January 21, 2015
Another goodie from Zen Pencils:
Physicist Alan Lightman’s meditation on the flow of time. More after the link.
Last August my oldest daughter got married. The ceremony took place at a farm in the little town of Wells, Maine, against the backdrop of rolling green meadows, a white wooden barn, and the sounds of a classical guitar. Each member of the wedding party stepped down a sloping hill toward the chuppah, while the guests sat in simple white chairs bordered by rows of sunflowers. The air was redolent with the smells of maples and grasses and other growing things. It was a marriage we had all hoped for. The two families had known each other with affection for years. Radiant in her white dress, a white dahlia in her hair, my daughter asked to hold my hand as we walked down the aisle.
It was a perfect picture of utter joy, and utter tragedy. Because I wanted my daughter back as she was at age 10, or 20. As we moved together toward that lovely arch that would swallow us all, other scenes flashed through my mind: my daughter in first grade holding a starfish as big as herself, her smile missing a tooth; my daughter on the back of my bicycle as we rode to a river to drop stones in the water; my daughter telling me that she’d started her first period. Now, she was 30. I could see lines in her face.
I don’t know why we long so for permanence, why the fleeting nature of things so disturbs. With futility, we cling to the old wallet long after it has fallen apart. We visit and revisit the old neighborhood where we grew up, searching for the remembered grove of trees and the little fence. We clutch our old photographs. In our churches and synagogues and mosques, we pray to the everlasting and eternal. Yet, in every nook and cranny, nature screams at the top of her lungs that nothing lasts, that it is all passing away. All that we see around us, including our own bodies, is shifting and evaporating and one day will be gone. Where are the one billion people who lived and breathed in the year 1800, only two short centuries ago?
An examination of the usefulness of the doctrine of Hell in modern Christianity. With Hell being a very important idea in Islam, as well, I find there’s a lot to relate with here.
In December 2013, a hoax began circulating on the internet claiming that Pope Francis had called a Third Vatican Council that, among other things, purged a literal hell from Catholic doctrine. ‘This doctrine is incompatible with the infinite love of God,’ Francis purportedly said. ‘God seeks not to condemn but only to embrace… Hell is merely a metaphor for the isolated soul, which like all souls ultimately will be united in love with God.’ The piece quickly went viral on Facebook and other social media platforms – minus the element of parody. The remarks did not seem too out of line with the new Pope’s own attitude of embrace over condemnation. […] But the longing for a hell-less faith cannot be attributed to a contemporary generational shift alone. Time and again in the history of western Christianity, this longing has surfaced, only to be subdued and hell reaffirmed as not just scripturally but also morally necessary.
Pulitzer Prize–winner Ayad Akhtar on faith, identity, writing and storytelling.
“I always consider the entire process about failure, and I think that’s the reason why more people don’t write.”
Essay in Guernica magazine on being asked to speak for a whole community and region rather than yourself.
I wanted to say I am not a political writer. My life has never been political, but sometimes, like that one time when I was dressed in my swim trunks and flip flops and flew to Miami with my friends and a TSA agent pulled me aside and questioned me about the nature of “my business in the U.S.,” well, then the story of my life is made “political.” I wanted to tell them that if being a writer is to endure loneliness then being a writer of color in America is to suffer banishment: the only boat off this island often being if I write a certain kind of story in a certain kind of way for a certain kind of audience, which is to say—and we do not say these words enough—for a white audience. But I could not get myself to say these things and instead I just stared at my brown fingers hovering above the black keys on my laptop, unable to type.
I admit it: I struggle with prayer. The month of Ramadan is coming up in the Islamic calendar, which means I’ll be fasting from sunrise to sunset everyday for 30 days. (If you’re counting, that’s no food or drink from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
It’s a time of introspection and prayer. Yet when I’m deprived of a good night’s sleep and regular food, I tend to space out. A few years ago, after my pre-dawn meal and morning prayers, I returned to bed for a few more hours of sleep before the start of the day. In a state of half-sleep during this holy month, I imagined I was in the Emperor’s throne room in a musical version of Return of the Jedi. The old guy can dance, let me tell you.
Yet despite the difficulty (and the show tunes), Ramadan is an essential part of my spiritual life. So is daily prayer; there are times in my life where prayer actually helped me survive. These practices help me cultivate a sense of gratitude and even optimism about my life. So, creating a space for that practice is important to me. Read the rest of this entry »
Getting close to officially completing the second draft of my novel. Picked up a print-out of the book yesterday from Staples. I’ll start a full read-through next week and spend the next month or so finalizing the draft. A lot of positive changes came via my six-month mentorship at Banff. The book is currently 85,000 words (332 pages in this format), down from 91,000 when I started the mentorship. Before that started, I had already cut it down from the 120,000 words it was as an official first draft. Throughout the mentorship, I had this fantastic feeling of watching the book get better and better with each passing day. Now I’m curious to see how all the edits turned out.
Out in The Great Alone on Grantland:
The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race pushes participants to the brink on an unforgiving trek to the end of the world. And, as one writer who tracked the race by air discovers, that is exactly the point.
A true work of art: literary journalism and exquisite online production. From the moment you first scroll down, you know you’re in for something special. And Brian Phillips is always enjoyable.
(P.S. Looks like the New York Times made a big splash with a piece called Snow Fall a few months prior to this. A must-see as well. Funny how they classify it under Projects as opposed to just News or Features.)