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Awaking aboard the International Space Station, astronauts must dress for a long day of research, maintenance, exercise, and other tasks. They don their “icon shirts,” custom-tailored garments with interchangeable “swatches.” Some swatches allow them to map their positions within the ISS, allow them to communicate with ground control, and others record and transmit their vital signs. After fixing the swatches appropriate for the day’s agenda to their icon shirts, the astronauts are prepared for work onboard the space station. Of course, when they venture outside of the ISS for experiments or repairs, they must also wear special equipment, like a spacesuit and a “personal warning harness,” which alerts them to any danger of being struck by stray debris.

As innovative as that wardrobe sounds, it’s far from the current reality. Aboard the ISS, crew members typically wear polos and cargo pants. In space, they wear suits similar to the ones worn by their predecessors in the 1960s.

But NASA has been trying to upgrade its astronauts’ wardrobes — particularly through collaboration with designers and researchers. Rebeccah Pailes-Friedman, one such collaborator, is a professor of industrial and fashion design at the Pratt Institute, where her students worked on prototypes for NASA, sewing and soldering their ideas for what astronauts’ clothes should be. We spoke about the challenges they faced, as well as their proposed solutions. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity. More… “Dressing for Success . . . in Space”

In high school, we swooned to boy bands and carried quarters so we could “arrive alive” after a teenage drinking binge. In middle school, we walked straight to airport gates to greet our grandparents as they tumbled off flights, rumpled in button-down shirts and pantyhose. And in elementary school, we read piles of books to earn personal pan pizzas from Pizza Hut and people told us we were special.

And we were special. As the high school graduating class of 1999, early on in our academic careers, administrators, teachers, and parents lauded us with the exclusive title of “last class of the century.”

Throughout our elementary, middle, and high school years, we got by on microwavable meals and believed our brains could look like fried eggs — any questions? — but we partied like it was 1999 anyway. On the brink of Y2K, my graduating class of 374 gathered on a warm evening in late May to fulfill our legacy. We were a large class crammed into a small gymnasium in West Central Wisconsin, our family members packed onto the bleachers after months of trading and haggling for coveted graduation tickets.

As one of 17 valedictorians in my class (yes, you read that right), I’d talked my way into what I considered to be the desired final speaking position. I wanted the proverbial final word—and it wasn’t about friendships or memories, thankfulness or nostalgia. What I had to offer was a simple piece of advice: “Wear sunscreen. If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience . . . I will dispense this advice now.”

That’s right. The class of 1999 was also the recipient of the spoken word piece, “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen),” released by Baz Luhrmann in 1998 based off of music from the film Romeo + Juliet and an essay written by columnist Mary Schmich that was published in the Chicago Tribune in 1997. Though Schmich’s essay (and Luhrmann’s original rendition of the song) addressed the class of 1997, it was the single released in 1999 with its salutation addressed to “ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’99” that implanted in our minds after playing the song endlessly on our Discmans. More… “Trust Me on the Sunscreen”

It’s time to take Kpop seriously. Every pop culture form reaches a point where the product attains sufficient depth and complexity to merit serious critical attention, as opposed to sociological analysis or entertainment business history chronicling. For western pop, that moment came in 1967, with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For Kpop, that time is now. This is Kpop’s Sgt. Pepper moment.

To understand this moment, we need first to consider Kpop’s genesis and growth. Kpop has its origins in the processes that have transformed South Korea in the past two decades. Without the liberalization of Korean society at the end of the 20th century, Kpop would never have come into being. The military government that fell in 1987 had repressed rock and folk musicians as part of a larger policy of maintaining socially conservative norms. As the government democratized, so the media became open to a wider range of voices and styles. As part of this opening, the 11th April, 1992 saw one of the talent shows that were and still are a mainstay of television in Korea broadcast an act that broke with the hitherto dominant ballads and nightclub standards; Seo Taiji and the Boys drew on New Jack Swing and hip-hop in their performance of “Nan Arayo”. Kpop was born that evening. The show’s judges gave “Nan Arayo” the lowest score of the show, older viewers were bemused, but an enraptured younger audience, thrilled by both the new sound and the accompanying dance moves, rushed out the following day to buy “Nan Arayo” and kept it at the top of the charts for four months. More… “Kpop”

As the years pass I find myself wondering more and more if what I remember about my childhood are the events themselves or merely a memory of those events. There is a half-awake feel about these memories, a sense of being twice-removed, as if somewhere along the way the direct chain of cause and effect had broken, replaced by a more vaporous connection. Still, I am aware of something deeper that is just beyond my grasp. Events don’t seem only distant in time, they seem more like scenes from a movie that keep flashing through my mind that I struggle to place because I’m no longer sure I’ve even seen the film. Yet I am aware of myself as a player in those scenes. The more I try to wring meaning from these memories the more I realize that the way to do it is to unveil the universals that lie beneath them. Only then will they reveal themselves as more than a collection of unrelated episodes grown hoary with time.

I was born in the Point Breeze section of Philadelphia in a two-story brick rowhouse. It was the first house my parents bought after they were married and where my father was about to begin his medical career. From Colonial times through to the early twentieth century homes in Philadelphia were commonly built of brick, and Point Breeze was a classic example of the type. Standing on the sidewalk in that first neighborhood in the first years of my life, whichever direction I looked revealed long rows of red brick homes, usually two stories high, some with three and, less frequently, four. Grass, except in tiny back yards that butted against even tinier alleyways, was almost nonexistent in those canyons of brick. On cloudy days the neighborhood seemed to huddle beneath a grayish shroud; on cold rainy days it seemed to draw inward on itself and was downright depressing. Despite the dearth of greenery those block-long brick walls formed by the rows of identical houses were boundaries of my youth. I felt a strong sense of place and time and that it was right for me to be there. By the time I was ready to begin grade school my parents had moved a few blocks west to the Stephen Girard Estate, originally the home of the wealthy Colonial-era philanthropist and banker. It was there that I spent the next 12 years of my life. More… “Everything Desirable”

The reasons to be enamored of the late poet Frank Stanford are endless. Stanford, who was born in Mississippi, lived in Memphis, and settled in western Arkansas (as much as he could ever “settle”), became a poet’s poet, a writer whose prolific output never penetrated beyond the small stable of writers and critics who wildly admired him. John Berryman, Alan Dugan, Allen Ginsberg, and Gordon Lish were fans. Given up by his biological mother at birth (in 1948), adopted by the first single woman authorized to adopt a child in Mississippi (Dorothy Gildart), and a frequent denizen of the levee camps where his later adoptive father (Albert Franklin Stanford in 1952) worked as an engineer, Stanford merged memory and fantasy to develop an iconic style that, as he published routinely throughout the 1970s, is best grasped in his defining The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You. When his editor, Michael Cuddihy, first read this manuscript, he recalled, “It was endless, shot through with brilliant passages echoing Beowulf, Dante, the Troubadours, and others.” Stanford said he started writing it when he was 13. More… “What about That

Asheville winter submerges us, weeks of unseasonable cold expanding January into multiples of its actual duration. My beer-loving colleague — let’s refer to him as “Jim” — is in town for a client meeting he celebrated as an excuse to visit my peak-brewery town, weather be damned. His old friend, whom we shall call Kurt — some of whose money I manage (well, if I do say so myself) — has tagged along for a sexagenarian Hangover. Both wives bowed out of the trip with a set of excuses as carefully crafted as a local IPA. Jim and I make plans to drink and dine after our wispy meeting and take leave of one another so that I can collect my son from kindergarten, and he can begin beer sampling with Kurt.

When I next encounter Jim, he and Kurt are hours into their tasting tour and have bellied up to the long communal table at the Wicked Weed brewery. I wedge myself into a space between Jim and a non-English-speaking couple (German I think —consonant-tinged beer terminology like hefeweizen seems easy on their tongues.) I shake hands with Kurt across the farmhouse table, take stock of his heavy lids and irrepressible — charming, I admit — smile, the kind of face that only alcohol can paint. Kurt’s hand doesn’t as much shake mine as allow mine to rest in it, with a tingle that surprises me. More… “#MeSomething”

Herman Wouk, the best-selling novelist, died on Friday, May 17, at the age of 103. Among his best-known novels are The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War, and War and Remembrance (the latter two about World War II, inspired by his time in the Navy in the South Pacific). For me, however, Wouk will always be the author of the 1955 novel Marjorie Morningstar, about the coming of age of a Jewish-American girl in New York City. I published a piece about re-reading that novel in the Wall Street Journal four years ago. When I had first read the book, as a teenager almost 50 years earlier, it had been viewed by those in the know as a “woman’s book” and a rather vulgar page-turner. I now discovered that it was a serious work of literature, both well-written and psychologically insightful about a middle-class young woman struggling with the often competing claims of ambition, romance, family, and religious expectation. When my essay appeared, I was surprised by the avalanche of emails I received from readers who wanted to weigh in on what the novel had meant to them when they first read it. Below is a sampling from some of those emails:

I have been a lifetime voracious reader and an avid book club member.  However, I still return to Marjorie as my literary rock and foundation. Almost beyond number I have reread the section where Marjorie reveals to her lawyer husband to be that she lost her virginity to Noel Airman.  His reaction so touched my heart because she was no longer perfect to him. I am 69 years of age, Jewish, and a graduate of Queens College, in New York City. I confess to being another “Shirley.”  I have been married for 46 years and have two sons.  All my men our [sic] lawyers. 
I thank you for validating my feelings about Marjorie Morningstar and vindicating my rereading the book in the face of some of my acquaintances who could not understand why the novel means so much to me.

I am a product of the 1950s and Herman Wouk was confronting reality in my time not investigating history when his books came out. I do not know if Marjorie Morningstar survives as great literature but it is great humanity, and serves in the same instructive coming of age tradition as was Studs Lonigan, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Adventures of Augie March, Edith Wharton, and their peers.

Indeed, I was one of those teenage girls for whom  Wouk’s novel was “de rigueur reading.”  If I remember correctly, even as my life and career evolved, I read it every five years, simply to stay in touch with the hopes, dreams, and realities of becoming an adult, as you so aptly noted.  Now, I work assiduously to encourage the younger people around me, those with whom I work, those I mentor, my own children, to hold onto a particular moment in time so that sometime in the future that moment will be remembered both for how it felt and what it meant then, and how it feels and reflectively, what it means now.  I so enjoy the feedback I get when I learn that one of them has had a potent experience of, “Oh, I see what you meant!”

The following is the original article written about Wouk’s Marjorie, a young character with whom many identified.

More… “Herman Wouk’s Legacy”

Few cartoonists have had as varied a career as Peter Bagge, at least when it comes to his range in subject matter. He started out in the 1980s as part of the then post-underground scene, doing goofball, slapstick comics where exaggerated, cartoonish characters with rubbery limbs and mouths that seem to open at a 180-degree angle would commit shameless acts in as frenetic a manner as possible.

Eventually, he got his own series, first Neat Stuff and then the Seattle-set Hate, starring his misanthropic alter ego Buddy Bradley, a comic that benefited from the burgeoning grunge scene taking shape in the early 1990s. Here, the mania started to tone down somewhat, and Bagge’s work became more character-focused, drawing attention to sharp ear for honest — and often hilarious — dialogue. More… “Bagge and Lane”

First impressions are often so telling. Minutes from the airport I sensed the scale of the mountainous peaks and craggy cliffs. I saw houses surrounded by blazing bougainvillea and banana leaves leaving me little clues as to what to expect. The high-rise buildings are mercifully few and every perch is roosted upon right up into the hills where I spotted villages with terracotta roofs dotted amongst the patchwork of the terraced cultivation carved out of the mountainside.

I never knew that Madeira, the Azores, the Canary Islands, and Cape Verde are known collectively as Macaronesia. Madeira herself is sub-tropical and neither Mediterranean nor on the equator and actually twice as close to Africa as Europe. It’s been a port of call for fleets heading towards the South Atlantic, acting as a gateway from Europe to the New World. In the 15th century, it became a cosmopolitan center for foreigners comprising German, Flemish, and Italian communities as they chased the sugar trade.
More… “Peaks and Gardens”

Given how contentious (and often male-dominated) the debate about how society treats female agency has often become, it’s a very good thing that the Criterion Collection has just rereleased a scintillating French courtroom drama that lets the woman have the final word. The film is called La Vérité (“The Truth”), directed by the great Henri-George Clouzot (the auteur behind superb thrillers like Diabolique and The Wages of Fear) and starring none other than Brigitte Bardot in a tour-de-force performance.

The film was a huge hit and quite a success de scandale when it was first released in 1960, with the cinema-mad Parisian press going nuts over leaked accounts of its stars’ canoodling and the film’s tempestuous production. La Vérité’s storyline is far more captivating than even the tabloid presses’ wildest dreams; the picture it paints about the way a supposedly egalitarian society understands women as moral and physical beings is far more damning than a paparazzi’s surreptitious snapshot. The film’s crackling themes of sexual politics, female agency, and the public interrogation of a woman’s private life conducted almost entirely by men ring as painfully true today than it did when it was first released.  More… “Handling the Truth”