My daughter is in a coma. She’s non-responsive. Her brain damage is extensive. Her doctors aren’t hopeful. Since you have relevant experience in this area, what do you think I should do to help her? What can I do to help myself, to keep thinking positive? — J

 

Wow. From my experience, I think you should read to her; who cares if she’s not responsive right now? Something immeasurable could be going on. Keep reading to her, talking to her, surrounding her with language and the soothing cadence of your voice. She probably has a valve inserted into her brain that monitors the pressure, and I think you’ll find that her brain pressure will decrease when you read to her. That’s what my parents did for me when I was in a coma. I think this… More…

Why are all the best poems sad?

— Your father

That’s a good question, though I’m sure not everybody feels that the best poems are sad; they think that the best poems are the erotic ones by the 14th-century Indian poet Kabir.

But seriously, people tend to think that the best poems are the ones they can understand and identify with, and it’s not difficult at all to understand and identify with sadness, so it’s true: A lot of people think that the best poems out there are the sad ones. I think that’s because many societies often encourage overlook feelings of sadness or pain. Something bad happens, and we are pushed to move on, look to the future and not to the past. That’s not necessarily bad; it’s society’s job to mold each member into a productive contributor in the present, and we aren’t very productive when we’re sad…. More…

1927-2009

 

Leszek Kolakowski died a couple of weeks ago. He was a philosopher, a man of letters, historian of ideas. He lived the 20th-century life. It sucked. But like many a Pole, he made the best of a bad situation. The opening lines of the Polish National Anthem are, after all, “Poland has not perished yet.” Poles know that everything will turn out for the worst. It always does.

Kolakowski grew up during the Nazi occupation of Poland and came of age when the Nazis were exchanged for the Soviets. Liberation, in Poland, is the name for a short period of chaos between oppressors. Kolakowski did his best to think with the times. He started out a Marxist — not a ridiculous position for a young anti-fascist to take in those days. It was not, however, a position that… More…

You sometimes don't know until the point is pretty moot.

Our singular social interaction outside the building came two years ago. I invited him to a reading I was giving at a local Barnes & Noble to celebrate one of my books on censorship. But even at that festive occasion we men of words exchanged but few.

Over the years, I gleaned hardly anything else about Mr. Aronson. I can’t recall ever seeing him with company. He apparently enjoyed hiking. Sometimes in the summer he looked like a big kid in shorts, a T-shirt, tube socks, and hiking boots. And he must have loved jazz. Sax solos routinely burst through his black metal door. I imagined Mr. Aronson methodically removing a Charlie Parker record from the jacket stored in a plastic sleeve, checking both sides for scratches and gently placing the disk on a vintage turntable. But he could have owned a brand new MP3 player for all I knew, as I never set foot in his apartment. In Manhattan, proximity does… More…