When Leo Tolstoy wrote ‘Anna Karenina,’ he was drawing on a local real-life tragedy: a young woman, jilted by her lover, threw herself under a train in despair. But he also drew on something more personal: His married sister had an adulterous affair and an illegitimate child. She was abandoned by her lover, who left her to marry another woman. She grew desperate and suicidal and wrote anguished letters to her brother. Did Tolstoy have the right to tell her story? He changed it to suit his literary needs, and used her desperation for his own purposes. But what were those purposes?

I don’t think Tolstoy was exploiting his sister, quite the reverse. I think he was voicing his own pain and desperation. He was driven, not by a narcissistic urge for literary gain, but by deep empathy for his sister. His response was not, “I can use this,” but “I can’t bear this.” Writing was a way to relieve his own pain. This was a deeply compassionate response.

Empathy is the opposite of exploitation. It’s empathy that allows a writer to feel her way into someone else’s experience. A great writer like Tolstoy will feel a character’s life as his own; he’ll enter fully into that consciousness, and his responses will reverberate through his work. A great writer will use a narrative because she finds it moving, or compelling, troubling or heartbreaking or exhilarating. What drives her is empathy, not voyeurism.

Roxana Robinson, NYTimes


Holding this soft, small living creature in my lap this way, though, and seeing how it slept with complete trust in me, I felt a warm rush in my chest. I put my hand on the cat’s chest and felt his heart beating. The pulse was faint and fast, but his heart, like mine, was ticking off the time allotted to his small body with all the restless earnestness of my own.

Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (via observando)


My mother shows me the callouses on her hands from stripping tobacco plants. We walk to the barn where she hung stakes of leaves to dry. She points to where they kept hay for the cattle, and across the barbed wire fence to the rising bend of the herding road. She looks to the horizon when telling me how their noses froze to the ground in winter, and her father stayed out all night freeing them from the earths hold. I have Tennessee clay in my veins. The dirt where my Grandfather rests is under my nails, under my feet, and in my mind. We plant corn that summer and I let it crumble between my fingers, watching for the green leaves and waiting for cracked callouses to grow.

The Cook Myth: Common Tattoo History Debunked

Cook’s voyages and the subsequent dissemination of text and image about the tattoos observed and acquired abroad certainly mark a pivotal moment in the increasing visibility of tattoos on Europeans. But visibility does not necessarily equal presence—the burgeoning print culture that coincides with Cook’s and subsequent Pacific voyages just makes it seem like tattoos were mentioned and/or depicted more often. 

Debunking the Cook myth has larger ramifications outside of the history of tattooing. It serves as a warning to scholars to appreciate how perceptions can become skewed when trying to universalize from a narrow research focus.. Rather one must look at presented evidence in detail, evaluate whether counterexamples might exist, and then search for them. My own proposal..started with the twin assumptions that the Cook voyage was originary to modern Western tattooing and that Western culture had primarily regarded tattooing as something negative. However, when I began to carefully read French and German sources that I had flagged as potentially relevant, it became clear that the Cook-borne origin of modern tattooing needed to be properly interrogated and that historical attitudes about tattooing were wide-ranging.