I hate to contemplate the number of hours I have devoted over the years to trying to beautify myself. Preening is a part of the lives of numerous animals, but the human species, especially females of the human species, have taken the practice to extremes. I wore dungarees from childhood through my twenties, never wore makeup until well into my thirties, and to this day I have never had a manicure or owned a pair of real high heels, so I sometimes pretend that I have not succumbed to the cultural pressure that encourages women to pay unhealthy attention to…


I have been thinking a lot about mortality these days, not morbidly, but with curiosity about what it means to live a life with the uncomfortable, sometimes scary, knowledge that it will certainly come to an end. A recent interview in The Sun with Sheldon Solomon, a psychologist who researches death denial, led me to the work of Ernest Becker, author of, most famously, The Denial of Death. Becker believed that the fear of death is the “mainspring of human activity,” in that it shapes, mostly unconsciously, much of what we choose to do in our lives. …


I began a new novel recently and, while I’ve been contemplating the idea for a while, I’ve had trouble feeling the project is gaining traction. I am questioning whether the idea has sufficient coherence and gravitas, along with the legs for me to complete it. A novelist-friend kids me about being too dogged in exploring ideas that might best be abandoned. I tend to wrangle an idea to the bitter end, insisting on completion, even when I shouldn’t. She, by contrast, has begun and abandoned a couple of novels after feeling she’s written herself into a wall. I always encourage…


I have made the claim recently that talking is my favorite activity, but I am here now to clarify that claim. It isn’t that I love talking to just anyone — although I have been known to engage with random strangers — but that my deep love of talking has to do with interacting with friends. The underlying joy is the give and take, the affirmation of mutual interest and loving. We need a verb for the activity of being a friend that that hasn’t been appropriated by Facebook.

I love the way a friendship gains heft over time, accreting…


I have always adored summer. The sun. The heat. The long lazy days. Visits to lakes and rivers and ocean beaches. Picnics and barbeques with friends. Fresh-from-the-garden vegetables. And vacations — who doesn’t love a vacation? Fantasies of summer get me through the seemingly endless days of winter darkness. I know a few curmudgeonly people who insist that fall, or spring, or even winter is more stimulating than summer, but I’m quite confident that any poll would reveal most people favor summer.

Last week, however, as we passed the solstice and embarked officially on summer, my pleasure was tinged with…


There are few activities I enjoy as much as I enjoy talking. Sitting over dinner with friends and shooting the breeze. Discussing the state of the world, kids, movies, food. I’m open to any subject. A wide-ranging talkfest with friends makes the world seem like a pretty great place to be.

But over the past year talking has become increasingly difficult for me, culminating in a recent diagnosis of ALS — bulbar onset, the kind that robs you of your ability to speak. I still have a voice, but it’s severely compromised; my speech is slow, slurred, monotone. I sound…


I never intended to write a sequel. I’ve always thought of my novels as one-offs, stories that may be open-ended at their conclusion, but still convey the sense on the last page that things are done.

Sequels are for mystery writers and writers of immersive TV series, writers who are masters at spinning plot and canny about imagining character development playing out over time, not for the “literary” writer who often allows her love of language to slow the story’s forward motion. The sequel/series writer must be organized, whereas my writing process is a messy one, not governed by outlines…


THIS IS US

When we interact meaningfully with someone, maybe in some way, we stay connected forever

Photo: Artur Debat/Getty Images

It is the curse of the humanist to want all the laws of science to apply to people too. I confess to being cursed in that way. A few years ago, when I was researching my novel Weather Woman and was reading a lot of science, I became captivated by the theory of entanglement, which refers to the idea that once two particles have interacted they thereafter always respond in relationship to one another, even when far apart. In a 1935 paper, Albert Einstein called the phenomenon “spooky action at a distance.”

Being a person who thinks more about people…


My voice these days emerges sounding like the slow deep rasp of an old woman; occasionally it resembles the high-pitched chirp of a child. It is no longer under my control. Receptionists and clerks raise their voices with me as if I’m deaf or dim-witted. My husband and friends remind themselves to slow down. I try to behave as if this is all normal, but it’s not. When I choose to speak there’s no way of hiding the fact that something is wrong with me.

Having always prided myself on being a nimble speaker, enunciating words crisply and inflecting my…


When I was diagnosed with an untreatable fatal disease two months ago (bulbar-onset ALS), I had the sensation of stepping off a treadmill. There were/are the expected existential thoughts brought on by the imminence of death, but alongside that I became aware of a delightful silver lining — so much didn’t seem to matter anymore! I could say no to so many things I’d never wanted to do in the first place! Having a fatal disease was the perfect excuse for not mowing the lawn, or cooking dinner, or taking out the trash (though I am perfectly mobile and strong)…

Cai Emmons

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