During the best argument of my life,

1) I provoked my partner.
2) He yelled at me.
3) I thanked him.

More precisely, it went something like this.

One Saturday morning, I bring up the topic of possible weekend hikes.

“In an ideal world, today I would — ”

“Is this plan going to involve both days?” my partner Ben interrupts me immediately.

No wonder I dread suggesting weekend activities… he won’t even let me finish a single goddamn sentence!

“I didn’t say anything about plans! I just want permission to dream!” I explode.

This goes on for a bit…


You’re a pigeon. Embrace it.

Image by Mark E. Bouton (Creative Commons.)

In the 1950s, B.F. Skinner got a pigeon to spend 16 straight hours pecking at a sheet of plexiglass, at an average rate of 2.5 pecks per second. What could have caused this frenzy? Was the pigeon held at gunpoint? Threatened with the murder of its family? Attempting to break the pecking record?

No. It pecked because this action was rewarded with food pellets at random intervals.

Skinner kept other pigeons too, in pellet-dispensing containers that would come to be known as “Skinner boxes.” In the second group, pecking produced food at predetermined time intervals. These pigeons would go about…


Why I love Hyman Bloom’s Paintings

Hyman Bloom’s New York Times obituary opens with a fantastically backhanded compliment.

A mystical and reclusive painter who for a brief time in the 1940s and ’50s was regarded as a precursor to the Abstract Expressionists and one of the most significant American artists of the post-World War II era, died on Wednesday in Nashua, N.H.

How did Bloom turn from art-world darling to apostate? And did he really deserve such a snarky obituary?

If you’ve seen any of Bloom’s goriest paintings, you might be unsurprised, even relieved, to find his art buried in obscurity. “A Matter of Life and…


Humans 101

It’s one of our most innate and reliable guides

“Would you take a pill that removed your boredom forever?”

I almost said “yes.” Boredom is excruciating. Doing nothing — meditating, sunbathing, kicking down the cobblestones — is lovely. Boredom is an unscratchable itch layered on top of that glorious nothing. Who needs that?

I almost said “yes,” but I know the trickery of thought experiments. I hedged: “Yes, if it doesn’t change anything else about my life.”

“Oh, but that’s the point. What do you think it would change?”

Last summer, I wanted to paint this gorgeous view:

As usual before starting a landscape, I tallied the things I…


Zuzanna Ginczanka’s “Non Omnis Moriar”

Zuzanna Ginczanka in 1934.

Zuzanna Ginczanka (born in 1917 as Zuzanna Gincburg) wrote her first poems at the age of 4. By 14, she had found her mature voice. At 19, she was a rising star in Warsaw’s avant garde.

At 27, she was murdered by the Nazis.

Two years before her death, she narrowly escaped capture by the German police, or “Schupo.” She processed her experience in this remarkable poem.¹

Non omnis moriar — my noble estate,
My fields of tablecloth and expansive sheets,
My steadfast wardrobe bastions, still replete
With pastel-colored dresses will outlive me yet.
I left no successor to inherit these
Jewish things. May your…


And other North Korea stories.

Rabbit, with dog for scale. Photo by Stamatisclan.

In 2006, an armored limousine rolled into the driveway of rabbit breeder Karl Szmolinsky. As Szmolinsky recalls, the vehicle contained more or less the entire staff of Germany’s North Korean Embassy.

Szmolinsky prided himself on the size and quality of his beagle-sized rabbits; the North Koreans shared his taste. “22 pounds… 22 pounds!…” one of the visitors kept repeating. The guests explained that they were hoping to purchase some of the rabbits for a breeding program — to help feed starving children in their country. …


Translating a Heartbreaking Poem

Zuzanna Ginczanka. (All images public domain.)

May 1939. These two words say it all: the spring before the war, the calm before the storm. They form the title of a poem written by the brilliant and ill-fated Zuzanna Ginczanka when she was only 22 years old.

May is the month of love — especially when you’re 22. But history doesn’t care about the seasons, and troubling rumors from across the German border disturbed the poet’s romantic reveries. Throughout the piece, three forces — spring, love, and war — are locked in a perfectly balanced dance. For Ginczanka, it is a dance of uncertainty. …


A new type of meditation helped me reshuffle my memories

I’ve been doing a new type of meditation — “therapy” is an equally good word. There’s really nothing to it (all I do is set a 30-minute timer and sit quietly with myself), but the effects have been profound.

What I mean by “sitting quietly with myself” is that I let my attention go wherever it naturally goes, while trying to maintain awareness that I am sitting here, now, in the background. Whenever I notice that I’ve lost that awareness, or that I’m feeling impatient or distracted, I anchor my attention in the sensations in my body, then let it…


Why were the polls wrong in 2016 and 2020?

“Don’t sweat the polls,” The Atlantic reassured us this October. In 2016, forecaster Sam Wang vowed to eat a bug if Donald Trump won — and ended up having to. The memory was still fresh, but in the intervening years pollsters had worked hard to regain our trust. As The Atlantic (and just about every other respectable publication) explained, the 2016 error was due to late deciders and the failure to weight by education. This year, most voters had made up their mind long before the election and pollsters had corrected the weighting mistake. Everything would be fine.

When the…


Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Japan’s last great printmaker, captured the spirit of an age of carnage.

Setting Moon by Tsukioka Yoshitotshi

When Japan opened its borders to trade in the 1850s, inflation, epidemics, riots, murders, executions, and battles ensued. It’s easy to rattle off the sequence of events, tracing chains of political cause and effect, and lose sight of the human dimension of all this carnage. The imagination smooths over the detail, removes individual faces, wipes out the actual blood.

The art of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi puts the blood back in the picture. He was there amidst it all, sketching in the execution grounds and battlefields. His prints zoom in on individual people — beheader as well as beheaded — and condense…

Eve Bigaj

Visual artist following curiosity wherever it leads. I have a Harvard PhD in philosophy. evebigaj.com

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