Fathers & Daughters

When he started releasing hour-long comedy specials ten years ago, Louis C.K.’s material was long on kids, marriage, men and women, and getting older and fatter. These subjects are still a big part of his acts, especially in Louie, but he’s gotten even more traction with observations about our national mood disorder: the irritable, selfish public behavior and private melancholy of Americans in the smartphone age (or sometimes, more specifically, affluent white Americans). He’s most effective when he uses himself as representative American jerk and melancholic.


Wolf on a String

Benjamin Black, the name under which Irish writer John Banville runs his criminal operations, is best known for his Dublin pathologist, Quirke, and the murders and general wickedness that have come the way of that angst-ridden gloomy guts. In Wolf on a String Black abandons Ireland’s dismal postwar years and steps back to the turn seventeenth century, in Prague — thereby revisiting the scene of his progenitor in Banville’s early novel Kepler.

Christian Stern, a young natural philosopher lately of the University of Würzburg, has just arrived at the imperial city, hoping to make his way into the court of Emperor Rudolf II, a man obsessed with the occult. Within hours, however, he is full of schnapps and wandering the streets in the night, whereupon he comes across the body of a murdered woman with her throat ripped out. The next thing he knows he has been charged with the crime, thrown into a dungeon, and questioned: first by the emperor’s high steward, a sinister individual called Felix Wenzel, and then by the steward’s devious, lethally charming rival, the court’s chamberlain, Philipp Lang. (“I had the impression of being circled about and sniffed at by a sleek and gleaming creature — a panther, say, or some such sinuous, burnished beast.”) Christian’s grasp of the occult arts — magic, alchemy, astrology, hermeticism, and the like — combined with one of Rudolf’s recent dreams, wins him not just escape from suspicion but the emperor’s favor and a place in his court. “And so, amid such drama, tumult and outlandish pantomime, began my sojourn in the Capital of Magic.”

Christian’s first assignment is to discover the murderer of the young woman, who, it turns out, was Magdalena Kroll, one of the emperor’s mistresses. Still, when Benjamin Black serves up a dead body, whodunit procedurals take a backseat to evocation of zeitgeist and glimpses how things work behind the scenes. That is the case here, in spades. Living amid the trappings of grandeur, caught in love’s coils (as it happens), and given to “wine-tainted tattle and braggadocio,” Christian neglects the task of discovering Magdalena’s killer, and for a couple of hundred pages the plot has little momentum.

Be that as it may, the reader is kept fully engaged by the felicity of Black’s writing, its intoxicating brio, and, not least, its hint of the eldritch — so fitting in a world infatuated with the occult and illusion. At one point, hearing a dreadful scuffling outside his door, Christian peers out and sees “a low, bent shape hopping and scampering along . . . I could not be sure it was even a human shape. I had the impression, I could not say why, of a large and general gleefulness, as if the night itself had joined with the fleeing creature to make savage fun of me.”

And, indeed, the novel is populated by a cast of exotics and grotesques, some based in history, some entirely fictional: In addition to Wenzel and Lang, there is Serafina, a beautiful religious novice whose tongue has been cut out; the diabolical dwarf, Jeppe Schenckel, who also appeared in Kepler; Girolamo Malaspina, papal nuncio, gourmandizer, and inveterate schemer; Edward Kelley, alchemic fraudster and onetime associate of “the English magus,” John Dee; Caterina Sardo, an aging beauty absent conscience or restraint, who is the emperor’s main mistress and mother of his children; Don Giulio, her weird, exquisitely unsavory son; and Rudolf himself: “His Imperial and increasingly dotty Majesty.” Christian is seduced by and smitten with Caterina, and it fills him with jealous horror to reflect on the conjunction of Rudolf, Caterina, and the unlovely Giulio — by the thought, as Benjamin Black puts it so nicely, “of Rudolf, that fat frog, lowering the great bloodless soft sack of himself down upon my slender Venus and inflicting upon her tender innards the makings of this sickly-looking mooncalf.”

Christian observes early on that he has “always considered the appearance of things to be no more than a gauzy veil behind which a truer reality is covertly and marvelously at work.” Those, of course, are the thoughts of a young Neoplatonist, but, as it happens, they are also those of a young dupe. Eventually Christian begins to have a “deepening sense . . . of being at the center on an intricately devised, immensely subtle and cruelly malicious game.”

And, yes! International intrigue raises its crafty head: The British diplomat and spy Henry Wotton appears on the scene. A perfidious and highly credible conspiracy emerges, as do shocking revelations, one of which is so creepily described that I shall quote it, as no one who has not read the book will understand what it means: “A mandrake root, bristling with tendrils and all caked with marl, its fork entwined about her white and gleaming limbs.” That is so beautifully horrid that I really do hope Benjamin Black will make this period and its fantastical milieu his own for at least a couple more novels.


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The Language of Diane Arbus

To the Editors: In an otherwise characteristically sensitive piece on Diane Arbus, Hilton Als repeats without qualification and as a truism that Diane Arbus “used the word ‘freaks’ to describe [her] subjects….” While often repeated, and in this case possibly unintentional in the implicit breadth of its meaning, nothing could be further from the truth, and the promulgation of the idea harms the reputations of both the photographer and the writer.


How To Control Negative Thoughts: A Practical Approach On How To Suffer Less

It is well-known that thoughts create emotions. But, the full consequences of this fact are largely misunderstood.

Thoughts create emotions. Then, those emotions guide our behavior. For example, the thought “I’m never going to succeed at school, why should I even study?” creates emotional distress. That emotional distress can easily trigger coping behaviors, like binge-watching House of Cards or mindlessly refreshing Instagram every five seconds.

That’s just the beginning of the spiral, though. That where learning how to control negative thoughts become difficult.

After you’ve been binge-watching TV or staring at your cell phone for an hour, you’re going to have a new thought, “Damn, I shouldn’t have wasted an hour on my phone. I’m so stupid. I’ll never pass that class.”

These thoughts create more emotional distress and that leads to more coping behaviors.

But, wait a minute!

Shouldn’t that thought help motivate you to study? Isn’t calling yourself out in an honest way helpful? Don’t you have to fight your way out of stress? If we were completely logical creatures, you’d be right.

Our thoughts don’t directly lead to behaviors. They create emotions which lead to behaviors. This creates a trap that is exceedingly easy for us to fall into.

The first step in this example is the thought, “I should be studying right now.” This creates the sense that we aren’t being productive enough and that we are screwing up. The emotion we feel because of this thought isn’t motivation, but distress.

What do humans do when they feel distressed? Cope. What are the most common coping behaviors used in 21st-century life? Electronic media, food, and drugs.

This is a counter-intuitive idea, but it has very important implications.

In her best-selling book, The Upside of Stress, psychologist Kelly McGonigal writes: “When I speak with physicians, I sometimes ask them to predict the effects of showing smokers graphic warnings on cigarette packs. In general, they believe that the images will decrease smokers’ desire for a cigarette and motivate them to quit. But studies show that the warnings often have the reverse effect.

The most threatening images (say, a lung cancer patient dying in a hospital bed) actually increase smokers’ positive attitudes toward smoking. The reason? The images trigger fear and what better way to calm down than to smoke a cigarette? The doctors assumed that the fear would inspire behavior change, but, instead, it just motivates a desire to escape feeling bad.”

This pattern is a lot like psychological quicksand. As soon as we have a negative thought, like “I should be studying or I shouldn’t be eating this pint of delicious Cherry Garcia Ice Cream.”, our instinct to fight it gives that negative thought more emotional charge. That emotional charge is expressed as an increased feeling of distress which makes us think even more negatively. And, before long, our head is beneath the sand and we’re suffocating from what was originally just a relatively benign negative thought.

Break Free

break free

Negative thoughts create negative emotions and that leads to negative behaviors.

This is an extremely frustrating pattern that can easily affect our behaviors and the quality of our lives. The solution isn’t to learn how to think more positively or to learn how to control your emotions. The solution is much more obvious than the traditional approaches, yet it is also more elusive.

To escape the vicious cycle of negative thinking, you must accept the negative thought as it is. Just like in a quicksand, to stop sinking, you must stop fighting it and be still. With negative thoughts, you must learn to compassionately accept them as they are.

Once you learn to accomplish this effectively, you will still have negative thoughts. However, they will drift away like clouds on a gentle breeze instead of darkening into a storm of emotional suffering.

See Also: 5 Steps To Release Bottled Emotions And Live Happier

The root of our suffering is our belief that we can (or even should) eliminate negative thoughts and emotional pain. The thought that suffering is ‘bad’ or ‘negative’ is already a negative thought by itself. This way of thinking makes stress a trigger for more stress.

To escape this spiral of stress and suffering that we get trapped in, we must learn to relate to our thoughts differently. Modern psychologists have developed effective strategies to accomplish this.

In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, cognitive fusion is a state in which we become entangled with our thoughts and we lose the ability to distinguish between thoughts and objective reality. Author Russ Harris says, “In a state of fusion, a thought can seem like: 1. the absolute truth 2. a command you have to obey or a rule you have to follow.”

The solution to cognitive fusion is learning cognitive defusion. According to Harris, “This is where we can observe our thoughts and see them for what they are – just products of our busy minds.”

There are numerous strategies that can help us achieve cognitive defusion. Here, I’m going to focus on one that is both easy-to-use and highly effective.

Labeling is a mindfulness technique that allows us to defuse from our thoughts. It helps us identify our thoughts as subjective opinions, instead of objective facts. I recommend practicing labeling as a dedicated daily meditation practice (5-15 minutes to start). This will help you build it into a natural thought habit.

How to practice labeling

practice labeling

Either during a sitting meditation or anytime throughout the day, notice your thoughts. For example, you might notice you have the thought, “I don’t want to be meditating right now, I have more important things to do.”

To label this thought, simply tell yourself, “I am having the thought that I don’t want to be meditating right now.”

If you are having the thought “I am too tired to work right now”, label it by telling yourself, “I am having the thought that I am too tired to work right now.”

Labeling also works with sensations and emotions. For example, “I am having the sensation of tightness in my neck,” or “I am having the feeling of anxiety.”

The practice is fairly uncomplicated and making it into a habit won’t take long. Of course, the more you practice this during dedicated meditation, the more you will naturally label your thoughts in your day-to-day life.

Labeling won’t eliminate your negative thoughts or emotional pain and it doesn’t have to. The point of labeling is learning to become aware of your thoughts so that pain does not need to become suffering.

Have your efforts to eliminate negative thoughts or emotional pain ever panned out? After years of struggling against pain, has it become clear that the traditional approach of coping through escapism or self-punishment doesn’t work? Maybe fighting pain just creates more pain.

Experiment with this technique and notice if it affects how you relate to your thoughts. Do they become louder or quieter? More invasive or easier to manage?

You may find that once you start to create distance from your thoughts (without trying to change them), that they affect you less.

You may notice that you still have the thought, “I’m never going to succeed in school, there’s no point in studying,” and that thought may still be painful. But, the thought isn’t you now. It’s just a thought and the pain is just pain.

You may notice that you are now able to accept stress as something that happens. Now, you can experience it without needing to avoid it through coping. You may notice that your thoughts and pain no longer spiral into stress and suffering. As a result, the quicksand no longer sucks you in. You’re able to surrender to it and you can finally be free.

See Also: 3 Simple Steps to Balance Your Emotional State

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Soldiers to Students: The G.I. Bill’s Legacy


Sometimes Cheryl and I talked about her seven months, about the wives left behind, about her family, her job, her boss. Sometimes she’d ask little questions. Sometimes I’d answer. And glad as I was to be in the States, and even though I hated the past seven months and the only thing that keep me going was the Marines I served with and the thought of coming home, I started feeling like I wanted to go back. Because fuck all this.

from “Redeployment,” the title story in Phil Klay’s award-winning 2014 collection

The G.I. Bill (formally, the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act) was signed into law on June 22, 1944. Regarded as one of the most successful and far-reaching political measures in postwar America, the G.I. Bill provided a range of financial and educational support, and over the next decade almost 9 million veterans went to college or into training programs. When those veteran-students joined the workforce, getting the skilled jobs needed to support their growing families, the nation’s economic and social landscape was transformed. This portrait of the Greatest Generation, proudly returned from war and pursuing unlimited opportunities, is sometimes offered (for example in Suzanne Mettler’s Soldiers to Citizens) as the last available snapshot of a cohesive nation striding confidently towards domestic prosperity and international power.

Phil Klay served in the Marines, and after returning from Afghanistan used the G.I. Bill to get a degree in creative writing. His Redeployment transforms raw experience into fiction; in See Me for Who I Am we get the raw experience itself, as told by others who have studied under the G.I. Bill. The collection is the product of a veterans-only freshman seminar taught by David Chrisinger, a lecturer at University of Wisconsin−Stevens Point. Chrisinger describes the work of his student-veterans as an attempt to bridge the soldier-civilian divide by describing “what it’s actually like to be in the military, to go to war, and to come home.” In “The Fires That Mold Men into Weapons,” Chase Vuchetich traces his decision to enlist to his childhood memory of “sitting next to my dad at his reloading bench, where he would make ammunition and listen to George Thorogood and the Destroyers’ ‘Bad to the Bone.’ ” For a ten-year-old with a “warrior class” childhood, the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center felt like “someone had just poured gasoline on my pile of wood.” He dropped out of high school in his junior year to join the Marines and was soon in Sangin, Afghanistan, his education there beginning with a late-night seminar from the soldiers he and the others were replacing — survivors going home the next day, giving a crash course in survival to the new recruits:

“I want you guys to understand.” He stared at the wall as the lights on our headlamps flickered. “You might have to kill women and children . . . Can you do that?” His fire was out; even with the light on his face, his eyes were black as if there was no soul left inside. He was twenty-one years old. His clothes were filthy and tattered. Although he couldn’t grow much more that a ratty mustache, he looked like an old man, tired and beaten down

In Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger cites anthropological and behavioral evidence indicating that the most important factor in the readjustment process is not how a soldier responds to what he did in war but how his society responds to his return. The process of transitioning from a close-knit platoon back to life at home requires “social resilience” — a network of meaningful social connections, readily available in some communities (Junger offers kibbutz settlements in Israel as an example) but hard to find in America:

Resources are not shared equally, a quarter of children live in poverty, jobs are hard to get, and minimum wage is almost impossible to live on. Instead of being able to work and contribute to society — a highly therapeutic thing to do — a large percentage of veterans are just offered lifelong disability payments.

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Wonderful House Located in Indian Creek Designed by Studio MK-27

This wonderful home overlooking the surrounding canals is located in Indian Creek, a wealthy village in Miami-Dade County, Florida, USA. In its spacious exterior it has a swimming pool where we can swim with a variety of fish and enjoy in a different and unique way, a 200-foot-long bridge over the lagoon which leads us to the home’s entrance, and a dock space to accommodate a 90-foot-long yacht. It is..


Within sight of New York City skyscrapers, Jamaica Bay Wildlife…

Within sight of New York City skyscrapers, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge is an 18,000-acre wetland estuary surrounded by the Rockaway Peninsula to the south, Brooklyn to the west, and Queens to the east. An area almost equal to the size of Manhattan, the bay consists of numerous islands, a labyrinth of waterways, meadowlands and two freshwater ponds. The refuge provides an accessible and unique environment for both wildlife and urban recreation. Photo by Micael Fano (http://ift.tt/18oFfjl).

How To Overcome Obstacles: 5 Ways On How To Be A Conquerer

To stress you out beyond your normal limits with extreme mental and physical challenges to make you worthy of serving with the world’s most elite fighting force. This is the simple principle of the US Navy SEALS.

But, don’t confuse simple with easy. In order to be one the greatest warriors on the planet, you must conquer the obstacles in front of you. If you only endure, you will become just another failed statistic.

During BUD/S training, the most iconic and demanding event is Hell Week. Candidates are put through extremely rigorous exercises for 5 days straight with less than a few total hours of sleep. Activities will include running, swimming, paddling, push-ups, sit-ups, rolling in the sand and log PT.

Out of approximately 40,000 Navy recruits a year, only 250 (or less than 1%) actually possess the mental and physical toughness necessary to make it through Hell week and become a SEAL.

How To Overcome Obstacles

It isn’t always the largest and strongest men or the fastest swimmers or runners that complete the training. It’s most often those who have the strongest will and a burning desire to not give up. Champions know that the only way to the finish line isn’t going around the obstacle but through it.

And the same goes in the real world.

Obstacles, struggles, and sufferings are inescapable and are very real in the human experience. The simulated harsh conditions of Navy SEAL training parallel the authentic harsh episodes of real life. Successful Navy SEAL candidates feed off of the intensity, employ mental toughness, resist the seeds of doubt and are relentless about finishing.

And like the SEALS, in order to navigate through a real chapter of suffering, you must use obstacles as leverage instead of shackles holding you from success.

In the depth of suffering, it is often the difference between conquering and enduring that determines the outcome of either breakthrough or breakdown. Enduring is passive, indifferent, weak and unintentional. Conquering is meticulous, purposeful and intentional. A champion’s mindset is all about conquering obstacles rather than simply enduring in hopes of making it through.

So, how do you become a warrior? Here are 5 ways to be a conquerer and not an endurer.

Be happy during the bad times as you would the good times

In a speech for the PGA Tour rookies, Tom Kite recapped the idea of “loving what you do all the time” perfectly. From the book, How Champions Think by Bob Rotella, we get a snapshot of what Tom said:

“If you’re going to play on the Tour, you have to love golf all the time,” he said. “It’s not going to work if you can only love it when everything’s going your way, every putt’s going in the hole, and every carom is bouncing into the fairway instead of out of bounds. It’s not going to work if you practice every day and only love it when the ball is going where you’re looking. You’ve got to love it when you practice day after day and you can’t find it. You’ve got to love it when every putt looks like it’s going in and then lips out. That’s what it’s about.” (How Champions Think, Bob Rotella).

When you land your dream job, you have to appreciate the bad days as much as the good days. When you find the greatest person on earth and want to spend the rest of your life with them, you take them in their most pristine condition and weather the storm with them when times get rough.

Know what you can control and what you cannot

thomas edison

In the early hours of December 10th, 1914, an explosion shook the city of West Orange, NJ. Thomas Edison’s factory was immediately engulfed in flames. Despite the joint effort of several fire departments, the blaze was too powerful and decades of work was destroyed in a fiery instant.

And how did Edison respond to this?

According to a Reader’s Digest article, Edison walked over to his son, Charles and said “Go get your mother and all her friends. They’ll never see a fire like this again.”

Even though Edison was almost 70 years old and a lifetime of work was destroyed in minutes, he told a New York Times reporter that he would start rebuilding the very next day…and that’s exactly what he did. He realized he had no control over the situation and chose to work with the given circumstance and not fight against it.

It’s all about perspective. Edison’s perspective on the situation grounded him in the reality that there was absolutely nothing he could do at this time other than to rebuild. The damage was already done.

See Also: 7 Amazing Success Lessons from Thomas Edison

“It’s impossible to be angry and in a state of gratefulness at the same time.” -A Defined Life

How many times have you been in a situation, where a relatively-speaking, contextual thought should alter how you respond?

If your internet is slow on your phone, at least you have a phone equipped with up-to-date 21st-century technology. If your clothes are wrinkled in the morning, at least you have nice clothes to wear, let alone a job to go to. And if you are late to work and behind a really slow driver, at least you won’t get cited for speeding.

Viewing obstacles and struggles through the proverbial “could be worse” lens allows you to see the situation relative to someone who does not have your luxuries. It also sheds a sobering light on your life by grounding you in gratitude. It’s impossible to be angry and in a state of gratefulness at the same time.

See Also: One Awesome Tip On How To Shift Perspective

Focus on the little things

When the burden seems overwhelming or insurmountable, it is easy to give into the temptation of giving up. But the paralyzing situation you are in is almost, all the time, reducible to smaller parts. When you focus on tackling the fundamental elements of the situation, you can carve out a path to ultimate victory.

Henry Clay, a famous American orator and lawyer, was once approached by an illiterate man after giving a rousing speech. The admiring gentleman admitted to Clay that he could not read, but desperately wanted to be like him. Clay grabbed the young man and pointed to an “A” in his name on a poster and said, “That’s an A. Now you’ve only got 25 more letters to go.”

Defeating the obstacle in front of you is always manageable if you just start somewhere and focus on one thing at a time. Today it may be the letter “A” and only the letter “A”. Tomorrow or even next week, it may be the letter “B”.

We all want it to be over. But, saturating yourself in wishful thinking will cause you to never start the conquest or, even worse, cause you to fail to chisel your character and strengthen your essence. Every micro conflict of the whole is a teachable moment for you to learn and sharpen other areas of your life.

Know there is always a way out. Be an overcomer.

way out

If your relationship is your identity, when it’s gone, so are you. If your job is your identity, when it’s gone, so are you. And if your identity or self-worth is wrapped up in something outside of your own existence or purpose, then you too will perish when those things fail.

Suffering is non-discriminant that it does not care how you came to meet it. There isn’t a more conservative version of suffering. If you want to win the war on suffering, you must first see yourself as an ascendant being with an independent meaning, where everything in your life is your responsibility.

If you approach your suffering knowing that you are an overcomer, you will overcome. It’s all about winning in your mind first and then taking action. As you fight, never forget who you are…an overcomer and nothing less than that.

Here is a way to illustrate the point.

With boiling water, you can create steam. With pressurized steam, you can power engines and turbines through mechanical work. This was part of a composite of revolutionary ideas that literally changed the landscape of our human experience. But, in order for water to turn to steam, it has to reach the exact temperature of 212 degrees. If 212 degrees is not achieved, then there is no high-pressurized steam, no mechanical work, no engine or turbine turning. In essence, there’ll be no Transcontinental Railroad or electricity to power millions of homes. 211 degrees, a simple 1-degree cooler, is really hot, but it won’t bring water to a boil.

The same is true of your identity. If you identify as an overcomer and nothing less, then you are an overcomer. This must be nonnegotiable. You must be relentless in this identity. Any moments of weakness will result in you crumbling and submitting to the obstacle in your life. The overcomer never taps out because they know there is always a way out.

Find meaning in your suffering

What if this thing that keeps you up at night affects how you interact with people, sustains your stress level and negatively influences your self-worth, is actually critical in strengthening you?

When meaning and purpose is found in one’s suffering, the conditions in which the struggle occurs are mutated in your favor. Instead of being held hostage by this ominous scenario, you ransom the situation for a net gain of self-betterment. You’re already suffering, you might as well get something out of it.

Nobody illustrates the need to find meaning in suffering better than Viktor Frankl. As a Holocaust survivor and world-renowned psychiatrist, it was a defined purpose and meaning-through-suffering that literally kept him alive among the prisoners around him who surrendered to the call of death.

For Frankl, the thought of seeing his wife again and finishing his lifework as a psychiatrist motivated and armored him for the battles he would go through each day. Thus, he found meaning in suffering in one of the worst events someone could possibly experience. As the conditions of the camp worsened and those around him gave up, his determination to survive intensified, simply because “the human life, under any circumstances, never ceases to have meaning.” (Frankl)

“Despair is suffering without meaning.” -Viktor Frankl


This is the most important part of the message. If you don’t get anything out of this post, at least marinate on this thought.

You must not lose hope or courage. Fight through the struggle like somebody else’s life depends on it. Somewhere, a spouse, child, relative or someone you don’t personally know is counting on you. It’s not enough to endure the situation; some very important people in your life depend on you conquering it. That’s where you start learning how to overcome obstacles.

Just like the mission of the US Navy SEALS who are responsible for carrying out the most dangerous operations for the welfare of others, you are responsible for sustaining and providing positive living conditions for others, too.

Failure is not an option.

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Contemporary Apartment Designed by Geometrium in Moscow, Russia

This contemporary apartment, located in Moscow, Russia, and covering an area of 72.4 square meters, was designed by the architectural firm Geometrium. It was designed with a family with three children in mind, two of them already older and living on their own, while the smallest still lives at home. It consists of three social areas – living room, dining room, and kitchen – as well as a Master bedroom..