Century Marks

Century Marks

Seismic experience

In 1906, the year of the big earthquake in San Fran­cisco, William James was teaching at Stan­ford. The famous Harvard psychologist-philosopher awoke the morning of April 18 and felt the bed “waggle,” as he put it later. After checking on his wife Alice, he made his way into the center of San Francisco to observe firsthand what was happening—which he considered thrilling and uncontrollable—and to talk to people about what they were experiencing. At the end of the next day his journal entry read, “Talked Earthquake all day” (Susan Engel, The Hungry Mind, Harvard University Press).


Max Villatoro, 41, came to this country in 1995 from his native Honduras. In 1999 he was arrested for drunk driving. He turned his life around, got married, had four children, and became a Mennonite pastor in Iowa City. Despite trying for years to get legal status, he was recently taken into custody and sent back to Honduras, separating him from his family and congregation. Villatoro’s lawyer, who has worked many similar cases, says he has never seen so many people petitioning for one of his clients. The advocacy didn’t stop Immigration and Customs Enforcement from going against President Obama’s commitment to deport “felons, not families” (KCRG.com, March 20).

Location, location

Auto insurance is often higher in zip codes with large numbers of minorities. California has re­pealed a law allowing the practice, although many like it are still in force elsewhere. The practice makes geography more important than driving record in setting rates. Inner-city drivers are in effect subsidizing the premiums of suburban and rural drivers (Foreign Affairs, March/April).

Imagine it

When Toni Morrison taught creative writing at Princeton University, all her students had been told in previous classes to write about what they knew. She said to forget that advice because first, they didn’t know anything yet, and two, she didn’t want to read about their experiences. She told them to imagine people outside their own experience, such as a Mexican waitress in Rio Grande who could barely speak English. It was amazing what these students came up with, Morrison said, when they were given license to imagine something outside their realm of experience (American Theatre, March 10).

Cleave to it

When Andrew Solomon was preparing for a literary career, a friend put him in touch with a well-known British biographer. The biographer agreed to meet with Solomon to talk about his future. He was expecting to get advice like this: “You must call so-and-so at this number and say I suggested it and he will publish you and give you loads of money.” Instead, the biographer said: “I have only one piece of advice for you. Have a vision and cleave to it” (New Yorker, March 11).