NOº 5550

30 Things I Love Right Now: [11.21.14]


(1) Fresh limes. | (2) Sisters. | (3) Sister Sledge. | (4) Exuberance. | (5) Confessions. | (6) St. Augustine. | (7) Original (and abiding) sins. | (8) Writing raw. Come what may. | (9) Diane Goettel. Still and always. | (10) Intercessories. | (11) The part in John’s gospel, where Mary Magdalene sees Jesus and she holds him and he says don’t hold me because I haven’t ascended to my Father yet. | (12) That I would have Mary Magdalene hold me and I would have my Father wait. Which is why I am no risen savior. | (13) Not being a risen savior. | (14) Cooking. Cooking bad. Cooking well. Spilling shit. Cutting my finger. A perfect sear. All of it. | (15) Singing. Out loud. To no one. | (16) Right but: J– and E–, who arrived on time. Regardless. I don’t know what to make of them yet. I just know this feeling and I dwell in it and it helps me move along my path. Which is huge. Come what may. | (17) Home. Which is a specific place. 38.8951° N, 77.0367° W. | (18) Jon Jay Gruden. (Jon. Jay. Tomato, tomahtoe.) Anyway. Poor bastard. | (19) Turnips. | (20) D. Boon. Still and always. | (21) Mike Watt. Still + Always. | (22) Golf. Still/Always. | (23) Holding a golf club. | (24) Stuart. Still, always. | (25) Playing golf, with Stuart, in the cold. | (26) My new cold-weather golf garb. | (27) Cold weather! | (28) That one Pearl Jam record. With the avocado on it. | (30) These crazy kids at this crazy art school where I teach. How they’re better than I’ll ever be. Still. Always. Amen.

NOº 5547

101-Word Review: ‘A New Christianity for a New World’

A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying & How a New Faith is Being BornA New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying & How a New Faith is Being Born by John Shelby Spong

My rating: 5 of 5 starsBishop Spong’s voice calls out from the wilderness, but it’s not shouting, “Repent!” It’s pleading with us to awaken to a new commitment to love. Shedding the skin of a personal god isn’t easy for most god-fearers, but Spong believes the theistic notion of God is, in fact, an increasingly ineffectual palliative for a deeply rooted, deeply human brand of self-consciousness. As we move past our collective fear and neurosis, past our pathological need to know everything, past our literal-minded fundamentalisms, Spong believes we can experience the Unknown as a new freedom, a new faith, a true and sustaining new hope.

NOº 5530

101-Word Review: ‘Gone Girl’

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 2 of 5 stars. NPR movie critic Bob Mondello said this about director David Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl: “By the end of Gone Girl, the social issues that animate the film’s beginning — job loss in an economic downturn, differences in wealth and class, media manipulation — have receded, and things have gotten so plot-driven and pulpy, there’s nothing to challenge the director or make him stretch.” Turns out that’s not Fincher’s fault. It’s baked into the pie, as Flynn’s novel similarly loses its bearings late. What’s more, Flynn wrote the screenplay, too—thus cinching Fincher’s mysterious fidelity to her clever but flawed storyline.


NOº 5525

30 Things I Love Right Now: [11.02.14]

(1) A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying & How a New Faith Is Being Born by John Shelby Spong. | (2) A slurry. | (3) Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe. | (4) Falling back. | (5) That and an actual chill in the air. | (6) A new challenge. | (7) My dream life. By which I mean to say: the world I have lately been inhabiting in my sleep. An extraordinarily corporeal place. | (8) Soppressata. (Still.) | (9) Planning for Thanksgiving. | (10) Golf. | (11) Title IX. | (12) The Grand Budapest Hotel. | (13) A clean kitchen. To cook in. | (14) Clean laundry. | (15) Play-by-play texting, even if the result I have to report disappoints my friend on the other end, a long-suffering Razorback. | (16) People who live two or more lifetimes in one. Who push themselves into different shapes and predicaments and live to tell the tale. Which is to say: our unsung saints and intercessories. | (17) A nice, clean haircut. | (18) My new (and only) vest. (Here’s hoping I can muster up the courage to wear it in public one of these days.) | (19) When my old and ailing dog can put her head down and rest, especially when she rests her head on my pillow. | (20) Coffee and cream. | (21) Rice and gravy. | (22) Central Florida in October. (As I suspected.) | (23) My new hiking shoes. | (24) Sweater weather! | (25) Good people vouching for me, exhorting me, believing in me. | (26) Fresh tomatoes and salt. | (27) Rosemary and thyme. | (28) Smoked paprika. (Still.) | (29) Anchovies. | (30) My hat, in the ring, come what may.

NOº 5522

101-Word Review: ‘Lincoln’s Melancholy’

Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His GreatnessLincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk

My rating: 5 of 5 starsNot unlike Kay Redfield Jamison’s excellent Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Lincoln’s Melancholy is a holistic consideration of how temperament shapes us, our thoughts and deeds; how the cultural assignations of “genius” and “affliction” are complex, mutable, and very often two sides of the same coin. That the Great Emancipator was, in fact, shackled in his early years by the back-and-forth lurching between despondency and hypomania is certainly food for thought. That he settled into his destiny, using this great range of emotion to right the ship of our listing nation, that’s why he’s still a hero.

NOº 5513

101-Word Review: ‘Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls’

Unclean Jobs for Women and GirlsUnclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting

My rating: 5 of 5 starsRaw but not strident. Raw not in the sense of underdone, half-baked: in fact, these stories are superbly crafted and in control, sentence to sentence, page to page. No, they’re raw in the best way: the way that shows us our obscenities and absurdities, in the flesh, and makes us feel like laughing, feel like crying, feel like screaming. All three at once and then some. This is a book that stays with you long after you put it down, and if you’re a writer, it will make you want to write, to write like you really mean it this time.


NOº 5507

30 Things I Love Right Now: [10.18.14]

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(1) October in Alabama. | (2) October anywhere, really. | (3) My Strong Sad t-shirt. | (4) Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. | (5) Goodreads. | (6) MAD Day @ ASFA. | (7) This time next week, I’ll be in Florida, playing golf. | (8) This time last week two weeks ago, I was in North Carolina, playing golf. | (9) Staying connected with my college buds, albeit intermittently. | (10) Hanging out with my colleagues and students in Linn Park. In October. In Alabama. All impromptu, like. | (11) Not watching the Pitt-Virginia Tech football game because I knew what was going to happen. And it happened. (Okay: I winced through three plays or so, here and there, but mostly I watched my DVR-d episodes of Beat Bobby Flay.) | (12) Grilled tomatoes. | (13) Smoked paprika. | (14) Romaine hearts. | (15) Dill! | (16) Homemade tzatziki sauce. | (17) Taking a risk in class and having it work. | (18) Just taking Saturday, you know? Like, it’s just mine. I’m going to read and cook. Earlier, I was out in the mild sun. The windows are open. My feet are bare. My dog is fed and dozing. Tonight it will be 47º. Clear skies. Ebola can’t touch me. Not on such a Saturday as this. | (19) Tom’s of Maine bar soap. I’m not, like, a hippie or whatever. But it smells good and soothes my skin. | (20) All these dreams I’ve been having with my mother in them. Bootstraps dreams. Boy-get-your-ass-in-gear dreams. It’ll-be-fine dreams. | (21) Getting older. | (22) Exhorting people. | (23) People saying they appreciate being exhorted. | (23) Grilling the bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs. | (24) Saffron. | (25) Chasing Avery. Who is chasing Emma. | (26) Michael Fassbender. | (27) Liam Cunningham. | (28) Making Stuart laugh. | (29) Making Don laugh. | (30) Helping Iris when she needs it.

NOº 5498

Sacred Text: “The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things” by Barry Glassner


Glassner’s thesis — that the “if it bleeds, it leads” media culture not only feeds but creates outsized and irrational fears that don’t reflect the society’s real and pressing problems — makes sense to me, but what’s even more interesting about it is that he posited it in 1999. Before Bush v. Gore, the so-called Red State/Blue State divide. Before September 11. Before Afghanistan and Iraq. (Before, for that matter, American Idol and Facebook and Twitter.) It may be tempting to say that these new realities have fundamentally changed the underlying dynamics of the situation. The culture Barry Glassner is describing is gone, so goes this argument, replaced by something altogether different — and now, in many cases, it’s legitimately scary.

It’s more accurate to say that these new fundamentals are not new at all. They are, in fact, iterations (or byproducts, really) of Glassner’s main point. We are very good—too good and getting even better — at recognizing the symptoms of our collective dysfunction(s) and making a public show of wringing our hands over them. We are, on the other hand, pretty bad (and getting worse) at digging out the root causes, which are the same as they have always been:

How we teach kids.

How we establish and enforce rules of justice and commerce.

Whether we make sure everybody can eat, drink, and breathe safely in perpetuity.

How (if) we take care of our sick people and old people.

The savvy (or lack of it) with which nation states advance their interests in the world.

That about covers it. It’s a finite but interminable set of problems. It’s called civilization. Much of the work of addressing the problems of a civil society is and always has been boring and exhausting and it’s usually pretty thankless. Most of us, says Glassner (and he’s right), would rather be entertained, even if that means turning the free world into a horror show.

NOº 5494

Sacred Text: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain


Politics is people and people don’t change. Not that much.

To wit: Twain wrote his masterpiece in 1884 during a time when American society was frayed at the edges. Technology was opening up the world at a breakneck pace. Electric lights. Gas-powered cars. Steel-frame skyscrapers. And railroads. Lots of railroads. American life, especially in cities, was transforming. As a result, so was the economy, but, in a few short years, it would begin a precipitous decline brought about in no small part because of shaky banking practices. And, of course, America was riven by race. Twain embarks in relatively good humor, writing what appears to be a slightly grown up sequel to Tom Sawyer. Then we get on the river and the more people we meet, the sourer the mood turns. What starts out as an idyllic float down the Big Muddy turns into a dystopic vision of what’s to come in the near term, a reflection of Twain’s growing gloom over human nature and the health of the American body politic. Fast-forward to 2006, when Cormac McCarthy published The Road. A boom lurches toward bust. Deep social divides — this time not so much black people and white people but so-called Red States and Blue States. And then there’s the specter of terrorism, the inchoate fear that, wherever you are, the world around you can, without warning, erupt into a blur of shrapnel and/or deadly germs and/or falling buildings. Both books present us with a man and a boy trying to navigate their way through the maelstrom their society has made of itself. Both books end in something like a simple affirmation — if qualified and impermanent and still a little ambiguous — of the best human beings can offer one another. Which — and here’s the punchline — is the most we can ever hope to get from our politics as well.

NOº 5489

Sacred Text: “The Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx


Marx is basic: the folks who got it want to keep it; those who don’t, want to get it. That double-sided brand of self-help is one of the biggest cogs in the global socioeconomic machine, and it always will be unless there’s some kind of revolution. Marx believed that sort of revolution was inevitable. So far it hasn’t materialized with any staying power, but who knows? Maybe that’s what the internet is for after all, a way for the information age workers of the world to unite. The hunch here is that’s not going to happen either, but, you know, maybe…