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When Günter Grass died earlier this year, it brought back memories of 1991, my first year in New York City. I sometimes think of this period in New York as its last dangerous days, when the city still had that anxious, patched-together sensibility, which is just another way of saying that once I lived in a New York City different than the New York City of today, a New York City that was romantic because I was young then. I lived that first year alone, in a single room on the upper floors of the 92nd Street Y. The 92nd Street Y was better known as a point of call for Manhattan sophisticates, who likely had little idea that, as they listened to the wisdom of celebrities in the great lecture hall, dozens of men and women were residing, like me, in tiny rented rooms on the floors above them.
More… “Being Oskar Matzerath”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.
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I love cold, dark mornings. I love stretching just past the warm spots in the sheets and feeling the icy air brush across my toes. I love the way the pillow pushed under my shoulder cradles my head in softness, and I love to roll over and wiggle the curve of my hip into my husband’s side, tucking my cold feet around his warm ones.

I used to love that last part, anyway. Lately, in my sheet-swaddled semi-clarity, I reach for my husband’s hand before I realize that he’s not in bed with me any longer.

When you fight reality, you will lose.
More… “The Club No One Wants to Join”

Melissa Mann is a burger junkie, denim fanatic, and occasional voiceover artist. As a result of her solitary existence in downtown Los Angeles, she’s considering firing her trainer and letting her hair go gray.
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The writer R.K. Narayan was not prone to supernatural thoughts. He understood as well as anyone why The English Teacher — his 1944 novel about a grieving professor who learns to communicate with his recently deceased wife through trance writing — would inspire bewilderment in his readers, and even rage. In the first half of the book (the “domestic” half), a benignly self-absorbed English teacher of thirty, Krishna, living in the fictional Indian town of Malgudi, decides to devote himself more fully to his wife and child. In the second half (the “spiritual” half), the happy domestic picture dissolves into — as Narayan wrote in his memoir My Days — “tragedy, death, and nebulous, impossible speculations.” Readers might feel, wrote Narayan, as if they had been baited into the second half by the first. But he hoped readers would find an explanation knowing that, of all his novels, The English Teacher was the most autobiographical.
More… “In the Ground”

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.
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First Bones died, then Scotty, now Spock. That is, DeForest Kelley, who played Dr. McCoy (“Bones”) in the original Star Trek cast, died in 1999, then James Doohan, who played the ship’s engineer with a Scottish brogue (“Scotty”), died in 2005. In 2008, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, who played many parts in various incarnations of Star Trek but was perhaps best known as the voice of the US Starship Enterprise’s computer, passed away. Now, on February 27th, 2015, Leonard Simon Nimoy, who played the half-human, half-Vulcan second in command (“Spock”), has died at the age of 83.
More… “The Undiscovered Country”

Donald Riggs is a Teaching Professor of English at Drexel University.
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The last earthly home of the mystic-naturalist John Muir was a 14-bedroom Victorian mansion on the fringes of Martinez, California. Before that Muir’s home had been the wilds of America, days spent roaming the peaks and valleys of the West. But in 1878, when Muir turned 40, his friends urged him to leave the mountain life and rejoin civilization. “John Muir! The great prophet of the American wilderness!” they would say at dinner parties and in print, and then remind Muir in private that his way of living was impossible.

By all accounts, John Muir became a good husband and a good father after he came down from the mountain. He wrote books about his experiences in the wild, and tended the enormous fruit ranch that belonged to his father-in-law. Every so often, Muir’s wife would find him gazing into the air. She would send him off for a mountain… More…

The 1940s film Portrait of Jennie begins up in the clouds, with questions: “What is time?” asks a voice. “What is space? What is life? What is death?” A quote from Euripides comes onscreen to the strains of Debussy:

WHO KNOWETH IF TO DIE BE BUT TO LIVE … AND THAT CALLED LIFE BY MORTALS BE BUT DEATH?

Stefany Anne Golberg is a writer and multi-media artist. She has written for The Washington Post (Outlook), Lapham’s Quarterly, New England Review, and others. Stefany is currently a columnist for The Smart Set and Critic-in-Residence at Drexel University. A book of Stefany’s selected essays can be found here. She can be reached at stefanyanne@gmail.com.

All is not well. But we do not see that at first. The white house and the white picket fence are in perfect order. The sky is blue and bright. The flowers are red and yellow. The grass is green. We’re surrounded by primary colors and clarity.

“David Lynch: The Unified Field” Through January 11, 2015. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, PA

The man watering his lawn doesn’t notice the kink in the hose. The water pressure is building. The pressure in his neck builds, too. Suddenly, the man grabs his neck and falls to the ground. He is having a heart attack, or a stroke. The water from the hose shoots into the air as he falls. The man’s little dog bites ferociously at the stream. The camera pans down into the grass, into the muck… More…

The difference between the person who has considered suicide and the one who actually commits it is small. You could say the difference is conditional, accidental even. Committing an act of suicide is just the culmination of a journey, a journey of dangerous ideas that, once allowed into the mind, can never be fully shaken off. This does not mean that suicidal thoughts lead inevitably to suicide. The world’s population would be much smaller if that were the case. What it does mean is that a person who has considered suicide lives, thereafter, with a sort of seductive madness. To entertain suicide is to imagine that the most uncontrollable fact of life — other than birth — can be controlled, taken into one’s own hands, wrested from the chaos that dominates all life on Earth. We can’t escape death. But if we are to die, then why not make death… More…

Not again, I thought, as I finished watching the second season of House of Cards and saw my favorite character, Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), chief of staff and general fixer for the ruthless politico Frank Underwood, eliminated for good — if death is for good, which I realize that on television it may not be (i.e., Dallas). Still, for all that Frank Underwood is a masterful manipulator, raising the dead isn’t among his skills — and the series isn’t into meta-storytelling — so I assume that Stamper won’t rise from the dead. And so I am upset; I had looked forward to seeing him combine poker-faced efficiency with angst-ridden depth.

I’ve had this happen to me before in the past few years — characters of some complexity that I’d become attached to annihilated without warning. There was the death of Jimmy Darmody (Michael Pitt) and, then, Richard Harrow (Jack Huston)… More…

Sometime during the late summer, or perhaps the early fall, of the year 79 C.E., Mount Vesuvius erupted near Naples. The result was instant death for the people, plants, and animals in the Roman town of Pompeii, which is about five miles from Mount Vesuvius. A Volcanologist named Giuseppe Mastrolorenzo recently (2010) published a definitive study of death in Pompeii. The living things, he concluded, died from the intense heat of the volcanic blast. Basically, they were flash fried. In one of the multiple pyroclastic surges produced by the eruption,“temperatures outdoors — and indoors,” wrote Mastrolorenza, “rose up to 570°F and more, enough to kill hundreds of people in a fraction of a second.”

The ash and the volcanic mud came a little later. Pompeii was buried under this ash and volcanic matter, preserving the town in the instant in which it had been flash fried. The world then gradually… More…