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TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY FIVE

From Jonathan Lethem’s The Empty Room.

My father created a sign-in sheet at the empty room’s door. My mother spent her afternoons managing it. This was the first thing she complained of when my father slogged in for dinner. If he arrived in time to personally hound kids from the room—always checking to make certain we’d faithfully emptied the space of baseball cards, Archie anthologies, Slim Jim wrappers, what have you—he’d honor us with an arched eyebrow and one of his verbal captions: “Multifarious Doings, I Presume” or “Goings-On, Unspecified, Ensued.” Once, cigarette smoke was detected, the residue of a spontaneous radical act by my friend Mike’s annoying friend Buzz, the empty room now the default hangout for a clan of Darby High boys I hadn’t even particularly wanted to impress. My mother flushed us out, Mike and Buzz to their homes and me to my “real” room. When my father returned, she sent him in for a sniffing tour.

“This fails to pass muster at any number of levels,” he began. “The empty room is like a living organ in our family’s house.” My father’s interpretive monologues were getting arcane. We tuned him out before he’d finished ­articulating nuances of some new policy. “The lung could be seen to be the empty room of the human body, not mere negative space. By filling and emptying with the stuff of the world it stands as the most aspirational ­organ, in a literal sense.” Charlotte, who had hoped to see me dramatically punished, quit the scene in an arm-flapping show of vexation. My mother wandered off.

TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY THREE

Warsan Shirewhat they did yesterday afternoon.

what they did yesterday afternoon

they set my aunts house on fire

i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who use to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY

From a 1965 interview with sculptor Jean Tinguely.

What happens at the base of our civilization is incredible. We go round in circles, there’s no question about that. But insofar as it’s dynamic, we advance. This domination by machine has produced an America that is a mad circus of automated, industrial machinery, such as we’ve not yet seen in Europe. Yet even here we’ve grown oblivious to the fact that in Paris there is such a mass of machinery in the street that one hardly moves. But it will get worse: you’re going to see real madness! This kind of madness preoccupies me, and I think that with my machines I point out the stupidity of the machine; the enormous uselessness of this gigantic effort.

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TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTY NINE

From On Being‘s interview with Adam Grant.

DR. GRANT: So the agreeable people are the nice, friendly, welcoming, polite — and I just assumed if you’re nice to somebody that means you care about them. But there’s this whole class of people who would actually score in the data as disagreeable givers. They might be gruff and tough on the surface. They’re skeptical, critical, and challenging. But at the end of the day, they have other people’s best interests at heart. And they’re actually, in my experience, the most undervalued people in our lives.

[…]

MS. TIPPETT: This one is so interesting because on the surface it’s a little surprising. Then the minute you start thinking about it you think of those people who, as you say, might be gruff or stern in a way that makes you rise to the occasion, but who also have huge hearts. And you always know that. And you’re right, they’re kind of these bedrock people.

DR. GRANT: They are. And there was a software engineer at Google who had a great way of describing them. He said, “Oh, a disagreeable giver is somebody who has a really bad user interface, but a great operating system.”