Two years ago, a lawyer in Indiana sent me a check for seventy-eight thousand dollars. The money was from my uncle Walt, who had died six months earlier. I hadn’t been expecting any money from Walt, still less counting on it. So I thought I should earmark my inheritance for something special, to honor Walt’s memory.
It happened that my longtime girlfriend, a native Californian, had promised to join me on a big vacation. She’d been feeling grateful to me for understanding why she had to return full time to Santa Cruz and look after her mother, who was ninety-four and losing her short-term memory. She’d said to me, impulsively, “I will take a trip with you anywhere in the world you’ve always wanted to go.” To this I’d replied, for reasons I’m at a loss to reconstruct, “Antarctica?” Her eyes widened in a way that I should have paid closer attention to. But a promise was a promise.
Women in many times and places have felt pressure to bear children. But the idea of the biological clock is a recent invention. It first appeared in the late 1970s. “The Clock Is Ticking for the Career Woman,” the Washington Post declared, on the front page of its Metro Section, on 16 March 1978. The author, Richard Cohen, could not have realised just how inescapable his theme would become.
Steve Jobs claimed that dropping acid was one of the most important things he had ever done in his life. “LSD shows you that there’s another side to the coin,” he said, “and you can’t remember it when it wears off, but you know it.” Jobs’s openness to psychedelic experiences is an aspect of his formative years that’s often invoked to help shade in his genius, a way of decoding the inputs and stimuli that allowed him to—as the billboards used to say—“think different.” Last year, one of Jobs’s comrades from those shaggier days, Daniel Kottke, described their acid trips as fairly typical: they were “monk-wannabes” who would go hiking and listen to music, talk about consciousness, attempt to read books. And then, like many of their generation, they grew up. By the time both of them were involved with Apple, in the late seventies, Jobs had rerouted his creativity toward something less ephemeral. “Once Apple started,” Kottke, who would be one of the company’s first employees, said, “Steve was really focused with all of his energy on making Apple successful. And he didn’t need psychedelics for that.”
“That which is the immodesty of other women has been my virtue — my willingness that the world should gaze upon my figure unadorned,”Audrey Munson, the favorite nude model of the Beaux Arts movement in the United States, once proclaimed. And that openness to posing in often freezing artist studios completely naked, in uncomfortable poses with swayed legs and hair held back with bended arms, such as for Adolph Alexander Weinman’s “Descending Night” (1914), or practically on tip toes for Alexander Stirling Calder’s “Star Maiden,” endlessly duplicated at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, earned her incredible acclaim.
A sheet of paper can be a work of art, its surface rich with life and visual interest. Timothy Barrett, the MacArthur fellow and master paper maker, moved to Japan to learn how to make washi: a translucent paper so delicate it hardly seems material. In more recent years, he has studied the solid white paper, made from cloth rags, that Europeans used for books from the 14th century on. These papers, he says, “had a kind of crackle and made you want to touch them.” Now he makes them as well, from the proper ingredients, raw flax and hemp.
Everything is different on an island: language, weather, food, tradition. There are phrases in the Exuma Islands in the Bahamas that seem to exist only there: “day clean” (dawn), “sip-sip” (gossip), “first fowl crow” (rooster call). The molasses-colored rum in Barbados is special to that rocky gem, and the distinctive sweet coffee can be found in the tiled corner bars in Cuba where habaneros sip it morning and night. Bali’s vibrant batik sarongs are art you can wear, and Maldivian dhon riha tastes like seafood curry concocted in the depths of the ocean.