16 4 / 2014
I am in writer-love with Alice Dreger, who I found through the essay, “Leaning Out.” She conveys by counterexample (though from a place of significant accomplishment and plenty of lean-inliness) what seems so unbalanced and off-kilter about the “Lean In" attitude (as I secondhand understand it).
That is, the things you must sacrifice to lean-in completely (is that a 45-degree angle or just a straight line?) are the most important. Truthfully, I’m sure the Sandberg book has value and maybe particularly would have value for me. Perhaps I’ll see if Feminist Book Club wants to read it.
Back to new writer-hero Alice Dreger. This piece, about sex research and why it’s important, reminds me again that I need to tell you all about Thy Neighbor’s Wife. I have been reading it slowly, in between other things, which is fine because it is fascinating and brilliantly written.
From it I today learned that Alex Comfort, author of The Joy of Sex, had lost all digits but the thumb of his left hand. Talk about lean-inliness, tho:
While the loss of the fingers initially depressed him and haunted him with “delusions of sin,’ and greatly limited his virtuosity at the piano, an instrument he nonetheless continued to play, it had little effect on his future career as an obstetrician, poet, novelist, husband, father, wartime anarcho-pacifist philosopher on the BBC, gerontologist, and participating sex researcher.
In the ten years that followed the accident, in fact, he published ten books.
15 4 / 2014
Feelin blue from lack of sleep. Lacking sleep because I woke up in the middle of the night to peep at the lunar eclipse, of which I saw a sliver, in my coat and pajamas, wandering around the block. I encountered one guy, walking in the opposite direction, who actually said hello to me; I had an urge to ask him if he’d seen the moon (twas right behind him), but felt I felt it was too early and too strange to ask anything of this stranger.
I didn’t have the energy to see the eclipse through to the point at which the moon turns red. Clouds cluttered it up, I felt sleepy and ridiculous, if a little giddy, and I went inside.
A melancholy mood, however tangibly pinpoint-able, is a seeping fog, spilling into everything, browning and tarnishing all that is probably perfectly fine.
14 4 / 2014
“My mother always taught us that if people don’t agree with you, the important thing is to listen to them. But if you’ve listened to them carefully and you still think that you’re right, then you must have the courage of your convictions.”
From this Mosaic conversation with Jane Goodall. I find courage of convictions difficult to summon in the face of conflict. I am often ready with arguments against myself, or with small inward doubts, all too ready to capitulate to being wrong.
One of the “Fast Facts" about chimps on Goodall’s website relates (via video) that most young chimps experience a “rite of passage” in which they are temporarily and mournfully lost from their mothers.
Did you know that Jane Goodall’s mother had (for propriety reasons) to accompany her on her first trip to Gombe? If I did know that, I forgot it.
The Mosaic piece ends with Jane giving her interviewer a heartfelt, chimp-like embrace.
“Chimpanzees don’t say goodbye,” she says. I walk to the door, trying to fathom what to make of this. I turn and call out another farewell, but Goodall doesn’t reply. She has turned away from me and doesn’t look back.
13 4 / 2014
On Mosaic I found this really excellent essay, which outlines how the Plasmodium parasites that cause malaria have developed resistance to antimalaria drugs. The story focuses on the areas in Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Burma, where for a variety of reasons (well characterized in the piece) resistant strains of Plasmodium falciparum have evolved; and it profiles the physician-scientist (François Nosten) working doggedly to stop the disease.
His personality comes through quite vividly in the essay. I find the power of the individual to be quite striking in this and other global/public-health stories I have read. Maybe that’s so because individual people make for the best storytelling, but it’s often the case that simply developing the right (even the cheap, easy to use) tool or protocol to solve a public-health problem is insufficient. Cultural/social buy-in, if not also a persuasive story, is required to change behavior. And this must often come from persistent, locally influential individual communicators.
Quinine is famous for its antimalarial effects and its inclusion in tonic water. But did you know that the plant from whence it comes (cinchona bark) can be prepared and ingested with psychoactive result? Taking inspiration from Enlightenment-era self-experimenters, like Hooke and Newton, Sciento-historian Benjamin Breen tests the hypothesis over at Aeon.
I set to work, drawing upon a recipe in the Portuguese apothecary João Curvo Semedo’s Polyanthea Medicinal (1697) and infusing the bark in boiling water along with an array of East Indian spices.
The verdict: cinchona bark tea is the bitterest thing I’ve ever encountered – so acrid that it acquires an entirely different sensation on the tongue, a transcendent state of bitterness evoking flavours of turpentine, bile, and crude petroleum. But does it actually have a physiological effect? Yes and no. I don’t have malaria, so I couldn’t test cinchona’s legendary efficacy as a fever cure. But cinchona’s active ingredient, quinine, is also known for provoking uniquely vivid dreams and serving as a mild muscle relaxant. I can attest to both of these effects: in particular, the cinchona tea seemed to loosen up my back muscles. It also gave me crazy dreams – of glowing undersea creatures made of jewels, for instance.
12 4 / 2014
11 4 / 2014
10 4 / 2014