As a millennial with a college degree, no debt or dependents, more or less unlimited professional autonomy, and a passport, I am a case study in what it means to be free to live and work where I choose. But how does someone live when they can work wherever they please? It’s a question I should have been able to answer for myself just by looking in the mirror. Instead, I flew halfway around the world to find out.
I landed in Bali in late October, amid travel warnings about the imminent eruption of 10,000-foot Mount Agung. Though news reports threatened ashy wind, I found what Anaïs Nin once described as “a soft, caressing climate.” About 40 years later, the sandalwood-scented air that Nin inhaled had a top note of diesel. But I wasn’t in Bali to document ecological degradation or to track the process by which a tropical paradise gets gentrified by spiritually dissatisfied tourists. I wasn’t even here to snorkel or bird-watch. I was here to watch teleworkers send e-mail, Skype with their bosses, and scroll through tweets being posted ten time zones away.
I think there’s another reason why we overrate the octopus, and one that gets a little closer to the center of its mass appeal. We love that octopuses are so weird and slippery—that they always seem to find a way to elude our grasp. Godfrey-Smith has said this trait can help explain why it’s been so hard for scientists to comprehend the fullness of octopus cognition. “They’re so hard to experiment on,” he told the Guardian last year. “You get a small amount of animals in the lab and some of them refuse to do anything you want them to do—they’re just too unruly.”
We’ve convinced ourselves that octopuses might be so street smart that we’ll never know how intelligent they really are.
I am writing a book my father will never see. Not in its entirety, not out in the world. He got through about half of my first draft, my mother said, or maybe a little bit more, sometimes using a magnifying glass to read the manuscript I’d sent in 12-point double-spaced Times. When I heard this, I berated myself — I should have thought of that; I should have sent a larger-print version. “Honey, it wouldn’t have mattered,” Mom said. “He had to use the magnifying glass for all his reading, even the bigger type.”
Why didn’t I know that? Because I was far away, across the country. Because he didn’t read books on the too-rare occasions when we were together; he was focused on spending time with me. Because, while I asked about his health all the time, I never asked, specifically, how does he read these days? One more thing I hadn’t known about my father. One more thing to reproach myself for.
He did read part of my book. I think about that every day. He and my mom were reading it aloud, together, chapter by chapter, working their way through it in the evenings after she got home from work. When my dad died suddenly, six days into the new year, they were still several chapters from the end.
Concentrating on the rudiments of city life, Hatakeyama is able to glimpse a fact so obvious that it’s rarely mentioned: “There has never been a time in our history when the space about us was so fraught with artificial objects.” We walk around every day in complex, unnatural environments that we built by wresting raw material from the ground. A city, Hatakeyama reminds us, is just a product of human intervention, no more permanent than the lime hills it came from. Seeing that construction in its totality, in Hatakeyama’s photographs, forces us to experience, as he puts it, a simultaneous “fear and admiration for the world of things.”
Hippos, brass frogs, Russian trips, unattainable love, the doomed Thames Ophelia — fans of the Lenox novels will enjoy these glimpses of Charles’s early life. And those new to his work will find here a persuasive portrait of Victorian England.
While the word is not essential to Greta Gerwig’s film, it is somewhat essential to its scene, and to showcasing Lady Bird’s transition to try-hard bad girl—not to mention Saoirse Ronan’s humorous delivery skills. The word doesn’t offend, or cause “anger, disgust, resentment, or outrage” in Australia. So why exactly has ’Straya’s favorite word been cut? For that we Aussies can blame the silly cunts at the Australian Classification Board.