Sylvia Plath’s Tarot Cards (Which Influenced the Poems in Ariel) Were Just Sold for $207,000

We celebrated my birthday yesterday: [Ted] gave me a lovely Tarot pack of cards and a dear rhyme with it, so after the obligations of this term are over your daughter shall start her way on the road to becoming a seeress & will also learn how to do horoscopes, a very difficult art which means reviving my elementary math. 

– Sylvia Plath, in a letter to her mother, 28 October 1956

Sylvia Plath’s Tarot cards, a 24th birthday present from her husband, poet Ted Hughes, just went for £151,200 in an auction at Sotheby’s.

That’s approximately £100,000 more than this lot, a Tarot de Marseille deck printed by playing card manufacturer B.P. Grimaud de Paris, was expected to fetch.

The auction house’s description indicates that a few of the cards were discolored —  evidence of use, as supported by Plath’s numerous references to Tarot in her journals.




Recall Tarot’s appearance in “Daddy,” her most widely known poem, and her identification with the Hanging Man card, in a poem of the same name:

By the roots of my hair some god got hold of me.

I sizzled in his blue volts like a desert prophet.

The nights snapped out of sight like a lizard’s eyelid :

A world of bald white days in a shadeless socket.

A vulturous boredom pinned me in this tree.

If he were I, he would do what I did.

This century has seen her collection Ariel restored to its author’s intended order.
The original order is said to correspond quite closely to Tarot, with the first twenty-two poems symbolizing the cards of the Major Arcana.

The next ten are aligned with the numbers of the Minor Arcana. Those are followed by four representing the Court cards. The collection’s final four poems can be seen to reference the pentacles, cups, swords and wands that comprise the Tarot’s suits.

Ariel’s manuscript was rearranged by Hughes, who dropped some of the “more lacerating” poems and added others in advance of its 1965 publication, two years after Plath’s death by suicide. (Hear Plath read poems from Ariel here.)

Daughter Frieda defends her father’s actions and describes how damaging they were to his reputation in her Foreword to Ariel: The Restored Edition.

One wonders if it’s significant that Plath’s Page of Cups, a card associated with positive messages related to family and loved ones, has a rip in it?

We also wonder who paid such a staggering price for those cards.

Will they give the deck a moon bath or salt burial to cleanse it of Plath’s negative energy?

Or is the winning bidder such a diehard fan, the chance to handle something so intimately connecting them to their literary hero neutralizes any occult misgivings?

We rather wish Plath’s Tarot de Marseille had been awarded to Phillip Roberts in Shipley, England, who planned to exhibit them alongside her tarot-influenced poems in a pop up gallery at the Saltaire Festival. To finance this dream, he launched a crowd-funding campaign, pledging that every £100 donor could keep one of the cards, to be drawn at random, with all contributors invited to submit new art or writing to the mini-exhibition: Save Sylvia Plath’s cards from living in the drawers of some wealthy collector, and let’s make some art together!

Alas, Roberts and friends fell  £148,990 short of the winning bid. Better luck next time, mate. We applaud your graciousness in defeat, as well as the spirit in which your project was conceived.

via Lithub

Related Content:

The Artistic & Mystical World of Tarot: See Decks by Salvador Dalí, Aleister Crowley, H.R. Giger & More

Why Should We Read Sylvia Plath? An Animated Video Makes the Case

Hear Sylvia Plath Read 18 Poems From Her Final Collection, Ariel, in 1962 Recording

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Why Finland & Denmark Are Happier Than the United States

We may never convince the greediest among us that money won’t buy happiness. But if we weren’t persuaded before the pandemic, it seems more of us are now, since thousands of workers refuse to return to exploitative conditions. “The Covid job market,” the Harvard Business Review admits, “is not like 2008, nor really like anything anyone has observed since the birth of modern capitalism.” This observation comes amidst a discussion of the factors influencing hiring, but most economist-speak avoids the emotional language we use to talk about our jobs.

The fact is, most of us are stressed out, unhappy, overworked, and underpaid, with little in terms of public policy or corporate benefits to help reduce the burdens on the average American worker. It’s far worse for other workers around the world. “The average US workweek is 38.6 hours,” notes Business Insider. “That may feel like forever to some people, but it’s nothing compared to some countries’ workweeks.” Workers in Colombia, for example, spend an average of 47.7 hours at work.




Much of that time could be spent caring for ourselves and our families, and lockdowns, quarantines, shelter-in-place and work-from-home orders have given us time to reconsider how we’ve been living. As we do, we might look to Finland and Denmark, where people profess some of the highest rates of happiness in the world, according to the most recent World Happiness Report, a series of measures co-created by Jeffrey Sachs, Director of Columbia University’s Center for Sustainable Development.

“In a lamentable year,” the report points out, “Finland again is the happiest country in the world.” Denmark isn’t far behind. What does this mean? “It’s not primarily a measure of whether one laughed or smiled yesterday,” says Sachs, “but how one feels about the course of one’s life.” This feeling is measured according to “six areas of life satisfaction,” CNBC notes in an introduction to the video above — a short documentary on Finnish and Danish happiness — including “income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.”

“We need urgently to learn from Covid-19,” says Sachs. “The pandemic reminds us of our global environmental threats, the urgent need to cooperate, and the difficulties of achieving cooperation in each country and globally. The World Happiness Report 2021 reminds us that we must aim for wellbeing rather than mere wealth, which will be fleeting indeed if we don’t do a much better job of addressing the challenges of sustainable development.” Learn what makes the Finns and Danes so happy in the video above (spoiler: it isn’t exorbitant salaries) and learn more about why people in the “happiest” countries thrive at the World Happiness Report.

Related Content: 

Creativity, Not Money, is the Key to Happiness: Discover Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s Theory of “Flow”

How Much Money Do You Need to Be Happy? A New Study Gives Us Some Exact Figures

The Keys to Happiness: The Emerging Science and the Upcoming MOOC by Raj Raghunathan

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How Ramen Became the Currency of Choice in Prison, Beating Out Cigarettes

The last decade ushered in a slew of traditional Japanese-style ramen restaurants — enough to justify ramen maps to New York CityChicago, and the Bay Area.

Yet most Americans still conceive of ramen as the pack of seasoning and dehydrated instant noodles that have long sustained broke artists and college students.

Add incarcerated persons to the list of packaged ramen’s most ardent consumers.

In the above episode of Vox’s series, The Goods, we learn how those ubiquitous cellophane packages have outstripped cigarettes and postage stamps as the preferred form of prison currency.




Ramen is durable, portable, packaged in standard units, available in the prison commissary, and highly prized by those with a deep need to pad their chow hall meals.

Ramen can be used to pay for clothing and hygiene products, or services like laundry, bunk cleaning, dictation, or custom illustration. Gamblers can use it in lieu of chips.

Ramen’s status as the preferred form of exchange also speaks to a sharp decline in the quantity and quality of food in American penal institutions.

Ethnographer Michael Gibson-Light, who spent a year studying homegrown monetary practices among incarcerated populations, notes that slashed prison budgets have created a culture of “punitive frugality.”

Called upon to model a demonstrably tough on crime stance and cut back on expenditures, the institutions are unofficially shunting many of their traditional costs onto the prisoners themselves.

In response, those on the inside have pivoted to edible currency:

What we are seeing is a collective response — across inmate populations and security levels, across prison cliques and racial groups, and even across states — to changes and cutbacks in prison food services…The form of money is not something that changes often or easily, even in the prison underground economy; it takes a major issue or shock to initiate such a change. The use of cigarettes as money in U.S. prisons happened in American Civil War military prisons and likely far earlier. The fact that this practice has suddenly changed has potentially serious implications.

Ramen may be a relatively new development in the prison landscape, but culinary experimentation behind bars is not. From Pruno prison wine to Martha Stewart’s prison grounds crabapple jelly, it’s a nothing ventured, nothing gained type of deal. Work with what you’ve got.

Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez, who appears in Vox’s video, collected a number of the most adventurous recipes in his book, Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars. Anyone can bring some variety on the spur of the moment by sprinkling some of your ramen’s seasoning packet into your drinking water, but amassing the ingredients for an ambitious dish like Orange Porkies — chili ramen plus white rice plus ½ bag of pork skins plus orange-flavored punch — takes patience and perseverance.

Alvarez’s Egg Ramen Salad Sandwich recipe earns praise from actor Shia LeBoeuf, whose time served is both multiple and minimal.

Someone serving a longer sentence has a more compelling reason to search for the ramen-centered sense of harmony and wellbeing on display in Tampopo, the first “ramen western”:

Appreciate its gestalt. Savor the aromas.

Joe Guerrero, host of YouTube’s AfterPrisonShow, is not immune to the pleasures of some of his ramen-based concoctions, below, despite being on the outside for several years now.

You’re free to wrinkle your nose at the thought of snacking on a crumbled brick of uncooked ramen, but Guerrero points out that someone serving a long sentence craves variety in any form they can get. Experiencing it can tap into the same sense of pride as self-governance.

Guerrero’s recipes require a microwave (and a block of ramen).

Even if you’re not particularly keen on eating the finished product, there’s a science project appeal to his Ramen Noodle Cookie. It calls for no additional  ingredients, just ten minutes cooking time, an outrageous prospect in a communal setting with only one microwave.

Related Content: 

The Proper Way to Eat Ramen: A Meditation from the Classic Japanese Comedy Tampopo (1985)

What Goes Into Ramen Noodles, and What Happens When Ramen Noodles Go Into You

Japanese Animation Director Hayao Miyazaki Shows Us How to Make Instant Ramen

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Discover Ikaria, the Greek Island With the Oldest Life Expectancy in the World

Boilerplate human interest stories about the habits of particularly spry centenarians just don’t cut it anymore. Living a long, healthy, and happy life, we know, involves more than making the right individual choices. It means living in societies that make good choices readily available and support the individuals making them. Nutrition research has borne this out — just scan the latest popular food book titles for the word “Mediterranean,” for example, or input the same search term in an academic database, and you’ll pull up hundreds of results. Even fad diets have shifted from promoting individual celebrities to celebrating whole regions.

Scientists have identified a handful of places around the world, in fact, where diet and other ordinary lifestyle and social factors have led to the outcomes governments spend billions trying, and failing, to achieve. One of these regions is — yes — squarely in the Mediterranean, the Greek island of Ikaria, “named one of the healthiest places on earth,” writes Greek City Times, “a spot of exceptional longevity. Here, there are more healthy people over 90 than any other place on the planet.” Ikaria is just one of five so-called “Blue Zones” — which also include Sardinia, Italy, Okinawa, Japan, Nicoya, Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, California — where inhabitants regularly live healthy lives into their 90s and beyond.




In the Vice video above, you can meet some of the residents of Ikaria, where 1 in 3 people live past 90, and learn about some of the factors that contribute to long life in blue zones, and in Ikaria in particular. Great weather doesn’t hurt. Most important, however, is local, fresh food, and lots of it. “The most important thing is the food,” says an Ikarian cook as she prepares a batch of fresh-caught fish. “Because you live with it. You eat the right way, everything works the right way.” This is a much better way of saying “you are what you eat.” As Max Fisher points out in a bulleted list of the Greek Island’s “secrets to long life,” things “working the right way” plays a huge role in longevity.

Not only do older people in Ikaria walk everywhere and continue working into their elderly years – happily but not under duress – they also report very healthy sex lives, part of a network of habits that socially reinforce each other, Fisher writes. Hear Ikarian residents above contrast their lives on the island with their lives in fast-paced modern cities where they traded health and wellbeing for more money. Read Fisher’s full list (excerpted below) at The Washington Post.

1) Plenty of rest.

2) An herbal diet.

3) Very little sugar, white flour, or meat.

4) Mediterranean diet.

5) No processed food.

6) Regular napping.

7) Healthy sex lives after 65.

8) Stay busy and involved.

9) Yes, exercise.

10) Little stress of any kind.

11) “Mutually reinforcing” habits.

Related Content: 

10 Longevity Tips from Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, Japan’s 105-Year-Old Longevity Expert

How to Live to Be 100 and Beyond: 9 Diet & Lifestyle Tips

Book Readers Live Longer Lives, According to New Study from Yale University

Life Lessons From 100-Year-Olds: Timeless Advice in a Short Film

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Revisiting Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On,” and the Album That Opened R&B to Resistance: Revisited 50 Years Later

I just want to be heard and that’s all that matters. — Marvin Gaye

R&B superstar Marvin Gaye was more than willing to risk his career on a record.

His polished public persona was a false front behind which lurked some serious demons — depression and addiction, exacerbated by the illness and death of his close friend and duet mate, Tammi Terrell.

His downward spiral was also fueled by his distress over events of the late 60s.

How else to respond to the Vietnam War, the murder of civil rights leaders, police brutality, the Watts Riots, a dire environmental situation, and the disenfranchisement and abandonment of lower income Black communities?




Perhaps by refusing to adhere to producer Barry Gordy‘s mandate that all Motown artists were to steer clear of overt political stances….

He controlled their careers, but art is a powerful outlet.

Obie Benson also came under Gordy’s thumb as a member of the R&B quartet, the Four Tops. The shocking violence he witnessed in Berkeley’s People’s Park on Bloody Thursday while on tour with his band provided the lyrical inspiration for “What’s Goin’ On.”

When the other members of the group refused to touch it, not wanting to rock the boat with a protest song, he took it to Gaye, who had lost all enthusiasm for the “bullshit” love songs that had made him a star

Benson recalled that Gaye added some “things that were more ghetto, more natural, which made it seem more like a story than a song… we measured him for the suit and he tailored the hell out of it.”

Gordy was not pleased with the song’s message, nor his loosey goosey approach to laying down the track. Eli Fontaine’s famous saxophone intro was improvised and “Motown’s secret weapon,” bassist James Jamerson was so plastered on Metaxa, he was recorded sprawling on the floor.

Jamerson told his wife they’d been working on a “masterpiece,” but Gordy dubbed “What’s Going On” “the worst thing I ever heard in my life,” pooh-poohing the “Dizzy Gillespie stuff in the middle, that scatting.” He refused to release it.

Gaye stonewalled by going on strike, refusing to record any music whatsoever.

Eight months in, Motown’s A&R Head Harry Balk, desperate for another release from one of the label’s most popular acts, directed sales vice president Barney Ales to drop the new single behind Gordy’s back.

It immediately shot to the top of the charts, selling 70,000 copies in its first week.

Gordy, warming to the idea of more sales, abruptly reversed course, directing Gaye to come up with an entire album of protest songs. It ushered in a new era in which Black recording artists were not only free, but encouraged to use their voices to bring about social change.

The album, What’s Going On, recently claimed top honors when Rolling Stone updated its  500 Greatest Albums list. Now, it is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and as Polyphonic, producers of the mini-doc above note, its sentiments couldn’t be more timely.

Related Content: 

Hear Marvin Gaye Sing “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” A Capella: The Haunting Isolated Vocal Track

Nina Simone’s Live Performances of Her Poignant Civil Rights Protest Songs

Hear a 4 Hour Playlist of Great Protest Songs: Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Bob Marley, Public Enemy, Billy Bragg & More

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her June 7 for a Necromancers of the Public Domain: The Periodical Cicada, a free virtual variety honoring the 17-Year Cicadas of Brood X. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

167 Pieces of Life & Work Advice from Kevin Kelly, Founding Editor of Wired Magazine & The Whole Earth Review

Image by Christopher Michel, via Wikimedia Commons

I am a big admirer of Kevin Kelly for the same reason I am of Brian Eno—he is constantly thinking. That thirst for knowledge and endless curiosity has always been the backbone to their particular art forms. For Eno it’s music, but for Kelly it’s in his editorship of the Whole Earth Review and then Wired magazine, providing a space for big ideas to reach the widest audience. (He’s also the reason one of my bucket lists is the Nakasendo, after seeing his photo essay on it.)

On his 68th birthday in 2020, Kelly posted on his blog a list of 68 “Unsolicited Bits of Advice.” One bit of advice that frames his thought process and his work is this one:

“I’m positive that in 100 years much of what I take to be true today will be proved to be wrong, maybe even embarrassingly wrong, and I try really hard to identify what it is that I am wrong about today.”

However, the list is more about wisdom from a life well-spent. Many fall into the art of being a curious human among other humans:

  • Everyone is shy. Other people are waiting for you to introduce yourself to them, they are waiting for you to send them an email, they are waiting for you to ask them on a date. Go ahead.
  • The more you are interested in others, the more interesting they find you. To be interesting, be interested.
  • Being able to listen well is a superpower. While listening to someone you love keep asking them “Is there more?”, until there is no more.

And this is probably the hardest piece of advice these days:

  • Learn how to learn from those you disagree with, or even offend you. See if you can find the truth in what they believe.

Other bits of advice have to do with creativity and being an artist:

  • Always demand a deadline. A deadline weeds out the extraneous and the ordinary. It prevents you from trying to make it perfect, so you have to make it different. Different is better.
  • Don’t be the smartest person in the room. Hangout with, and learn from, people smarter than yourself. Even better, find smart people who will disagree with you.
  • To make something good, just do it. To make something great, just re-do it, re-do it, re-do it. The secret to making fine things is in remaking them.
  • Art is in what you leave out.

And some of the more interesting ones are his disagreements with perceived wisdom:

  • Following your bliss is a recipe for paralysis if you don’t know what you are passionate about. A better motto for most youth is “master something, anything”. Through mastery of one thing, you can drift towards extensions of that mastery that bring you more joy, and eventually discover where your bliss is.

One year later, Kelly has returned with 99 more bits of advice. I guess he couldn’t wait til his 99th birthday for it. Some favorites include:

  • If something fails where you thought it would fail, that is not a failure.
  • Being wise means having more questions than answers.
  • I have never met a person I admired who did not read more books than I did.
  • Every person you meet knows an amazing lot about something you know virtually nothing about. Your job is to discover what it is, and it won’t be obvious.

and finally:

  • Don’t let your email inbox become your to-do list.

There is a small shift in Kelly’s 2021 list from his 2020 list, like a little more frustration with the world, a need for more order in the chaos. I wonder what his advice will be in a few more years?

via BoingBoing

Related Content:

Wired Co-Founder Kevin Kelly Gives 36 Lectures on Our Future World: Education, Movies, Robots, Autonomous Cars & More

The Best Magazine Articles Ever, Curated by Kevin Kelly

What Books Could Be Used to Rebuild Civilization?: Lists by Brian Eno, Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly & Other Forward-Thinking Minds

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Wildlife Is Now Thriving Again in Chernobyl–Even If Humans Won’t for Another 24,000 Years

In Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 sci-fi film Stalker, a mysterious artifact renders a landscape called the Zone inhospitable for humans. As critics have often pointed out, a tragic irony may have killed the director and some of the crew a few years later. Shooting for months on end in a disused refinery in Estonia exposed them to high levels of toxic chemicals. Tarkovsky died of cancer in 1986, just a few months after the disaster at Chernobyl. “It is surely part of Stalker’s mystique,” Mark Le Fanu writes for Criterion, “that in some strange way, Tarkovsky’s explorations … were to ‘prophesy’ the destruction… of the nuclear power plant.”

Tarkovsky did not see the future. He adapted a dystopian story written by brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. “Certainly,” writes Le Fanu, “there were many things in the Soviet Union at that time to be dystopian about.” But the film inspired a video game, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, which in turn inspired tourists to start “flocking to Chernobyl,” writes Katie Mettier in The Washington Post: “fans of the video game… wanted to see firsthand the nuclear wasteland they’d visited in virtual reality.”




Ukraine may have succeeded, thanks to these associations, in rebranding Chernobyl for the so-called “dark tourism” set, but the area will not become habitable again for some 24,000 years. Habitable, that is, for humans. “Flora and fauna have bounced back” in Chernobyl, writes Ellen Gutoskey at Mental Floss, “and from what researchers can see, they appear to be thriving.” They include “hundreds of plant and animal species in the zone,” says Nick Beresford, a researcher at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. “Including more than 60 [rare] species.”

Among the many animals to return to the area are “Eureasian lynx, brown bear, black storks, and European bison,” as well as elk, deer, boars, and wolves. Nearby crops are still showing high levels of contamination. According to the latest research, nothing that grows there should be eaten by humans. And as one might expect, “mutations are more common in Chernobyl’s plants and animals than in those from other regions,” Gutosky notes. But the harm caused by radiation pales by comparison with that posed by a constant human presence.

Among the many species making their home in Chernobyl are the endangered Przewalski’s horses who numbered around 30 when they were “released into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and left to their own devices…. Now it’s estimated that at least 150 Przewalski’s horses roam the region.” The horrific, human-caused accident of Chernobyl has had the effect of clearing space for nature again. The area has become an unintended experiment in what journalist George Monbiot calls “rewilding,” which he defines as “[taking] down the fences, blocking up the drainage ditches, enabling wildlife to spread.”

In order for the planet to “rewild,” to recover its biodiversity and rebuild its ecosystems, humans need to step away, stop seeing ourselves “as the guardians or the stewards of the planet,” says Monbiot, “whereas I think it does best when we have as little influence as we can get away with.” Tourists may come and go, but there may be no humans settling and building  in Chernobyl for a few thousand years. For the species currently thriving there, that’s apparently for the best.

via Mental Floss

Related Content: 

Scenes from HBO’s Chernobyl v. Real Footage Shot in 1986: A Side-By-Side Comparison

The Ruins of Chernobyl Captured in Three Haunting, Drone-Shot Videos

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #4 – HBO’s “Chernobyl”: Why Do We Enjoy Watching Suffering?

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Diagnosing America’s Relationship with Pets — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #91 w/ Trainer Hannah Branigan

What is with the weird relationship we Americans have with our pets? Many of us treat them as our babies, yet of course they’re our captives. Dog trainer Hannah Branigan joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to talk about pets as entertainment, as hobby, and as pandemic companions. How can we make this relationship as beneficial as possible for all involved, and how can learning to be a better pet owner inform our treatment of other people? Plus, what do we want out of TV talking animals, dog training TV, and the abomination that is Pooch Perfect.

Hannah’s podcast is Drinking from the Toilet, and you can learn more about her book and training program at hannahbranigan.dog. A couple of her podcast episodes that we refer to are #129 Treat Everyone Like a Dog, #114 Accidental Behavior, and #80 I Wrote a Book.

And a few article links as usual:

Hear more of this podcast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can access by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.