1 March 2012
I can only report that something did happen and it happened all of a sudden. Other writers have reported a similar experience. It is not like learning a skill or a game at which, with practice, one gradually improves. One works hard all right, but what comes, comes all of a sudden and as a breakthrough. One hits on something… It is almost as if the discouragement were necessary, that one has first to encounter despair before one is entitled to hope.
I have four of Percy’s books on my shelf and haven’t read any of them. He’s been on my must-read list for years. Not sure what the hang-up is. At the moment it’s (lack of) time, but I’m newly inspired to get on it.
23 February 2012
Suppose that the world’s author put the case to you before creation, saying: “I am going to make a world not certan to be saved, a world the perfection of which shall be conditional merely, the condition being that each several agent does its own “level best.” I offer you the chance of taking part in such a world. Its safety, you see, is unwarranted. It is a real adventure, with real danger, yet it may win through. It is a social scheme of co-operative work genuinely to be done. Will you join the procession? Will you trust yourself and trust the other agents enough to face the risk?
Should you in all seriousness, if participation in such a world were proposed to you, feel bound to reject it as not safe enough? [...]
In the end it is our faith and not our logic that decides such questions, and I deny the right of any pretended logic to veto my own faith. I find myself willing to take the universe to be really dangerous and adventurous, without therefore backing out and crying ‘no play.’ I am willing to think that the prodigal-son attitude, open to us as it is in many vicissitudes, is not the right and final attitude towards the whole of life. I am willing that there should be real losses and real losers, and no total preservation of all that is. I can believe in the ideal as an ultimate, not as an origin, and as an extract, not the whole. When the cup is poured off, the dregs are left behind for ever, but the possibility of what is poured off is sweet enough to accept.
-from “Pragmatism and Religion”
26 December 2011
Phew — made it.
Every year, during the month that starts at Thanksgiving and ends after Christmas, I feel like an undersized running back at the two yard line (deep in my own team’s territory), working my way down the field. I keep hoping that the quarterback will hail-mary us to the end zone in one gorgeous, painless swoop; but it ends up being more like piecemeal progress, fending off tackles, a little achey and bruisey.
There’s just too much expectation around these holidays. Some of which I feel unable to meet, some of which I am unwilling.
In a few days my homage to Giuseppe di Lampedusa‘s The Leopard will go up at The Millions; and in it I write about how much I sympathize, and even empathize, with Don Fabrizio, the novel’s middle-aged Sicilian protagonist, a Prince circa 1860 no less. What could I possibly have in common with the Prince of Salina during Italy’s Risorgimento? Well, principally this:
I belong to an unfortunate generation, swung between the old world and the new, and I find myself ill at ease in both.
My family life is not conventional enough to conform to holiday expectations; and I suppose I am not (yet) unconventional enough at heart to truly feel free from all those expectations.
Anyhoo — officially, we (if you happen to relate to this) can now come out of hiding. It is okay to be doing non-holiday things — like work, correspondence, etc — without seeming too much like a sad weirdo. Here is a bit of what we did on Dec 25, here in Buenos Aires, Argentina:
Parque de la Memoria (for The Disappeared) — “To Think/Contemplate is a Revolutionary Act”
Kitschy Nativity Scene, outside Congreso
Quiet subway platforms — a gathering of tourists mostly!
Families fishing along the Rio de la Plata
Football (soccer) stadium, River Plate Team, the rich team (think Yankees)
In Once (OHNsay) – an immigrant neighborhood centered around a place called Plaza Miserere (yikes) that reminded me of Queens (and not really miserable at all)
And what did we eat? Leftover Chinese takeout, sauteed gai-laan, leftover peach pie (homemade, by a lovely young expat who hosted us for Christmas eve dinner), and flan from the corner bakery. Whiskey and soda, cheap Malbec. Good stuff.
19 September 2011
I appreciated Amy Sullivan‘s piece at TIME about questioning politicians on religion. She wrote in response to Bill Keller‘s NY Times column, in which he challenged journalists to ask “tougher” questions about candidates’ religious beliefs and practices. Sullivan urges journalists to ask not “tougher” questions, but more relevant and informed ones. Generally speaking, “liberal” journalists have less direct experience in, for example, evangelical or – particularly relevant this year – Mormon communities, and thus often ask questions that, in Sullivan’s words, “compar[e] religious believers to people who believe in space aliens, and refer[...] to evangelical Christian churches as ‘mysterious’ and ‘suspect.’”
For the first time, it seems a real-life political analysis may actually be more hopeful – less cynical – than a TV one. As an avid watcher of The West Wing, I would often lament real-life politics and wish for Aaron Sorkin‘s version; but in this case, I recall a (very good) episode about religion and campaigning, where the Republican candidate Arnie Vinick (played by Alan Alda) – a non-churchgoing John McCain straight-talking centrist type – says at a press conference: “If you ask candidates about religion, you’re just asking to be lied to.” Keep religion completely out of it, Sorkin seemed to be saying in this episode; it’s irrelevant, and always disingenuously presented besides. Sullivan is saying, Oh no, it’s very relevant, but not in the way that goofy gotcha questioning is trying to imply.
I especially appreciate Sullivan’s exhortation for journalists to learn, and use, the language of religion(s) more intelligently. She offers the examples of “devout” and being “called” (to a vocation in politics); both terms that she feels are lazily employed in political journalism.
You can listen to Sullivan talk with Bob Garfield at NPR’s On the Media here.
12 September 2011
Watching on TV a good part of the 9/11 memorial ceremony yesterday at Ground Zero, I was struck by (and can’t stop thinking about) how many of the mourner-presenters – who stood to read a portion of victims’ names, then the name of their own lost loved ones along with a brief few words about them – said something about their beloved deceased “watching over them.”
Almost without exception, survivors of 9/11 (and survivors of those family members who died), when interviewed, will talk about how changed they are, how nothing was ever or will ever be the same. I wonder how many of them believed in spirits or the spiritual realm beforehand, and how/if this in particular has changed.
This of course assumes that nothing strictly script-like (other than a word limit and perhaps some guidelines?) was given to yesterday’s presenters; although, at one point, hearing the repetition, it did almost seem that their words had been prescribed. For instance, I think almost everyone addressed their deceased loved one directly, e.g. Mom, we love you and we miss you… I’d like to believe that every word came from the heart yesterday; in fact, I am choosing to believe that. With something as deeply tragic as the loss of someone you love to an event as horrific as 9/11, I can’t imagine that so many people would allow such a specific prescription from an external power.
It made me think about whether or not, if I unexpectedly lost a loved one, I would speak to him or her, in my mind or out loud, as if the person were still with me. Would I believe the person were still with me? Or would it be more like talking to myself, to the part of that person that had become, in some ineffable way, a part of me? Not unlike the question, Would you have stayed in the burning tower, or would you have jumped? it’s simply and utterly impossible to imagine. Nothing could ever prepare a person for such horror or devastation or loss.
1 December 2010
I wasn’t sure if Marilynne Robinson‘s Gilead would go over so well with undergraduate students. Despite it being a Pulitzer Prize winner and bestseller, it seemed to me a book most popular among, shall we say, mature (i.e. 40 and over) readers, along with perhaps readers friendly to Christianity.
It seemed to me obvious – although, in retrospect, I find my assumptions curious – that most students would come to the text with anything ranging from negativity to hostility toward Christianity. In other words, smart is the opposite of Christian in the secular university environment.
For the most part my assumptions were correct (though I had an interesting chat with one student after class, who “outed” himself as a Christian). But we had quite a rich discussion about it in seminar class. And Ms. Robinson I think would be pleased by the comment of one student – firmly in the hostile camp – who said, “As I read this, though, it occurred to me that if all Christians were like this guy [the narrator, a minister], the world might actually be a much better place.” Struggle and doubt and wonder are at the heart of the narrator’s world view; we can all get together around these, no?
18 July 2010
Posting this a bit late, but found it rather surprising: Marilynne Robinson appeared on “The Daily Show” on July 8.
Surprising that Jon Stewart invited her (nothing particularly funny to talk about here), and surprising that she appeared (she agrees to interviews somewhat rarely). Hmm… hoping perhaps this means we’ll hear a little more from Ms. Robinson via interviews in the future.
Her new book, Absence of Mind, is about, among other things, the “unnecessary division” between science and religion. “The gladiators from both sides are inferior representatives of both sides,” she says.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
So I’d set up this reading at a Border’s in northern VA a few months ago, thinking that it would be nice to do a bookstore reading while in the DC area (for the Asian American Literature Symposium). I grew up in Maryland, so I thought of it as a sort of “hometown event.” As the date (4/26) grew near, though, I started to worry a little. I haven’t actually lived in the DC area since 1986; many of my friends have left the area, and many others I’d lost track of (and vice versa).
Every book event is a little fraught, I’ve learned. Will anyone come? Often, the folks you were sure would come out don’t; and then people you’d never imagined would come show up. It’s pretty unnerving, and yet at the same time really fun; surprises are always like that, I guess.
The Border’s reading was no exception. When Long for This World first hit the stores, the question arose: who will be the readership? I had no idea. I especially wondered if there would much of either a Korean or Korean-American audience. I did not at all take that for granted; it’s much more unpredictable, and complex, than that. Friends who knew the Korean publishing world, for instance, intimated that Koreans only read “famous” writers, i.e. reading is more about celebrity than literary engagement in contemporary Korean culture. I don’t know how true that is, but more on that in a moment…
The Border’s reading turned out a mostly-Korean audience (but let me not forget to thank to Devra and Pete, our intrepid non-Koreans!), the first in my experience thus far. (Even my reading with Nami Mun, also Korean American, at the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, did not seem particularly populated by Korean Americans.) And, interestingly, the audience was almost split down the middle, between first-generation Koreans and second-generation Korean Americans. Thanks to a friend from the Korean church I attended as a child/youth, who brought out a handful of her friends, and to my “little” (now married) cousin Susan; along with an old family friend of my parents, who spread the word with a local first-generation writers’ group; it turned out to be a really interesting event and Q&A.
It was such a treat, and humbling, to have an attentive and interested audience among the older generation, who asked a slew of good questions (in English, thankfully!). The younger folks, too, engaged in the Q&A, and bought books for me to sign. A number of the older attendees bought books for their children and grandchildren.
Finally, friends Val and Pete came with daughter Claire (9). It was Claire’s birthday, and I was especially honored by her offer to be my “assistant” as I signed books. Claire is apparently now working on her own book, publication date TBD.
In a million years I would never consider myself a “representative” of my race or ethnicity. But that night, at Border’s, it was as if I was making a lot of people proud, more than just the people in the room; it was a great privilege.
Will a Korean publisher decide to translate Long for This World for Korean readers? We sincerely hope so. Stealing from my friend Ed Lin, whose Facebook-status-series, “C’mon, Chinese People!” cracks me up: ”C’mon, Korean people!”
20 January 2010
And then, apropos of my last post, I read this article about a hip young liberal Manhattanite coming out of the Christian closet. Actually, I first heard it on NPR’s “Tell Me More,” which is even more interesting, i.e. that this topic got national radio play in addition to the piece at Salon.
I’m not sure how I feel about the author’s inclination toward the notion that it’s better just not to talk about religion:
Not long ago, I told a priest at my church that my friends equated religion with horrible things. I expected her to tell me I had some obligation to stop hiding my faith, but she said, pulling a scarf around her neck to hide her priest’s collar, “Those preachers on the subways make me cringe.” She said she prefers Saint Francis: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”[...]
But faith and religion are hard to talk about; maybe they’re not necessary to talk about.
Well, thank God for fiction as a way to “talk.”