Does the Self Have a Gender? Q&A with Joy Ladin

Joy Ladin
Joy Ladin, photo by Liz Denlinger

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.

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Access to Bliss: Q&A with Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

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.

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Neuro Needlework

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.

Brainy BarbieBrain Barbie, photo by Simmone Spring, from her Etsy shop, Your Organ Grinder

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Under the Overpass

A childhood game that now seem like a precursor to meditation.

fox car at higgins
The author, looking on in striped shirt, as her cousins load their station wagon.

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.

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Self-Observation Through Drawing

The Daily Practice of John F. Simon, Jr.

Drawing 1.25.2015
Drawing 1.25.2015

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.

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Outsourcing Discipline

Giant sneakerOne 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.

13 Questions for Brad Taylor

How Your Stylist Enhances Your Sense of Self

brad_3
Brad Taylor

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.

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How Should a Person Be?

graffiti girl on a swing“For years I asked it of everyone I met. I was always watching to see what they were going to do in any situation, so I could do it too. I was always listening to their answers, so if I liked them, I could make them my answers too. I noticed the way people dressed, the way they treated their lovers—in everyone, there was something to envy. You can admire anyone for being themselves. It’s hard not to, when everyone’s so good at it.”

Sheila Heti, How Should a Person Be?