized my plans for the future now turn less on ideals and more on necessity. Wrinkles and gray hair have made their first appearance.

It all felt like too much, and I began to wonder how much of a toll this mental state has taken on my physical health. People have long suspected that chronic psychological stress impairs health and accelerates the aging process, but the mechanism behind this link had long been unknown.

The connection has become much clearer in recent years as researchers have ascertained that stress impairs telomeres — the DNA-protein complexes that cap the ends of chromosomes, protect… More…


Currently there is a lot of space debris — generated by programs like NASA — circling the globe. It’s becoming an increasing problem for satellites and new missions. How can we reduce this debris to ensure that future and current missions will be safe? — Linwood, Boston, Massachusettes

Your mission, Linwood, if you choose to accept it, is to write an apocalyptic poem about the space debris problem that is so powerful it begins a change. It has to be so good that it inundates the mainstream, warrants translation into all the world languages, and terrifies the globe. All international leaders need to be compelled to work together, with a team of scientists, and solve this problem, and it’s your job to make this problem a priority.

After your poem’s publication (your poem should be so good that… More…


I wanted to read a poem to my gathered family before our Christmas meal. Could you recommend several? What would your top five Christmas poems be? — Already-Frazzled-Preparer-of-a-Christmas-Feast

I guess it would be totally lame to cite my favorite Christmas poem (“A Visit From St. Nicholas”—“’Twas the night before Christmas”), but that’s a really good one, very entertaining if you will have little ones at your table. My other top poems are below:

Emily Dickinson writes a good one (of course, right?):

Before the ice is in the pools — Before the skaters go, Or any cheek at nightfall Is tarnished by the snow —

Before the fields have finished — Before the Christmas tree, Wonder upon wonder — Will arrive to me!

The poem goes on in two more quatrains, but it gets a little inaccessible, so… More…

I have a poor memory for details. Just about everyone who knows me will say this is true. My husband loves to make me uncomfortable by quizzing me to name the band when a familiar song comes on the radio. He knows I almost never can recall it, even when the answer is ridiculously obvious. My family jokes that they don’t want to be on my team in Trivial Pursuit games. I often struggle to remember the names of books I’ve read, and their endings. The same goes for movies that I’ve watched, and the actors in them. I need a recipe just to make chocolate chip cookies I’ve made 100 times before. I have that constant tip-of-the-tongue problem remembering words.

It’s not that I don’t know anything or that I can’t learn — I know and learn lots, of course. I was a good student during my school days,… More…

My feet hurt. My knees are so stiff that walking has become a chore. When I climb stairs, I’m out of breath by the time I reach the top. It takes a special effort just to tie my shoes. My vision is so poor that I require a caregiver to accompany me on my morning stroll. I can barely hear when she asks what I’d like for a snack. But it doesn’t matter anyway. Food just doesn’t taste the same as it once did.

After I’m told I’ve been eating an oatmeal cookie, I face an even worse indignity: shuffling and feeling my way, alone, into the men’s room — or at least I hope it is the men’s room. After fumbling with my zipper, I can barely make out the urinal. It is my sincere hope that my aim is true. As I exit, I’m nearly knocked backward by… More…