I’ve worked with some excellent teachers over the years, but migraine headaches have taught me more about meditation than any of them.
I was 13 when I had my first migraine. The pain and nausea were unbearable. My worried mother took me to a pediatrician, who referred me to an optometrist, who referred me to a neurologist, who prescribed medicine that didn’t work. Fast forward a few decades, several doctors, and many drugs later—I still get migraines.
How do you distinguish between self and other? That’s the question Dr. Karine Gibbs, an Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology at Harvard, is trying to answer. Using the bacterium Proteus mirabilis as a model, Gibbs and colleagues are working to understand how bacteria discriminate self from non-self.
P. mirabilis is the culprit in most catheter-related urinary tract infections (UTIs). But UTIs aren’t the bacteria’s only talent. When migrating as a swam across a surface, populations of the bacteria display a remarkable phenomenon: swarms of the same strain merge, while swarms of different strains form a visible boundary between each other. This behavior suggests that P. mirabilis swarms are capable of self vs. non-self recognition leading to territoriality .
Looking for the molecular mechanisms underlying this ability, the Gibbs lab has identified a set of genes in P. mirabilis that encodes the components necessary for self vs. non-self recognition. Martha Henry sat down with Dr. Gibbs in her office in Harvard’s BioLabs to talk about the work.
Joy Ladin is a poet and Gottesman Professor of English at Stern College of Yeshiva University. In 2007, after living as a man for 46 years, Ladin transitioned from male to female, changing her name from Jay to Joy. She and her wife of over twenty years divorced. Ladin’s memoir, Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders, chronicles her life of gender dysphoria and eventual transition. She is the author of seven books of poetry, including Transmigration (2009) and Impersonation (2015). She talked to Martha Henry by phone in early May.
As her brain began to shut down during her stroke, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, a neuroanatomist and spokeswoman for the Harvard Brain Bank, was fascinated by the process. The stroke left her unable to speak, walk, or remember anything about her former self. She became, in effect, a 37-year-old newborn. Once her condition stabilized, surgeons removed a golf-ball-sized clot from her brain. That was in 1996. Bolte Taylor spent the next eight years recovering and creating a new self. Her poignant TED Talk, My Stroke of Insight, went viral in 2008. Martha Henry reached her by phone at her home in Indiana.
At Harvard Medical School, all first-year students are required to take the Gross Anatomy Lab, part of “The Human Body” course. A few of my journalist friends were auditing the class, so I asked to come along. I wanted to get close to death, but in a clinical sort of way. Continue reading Holding Brains
When searching for brains images, I was surprised to discover how many artists are creating quirky, compelling pieces using yarn and thread. Here’s my idiosyncratic gallery of The Best Neuro Needlework out there.
A childhood game that now seem like a precursor to meditation.
As a kid, long car rides in my family were a time of constant bickering, pinching, and tickling between my brothers and me. To keep themselves sane, my parents would separate us. Douglas, though the middle child, got the front seat, where he was less likely to get carsick and to puke. Or that was the theory. I often thought he faked it so he could keep that prime position between my parents. Donald, the oldest, got the back seats to himself. As the youngest, I got the far back of the station wagon, what we referred to as the way-way back. This was understood to be the worst place because there wasn’t enough room to sit up. In truth, I liked it because I could stretch out and sleep. Yet I always acted as if it were uncomfortable, collecting whatever points I could for my way-back martyrdom.
On February 22, 1999, John F. Simon, Jr. created the first drawing for a daily practice that continues to this day. He began with the intention of observing his unspoken rules for visual improvisation. A computer artist at the time, he hoped to define and code those rules into drawing software. He failed at that task, but in the process and over 5,000 drawings later, discovered something much more interesting
John F. Simon, Jr. is a visual artist and software programmer. He was born in Louisiana in 1963. His father was a lawyer, his mother a mathematician. Simon eared undergraduate degrees in Studio Art and Geology from Brown University, a Masters in Earth and Planetary Sciences from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MFA in Computer Art from the School of Visual Arts in New York.
His work can be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. He helped design the world’s first app album for Björk, called Biophilia.
John F. Simon, Jr. and Martha Henry talked by phone.
One key to feeling good: frequent exercise. It’s hard to feel depressed when you’re pushing yourself physically. Though I know this is true, I have to keep reminding myself—have to keep clambering back on the wagon I so frequently fall off of.
It’s the beginning of winter and crunch time at work and so many other excuses for not doing anything. I got to the gym on Saturday, stepped on the elliptical, and set my modest goal of a half hour. By inputting 30 minutes into the machine’s touchpad, I created a digital manifestation of my intention. There it was out there for me (and the nosey woman on the adjacent machine) to see. I’d created a measurable objective that I could either fulfill or fail.
It wasn’t exactly me against the machine. It was the machine as me at the start of my workout. About 18 minutes into the program, I was tired and felt like quitting. The machine reminded me of my original intention. I don’t like to disappoint, even if would just be disappointing earlier self masquerading as a Precor Adaptive Motion Trainer, so I kept going.
My iPod was playing kitschy songs on my cardio playlist: “Jive Talkin’” and “Dance This Mess Around.” At the end of 30 minutes, WORKOUT COMPLETE flashed in green LED letters on the elliptical display. I stepped off the machine, huffing, sweating and feeling a little bit fine. A little free.
I honestly believe a good haircut is one of the keys to mental health. That’s why I wanted to talk to Brad Taylor, my articulate hair stylist at Pyara Spa & Salon .
Martha Henry: Do many of your clients come in with a photo of a celebrity and ask for that hairstyle?
Brad Taylor: Yes, all the time.
Do you get the feeling that they want the celebrity’s lifestyle as well as their hair?
Yes, they look at this picture and say, oh, their hair is so beautiful, but what they really mean is that the celebrity is so beautiful and they think that once they have this hair style or cut or color or whatever, they’ll look like that celebrity. A lot of people think that if they have Kim Kardashian’s hair, all of a sudden they’re going to be this socialite. A trick that we do is cover the person’s face and ask them if they still like the haircut. A lot of people’s answers change.