- . . . in 1803 Edward Bulwer Lytton, dramatist and novelist (The Last Days of Pompeii) was born in London. (His novel, Paul Clifford will begin: "It was a dark and stormy night."
- . . . in 1895, the playwright, poet, and novelist Oscar Wilde was convicted of "committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons" and sentenced to serve two years in prison.
- . . . in 1908, the poet Theodore Roethke was born in Saginaw, Michigan.
- . . . in 1977, "Star Wars" was released in theaters.
INTRODUCING . . .
WHAT I READ OVER THE WEEKEND THAT GAVE ME PAUSE . . .
DARK THOUGHTS . . .
From the New York Times magazine cover story, "Mr. Trump's Wild Ride" by Robert Draper:
On the TV, Fox had moved on from the election to footage of the smoky aftermath of a bombing in Baghdad. Trump rose from his seat and walked over to the screen for a closer look. “Boy, this ISIS,” he murmured.
I asked Trump if he had ever been to Iraq. “Never!” he said, sounding horrified by the thought.
“What’s the most dangerous place in the world you’ve been to?”
He contemplated this for a second. “Brooklyn,” he said, laughing. “No,” he went on, “there are places in America that are among the most dangerous in the world. You go to places like Oakland. Or Ferguson. The crime numbers are worse. Seriously.”'
(t)rump said it. Seriously.
LIVES ONLINE . . .
From a New York Times editorial, "How Facebook Warps Our Worlds" by Frank Bruni:
The Internet isn’t rigged to give us right or left, conservative or liberal — at least not until we rig it that way. It’s designed to give us more of the same, whatever that same is: one sustained note from the vast and varied music that it holds, one redundant fragrance from a garden of infinite possibility.
I'm still getting daily pop-up reminders (no matter what webpage I'm visiting) about the latest model of New Balance work-out shoes.
SINGING HEARTS . . .
From a New York Times editorial, "To Write Better Code, Read Virginia Woolf":
THE humanities are kaput. Sorry, liberal arts cap-and-gowners. You blew it. In a software-run world, what’s wanted are more engineers.
At least, so goes the argument in a rising number of states, which have embraced a funding model for higher education that uses tuition “bonuses” to favor hard-skilled degrees like computer science over the humanities. The trend is backed by countless think pieces. “Macbeth does not make my priority list,” wrote Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and the author of a widely shared blog post titled “Is Majoring in Liberal Arts a Mistake for Students?” . . .
. . . in my experience, programming lends itself to concentrated self-study in a way that, say, “To the Lighthouse” or “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction” do not. To learn how to write code, you need a few good books. To enter the mind of an artist, you need a human guide.
For folks like Mr. Khosla, such an approach is dangerous: “If subjects like history and literature are focused on too early, it is easy for someone not to learn to think for themselves and not to question assumptions, conclusions, and expert philosophies.” (Where some of these kill-the-humanities pieces are concerned, the strongest case for the liberal arts is made just in trying to read them.)
How much better is the view of another Silicon Valley figure, who argued that “technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing.”
His name? Steve Jobs.
My heart sang after I read this editorial.
CURING ANXIETY . . .
From a New York Times editorial, "Among the Healers," by Diana Spechler:
We live in a world where people cite Jesus as their inspiration for denigrating the poor, for hating immigrants and gays and women, for rejecting refugees and accumulating wealth, but in a corner of this world, down a cobblestone street in the middle of Mexico, lives a man who spends his days emulating Jesus: He takes in the sick, the haunted, the marginalized, the wicked (cartel members, corrupt priests and politicians, murderers). He offers hope to those who can’t afford the health care they need. He faces those who have so little and listens to their stories of hardship. He touches them and lets them know that their lives can get better, that good can overcome evil. And maybe most important, he tells them, you’re going to be O.K.
“What do you do to take care of yourself?” I ask Rafael.
He gives me a look that says that’s a ridiculous question, dismisses me with the wave of his hand.
But then he spends the next half-hour telling us animated stories from his childhood, how he found his sister when she was lost, how he knew when his uncle’s car broke down, how he met a pregnant woman who wasn’t yet showing and announced that she would give birth to twins. “I’m not pregnant!” the woman had protested because she hadn’t wanted anyone to know.
Maybe this is what he does to take care of himself. Maybe this is what I do to take care of myself, what the people in the waiting room do to take care of themselves: We trade stories. We use them to impose meaning on our lives. Maybe that’s all spirituality is: imposing meaning on our lives.
Back in the waiting room a few people shoot us dirty looks: Who are we to consume so much of Rafael’s time? Of theirs? The lights have been dimmed. The woman in the pink pantsuit is leading everyone in prayer. The woman who brought balloons and mopped the floor is on her knees, her hands pressed together, her lips moving silently, urgently, in a language I wish I knew.
Sometimes, you aren't going to be okay. Sometimes nothing is the answer.
I WOULD HAVE GIVEN MY EYE TEETH TO WRITE THIS SENTENCE . . .
Erdrich is a poet of lists, placing like and unlike together as if they were a series of Christmas lights, each individually illuminating, each gaining luster and brilliance from its placement, the whole blazing, incandescent.
TODAY'S TRUTH . . .