I harbor a host of dreams — “ambitions” seems too vulgar a word to me — that, were they to be realized, would crystalize in something very quiet, contained, at ease, and not especially splashy so far as dreams go, but indicative of a repast that comes with more obvious victories. There will be me in a house by a rocky, cliff-strewn shore. It will be two in the morning — or it always seems to be, in my daydreams of my dream — with low-level lighting as I sit up in a room not unlike one of those quaint old projecting structures at the top of early 19th-century homes where the women of the house gathered and looked seaward for the men of the house. I’ll have a dram of Laphroaig whisky atop the converted lobster trap table by my side, a set of Liszt Paganini études playing at… More…

Collection of Jasper Johns. © Charly Herscovici -– ADAGP – ARS, 2013. Photograph: Jerry Thompson.

Have you ever felt odd? Perhaps an odd feeling came upon you one morning at the market. You saw the piles of vegetables and the cuts of meats covered in clear plastic. You noticed, with particular attention, the little signs above the individual fruits giving their names and prices. Suddenly, it seemed unaccountably odd that any of this should make any sense to anyone. How very strange that these numbers and words and pictures and physical objects are all related, you thought. It was a warm morning and you walked out into the sunlight with a beating heart and a sheen of sweat on the palms of your hands. For a few more moments you trusted neither sun, nor earth, nor sky. All aspects of reality seemed as arbitrary to you as those signs above the fruit in the market. And then the feeling faded and you were back in the… More…

A heady dish of melted cheese over toast

My father does not have an illustrious history with cooking. You wouldn’t know that looking at him in the kitchen now — when my grandmother’s health was failing, he studied with her so that he could make her classic desserts, like fluffy cream cake, spiraling jelly rolls, and not-too-sweet apple pies. But before that, I knew my father to have exactly one dish — Welsh rarebit.

In his own words, “It wasn’t much.” He melted Velveeta with a large can of tomatoes, and maybe an egg (Dad: “I don’t remember”). What he does remember is making the dish for his roommate and a friend when they were living in Pittsburgh, and right as they were about to pour the rarebit over crackers, realizing that everything — the table, the plates, and the crackers — was covered with tiny ants.

"Don’t think you will be doing less work because you sleep during the day. That’s a foolish notion held by people who have no imagination."


With all of its variables and mysteries, sleep (like the weather) provides for an endless source for small talk. How did you sleep, and did you get enough? Was it hard to fall asleep, or hard to wake up? Did you dream, and what about?

It’s unclear why, but people need sleep to survive. Insects, fish, and animals need it, too, but some less and others more, some hibernating for months. Sometimes sleep eludes people, no matter how tired they are, and other times the well-rested can’t stop themselves from nodding off throughout the day. People dream, but often can’t remember what about, or they dream the same thing over and over and over again.

Sleep is fascinating, and not just to regular people, but also to scientists who can now use technology like fMRI and modern biochemical… More…