• Perpetual student?
    The term “perpetual student,” as seen on the tagline of my website, has gained cultural currency just at the point when it no longer seems to apply to me. One mother laughingly called herself a “perpetual student.” She meant she pursued learning for the sheer joy of inquiry. But the term is usually one of … Read more
  • Admission Attendant
  • Summit Tour, Summit and Ballroom
    (Earlier stops on the Summit Tour: The Exhibition Hall and The Hillclimb and The Garden Terrace) At the Summit of the Hillclimb, you can look down at the traffic on I-5 North at the base of Capitol Hill; I-5 South heading underneath Freeway Park and Seattle Convention Center Arch Building (opened 1988); and the intersection … Read more
  • Summit Tour, The Hillclimb and the Garden Terrace
    (Continuing from Part 1 of the Summit Tour.) All conventions are divided into three parts: the exhibition hall, the sessions, and the hallways. And in my experience, the hallways are what it’s all about. That’s where you meet people, renew acquaintances, and make plans. And take selfies. At the Summit, the hallway experience promises to … Read more
  • Summit Tour, Exhibition Hall
    Here’s the first in a series of posts sharing my impressions and photos of the new Seattle Convention Center Summit, from the Public Open House last Thursday, January 26, 2023. Highlights of the Exhibition Hall (Lower Level): Why I care: My career as a journalist and writer has taken me to conference venues around the … Read more
  • Sounds Like
    For writer and translator Polly Barton, you’ll find “the beating heart of Japanese” in onomatopoeia, mimetic language that sounds like what the words signify. Bow-wow. Woof-woof. ワンワン. (Wan-wan, rhymes with “bonbon.”) Japanese has a massive onomatopoeic vocabulary second only to Korean, claims Barton, who set out to master this essential aspect of the language: “I … Read more
  • An ordinary blog
    Third time’s the charm. The first iteration of my blog (My Yale Years) consisted of reflections and essays related to a series of online courses. The blog reboot (IVAN: A HALF-LIFE) was episodic memoir. For both, I got off to a fast start but then hit challenging material, whether courses outside of my comfort zone … Read more
  • Bus Girl
    Some people have a knack for chatting people up, turning on the charm, getting phone numbers. Me, I’m an introvert. If I’m on a bus or airplane or a train, I’ll be listening to music while reading a book or a newspaper. But sometimes you just have to take off the headphones. She was an … Read more
  • Memoir, 9/11, and the Literature of Technology and Political Violence: A conversation with ChatGPT
    Tell a story about a man riding the bus from New Jersey to New York, in the style of a KGB report The subject, identified as John Smith, boarded the bus in New Jersey at approximately 8:00am on the morning of January 12th, 2023. He was observed to be carrying a black backpack and wearing … Read more
  • The Siren Song of the MBA
    I was in debt, living with my parents in New Jersey, and I needed a job. In the help-wanted section, I saw that the NYC Department of Corrections was hiring a Statistician. To be working for the city, that’s not bad. In an office, I would think. I had taken some advanced statistics, knew enough … Read more
  • The 5 Whys
    Doshite nihongo o benkyo-saretan desu ka? どうして日本語を勉強されたのですか。 Why are you studying Japanese? It all started in 1995 with a lightly used copy of Japanese for Busy People and a Kanji workbook, gifts from a good friend who had briefly attempted, and then abandoned, the project of learning Japanese. I became fascinated by the dual syllabaries, … Read more
  • How to Get Ahead in Advertising
    Competitrack had racks of VHS machines set up to record the top broadcast and cable channels in dozens of US cities. Someone would swap in new tapes and box up the old ones for shipment to New York. The team of TV “coders” would receive the tapes and scan through each one to find and … Read more
  • Millionaire
    At 25, I didn’t realize how wealthy I was, or how free. I had a good job and no debt, living in Manhattan at the beginning of a tech boom. My hometown banker told me I had over $6,000 in cash. “What do you want to do with it?”“Well, I may need that money next … Read more
    Over the last two months, I’ve written over 40 blog posts. A good start, but it’s time for a pivot. The original idea was 40 chapters, one series of blog posts corresponding to each of the Open Yale Courses, drawing on journals and unpublished manuscripts from the past nine years. But I’m going to press … Read more
  • The Hollow Rod
    This is a story about how St. Nicholas became Santa Claus. It’s not the “real” story about an ad campaign by the Coca-Cola Company, which may have happened just like they say, but who knows? Who invented the Coca-Cola Company? Why should they have all the fun? My invention is an entirely different story, and … Read more
  • Alpha versions
    In 1970, the year of my birth, my father was a Merrill Lynch stockbroker by day and a waterfront security guard by night. In the mid-1980s, he saw that I had some talent with computers. Maybe I could learn the markets and make it big on Wall Street. It also would have been fine if … Read more
  • Chameleon
    Greta, my younger sister, studied abroad for a semester in Grenoble. That June we met up in Paris and traveled by train around France trying different mixtures of ham, cheese, and bread. Our destination was the Basque country, Le Pays basque, where we had a place to stay thanks to close friends of Aunt Florence … Read more
  • My French Aunts
    Both aunts on my father’s side spoke excellent French. This was quite an accomplishment for two Brooklyn girls from a poor Jewish family. Aunt Florence (1920-2009) went to Hunter College. She married a Merchant Marine engineer who joined the U.S. State Department after the war. They were posted in France, Germany, Morocco, Senegal, Ghana, and … Read more
  • Doctor Strange’s Neighborhood
    For two years I rented an apartment in Greenwich Village behind a novelty t-shirt shop on Bleecker Street, located just next to the purported address of the Marvel Comics multiverse explorer Doctor Strange. The apartment was on the ground floor. I could unlock the metal window gate of the large back window to climb outside … Read more
  • The Positioning of Works
    In Works (2002), Édouard Levé published a book consisting solely of a list of 533 ideas for new artworks, mostly conceptual. (Read the Guardian review.) Levé followed through on a small handful of these ideas, including Pornographie (2002), which poses fully-clothed models as if they were adult film actors; and Amérique (2006), a collection of photographs taken in American towns named after Florence, Berlin, Oxford and … Read more
  • France
    Next up on the My Yale Years project was a pair of courses taught by John Merriman: France Since 1871 and European Civilization, 1648-1945. I completed both courses quickly, two months apiece, way under par. France Since 1871 has an excellent reading list and illuminating film selections (Paths of Glory, Au Revoir, Les Enfants, and … Read more
  • Jazz Night School
    This summer I started seeing the flyers around Seattle for Jazz Night School and checked it out. It’s an absolute blast, and I highly recommend for anyone with even basic chops. Our beginning combo met for 10 weeks and then gave a live performance in early December. Almost 30 bands performed over three nights. The … Read more
  • Recapitulation
    Ernst Haeckel’s now-debunked theory of recapitulation claimed that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” which is a mouthful. The idea was that the development (ontogeny) of an embryo somehow mirrors the evolutionary history (phylogeny) of a species. This implies that a human embryo progresses through condensed stages from microbe to fish and so on until becoming a human … Read more
  • Alchemy
    Here’s the thing about studying science: If you stick to the topic itself and keep your attention focused on flowers, insects, crustaceans, lizards, or whatever, you’ll learn all sorts of wild facts about nature and get better at pub trivia, which is its own reward. Where it gets weird and problematic is when you take … Read more
  • How to win a “hold my beer” contest
    Two bros are drinking beer. The first pulls a stunt. The second wants to top it. “Hold my beer.” Before you ask someone to hold your beer, you might want to know why you’re doing it. The “Hold My Beer” game is not unlike HORSE (the basketball game), except that the stakes are higher, with … Read more
  • Evolutionary writing
    It’s difficult to write about evolution. The first problem: What should be common knowledge is still taken as controversial by the (now) minority of those who reject the evidence of evolution. I watched the Evolution, Ecology and Behavior course in 2016, coincidentally the first year that a survey showed that the majority of the American … Read more
  • Calculus
    It’s the first semester of freshman year at Carnegie Mellon. I’m enrolled in Calculus for Science Majors. After the midterm, I skipped a couple of the weekly recitations. Then, when I finally did show up, I looked for my test in a pile of graded assignments. On one midterm, in the space marked, “Name _______”, … Read more
  • The writer we deserve
    Originally published March 2, 2016, Seattle Review of Books. It’s early in the year, time for taking on ambitious, resolution-worthy reading projects, and what better project than The Dying Grass, the latest novel from William T. Vollmann? Vollmann, our young nation’s own Tolstoy. Russia can keep Count Lev Nikolaevich and his high society, literary friends, … Read more
  • The second-biggest schmuck in the world
    Murray’s wife: “Murray, you’re a schmuck. You’re such a schmuck, you’re the second-biggest schmuck in the world.” “Oh yeah?” responds Murray. “Why aren’t I the biggest schmuck in the world?” “Because you’re such a schmuck!” I’ve discovered a pattern in my writing. The galgo, Cervantes’ invisible dog-narrator of Don Quixote. Barsabbas, the alternate juror of … Read more
  • One month of blogging.
    It’s the usual practice for bloggers and independent scholars to pick a favorite topic, whether it’s World War II history or butterflies or anime or prog rock, and circle around it for a lifetime. It’s a time-tested method for gaining expertise, creating blogs, and joining a community. My way is that of Odysseus resisting the … Read more
  • The Trojan Women
    Seattle’s poetry bookstore Open Books: A Poem Emporium has moved to Pioneer Square! And that’s where I met up with my friend Beverly Aarons, creator of Artists Up Close, for one of our expansive chats about writing, art, technology, and the world around us. Beverly knows that I’m a big fan of the talking-dog genre … Read more
  • Drawings, 2015
    Between 2012 and 2014, I took about a dozen drawing classes at Gage Academy of Art, culminating in a trio — Pen & Ink, Composition, and Beginning Color Theory — with Margaret Davidson. Best art teacher I ever had. At the start of class, we’d put our latest work up on the corkboard and take … Read more
  • Lawmakers
    Round him, as if to catch a haul of fish, I cast an impassable net—fatal wealth of robe—so that he should neither escape nor ward off doom. Aeschylus, Agamemnon, line 1380. Robert Greene’s Laws of Power came out the same year I got an MBA. It was in the zeitgeist, and since then it’s become … Read more
  • Tunics
    “As there are no accounts of these events which are independent of Herodotus, a historical reconstruction, as opposed to a validation of all or part of Herodotus’ narrative, is impossible” Figueira, “Herodotus on the Early Hostilities between Aegina and Athens,” The American Journal of Philology 106.1, Spring 1985, 49). The famine in Epidaurus The Epidaurians’ … Read more
  • Testocles
    History has two Testocles. The rich kids from good Athenian families clamored to the fights at the Cynosarges gymnasium, the best fighters in town, always a good show. If you hung around long enough, you’d pummel and grapple and bleed and laugh with the rest. The good Athenian families were distressed to see their sons … Read more
  • Subway Map for Ancient Greek History
    In studying Ancient Greek History, I found it useful to simplify the map.
  • Sunday shoeshine boy
    “I’d be in the gutter, and they’d stand on the sidewalk, and I’d kneel down, and for five cents, I shined their shoes.” Read LEON: A LIFE (Old Convincer Publishing, 2019).
  • Cautionary tales
    Just ten days after watching my first Open Yale Courses lecture, I was talking with Zachary after services and found out that he had studied with Professor Christine Hayes from the Introduction to the Hebrew Bible videos. He invited me to a weekly Talmud study group to talk about whether or not chicken parm is … Read more
  • Swampworld
    I met Stevie on a Sunday summer afternoon outside the T at Kendall Square. She asked me for directions to the movie theater. Sure, I’m headed that way. We walk, we chat. Mind if I join you? We watch the movie, make a date, then another, then more. It was a hot summer, and my … Read more
  • The unelected
    Following the Ascension of Jesus, the apostle Judas “burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18). Peter needed a replacement for the apostleship. Someone else had to take up Judas’ share of the ministry and his position as overseer. In Jerusalem, speaking to a crowd of about 120 believers, Peter … Read more
  • Introduction to the New Testament
    I bought my first Christian Bible at a used bookstore. It felt like buying porn. It was difficult to overcome my reluctance to read the New Testament, almost a superstitious avoidance of a bunch of words on the page. I was only willing to confront the text through the prophylactic of an academic experience, done … Read more
  • The Honeymoon Album
  • “How do you do, fellow kids?”
    Yesterday, I posted a book review from six years ago on Mitchell Duneier’s Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea. Reading old work can be, as the kids say, cringe. And I expect this very post will make me cringe in 2028. My cringeworthy book review contains hip-hop lyrics, extended digressions … Read more
  • If you ain’t ever been to the ghetto
    Originally published at The Seattle Review of Books, June 8, 2016. If you ain’t ever been to the ghettoDon’t ever come to the ghetto’Cause you wouldn’t understand the ghettoAnd stay the **** out of the ghetto “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” (1991), Naughty by Nature Mitchell Duneier’s Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an … Read more
  • Smokey and the Bandit 2027 (a 50th anniversary reboot)
    “In Smokey and the Bandit (1977), the overweight southern cop – so long an image of racialized abuse and white supremacy, and played brilliantly by Rod Steiger in In the Heat of the Night (1967) – became a comic figure who pursued white bandits, not black men or civil rights workers.” Deborah Barker & Kathryn … Read more
  • Don’t Call Me Woke. I’m Sleepless.
    Adapted from 2015 journals “Cast down your bucket where you are.” – Booker T. Washington, 1895. Borrowing a stack of books on African American History. The university librarian at the desk turns deliberately and carefully through all the pages, annotating existing marks. The unspoken message: If you damage these pages, it’s on you. As difficult … Read more
  • Two childhood stories
    “That which is hateful to you do not do to others. All the rest is commentary. Now go and learn.” Hillel The Casio Digital Watch Two months into first grade, our family moved from northeastern Pennsylvania to Montclair, N.J., which had just integrated the school system with busing and magnet schools. I had never met … Read more
  • The weed-out course
    What’s your story? We drove from Pittsburgh to Mazatlan for Spring Break. Four college sophomores in a Jeepster. 7,800 miles in 10 days. Adventure, danger, romance, comedy, la tequila, las drogas, una pistola. No arrests, no fatalities. You want a story? Oh, we’ve got a story. But not yet. What’s your major? I started Carnegie … Read more
  • It all works out, in theory
    Originally published by Seattle Review of Books, February 7, 2018 How do you enter the conversation among generations of Continental philosophers? Learn the lingo — and bring a bodyguard. In The Seventh Function of Language, Laurent Binet depicts the big names in 1980s literary theory — Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Bernard-Henri Lévy — as … Read more
  • Thoughts on AI Art
    Based on “Anonymity of a Murmur” how do you view/what are your thoughts on all the AI art out there? Apostasy X Fnord “Anonymity of a Murmur” was posted on Wednesday, but I’ve already moved on from Foucault and it’s too late to turn back now. But you’re in luck, sister, because we are now … Read more
  • Journals
    Morning pages vs. writer’s journal Susan Sontag, in Against Interpretation, on the function of a writer’s journal: “in them he builds up, piece by piece, the identity of a writer to himself.” In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends “morning pages,” three stream-of-consciousness handwritten pages. What’s the difference between morning pages, the release of thoughts … Read more
  • Drone On
    On my walk, I saw three guys on the field below Kerry Park working a roto-copter drone, or whatever you call these mechanical contraptions. Whatever happened to kites? Not thrilled to have a new source of visual pollution. Drone as the term for a flying machine, also the noise that a machine makes, also the … Read more
  • Anonymity of a Murmur
    “I think that, as our society changes, at the very moment when it is in the process of changing, the author-function will disappear, and in such a manner that fiction and its polysemic texts will once again function according to another mode, but still with a system of constraint—one which will no longer be the … Read more
  • Introduction to Theory of Literature, Part 1
    Lecture 2 Foucault, Barthes, and the death of the author. I am a writer (for hire) of commercial texts. An author of discourses subject to ownership. Am I alive? [Two weeks later.] Lecture 3 Complicated stuff, glad to have a guide. Envisioning a multimedia accompaniment to the ideas of hermeneutic circles and other hard-to-grasp philosophical … Read more
  • One to Many
    Peter Thiel famously asks in interviews: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” The question asks for a belief going against overwhelming popular consensus – for example, Galileo’s support for the Copernican heliocentric universe. How do you answer if you’re not Galileo? An unscientific response to the question would take the … Read more
  • Elephants in the Room
    Now that I’m blogging, I need to publish more often. This poses more than a few challenges. First, I have a certain writing style. I’m picky about my word choices – for example, I would never let “poses more than a few challenges” make it through the ordinary filter. “Ordinary filter,” that’s out too. Cliché, … Read more
  • My Yale Years
    As a high school senior in 1987, I wanted to go to Yale but didn’t have the grades or perfect SATs or the right extracurricular activities or a good application essay or a chance in hell. What I did have was the belief that I belonged with the elite. My belief wasn’t entirely unjustified, as … Read more
  • Track Changes
    A man killed eighteen schoolchildren and a teacher. A man killed nineteen schoolchildren and two teachers. A man murdered nineteen schoolchildren and two teachers. A man of recruitment age murdered nineteen schoolchildren and two teachers. A man of recruitment age used a military weapon to murder nineteen schoolchildren and two teachers. A man of recruitment … Read more
  • Notes on Still-Life Painting
    I took comprehensive notes throughout the 2020-2021 academic year as a student in the Faigin Still-Life Painting Atelier at Gage Academy of Art. You can read edited versions of those notes here.
  • Selected student works
    A selection of paintings created for the 2020-2021 Faigin Still-Life Atelier at Gage Academy of Art.