Monica Gagliano began to study plant behavior because she was tired of killing animals. Now an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Western Australia in Perth, when she was a student and postdoc, she had been offing her research subjects at the end of experiments, the standard protocol for many animals studies. If she was to work on plants, she could just sample a leaf or a piece of root. When she switched her professional allegiance to plants, though, she brought with her some ideas from the animal world and soon began exploring questions few plant specialists probe—the possibilities of plant behavior, learning, and memory.
“You start a project, and as you open up the box there are lots of other questions inside it, so then you follow the trail,” Gagliano says. “Sometimes if you track the trail, you end up in places like Pavlovian plants.”
In her first experiments with plant learning, Gagliano decided to test her new subjects the same way she would animals. She started with habituation, the simplest form of learning. If the plants encountered the same innocuous stimulus over and over again, would their response to it change?
Never before have our expectations of marriage taken on such epic proportions. We still want everything the traditional family was meant to provide—security, respectability, property, and children—but now we also want our partner to love us, to desire us, to be interested in us. We should be best friends and trusted confidants, and passionate lovers to boot.
Contained within the small circle of the wedding band are vastly contradictory ideals. We want our chosen one to offer stability, safety, predictability, and dependability. And we want that very same person to supply awe, mystery, adventure, and risk. We expect comfort and edge, familiarity and novelty, continuity and surprise. We have conjured up a new Olympus, where love will remain unconditional, intimacy enthralling, and sex oh so exciting, with one person, for the long haul. And the long haul keeps getting longer.
It is perhaps the obvious thing, to point to the materiality of the letter: how it’s written on paper, maybe folded and slid into a stamped envelope and sent par avion. But that materiality, in an era of email and text messages, has become the essential quality of the medium. In “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin considers how the modern capacity for reproduction affected original artworks, or rather, our (mediated) perception of those originals: “Even in the most perfect reproduction, one thing is lacking: the here and now of the work of art—its unique existence in a particular place. It is this unique existence—and nothing else—that bears the mark of the history to which the work has been subject.” It is hard to say what constitutes the “original” in email correspondence, which exists in multiple forms: in drafts, inboxes, and sent folders, cc’d and bcc’d, so on and so forth. But the handwritten letter does have all the ingredients that make an original: a singular “here and now,” a “unique existence in a particular place.” Letters on paper bear the mark of history. They show the trace of touch in fingerprints and coffee stains. And countless readings render scars in brittle paper, unfolded and folded up again.
It’s my opinion that Nora Ephron never should have left journalism. Sure there was a lot more money to be made writing and directing major motion pictures like When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle, but Ephron had a gift for magazine writing. She had the kind of personal style some writers attend pricey retreats and workshops to acquire. She didn’t just interview her subjects–she brought you into their various worlds and gave you room to explore every corner to your heart’s content.
When Alex was arrested, he insisted the robbery was simply an elaborate Ranger training exercise. He was deploying in two weeks, and in Iraq he’d be expected to carry out operations of similar corkscrew impudence: Raid dangerous spaces, flush out “high value” targets from their homes. Sommer, he explained, would never lead him on such an audacious mission without an Army-sanctioned strategic intent — and he, Alex, would never challenge the wisdom of his superiors.
It took Alex many months into his stay in prison to realize that he’d been duped by Sommer, a nut job and a pirate first class. Or so Alex claimed.