Hope is a muscle.

GQ: On Being sometimes seems like an outlier in today’s culture, in terms of its themes: patience, civility, mystery, asking questions rather than supplying answers. Why do you think it has resonated so deeply?

And simple ones.

Or something we can implement now.

Do you have hope that we’re going to get them back on the right track?

I think that hope is a muscle. The hope that I see to be transformative and modeled in very wise people who have shifted something in their world—civil rights leaders to [social justice activist] Bryan Stevenson to [labor activist] Ai-jen Poo—it’s not [idealistic]. I don’t use the word idealism. I don’t use the word optimism. It’s not wishful thinking. It’s not assuming that things will turn out all right. It’s an insistence, looking at the world straight on as it is and rejecting the idea that it has to be that way, and then throwing your light and your pragmatism as much as your spirit at [that]. What does it look like if you don’t accept it? That’s how I think of it…

One of the criticisms that gets lobbed at these conversations is that they’re too—and I know you just said you don’t like this word—idealistic, and perhaps not as important as conversations about politics or policy. You worked in Berlin in the 1980s and you saw geopolitics up close and personal, what it can do and the effect it can have on people’s lives. And yet you still came away to have these conversations. So you seem uniquely suited to respond to someone who’s skeptical, who says, why do these conversations matter?

We have a bias—which I also inherited, it’s in our education—to take what is dysfunctional and catastrophic and frightening and failing more seriously than what works well and what is quietly flourishing. The bias is a really powerful one. We’re learning about our bodies and brains—which is an incredible frontier. They’re so mobilized by threat or fear. There’s a level at which we’re so sophisticated, and then there’s this animal creature. We don’t investigate: what is generative? This is one of the motivations for me in starting the show. The question for me in the beginning is, how can we make goodness as riveting as evil and destruction? …

In science fiction, or even at the far edges of quantum physics, you hold this idea that there are parallel universes; that there are equal realities that may be wildly divergent. Because I have trained my eyes on this, I’m looking for it, I see it. There’s a phrase that came out of a study about the incredible health benefits from an intentional practice of gratitude: Take in the good. It’s not even about getting more optimistic. It’s just saying, I’m going to attend to that. I’m going to give that my attention. Maybe that’s the spiritual practice. That has become a discipline [for me]. What we practice becomes instinctive.

Krista Tippett, excerpts from “Hope is a Muscle”: Why Krista Tippett Wants You to Keep the Faith” in an interview with Clay Skipper. (GQ, July 21, 2022)

Quiet conversations that will not be publicized

So what’s a new possibility you’re inspired by? I love your questions. You’re pushing in the really important way. Here’s what I think of: I see the disarray. I see the broken power structures. I see the damage and the pain. I also see people tending to that. At the heart of some of these national-level or community-level conflicts, there is space to move below the radar and start stitching together relationships and quiet conversations at a very human, granular level. We’re going to work on quiet conversations that will not be publicized. That feels to me like a power move in this world…

A lot of people worry about finding their calling. Do you have any advice for them? I’m very aware that in this culture, in the 20th-century world, we’ve diminished the idea of a calling to mean your job title. I think there are many callings in a life. I want people to liberate the idea of their calling from what they’re being paid to do for a living. Your calling may be something that you do that gives you joy but that you’re never going to get paid for. It may be certain relationships that you’re holding that are primary. Being a parent or being a child, being a friend, being a neighbor, the service you do in your community. It can be how you show up through your day, how you treat strangers. You can play an instrument. You can write. It’s the things that amplify your best humanity.I don’t think I have to define that, because we all intuitively know what it is. I talk so much on this show about Rilke —

I know where you’re going: “Living the questions.” Yes! The notion of living the questions in a world that is in love with answers. I’ve been reading Rilke since I was in Berlin almost 40 years ago, what I feel coming back to our world is this idea that to do justice to a question means that you cannot rush to an answer. What you’re called to do is hold the question itself, dwell with the question respectfully, and love the question. Live your way into the answer. If you hold a question, if you’re faithful, the question will be faithful back to you.

OK, what was the last thing that blew your mind? For me the last two years have been one seismic event after the other. That experience of the ground shaking beneath our feet and that happening to every person on the planet — that is what all of our spiritual traditions tell us is the reality at any given moment, and it’s what our culture gives us a million devices to deny. But there it was: We are fragile. Civilization rests on something as tender as bodies breathing in proximity to other bodies. We were reminded of that. And living in Minneapolis when George Floyd was killed. The West Coast caught fire. Our political fragmentation that we’ve been walking into for such a long time. We have a war in Europe. We pretended like capitalism triumphing would lead to a moral universe. It just goes on and on. It’s all before-and-after now.

— David Marchese, excerpts of a interview with Krista Tippett in “Krista Tippett Wants You to See All the Hidden Signs of Hope” (NY Times Magazine, July 7, 2022).  Tippett created and hosts the public radio program and podcast On Being.

 

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

Whenever I feel bad, I go to the library and read controversial periodicals. Though I do not know whether I am a liberal or a conservative, I am nevertheless enlivened by the hatred which one bears the other. In fact, this hatred strikes me as one of the few signs of life remaining in the world. This is another thing about the world which is upside-down: all the friendly and likable people seem dead to me; only the haters seem alive.

—  Walker PercyThe Moviegoer: A Novel (Vintage; April 14, 1998) (via Whiskey River)


Notes:

  • Quote – Thank you Whiskey River.
  • Photo of Walker Percy sitting in his Covington, La., yard, June 8, 1977. (AP Photo/Jack Thornell)

T.G.I.F.


Scarfolk Council

Hmmmmm….

Neither season after season of extreme weather events nor the risk of extinction for a million animal species around the world could push environmental destruction to the top of our country’s list of concerns. And how sad, he said, to see so many among the most creative and best-educated classes, those from whom we might have hoped for inventive solutions, instead embracing personal therapies and pseudo-religious practices that promoted detachment, a focus on the moment, acceptance of one’s surroundings as they were, equanimity in the face of worldly cares. (This world is but a shadow, it is a carcass, it is nothing, this world is not real, do not mistake this hallucination for the real world.) Self-care, relieving one’s own everyday anxieties, avoiding stress: these had become some of our society’s highest goals, he said—higher, apparently, than the salvation of society itself. The mindfulness rage was just another distraction, he said. Of course we should be stressed, he said. We should be utterly consumed with dread. Mindful meditation might help a person face drowning with equanimity, but it would do absolutely nothing to right the Titanic, he said. It wasn’t individual efforts to achieve inner peace, it wasn’t a compassionate attitude toward others that might have led to timely preventative action, but rather a collective, fanatical, over-the-top obsession with impending doom.

Sigrid Nunez, What Are You Going Through: A Novel (Riverhead Books, September 8, 2020)


Photo: Patty Maher, Light & Dark

One Tiny Beautiful Thing

Paying attention to what is happening in Washington is a form of self-torment so reality altering that it should be regulated as a Schedule IV drug. I pay attention because that’s what responsible people do, but I sometimes wonder how much longer I can continue to follow the national news and not descend into a kind of despair that might as well be called madness. Already there are days when I’m one click away from becoming Lear on the heath, raging into the storm. There are days when it feels like the apocalypse is already here.

Except it isn’t, not really. Not yet. One day when the relentless rains let up for a bit, I went to the park an hour before sunset to walk on the muddy trails and take a break from the bad news. The woods were as lovely as they ever are after a rain: the creeks full of rushing water, the gray bark of the fallen trees slick with moss. Above the trail, the limbs of the living trees creaked in the rising wind, the kind of sound that makes your heart ache for reasons too far beyond words to explain. Though the forest understory is already beginning to green up, weeks too soon, the towhees scratching for insects stirring in what’s left of last fall’s leaves were not in any way sorry about the early arrival of spring.

A few hundred yards on, my eyes caught on a tree I hadn’t noticed when I was walking in the other direction. About seven feet up the trunk was a knothole, a place where a limb had long ago broken off and let water in to rot the wood. Perhaps a woodpecker had helped to deepen it, too, and given the water more purchase over time. The hole was small, a dark grotto in the thickly grooved bark of the stalwart oak, a hiding place that reached far into the mass of that old tree, and the failing light deepened its darkness. Who knows how many miniature woodland creatures have crept into its crevice over the years to nest, to shelter from the wind and rain, to hide from predators — or to wait for prey.

But a creature lurking inside it is not what singled this knothole out among the hundreds, even thousands, I had passed on the path as night came on. What caught my eye was a cluster of tiny seedlings colored the bright new green of springtime, so bright it seemed to glow in the gloaming. The tender plants were growing in the loam inside the knothole. Far above the ground, a hole made by decay in a living tree had become a cold frame, a natural greenhouse that lets in light and keeps out frost. Life in death in life…

Instead of giving up something for Lent, I’m planning to make a heartfelt offering. In times like these, it makes more sense to seek out daily causes for praise than daily reminders of lack. So here is my resolution: to find as many ordinary miracles as a waterlogged winter can put forth, as many resurrections as an eerily early springtime will allow. Tiny beautiful things are bursting forth in the darkest places, in the smallest nooks and deepest cracks of the hidden world, and I am going to keep looking every single day until I find one.

~ Margaret Renkl, from “One Tiny Beautiful Thing” (NY Times, Feb 23, 2020)


Photo: Mohan Bhat

Driving I-95 S. Tethered to Nothing?

5:15 a.m. Traffic flowing. 16 minutes to the office.

Long day yesterday.  Whaddya remember? What Stuck?

In bed. 9:40 pm.

ZzzQuil slow drips.

Mind whirring, but in slower revolutions.

Right ear bud pumping in “The Daily Podcast” with “The Anatomy of a Warren Rally.”

Words drift in and out, sleep meds seeping deeper. And then Mind stops, and locks on. [Read more…]

Truth


Source: m_d_n_f

Increasing awfulness from rock-bottom bad

I’d brought my computer, but maybe I could actually just not turn it on, and the dreary growth of little obligations that overran my screen would just disappear; maybe the news, which—like a magic substance in a fairy tale—was producing perpetually increasing awfulness from rock-bottom bad, would just disappear.

~ Deborah Eisenberg, Your Duck is My Duck: Stories (Ecco, September 25, 2018)


Notes:

Boycott. The Embargo. It was draconian and complete.

Right after the election, Erik Hagerman decided he’d take a break from reading about the hoopla of politics…Mr. Hagerman developed his own eccentric experiment, one that was part silent protest, part coping mechanism, part extreme self-care plan. He swore that he would avoid learning about anything that happened to America after Nov. 8, 2016.

“It was draconian and complete,” he said…It was just going to be for a few days. But he is now more than a year into knowing almost nothing about American politics. He has managed to become shockingly uninformed during one of the most eventful chapters in modern American history. He is as ignorant as a contemporary citizen could ever hope to be.

James Comey. Russia. Robert Mueller. Las Vegas. The travel ban. “Alternative facts.” Pussy hats. Scaramucci. Parkland. Big nuclear buttons. Roy Moore. He knows none of it. To Mr. Hagerman, life is a spoiler…

It takes meticulous planning to find boredom. Mr. Hagerman commits as hard as a method actor, and his self-imposed regimen — white-noise tapes at the coffee shop, awkward scolding of friends, a ban on social media — has reshaped much of his life…The fact that it’s working for him — “I’m emotionally healthier than I’ve ever felt,” he said — has made him question the very value of being fed each day by the media. Why do we bother tracking faraway political developments and distant campaign speeches? What good comes of it? Why do we read all these tweets anyway?…

“I had been paying attention to the news for decades,” Mr. Hagerman said. “And I never did anything with it.” At some point last year, he decided his experiment needed a name. He considered The Embargo, but it sounded too temporary. The Boycott? It came off a little whiny. Mr. Hagerman has created a fortress around himself. “Tiny little boats of information can be dangerous,” he said…

~ Sam Dolnick, excerpts from The Man Who Knew Too Little (NY Times, March 10, 2018)

Are you listening?

Sad, sobering but beautiful.  “The photographer and filmmaker Katy Grannan travels around America to capture the nation’s mood in 2016.”

For we need that grace now (Right Now)

george-h-w-bush

In the aftermath of the loss of his first race for office, in 1964, Mr. Bush wrote a heartfelt letter to an old friend: “This mean humorless philosophy which says everybody should agree on absolutely everything is not good.” He continued, “When the word moderation becomes a dirty word we have some soul searching to do.” The words — touchingly naïve and heartfelt — seem to come from a vanished world…

Mr. Bush was the last president of the World War II generation. A decorated combat hero, he nevertheless found it incredibly difficult to talk about himself — a legacy from his mother, who discouraged self-reference and self-absorption by saying that no one wanted to hear about the Great I Am. As a child, Mr. Bush was nicknamed Have-Half for his tendency to split any treats in two to share with friends. His was an ethos of empathy. Mr. Bush always wondered about what “the other guy” was thinking and feeling.  […]

Mr. Bush tempered his own ambition with empathy and dignity. Late in his years as Mr. Reagan’s vice president, Mr. Bush was shown into a children’s leukemia ward in Krakow, Poland. Thirty-five years before, he and his wife, Barbara, had lost a child to the disease, a family tragedy of which he rarely spoke in public. In Krakow, one patient, a 7- or 8-year-old boy, wanted to greet the American vice president. Learning that the child was sick with the cancer…Mr. Bush began to cry. “My eyes flooded with tears,” he dictated to his audio diary, “and behind me was a bank of television cameras.” He told himself, “I can’t turn around,” can’t “dissolve because of personal tragedy in the face of a host of reporters and our hosts and the nurses who give of themselves every day.” So “I stood there looking at this little guy, tears running down my cheek” — “hoping he didn’t see, but, if he did, hoping he’d feel that I loved him.”

Mr. Bush’s is a voice from a past at once distant and close at hand — and a voice we should seek to heed, for we need that grace now, in our own time.

~ Jon Meacham, Nostalgia for the Grace of George H.W. Bush


Notes:

  • Don’t miss full Opinion piece in the NY Times by Jon Meecham: Nostalgia for the Grace of George H.W. Bush
  • Photo: Former President George H.W. Bush during a portrait session for Parade Magazine at home in Kennebunkport, Maine on September 29, 2009. Portrait by Doug Menuez via Stockland Martel

TRUTH: Canada to you.

Check out what some Canadians are saying about what’s happening down south.


Thank you Lori!

Those illusions were beautiful.

Here I would like to say a word for the spectacular illusions under which American voters once were able to operate. You used to be able to like your guy—to admire your candidate and imagine unknown virtues he no doubt possessed that would be revealed in time, in books. Those illusions were beautiful. They gave clean energy to the engine of our politics. You can’t have illusions anymore. That souring, which is based on knowledge and observation as opposed to mere cynicism, is painful to witness and bear. The other day a conservative intellectual declared to her fellow writers and thinkers: “I’m for the venal idiot who won’t mechanize government against all I hold dear.” That’s some bumper sticker, isn’t it?

~ Peggy Noonan, America’s Decadent Leadership Class

 


Credits: Photo

You Go Judge! Debate: Cut the Cr*p. Save our Children. All of them. 

hc-moukawsher-lawsuit-profile-20160930

“Connecticut State Superior Court Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher threw out the state’s school financing system as unconstitutional, his unsparing 90-page ruling read and resonated like a cry from the heart on the failings of American public education.”

Some excerpts from NYTimes: An F-Minus for America’s Schools From a Fed-Up Judge:

  •  “Uselessly perfect teacher evaluations” that found “virtually every teacher in the state” proficient or exemplary, while a third of students in many of the poorest communities cannot read even at basic levels.
  • He attacked a task force charged with setting meaningful high school graduation requirements for how its “biggest thought on how to fix the problem turned out to be another task force,” and called it “a kind of a spoof.”
  • Too many American high school graduates are “let down by patronizing and illusory degrees”
  • Too many decisions and too much debate about schools seem, as he wrote, “completely disconnected to the teaching of children.”
  • Nearly all high school students in affluent communities like Darien and Westport scored on state tests as “advanced” in math and approached the same level in reading. But one out of three students in nearby Bridgeport and other poor cities did not reach the most basic level in math, and did only slightly better in reading.
  • It was a strikingly blunt way of saying what many people feel: The system is broken.
  • He added, “Just doing more of the same is unlikely to lead to a different result.”
  • The judge called for a radical reimagining that starts with the question of what schools should do: What are the goals for elementary students, or high school graduates? Then, he said, the state should decide how much money schools require so that all students, rich and poor, reach those goals.
  • 46 percent of white fourth graders across the country read at or above “proficient,” compared with just 18 percent of their black peers.
  • He criticized “uselessly perfect teacher evaluations” as part of a rating system “that is little more than cotton candy in a rainstorm.” He described the state’s efforts to define high school proficiency as “like a sugar cube boat,” adding, “It dissolves before it’s half-launched.”

Read entire article: NYTimes: An F-Minus for America’s Schools From a Fed-Up Judge


Photo: Hartford Courant

Vintage 1942: The more things change, the more they…

politics-politicians-funny-insane-lies

Every time I hear a political speech or I read those of our leaders, I am horrified at having, for years, heard nothing which sounded human. It is always the same words telling the same lies. And the fact that men accept this, that the people’s anger has not destroyed these hollow clowns, strikes me as proof that men attribute no importance to the way they are governed […]”

– Albert Camus, Notebooks, 1935-1942 


Notes: Quote Source – Schonwiener. Photo: George Horner on The Bowery Billboard (via this isn’t happiness)

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