“The World Salvaged from the Lords of Profit”

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Mary Oliver, from her essay collection, Upstream

“Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones–inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones–rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent beautiful blossoms.”

Simpson’s writer Joel Cohen’s six lessons for fueling creativity

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From the most recent alumni magazine from the University of Alberta, here are Simpson’s writer Joel Cohen’s six lessons on fueling creativity. Collected and presented by Stephanie Bailey. Find her on Twitter at: @s____bailey

Lesson 1: Create a sanctuary for creativity …

Because writers produce their best work when they are given the freedom to do what they do: write. The Simpsons writers work within a protective bubble that is largely free from the bureaucratic interference facing other sitcoms. “If we want to do a joke, we do it. If we want to do a storyline, we do it. It’s really a creative paradise.”

Lesson 2: Welcome waste …

Because the creative process is inherently inefficient. It can take nine months of rewriting to create an episode of The Simpsons and as many as 40 hours to perfect a single joke. “I don’t think creativity can be efficient. You know when you’re done, but you don’t know how long it’s going to take.”

Lesson 3: Don’t get married to an idea …

If it takes away from the larger story you’re trying to tell. “Even if you have a great idea, it’s sometimes even a better idea not to use it because it hurts the overall picture, the big picture. Don’t fall in love with the little gem; look for the bigger gem.”

Lesson 4: Fight your first instinct …

And push yourself to think more creatively. In the writers’ room, the writers often flip an initial idea and try to think of it from a totally different angle. “The first thought is often not the most creative thought — it’s the most obvious one.”

Lesson 5: Admit it, some ideas are just bad …

But there are benefits to bad ideas. When people aren’t mocked for a dumb idea, it helps create a safe environment in which they feel comfortable taking risks. And bad ideas often lead somewhere great. “There might be a nugget in that idea that someone else can hear, pick up on and build upon.”

Lesson 6: Be humble …

When it comes to deciding on the best idea — the idea that will get the biggest laugh or make the greatest impact. “When you’re generating all of these ideas … somebody has to make the decision, filter them all down and choose one …. The trick to being a filter is to take yourself out of it, be humble and recognize that the group, frankly, knows better than you do quite often. Surrender to that.”

Thoughts on Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder

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The end of Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder seemed inevitable, but, for me, it took too long to get there. The similarities between this story and her previous, “Room,” are so obvious, I can’t help but read this as a dialogue with that book. And even a kind of metaphor for the success of that book (and movie). I struggled off-and-on with the intensity of the main character’s (Lib’s) pragmatism, but ultimately, I found her to be richly portrayed, and a good counter-balance to the intensity of the spiritual fatalism around her. The characters were very polarizing.  The question that hangs in the air through the whole novel: Will the young girl die? It is answered, finally, in a richly layered way that surprised me. While the novel’s surface is stark, its subtexts are often surprisingly subtle.

Thoughts on Racism in America

The following are some of my thoughts on Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent book, Between the World and Me, a long-form letter from the author to his young-adult son about growing up as an African American in the United States. This book is a conversational, personal, and philosophical memoir of sorts. It gets under the skin. It engages readers on an emotional level. It is very helpful for anyone trying to gain a deeper understanding of the racial conflicts that are often swiftly stated, misunderstood, and brushed aside in political discourse.

My hope is that these notes are a form of active listening, though they are probably mostly poor misstatements of other people’s ideas. I hope to unearth some of my own healthy and unhealthy assumptions. I do not always recognize which are which. Active repenting with the hope of learning and understanding more. I stand correctable.

  • I am one of “those who think they are white.”
  • Race is the child of racism rather than the other way around
  • African Americans can reasonably assume they will be found guilty before they are found innocent.
  • There is so much about racism that I must unlearn.
  • There are garden of opposing ideas about racism even among African Americans.
  • An African American has to be twice as good.
  • An African American is rarely free to show anger and frustration.
  • An African American is often punished (in ways that other citizens are not) for expressions perceived to be a form of dissent.
  • Members of the executive branch of the U.S. government are not held accountable for their errors to the same degree most U.S. citizens are. This is a safety net and a privilege afforded especially to white police officers.
  • Innocence is a myth and a dream that some citizens believe at their peril.
  • I cannot be quick to dismiss this: An African American lives in a vulnerable world without protections, without law enforcement, without checks and balances, where anything evil could strike at any moment. This is not an imagined reality. This reality has been routinely demonstrated for friends, neighbors and family.
  • Not only are some citizens not under the protection of the law enforcers, but they are vulnerable to abuse by those enforcers.
  • It only adds to the delusion to dismiss this reality as a subjective over-exaggeration based only on “imagined slights.”
  • The ones who decry that African Americans are exaggerating “imagined slights” are privileged with a singular, protected, nurtured, liberated imagination, and an obtuse, abstract understanding of what a “slight” is.
  • African Americans are expected to return injustice with a servile, passive, Christian response. If they do not, it is OK to dismiss them and any injustice that might befall them.
  • “All men are created equal” is not automatically put into practice just because it is “self evident.”
  • “All men are created equal” is an ideal that must be demonstrated, defended, and fought for. It is possible to dismiss those who fight for this idea in the name of fighting for this idea.
  • African Americans don’t have the luxury of assuming (or fantasizing) that a minority of corrupt enforcers can be written off in favor of the dream of a noble enforcer.
  • An African American doesn’t usually have the luxury of giving or being given the benefit of the doubt.
  • Experience matters.
  • Cancer is not a subjective force or a force of misunderstanding.
  • A suggestion: Unfairness is relative. Injustice is not relative.
  • Pictures of black children hugging white police officers are a soporific song for some citizens. For those who suffer under the burden of the American dream, it is more like a punch to the stomach.

Martin Scorsese on Endo’s novel, “Silence”

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Excerpts taken from the Forward by Martin Scorsese in this recent printing of Endo’s Silence:

Silence is the story of a man who learns–so painfully–that God’s love is more mysterious than he knows, that He leaves much more to the ways of men than we realize, and that He is always present… even in his silence. …This is one of the most painful dilemmas in all of Christianity. What was Judas’ role? What was expected of him by Christ? What is expected of him by us today? With the discovery of the Gospel of Judas, these questions have become even more pressing. Endo looks at the problem of Judas more directly than any other artist I know. He understood that, in order for Christianity to live, to adapt itself to other cultures and historical moments, it needs not just the figure of Christ but the figure of Judas as well.

I picked up this novel for the first time almost twenty years ago. I’ve reread it countless times since, and I am now preparing to adapt it as a film. It has given me a kind of sustenance that I have found in only a very few works of art.

…on the face of it, believing and questioning are antithetical. Yet I believe that they go hand in hand. One nourishes the other. Questioning may lead to great loneliness, but if it coexists with faith–true faith, abiding faith–it can end in the most joyful sense of communion. It’s this painful, paradoxical passage–from certainty to doubt to loneliness to communion–that Endo understands so well, and renders so clearly, carefully and beautifully in Silence.

Come Healing

“Come Healing”

O gather up the brokenness
And bring it to me now
The fragrance of those promises
You never dared to vow

The splinters that you carry
The cross you left behind
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Behold the gates of mercy
In arbitrary space
And none of us deserving
The cruelty or the grace

O solitude of longing
Where love has been confined
Come healing of the body
Come healing of the mind

O see the darkness yielding
That tore the light apart
Come healing of the reason
Come healing of the heart

O troubled dust concealing
An undivided love
The Heart beneath is teaching
To the broken Heart above

O let the heavens falter
And let the earth proclaim:
Come healing of the Altar
Come healing of the Name

O longing of the branches
To lift the little bud
O longing of the arteries
To purify the blood

And let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

O let the heavens hear it
The penitential hymn
Come healing of the spirit
Come healing of the limb

Kindness

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Kindness
Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Orwell on “Why I Write”

“All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. And yet it is also true that one can write nothing readable unless one constantly struggles to efface one’s own personality. Good prose is like a windowpane. I cannot say with certainty which of my motives are the strongest, but I know which of them deserve to be followed. And looking back through my work, I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.”

from “Why I Write, by George Orwell”

Robert P. Jones on Nostalgia

“Confronted with the psychic discomfort that results from a lack of cultural confidence and security, the greatest threat to White Christian America’s descendants is the siren song of nostalgia. Faced with an unfamiliar cultural landscape, today’s white mainline Protestants may find it easier to skip excursions altogether, preferring instead to huddle in their homes and churches around yellowing photo albums of journeys past. Evangelical Protestants, on the other hand, may turn into a homegrown version of the bad American tourist–taking pride in their foreignness while continuing to operate with a sense of entitlement, even though the country no longer belongs to them. But Nostalgia is not only unfaithful to the past; it also threatens the integrity of the present.”

– Robert P. Jones – from The End of White Christian America

Thoughts on David Dyer’s: “The Midnight Watch”

The Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the CalifornianThe Midnight Watch: A Novel of the Titanic and the Californian by David Dyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the beginning and the ending of this novel. It lags a little in the middle. The book is heavy on research. For me, the novel suspends the main question that drives the narrative for too many pages: the question “why didn’t the Californian (ship) go to the Titanic’s aid?” The answer to the “why” question is compelling and dramatic, but I almost see that answer as a kind of beginning to the drama rather than the ending. In some ways, this is an investigative narrative–a kind of murder mystery that explores the motivations of a ship-wide sin of omission (on the Californian). We are searching for who to blame and why we would blame them. There is a surprising section toward the end of the book in which Dyer goes back and forth between the Titanic and the Californian in 8 parts (one section for each of the distress rockets that the Titanic fired on that fateful night) and constructs scenes to depict how the night might have played out for the crew of the Californian and for one particular family aboard the Titanic. It is devastating and powerful and is probably the most dramatic section of the book. That section begins and ends like a novella that could almost stand on its own. Some of the drama depends on the investigation the novel has built up until then. I have a hunch that this section was the original graduate thesis Dyer mentions in an end note, and the rest of the book was written later to fill out the shorter piece for the purposes of publication. With all this in mind, “The Midnight Watch” is still an exploration of the Titanic disaster that feels fresh, and even necessary.

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