I too am a jackass

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My favorite nativity painting is this piece by Piero della Francesca. It was completed around 1483, long after the larger inventory of the artist’s catalog. It is painted with oils on a panel of wood and, like Piero’s other works, it shows the artist’s meticulous attention to perspective and composition. The painting is currently on display at the National Gallery in London but many believe the artist intended to have it hang in his family chapel near his tomb.

Mental Hygiene

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I’ve become mildly addicted to the campy, corny, classroom social guidance films of the post-war years. These social engineering gems portray the standards of an American society (albeit idealized) so long-gone it may as well be foreign. Yet partly through the philosophy portrayed in mental hygiene films, a couple of generations of American young people were indoctrinated (or not) on subjects as varied as personal grooming, sex education, Communism, and everybody’s Cold War favorite: surviving a nuclear blast with duck-and-cover techniques. In atonal, scripted voices, characters display religious commitment to “fitting in,”“cleanliness and neatness,”and the ominous mantra, “Girls who park in cars with boys are not really popular.” In What Makes a Good Party? there’s not a racy décolleté, beatnik individualist, or hint of postmodern cynicism among the swell teens gathered around the piano. One might wonder if the chaperoning mother contrasted this wholesome tableau with her own wild, Roaring Twenties youth. And me, I’m just a little bit wistful of the whole thing.

In Praise of Boredom

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My daughter spent the night with a friend, swam at the pool the following day, and came home to play video games—and drums—in the basement with three neighborhood boys. After dinner, she met other friends at May Lynn’s ice cream trailer down the road, in the parking lot across from Starbucks. She came home and, still smelling of chlorine, sat on the daybed in pink and white headphones thumbing away at her cell phone. Not thirty minutes later, she tromped into the sunroom where I was reading and pulled her headphones down around her neck.