Morning After: Towers of Power

Can we flourish in the face of tragedy? Here are stories of six people who show us how.

Six 9/11 veterans who responded to terror by giving back

Photo by Rick Wenner
Photo by Rick Wenner

THE ADVOCATE: LINDA SARSOUR

Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian American, was 21, a young mother, sitting in a chemistry class in Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn when the two planes hit the Twin Towers. With the subways out and information scarce, Sarsour made her way home from Sheepshead Bay to Sunset Park, hours on foot. Crossing through Bay Ridge’s large Muslim community, she wondered why so many of the Muslim-owned businesses were closed at midday. When she got home, she found out.

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How to Deal with Us and Them?

One biologist, two prairie voles, some hormones and an explanation. Why we love and hate and what we can do about it.

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Why do we always see the world as Us versus Them when it only leads to cronyism and prejudice and, at its worst, bigotry, war and genocide?

This may sound strange, but it starts with love.

But what is love?

Biologists have some theories. You can read plenty of articles about the neuropeptide oxytocin dubbed with some super-cute nicknames, including “the love molecule” and “the cuddle chemical.” These simplistic, feel-good labels do a disservice to oxytocin, which along with its partner peptide, vasopressin, serve as the hormonal glue that keeps humans and other animals sticking together in couples, families, packs and even nation states.

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One Designer Fights Destruction with Creativity, Hate with Love

How to respond to tragedy?

Luis Vielma worked on the Harry Potter ride at Universal. He was 22 years old. I can't stop crying. —J.K. Rowling
[Victim of Orlando nightclub shooting] Luis Vielma worked on the Harry Potter ride at Universal. He was 22 years old. I can’t stop crying. —J.K. Rowling
In the wake of a mass murder, the images of the victims flicker and fade while the images of the killer fix, as if in some chemical bath, leaving a permanent stain on society. We watch helplessly as the killer’s self-propaganda videos and fire-arm poses outpace and eventually obscure the images of the victims in gentler moments of beauty, joy and love.

Visual artist and designer Rafael Esquer and his studio mates at Alfalfa Studio, want to invert this equation. Continue reading “One Designer Fights Destruction with Creativity, Hate with Love”

These Two Hormones Divide Winners from Losers

What our biology primes us for.

Sometimes winning can be as dangerous as losing. Take James Altucher, blogger, podcaster, provocateur and occasional Observer contributor. Rewind to 1998 when Altucher had just sold Reset, his web-design business, for $10 million. With his windfall he set out on a mission to teach the stock market a lesson. His first trade? As he told us, he “poured all of his money” into a software company, the name of which he no longer remembers. But he does remember this: In one hour he made a cool million. That jackpot was proof of Altucher’s genius. And he was primed to keep at it, going mano a mano against the market to make another million dollars every day for the rest of his life.

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On the Vertical Frontier

What do high-rise construction workers, laboring on the vertical frontier, tell themselves about their work, the risk and the reward?

Scott Small, Laborer, 3 World Trade Center May 2016 Photo Jack Davison for The New York Times Magazine
Scott Small, Laborer, 3 World Trade Center May 2016 Photo Jack Davison for The New York Times Magazine

At last count, in a single year, over 800 workers died on U.S. job sites according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What does it mean to be part of a highly ambitious man-made endeavor that rises tall enough to kiss the clouds? Recently, we had the opportunity to find out, interviewing dozens of high-rise construction workers (whose jobs include battling shredding winds, freezing cold and the scorching hot summer sun) on two of the tallest new construction buildings in New York City—3 World Trade Center and 10 Hudson Yards. We asked them about their work, the risk and the reward. And alongside the images of highly talented young photographer, Jack Davison, who captures the grit and the glory of these highest of high-rise workers, a collection of their thought-provoking responses are in an article for The New York Times Magazine called

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They’re Not Throwin’ Away Their Shot

Sticking to a dream can be as hard as founding a country, but someone’s gotta do it. Find out how 3 fifth graders are working to make their dream come true. And consider joining them!

Outside the theater where Hamilton is playing, three girls meet their hero. Find out more here.
Outside the theater where Hamilton is playing, three girls meet their hero, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Find out more here.

The Broadway show Hamilton began to seep into our lives through our ten-year-old daughter, one staccato rap couplet at a time. Pretty soon she had a whole song. Then another and another. She was Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, Lafayette and George Washington, famous sisters Angelica and Eliza Schuyler, Hamilton’s wife. Choreography followed and then of course, the pulsing red desire to PLEEEEEEEASE SEE THE SHOW.

Problem is the tickets are so in demand that they’ve been scooped up by third party vendors who sell at top prices. (We’re talking 4 digit prices.) Continue reading “They’re Not Throwin’ Away Their Shot”

What Stephen Curry, Amazon and Wormholes Have in Common

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry
Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry

When Amazon drops off a package at your home, it’s as if you are at one end of a wormhole in the space-time continuum. Amazon has mastered the art and science of moving packages from point A to point B. Like Amazon, Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry owes his success to his ability to move an object from point A to point B with great speed, accuracy and frequency. Continue reading “What Stephen Curry, Amazon and Wormholes Have in Common”

The Comeback: How One Entrepreneur Reversed His Fortunes

Pediatrician Michel Cohen founder of Tribeca Pediatrics had a booming business, a best-selling book and downtown NYC celebrity baby cred until the bottom dropped out. How did he get back on top?

NY Observer Pediatrician Michel Cohen Photos by Francesco Sapienza/For New York Observer
Pediatrician Michel Cohen Founder of Tribeca Pediatrics photo by Francesco Sapienza

From the outside, fit and photogenic French-born physician Michel Cohen was on his way to becoming the 21st century’s answer to Dr. Spock. In the early 2000s he ran Tribeca Pediatrics, a smart, hip, high-quality New York City practice that catered to the neighborhood’s smart, hip parents, whose children he saw in his signature quirky medical office — think Pee-wee’s Playhouse meets a Wes Anderson film set. The media loved him and parents appreciated his common sense, low-intervention medical approach to children’s health.

Things were going so well that he opened up another office in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the healthcare industry was in flux with expanding regulations, upheavals in technology, rising pharmaceutical prices and dramatic cuts in insurance reimbursements. As a result, many doctors were abandoning their private practices to join corporate healthcare clinics and hospitals. (A report from Accenture shows that the percentage of U.S. independent physicians plummeted from 57 percent in 2000 to 33 percent in 2016.) But Cohen, who spent his days biking back and forth across the Brooklyn Bridge, managing his growing practice, seemed to be bucking the trend.

Or so he thought. One morning in 2008, he received a very disturbing call from his bank. “They told me I was $400,000 in debt,” Cohen says. “I was in complete shock.” To make payroll that month he had to borrow $30,000 from a friend.

Our story in Entrepreneur’s Startups Magazine here

Ellsworth Kelly, Visionary Artist of the Everyday, On Aging

Ellsworth Kelly, visionary artist of the abstract and the everyday, on aging (excerpt from my interview with Kelly in The New York Times Magazine).

Ellsworth Kelly, 91, photograph ERIK MADIGAN HECK
Ellsworth Kelly, 91, in his Spencertown NY studio, 2014 photograph ERIK MADIGAN HECK

“The most pleasurable thing in the world for me is to see something and then translate how I see it.” – Ellsworth Kelly 

Visionary painter Ellsworth Kelly died last month. I (Camille) had the pleasure of interviewing Ellsworth one bright autumn day in 2014 for a story I was working on “Old Masters” for The New York Times Magazine. Ellsworth Kelly, who was 91 at the time, became a nature lover and avid bird-watcher at a young age. After a stint in the army designing camouflage, Ellsworth combined as art critic Holland Cotter described in his obit for The New York Times, ‘the solid shapes and brilliant colors of European abstraction with forms distilled from everyday life.’ My art, Ellsworth said, is an attempt “to get at the rapture of seeing.” This was a path that he sought everyday. “I want to work like nature works,” he told me. His work is a testament to maintaining a life-long vision.

Ellsworth Kelly

Here is an excerpt from our conversation on aging:

What’s different about your life now that you’re older?

When I was 79, I asked my doctor, ‘‘I’m 79 and you say I’m in good health, what should I expect from the 80s?’’ And he said: ‘‘If you haven’t got any of the Mayo diseases, you’re pretty good. You can slide right through.’’ And I said, ‘‘What about the 90s?’’ And he said, ‘‘Well .?.?. we’ll talk about that.’’ But I didn’t sail through exactly. What happened five years ago is I discovered that painting with turpentine, which I’ve been doing since the 1940s, had ruined my lungs. So I’ve been on oxygen ever since.

Any surprises?

I don’t travel now. That’s the big thing. But I’m here [in Columbia County, N.Y.], and I love it. Each year I’m very surprised by the color. . . It’s one thing about getting older, you see more. . . . Everyday I’m continuing to see new things. That’s why there are new paintings.

What are your days like now?

I’m in the studio everyday. I draw a lot. . . I chose plants because I knew I could draw plants forever. I want to work like nature works. I want to understand the growth of plants and the dead leaves falling. Oh, how I connect with that!

Talk: Radical Creativity

What does it take to be radically creative? What does being radically creative even mean? Come find out at our talk “Radical Creative” part of the Provocateur Series at Parsons Design Center Friday, 11/13.

radical-creativityWhat is radical creativity? Who is radically creative? How? And why? Find out tonight how Sir John Harington, Bob Dylan, Cindy Sherman and others come up with radically creative ideas, and how you can, too.

Friday Nov 13 at 6pm our talk on “Radical Creativity” at the “Provocateur Series” at the Parsons Design Center 66 5th Avenue at 13th street