Monday, January 10, 2022
Friday, October 22, 2021
I started out —I can’t imagine why—wanting to read as much as I could about fascism. It’s a fairly common practice for me to identify a theme for my reading for the year, and this year, that was it.
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn. I expected it to be longer because, you know, Russian literature, but it really is one day, following a prisoner in the gulags as he maneuvers and manipulates to get a little extra gruel, the last puffs of someone else’s cigarettes, and the least awful work assignments. It’s remarkably evocative—I found myself immersed in every frigid moment.
In the middle of this vivid portrayal of the absurdity of tyranny, Ivan is tasked with bricking over a broken window in an abandoned building. Ivan is a mason, and as he sets out to do the task, the tone of the novel shifts from oppression to vocation: he is (once again) a master, practicing his craft with care and precision. For a few hours he discovers and celebrates his dignity. Then he goes back to the prison camp. Worth reading for its arresting portrayal of the resiliency of spirit and the banality of evil.
Kafka and the Travelling Doll can be read in one sitting, but I suspect if you read it once you’ll read it again, and maybe again and again.
Wednesday, October 20, 2021
I read once that Aimee Mann has assured us she is not depressed. That’s surprising to most people since so many of her songs are melancholy bordering on bleak. But being something of a melancholic myself, I think I get it.
I discovered her 2017 award-winning Mental Illness by accident and added it to my birthday wishlist; the pink vinyl in die-cut sleeve arrived at my doorstep and I dove right in. One listen and I declared her the voice of my generation. Time will tell if the title sticks—or if anybody even cares; we are Gen-X, after all.
I don’t think of Mann as a folk artist, but Mental Illness won the folk album Grammy in 2018 and understandably so. The tracks weave together seamlessly, setting a mood quickly and staying there determinedly. It’s an ode to that popular definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I keep listening to it because I’m pleased with its effect on me.
Monday, October 18, 2021
At the outset of 2020 I knew a few things:
(1) I would be turning fifty in a few months;
(2) I would be voting for a new president—any new president—a few months after that; and
(3) I would be finishing up a fifteen-month leadership training program for work.
I hadn’t anticipated doing virtually all of this from my basement while I waited out a killer virus. I also hadn’t anticipated that the coach/mentor I was paired with for the training program would be such a gift.
I’ve not really been coached before. I’m not sporty, for one, and I’m kind of a contrarian, so the idea of someone speaking directly into my day-to-day experience was not terribly appealing. I didn’t know what to talk about or how to talk about it. I didn’t know what questions to ask. But Mark was remarkable, gently probing and graciously interrogating my unconscious approaches to each ensuing crisis. I found a little footing after each monthly call, and I learned some practices that have helped me regularly regain my sense of self since the monthly calls ended. ...
So if you’re struggling to keep your head up, give me a shout. I know a guy.
Friday, July 23, 2021
And on the strangest Sea—
It asked a crumb—of me.
A strong Warrior there to save you.
—Zephaniah 3:17, The Message
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Monday, July 19, 2021
Friday, April 02, 2021
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
You’re smiling; that’s enough.
I’m holding on to you like a diamond in the rough.”
The second was one of the lesser lights to nineteen-year-old me, but it’s the song she used to promote this new record, and it’s doing it for me quite nicely these days. It’s hard to believe she had this much soul when she recorded it in her thirties; I don’t mean that as an insult to my thirty-something readers (that’s an age range, not a quantity), only to point out just how much soul she crams in there.
Monday, March 29, 2021
Is the more or less middling: the mean average
Is not noticed.
—W. H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety
Monday, September 21, 2020
Every September I attend a retreat for the Academy of Christian Editors. A feature of that retreat is a sharing circle where we each get roughly a minute to introduce our favorite book we read over the past year. You can see this year’s complete list here.
I always find this exercise a little stressful — I want my choice to be distinct and memorable, something I won’t be judged for except to be judged as distinct and memorable myself.
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead. This novel inspired by true events is set in the mid 1960s at a “reform school” for boys. All the students are tyrannized by the staff, but the black kids are routinely terrorized and brutalized. Whitehead is a master at creating characters and carrying the reader into and through terrible things, and he does so here again. Schools like this one existed in my lifetime. Maybe they still do. I’m haunted by that: How many other atrocities are we allowing to exist, and why are we allowing it?
Mandela and the General, a beautifully drawn graphic novel recounting the true story of how newly elected South African President Nelson Mandela, who was actively dismantling the century-old system of apartheid that had privileged whites over people of color, met with and earned the respect and loyalty of the leader of a nationalist resistance group bent on taking South Africa back for the whites. A story I’d never heard before — powerful, compelling — and nobody else had picked it. #winning
What follows is an excerpt from the Winter 2021 edition of Middling, my quarterly newsletter on music, books, work, and getting older. I'...
Every now and then I come out of my shell and risk ridicule by suggesting, ever so softly, that in the pantheon of the Marvel Entertainment ...
OK, I'll admit it: I've become a semiregular viewer of Joel Osteen (of the clan Osteen!). He's on TV every Sunday right after Th...