Monthly Archives July 2015

Going Slow: In Life, In Play, In Love

I was going to read Carl Honoré’s groundbreaking 2004 book, In Praise of Slowness: How A Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed, in preparation for this post, but given my jam-packed life that never seems to have a moment to spare, I couldn’t possibly afford the time. So I did the next best thing: I watched the (strictly time-controlled, 16-minute) TED talk he presented on the subject 10 years ago.

Ten years, I might add, that, if you’re anything like me, seem to have zoomed by with inordinate, inexplicable, “Now where were we?” speed.

But enough of the speed-tinged ironies about slowness now, for we are here to address a serious point: In 2015, in an era of unprecedented technological prowess, armed and awash with every time-saving tech device thus far imagined by the finest scientific and engineering minds, half a century after futurists were predicting we would by now be enjoying l...

Read More

A Poem: “Public and Private”

PUBLIC AND PRIVATE

I am gazing across mud flats to a public dock where
a steady procession of fishers and crabbers have spent
the day casting their hooks and nets to the shifting tides.

Faceless and unobserved behind my patio screen,
I see a young couple descend, he fishing,
she in a beach chair thumbing a magazine.

A feathery rain starts falling through diffused yellow light,
the world gone silent and still as the woman turns her chair
into an umbrella under which her lover comes to join her.

It is a scene of such startling and natural intimacy that
I think to avert my eyes, but of course I don’t, can’t,
the moth of my heart drawn to this universal flame.

The lovers barely move over long minutes, and I think of the
fine Latin phrase “in flagrante delicto” as they stand fully clothed,
public and private, open to the world and naked in their cave.

Memories form of lovers careful to lock doors and wi...

Read More

Five Photos Challenging Our Notions of a Benevolent God

“Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. Even all the hairs on your head are numbered.”

That’s the gospel of Matthew, verses 29-30, positing a benevolent and merciful God who cares for and directs the lives of his creatures and creation down to the very last detail.

And in this corner, Tennyson’s “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” his famous poetic line denoting the unblinking savagery with which creatures stalk, tear into and consume other creatures for their own sustenance.

Which vision reflects reality, once we set down our books and toys, cast off our fanciful cloaks, and head out from our cloistered drawing rooms to confront the challenges of day-to-day survival?

This question is perhaps particularly relevant to the carnivores among us, who rely on slaughterhouses to go about the business that lesser animals must tend to ...

Read More

Amy Winehouse’s Cry From the Depths of Creation

At one point in the current documentary (Amy) of the gifted and tortured singer Amy Winehouse, she was so deeply submerged in her partly guttural/feral, partly ravishing/seductive treatment of a song, digging into it with such resonant and startling ferocity, that I exclaimed to myself there in the dark of the theater, “My God, that voice is from the depths of creation!”

True enough, but the surpassingly sad part of that voice is all the pain and self-torture that it was built upon, quite aside from the God-given gifts of raw vocal power it had been bequeathed.

For truly, Amy Winehouse’s voice and career and downward spiral of a life stand as an unanswered cry against the multiple and relentless outrages of existence, all the forces that seem to line up with special anticipation and glee when a soul at once so sensitive, talented, raw and ultimately, fragile, presents itself to us.

There are plenty of ...

Read More

David Brooks on Tumultuous, Transformative, Soul-Shattering Love

New York Times columnist and PBS pundit David Brooks has written an extraordinary book (The Road to Character) that I will discuss in some depth in a near-future post, but there is one section of it that I think deserves its own highlighting, with only enough discussion from me to move some generous excerpts along. The book itself addresses the grand topic of human character—its qualities, importance, and exemplification—in a cast of 10 historic “characters” whose biographies Brooks has scoured and synthesized on our behalf.

The subjects are mostly giants of history, albeit flawed and so very human, as Brooks reveals in brief chapters devoted to their lives and works.

One of them, the 19th century Victorian era novelist George Eliot, serves as the jumping-off point for a remarkable five-page reflection/digression that is not really about Eliot at all, but instead allows Brooks to offer what amounts...

Read More