I am an oblivious person. I don't notice things that bother me.
That doesn't mean I live a happy, contented life, or that I'm never bothered. I am bothered, I just don't realize it. If my kitchen is messy, for example, which is often, I do not prepare food in it. That may sound like perfectly logical behavior, but logic plays no part in what is actually a series of competing impulses. The way I experience not-cooking as a function of kitchen messiness is as a Thing That Happens Over and Over Until I Start To Wonder If There's a Correlation. It's not a decision I've made; rather, it's [...]
When I heard the “We Are the 99%” slogan, I worried. I am movement-skittish. I don't like being spoken for. Anytime I hear the language of political clichés, whether about “workers” or “job creators,” my ears shut down. I know those vocabularies, and I don't agree with the worldviews that produce them.
So I didn't go to Occupy Oakland during the two weeks it was a camp in the Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza. My partner, who doesn't share my qualms, went frequently. He would come home and tell me about what he'd seen: the media center powered by an electricity-generating bicycle, the daycare center, the full-time kitchen, which fed [...]
It would never occur to me to describe ears as “handsome volutes to the human capital.” That it did to Charles Lamb, who also called them “ingenious labyrinthine inlets” and “indispensable side-intelligencers,” says one thing about him and something else entirely about me, but it says something, too, about the linguistic environment where volutes to the human capital can thrive. Whether because of the Internet or some other mysterious, homogenizing influence, our language has lost some biodiversity. Even our obscenities—the parts of language least likely to lose their verve—have dwindled, and the survivors have dulled from overuse. “You've got balls,” we say, when once we could have yelled that [...]
If you've never considered drunkenness a sign of loyalty, or sobriety as treason, it's unlikely you will ever understand the English. In England, toasts, the time-honored tradition of watching hapless well-wishers fail at stand-up comedy, were once serious affairs. So intense were the feelings inspired by what one drank and why that during a brief but sober period, toasts were legally banned.
In this edition of John Dunton's "Athenian Mercury," which, as the first advice column in English, was once the go-to source for wisdom for many a muddled 17th-century Londoner, the city's citizenry writes in with booze-related questions. Why red eyes? Double vision? How does God [...]
The Internet, Preserver of Our Fleeting Shames, also resurrects the lovely (because distant) indignities of the past. Prominent among these is the Athenian Mercury, the semi-reputable 1690s London advice column—put out by a group of misfits who called themselves The Athenian Society—to which many a citizen turned when wondering why people swoon at the sight of cats or laugh in the presence of pork.
A column about familiar fears and off-kilter folklore, the stuff the embarrassed children of a generation decided to forget, is built on the backs of modern-day Bartlebys who scanned and transcribed reams of faded, brittle, near-illegible paper objects. Anyone [...]
History steers clear of the masturbators. It sidesteps erectile dysfunction and abortions in favor of tidy genealogies whose bustling branches confirm the basically Darwinian principle that, when it comes to sexual habits, those who propagate leave better paper trails. The exceptions aren't exactly razed from the Book of Life, but their contributions are usually buried in cavernous parentheticals and shady marginalia. They don't pop up much in the main text.
Luckily for us, there's the Athenian Mercury, the wildly popular advice column to which many a nameless 17th-century Londoner turned with his or her burning questions. If the Mercury avoided mentioning the unmentionable, it made up for [...]
I'm an advice column junkie. I've never submitted a question but I read them obsessively. I also enjoy eavesdropping in the comments sections below as "Willow07" and "Jim no avatar" wrangle over the thorny issue of whether the obsessive-compulsive should or should not apologize for reorganizing his mother-in-law's Ladies of the American Revolution tampon collection. And if my reading has taught me anything, it is this: The debate is never really about the tampon collection. It's actually about defining standards we can all agree to when we condemn people and how we prioritize them. This kind of extra-legal self-legislation is—let's be honest—the only form of democracy we can actually [...]