The Soul of Toys

While strolling through a park in Berlin, Franz Kafka met a young girl bereft because she’d lost her doll. To console her, Kafka explained that the doll was off on an adventure and had even sent him a letter! When the child demanded to see it, Kafka went home and composed it. Over time Kafka sent many letters from the doll, taking great care to fill in her back story—how she had grown tired of living with the same family, wished to travel, then became engaged and married.

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Gardening as Play

On a cold winter day many years ago, I stood looking out the back window of a historic house on a Connecticut village green that I had fallen in love with and wanted to own because of its enormous front windows and pleasing arrangement of rooms. All I could see from the window was a snowy yard stretching beyond an old carriage barn and out of sight—an empty expanse of shining snow sloping slightly to the west

“How can I take care of such a big backyard?” I worriedly asked the realtor.

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The Story of a Happy Home

In the last few years, we’ve learned a lot more about the writer and psychoanalyst, Lou Andreas-Salomé, friend of Nietzsche, lover of Rilke, colleague of Freud. There’s a new bio-pic that focuses on her independent spirit, and now the first English translation of her novel, Das Haus, by Frank Beck and Raleigh Whitinger. A recent annotated edition, titled Anneliese’s House, will soon be released in paperback. In the meantime, the book is gaining the attention of literary critics, feminists, and followers of depth psychology.

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The Voice of Things

My wife and I moved a short while back from our crowded and lair-like house outside Boston to an abruptly more open and airy place in Amherst. Over a month in, I’m still gaping at new space and different light. The move came after thirty years in the house that most of our lives had happened in, the house about which I said for close to thirty years to anyone who would listen, “You’re going to have to bury me out back by the hollowed-out apple tree trunk.” And I meant it.

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Numinous Things

A decade ago, wars of liberation were being fought all across North Africa and the Middle East. Smaller, more personal wars of liberation were being fought in France, too. Here in the fifth arrondissement of Paris, we battled the forces of French bureaucracy to liberate our household goods from their shipping containers at Le Havre. We had valued most of the fifty boxes at $50 each. Many contained books, writing supplies, and journals. Many contained art. How do you assign such things a dollar amount?

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Body of Words

There is so much beauty in the way we are built and the ways we build meaning. Exploring the roots of language, the histories that inform the words we use, in naming the bones, the muscles, the capacities of the nervous system, the fluid soup of chemicals bathing our spine, I am filled with gratitude. Studying the energy and structure of the body, the energy and structure of movement, the energy and structure of language, inspires a more subtle awareness, increases connection and intention. There is purpose, intelligence, and beauty to everyday movement and everyday talk.

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Lunch After the Great War

In her well-known essay, A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf asks why novelists fail to record what was eaten on a memorable occasion. She describes the menu in a university dining room, then imagines the conversation at a luncheon party before the first World War,when thoughts turn readily to love and romance:

It is a curious fact that novelists have a way of making us believe that luncheon parties are invariably memorable for something very witty that was said, or for something very wise that was done. But they seldom spare a word for what was eaten. It is part of the novelist’s convention not to mention soup and salmon and ducklings, as if soup and salmon and ducklings were of no importance whatsoever, as if nobody ever smoked a cigar or drank a glass of wine.

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Savoring the Essay

The test of a great essayist from Montaigne to Mark Twain, from Emerson to Virginia Woolf, is the ability to entertain a steady procession of ideas, some of them inflammatory, some entertaining, some downright contradictory, before deciding which will play a central role.

As Emerson notes, “The best part…of every mind is not that which (the writer) knows, but that which hovers in gleams, suggestions, tantalizing unpossessed before him. His firm recorded knowledge soon loses all interest for him, but this dancing chorus of thoughts and hopes is the quarry of his future, is his possibility.”

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On Loneliness and Solitude

For weeks, a bright-green advertisement for Meals on Wheels in The New Yorker delivered the bad news: Social Isolation is as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness. It is toxic, pernicious, erosive. Popular and academic publications are exploding with articles about the current epidemic. Experts all over the world are trying to figure out its root causes and possible antidotes. In The New York Times Jonathan Haidt and Jean M. Twenge note that “smartphone access and internet use increased in lock-step with teenage loneliness.”

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