My first song. I’m not much at melodies; typically I have lyrics that I struggle mightily to coerce a tune around. I believe that’s the exact opposite approach of most successful songwriters.View Pictures in the Clouds
I think Springsteen said once that the only time he’d used a rhyming dictionary was for Blinded By The Light. Similarly, the only sentiment behind these lyrics was to play off the Robert Service–esque rhyme scheme.View No One Like Alice
Sad how easy it is to update this song, by switching “Syria” for “Lebanon.” Although not many WWII vets are left to fill the shoes of the first protagonist. Still, there must be another justified war to reference instead. Right?View The Good Old Days
OK. Let’s start with basics: What is right? A few centuries ago, the above question would have been enough to start the search for an ethical system. Modern philosophy, of course, is much more devious, and backsteps to an even more basic question: Is there such a thing as “right”?View On Morality
In the beginning—as far as we know—there was nothing [Note 1]. And then, roughly 15 billion years ago, the greatest event in the history of the universe happened. This occurrence was so important and so wonderful that humans call its cause God and often ascribe intelligence to it.View Ethics Esthetica
To the Right Highly-Esteemed Misunderstood Undoubtedly-Noble Maharajah of Meaning and Ameer of Angst—
Someday our correspondence will constitute Appendix A of one or both of our Collected Works. (Properly edited, of course.) While it’s always nice to get mail, there’s no adventure quite like reading an S. Williams epistle. Just wanted to let you know that I do appreciate your injections of metaphysical quandary and Socratic examination.
But trying to answer them!View On Nobility
This is one of my favorite plays, which (coming from a theater major) is saying a lot. It can be a bit obscure, though, so when I recommended it to my mother-in-law I jotted down a few notes.View The Annotated Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
In 1976, I celebrated my 6th birthday while my native country celebrated its 200th. It was many years before I realized that one of us had been somewhat premature. The truth is that in 1776, the United States was only an idea. The legal basis of government—the Constitution—would not go into effect until 1789. It was in that latter year also that the first regular session of Congress met, that George Washington was inaugurated as our first president, and that the Supreme Court was created. Surely, then, the United States should consider 1789 to be its year of birth. Yet there was no bicentennial celebration in 1989.View Constitution 2.0
The framers of the new United States knew exactly what the country should be—or at least not be; the Declaration of Independence is, in fact, a long list of grievances the Colonies had with England. Mixed with a few recent political ideas of the Enlightenment, their vision led to a brilliant experiment in democracy that has forever changed the relationship of a people to its leaders.View On Government
“The movie which I saw last week was terrific!” “The movie that I saw last week was terrific!” You might think the sentences above are just two different ways of saying the same thing—but only one is grammatically correct. The distinction arises because words, phrases, and clauses can be restrictive (essential to the sense of the sentence) or nonrestrictive. It’s really quite simple. (Cue sadistic, maniacal laughter in background.)View The Difference Between “That” and “Which”
For years, the best man at my wedding said he hated “The Birthday Song” and never wanted people to sing it to him. So one year we were challenged to write a new song that he couldn't complain about. Music maestro Aaron Gee-Clough composed some music, and I bashed out the lyrics.View Jacob’s Birthday Song
To copy editors, the “serial comma” refers to separation of listed elements (in a series, get it?). Specifically, the final comma in the construction “I like apples, pears, and oranges.” Somewhere along the line, newspaper editors who were obsessed with saving space decided the final comma was redundant. Today, the serial comma is omitted more often than not.View Viva la Serial Comma!
My friend Andrei, from Moscow School No. 45, got married in September 2007. Since his American wife's family was mostly from Massachusetts, the wedding was held in Salem. Large bride's party; smaller groom's party able to make the trip from Russia. I wanted to bring a little balance to the reception, so I toted along my 6-string and was allowed to serenade the couple with the old Russian standby Подмосковные вечера (Moscow Nights). Back in the mid-1980s, the opening bars were used by the Moscow radio station to introduce the evening news.View Translating Moscow Nights
I’m not fluent in French, but when I heard the original Jacques Brel song on which the 1973 pop hit “Seasons in the Sun” was based, I could tell it was a very different song. I was surprised to discover that the lyrics translation had been done by famous poet Rod McKuen. How could he have gone so far astray in his translation?View Translating Le Moribond
I've often been asked about my favorite books, a question that defies a succint answer. But I certainly have many best-loved books, so I thought I'd share them here. I'll post them in three lists: favorite books for children, favorite fantasy & science fiction books, and other fiction and nonfiction favorites. This first list covers children's literature.View My Favorite Books for Children
Part 2 of my favorite book lists—the fantasy and science fiction edition.View My Favorite Fantasy and Science Fiction Books
Third and final list of books, this time covering general fiction and nonfiction.View My Other Favorite Books
The first installment of a project I've been kicking around for (mumble, mumble). Ok, yes, I said decades.View The Great Secrets
Sadly, Web layout and typography doesn't quite live up to my standards for print. And maybe you prefer to read everything in one place, instead of scattered across multiple pages. So I'll be updating this PDF alongside the Web version of The Great Secrets.View The Great Secrets (PDF)
Over the next few weeks we settle into a simple routine. I bring in books to read—children’s books mostly, which are easy to read aloud and often wiser than their grown-up counterparts. Although Ashoka still can’t summon the details of his forgotten tryst, he stops worrying about it.
—Here you are, I say, handing Ashoka his ticket for the express train. —Your pass to Boston.
—And why are we going to Boston?
—Then what’s the ticket for?
Journeys & Destinations: Labyrinth image based on the design of the St. Lambertus Church labyrinth in Mingolsheim, Germany.
Knowledge & Judgment: James Gordon Bennett Monument silhouette created from a photograph © Ad Meskens / Wikimedia Commons.View Image Credits