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Lauren Simkin Berke

Lauren Simkin Berke is a Brooklyn-based artist and illustrator who occasionally publishes art books and zines under the name Captain Sears Press. Working primarily in ink on paper, they draw for clients such as the New York Times, the Paris Review, Smithsonian, Simon & Schuster, and Schwartz & Wade Books

Illustrator

Illustration by Lauren Simkin Berke

Mutations

Fall 2021 | Essays

Is it possible to understand the persistent lag in vaccination rates as a function of failed metaphor? That is to say, as a failure of language—the language of data, the language of science, the language of political rhetoric (to name just a few vocabularies)—to meet individuals at their particular coordinates on the social map? The virus and our national response to it has been figured and refigured.

Of Difference and Distinction [private]

Fall 2021 | Essays

English is a treasure trove of words, each with a precise meaning. It is also a source of confusion and frustration, since so many of those words have subtle connotations and refuse to stand still.

Of Scamps and Imps

Summer 2021 | Essays

 

Summer is the time of the child, a time to go barefoot in the grass, splash about in the creek, outrun the neighbor’s bull or the neighborhood bully. It is, even more gloriously, the time of the scamp, that subset in the Venn diagram of childhood, a creature of joyful and boundless energy.

On Faith and Hope

December 3, 2020 | Essays

“Hope is the thing with feathers,” wrote Emily Dickinson, “that perches in the soul.” The avian image is both lovely and apposite, for as a bird goes winging off at the first loud noise or sight of a predator, so hope—an aspect of desire, a wish that something, and usually something good, will happen—typically flies out the window as often as it lands on one’s shoulder. If something isn’t outright impossible, it’s possible to hope for it, though the likelihood of its happening lessens the closer to impossible it comes: living to one hundred, let’s say, following a life of three packs of smokes and a porterhouse every day.

Of  Freedom and Liberty

September 8, 2020 | Essays

As Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in his 1762 treatise, The Social Contract, humans are free but are everywhere in chains: literal chains, made of forged steel; or perhaps metaphorical ones, made of gold and silver, illusion, ignorance, indifference, whatever binds and traps us.

Degrees of  Loneliness

Summer 2020 | Essays

“No man is an island, entire of itself.” So observed John Donne, memorably, in 1624, a year before bubonic plague beset London, killing some forty thousand people. No man is an island—unless isolated, a cognate word whose currency manifests in the term self-isolation, the act of removing oneself from public life until, in this instance, the current plague, a virulent strain of coronavirus, has lifted.

Shades of Gloom

March 2, 2020 | Essays

We’re a worried bunch, we Americans. We’re anxious. We’re gloomy, even doomy. We’re angsty, despairing, depressed. There’s a widespread sense that things are certainly not right with the world, and perhaps not right with us. If Dickens were with us, he might call it the most uncool of times.

Rumor vs. Gossip

Winter 2019 | Essays

“It’s just a rumor that was spread around town,” opens the chorus of Elvis Costello’s elegiac 1982 song “Shipbuilding,” best known in its rendition by Robert Wyatt: The shipyard will soon reopen, for a war is starting, and British boys will soon be “diving for dear life / when we could be diving for pearls.”


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Telling Tales

Fall 2019 | Essays

A man and a lion once found a stone statue depicting an athlete strangling one of those giant cats. The man said, “We humans are the strongest creatures on earth!” The lion answered, “If we lions could sculpt, the statue would tell an entirely different story.”

Illustration by Lauren Simkin Berke

Of Locusts and Grasshoppers

Summer 2019 | Essays

They were the eighth plague visited upon Egypt: When Pharaoh refused to free the people of Israel, Exodus tells us, Moses stretched out his staff and a wind rose from the east, blowing hard for one day until a vast swarm of locusts arrived. So great was the size of the swarm that the land appeared black, and so voracious that in a matter of moments every tree and stalk was stripped bare of fruit and grain.

Illustration by Lauren Simkin Berke

Mountains and Hills (and Molehills)

Spring 2019 | Essays

Is Mount Everest the tallest mountain on Earth? It would certainly seem to qualify. Chinese geographers tell us that it measures 29,017 feet, while Nepali geographers make it a skosh short of 29,029 feet. The National Geographic Society adds another six feet to the count, a figure the Encyclopaedia Britannica endorses, following measurements taken by an American expedition twenty years ago.

Illustration by Lauren Simkin Berke

Lies, White Lies, Fibs, and Other Fictions

Winter 2018 | Essays

A quarter century ago, a presidential candidate, responding to a reporter’s question, admitted that he had used marijuana. But, he added, he did not inhale. Everyone got a good laugh over what seemed an absurdity, but a medieval scholastic would have taken the point: He had worked the edges of the mendacium but not the falsiloquium, for in strictest terms Bill Clinton was speaking the truth while intending to mislead. That he did not inhale did not foreclose the possibility that he had scarfed down mountains of hash brownies.

Illustration by Lauren Simkin Berke

Civility vs. Decency

Fall 2018 | Essays

A spokesperson for a divisive president is turned away from a restaurant. That president delights in dog-whistle insults that fall just short of outright ethnic slurs—usually. A white woman calls the police on a black child selling water on a city street on a beastly hot day. A patron who hasn’t been turned away from a restaurant leaves a note for the server, who bears an Arabic name, saying, “We don’t tip terrorist [sic].”

Illustration by Lauren Simkin Berke

Of Epics and Sagas

Summer 2018 | Essays

“Sing to me, O Muse, of that versatile man…” So opens that grandest of Greek epic poems, The Odyssey, 12,000-plus lines of splendidly messy glory, a hodgepodge of textual interpretations, interpolations, and other intrusions on a song that dates back nearly thirty centuries.

Culture vs. Civilization

Spring 2018 | Essays

You and I are members of a culture. Likely we are members of different cultures. Mine—one of mine, anyway—is South by Southwestern folded up into a Jesuitical Irishness tempered with first-generation punk rock. Yours may be Puritan, or Huguenot, or heavy metal. Whatever it is, it holds deep meaning—for culture, in the classic anthropological definition, is the sum of a set of beliefs and practices that go into making you and me part of the world, and sometimes very different worlds.

Is It Just, or Is It Fair?

Fall 2017 | Articles

The book of Kings tells that the mothers of two newborns approached Solomon, that wise ruler, to settle a dispute. One of the babies had died, and each woman insisted that she was the mother of the survivor.

Illustration by Lauren Simkin Berke

Sport vs. Game

Summer 2017 | Essays

Toward the end of the film version of Peter Gent’s corrosively sarcastic football yarn North Dallas Forty, a lineman played by real-life gridiron hero John Matuszak throws a fit upon hearing one more you’re-not-worthy upbraiding from a sniveling, corporate-minded coach. “To you it’s just a business, but to us it’s still gotta be a sport,” he shouts. “Every time I call it a game you call it a business, and every time I call it a business you call it a game!”