Healthy start

Indignity Vol. 4, No. 1

Healthy start

Inside the Editorial Process

HAPPY NEW YEAR! And welcome to Volume 4 of Indignity! Greetings to our longstanding returning readers and to the new subscribers who’ve just joined us in the past two days. This newsletter is produced by editor Tom Scocca and creative director Joe MacLeod, who’ve been working together on various projects since we were both at City Paper in Baltimore in the previous century.

Back in October, when we had to slow down our publishing for a while because your editor was in the hospital, we vaguely suggested that "a several-thousand-word essay about health and debility" might come out of it, at some future time. Thanks to the supportive people at New York magazine, and especially to the editing wizard Nick Summers, that essay is now on newsstands and on the internet, in 6,000-word form, illustrated with a highly professional photo by Hugo Yu of your editor's dire invalid beard near its most flourishing.

If your editor may reduce a whole lot of nuanced and conflicted thoughts and experiences to a bit of crude self-psychologizing, it's basically an attempt to recover some control, through writing, over the experience of losing control of one's body:

The medical-mystery column doesn’t usually dwell on how slowly the inquiry goes in our fractured health-care system. How the highly recommended pulmonologist doesn’t return the first phone call and only has an opening five months away, and how the major-medical center does have an appointment but isn’t in network with the major-medical insurer. How the chest X-ray is over by the East River and the breathing booth is in the West 160s and the phlebotomist is by Columbia, and how each one has its own online portal for billing and results.

Every day, my legs were harder to move. Climbing in the door of an SUV, I couldn’t lift my rear foot over the threshold until I reached down with my hands and pulled it in. Then the grab-and-lift maneuver became necessary to step into my pants. I had to ask the kids to pull pots and cutting boards out of the bottom kitchen cabinets for me. I gave up bedtime-story duty, crawling into bed each night before anyone else, half-hearing my wife’s voice reading in the next room, feeling myself fading out of my own life. I imagined living in a world and a class where a person could retreat to a sanatorium and shut everything down until the problem was figured out.

There's a lot more of it over at New York magazine, and I also read the whole thing out loud for Apple News Plus. Apparently "hepatomegaly" is supposed to be pronounced with the stress on the first syllable and a schwa in the second? I had been going around all these years believing that "hepatitis" was pronounced differently than other "hepat-" words like "hepatic," although "hepatitis" was probably the only one I ever really said aloud. Life is an ongoing process of learning.

For those of you who've found your way here because of that essay, we would love to have greeted you with another carefully considered, meticulously crafted piece of writing. Unfortunately, your editor recently tapered his steroid dosage down by one-third, and in the mush-brained aftermath of that, on New Year's Day, I managed to leave the official Indignity laptop computer in its bag on my mom's couch, 165 miles away from the Indignity writing center. Till UPS just showed up with it around dinnertime, I was trying to put the first issue of Vol. 4 together with my thumb, on the phone.

Future installments of Vol. 4 will be better, or at least will cover more subjects, we promise. Speaking of getting better: the essay leaves off with the narrator freshly out of the hospital and in extremely shaky physical condition. Readers who are wondering what happened next can be reassured (or not reassured, if they were rooting against the narrator) that the medications have, so far, basically done what they're supposed to do, even if the name of the condition they're treating is still subject to debate. The runaway muscle inflammation has been reined in; I'm able to get out and walk around and do things, as long as I don't try to do too many of them all in a single day. I can pick things up off the floor and raise the window sashes and get on a stepladder to reach up and fiddle with the balky light fixtures, all of which were impossible less than three months ago.

In exchange for this, I discovered when I finally hacked away my new beard (after keeping it around for accuracy in the photo shoot) that the visage looking back at me in the mirror was shaped like that of late-career Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, with extra, unfamiliar pads of fat in the cheeks. Steroids really do that, it turns out. It would be useful to have a term for when you experience an objective reality that happens to be congruent with what's usually a psychological condition—looking in the mirror and feeling uneasy about how your face looks would generally be considered some kind of dysmorphia, but what is it when your face is actually distorted?

Similarly, shortly before I ended up in the hospital, I had to fill out the usual health questionnaire when I went to see my general practitioner. Toward the end, there was a set of questions that were meant to be screening me for depression. Had I lost pleasure in my usual activities? Well, yes, I had, because I couldn't do my usual activities. I wasn't caught up in some disproportionate mental distress; I was just in an inherently unhappy situation. I didn't feel worse about it than was reasonable.

Anyway! Things are looking up, at the moment, to an extent. What more can we ask for, really? Thank you for reading.


Aberdeen, Maryland, to New York City, January 1, 2024

★★★ The first light of the year was colorless, ink trees dark and dense against a paper sky. At the second waking the sky was blue, with a hairy woodpecker calling and a brief wash of sunlight coming through the woods. Then it went over to gray again; the Susquehanna lay in a misty haze. A vulture flapped upward, trying to join its fellows riding the air currents. At the foot of the Jersey Turnpike, the roadway was striped with sun and shadow. Further north, a row of gray cumulus clouds stood in front of white ones that otherwise matched them in shape and aspect. An interlude of sun found a sprawled-out roadkilled deer, along the barrier as far from the trees as possible. Up in Manhattan, a pigeon held its wings in a bright majestic V in the afternoon light. The sun poured up Amsterdam Avenue as if it were bearing the traffic along in its flow.

New York City, January 2, 2024

★★★★ Last night's last load of laundry was still billowing and floating and crackling with static when it came out of the dryer in the morning. The sun found the buildings in its own good time, and a beam of reflected light managed to stretch all the way through the living room, nearly to the vestibule. The sky was sharp blue. The buildings around Penn Station, seen from a 13th-floor window, made a collage of superimposed flat, bright forms. Under cold fingers, the cold phone began responding erratically.


READERS OF INDIGNITY who have previously benefited from the Bluesky-code generosity of other readers of Indignity are now paying it forward with even more codes for the still-beta social network. If you haven’t already gotten a code from us, we have lots of codes. Email and we will award Bluesky codes to those who respond, one per reader, first email, first served.


WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS for the assembly of sandwiches from Reliable Recipes, by The Ladies' Aid Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Grundy Center, Iowa. Published in 1928, now certified Public Domain Mark 1.0 Universal, these recipes and more are available at for the delectation of all.

1 cup cold chicken
1 cup celery
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
Salt and pepper

Grind chicken and celery, season with salt and pepper, mix with mayonnaise, and spread on slices of buttered bread.
—Mrs. J. C. Des Marias.

To one cup of finely chopped cold boiled tongue, add one tablespoon chopped parsley. Mix with mayonnaise and spread on thin slices of buttered bread.

Cream one-third cup of butter and add one-half cup each of finely chopped cold boiled ham and cold boiled chicken. Season with salt and paprika. Spread mixture between thin slices of bread.

Boil calf liver in salted water until tender. Put through a food chopper. Moisten with a mild tomato catsup so that it will spread nicely on buttered bread. This recipe was approved by a food specialist for children.
—Mrs. F. R. Trevillyan.

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by this offering, be sure to send a picture to


The second printing of 19 FOLK TALES is now available for belated Holiday gift-giving and personal perusal! Huddle up against the cold with a cozy collection of stories, each of which is concise enough to read within the snowy part of a wintry-mix storm.

HMM WEEKLY MINI-ZINE, Subject: GAME SHOW, Joe MacLeod’s account of his Total Experience of a Journey Into Television, expanded from the original published account found here at Hmm Daily. The special MINI ZINE features other viewpoints related to an appearance on, at, and inside the teevee game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, available for purchase at SHOPULA.

FLAMING HYDRA will launch in January of 2024. The FLAMING HYDRA Holiday Preview Spectacular, a rich sampling of the writing and art you’ll enjoy as a subscriber to the forthcoming daily newsletter, is available now for your inspection. FLAMING HYDRA is the work of 60 world-class talents, but that’s just one reason to subscribe. FLAMING HYDRA is a 100% cooperatively owned, ad-free publication with no owners and no investors; just a bunch of writers and artists working together and splitting the proceeds equally.

INDIGNITY is a general-interest publication for a discerning and self-selected audience. We appreciate and depend on your support!