|burn||Burn any copy you find of this book, it is horrific.|
|mock||This book is awful. Don't read this book and mock anyone you see reading this book.|
|don't||Don't read this book.|
|desert||If you're on a desert island and are bored out of your mind, this book is okay to read.|
|fan||If you're a fan of this author / genre, this book is worth reading.|
|worth||This book is interesting, fun, entertaining, and thus worth reading. I would hand this book to a friend who asked for a _____ type book.|
|strongly||I strongly recommend this book|
|amazing||OMG, this book is amazing and/or life-changing, let me buy you a copy.|
This is another Caltech Bookclub read, I started reading it way behind the rest of the readers, so spent much of today reading to catch up. Aaaaaaaaaand, finished it in a day. I do like reading while treadmill walking.
Butler grew up in Pasadena, which is the connection to Caltech for the book club. Previous books were about Caltech scientists or Caltech research or by Techers. This one has a lot of Pasadena in it. It was neat to know where she was describing, even if the Pasadena and Altadena even I knew are as gone as hers.
Butler is known as a science-fiction author. While this book has unexplained time travel as a plot mechanism, no time is spent exploring the phenomenon, making this book not really science fiction in my categorization. It is, however, a seriously good commentary on human nature.
The main character, Dana, is transported back to early 1800s American South. As Dana is black, we read about the atrocities of slavery, as told from a modern person transported back to the brutality of the era. We see how we normalize horrible behaviours, often to survive. We see how we assume power, even when we are one of the powerless. We see how we don't see our own privilege, how seeing another's view is difficult, it not impossible.
I think what's lingering with me most, however, is the slow descent into acceptance that Butler weaves into the story. It reminds me a great deal what Mistakes We Made (but not by me) discusses about human nature: we are all frogs in the pot about to boil.
I appreciated the technological contrast between today and forty years ago in the difficulties that the characters experienced. The story told from 2018 would have been much different in the details. I suspect Dana of 2018 would not have lasted as long as Dana of 1976 did.
I've read other books by Butler, on the strong recommendation from Claire and Susan. So far, all of them have been worth reading. I strongly recommend this book, and reading it for the commentary on human nature.
There were free blacks. You could pose as one of them.”
“Free blacks had papers to prove they were free.”
“You could have papers too. We could forge something …”
“If we knew what to forge. I mean, a certificate of freedom is what we need, but I don’t know what they looked like. I’ve read about them, but I’ve never seen one.”
Here's an example of where 2018 Dana could Internet Search™ for an image of freedom papers, and be able to create copies.
Yet, how much would they really matter for a single black woman in the South? Tear them up and she's in the same place as she was without them.
“I’m even crazier than you,” he said. “After all I’m older than you. Old enough to recognize failure and stop dreaming, so I’m told.”
After all, how accepting would I be if I met a man who claimed to be from eighteen nineteen—or two thousand nineteen, for that matter.
The timing of this cracked me up. 2019! A month away!
“None of them say eighteen-anything either,” said Kevin. “But here.” He picked out a bicentennial quarter and handed it to Rufus.
“Seventeen seventy-six, nineteen seventy-six,” the boy read. “Two dates.”
I so love those quarters.
If you have one, send it to me!
I was the worst possible guardian for him—a black to watch over him in a society that considered blacks subhuman, a woman to watch over him in a society that considered women perennial children.
"Even here, not all children let themselves be molded into what their parents want them to be."
“Wait a minute,” he said. “I’m not minimizing the wrong that’s being done here. I just …”
“Yes you are. You don’t mean to be, but you are.”
White people. Privilege (such an overused, abused term these days). Explaining away the horrible actions of others as, "not that bad."
“The ease seemed so frightening,” I said. “Now I see why.”
“The ease. Us, the children … I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.”
Down the slippery slope.
Or if I had to stay here, why couldn’t I just turn these two kids away, turn off my conscience, and be a coward, safe and comfortable?
When that time came, I could walk away from the agency not owing anybody.
My memory of my aunt and uncle told me that even people who loved me could demand more of me than I could give—and expect their demands to be met simply because I owed them.
The pain was a friend. Pain had never been a friend to me before, but now it kept me still.
The fire flared up and swallowed the dry paper, and I found my thoughts shifting to Nazi book burnings. Repressive societies always seemed to understand the danger of “wrong” ideas.
“What’s it going to get them?”
“It’ll get them the cowhide if they don’t,” she snapped. “I ain’t goin’ to take the blame for what they don’t do. Are you?”
“Well, no, but …”
“I work. You work. Don’t need somebody behind us all the time to make us work.”
The discussion was about why the slaves continue to work, and why some are more motivated that others to work.
“Don’t want to hear no more,” she repeated softly. “Things ain’t bad here. I can get along.” She had done the safe thing—had accepted a life of slavery because she was afraid.
Ignorant as I knew I was, I trusted myself more than I trusted her.
Don't we all.
Gotten possession of the woman without having to bother with her husband. Now, somehow, Alice would have to accept not only the loss of her husband, but her own enslavement. Rufus had caused her trouble, and now he had been rewarded for it. It made no sense. No matter how kindly he treated her now that he had destroyed her, it made no sense.
“My man used to. He’d tell me I was the only one he cared about. Then, next thing I knew, he’d say I was looking at some other man, and he’d go to hittin’.”
I went, annoyed, but silent. I thought he could have given me a decent estimate if he had wanted to. But it didn’t really matter. Kevin would receive the letter and he could come to get me. I couldn’t really doubt that Rufus had sent it. He didn’t want to lose my good will anymore than I wanted to lose his. And this was such a small thing.
Wow, doesn't this feel like the Princess Bride?
“Mama said she’d rather be dead than be a slave,” she said.
“Better to stay alive,” I said. “At least while there’s a chance to get free.”
I went out to the laundry yard to help Tess. I had come to almost welcome the hard work. It kept me from thinking.
Better than drinking, maybe.
"All I want you to do is fix it so I don’t have to beat her. You’re no friend of hers if you won’t do that much!"
This is totally the thinking of abusers blaming the victims, "You made me do it, you made me beat the holy hell out of you." Um... no.
When she hurt, she struck out to hurt others. But she had been hurting less as the days passed, and striking out less.
She went to him. She adjusted, became a quieter more subdued person. She didn’t kill, but she seemed to die a little.
Would I really try again? Could I? I moved, twisted myself somehow, from my stomach onto my side. I tried to get away from my thoughts, but they still came. See how easily slaves are made? they said.
But he wanted me around—someone to talk to, someone who would listen to him and care what he said, care about him. And I did. However little sense it made, I cared. I must have. I kept forgiving him for things.
I wondered whether he had been able to write during the five years, or rather, whether he had been able to publish. I was sure he had been writing. I couldn’t imagine either of us going for five years without writing. Maybe he’d kept a journal or something.
In other words, he was sorry. He was always sorry. He would have been amazed, uncomprehending if I refused to forgive him. I remembered suddenly the way he used to talk to his mother. If he couldn’t get what he wanted from her gently, he stopped being gentle. Why not? She always forgave him.
She decided to teach me to sew. I had an old Singer at home and I could sew well enough with it to take care of my needs and Kevin’s. But I thought sewing by hand, especially sewing for “pleasure” was slow torture.
Before the era of disposable clothing.
He just didn’t like working alone. Actually, he didn’t like working at all. But if he had to do it, he wanted company.
Sounds like a number of people I know.
“He’ll never let any of us go,” she said. “The more you give him, the more he wants.”
Sometimes I wrote things because I couldn’t say them, couldn’t sort out my feelings about them, couldn’t keep them bottled up inside me. It was a kind of writing I always destroyed afterward. It was for no one else.
He lay with his head on my shoulder, his left arm around me, his right hand still holding my hand, and slowly, I realized how easy it would be for me to continue to be still and forgive him even this.
So easy, in spite of all my talk.
From the reader's guide at the end of the book:
5. “I never realized how easily people could be trained to accept slavery.” Dana says this to Kevin when they have returned to the present and are discussing their experiences in the antebellum South. Do we also in the twenty-first century still have conditioned responses to slavery?
I added this book to my reading list some time after reading a ranking of Chandler's Marlowe books in order of "good," and this one wasn't first, but it is the first book of the series.
After checking this book out from the library, I found a nicely bound hardcover in a bookstore. Instead of reading the library version, I've been reading the paper version. Turns out, I've seen the movie, and recall much of it. The first 25% of the book matches the film well. We'll see if it stays that way, I'll be watching the movie again shortly.
I really enjoyed this book. Helps that I've lived in Los Angeles. While my residency was not in the late thirties, the world that Chandler describes is vivid enough, and based on real enough places, that I could visualize the story very well.
Unsurprisingly, most of the supporting characters are one-dimensional, Silver-Wig loves her man, until she realizes he's a killer, for example. Mars is a tough guy, willing to do most things for a dollar, and smart enough to have someone else do those things.
Marlowe, however, has more character. He's the hero of the story, we follow him around, we see more of his motivations, so unsurprisingly we understand him better. Seems reasonable that someone who wants to solve puzzles and understands a bit about human character would become a private investigator.
Unrelated, there is a lot of "kissing people you just met" in this book, but no actual sex. I didn't realize that people kissed so much in Los Angeles. I clearly did L.A. wrong.
I enjoyed the book. I enjoyed all the one-line and otherwise short zingers, and the snappy dialog. I'll likely continue reading the series.
"If I sound a little sinister as a parent, Mr. Marlowe, it is because my hold on life is too slight to include any Victorian hypocrisy."
“I need not add that a man who indulges in parenthood for the first time at the age of fifty-four deserves all he gets.”
Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.
"Sure you can’t help me on this?"
I liked his putting it that way. It let me say no without actually lying.
Not being bullet proof is an idea I had had to get used to.
He was afraid of the police, of course, being what he is, and he probably thought it a good idea to have the body hidden until he had removed his effects from the house.
"Being what he is," which would be gay. I appreciate the progress we have made as a culture, in many ways. We have further to go.
Cops get very large and emphatic when an outsider tries to hide anything, but they do the same things themselves every other day, to oblige their friends or anybody with a little pull.
"You’ll hear from him."
"Too late will be too soon," I said,
I read all three of the morning papers over my eggs and bacon the next morning. Their accounts of the affair came as close to the truth as newspaper stories usually come—as close as Mars is to Saturn.
“What makes you think I’m doing anything for him?”
I didn’t answer that.
Then my eyes adjusted themselves more to the darkness and I saw there was something across the floor in front of me that shouldn’t have been there. I backed, reached the wall switch with my thumb and flicked the light on.
The bed was down.
HUH. Marlowe has a Murphy bed, too!
I’m your friend. I won’t let you down—in spite of yourself.
I threw my cigarette on the floor and stamped on it.
A significantly different world. There are many references to cigar and cigarette ash being allowed to fall into the rug.
It seemed a little too pat. It had the austere simplicity of fiction rather than the tangled woof of fact.
There was a tarnished and well-missed spittoon on a gnawed rubber mat.
Again, different world.
“It’s very funny,” she said breathlessly. “Very funny, because, you see—I still love him. Women—” She began to laugh again.
What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.
This is book 5 of the Peter Grant series.
I have so been enjoying the Peter Grant series, and strongly recommend them to anyone who enjoys the Dresden Files or the Alex Verus series. A different flavor of the modern-day wizard, urban fantasy story, and one that seems, if one can suspend disbelief, reasonable in terms of "We don't know" and "Let's find out" of magic. That anyone can learn is a premise of the story-line, which I can appreciate.
The book centers around the disappearance of two girls in a small English town (village, hamlet, something...). Initially unsure if there's anything "weird" about their disappearances, that there is a WW2 era practitioner living nearby lends reason to investigate, and Peter does.
The book deals with some of Peter's life frustrations. He's been holding things together, despite some ugh awful things happening. We learn more of Peter's history, more of his family dynamics.
The book was a fast read. There are two more currently published book and one novella in the series. Will definitely keep reading them.
Once Mr. Punch and the M25 were behind me, I tuned the car radio to Five Live, which was doing its best to build a twenty-four-hour news cycle out of about half an hour of news.
This cracked me up. Yes about how frustrating news cycles are in order to obtain and keep attention.
Never underestimate the ability of a police driver to misjudge a corner when finally coming home from a twelve-hour shift.
Missing kids are tough cases. I mean, murder is bad but at least the worst has already happened to the victim—they’re not going to get any deader. Missing kids come with a literal deadline, made worse by the fact that you don’t get to learn the timing until it’s too late.
“Do you think I’m going to get my daughter back?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said.
Because you’ve got to have hope and no news is good news. And because the best you can do is sound like you’re being forthright and sincere. If they get their kids back they won’t even remember what you said and if they don’t—then nothing else will be important.
Hope will kill you.
“Something suitably weird.”
“That’s a bit presumptuous, isn’t it?” I said.
“Presumptuous is my middle name,” said Dominic.
We trooped off behind her into waist high bracken, down something that was not so much a path as a statistical variation in the density of the undergrowth.
He called it potentia because there’s nothing quite like Latin for disguising the fact that you’re making it up as you go along.
Polidori’s theories were as good as anyone else’s. But sticking a Latin tag on a theory doesn’t make it true. Not true in a way that matters.
Absence of evidence, as any good archeologist will tell you, is not the same as evidence of absence.
A lot of men must have left their belongings behind in 1944 believing that they were coming back.
We all do this. We assume we have more life.
Not always a good assumption.
All your cases, I thought, do not belong to us.
This cracked me up. I love the cultural references in these books, even if I do have to look up most of the English ones.
Right, I thought. If you can’t be clever then at least you can be thorough.
And everyone can do the work.
During the whole pointless process not one resident refused to let us in or objected to us looking around, which I found creepy because there’s always one. But Dominic said no. “Not in the countryside,” he said.
“Community spirit?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “That and everyone would know that they hadn’t cooperated, which people would find suspicious. In a village that sort of thing sticks for, like, generations.”
I wanted to ask where Beverley was, and how the Teme family just happened to have her phone. But if there’s one thing Nightingale has taught me, it’s to let other people talk themselves out before giving anything away.
We were pretty certain we knew roughly where he’d been, but members of the public have an unnerving tendency to switch straight from lying to your face to telling you what they think you want to hear—with no intervening period of veracity at all.
That’s fine when you’re looking for them to put their hand up to some crimes and boost your clear-up statistics. But when the lives of two kids depends on the accuracy of the statement, you tend to be a bit more thorough.
He told us the truth, although it took ages to pry all the sordid details out. Which just goes to show that if you want a confession, use a telephone book—but if you want the truth, you’ve got to put in the hours.
Nightingale says that conspiracies of silence are the only kind of conspiracies that stand the test of time.
I woke in the hour before dawn, stuck in that strange state where the memory of your dreams is still powerful enough to motivate your actions.
Wow, yes. Those moments are powerful.
Because it’s always a waste of time, all those rushed, angry stupid things you do. They never solve the problems. Because in real life that rush of adrenaline and rage just makes you dumb and seeing red just leads you up the steps to court for something aggravated—assault, battery, stupidity.
“Imposing themselves on the landscape”—they’d always called it that on Time Team.
Especially the beardy Iron and Bronze Age specialists—“ The Romans imposed themselves on the landscape.” Or, I thought, they wanted to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible.
“You said that there’s weird shit, but it normally turns out to have a rational explanation.”
“It does,” said Beverley. “The explanation is a wizard did it.”
“That’s my line,” I said, and Beverley shrugged.
Again, cracking up.
“Sic transit Gloria mundi,” I said, because it was the first thing that came into my head—we clinked and drank. It could have been worse. I could have said “Valar Morghulis” instead.
"Thus passes the glory of the world," in Latin, and "All men must die," in High Valyrian.
I didn’t tell her that I was pretty much legally required to have an adult present—it’s easier to manage people if they maintain a sense of agency.
I had one of those “somebody do something” moments when you suddenly have the realization that the person supposed to be doing something is you.
The night may be dark and full of terrors, I thought, but I’ve got a big stick.
When faced with a low-level hostage situation your first task is to calm the hostage taker down long enough to find out what they want. Then you can lie to them convincingly until you negotiate the hostage back, or are in a position to dog pile the perpetrator.
You swear an oath when you become a police officer—you promise to serve the Queen in the office of constable with fairness, integrity and impartiality, and that you will cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offenses against people and property. The very next day you start making the first of the many minor and messy compromises required to get the Job done. But sooner or later the Job walks up to you, pins you against the wall, looks you in the eye and asks you how far you’re willing to go to prevent all offenses. Asks just what did your oath, your attestation, really mean to you?
But sometimes the right thing to do is the right thing to do, especially when a child is involved.
In the large list of "books I knew about and didn't read in childhood, but are still in print," this book came to my attention, so I plunked it on my library hold list without thinking about it much. It dropped into my reading queue, and I ripped through it.
This is a notable book in the Logans Series, about a black family living in the American South during the 1930s, which is to say, the Great Depression. The family was lucky, in that they owned their own land, but owning and holding onto land if often two very different things, especially when power and prejudice and greed come into play.
The story follows Cassie, who is nine, as she experiences the subtle and overt racism of her times. Taylor does a good job of describing the ugliness of human nature as seen from a young person's perspective. If anything, I'd argue that Taylor left out a lot of the uglier parts, which is likely a good thing, given the target audience.
A number of times in the book, Cassie complains that things aren't fair. And, yes, god yes, I'm agreeing with the character. Even now, things aren't fair, they will never be fair, and that frustrates me, even in fictional books.
The book doesn't lose its impact over its 42 years of print. Worth reading.
“Well, I just think you’re spoiling those children, Mary. They’ve got to learn how things are sometime.”
“Maybe so,” said Mama, “but that doesn’t mean they have to accept them… and maybe we don’t either.”
We preferred to do without them; unfortunately, Mama cared very little about what we preferred.
“But, Big Ma, it ain’t fair!” wailed Little Man. “It just ain’t fair.”
“If I was to be walking out there when the bus comes, that ole bus driver would be sure to speed up so’s he could splash me,” I suggested.
“See, fellows, there’s a system to getting out of work,” T.J. was expounding as I sat down. “Jus’ don’t be ’round when it’s got to be done. Only thing is, you can’t let your folks know that’s what you’re doin’. See, you should do like me. Like this mornin’ when Mama wanted to bring back them scissors she borrowed from Miz Logan, I ups and volunteers so she don’t have to make this long trip down here, she bein’ so busy and all. And naturally when I got here, y’all wanted me to stay awhile and talk to y’all, so what could I do? I couldn’t be impolite, could I? And by the time I finally convince y’all I gotta go, all the work’ll be done at home.” T.J. chuckled with satisfaction. “Yeah, you just have to use the old brain, that’s all.”
Just Do. The. Work.
This character is like so many people these days: they work harder not to do the work than the effort of doing the work would actually take.
“Baby, you had to grow up a little today. I wish… well, no matter what I wish. It happened and you have to accept the fact that in the world outside this house, things are not always as we would have them to be.”
Mama’s hold tightened on mine, but I exclaimed, “Ah, shoot! White ain’t nothin’!” Mama’s grip did not lessen.
“It is something, Cassie. White is something just like black is something. Everybody born on this earth is something and nobody, no matter what color, is better than anybody else.”
“Then how come Mr. Simms don’t know that?”
“Because he’s one of those people who has to believe that white people are better than black people to make himself feel big.”
“They also said that slavery was good for us because it taught us to be good Christians—like the white people.” She sighed deeply, her voice fading into a distant whisper. “But they didn’t teach us Christianity to save our souls, but to teach us obedience. They were afraid of slave revolts and they wanted us to learn the Bible’s teachings about slaves being loyal to their masters."
"... and people like Mr. Simms hold on to that belief harder than some other folks because they have little else to hold on to. For him to believe that he is better than we are makes him think that he’s important, simply because he’s white."
“But there are other things, Cassie, that if I’d let be, they’d eat away at me and destroy me in the end. And it’s the same with you, baby. There are things you can’t back down on, things you gotta take a stand on. But it’s up to you to decide what them things are. You have to demand respect in this world, ain’t nobody just gonna hand it to you. How you carry yourself, what you stand for—that’s how you gain respect. But, little one, ain’t nobody’s respect worth more than your own. You understand that?”
“Now, there ain’t no sense in going around being mad. You clear your head so you can think sensibly."
"Maybe even do what they doing now. It’s hard on a man to give up, but sometimes it seems there just ain’t nothing else he can do.”
Nearer the fence a stocky man, masked like the others, searched the field in robot fashion for hidden fire under the charred skeletons of broken stalks.
Were robots around in 1930, that she'd be able to make this comparison?
Okay, most people know who Mickey Mantle is. Most people know my opinion on baseball. And most people who know me know I'm not a fan of biographies. If you didn't know, well, it comes down to it doesn't matter how great the person was, said person was still human, and thus any honest biography is going to show us where our hero stumbled and fell, and off the pedestal they fall. Not a fan, I like my illusions, thank you very much.
And so, we have the biography of Mickey Mantle. Why did I read this book? I'm trying to clean my library hold list, and this one was available. I didn't finish it before it was due, but was able to renew, so there's that.
Mantle was a product of his father and of his time. He had the natural talent, the determination of his father for his son to succeed where he did not, the life-long training, and f'ing bad luck. I understand this last one. The first part maybe not so much.
When I mentioned I was going to read Mantle's biography to Kris, he looked at me surprised. "You know, he was a drunk, right?" I shrugged. "He was also a great," I responded. "Yeah, I met him once."
That exchange stuck with me as I read the book. Here we have someone who was great, who could have been better, and life threw him a couple curveballs he couldn't hit, and alcohol became a coping mechanism. Talk about a tale as old as human history.
So, yeah, the man was a great baseball player. He was nice. He was a drunk. He lived, he coped as best he could, he died. The story was interesting, from the perspective of someone who didn't grow up with baseball, didn't really understand it until well into her adulthood, and wanted a reasonable look at the man's life. I appreciated the biography was written by woman.
If you're a fan of Mantle, don't read the book. If you're a fan of baseball, and understand and accept that idols will fall, the book is worth reading.
He always shot from below, the angle of icons, rendering his subjects larger than life. Clouds and foliage were banished from the frame; nothing was allowed to clutter the image.
The photo is a touchstone of another era: when boys were allowed to be boys and it was okay to laugh at them for being themselves, when it was okay not to know and to forgive what you did know.
People who loved him and loathed him agree he was an uncommonly honest man, a trait he bequeathed to his family.
So how do you write about a man you want to love the way you did as a child but whose actions were often unlovable? How do you reclaim a human being from caricature without allowing him to be fully human? How do you find the light within the darkness without examining the dimensions of both?
Tommy Henrich, Old Reliable, was assigned the task of turning him into an outfielder, teaching him how to gauge the angle of the ball off the bat; how to position his body to catch the ball on his back foot and get rid of it in one smooth motion; how to react to a drive hit straight at him.
He called his father and said he wanted to come home. “I was down,
“Everybody was in the room. Then we went outside, but you could hear. I heard him say, ‘If that’s all the man you are, then get your clothes and let’s go home.’ Mutt did not yell. He spoke with authority. Mick was crying, of course. He was embarrassed because he wasn’t cutting the pie.”
Mantle was too eager and too innocent to understand his dangerous indiscretion.
He would play the next seventeen years struggling to be as good as he could be, knowing he would never be as good as he might have become.
A clinic opened in Picher in 1927, but it was for the benefit of the mine operators, who were anxious to cull the sick from the workforce. Doctors provided advice but no treatment. Annual X-ray examinations were compulsory. Miners were required to carry a wallet-sized health card certifying that they were free of disease. Those whose X-rays came back positive were fired the same day and could never be hired by another mine.
Hate this abuse. If you think about it, it wasn't that long ago.
Leaving a holiday party with Mickey, Sr., one year, Larry paused to embrace their mother. “We get outside, and Mick said, ‘I wish I could do that.’
“And I said, ‘What?’
“He said, ‘Kiss Mom on the cheek like that and hug her.’
“I said, ‘Just walk up and do it.’
“I really felt sorry for him that he couldn’t. Because, my goodness, that must be terrible.”
“He was scared to death of everything. Granddad said, ‘I never dreamed he would grow up to be what he was because he was such a sissy.’ ”
At Christmas, when all the other children got a pair of socks, there was always enough money to buy him a new baseball glove. He would cry, he later told a friend, because he didn’t get any toys.
Playtime was over when Mutt got home from work. Every afternoon was punctuated by the rhythmic bang of the ball against the corrugated metal siding of the ramshackle shed.
“Every day at 4 P.M., Mickey had to be home, no matter where he was or what he was doing, to do batting practice,” Max said. “They’d throw a tennis ball. They’d stand him up against that leaning shed. He’d hit it up against the house. If it hit the ground, it was an out; below the window, a double; above the window, a triple; over the house, a home run. Every day.”
If Mickey got out, they all got out. It was a huge—if unarticulated—burden to place on one boy’s shoulders.
By the next baseball season, he began to look like a ballplayer. Probably it was just the natural order of things, a boy growing into a man, but the change in him was so immediate and so dramatic, it reinforced belief in a connection between the penicillin and the growth spurt that followed.
“When he got that penicillin in him, boy, his body shot out and the muscles in his arms jumped out,” Mosely said.
Greenwade asked why he was pitching instead of playing the infield. “Someone’s got to do it,” he replied.
Greenwade, who later claimed he didn’t know Mantle was a switch-hitter until that game, played down his talents when he spoke to Mutt. Marginal prospect. Might make it, might not. Kind of small. Not a major league shortstop. Imagine how galling it must have been every time Mantle heard Greenwade later boast, “The first time I saw Mantle, I knew how Paul Krichell felt when he first saw Lou Gehrig.”
“What gripes you about those scouts in those days is they sign a guy out of poverty and he’d make the big leagues and then they’d brag about how cheap they got you,” Terry said.
Mantle was afraid the Yankees would send him home before his $750 bonus kicked in on June 30. His insecurity was palpable; teammates found him softhearted and unexpectedly tender.
Failure also made him petulant. When Mutt asked Lombardi how Mickey was doing, Lombardi replied, “He’ll be great if he quits pouting.”
Gaynor gave him a weighted boot and a set of exercises to strengthen the quadriceps muscle and give support to his knee. Mantle ignored his instructions, preferring, he said later, to sit around, watch TV, and feel sorry for himself.
As his friend Joe Warren said, “When you don’t raise your children to make their own decisions, then they grow up and they don’t know how to make decisions.”
Without Mutt, there was no one with the moral authority to insist, no one to say no to Mickey Mantle. He would never grant anyone that authority again.
Without Mutt, he was adrift, save for the organizational imperatives imposed by the baseball season. Free to make his own decisions, he made bad ones.
How did Mantle play with a torn ACL? It can be done, Haas says. “Mickey Mantle can be classified as a ‘neuromuscular genius,’ one of a select few who are so well wired that they are able to compensate for severe injuries like this and still perform at the highest levels, overcoming a particular impairment at a given moment. It is a phenomenon comprised of motivation, high pain threshold, strength, reflexes, and luck.”
In 1968, the last spring of Mantle’s career, Soares observed: “Mickey has a greater capacity to withstand pain than any man I’ve ever seen. Some doctors have seen X-rays of his legs and won’t believe they are the legs of an athlete still active.”
“Later, the people in the medical department told me he never followed the instructions. I thought he did. He told me he was better. He didn’t follow the directions. I don’t think he followed anyone’s directions. He was a great athlete, a very poor patient.”
The point of the argument was having it, not solving it. It was sustaining and somehow defining. Who you chose as your guy told you something about yourself—who you wanted to be and how you wanted to be.
Branch Rickey, baseball’s most original thinker, planted the seeds of this new math by hiring the first team statistician in 1947—the same year he and Jackie Robinson defied baseball’s color barrier. Seven years later, he and his stat man, Allan Roth, pioneered the formula for on-base percentage. This arithmetic innovation was met with predictable disdain: “Baseball isn’t statistics,” groused Jimmy Cannon. “Baseball is DiMaggio rounding second.”
He would hate what the game became.
Jim Bouton seconded that opinion years later: “Statistics are about as interesting as first base coaches.”
Unless you're a stats-geek, and then it's heaven.
By 2001, James, paterfamilias of the stat-geek generation, had conceded that clarity had been all but lost in the numerical dust storm of mutating calculations and
Ah. Okay. Heh.
To the gimlet eye of a modern stat geek, walks are the key to Mantle’s superior on-base percentage and the reason he fares so well in a pre ponderance of the new offensive metrics. Nor is Mantle’s self-flagellation over his lifetime .298 batting average warranted.
“He was measuring himself with the yardstick he grew up with in the 1930s,” Thorn said. Little wonder that teammates fulminated at all the “what ifs.”
“I hate it when people say how much he wasted,” said Clete Boyer. “Jesus Christ, how much better could he have been?”
Reggie Jackson turned away from tracking the flight of one hundred batting-practice hacks to consider the question of Mickey Mantle and white-skin privilege.
It is the one “what if” nobody wants to talk about. If Mickey had been black and Willie had been white, what kind of conversation would there have been? Would there even have been a conversation? How much does race influence the way they are remembered?
This confused me at first, because I didn't know about the Mays Mantle comparison. I had no frame of reference for this conversation until I had read through it. I didn't reread it for clarity, though.
I think character flaws bring compassion for all colors.
Irvin watched with admiration as Mantle improved himself first as an outfielder and later as a public person. He listened when fantasy campers asked Mantle the question.
“‘Well,’ he’d say, ‘Mays was a better fielder. I had more power and hit the ball farther.’ He came out and told the truth.
“He made people like him. I told Willie, ‘You should be a little more personable. They’d like you the way they like Mickey.’
“But he never did.”
Mickey shrugged. “He had to do it. He did it to Willie. He made his mistake when he did it to Willie. In the back of my mind it bugs me a little. It sounds worse than it is. A guy or two said, ‘Jesus Christ, you were my boyhood idol, now you’re banned. You must have done something bad.’ I feel really kind of bad no one took up for me. It’s, like, ‘Well, fine, he’s gone.’ ” Mays took up for him, sort of. “He’s never gonna harm baseball or anybody else,” Mays said. “The only one he ever harmed was himself.”
He decided to lighten the mood with a joke. “God calls Saint Peter over, and he says, ‘Saint Peter, I was down on Earth and I made this man and this woman and I forgot to put their sexual organs on them. You take this pecker and this pussy down there and put ’em on them.’ “Saint Peter says, ‘Okay.’ And he’s getting ready to leave, and God says, ‘Be sure to put the pussy on the short, dumb one.’ ”
Yeah, did I mention the fall off the pedestal?
Recklessness was always part of his charm, his cheerful, who-gives-a-fuck élan. But with each increasingly precarious turn threatening to upend the cart, with every vicious twist of his lower body as he swung through the ball, his limp became more pronounced and the consequences of his wildness more patent.
That fall, in the sixth inning of game 4 of the World Series, Roebuck threw him a sinker that “hung out over the plate.” Not for long. Duke Snider admired the parabolic view in center field.
“I don’t mind you not charging it,” Roebuck told him later. “But you don’t have to stop to see how far it went.” Roebuck understood: length is a guy thing. Size matters.
“Seriously,” he said, laughing. “That’s what made the male regard Mantle that way. Forget God. Mickey Mantle can hit the ball farther than anybody.”
Mantle had no idea what he did right or wrong or differently batting right-handed and left-handed. More than likely he would have had little truck with present-day baseball pedagogy.
They don’t talk baseball; they discuss the “relationship amongst the sweet spot, COP, and vibration nodes in baseball bats,” the topic of a treatise published in Proceedings of the 5th Conference of Engineering of Sport.
Kandel, a physician trained in psychiatry and neurobiology, explained: “There are two kinds of memories. They’re called implicit and explicit. Explicit memory is a memory of people, places, and objects. If you think of the last time you sat in a baseball stadium and remember who you were with, you’re doing explicit memory storage. “Implicit memory storage is hitting a tennis ball, hitting a baseball, doing anything that involves sensory motor skills.”
Kandel was in a conversation I recently had with Bob. I'll likely add his latest book to my reading pile, really soon, like, done.
Muscle memory is a form of implicit memory that is recalled through performance, Kandel said, “without conscious effort or even the awareness that we are drawing on memory.”
It’s also why the greatest athletes usually make the lousiest coaches.
Let me tell you a story about Tyler Grant.
... forcing them to articulate what they do and how they do it, their performance deteriorates. Compelled to surrender what he calls “expertise-induced amnesia”—in short, to make an implicit memory explicit again—“ they start thinking about what they’re doing and mess everything up,” he said.
The brain can bulk up, too. Repeated experience can form new synaptic connections, especially if you start building up those implicit memories before puberty. The right genes nurtured the right way—meaning early enough and often enough—creates the potential for a particular kind of genius.
A 90-mile-per-hour fastball doesn’t leave much time for thought. Traveling at a rate of 132 feet per second, it makes the sixty-foot, six-inch journey from pitcher to batter in four-tenths of a second. The ball is a quarter of the way to home plate by the time a hitter becomes fully aware of it. Because there is a 100-millisecond delay between the time the image of the ball hits the batter’s retina and when he becomes conscious of it, it is physiologically impossible to track the ball from the pitcher’s hand to the catcher’s glove.
Neurologically speaking, every batter is a guess-hitter. That’s where implicit memory comes in. The ability to infer the type of pitch and where it’s headed with accuracy and speed is inextricably linked with stored experience—the hitter has seen that pitch before, even if he can’t see it all the way.
“The report was, you had to jam him,” said Osteen, then in the eighth of his eighteen years in the majors. “If you’ve got a guy like Mantle who’s standing miles away from the plate, where there is so much daylight between the inside corner and his hands, it’s frightening. It’s right down the middle of the plate for a guy like that.”
“I went in there. It was a fastball, right on the black,” he said. “Right away he went straight into the ball and closed that daylight up.”
The margin of error was a sliver of daylight. Which explains why when he was asked how he had pitched to Mantle, the late Frank Sullivan said, “With tears in my eyes.”
“Oh, that night,” Carmen Berra said, recalling Billy Martin’s twenty-ninth birthday, the last one before you get old.
Baseball writers ate, drank, and traveled with the team. Their tab was often paid by the team. “You couldn’t write one word of it, the debauchery,” said Jack Lang, the longtime executive secretary of the Baseball Writers Association of America. “It wasn’t just liquor. It was the women.”
The locker room code of honor was inviolable: What happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse—even if it doesn’t take place in the clubhouse.
“The Yankee clubhouse was, like, below street level,” Mantle told me. “We had windows, like, where people are walking along. Girls used to come stand there, and we used to shoot water guns up in their puss. We could see ’em kind of flinch. They’d be looking around trying to figure out where the fuck that water is coming from.”
Mantle once said that Martin was the only guy he knew who “could hear someone give him the finger.” He negotiated life with a chip on his shoulder, and those in the know gave him a wide berth.
Yet Billy Martin’s birthday party was a watershed event, and not just because it gave Weiss the occasion to trade him. It was the day sportswriting began to grow up. The era of hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil could not withstand TV’s increasingly intrusive cathode glare or the skepticism of an irreverent cohort of young sportswriters for whom questioning authority was a generational prerogative.
Mantle sat out game 5, the ninth World Series game he had missed due to injury, and the Yankees lost 1–0. They won game 6 without him but lost game 7—and the World Series—despite his return to the lineup. His throwing arm would never be the same.
“Guided differently, he could have done better for himself as a human being,” Jerry Coleman said. “He would have liked himself more.”
And the guy poured him at least two more jiggers in that one, and he threw that one down. He wanted that anesthetic feeling up there in the prefrontal lobe.”
She never could get accustomed to the familial reserve. “Mick’s family was cold,” she told me. “They didn’t visit. He didn’t visit.” And when they did pay a call, they didn’t show up emotionally.
“Nobody would talk. It was weird. Nobody would say anything,” Merlyn told me. “And the only way they could really talk was when everybody got bombed. Everybody had to have the beer. They could not relax and visit with each other unless they were having beers.”
“All they said was hello and goodbye,” Danny Mantle said.
His people skills—emotional intelligence in modern parlance—made a lasting impression on Mark Freeman during the brief time they played together in 1959. “I think he’s basically one of the most decent guys I’ve ever met,” he told Leonard Schecter of the Post.
Beat writers suspected there was another Mantle, one who didn’t begin every conversation with “Fuck you” or “Go fuck yourself” or, when he was pressed for time, just plain “Fuck.”
He was a guy’s guy who called everyone “bud” or “pard.” But he cried easily. He wept at mournful country-western tunes, and at the morning headlines. “Somebody got killed or something, he’d get tears in his eyes,” Irv Noren said.
In the clubhouse, Mantle shed the residue of bias he had brought with him from Commerce.
One in the plus column.
“He’d say, C’mon, there’s a great place across the street.’ One of his favorites was having Coke and milk together. After a while it really didn’t taste too bad. He loved that drink. He’d have it even on airplanes. It’s like a root beer float.”
He replied to the incessant inquiries for medical updates by pinning a sign to his chest: “Slight improvement. Back in two weeks. Don’t ask.”
It was his first—albeit unacknowledged—hangover home run. “Pinch-hit, eighth or ninth inning, when he was too drunk to play,” Linz said, one of perhaps three or four times he saw Mantle play in that condition.
This was the only time the bat actually bent in his hands.
This would have been amazing to see.
By the time the morning papers rolled off the presses, the “Man of Mishaps” had been transmogrified into “a tragic figure,” “the champion hard-luck guy,” and “the most fabulous invalid in the long history of sport.”
The Yankees were trailing by a run in the bottom of the seventh inning of the second game when Mantle emerged from the dugout to pinch-hit. The ovation began at the bat rack and reached a crescendo when Bob Sheppard announced his name. The roar “shook the windows of the Bronx County Courthouse,” one paper said.
Equally shaken, Mantle dug his spikes into the dirt on the right side of the plate and told himself, “Don’t just stand there and take three pitches—swing.” The Orioles were well aware that it was his first at-bat since the injury in Baltimore.
“Big George Brunet was on the mound,” Brooks Robinson said. “He just reared back and threw on every pitch.” Brunet threw one pitch, which Mantle took for a called strike, and then another. “Mantle swung his bat in anger for the first time in 61 games,” the Times reported, redirecting the ball into the left field stands.
“The most amazing thing is, it was not a pitch that most right-handed hitters are ever gonna get airborne,” Downing said. “And not only was it airborne, it was airborne about twenty feet off the ground and just hit those seats and ricocheted like a rocket!”
Mantle wasn’t sure he had pulled the ball enough. When the umpire signaled home run, he thought, “Gee, I’m a lucky stiff.” He broke into a cold sweat and something that resembled a trot. Later, he said he wasn’t sure how he made it around the bases and, in fact, didn’t remember doing so.
The roar of adulation eclipsed the two-minute standing ovation that had greeted him when he hobbled to the plate. It got louder and louder as he headed toward home. The Orioles applauded silently. “Gives you chills standing over there at first base,” Powell said. “Just being in the ballpark gave you chills.”
As Mantle rounded third base, Brooks Robinson thought “That’s why he’s Mickey Mantle.” By the time he reached home plate, “there was tears runnin’ all over his face,” Yankee pitcher Stan Williams said. He noticed because it was one of the rare occasions when Mantle allowed the outside world to see “how much it meant to him, how much the fans meant to him, how much the moment meant to him.”
“Mantle hit the most god-awful tomahawk-swing line drive into the left field bleachers,” McCormick said.
“Over the hedges,” Bauer said. “Honest to God, I didn’t think he’d make it around the bases,” Boyer said.
“He kinda sobered his way around,” McCormick said. He would hear about it for the rest of his career: “Even the drunks can hit home runs off of you.”
The sparse crowd was treated to an unfamiliar sight: Mantle batted right-handed against the right-hander, a transgression his father had abhorred. The departure in form was duly noted upstairs in the press box. Queried about it later, Mantle said he wanted to see if he could hit behind the runner batting from the right side.
This amused me. I love that he was still experimenting.
“I got my butt chewed pretty bad. I said, ‘Eddie, what difference does it make?’
“We played baseball for fun.”
“Then he struck him out with a fastball around the letters,” Roseboro said. “Mantle looked back at me and said, ‘How in the fuck are you supposed to hit that shit?’”
Kids who imitated his stiff-legged arrival at second base didn’t realize it was the only way he could bring himself to a stop.
Mickey had two different batting strokes: right-handed, he would hit on top of the ball. He would tomahawk the ball. Even his home runs to left field, a lot of ’em were line drives with top spin on ’em. They get out there real quick and sink and dive down into the bleachers. Left-handed, he undercut the ball. So here’s Barney Schultz throwing right into his power. Barney Schultz’s ball is breaking down, and Mickey’s bat goes down and . . .”
Mantle stood in. Schultz wound up. McCarver knew right away: “Nothing good was gonna come of this pitch.” It didn’t dance or flutter or defy expectation. It didn’t do anything at all.
“It wasn’t thrown,” McCarver said. “It was dangled like bait to a big fish. Plus it lingered in that area that was down, and Mickey was a lethal low-ball hitter left-handed. The pitch was so slow that it allowed him to turn on it and pull"
“When he left at 6: 30 A.M., Mickey and Whitey were in no condition to play baseball,” Lolich said. “He had done his job as far as he was concerned. He said, the next day Whitey pitched nine innings of shutout ball and Mantle hit two home runs.”
There are two kinds of baseball fans: those who bellow invective at the opposition no matter what and those who stand for a worthy adversary.
“I wake up most every day at 5: 30 or 6: 00 A.M.,” he said. “All those dreams.” A medley of recurring nightmares that make the long nights longer. Missed trains, missed planes, missed curfews—missed opportunities. “The hard part is just getting through it,” he said. Buses don’t stop. Fly balls don’t fly. Doors no longer open for The Mick. “I always felt I should have played longer.”
“People have always placed Joe and Mickey on a pedestal,” Tony Kubek told Daily News columnist Bill Madden years later. “The difference is Joe always liked being there and Mickey never felt like he belonged.”
His jealousy was palpable. “He would never look at Mickey Mantle until Mickey spoke to him—every time,” Clete Boyer said. “Mickey never said a bad word to the public about Joe D. Just to us.”
When he was in Dallas, Mantle organized his life around the clubhouse at Preston Trail, the posh all-male Dallas golf club he had joined as a charter member in 1965, trying to re-create the camaraderie of the locker room.
“Near the end he was really terrible to her, humiliating her,” said a friend who spent time with them at the Claridge. “She’d say she wanted to go to the hairdresser and ask for money. Mick would peel off a $ 1 bill and hand it to her in front of people, making her grovel.”
Sometimes he spoke of suicide. “I’m not sure he cared if he died,” Merlyn told me. “Mick just felt guilty. He wanted to lay down on the railroad tracks.”
“The misery would be over,” David said.
Mantle told him about seeing Ryne Duren on TV talking about his recovery. “That guy, when he was playing ball, was a wreck and he whipped it. He goes around talking, and he does a lot of good. If I can go out there and come back and the fact that I’ve whipped the drinking can help somebody else, then, sure, I want that known.”
Somewhere, sometime, he figured out that the best defense isn’t a good offense—it’s being as offensive as humanly possible. He deflected scrutiny like an unhittable pitch hacking away, until he got something he could handle. Most people never saw through it. The rest quit trying.
Bob Costas gave the eulogy, speaking for the child he once was, the children we all were before Mickey Mantle forced us to grow up and see the world as it is, not as we wished it to be.
Okay, the subtitle of this book is "Uncovering The Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions," which had me intrigued when it was first mentioned in the book feed of micro.blog. I'm not going to say no to reading a theory about Depression, especially when it comes with a promise of solutions.
The book starts off with the author's tale of his depression and time on anti-depressants and how his therapist keeps telling him he still sounds depressed. He insists no, he's not, but the therapist keeps repeating he still sounds depressed. No way!
The author goes on and keeps having include links to his references. Some of the references were really odd, "the audio of this conversation has been confirmed by my publisher" and "so and so recalled this the same way" kind of weird. Turns out, the author had previously been caught plagarizing himself and making stuff up, so he needed to be extra cautious in his books.
So, read with a bit of caution. Sure.
Except the studies and examples and anedcotes and stories and and and yeah, some of it isn't science but some of that not-science just... feels... right... as true, as something someone depressed needs to try when they want out of the cycle and want to heal, want to be whole.
Basic premise: we have lost the connections to our values, to ourselves, to our community, to our world. Without those connections, we are lost, we lack meaning, direction, purpose. Discover, embrace, and nurture those connection and the depression can be lifted.
It's very much along the lines of helping others can help oneself. We need our tribe, we need our community, we need nature (the green, the forests, the paths, the hiking, the sun, the water, the clean air), we need purpose. As long as we keep ignoring these connections, we perpetuate the cycle. Going it alone, as is the western culture's attitude, won't work, as being alone is a cause.
So, yeah, depression a thing in your life? Not the sadness thing, not the grief thing, the depression thing? "Why wouldn't you do anything you could to prevent it?" This book is a good start. Strongly recommended, might change your life.
It was only years later—in the course of writing this book—that somebody pointed out to me all the questions my doctor didn’t ask that day. Like: Is there any reason you might feel so distressed? What’s been happening in your life? Is there anything hurting you that we might want to change?
No matter how high a dose I jacked up my antidepressants to, the sadness would always outrun it.
I was doing everything right, and yet something was still wrong.
You can’t escape it: when scientists test the water supply of Western countries, they always find it is laced with antidepressants, because so many of us are taking them and excreting them that they simply can’t be filtered out of the water we drink every day. 9 We are literally awash in these drugs.
Once you settle into a story about your pain, you are extremely reluctant to challenge it.
Unhappiness and depression are totally different things. There is nothing more infuriating to a depressed person than to be told to cheer up, or to be offered jolly little solutions as if they were merely having a bad week.
At that time, the English doctor had realized that when you give a patient a medical treatment, you are really giving her two things. You are giving her a drug, which will usually have a chemical effect on her body in some way. And you are giving her a story—about how the treatment will affect her.
Somebody once told me that giving a person a story about why they are in pain is one of the most powerful things you can ever do.
The grief exception revealed something that the authors of the DSM — the distillation of mainstream psychiatric thinking — were deeply uncomfortable with. They had been forced to admit, in their own official manual, that it’s reasonable — and perhaps even necessary — to show the symptoms of depression, in one set of circumstances.
As Joanne Cacciatore researched the grief exception in more detail, she came to believe it revealed a basic mistake our culture is making about pain, way beyond grief. We don’t, she told me, “consider context.” We act like human distress can be assessed solely on a checklist that can be separated out from our lives, and labeled as brain diseases.
“Why do we call it mental health?” she asked me. “Because we want to scientize it. We want to make it sound scientific. But it’s our emotions.”
Jo sat on the floor, and held her, and let the pain come out, and after it did, the mother felt some relief, for a time, because she knew she was not alone.
Sometimes, that is the most we can do.
It’s a lot.
And sometimes, when you listen to the pain and you see it in its context, it will point you to a way beyond it — as I learned later.
What if depression is, in fact, a form of grief — for our own lives not being as they should? What if it is a form of grief for the connections we have lost, yet still need?
This meant, he told me, that he arrived at the psychiatric treatment center he was going to work out of in South London “completely ignorant” of what you are supposed to think about something like depression, and he now believes “that was a great advantage. I had no preconceived ideas [so] I was forced to have an open mind.”
They labeled the first category “difficulties” — which they defined as a chronic ongoing problem, which could range from having a bad marriage, to living in bad housing, to being forced to move away from your community and neighborhood.
The second category looked at the exact opposite — “stabilizers,” the things that they suspected could boost you and protect you from despair. For that, they carefully recorded how many close friends the women had, and how good their relationships with their partners were.
For every good friend you had, or if your partner was more supportive and caring, it reduced depression by a remarkable amount.
So George and Tirril had discovered that two things make depression much more likely — having a severe negative event, and having long-term sources of stress and insecurity in your life.
For example — if you didn’t have any friends, and you didn’t have a supportive partner, your chances of developing depression when a severe negative life event came along were 75 percent. 12 It was much more likely than not.
We all lose some hope when we’re subjected to severe stress, or when something horrible happens to us, but if the stress or the bad events are sustained over a long period, what you get is “the generalization of hopelessness,” Tirril told me.
I realized every one of the social and psychological causes of depression and anxiety they have discovered has something in common. They are all forms of disconnection. They are all ways in which we have been cut off from something we innately need but seem to have lost along the way.
“When work is enriching, life is fuller, and that spills over into the things you do outside work,” he said to me. But “when it’s deadening,” you feel “shattered at the end of the day, just shattered.”
“Disempowerment,” Michael told me, “is at the heart of poor health” — physical, mental, and emotional.
Despair often happens, he had learned, when there is a “lack of balance between efforts and rewards.”
Loneliness hangs over our culture today like a thick smog.
It’s worth repeating. Being deeply lonely seemed to cause as much stress as being punched by a stranger.
If you do that, you always find that lonely people are much more likely to be depressed or anxious. But that doesn’t get us very far — because depressed and anxious people often become afraid of the world, and of social interaction, so they tend to retreat from it.
It turned out that — for the initial five years of data that have been studied so far — in most cases, loneliness preceded depressive symptoms. 8 You became lonely, and that was followed by feelings of despair and profound sadness and depression. And the effect was really big.
Humans need tribes as much as bees need a hive.
Or, as he told me later: loneliness is “an aversive state that motivates us to reconnect.”
Anywhere in the world where people describe being lonely, they will also — throughout their sleep — experience more of something called “micro-awakenings.” These are small moments you won’t recall when you wake up, but in which you rise a little from your slumber.
The best theory is that you don’t feel safe going to sleep when you’re lonely, because early humans literally weren’t safe if they were sleeping apart from the tribe. You know nobody’s got your back — so your brain won’t let you go into full sleep mode. Measuring these “micro-awakenings” is a good way of measuring loneliness.
This showed that loneliness isn’t just some inevitable human sadness, like death. It’s a product of the way we live now.
What this means is that people’s sense that they live in a community, or even have friends they can count on, has been plummeting.
“How many confidants do you have?” They wanted to know how many people you could turn to in a crisis, or when something really good happens to you.
Lonely people are scanning for threats because they unconsciously know that nobody is looking out for them, so no one will help them if they are hurt.
To end loneliness, you need other people — plus something else. You also need, he explained to me, to feel you are sharing something with the other person, or the group, that is meaningful to both of you.
The Internet arrived promising us connection at the very moment when all the wider forces of disconnection were reaching a crescendo.
When he got a job as a software developer and he was given an assignment that made him feel pressured, he found himself endlessly chasing down Internet rabbit holes. He would have three hundred tabs open at any given time.
If you’re a typical Westerner in the twenty-first century, you check your phone once every six and a half minutes. If you’re a teenager, you send on average a hundred texts a day. And 42 percent of us never turn off our phones. Ever.
The compulsive Internet use, she was saying, was a dysfunctional attempt to try to solve the pain they were already in, caused in part by feeling alone in the world.
The difference between being online and being physically among people, I saw in that moment, is a bit like the difference between pornography and sex: it addresses a basic itch, but it’s never satisfying.
There’s a quote from the biologist E. O. Wilson that John Cacioppo — who has taught us so much about loneliness — likes: “People must belong to a tribe.”
Just like a bee goes haywire if it loses its hive, a human will go haywire if she loses her connection to the group.
I asked Tim if, in Pinellas County where he grew up, he ever heard anyone talking about a different way of valuing things, beyond the idea that happiness came from getting and possessing stuff. “Well — I think — not growing up. No,” he said.
It really did seem that materialistic people were having a worse time, day by day, on all sorts of fronts. They felt sicker, and they were angrier. “Something about a strong desire for materialistic pursuits,” he was starting to believe, “actually affected the participants’ day-to-day lives, and decreased the quality of their daily experience.” They experienced less joy, and more despair.
Ever since the 1960s, psychologists have known that there are two different ways you can motivate yourself to get out of bed in the morning. The first are called intrinsic motives — they are the things you do purely because you value them in and of themselves, not because of anything you get out of them.
And there’s a rival set of values, which are called extrinsic motives. They’re the things you do not because you actually want to do them, but because you’ll get something in return — whether it’s money, or admiration, or sex, or superior status.
He got them to lay out their goals for the future. He then figured out with them if these were extrinsic goals — like getting a promotion, or a bigger apartment — or intrinsic goals, like being a better friend or a more loving son or a better piano player.
But people who achieved their intrinsic goals did become significantly happier, and less depressed and anxious. You could track the movement. As they worked at it and felt they became (for example) a better friend — not because they wanted anything out of it but because they felt it was a good thing to do — they became more satisfied with life. Being a better dad? Dancing for the sheer joy of it? Helping another person, just because it’s the right thing to do? They do significantly boost your happiness.
The first is that thinking extrinsically poisons your relationships with other people.
[T]hey found that the more materialistic you become, the shorter your relationships will be, and the worse their quality will be.
There’s strong scientific evidence that we all get most pleasure from what are called “flow states” 13 like this — moments when we simply lose ourselves doing something we love and are carried along in the moment.
... highly materialistic people, he discovered they experience significantly fewer flow states than the rest of us.
When you are extremely materialistic, Tim said to me, “you’ve always kind of got to be wondering about yourself — how are people judging you?” It forces you to “focus on other people’s opinions of you, and their praise of you — and then you’re kind of locked into having to worry what other people think about you, and if other people are going to give you those rewards that you want.
What you really need are connections. But what you are told you need, in our culture, is stuff and a superior status, and in the gap between those two signals — from yourself and from society — depression and anxiety will grow as your real needs go unmet.
So if you become fixated on getting stuff and a superior status, the parts of the pie that care about tending to your relationships, or finding meaning, or making the world better have to shrink, to make way.
And the pressure, in our culture, runs overwhelmingly one way — spend more; work more.
Tim suspected that advertising plays a key role in why we are, every day, choosing a value system that makes us feel worse.
“Advertising at its best is making people feel that without their product, you’re a loser."
This system trains us, Tim says, to feel “there’s never enough. When you’re focused on money and status and possessions, consumer society is always telling you more, more, more, more. Capitalism is always telling you more, more, more. Your boss is telling you work more, work more, work more. You internalize that and you think: Oh, I got to work more, because my self depends on my status and my achievement. You internalize that. It’s a kind of form of internalized oppression.”
“You’ve got to pull yourself out of the materialistic environments — the environments that are reinforcing the materialistic values,” he says, because they cripple your internal satisfactions. And then, he says, to make that sustainable, you have to “replace them with actions that are going to provide those intrinsic satisfactions, [and] encourage those intrinsic goals.”
I ask him if he had withdrawal symptoms from the materialistic world we were both immersed in for so long. “Never,” he says right away. “People ask me that: “Don’t you miss this? Don’t you wish you had that?” No, I don’t, because [I am] never exposed to the messages telling me that I should want it.
By living without these polluting values, Tim has, he says, discovered a secret. This way of life is more pleasurable than materialism.
Joe is constantly bombarded with messages that he shouldn’t do the thing that his heart is telling him would make him feel calm and satisfied. The whole logic of our culture tells him to stay on the consumerist treadmill, to go shopping when he feels lousy, to chase junk values. He has been immersed in those messages since the day he was born. So he has been trained to distrust his own wisest instincts.
Many of these women had been making themselves obese for an unconscious reason: to protect themselves from the attention of men, who they believed would hurt them.
They needed someone to understand why they ate.
Many scientists and psychologists had been presenting depression as an irrational malfunction in your brain or in your genes, but he learned that Allen Barbour, an internist at Stanford University, 15 had said that depression isn’t a disease; depression is a normal response to abnormal life experiences.
Some people don’t want to see this because, at least at first, “it’s more comforting,” Vincent said, to think it’s all happening simply because of changes in the brain. “It takes away an experiential process and substitutes a mechanistic process.” It turns your pain into a trick of the light that can be banished with drugs.
If you believe that your depression is due solely to a broken brain, you don’t have to think about your life, or about what anyone might have done to you.
Magic pill to fix everything!
When you are a child and you experience something really traumatic, you almost always think it is your fault. There’s a reason for this, and it’s not irrational; like obesity, it is, in fact, a solution to a problem most people can’t see.
When you’re a child, you have very little power to change your environment. You can’t move away, or force somebody to stop hurting you. So you have two choices. You can admit to yourself that you are powerless — that at any moment, you could be badly hurt, and there’s simply nothing you can do about it. Or you can tell yourself it’s your fault.
In this way, just like obesity protected those women from the men they feared would rape them, blaming yourself for your childhood traumas protects you from seeing how vulnerable you were and are. You can become the powerful one. If it’s your fault, it’s under your control.
“When people have these kind of problems, it’s time to stop asking what’s wrong with them,” he said, “and time to start asking what happened to them.”
It’s hard to describe what depression and acute anxiety feel like. They are such disorientating states that they seem to escape language, but we have a few clichés that we return to.
If you’re a female baboon, you inherit your place in the hierarchy from your mother, as if you were a posh Englishman in the Middle Ages, but if you’re a male baboon, your place is established through a brutal conflict to see who can clamber to the top.
While I understand this is how it is, I'm still fully annoyed at how much in nature and our society being female is being second class.
When Solomon was lying on a rock with one of the hottest babes of the troop, Uriah walked up in between them and started trying to have sex with her — right in front of the boss-man.
Robert had discovered that having an insecure status was the one thing even more distressing than having a low status.
The more unequal your society, the more prevalent all forms of mental illness are.
It’s hard for a hungry animal moving through its natural habitat and with a decent status in its group to be depressed, she says — there are almost no records of such a thing.
all humans have a natural sense of something called “biophilia.” It’s an innate love for the landscapes in which humans have lived for most of our existence, and for the natural web of life that surrounds us and makes our existence possible.
When you are depressed — as Isabel knows from her own experience — you feel that “now everything is about you.” You become trapped in your own story and your own thoughts, and they rattle around in your head with a dull, bitter insistence. Becoming depressed or anxious is a process of becoming a prisoner of your ego, where no air from the outside can get in.
Faced with a natural landscape, you have a sense that you and your concerns are very small, and the world is very big — and that sensation can shrink the ego down to a manageable size.
But the research is very hard to find funding for, he said, because “a lot of the shape of modern biomedical research has been defined by the pharmaceutical industry,” and they’re not interested because “it’s very hard to commercialize nature contact.” You can’t sell it, so they don’t want to know.
The lesson the depressed bonobos had taught her, she said, is: “Don’t be in captivity. Fuck captivity.”
Especially if the prison is of your own making.
The cruelest thing about depression, she said, is that it drains you of the desire to be as fully alive as this — to swallow experience whole.
How do you develop your sense of identity? How do you know who you are? It seems like an impossibly big question. But ask yourself this: What is the connecting thread that runs from your baby self, vomiting out teething biscuits, to the person who is reading this book now? Will you be the same person twenty years from now? If you met her, would you recognize her? What is the relationship between you in the past and you in the future? Are you the same person all along?
A sense of a positive future protects you. If life is bad today, you can think — this hurts, but it won’t hurt forever. But when it is taken away, it can feel like your pain will never go away.
I took her for a long lunch, and she started to tell me the story of her life since we last met, 10 in a hurried gabble punctuated by her apologizing a lot, although it was never quite clear what for.
We give it a fancy name: we call it being “self-employed,” or the “gig economy” —
For most of us, a stable sense of the future is dissolving, and we are told to see it as a form of liberation.
It made intuitive sense to her, she said. When you have a stable picture of yourself in the future, she explained, what it gives you is “perspective — doesn’t it? You are able to say — ‘ Okay, I’m having a shitty day. But I’m not having a shitty life.’
When I told Marc that I had been given antidepressants for thirteen years and had always been told that all my distress had been caused by a problem inside my brain, he said: “It’s crazy. It’s always related to your life and your personal circumstances.”
Because you are feeling intense pain for a long period, your brain will assume this is the state in which you are going to have to survive from now on — so it might start to shed the synapses that relate to the things that give you joy and pleasure, and strengthen the synapses that relate to fear and despair.
The pain caused by life going wrong can trigger a response that is “so powerful that [the brain] tends to stay there [in a pained response] for a while, until something pushes it out of that corner, into a more flexible place.”
Everyone reading this will know somebody who became depressed, or anxious, yet seemingly had nothing to be unhappy about.
Yet now, if we could go back in a time machine and talk to these women, what we’d say is: You had everything a woman could possibly want by the standards of the culture. You had nothing to be unhappy about by the standards of the culture. But we now know that the standards of the culture were wrong. Women need more than a house and a car and a husband and kids. They need equality, and meaningful work, and autonomy. You aren’t broken, we’d tell them. The culture
You can have everything a person could possibly need by the standards of our culture — but those standards can badly misjudge what a human actually needs in order to have a good or even a tolerable life. The culture can create a picture of what you “need” to be happy — through all the junk values I had been taught about — that doesn’t fit with what you actually need. 19
For a long time, we have been told there are only two ways of thinking about depression. Either it’s a moral failing — a sign of weakness — or it’s a brain disease.
[T]here’s a third option — to regard depression as largely a reaction to the way we are living.
One reason why is that it is “much more politically challenging” 25 to say that so many people are feeling terrible because of how our societies now work. It fits much more with our system of “neoliberal capitalism,” he told me, to say, “Okay, we’ll get you functioning more efficiently, but please don’t start questioning … because that’s going to destabilize all sorts of things.”
Dr. Rufus May, a British psychologist, told me that telling people their distress is due mostly or entirely to a biological malfunction has several dangerous effects on them. The first thing that happens when you’re told this is “you leave the person disempowered, feeling they’re not good enough — because their brain’s not good enough.” The second thing is, he said, that “it pitches us against parts of ourselves.” It says there is a war taking place in your head. On one side there are your feelings of distress, caused by the malfunctions in your brain or genes. On the other side there’s the sane part of you.
But it does something even more profound than that. It tells you that your distress has no meaning — it’s just defective tissue.
He sometimes quotes the Eastern philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti, 26 who explained: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a sick society.”
To them, an antidepressant wasn’t about changing your brain chemistry, an idea that seemed bizarre to their culture. It was about the community, together, empowering the depressed person to change his life.
What if changing the way we live — in specific, targeted, evidence-based ways — could be seen as an antidepressant, too?
When they lived in Turkey, the women there had referred to their entire village as “home.” And when they came to Germany, they learned that what you are supposed to think of as home is your own four walls and the space within them — a pinched, shriveled sense of home.
They had made themselves public. And it was only by doing that — by being released into something bigger than themselves — that they had found a release from their pain.
We met in a coffee shop in downtown Berkeley, which is seen by the outside world as a font of left-wing radicalism, but on my way to meet her, I passed lots of young homeless people, all begging, all being ignored.
Yeah, having recently passed the armies of homeless in Berkeley, I know this view.
If you decide to pursue happiness in the United States or Britain, you pursue it for yourself — because you think that’s how it works. You do what I did most of the time: you get stuff for yourself, you rack up achievement for yourself, you build up your own ego. But if you consciously pursue happiness in Russia or Japan or China, you do something quite different. You try to make things better for your group — for the people around you. That’s what you think happiness means, so it seems obvious to you.
Yet if I’m honest, that’s the kind of solution I craved. Something individual; something you can do alone, without any effort; something that takes twenty seconds to swallow every morning, so you can get on with life as it was before. If it couldn’t be chemical, I wanted some other trick, some switch I could flip to make it all fine.
Now, when I feel myself starting to slide down, I don’t do something for myself — I try to do something for someone else.
I learned something I wouldn’t have thought was possible at the start. Even if you are in pain, you can almost always make someone else feel a little bit better.
When you went to see your doctor, you didn’t just get pills. You were prescribed one of over a hundred different ways to reconnect — with the people around you, with the society, and with values that really matter.
Most people come to their doctor because they are distressed. Even when you have a physical pain — like a bad knee — that will feel far worse if you have nothing else in your life, and no connections.
He says he has learned, especially with depression and anxiety, to shift from asking “What’s the matter with you?” to “What matters to you?”
It’s not the work itself that makes you sick. It’s three other things. It’s the feeling of being controlled — of being a meaningless cog in a system. It’s the feeling that no matter how hard you work, you’ll be treated just the same and nobody will notice — an imbalance, as he puts it, between efforts and rewards. And it’s the feeling of being low on the hierarchy — of being a low-status person who doesn’t matter compared to the Big Man in the corner office.
Our politicians are constantly singing hymns to democracy as the best system — this is simply the extension of democracy to the place where we spend most of our time. Josh says it’s an amazing victory for their propaganda system — to make you work in an environment you often can’t stand, and to do it for most of your waking life, and see the proceeds of your labor get siphoned off by somebody at the top, and then to make you “think of yourself as a free person.”
From this experience, she has learned that “people want to work. Everybody wants to work. Everybody wants to feel useful, and have purpose.” 5 The humiliation and control of so many workplaces can suppress that, or drive it out of people, but it’s always there, and it reemerges in the right environment. People “want to feel like they’ve had an impact on other humans — that they’ve improved the world in some way.”
It made me think: Imagine if we had a tough advertising regulator who wouldn’t permit ads designed to make us feel bad in any way. How many ads would survive?
As they explored this in the conversation, it became clear quite quickly — without any prompting from Nathan — that spending often isn’t about the object itself. It is about getting to a psychological state that makes you feel better.
Just asking these two questions — “What do you spend your money on?” and “What do you really value?” — made most people see a gap between the answers that they began to discuss. They were accumulating and spending money on things that were not — in the end — the things that they believed in their heart mattered. Why would that be?
He learned that the average American is exposed to up to five thousand advertising impressions a day — from billboards to logos on T-shirts to TV advertisements. It is the sea in which we swim. And “the narrative is that if you [buy] this thing, it’ll yield more happiness — and so thousands of times a day you’re just surrounded with that message,” he told me.
He began to ask: “Who’s shaping that narrative?” It’s not people who have actually figured out what will make us happy and who are charitably spreading the good news. It’s people who have one motive only — to make us buy their product.
At the next session, he asked the people in the experiment to do a short exercise in which everyone had to list a consumer item they felt they had to have right away. They had to describe what it was, how they first heard about it, why they craved it, how they felt when they got it, and how they felt after they’d had it for a while. For many people, as they talked this through, something became obvious. The pleasure was often in the craving and anticipation. We’ve all had the experience of finally getting the thing we want, getting it home, and feeling oddly deflated, only to find that before long, the craving cycle starts again.
But as she began to read about envy, she realized that our culture was priming her to feel this way. She had been raised to constantly compete and compare, she said. “We’re highly individualistic,” she explained, and we’re constantly told that life is a “zero sum game.
There’s only so many pieces of the pie, so if somebody else has success, or beauty, or whatever, somehow it leaves less for you.
We are trained to think that life is a fight for scarce resources — “ even if it’s for something like intelligence, when there’s no limit to how much human intelligence can grow across the world.” If you become smarter, it doesn’t make me less smart — but we are primed to feel that it does.
And she discovered an ancient technique called “sympathetic joy,” which is part of a range of techniques for which there is some striking new scientific evidence. It is, she says, quite simple. Sympathetic joy is a method for cultivating “the opposite of jealousy or envy … It’s simply feeling happy for other people.”
She was surprised that she could change in this way. “You think that certain things aren’t malleable,” she says, but “they completely are. You can be a total jealous monster, and you think that’s just part of who you are, and you find you can change it [by just] doing some basic thing.”
“I’ve pursued happiness for myself my whole life, and I’m exhausted, and I don’t feel any closer to it — because where does it end? The bar just keeps getting moved.” But this different way of thinking, she said, seemed to offer a real sense of pleasure, and a path away from the depressing, anxiety-provoking thoughts she’d been plagued by.
“There’s always going to be shit coming into your life to be unhappy about. If you can be happy for others, there’s always going to be a supply of happiness available to you.
She’s conscious that to many people, this would sound like a philosophy for losers — you can’t make it, so you have to get a thrill when somebody else does. You’ll lose your edge. You’ll fall behind in the constant race for success. But Rachel thinks this is a false dichotomy. Why can’t you be happy for other people and for yourself? Why would being eaten with envy make you stronger?
He also brought a chestnut he had found on the ground the day his divorce came through, which he had kept, though he didn’t know why.
They both, he said, break our “addiction to ourselves.”
As Fred put it to me, these experiences teach you that “you don’t have to be controlled by your concept of yourself.”
“You could say people have forgotten who they are, what they’re capable of, have gotten stuck … Many depressed people can only see their pains, and their hurts, and their resentments, and their failures. They can’t see the blue sky and the yellow leaves, you know?” This process of opening consciousness up again can disrupt that — and so it disrupts depression. It takes down the walls of your ego and opens you to connecting with what matters.
Our egos protect us. They guard us. They are necessary. But when they grow too big, they cut us off from the possibility of connection. Taking them down, then, isn’t something to be done casually.
There is a great deal of evidence — as I discussed before — that a sense of humiliation plays a big role in depression.
“Time and again,” he said, “we blame a collective problem on the individual. So you’re depressed? You should get a pill. You don’t have a job? Go to a job coach — we’ll teach you how to write a résumé or [to join] LinkedIn. But obviously, that doesn’t go to the root of the problem … Not many people are thinking about what’s actually happened to our labor market, and our society, that these [forms of despair] are popping up everywhere.” Even middle-class people are living with a chronic “lack of certainty” about what their lives will be like in even a few months’ time, he says.
Rutger told me: “When I ask people — ‘ What would you [personally] do with a basic income?’ about 99 percent of people say — ‘ I have dreams, I have ambitions, I’m going to do something ambitious and useful.’” But when he asks them what they think other people would do with a basic income, they say — oh, they’ll become lifeless zombies, they’ll binge-watch Netflix all day.
Every single person reading this is the beneficiary of big civilizing social changes that seemed impossible when somebody first proposed them.
The response to a huge crisis isn’t to go home and weep. It’s to go big. It’s to demand something that seems impossible — and not rest until you’ve achieved it.
It’s a sign, Rutger says, of how badly off track we’ve gone, that having fulfilling work is seen as a freakish exception, like winning the lottery, instead of how we should all be living.
Depression and anxiety have three kinds of causes — biological, psychological, and social. They are all real, and none of these three can be described by something as crude as the idea of a chemical imbalance.
The United Nations — in its official statement for World Health Day in 2017 — explained3 that “the dominant biomedical narrative of depression” is based on “biased and selective use of research outcomes” that “cause more harm than good, undermine the right to health, and must be abandoned.”
You aren’t a machine with broken parts. You are an animal whose needs are not being met. You need to have a community. You need to have meaningful values, not the junk values you’ve been pumped full of all your life, telling you happiness comes through money and buying objects. You need to have meaningful work. You need the natural world. You need to feel you are respected. You need a secure future. You need connections to all these things. You need to release any shame you might feel for having been mistreated.
I know this is going to be hard to hear, I’d tell him, because I know how deep your suffering cuts. But this pain isn’t your enemy, however much it hurts (and Jesus, I know how much it hurts). It’s your ally — leading you away from a wasted life and pointing the way toward a more fulfilling one.
We have lost faith in the idea of anything bigger or more meaningful than the individual, and the accumulation of more and more stuff.
Depression and anxiety might, in one way, be the sanest reaction you have. 6 It’s a signal, saying — you shouldn’t have to live this way, and if you aren’t helped to find a better path, you will be missing out on so much that is best about being human.
I really liked and enjoyed this book. I hadn't read anything by Claire North, yet she joins the surprisingly large number of authors who have books I want to read, but I read a different book by the author instead.
I'm glad I did. This was such a fun read.
Harry August was born in 1919, died in 1989, and was born in 1919 to live his life over again. Given the era of his childhood and his death being three years before the release of the film Groundhog Day, it isn't surprising that the second time through, he pretty much did what most people would do: went insane. The third time through, though, hey, wait a moment.
Honestly, if I had a chance to redo life with all my memories of the previous life / lives, I would be so f'ing full of "HOT DAMN!" I'd likely be labeled insane from giddism. Is that a word? Is now.
I'd probably start to worry about the boredom of never dying sometime past the thirty or fortieth time through. Pretty sure I'd be able to figure out how not to come back when I was truly and goodly done.
I'd also hide immediately, along the lines of the Remembrance of Earth's Past idea that there's likely someone more powerful out there with greater skills, best stay hidden. Or was that After On and being the first sentient computer?
Anyway. Harry. We lurves the Harry.
I enjoyed this book a lot. I strongly recommend this book for any science fiction fan. I recommended it to my mom, and she doesn't read science fiction, I enjoyed it that much.
In my first life I enlisted of my own volition, genuinely believing the three great fallacies of the time – that the war would be brief, that the war would be patriotic and that the war would advance me in my skills.
I had spent an entire life praying for a miracle, and none had come. And now I looked at the stuffy chapel of my ancestors and saw vanity and greed, heard the call to prayer and thought of power, smelled incense and wondered at the waste of it all.
I asked if it was hard, being the first woman in her department. She laughed and said that only idiots judged her for being a woman – and she judged them for being idiots. “The benefit being,” she explained, “that I can be both a woman and a fucking brilliant surgeon, but they’ll always only be idiots.”
They say that the mind cannot remember pain; I say it barely matters, for even if the physical sensation is lost, our recollection of the terror that surrounds it is perfect.
Time is not wisdom; wisdom is not intellect. I am still capable of being overwhelmed; he overwhelmed me.
I told him to study the Great Game, to research the Pashtun, look at a map.
Oooooo! I know this reference! Thanks, Moazam!
I was out of shape, having never been in much of a shape to get out of, and my confinement had hardly aided the process.
“I am honoured. But if your complaint is that ethics have no place in pure science, I’m afraid I must be forced to disagree with you.”
“Of course they don’t! Pure science is no more and no less than the logical process of deduction and experimentation upon observable events. It has no good or bad about it, merely right or wrong in a strictly mathematical definition. What people do with that science is cause for ethical debate, but it is not for the true scientist to concern themselves with that. Leave it to the politicians and philosophers.”
“You can’t say you’re not expecting to achieve a thing, then express resentment that others agree with you.”
Cancer is a process on which the healthy cannot impose.
Private Harry Brookes poured his heart out to a distant stranger who made no reply, but I knew that what I needed was not so much the comfort of return, but to speak of what I had been. The telling was all, the reply merely a courtesy.
"I was bleeding out of my insides I stood there and said, ‘I am a daughter of this beautiful land, and I will never participate in the ugliness of your regime!’ And when they shot me, it was the most magnificent I had ever been."
Blackmail is surprisingly difficult to pull off. The art lies in convincing the target that whatever harm they do themselves – for, by definition, you are compelling them rather than coaxing them into obedience – is less than the harm which will be caused by the revelation of the secrets in your power.
More often than not the blackmailer overplays their hand, and nothing is achieved except grief. A light touch and, more importantly, an understanding of when to back away is vital to achieve success.
Short of a society where religion obligated modesty, a Russian winter could do wonders for thwarting facial recognition.
"I don’t understand what drives you. You have wealth, time and the world at your feet, but all you do is push, push and keep on pushing at things which really don’t bother you."
In truth, my own words rang hollow in my ears. I spoke fine sentiments about participation in the world around us, and yet what was my participation to be?
“Linears only have one life,” she said at last, “and they don’t bother to change anything. It’s just not convenient. Some do. Some… ‘great’ men, or angry men, or men that have been beaten so low that all they have left to do is fight back and change the world. But, Harry, if there is one feature most common to ‘great’ men, it’s that they’re nearly always alone.”
“Only one thing surprises me any more,” she explained, “and that’s the things people admit when they’re pissed.”
I spent the long waiting hours sitting in the silence and the dark, reproaching myself for my lack of self-reproach. A self-defeating exercise, but even when the logical absurdity of my own thought processes became apparent to me, I was rather annoyed that even this slim manifestation of conscience was so intellectual.
Rationality, if not intellect, can still overwhelm alcohol when death is on the line.
Are you God, Dr August? Are you the only living creature that matters? Do you think, because you remember it, that your pain is bigger and more important? Do you think, because you experience it, that your life is the only life that gets counted?
Problem is, you’ve gone soft. You’ve got used to the comfy life, and the great thing about the comfy life is no one who has it is ever gonna risk rocking the boat. You should learn to live a little, rough it out –I’m telling you, there’s no greater high.”
Knowledge is not a substitute for ingenuity, merely an accelerant.
In another time, I felt, I would have enjoyed Soviet Dave’s company, and wondered just what stories lurked behind his polite veneer, to have made him a security man.
I waited with the light out in my room for the dead hour of the night when the mind shifts into a numb, timeless daze of voiceless thought.
The secret to being unafraid of the darkness is to challenge the darkness to fear you, to raise your eyes sharp to those few souls who stagger by, daring them to believe that you are not, in fact, more frightening than they are.
The doctrine I spouted was, in fact, absolutely correct for the times we lived in, but I had underestimated how quickly the times changed and, vitally, how much more important the interpretations of rivals were than the truth of what you said.
No one ever considers the question of bladder when dealing with matters of subterfuge.
Or when writing fiction...
Armies tend to exploit science faster than civilians, if only because their need tends to be more urgent.
I also believe that single-minded dedication to just one thing, without rest, respite or distraction, is only conducive to migraines, not productivity.
She was an Indian mystic, one of the first to realise that the most profitable way to be enlightened was to spread her enlightenment to concerned Westerners who hadn’t had enough cultural opportunities to nurture their cynicism.
I really need to start keeping notes about why I add books to my reading list. I'm pretty sure this was a book on some "You should read this" list, as the book is on a number of said lists.
When I first started reading the book, I connected with the Kushner's descriptions of San Francisco. Quickly I realized, however, that her San Francisco was definitely not my San Francisco, nor was the main characters's childhood. The names, places, streets, landmarks, yes, I recognized all of those. The drugs and goofing off and delinquency, not so much, and no.
Everyone's raving about the book, though.
The writing is engaging. The plot was slow, but wasn't a bad thing because the writing was good. The characters were interesting. I don't know, worth the hype, maybe? Would I recommend it? I can't say I would, but that's because the book is outside what I normally read and what I would recommend. It can still be worth reading.
I guess if you're looking for a fictionalized account of a woman's prison life, from the perspective of an innocent (in an objective, just world, one could call the crime she committed justified), this book is good. It triggers my "not fair!" button, along with a couple other buttons about human nature, redemption, loss, and justice. But it isn't a comedy, nor does it try to be funny, which makes it better than most fictionalized women's prison accounts.
Sometimes what other people want is wantable, briefly, before dissolving in the face of your own wants.
I sometimes think San Francisco is cursed. I mostly think it’s a sad suckville of a place. People say it’s beautiful, but the beauty is only visible to newcomers, and invisible to those who had to grow up there.
I have no plans at all. The thing is you keep existing whether you have a plan to do so or not, until you don’t exist, and then your plans are meaningless. But not having plans doesn’t mean I don’t have regrets.
We loved life more than the future.
I talk to the clerk at the comic book store, who told me what blue balls was (I was probably blue-balling him by asking).
Cracked me up.
And if someone did remember them, someone besides me, that person’s account would make them less real, because my memory of them would have to be corrected by facts, which are never considerate of what makes an impression, what stays in the mind after all these years, the very real images that grip me from the erased past and won’t let go.
That was what beauty was, he supposed, when someone’s face stirred feelings.
More typically, the good-looking ones were overly aware of their beauty. It was something to which they subjected others, a thing they hawked, bartered, and controlled.
The touch of this girl’s comb produced a feeling that was both terrific longing and something like longing fulfilled.
Most people talked to fill silence and didn’t know the damage they reaped.
He understood there were people who didn’t want to be the wanter, but he could not make himself feel that way.
A man could say every day that he wanted to change his life, was going to change it, and every day the lament became merely a part of the life he was already living, so that the desire for change was in fact a kind of stasis that allowed the unchanged life to continue, because at least the man knew to disapprove of it, which reassured him not all was lost.
People who tinkered with trucks and dirt bikes and made assumptions of Gordon that he did nothing to dispel, because he knew those assumptions would work in his favor if he needed their help.
Gordon withheld judgments. These people knew much more than he did about how to live in the mountains. How to survive winter and forest fires and mud flows from spring rains. How to properly stack wood, as Gordon’s neighbor from down the hill had patiently showed him, after his two cords of chunk wood were dumped in the driveway by a guy named Beaver who was missing most of his fingers.
She made it the usual way, with juice boxes poured into a plastic bag and mixed with ketchup packets, as sugar. A sock stuffed with bread, the yeast, was placed in the bag for several days of fermentation.
"The seventies is the end of good American cars. We used to make trucks in this country. Now we make truck nuts."
The idea that men would want to display an artificial scrotum—the most fragile part of a man’s body—on the back of their trucks, I said it made no sense and Conan agreed.
I knew to let them make their mistake. You never correct, because their wrong might be your right. You wait, see how it’s going to play, see if you are getting some angle from their fuck-up.
They were interested in having people to call, people who wanted something from them; it felt good to be pursued. It was a game to get attention. A game that was not a game because it was all they had.
Like in the dressing room at the Mars Room, you don’t give your real name. You don’t offer information. You don’t talk about yourself because there is nothing to be gained from it.
Men don’t holiday from their addictions. Holidays are busy, because the men need to escape from their real lives into their really real lives with us, their fantasies.
But she sulked a lot, and he realized quiet people can control you just as effectively as loud ones. They do it differently is all.
Things are more complicated than some can admit. People are stupider and less demonic than some can admit.
“It’s okay to make a promise," London said to Gordon, as if summarizing for the teacher how life actually worked, “but it’s not always a good idea to keep one."
I was forced to look at his tattoo, a chest-sized upside-down cross. “Got this to spite my brother," he said, his words thick from pain medication. “He’s a minister."
You sure showed him, I did not say.
The women paid extra attention to Gordon, not knowing already what the problem was with him, as they had already established with the other single men at that party, according to Alex.
The interaction brought back anxieties from grad school, the way his peers could casually criticize others they didn’t know anything about.
The women were doing that grad school thing of air-quoting to install distance between themselves and the words they chose, these bookish women with an awkwardness he used to find cute.
I could roam neighborhoods, visit my apartment in the Tenderloin, with the Murphy bed, my happy yellow Formica table, and above it, the movie poster of Steve McQueen in Bullitt. If you’re from SF, you love Bullitt and are proud because it was filmed there. Plus, Steve McQueen had been a delinquent kid who became a star but stayed cool, did his own stunt driving.
I had started helping Button with her homework for Hauser’s class. I took more pleasure in it than I would have guessed.
The singer, a barrel-chested baritone, launched into a song about a pulpwood hauler who demolished a roadside beer joint with a chain saw. Why did he do it? The song explained why. The pulpwood hauler did it because the bartender called him a redneck and refused to serve him a cold beer. So he destroyed the place.
He had in his mind something Nietzsche said about truth. That each man is entitled to as much of it as he can bear. Maybe Gordon was not seeking truth, but seeking to learn his own limits for tolerating it.
There were large-scale acts of it, the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians in a single year, for a specious war of lies and bungling, a war that might have no end, but according to prosecutors, the real monsters were teenagers like Button Sanchez.
After indulging in the difficult facts, he all at once grasped why these kids, Button and her friends, had killed the poor student and ruined their own lives. The student was not a person to them. That was the reason. They would not have harmed someone they knew was a full person. He was alien to them, his fluency in Mandarin something the kids never considered.
Racism and misogyny in a nutshell.
Remember this always, Alyosha says, and he means, as an antidote. Retain the innocence of the most wholesome feeling you ever had in your life. Part of you stays innocent forever. That part of you is worth more than the rest.
Looking at someone who is looking at you was a drug as strong as any other.
To stay sane, that was the thing. To stay sane you formed a version of yourself you could believe in.
Geronima, and Sanchez, and Candy, all of them were people who suffered and along the way of their suffering they made others suffer, and Gordon could not see that making them suffer lifelong would accrue to justice. It added new harm to old, and no dead person ever came back to life that he had heard about.
It was probably an improvident time to quit a job, with the economy tanking, but the rhythms of the world did not always coordinate with the rhythm of the person.
As I said it, I realized that he was luring me into the water, by suggesting he would end his life he was luring me to end mine.
There were women in San Francisco who rode motorcycles. This bothered him. Because women, how did they understand the physics of it. If you don’t get physics you can’t be in control of speed.
He could put her on the back, though. Teach her how to hold on tight, lean with him as he leaned. So many broads didn’t even know how to be a passenger, leaned the wrong way when he cornered.
This was from the misogynist part of the storyline.
Appropriately, I'd want to pipe this fictional character, too.
The life is the rails and I was in the mountains I dreamed of from the yard. I was in them, but nothing stays what you see from far away when you get up close.
Okay, here we go, traipsing both down memory lane AND across the periodic table. I so much enjoyed this book. It took me a while to read it, however, and I totally missed the Caltech Bookclub meetings about it. I ended up checking it out from two different libraries for a total of three checkouts, not because it wasn't interesting, but rather because I needed to just start reading it.
The book is all about the periodic table, its history and its current state. Kean gives us stories about the different parts of the table, along with the stories of the main characters in its development, including those who sidetracked along the way.
Kean discusses the various parts of the periodic table, going through the chemistry and the physics of different elements, along with the science of finding the elements and the politics of naming them.
So... much... fun.
Probably helped that a lot of it happened at Tech and at Berkeley.
If you like science, this is a good book. If you enjoy pondering the periodic table even a hundredth as much as I do (yes, I have it memorized!), I strongly recommend this book. Even if you don't even think about the periodic table much, it still makes a great book to read to the kids before bed.
The discovery of eka-aluminium, now known as gallium, raises the question of what really drives science forward — theories, which frame how people view the world, or experiments, the simplest of which can destroy elegant theories.
Melts in your hand! Geranium doesn't!
And after such a breakthrough, Böttger reasonably expected his freedom. Unfortunately, the king decided he was now too valuable to release and locked him up under tighter security.
But if Ytterby had the proper economic conditions to make mining profitable and the proper geology to make it scientifically worthwhile, it still needed the proper social climate.
They’re neither created nor destroyed: elements just are.
Since the pinprick that existed back then, fourteen billion years ago, contained all the matter in the universe, everything around us must have been ejected from that speck.
And if you’re looking for truly exotic materials, astronomers believe that Jupiter’s erratic magnetic field can be explained only by oceans of black, liquid “metallic hydrogen.” Scientists have seen metallic hydrogen on earth only for nanoseconds under the most exhaustively extreme conditions they can produce.
Sure, promethium was useless, but scientists, of all people, cheer impractical discoveries, and the completion of the periodic table was epochal, the culmination of millions of man-hours.
At this point, rooms full of young women with pencils (many of them scientists’ wives, who’d been hired to help out because they were crushingly bored in Los Alamos) would get a sheet with the random numbers and begin to calculate (sometimes without knowing what it all meant) how the neutron collided with a plutonium atom; whether it was gobbled up; how many new neutrons if any were released in the process; how many neutrons those in turn released; and so on.
Other elements absorb extra neutrons like alcoholics do another shot at the bar — they’ll get sick someday but not for eons.
The New Yorker staff answered, “We are already at work in our office laboratories on ‘newium’ and ‘yorkium.’ So far we just have the names.”
But his first major scientific discovery, which propelled him to those other honors, was the result of dumb luck.
As many inventions and discoveries are, alas.
A little childishly, he never earned more than a bachelor’s degree, not wanting to subject himself to more schooling.
Cracked me up.
Jokes aside, much of a generation of Soviet science was squandered extracting nickel and other metals for Soviet industry.
Hate politics like this.
“Leave [physicists] in peace,” Stalin graciously allowed. “We can always shoot them later.”
However, though good science itself, Mendeleev’s work encouraged a lot of bad science, since it convinced people to look for something they were predisposed to find.
Confirmation bias is a bitch.
Given that nationalism had destroyed Europe a decade earlier, other scientists did not look kindly on those Teutonic, even jingoistic names — both the Rhine and Masuria had been sites of German victories in World War I.
In fact, Lawrence blurted out, oblivious to the Italian’s feelings, how happy he was to save $184 per month to spend on equipment, like his precious cyclotron. Ouch. This was further proof that Lawrence, for all his skill in securing funds and directing research, was obtuse with people.
“Fission… escaped us, although it was called specifically to our attention by Ida Noddack, who sent us an article in which she clearly indicated the possibility…. The reason for our blindness is not clear.”
(As a historical curiosity, he might also have pointed out that the two people who came closest to discovering fission, Noddack and Irène Joliot-Curie — daughter of Marie Curie — and the person who eventually did discover it, Lise Meitner, were all women.)
Yeah. The "reason" is not clear. Right.
It’s not clear why Pauling bothered to have someone check him if he wasn’t going to listen, but Pauling’s reason for ignoring the student is clear. He wanted scientific priority — he wanted every other DNA idea to be considered a knockoff of his.
If certain bacteria, fungi, or algae inch across something made of copper, they absorb copper atoms, which disrupt their metabolism (human cells are unaffected). The microbes choke and die after a few hours. This effect — the oligodynamic, or “self-sterilizing,” effect — makes metals more sterile than wood or plastic and explains why we have brass doorknobs and metal railings in public places.
Never underestimate spite as a motivator for genius.
I need this on a t-shirt.
Hundreds died within weeks — further proof that when it comes to panaceas the credulity of human beings is boundless.
After determining that life has a bias toward handedness on a deep level, Pasteur suggested that chirality was the sole “well-marked line of demarcation that at the present can be drawn between the chemistry of dead matter and the chemistry of living matter.”
If you’ve ever wondered what defines life, chemically there’s your answer.
The clever part was that both the chiral catalyst with the rhodium atom and the target 2D molecule were sprawling and bulky. So when they approached each other to react, they did so like two obese animals trying to have sex.
Panic never kicks in, despite the lack of oxygen. That might seem incredible if you’ve ever been trapped underwater. The instinct not to suffocate will buck you to the surface. But our hearts, lungs, and brains actually have no gauge for detecting oxygen.
Those organs judge only two things: whether we’re inhaling some gas, any gas, and whether we’re exhaling carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide dissolves in blood to form carbonic acid, so as long as we purge CO2 with each breath and tamp down the acid, our brains will relax.
It’s an evolutionary kludge, really. It would make more sense to monitor oxygen levels, since that’s what we crave. It’s easier — and usually good enough — for cells to check that carbonic acid is close to zero, so they do the minimum.
More than anything, politics proved the folly of scientists burying their heads in lab work and hoping the world around them figured out its problems as tidily as they did their equations.
After years of willed invisibility, Meitner was suddenly subject to Nazi pogroms. And when a colleague, a chemist, tried to turn her in, she had no choice but to flee, with just her clothes and ten deutsch marks.
The eka-lanthanum Joliot-Curie had found was plain lanthanum, the fallout of the first tiny nuclear explosions! Hevesy, who saw early drafts of Joliot-Curie’s papers from that time, later reminisced on how close she’d come to making that unimaginable discovery. But Joliot-Curie, Hevesy said, “didn’t trust herself enough” to believe the correct interpretation. Meitner trusted herself, and she convinced Hahn that everyone else was wrong.
He had read Goethe in the original German and found him mediocre. I was still young enough to be impressed by any strong convictions, and the denunciation made me suspicious of Goethe as a great thinker. Years
He did so with all the enthusiasm of a dilettante, and about as much competence.
As usual, Goethe picked the losing side because it pleased him aesthetically.
In the late 1920s, the legendary Hungarian (and later American) designer László Moholy-Nagy drew an academic distinction between “forced obsolescence” and “artificial obsolescence.” Forced obsolescence is the normal course of things for technologies, the roughage of history books: plows gave way to reapers, muskets to Gatling guns, wooden boat hulls to steel.
In contrast, artificial obsolescence did and increasingly would dominate the twentieth century, Moholy-Nagy argued. People were abandoning consumer goods not because the goods were superannuated, but because the Joneses had some newer, fancier design. Moholy-Nagy — an artist and something of a philosopher of design — couched artificial obsolescence as materialistic, infantile, and a “moral disintegration.”
He had read and absorbed Moholy-Nagy’s theories of design, but instead of letting the moral reproach of artificial obsolescence hem him in, Parker saw it in true American fashion: a chance to make a lot of money. If people had something better to buy, they would, even if they didn’t need
Either way, the name fit the confessional poet, who exemplified the mad artist — someone like van Gogh or Poe, whose genius stems from parts of the psyche most of us cannot access, much less harness for artistic purposes.
Special proteins attach to people’s DNA each morning, and after a fixed time they degrade and fall off. Sunlight resets the proteins over and over, so they hold on much longer. In fact, the proteins fall off only after darkness falls — at which point the brain should “notice” the bare DNA and stop producing stimulants.
Many artists report feeling flatlined or tranquilized on lithium.
Though an essential trace nutrient in all animals (in humans, the depletion of selenium in the bloodstream of AIDS patients is a fatally accurate harbinger of death), selenium is toxic in large doses.
what pathological science is not. It’s not fraud, since the adherents of a pathological science believe they’re right — if only everyone else could see it. It’s not pseudoscience, like Freudianism and Marxism, fields that poach on the imprimatur of science yet shun the rigors of the scientific method.
It’s also not politicized science, like Lysenkoism, where people swear allegiance to a false science because of threats or a skewed ideology. Finally, it’s not general clinical madness or merely deranged belief.
It’s a particular madness, a meticulous and scientifically informed delusion. Pathological scientists pick out a marginal and unlikely phenomenon that appeals to them for whatever reason and bring all their scientific acumen to proving its existence.
But the game is rigged from the start: their science serves only the deeper emotional need to believe in something.
A pathological science takes advantage of that caution. Basically, its believers use the ambiguity about evidence as evidence — claiming that scientists don’t know everything and therefore there’s room for my pet theory, too.
But what really makes the ongoing hunt for megalodons pathological is that doubt from the establishment only deepens people’s convictions.
Still, a few skeptics, especially at Cal Tech, seethed. Cold fusion upset these men’s scientific sensibilities, and Pons and Fleischmann’s arrogance upset their modesty.
One word, little t. Caltech, please.
Whenever pure tin tools or tin coins or tin toys got cold, a whitish rust began to creep over them like hoarfrost on a window in winter. The white rust would break out into pustules, then weaken and corrode the tin, until it crumbled and eroded away. Unlike iron rust, this was not a chemical reaction. As scientists now know, this happens because tin atoms can arrange themselves inside a solid in two different ways, and when they get cold, they shift from their strong “beta” form to the crumbly, powdery “alpha” form.
Various European cities with harsh winters (e.g., St. Petersburg) have legends about expensive tin pipes on new church organs exploding into ash the instant the organist blasted his first chord. (Some pious citizens were more apt to blame the Devil.)
Scientists can now coax ice into forming fourteen distinctly shaped crystals by using high-pressure chambers. Some ices sink rather than float in water, and others form not six-sided snowflakes, but shapes like palm leaves or heads of cauliflower.
Some cosmologists today calculate that our entire universe burst into existence when a single submicronanobubble slipped free from that foam and began expanding at an exponential rate. It’s a handsome theory, actually, and explains a lot — except, unfortunately, why this might have happened.
The first complex organic molecules may have formed not in the turbulent ocean, as is commonly thought, but in water bubbles trapped in Arctic-like sheets of ice. Water is quite heavy, and when water freezes, it crushes together dissolved “impurities,” such as organic molecules, inside bubbles. The concentration and compression in those bubbles might have been high enough to fuse those molecules into self-replicating systems.
Oklo was powered by nothing but uranium, water, and blue-green algae (i.e., pond scum). Really. Algae in a river near Oklo produced excess oxygen after undergoing photosynthesis. The oxygen made the water so acidic that as it trickled underground through loose soil, it dissolved the uranium from the bedrock.
All uranium back then had a higher concentration of the bomb-ready uranium-235 isotope — about 3 percent, compared to 0.7 percent today. So the water was volatile already, and when underground algae filtered the water, the uranium was concentrated in one spot, achieving a critical mass. Though necessary, a critical mass wasn’t sufficient.
In general, for a chain reaction to occur, uranium nuclei must not only be struck by neutrons, they must absorb them. When pure uranium fissions, its atoms shoot out “fast” neutrons that bounce off neighbors like stones skipped across water.
Those are basically duds, wasted neutrons. Oklo uranium went nuclear only because the river water slowed the neutrons down enough for neighboring nuclei to snag them. Without the water, the reaction never would have begun. But there’s more. Fission also produces heat, obviously.
And the reason there’s not a big crater in Africa today is that when the uranium got hot, it boiled the water away. With no water, the neutrons became too fast to absorb, and the process ground to a halt. Only when the uranium cooled down did water trickle back in — which slowed the neutrons and restarted the reactor. It was a nuclear Old Faithful, self-regulating, and it consumed 13,000 pounds of uranium over 150,000 years at sixteen sites around Oklo, in on/ off cycles of 150 minutes.
Almost all life forms use metallic elements in trace amounts to create, store, or shuttle energetic molecules around inside them. Animals primarily use the iron in hemoglobin, but the earliest and most successful forms of life, especially blue-green algae, used magnesium.
And because Einstein determined that space and time are intertwined, some physicists believe that alpha variations in time could imply alpha variations across space. According to this theory, just as life arose on earth and not the moon because earth has water and an atmosphere, perhaps life arose here, on a seemingly random planet in a seemingly unremarkable pocket of space, because only here do the proper cosmological conditions exist for sturdy atoms and full molecules.
First are superatoms. These clusters — between eight and one hundred atoms of one element — have the eerie ability to mimic single atoms of different elements. For instance, thirteen aluminium atoms grouped together in the right way do a killer bromine: the two entities are indistinguishable in chemical reactions. This happens despite the cluster being thirteen times larger than a single bromine atom and despite aluminium being nothing like the lacrimatory poison-gas staple. Other combinations of aluminium can mimic noble gases, semiconductors, bone materials like calcium, or elements from pretty much any other region of the periodic table.
Assuming that he would decipher DNA, Pauling had not broken much of a sweat on his calculations at first, and Ava lit into him: “If [DNA] was such an important problem, why didn’t you work harder at it?” Even so, Linus loved her deeply, and perhaps one reason he stayed at Cal Tech so long and never transferred his allegiance to Berkeley, even though the latter was a much stronger school at the time, was that one of the more prominent members of the Berkeley faculty, Robert Oppenheimer, later head of the Manhattan Project, had tried to seduce Ava, which made Linus furious.
Overall, the history of varying constants resembles the history of alchemy: even when there’s real science going on, it’s hard to sift it from the mysticism. Scientists tend to invoke inconstants to explain away whatever cosmological mysteries happen to trouble a particular era, such as the accelerating universe.
Okay, I'm unsure why I picked up this book other than it is a classic, a book that I've peripherally known about for a long time, but had never read. It is THE anti-war book (not a pacifist's book, an anti-war book). Maybe Ryan Holiday had it on his monthly book recommendation list (that list being one I highly recommend for finding good books outside one's wheelhouse).
I am against war. I believe that modern wars are economically motivated, that they are a way for rich people to become richer, that they are about control over resources, and that they grind the poor far far more heavily than they affect the rich. I despise every form of violent action.
That said, I also believe there are circumstances where you need to say, "Enough." There are times when the aggression of others needs to be stopped, when non-violent or pacifist tactics no longer work, and violence is the pragmatic action. I am unsure when that point is. The Holocaust is clearly one such case.
I'm sure there is a lot of history I'm missing, and a lot of information about the whole situation, too. Sure, yes, I don't know what's going on, but that's exactly it: the public has an opinion shaped by the media, and the information the conspiracy of the government is willing to release. Yes, I realize this. But it is clearly a war for resources. If the money spent on that stupid war had been invested in the U.S. for technology that weans us off those resources, how much better would we have been?
So, starting from the standpoint that I am anti-war, but am pragmatic about human nature, I started reading this book. I was pretty much in agreement with the horrors of war and the arguments against war being made in the book, until around a hundred pages.
And then I became uncomfortable.
If they weren’t fighting for liberty they were fighting for independence or democracy or freedom or decency or honor or their native land or something else that didn’t mean anything.
Those something-elses do have meaning, they do mean something.
You keep your ideals just as long as they don’t cost me my life.
This was where I was thinking, okay, yes, my ideals shouldn't cost another his life. If I'm unwilling to sacrifice for my ideals, doesn't make sense for ...
You can always hear the people who are willing to sacrifice somebody else’s life. They’re plenty loud and they talk all the time.
... me to say yes to other people's kids dying.
War disproportionally affects and decimates the poor. The American War machine doesn't eat up the rich kids, it grinds the poor kids. Are the people authorizing the continued War in Afghanistan sending their own kids or grandkids to the front line? I'd wager not, and be quite surprised if I lost.
And I continued to disagree with the sentiment.
Because the guys who say life isn’t worth living without some principle so important you’re willing to die for it they are all nuts.
I would trade democracy for life. I would trade independence and honor and freedom and decency for life. I will give you all these things and you give me the power to walk and see and hear and breathe the air and taste my food.
And this is where I disagree with the author and the anti-war sentiment as portrayed in this book.
One could argue democracy in and of itself isn't worth dying for, and honor is a tool that those not interested in it wield against those who are or want to be (but the definitions can change enough that the manipulators of the tool benefit only themselves, which makes this a cautious, flimsy blade to die upon), but independence and freedom and decency, those are worth dying for.
The author writes,
He thought of the Carthaginian slaves down in the darkness blinded and chained and he thought they were lucky guys.
and one presumes believes, based on his subsequent actions. Compared to someone with no arms, no legs, no mouth, no nose, no ears, and no eyes, yes, sure the ones blinded are luckier. I'm unsure their existence is better, though. The former can communicate, could potentially go home, feel the sun on his skin, the caress of a loved one, the ground under him. He could communicate via morse code, and eventually ask for his own release. The slaves, though, not at all.
I really disagree that a life lived as a slave with no personal sovereignty, no personal autonomy, is better than fighting against the oppressors.
The book is worth reading and worth pondering. I understand why it has stayed in print these many decades. It's a good book to start a discussion on where the boundaries are between pacifism and response.
She would play it clear through and his father in Shale City would be listening and thinking isn’t it wonderful I can sit here eight miles away and hold a little piece of black business to my ear and hear far off the music of Macia my beautiful my Macia.
This book was written in 1939. The book it talks about is World War I. Phones were a new thing, and revolutionized society. We tend to forget the magic of these devices.
Then somebody else maybe six miles up or down the line would break into the conversation without being ashamed at all.
I remembered party lines from the barest edges of memory. They were cheaper than private lines. You could pick up the phone and listen in to any conversation currently happening on the line. It was fascinating stuff, in a voyeuristic way.
Mr. Hargraves who was superintendent of schools made a speech before the flight. He told about how the invention of the airplane was the greatest step forward man had made in a hundred years. The airplane said Mr. Hargraves would cut down the distance between nations and peoples. The airplane would be a great instrument in making people understand one another in making people love one another. The airplane said Mr. Hargraves was ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity and mutual understanding. Everyone would be friends said Mr. Hargraves when the airplane knitted the world together so that the people of the world understood each other.
Well that didn't work out, did it?
Sometimes you didn’t have enough money to go to the dance so you would drive lazily by the fair grounds and hear the music coming through the night from the pavilion. The songs all had meaning and the words were very serious. You felt all swelled up inside and you wished you were over there at the pavilion. You wondered who your girl was dancing with. Then you would light a cigarette and talk about something else.
So, cruising. That still exists.
Well, did until the internet came along and everyone under the age of 22 plays games on the internet all day.
But the entry of Roumania into the war occurred on the same day the Los Angeles newspapers carried a story of two young Canadian soldiers who had been crucified by the Germans in full view of their comrades across Nomansland. That made the Germans nothing better than animals and naturally you got interested and wanted Germany to get the tar kicked out of her.
He was fighting too hard and he knew it. A man can’t fight always. If he’s drowning or suffocating he’s got to be smart and hold back some of his strength for the last the final the death struggle.
Kareen looked up at old Mike unafraid. “He’s going away in the morning.”
“I know. I know girl. Get into the bedroom. Both of you. Maybe you never get another chance. Go on K’reen.”
War does funny things.
What a goddam shame it is to drown when if you could only stand up and stretch your hand above your head you might touch a willow branch trailing in the water like the hair of a girl like Kareen’s hair.
He thought well kid you’re deaf as a post but there isn’t the pain. You’ve got no arms but you don’t hurt. You’ll never burn your hand or cut your finger or smash a nail you lucky stiff. You’re alive and you don’t hurt and that’s much better than being alive and hurting.
Never again to wiggle your toes. What a hell of a thing what a wonderful beautiful thing to wiggle your toes.
He knew now that he was surely dying but he was curious. He didn’t want to die until he had found out everything.
You couldn’t lose that much of yourself and still keep on living.
He had no legs and no arms and no eyes and no ears and no nose and no mouth and no tongue. What a hell of a dream. It must be a dream. Of course sweet god it’s a dream. He’d have to wake up or he’d go nuts. Nobody could live like that. A person in that condition would be dead and he wasn’t dead so he wasn’t in that condition. Just dreaming.
He could want it to be a dream forever and that wouldn’t change things. Because he was alive alive.
They always sent to the Midnight Mission for an extra man to work with the crew on Friday nights. The guys from the Mission came stinking of disinfectant and looking very bedraggled and embarrassed. They knew that anyone who smelled the disinfectant knew they were bums on charity. They didn’t like that and how could you blame them? They were always humble and when they were bright enough they worked hard. Some of them weren’t bright. Some of them couldn’t even read the orders on the bins.
And yet, there was a chance at finding a job.
He said he had come to California to go into the movies. No he didn’t want to be an actor. But there should be many jobs for a young man like himself with ambition in a business as great as the movies. He said that he thought he might like to work in the research department at one of the studios.
I love this idea, of going to Hollywood to work in a research department.
It was like a full grown man suddenly being stuffed back into his mother’s body. He was lying in stillness. He was completely helpless.
He would never again be able to see the faces of people who made you glad just to look at them of people like Kareen.
Now that he understood the purpose and mechanics of the mask the scab became an irritation instead of merely a curious thing. Even when he was a kid he could never let a scab quite heal over. He was always picking at it. Now he was picking at this scab by tossing his head and drawing the mask tight.
Yeah, I understand that better than I should.
Jim had been put in a ward where there were a lot of guys who had holes here and there that wouldn’t heal. Some of them had been lying there draining and stinking for months. The smell of that ward when you hit it was like the smell of a corpse you stumble over on patrol duty like the smell of a rich ripe corpse that falls open at the touch of a boot and sends up a stench of dead flesh like a cloud of gas.
For example when he was a kid he used to day dream. He used to sit back and think of things he’d do some day. Or he used to think of things he did last week. But all the time he would be awake.
He had a great hedge of sunflowers around it. The sunflower hearts were sometimes a foot across. The seeds made fine food for the chickens.
A big sunflower, with a foot diameter of seeds? Yeah, fine food for rats, too.
By the end of the season the cellar was packed. You would go down there and beside the great crocks of water-glassed eggs there would be mason jars of every kind of fruit you could want. There would be apricot preserves and orange marmalade and raspberry jam and blueberry jam and apple jelly. There would be hard-boiled eggs canned in beet juice and bread and butter pickles and salted cherries and chili sauce. If you went down in October you would find three or four heavy fruit cakes black and moist and filled with citron and nuts. They would be in the coolest corner of the cellar and they would be carefully wrapped with damp cloths against the Christmas season.
All of these things they had and yet his father was a failure. His father couldn’t make any money.
One could argue his dad was wealthier than most, and yet...
They couldn’t get meat as well cured. No amount of money could buy that. Those things you had to raise for yourself. His father had managed to do it even to the honey they used on the hot biscuits his mother made. His father had managed to produce all these things on two city lots and yet his father was a failure.
And yet, he should have been failure, and labelled a success.
There are plenty of laws to protect guys’ money even in war time but there’s nothing on the books says a man’s life’s his own.
What the hell does liberty mean anyhow? It’s just a word like house or table or any other word. Only it’s a special kind of word. A guy says house and he can point to a house to prove it. But a guy says come on let’s fight for liberty and he can’t show you liberty.
If there could be a next time and somebody said let’s fight for liberty he would say mister my life is important. I’m not a fool and when I swap my life for liberty I’ve got to know in advance what liberty is and whose idea of liberty we’re talking about and just how much of that liberty we’re going to have.
Hell’s fire guys had always been fighting for liberty. America fought a way for liberty in 1776. Lots of guys died. And in the end does America have any more liberty than Canada or Australia who didn’t fight at all?
See, this is one of those lines that I disagree with. Canada and Australia have the liberties it does because America fought.
Would they have managed their liberty without fighting? Could you argue that England was going to fold in upon itself and just let those colonies have their own sovernty? Sure, you could. I'm not sure how much data you'd have to back it up, though. People view loss as much worse than a gain is good. Pretty sure more liberty has been gained by force over waiting for the good will of the oppressors.
A guy can think of being dead a hundred years from now and he doesn’t mind it. But to think of being dead tomorrow morning and to be dead forever to be nothing but dust and stink in the earth is that liberty?
They were always fighting for something the bastards and if anyone dared say the hell with fighting it’s all the same each war is like the other and nobody gets any good out of it why they hollered coward.
Yep. Propoganda and how to influence people by triggering shame.
Then there was this freedom the little guys were always getting killed for.
You’re being noble and after you’re killed the thing you traded your life for won’t do you any good and chances are it won’t do anybody else any good either.
There are lots of idealists around who will say have we got so low that nothing is more precious than life? Surely there are ideals worth fighting for even dying for.
And they say but surely life isn’t as important as principle. Then you say oh no? Maybe not yours but mine is. What the hell is principle? Name it and you can have it.
They sound wonderful. Death before dishonor. This ground sanctified by blood. These men who died so gloriously. They shall not have died in vain. Our noble dead. Hmmmm. But what do the dead say?
Nobody but the dead know whether all these things people talk about are worth dying for or not. And the dead can’t talk. So the words about noble deaths and sacred blood and honor and such are all put into dead lips by grave robbers and fakes who have no right to speak for the dead.
And all the guys who died all the five million or seven million or ten million who went out and died to make the world safe for democracy to make the world safe for words without meaning how did they feel about it just before they died?
He could tell them mister there’s nothing worth dying for I know because I’m dead.
You’re worth nothing dead except for speeches.
If they say coward why don’t pay any attention because it’s your job to live not to die. If they talk about dying for principles that are bigger than life you say mister you’re a liar. Nothing is bigger than life. There’s nothing noble in death.
Because when you’re dead mister it’s all over. It’s the end.
Half a league half a league half a league onward. Into the valley of death rode the six hundred. Noble six hundred. Theirs not to reason why theirs but to do or die.
There are eight planets. They are Earth Venus Jupiter Mars Mercury. One two three four five. Three more. He didn’t know.
This cracked me up. Sure, there are now eight. Between then and now, there were nine.
FTR: Mercury Venus Earth Mars Jupiter Saturn Uranus Neptune [Pluto]
Hell the trouble with him was he didn’t know anything. He didn’t know a thing. Why hadn’t they taught him something he could remember? Why didn’t he have something to think about?
It wasn’t that he had forgotten how to remember. It was just that he’d never paid any attention so he had nothing worth remembering.
But where would she be — the real Kareen — the Kareen out in the world out in time? While he slept with the nineteen year old Kareen every night was the real Kareen with somebody else a woman now perhaps with a baby?
It seemed that an American any American was a friend compared to any Englishman or Frenchman. That was because he was an American himself America was his home he had been born there and anyone outside was a stranger.
Even though he could do nothing but lie in blackness it would be better if the blackness were the blackness of home and if the people who moved in the blackness were his own people his own American people.
He’d never had any particular ideas about Amerca. He’d never been very patriotic. It was something you took without even thinking.
It never seemed to occur to her that there was a mind an intelligence working behind the rhythm of his head against the pillow. She was simply watching over an incurably sick patient trying to make his sickness as comfortable as possible.
But that was all talk because they were really very young guys and Ruby was the first and only girl they knew they were too shy with other girls with nice girls. They soon grew ashamed of Ruby and when they went down they would always feel a little dirty and a little disgusted. They came away blaming Ruby somehow for making them feel that way.
He got to thinking of all the prisoners he had ever read about or heard about all the little guys from the beginning of the doing of things who had been caught and imprisoned and who had died without ever becoming free again. He thought of the slaves little guys like himself who had been captured in war who had spent the rest of their lives chained like animals to oars rowing some big guy’s ship through the Mediterranean sea. He thought of them down there in the deeps of the ship never knowing where they were going never smelling the outer air never feeling anything except the oar in their hands and the shackles on their legs and the whip that lashed their backs when they grew tired.
He thought of them and he thought they were luckier than I am they could move they could see each other they were more nearly living than I and they were not imprisoned as securely.
They were in agony but they died soon and even in their agony they could stand on two legs they could pull against their chains.
He too had been forced to fight against other slaves of his own kind in a strange place.
He knew now that he had never been really happy in his whole life. There had been times when he had thought he was happy but none of them were like this.
We are men of peace we are men who work and we want no quarrel. But if you destroy our peace if you take away our work if you try to range us one against the other we will know what to do. If you tell us to make the world safe for democracy we will take you seriously and by god and by Christ we will make it so.
Put the guns into our hands and we will use them. Give us the slogans and we will turn them into realities.
We will be alive and we will walk and talk and eat and sing and laugh and feel and love and bear our children in tranquillity in security in decency in peace.
OMG wow this book.
I don't know what I was expecting from this book, and I don't know how it ended up on my reading list, but the book was impressively well done. I enjoyed it.
Basic premise is an author, Jerry Grey, has Alzheimers and is confusing his plots with reality. Most of his books have brutal murders of women in them. Given his dementia, his confessions to the police are met with skepticism.
Except Cleave has this great, underlying, no-one-talk-about it something going along under the plot. Everyone dances around something that happened in the past. Eventually we find out what it was (or figure it out before the reveal), but the plot twists don't stop.
While the ending was a realistic one, "the only one that could have happened," I still wanted to scream "noooooo!" and throw the book, a good sign that I was invested in the story.
Mom agrees with this one being goooood. Strongly recommended.
Every author eventually has a last book—you just didn’t think you were there yet, and you didn’t think it would be a journal.
You got the amazing wife, a woman who can put her hand in yours and make you feel whatever it is you need to feel, whether it’s comfort or warmth or excitement or lust, the woman who you wake up to every morning knowing you get to fall asleep with her that night, the woman who can always see the other side of the argument, the woman who teaches you more about life every day.
A woman’s body was found an hour ago, and like always when Jerry hears these type of reports it makes him sad to be a human being.
“I have dementia."
"The dementia has an awful way of rewriting your past, Jerry. It’s making the stories from your novels feel like real life to you."
Other people get sick, and other people die at much younger ages, but this is you me us we. You’re allowed to be upset for yourself—that’s your right, and you have to admit you’re a little angry at Sandra for getting rid of the one thing that can bring you comfort when nothing else can.
Bad news — last night you took a leak in one of the bedrooms. You were halfway through when you suddenly realized you were pissing in the corner of the guest bedroom rather than the bathroom.
Dementia or drunk, sometimes the same result.
Jerry doesn’t answer him. There’s nothing you can say to somebody who already has their mind made up.
He remembers that — it was a question journalists always used to throw his way. So you’re fascinated by crime. No, he’s not — he likes crime writing, but not crime, and how many times has he pointed out the two are very different animals? It’s like thinking people who watch war movies must love war.
He hates malls. Yet he’s always thought that if you took the malls away, society would fall apart.
“I can’t make the same mistake again, Jerry. I’m sorry, but I have to take you to the police. We have to let them figure out what’s going on, and most of all we have to make sure you can never hurt anybody else again."
"It’s not your fault," Hans says. “None of it is. It’s this damn disease. You’re not the same guy any of us used to know."
... and the human race, well now, they sure do love a good show, don’t they? Especially when it’s at the cost of somebody else.
As the father of the bride, having been where you’re sitting now twenty-five years ago, it reminds me of what my own dad said to me back then, a piece of advice I wish I had taken. He said, Jerry, run! Laughter. Genuine laughter, especially from the older folks in the crowd who all can relate to what Jerry is saying.
But seriously, folks, as any parent will do when they’re seeing their child getting married, you think back to when it was your own time, you think back and you wonder how the years have gone by so quickly, there are always ups and downs in a relationship, and the older you are the more you’ve been through, and the more you’ve been through the more advice you can give. Of course everybody has advice, a lot of us say My advice is don’t take anybody’s advice, make your own way, and thankfully, folks, that’s not the chestnut of wisdom I’m here to impart.
“Jerry... there’s something you need to know." He breaks out in a cold sweat and almost drops the phone. Nothing good ever comes after those words.
People say suicide is a selfish act. They say it’s cowardly. People say these things because they don’t understand. It’s actually the opposite. It’s not cowardly, in fact it takes incredible courage. To stare Death in the face and tell him you’re ready... that’s a brave thing.
Eva was crying on the phone, and Sandra was too, and even you cried, J-Man.
He can remember the way the sun fell into the room, the angle fractionally different every day, the way it would hit and fade the framed King Kong Escapes poster on the wall. Only he wouldn’t see it fade, it faded the same way you don’t notice a child growing every day, but you know it’s happening.
How many times has Sandra told them to shut up when they’ve been at the movies, or watching something on TV, because they were unable to stop sharing their predictions?
Jerry nods. “Sometimes people say my books are implausible. I remember that." Hans shrugs. “Most crime novels are. If they weren’t, then they’d be no different from real life. People don’t want to read about real life." “This is real life."
“People never go to the police," Hans says. “They should, but they never do, because if they did then that would be the end of the story, right? It would be wrapped up by chapter three."
"Do you have a warrant?"
“This isn’t a joking matter," one of them says.
“I’m not joking. I’m telling you he isn’t here, and you’re standing on my property calling me a liar and asking if I mind having my rights violated."
There is a world of difference, Jerry thinks, between making shit up and making shit happen.
How much money does the man pump into war, and tourism, and sport, compared to Alzheimer’s research?
That was the life of a writer — keep writing, keep moving forward, stay ahead of the crowd because if you don’t get that story written down then somebody else would.
However, he has once committed what I’ve always thought of as the cardinal sin, and that’s to ask Where do you get your ideas?, as if I order a box online every year and have an assistant weed out the bad ones.
In this continuation, we know who the characters are. The book is no less intense, magical, heart-breaking, confusing, or interesting for that knowledge.
We learn about Nassun, Essun's child who was referenced in the first book, but mostly as a ghost to chase, a goal for Essun. We begin to learn about when the seasons began. We learn that Schaffa can change, and about the Guardians.
If you read the first one, keep reading. Also strongly recommended, as, as soon as I finished this one, I started the next one.
Like keeping to like is the old way, but races and nations haven’t been important for a long time. Communities of purpose and diverse specialization are more efficient, as Old Sanze proved.
Complaining about nothing doesn’t seem like coping to you, but okay.
That’s when you no longer need an answer to the question. There is such a thing as too much loss. Too much has been taken from you both—taken and taken and taken, until there’s nothing left but hope, and you’ve given that up because it hurts too much. Until you would rather die, or kill, or avoid attachments altogether, than lose one more thing.
She feels a flash of anger that this exaggeration is why her father looks at her with such hate sometimes. But the anger is nebulous, directionless; she hates the world, not anyone in particular. That’s a lot to hate.
"I heard of one that asks an old man in the sky to keep them alive every time they go to sleep. People need to believe there’s more to the world than there is.”
And the world is just shit.
There’s no need to imagine the planet as some malevolent force seeking vengeance. It’s a rock. This is just how life is supposed to be: terrible and brief and ending in—if you’re lucky—oblivion.
"But just because you can’t see or understand a thing doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you."
You know that’s true.
Focusing on what you can, instead of mourning what you can’t.
So sad. Nassun decides he would not have meant it back then, even if he’d done something bad.
But allies are needed for specific tasks, and they are not the same thing as friends.
Things have been awkward between you and him lately. He’s made his interest clear, and you haven’t responded in kind. You haven’t rejected him, either, though, thus the awkwardness. At one point a few weeks back, Alabaster grumbled that you should just roll the boy already, because you were always crankier when you were horny. You called him an ass and changed the subject.
You keep thinking about Alabaster, too, though. Is this grief? You hated him, loved him, missed him for years, made yourself forget him, found him again, loved him again, killed him. The grief does not feel like what you feel about Uche, or Corundum, or Innon; those are rents in your soul that still seep blood. The loss of Alabaster is simply… a thinning of who you are.
“Because you don’t want to hear it, babe,” Hjarka says. “Doesn’t mean it’s wrong. You like things neat. Life’s not neat.”
“You like things messy.”
“Ykka likes things explained,” Ykka says pointedly.
You blink, a little thrown and a lot insulted. But… she’s right. Comms survive through a careful balance of trust and fear. Your impatience is tilting the balance too far out of true.
You’ve observed her before when she does orogeny, but this is the first time she’s tried to be precise about something. And—it’s completely not what you expected. She can’t shift a pebble, but she can slice out corners and lines so neatly that the end result looks machine-carved. It’s better than you could have done, and suddenly you realize: Maybe she couldn’t shift a pebble because who the rust needs to shift pebbles? That’s the Fulcrum’s way of testing precision. Ykka’s way is to simply be precise, where it is practical to do so. Maybe she failed your tests because they were the wrong tests.
The burns were killing him already; that you finished it was mercy. Eventually you’ll believe that.
“Why do you stay with her? Are you just… hungry?” I resist the urge to crush his head.
“I love her, of course.” There; I’ve managed a civil tone.
“Of course.” Lerna’s voice has grown soft.
Sleep, my love. Heal. I’ll stand guard over you, and be at your side when you set forth again. Of course. Death is a choice. I will make certain of that, for you.
“The destruction of one’s enemies, of course. A small and selfish purpose that feels great, in the moment—though not without consequence.”
“Father Earth fought back,” she says. “As one does, against those who seek to enslave. That’s understandable, isn’t it?”
The way of the world isn’t the strong devouring the weak, but the weak deceiving and poisoning and whispering in the ears of the strong until they become weak, too.
Hate is tiring. Nihilism is easier, though she does not know the word and will not for a few years. It’s what she’s feeling, regardless: an overwhelming sense of the meaninglessness of it all.
His icewhite gaze lifts to her, and she searches his expression with her belly clenched against imminent pain. There is only anguish in his face. Fear for her, sorrow on her behalf, alarm at her bloodied shoulder. Wariness and protective anger, as he focuses on Steel. He is still her Schaffa. The
Okay, book two of two of The Flame In The Mist series. For which I would like to say, "Good."
Because I wouldn't continue reading this series.
The first book has the protagonist, Hattori Mariko, escaping an assassination attempt and going off to hide in the woods to track down who ordered her death. At the end of the book, her brother and her betrothed found her and together brought her back to The Palace™. Technically Her Choice™ but in reality a false dichotomy, whatever.
So, now we follow Mariko in palace intrique. We see her with little political saavy navigate royalty and servants, making alliances and insulting some. During all of this, Her Love™ is in danger.
I was sufficiently engaged with the characters in the last book to read this one, but a subsequent book in the series likely won't be interesting to me.
If you like teen romance adventure with a medieval Japanese twist, sure. Otherwise, skip the books.
She’d never known the right words to do so before. Never known how to wield the right weapons. But ingenuity could be a weapon, in all its forms. Her mind could be a sword. Her voice could be an axe.
But time had taught Kanako that what was expected rarely came to pass. Death always collected its due. The only thing that remained steadfastly true was power. The power you had. The power you gave. The power you concealed.
“You may ask whatever you wish, But I do not owe you a response.”
“It appears insults do have an effect on your brother. How predictable.”
“Insults are indeed a base form of intimidation,” Roku replied
There — hovering in the darkness, with Ōkami by her side — Mariko realized that every person she’d ever met, from the smallest of children to the most notorious of thieves, had a life as intricate and significant as that of an emperor or a samurai or an elegant lady of the court. Not once in her seventeen years had she heard a member of the nobility discuss this. Those who served them had been born beneath unlucky stars and could never share the same sky, no matter how hard they might wish for it.
Well, hello, Sonder.
“You do not know what it means to be happy,” the empress said. “Happiness is not a thing to be found here in the imperial court. We take moments of pleasure. Collect them and keep them tight in our chests. And we hope they are enough to fill whatever holes our truths leave behind.”
Back at her father’s province, she had known people like the empress. Women and men who took perverse pleasure in exacting unnecessary revenge on others.
When Ōkami spoke, his voice was soft. Apologetic. “That was . . . dramatic.” He sighed. “But I suppose I am to blame for that.” All trace of sarcasm had vanished.
“I have no excuse for provoking you, especially when you came to help me.”
“No.” Mariko shook her head, her right hand trembling as she brushed a tendril of hair behind one ear. “My behavior is mine and mine alone. You are not to blame. I let my anger take hold, and anger is a temperamental beast.”
It had taken her losing everything she knew to finally understand. Feeling pain and sorrow was not at all a sign of weakness. It was a sign of love.
“Our deepest truths are usually the hardest to conceal.”
Perhaps this was what it meant to feel love. To be together and apart in the same instant.
Leaders needed to know what lay around the next bend, even when moving through uncharted territory. A follower need only concern himself with each of his steps. Each of his breaths. He could move forward, oblivious to the path ahead. Trusting in those left to make the decisions.
“I see mystery and sadness. Anger. Not necessarily because you were born a woman”—Mariko smiled in obvious remembrance of what Yumi had said not too long ago—“ but more because you have always been treated as less than what you are.”
“The best jokes end with shit or death.”
Okay, I need a t-shirt with this on it.
Loss had taught her yet another lesson. Real love was more than a moment. It was everything that happened after. Chaos in one instant, simplicity in the next. Everything and nothing in the space of a simple breath. It was clarity, sharp and numbing, like a winter’s morning.
Ōkami did not cry, not even when he was sure no one was there to bear witness. He would never allow such weakness to overcome him.
Ōkami hated heroes more than anything else. As a boy, he’d concluded that heroes cared more about how the world perceived them than they did about those they’d left behind.
It had moved Raiden that one of her requests was for justice absent malice. He longed for the ability to convince his brother of the merit behind this. His brother’s idea of justice made Raiden’s flesh crawl as though he’d waded into a pool of maggots.
The army she’d amassed in her enchanted world, biding time for the right moment to strike. Some of its ranks were young. Some were elderly. Some were infirmed. Minamoto Roku’s imperial soldiers would hesitate before striking them down. And in the heat of battle, to hesitate was to die. Many more were
It was not up to his mother to save him. Just as it was not up to his father to give him answers. That was not the way of life. Only Ōkami could do what needed to be done. It was time for him to forgive his past. Not forget it. Only a fool would forget such things. But if he could not let go of the demons in his past, how could he ever hope to embrace his greatest fear?
This troubling sentiment did not stop men from looking at Yumi with covetous glances. A part of Kenshin disliked the way their eyes followed her every motion. As though her beauty were a thing to be consumed.
“Because if no one cares about what is right or wrong in the seat of our empire—the very seat of our justice—then all we hold dear is lost.”
It was a strange feeling for Ōkami. To hate someone with such fire and know all at once that his death would bring Ōkami no solace.
I have the book pile problem of having 5 books due at the library in the next eight days, which means that I have less than two days to read each of these books. Which is unfortunate, as Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a book I want to linger over, sit with, ponder. If I want to read these other 4 books before they return to the library, however, I'm not going to linger.
Cal recommended this book when we were at XOXO this year. We were exchanging reading lists (hoo boy, I thought I was doing well at a hundred books a year, I read at half Cal's pace), and he suggested this book. It's heavy, he warned me, don't read it if you're not in a good place.
Which was good advice.
The book is a dystopian future, science fiction, murder mystery novel. It is also a book about grief, about avoiding an all consuming loss, until you can't, and then dealing with it.
Which is why the timing of the book was great. That and after five non-fiction books in a row, I was ready for some fiction.
Anyway, the main character, Blaxton, investigates deaths in the Archive, a fully immersive reconstruction of the world, stitched together from all the digital recordings available of a given area and time. Most people have implants to immerse in this reconstruction, but of course said world is full of ads, because, yeah, that's the way it works, we can't have nice things.
Blaxton comes across an unreported death, becomes obsessed with solving her murder, and his already unravelled life come undone.
The plot is so well done. The grief and heart-ache is well conveyed. The whole plot is well put together, lots of early clues for the reader, along with "ohhhhhh" at the reveal. I strongly recommend this book, if you're in a good place to read a dystopian future, science fiction, murder mystery novel. If you're not in a good place, wait until you are, then read it.
The Buy, Fuck, Sell feed’s leading with a new leaked sex tape of President Meecham, the ten-year anniversary of Pittsburgh demoted to postjump news. PRESIDENT MEECHAM REVEALED AS DORM ROOM SLUT! MEECH’S PEACHES EXPOSED IN TEEN SEX SCANDAL!
Yes, where the world is going, this is a reasonable projection of the presidency.
She touches herself and the talking heads comment: Everywhere, Americans have been given the choice between Love and Filth, and they have uniformly chosen Filth.
How prescient of Sweterlitsch, though I suspect he wasn't expecting to be so acccurate so soon.
“Shit . . . Oh, shit. I’m sorry—”
“It’s all right to cry,” says the leader. “Let it out. Talk with us, share your story. Hearing each other’s stories helps us to understand we’re not alone. We were all away from friends and family when it happened. We’ve all lost everything. We haven’t been uniquely chosen to suffer—”
“I’m sorry,” I end up saying.
“What does it matter if I die?”
“You don’t want to die,” he says, like he’s explaining simple math. “You want to see your wife again, you want to relive all the years you were blessed to have with her, and you want to somehow compensate for all the years you aren’t able to spend with her. You’re here because you want to remember your wife through healthy immersion. You want to live so you can grow old with the memories of your wife. You want her to live on through you. You don’t want to die.”
“You don’t understand,” I tell him, knowing that he does understand, that they all understand.
“I schedule regular times to visit my memories of Kitty in the Archive,” he says. “Kitty was my wife of thirty-nine years. Katherine."
I cracked up at this.
“We’ve been making memory maps,” Simka explained. “You draw the house you grew up in and write in everything you can remember about it, every detail. You’d be surprised how much you remember when you’re filling in a memory map, the specificity of the details. The kids never have enough room to write everything they want, so we journal, too—”
This is an interesting exercise, by the way.
“Addiction and recovery from depression are difficult. There isn’t a quick fix—even complete dialysis and Adware reconditioning don’t treat the underlying causes of your addiction. You’ll have to work at this, Dominic. As they say, ‘You’re gonna carry that weight—’”
People drift through the café, once captured inadvertently on security cameras or retinal cams, their profiles pulled from cloud storage, archived in the City because of the Right to Remember Act and used to populate these places, even these minor corners of the City.
This idea cracks me up, the Right to Remember Act. After fighting so long for the Right to be Forgotten.
What would our lives have been like? Never sure, but I try to be realistic with my regrets, memories like these affording me a window, I think, to my life as it was never lived.
Faces in passing cars are only blurs—petals on a wet, black bough—impressions inadvertently captured in Peyton’s background and sculpted here as part of the environment. These faces unnerve me. Faceless. I feel like they try to catch my attention. I feel like they want me to notice them, to notice them specifically, to turn my attention from Peyton and fill in their features with some streak of memory, but there’s nothing to remember about them, no details or memories I have that can flesh them out. I’ve never known these faces and they pass away in the peripherals.
Much of politics is simply manipulating broad symbols.
“When I talk with people who are suffering,” says Timothy, “they often tell me that they’re comforted because Christ associated Himself with sinners. Prostitutes and taxmen. Drinkers. The thief who was crucified with Him.
My patients often tell me that they’re comforted because no matter how depraved their lives, no matter what damage they’ve done to themselves or others, Christ will still save them. Christ will still save them.
They think they will somehow transcend the world, somehow continue sinning but find a spiritual perfection when the time comes because they believe their soul is pure so it doesn’t matter if their body is corrupt.
I tell them that Christ doesn’t accept us as sinners. We might be sinners when Christ calls us, but He doesn’t accept us as sinners. He demands that we abandon our lives to follow Him, to become like Him.
That doesn’t mean turning our backs to the world—it means just the opposite. He demanded the twelve abandon their lives in order so they might fully embrace the incarnation. He demands this of us—”
We were alone that evening, coming to terms with our loss, with a miscarriage just like the thousands of other miscarriages that occur every day, every year, but ours so unlike the others because it was our daughter, our child that never was.
“Let her go,” said Albion.
“Let her go,” she said. “The dead deserve their rest—”
Night by the time we drive through Ohio, the landscape changing to something as forgotten but familiar as my mother’s voice—flatlands giving way to the warp of fields and the hills that will become the mountains of what was once Pittsburgh.
I understand the feeling of returning to the landscape as familiar as my mother's voice.
She waved as the bus pulled away and I walked home—the city quiet, everything shrouded in a profound white silence. I was so happy that night—an ecstatic contentment in that silence, a feeling like I’d come home, like I’d discovered where home was.
The doctors keep me updated—there’s a trio, one in Boston, the other two in Mumbai, faces on HD screens mounted on a roving turret. A doctor rolls into my room every other day or so, but since the turret webcam’s loose on its mounting, the doctors rarely face me when one of them speaks.
This image seems just so right: teleprescence but broken.
“You could sit back and make it seem like you’re right there with them—”
“We’re watching the follies of man,” she says. “Why would I want to be closer than I am now? Besides, I got better stuff to do, like teaching you to piss for yourself—”
Things have been rough as of late.
A while ago, I recognized that what I'm going through is grief, and that I have not given myself a chance to grieve the large number of losses I have had this year. I need to grieve, I need to process a large amount of non-classical loss, and let it go. One doesn't process grief on demand, no matter how much our loved ones or society want us to do so. However, having those who have also grieved, who have also had losses, guide us through the darkness that is grief, hold our hands, and tell us, "this f---ing sucks, it f---ing hurts, and maybe it'll hurt less in the future, maybe it won't, but I need you to know that you aren't the only person experiencing this loss, you have my, your, our permission to grieve," helps in unexplainable ways.
Unfortunately, this is not the book about grief that I needed. It is A book about grief. It is a series of essays from people who have been through loss and grief and have in some measure passed through the pain, who are turning around to reach back and help those just starting the journey. It is a good book about grief, in that it talks a lot about grief as experienced in modern times, about things that aren't "classically" okay to grieve about.
But, again, not the one I needed.
The book originated from a website where people could express their grief and find support. The book is an extension of that website, many of the essays taken from the content of the website. Which is fine, it's a good book if you're a grief voyeur. I am not. I did not enjoy reading about other people's pain. I was/am looking for a book on processing my grief.
Anyone who is able to relate to more than a couple of the essays in this book has had a shit hand dealt to them, and that really sucks.
Introduction, by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner
Modern Loss has helped to demystify a process with a long arc. News flash: you live with grief 24/7, forever, and endure endless triggers along the way. But we wanted people to realize, along with the stark realities of having to go through life without someone important, that they aren’t broken, that life goes on, and that it can actually be quite terrific—even if it’s impossible to believe in the moment.
A Wake, by Anthony King
“It’s weird that she’s dead.” Is it weird that she’s dead or weird that she died? Die. Died. Dying. It’s such a small word for something so definite. Or maybe it’s exactly the right size word for something so brief.
The Second Third Child, by Eric Meyer
We still mourn that decision. And that’s the worst part: you can make the right decision, the very best decision you know how to make for yourself and your family, and still have cause to mourn.
Mother Figure, by Elizabeth Percer
Usually, when we reflect on how love doesn’t play by the rules, we are referring to its poor timing, or its unrequited victims, or its failure to sustain anything beyond the rush of infatuation.
Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
Then there’s the passing of time, which hasn’t so much healed as it has taught me how better to coexist with my grief.
Are You My Papi?, by Mathew Rodriguez
Sometimes, I think about the maxim “Daughters marry their fathers.” It speaks to the desire to find a man we trust, even if it’s a partner for the night. We want to feel his trust—we want for it to be sturdy and familiar, like a knit blanket or macaroni and cheese.
Are You My Papi?, by Mathew Rodriguez
The yearning for human connection, whether two hours or a few sweet months, is the desire to be taught, to be shown new things, to hear new stories, to get a slightly widened worldview.
What’s Good Enough Now, by LaNeah “Starshell” Menzies
But long before the moving trucks pulled away, leaving our two sets of dishes under the same roof, our relationship had been suffering thanks to an old worry of his: he felt I didn’t love him, or at least couldn’t express that love. Funny thing is, I loved him more than anything. Cheesy, I know, but it was the kind of romance that shows you the future, the sun, moon, and stars, when you look into someone’s eyes.
What’s Good Enough Now, by LaNeah “Starshell” Menzies
If the whole point of getting into a relationship is to fall completely and madly and utterly in love to the point where you feel like you can’t live without someone, but you know that you can, are you able to love completely?
Taboo Times Two, by Alice Radosh
Friends and family from around the country and Europe came to mourn together. The loss was enormous, and it was not mine alone. Night after night the house was crowded with people who hugged me and cried along with me, who packed my freezer with casseroles and offered to sleep over, should I want the company. Sympathy cards jammed the narrow box at my rural post office, and more than a hundred stories filled Bart’s memorial website—stories from colleagues at the college where Bart taught, from squash partners and friends at the local table tennis club, from total strangers he tended to as a volunteer EMT, from a heartbroken granddaughter. Loved ones called daily to check in, and my adult children urged me to come for an extended visit.
The Promise, by Mattie J. Bekink
I blamed myself for Elouisa’s death. I succumbed to feelings of failure. My body, tasked only with seeing her safely into this world, had failed.
Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
These fellow travelers understood that there exists a pain so profound that it becomes embedded in your psyche, your personality, maybe even your DNA.
Dad-die Issues, by Yassir Lester
I had no idea how to make a Windsor knot on a necktie, so I watched a YouTube video. YouTube could single-handedly raise the fatherless children of this country, and it probably is already doing so.
The Dead-Brother Code Switch, by Rachel Sklar
as you grow up into an adult, no one knows your baggage unless you share it.
The Dead-Brother Code Switch, by Rachel Sklar
If you weren’t the one who died, then you eventually have to figure out how to keep living. And part of that is figuring out what kind of access you want others to have.
Introduction, by Rebecca Soffer
This was my first encounter with the many knots that form with all the stuff, trivial and critical, sentimental and surprising, valuable and not, that loved ones leave behind. My mom’s closet, a place where I once made gleeful discoveries of things like her ivory-leather jewelry case and red disco-era stilettos, became a place where everything was for the taking, and yet none of it seemed okay to have without her.
The Accidental Archivist, by Spencer Merolla
as I went through the rituals of laying them to rest, well-meaning people assured me that I would “always have the memories.” But almost immediately those memories started to fade. First their voices, then their smells, the punch line to one of my dad’s stupid jokes; and after that weird period where I thought I saw them everywhere, I found that the images in my mind of their faces had lost their crispness.
The Accidental Archivist, by Spencer Merolla
In grief we forget, and it’s terrible.
The Accidental Archivist, by Spencer Merolla
Surely my parents would not have wanted me to feel bogged down by their possessions, but neither would they have wanted me to forfeit the comforts to be had in keeping them around.
The Accidental Archivist, by Spencer Merolla
In the last few weeks of her life, when everything she told me took on an outsize importance in my mind, my mom explained that it was important to preserve bad memories along with the good ones.
Introduction, by Rebecca Soffer
But I do know that no “like” can replace a conversation, or a hug, or shared double martinis.
My Husband’s Death Went Viral, and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt, by Nora McInerny
Everyone will lose somebody they love. And I don’t say that as a threat, I say it as a fact. Your parents are going to die. Your lover is going to die. The children you don’t even have yet, someday they will die.
SECRETS: What They Didn’t Tell Us, and What We Aren’t Telling Others, Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
Even in war, where stray bullets and car bombs kill indiscriminately, people look for patterns that don’t exist to justify why some were snuffed out and others were not.
Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
But this attempt at rationalization doesn’t make the loss less sad; it just makes everyone else feel less vulnerable. At least until their made-up rules are broken.
Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
There are the secrets about the deceased that the grief-stricken keep from others out of respect or shame or fear of blame or because there remains a taboo of speaking ill of the dead. In our posthumous retelling, we strike their questionable politics or destructive addictions or debilitating phobias or that the cause of death was a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
We are imperfect people mourning imperfect people imperfectly. But these imperfections make us no less deserving of empathy and loving expressions of grief.
My Dead Husband, the Serial Adulterer, by Robyn Woodman
Just because someone is dead, that doesn’t mean they didn’t suck. It just means you’re not supposed to talk about it.
My Dead Husband, the Serial Adulterer, by Robyn Woodman
Just because someone sucked, that doesn’t mean they can’t be remembered fondly . . . eventually.
Practice Imperfect, by Rachel M. Ward
But let’s focus on how you’re a nice person and you’re crediting my better angels. Which is why I am sorry to report: my angels are dicks. Trust me. I hang with them all the time, and they’re always doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
Practice Imperfect, by Rachel M. Ward
Why do these losses always seem like secrets? Why are they always confessions?
From a Purple Room to the Obama White House, by Marisa Renee Lee
know what real fear feels like. Fear that keeps you up at night, knowing morning will bring you one day closer to being without the person you love. Fear of the day death knocks on the door, and knowing it’s your job to help usher Mom between two worlds.
ABSENCE + TIME: What Comes Later, Introduction, by Gabrielle Birkner
It was an affirmation that our losses hadn’t kept us from finding happiness, even as we wished that our loved ones were there to see it and share it. It was an admission that yes, the first year is the hardest, except for, in their own way, all the others.
David, by Elisa Albert
For a long time, I saw that there were two kinds of people: those who had come into contact with death and those who had been spared contact with death. Obviously it was only a matter of time until the latter joined the former, but in the meantime how clueless and shallow and silly the spared-contact-with-death seemed!
David, by Elisa Albert
Amy Hempel’s story “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried.”
David, by Elisa Albert
You were an astrophysicist, Dave. You know that energy cannot be destroyed, only changed, transformed.
Considering the Alternative, by Artis Henderson
but anticipating a thing and actually experiencing it are very different.
I am unsure why I picked up this book, or where it was recommended to me. I thought it was in a group chat, but I can't find the reference, and I really do not know why I picked up this book. There are a couple books on creativity that I would have put in my reading list before this book.
Which isn't to say this book was a bad book, quite the contrary, it is a fun book to read. You totally see Questlove's personality in this book, and how much fun he is having. Life isn't all about fun, of course, but if you love your work, love what you do, the rough spots can be endured.
This book isn't anything deep, it isn't anything you haven't heard before if you're older than 22 and have been creating in any form. The book is, however, a fun read. It is a good "rah rah rah!" book. It is a good "keep it up!" book. It is a good "you got this!" book. If you're not stuck stuck, but are maybe a bit stuck, and want to distract yourself, tell yourself you're moving ahead by reading a book on creativity, this book is a good one to read.
If you're stuck stuck, shut up, stop reading, and go do the work. If you can't create, you can at least do the work.
I enjoyed reading the book, and recommend my style of reading books like this: listen to the audio book when you're walking outside, running, doing dishes, knitting, and read the actual book when you have the time to sit and read or are walking on the treadmill reading.
Be receptive. Be ready to hear your future in a parking lot behind a Pharcyde concert or at a church in England.
This makes more sense in the context of the book, actually.
Here comes the final fundamental point of this section: Be sure to summarize what you’re learning. Isolate your insight and turn it into a short thesis statement.
This is a way of most learning: actively play with the knowledge to make it your own. That's what all the exercises at the end of the chapter are about.
Where creativity is concerned, pure originality is at least partially a myth. People are heavily invested in that myth because they have egos, or because they are selling a brand. But it’s not fully real.
In the end, one of the most important things to remember about influence is that it’s never the same. Time changes artists, and time changes the art they make, and time changes the way they look at the forces that shape that art.
He made everyone around him feel that he was genuinely in awe of who they were as a person and an artist. He was able not only to acknowledge that he was giving you creative energy, but to behave as if you were giving him energy. Whether it was sincere or strategic, this reversed the circuit. It made him young again in some way, made you older, but also made you question the entire hierarchy. It was, in its own way, extremely cool, and extremely motivational.
I was re-creating a person who had re-created me, and I couldn’t even be me as well as he had.
Play it backward. We see things one way, mostly. We are at the mercy of common paradigms. That’s why conventional wisdom has such a hold on us.
Embrace conspiracy, just for a minute. This exercise is something different. Take a piece of art that you love and invert it. If it’s a painting or a photograph, it’s easy. Just turn it upside down.
Backward asks all questions, and answers them, too.
Random plucking This is a related strategy, but for it you’ll need a specific kind of book: a dictionary.
Open it up to a random page and see what you can do with it.
Collaborations work best this way, when there’s a mutual desire to see what the other side adds. You know that what you’re making on your own has value, but the sum is more than the parts, and every part knows it.
I'd almost argue that it ONLY works this way, it's a fight when it doesn't.
... cognitive disinhibition, and how a Harvard psychologist developed a theory that creative people filter the world around them differently, or rather less. They see too much. It gets in their head. They then have no choice but to make things.
For bits of both artists to survive into the final product, they need to make themselves visible to one another, and to themselves. Every successful collaboration is also a fight for your own creative life.
It can be difficult to deep-dive inside yourself and figure out all the things about you that work and don’t work, let alone the things that work and don’t work in collaboration with someone else.
Be receptive to ideas that sound strange. Maybe be receptive to those ideas especially, because the tendency is to be dismissive. When you give a fair hearing to a strange idea, you might loosen up your own idea to the point where it’s significantly improved.
One special form of communication is praise. You don’t have to be insincere about it. No one likes to have smoke blown at them. But you can be honest about what is working in the creative process.
The most common problems in collaboration, in my experience, revolve around resentment.
Collaborations, even those that are pleasant in the process, can be unpleasant in the product.
Just make sure that everyone’s clear. Oh, and get to meetings on time.
Oh wow yes. Don't disrespect others by arriving late.
This is a thornier issue, and potentially a more profound one: collaboration can not only allow you to place yourself in close proximity with other creatives and watch what happens, but it can fundamentally change you.
Reading is a different experience than when we were young — each word offers the possibility for linking out to something else, and the main text just doesn’t have the same gravity it once did.
Online vs books.
Foreman noted that while our minds hold more information than before, they are more than ever a series of connections to information outside of our minds.
Everyone agrees that creativity is a privileged form of thinking.
If a question comes into perfect focus, answering it isn’t a creative act anymore. It’s more a matter of information retrieval. The Internet, if you believe Foreman, if you believe Carr, is a menace to creative questioning. The second a question comes into view, the research process starts. We begin our research, our search for facts to satisfy questions, almost immediately.
I have personally noticed the way that research sprints ahead of idea formation.
Creative minds know and remember a lot, but that also means that they have to know, and remember, selectively. One of the things that’s being lost, along with the ability to really focus and concentrate on the bottom of that well, is the ability to establish hierarchy, a confident sense of knowing which events (or ideas) are the big planets and which ones are the small moons orbiting around them.
Reduce Reuse Recycle
It wasn’t that he couldn’t go back to the well. He went back there. But when he went back, it was dry.
He’s talked plenty about that period. His first album had summed up everything that he thought and felt. He had found a way to express his entire soul. That’s why they call it soul music.
A.k.a. "he had one story to tell."
I think that his block was more about having emptied out the tank in a very comprehensive and exhausting way, then promoting that album around the clock for two years. It was difficult to get other things to float to the surface. So he did the next best thing, or rather another best thing, which is to make something that is already made. I recommend this to any creative person in any discipline.
People with limited ideas of things call this cheating. It’s not. It’s inspired imitation. Making your own version of existing works keeps you on your toes. It keeps your machinery humming along.
When I think about its effect, I think I can distill it down to one short, sharp piece of advice: change your materials.
Material changes matter because they change the process of creative production.
I don’t have much time to be distracted. But I feel the pull of it all the time. Fifteen years ago, I didn’t have a little hum at the base of my skull reminding me to check e-mail or Twitter or read the latest gossip about the celebrity couple of the moment...
I stop. I shut the computer, or at least shut my eyes for a second so that I can’t feel the computer. I let the distraction become boredom. And when the distraction shifts into boredom, that’s the seed of something creative. On the face of it, that doesn’t make sense. Boredom seems like the least creative feeling. It seems like a numbness. But it’s actually a way of clearing space for a new idea to spring back up.
But Brodsky has a trick up his sleeve. He says that when you realize you’re insignificant, you can start feeling two things: passion and pain. Passion is the way you fight meaninglessness. If you were significant, you wouldn’t necessarily need passion at all. You could just sit back and experience things as they came.
And pain is the acceptance of the truth of that insignificance. Boredom, that sense of being disconnected, is what makes you bounce back with a renewed commitment. That’s what Brodsky was saying about Wilson Pickett, even though he wasn’t talking about Wilson Pickett at all.
Let yourself go to the sense of being disconnected and meaningless. Let it wash over you and drown you a little bit before you come up gasping for air. Creativity is a fight against that insignificance.
Whatever your personal preference, no matter how significant or how trivial, if it’s a source of pleasure, and in denying yourself that pleasure you’ll be entering a state where you think about it all the time, then you are working against your own creativity. You might think certain things are a distraction, but going without them can become a larger distraction if you are thinking all the time about the time when you will be returned to them, or them to you.
Make your environment reflective of your tastes. Eliminate distractions, including the distraction of being without any of the distractions you need.
The first and most obvious effect is that technology drives a stake into the heart of originality.
Late in the set, as people are getting worn out, I’ll downshift to a slower song. But not just any slower song — Phil Collins’s “In the Air Tonight.” Everyone knows the song, but think of how it starts: Daryl Stuermer, who played guitar with George Duke, playing that buzzing chord, and Collins layering up keyboards and drums. But the moment everyone knows is later, when the crashing rubbery drums come in: da-dum, da-dum, da-dum. Collins got the effect by playing while the talkback circuit was still activated—it’s the technique I outlined in an earlier chapter, being open to the possibility that the accidents might be better than the plan—and then Hugh Padgham, his coproducer, recorded it using compressed and gated microphones. It’s the sound that drives an audience crazy.
Okay, I am dying at this point because as I read this part of the book, this video came out, and I am DYING LAUGHING.
You have to throw things away so that there is some value implied by the act of keeping other things.
On a podcast I heard the comedian Kate Micucci talking about how when she was young, and an aspiring visual artist, she used to go to museums often. She said something about standing in front of paintings. She said she didn’t give them all the same amount of time. How could she? That’s not how you visit a museum: stand in front of work 1, count to twenty, stand in front of work 2, count to twenty, repeat until dissatisfied. No: you should go through a museum at a clip until something demands your attention. Keep on the move until you are asked by a work to stop moving.
The goal of creativity may be to learn to present yourself to others, in part, but it’s not to present yourself at the expense of truth. The second you become your own product, you’re heading down a chute rather than up a ladder.
When we focus on those tiny details, we lose sight of the larger issues. We just do. It’s just the way it goes. And when it comes to making art, both of them have to be working hand in hand. You need to think of the small things, no question. You need to be able to get that pitched-down cymbal just right. But as I’ve said a hundred other times in a hundred other ways, “just right” isn’t necessarily about flawlessness. Sometimes it’s about the flaws. It’s about letting that sound go a little flat or a little wobbly, about letting it carry humanity. The era of curation, which is the era we’re in, the time of picking, which is the time that we’re in, isn’t an excuse to selectively edit our humanity and show the world a happy face (or a fresh face or a put-together face) that doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with our essential real
I want to suggest a correction: for every hour you spend doing something, spend at least a few minutes doing something unrelated. That’s Questlove’s corollary to Gladwell’s Ten Thousand Hours. Getting into a groove can be dangerously close to getting into a rut.
There are many stresses in the creative life, so it’s important to limit the self-inflicted ones.
Bert gets to see how his work is experienced both from the inside and from the outside. He gets to look at it as a creator and he gets to watch others immerse themselves in it. That’s the tension that needs to be preserved for good creative art. Never forget that you are working for your own satisfaction, but also never forget that others will occupy the creative work that you have made. Both perspectives need to exist in your mind all the time.
Commercial art has another great component, which is the deadline. When you’re making something for yourself, how do you know when it’s done? Sometimes you don’t. And some of those times you don’t even want to know. The process is what is nourishing you, and to bring it to a close would defeat the point.
But enthusiasm isn’t the same as organized and productive critical feedback.
Dave was interested in the way that technology has given people too many easy ways to deliver feedback without similarly equipping artists to resist it. In
Dave said that in the restaurant business, there used to be a very well-understood process. You would voice your displeasure to your server, who would in turn tell the chef or the owner. Sometimes the chef or owner would come out and address the diner’s concern, or at least assess it. Sometimes there would be an apology. Sometimes the meal would be comped. “No one likes a bad review,” Dave said, “but that kind of dialogue is something that everyone got used to.” Online commentary doesn’t require any of that. An unhappy customer can pay his bill, leave, and then rant and rave about the restaurant hours later, from his home. The restaurateur has no way of hearing the complaint in a way that allows him to do anything about it—at least for that customer.
This. Wow, so much this.
There are at least two lessons to take away from stories of failure. The first, of course, is not to be afraid of it. Any career, if it is to be a long career, includes a mix of successes and failures, and it should. That mix is oxygen-rich. It keeps you breathing.
What does failure do to an artist? It can mess with your head. That’s primarily because it’s only ever in your head. The things that are hailed today may be forgotten tomorrow. The reverse can happen, too. A work stamped one way doesn’t stay that way. Some works are deemed masterpieces and exist in that rare air forever, but usually this designation passing down through time unchallenged, unrevised, and unrevisited is the result of a shortage of thinking on the part of audiences, the result of a preference for received wisdom. Failure is not fatal. For starters, it can be a motivator. Smooth sailing isn’t always the best way to convince yourself to put your nose back to the grindstone.
Creative failure leads to a similar liberation.
Failure is sometimes in your mind. Sometimes it’s in the eye of the... well, not the beholder, exactly, but the afflicted. Even when it’s not, even when it’s indisputable, it’s never the end.
The only correction I’d make to this formula is that true creative people don’t walk away from it, not exactly. They walk toward the next thing.
But success, if misunderstood, can be just as dangerous as failure.
But don’t let success knock you down, either. It can put you in a narrow lane and make you afraid of experimentation.
And this would be Apple, unwilling to experiment because they are afraid of failing.
There are two related issues here, so let me separate them for a second: there’s fear of being held above the community that has supported you, and then there’s fear of losing the context of those similar artists. For me, those two things combine to create a specific insecurity.
You need to be aware of the nutritional benefits of failure and the empty calories of certain kinds of success. But I want to end with one more point, and it’s also a philosophical one. One of the best ways that you can cope with the feelings of failure (or the stresses of success) is to embrace a simple fact: the world mostly doesn’t care about you.
If you put out a record and fewer people buy it than projected, if you write a book and it sells worse than you had hoped, even if you tweet out something funny and it doesn’t get the likes and retweets that you’ve grown accustomed to, you might have the tendency to panic or feel especially bad about yourself. Don’t. Feel good about it. You’re getting back the gift of freedom. People’s silence, or an audience’s distance from you, isn’t necessarily a negative review. The world is extremely cluttered.
Creativity needs a certain amount of isolation to improve your ability to understand connection. Creativity needs a certain amount of indifference to improve your ability to make a difference. Creativity needs a certain amount of void so that you can be (and create) content.
When he can’t reach them, he doesn’t admit defeat, but instead starts claiming that the grapes were sour in the first place. This fable is, in the end, the only one when it comes to setting your creative course and staying on it. If you start thinking the grapes are sour, you’ll ruin the entire process. The grapes aren’t sour. The grapes are sweet. And you may never reach them the way you want. But it’s always worth it. Keep going. Don’t give up. Find new ways in. All those clichés were true in the days of Aesop, when foolish foxes wouldn’t heed them, and they are true today.
When it comes to the process, just persist, persist, persist. It has positive effects for your ideas, but also for the entire human machine that produces those ideas. Remember: life is short. If you waste time or you turn away from the business at hand, you’re going to regret it.
But life is also long. And part of persisting is coming to terms with that fact.
Brodsky was speaking to college grads, and he was telling them to get accustomed to the idea that they wouldn’t always be jazzed or juiced by what they were doing. The sooner they got their heads around that idea, the sooner they could accept boredom. And accepting boredom meant accepting a series of other things—the realization that humans are insignificant on the planet, for starters, which leads to the realization that humans must create to ward off that insignificance. Maintaining the right attitude about aging, and keeping your creativity charged as you age, is the flip side of that same principle.
He warned against acknowledging the ways in which age limits your movement through the world. Specifically, he urged older people not to stop going down a flight of stairs just because it hurts a little. Once you start stopping, you’re on your way to shutting down entirely.
I love this advice.
Little creative hitches and hurdles may come up at any time. But age is a different version of the same problem, because it’s easy to get the sense that things are beyond your control.
Then I was at a show and I heard a guy talking to an artist. “You think you’re special?” he said. “Everything that is happening to you has happened to someone before.”
That guy was right, and also he was wrong. The way he was both right and wrong is what creativity is all about. It’s about finding your own unique way of fitting into the continually repeating human experience. Nothing you do is new, but you can still be new within that realization.
An afterword is a strange goodbye, a place for the author to offer parting thoughts but also to remind readers that the book should stay with you.
This book was recommended in a number of book forums. Having read Women & Power recently, I put the book on hold at the library and read it when it dropped.
This was not the book I was expecting.
This is the book I needed.
This book is all about women and their anger, and how society tells us not to be angry, to suppress that rage, no one will like us, angry women are difficult, etc. etc. etc. Yes, I know you're not supposed to have three etc.'s together, that the etc. means continue this series after I have already given you three examples. ETC.
Okay, let's talk about my crying in the framework of this book. I have always been easy to tears, and not until my early twenties did I recognize that my crying was an expression of frustration of my powerlessness. After reading this book, I think I had it wrong. Yes, crying is an expression of my frustration, but it is also an expression of my anger.
I read this book and sat back and thought about all the times I've been told to shut up and sit down because I was embarrassing him, the number of times I've been told, "Oh, you have enough on your plate, you don't need to deal with this, just accept this current shitty situation *pat* *pat* *pat*," the non-zero times I had to walk away from a situation because someone else was being and ass and my calling him on it was "being difficult."
So, I borrowed this book from the library. I read it. I bought a copy of the book hardback. When it comes out trade, I'm buying a couple dozen copies and throwing them in a bunch of little lending libraries and handing them out like candy. I might mail one to my fucking older brother, too.
Reading this book helps me better understand women older than I am. It helps me better understand women my age. It helps me better understand my experience. It helps me help women younger than I am.
I strongly recommend this book. Let me buy you a copy.
While we experience anger internally, it is mediated culturally and externally by other people’s expectations and social prohibitions. Roles and responsibilities, power and privilege are the framers of our anger.
In the United States, anger in white men is often portrayed as justifiable and patriotic, but in black men, as criminality; and in black women, as threat. In the Western world, which this book focuses on, anger in women has been widely associated with “madness.”
One of the most common feedback loops that women live with involves anger caused by discrimination that, if denied, intensifies, increasing stress and its effects.
Boys learn early on about anger, but far less about other feelings, which handicaps them — and society — in different ways. Socially discouraged from seeming feminine (in other words, being empathetic, vulnerable, and compassionate), their emotional alternatives often come down to withdrawal or aggressive expressions of anger.
Our society is infinitely creative in finding ways to dismiss and pathologize women’s rage.
When a woman shows anger in institutional, political, and professional settings, she automatically violates gender norms. She is met with aversion, perceived as more hostile, irritable, less competent, and unlikeable — the kiss of death for a class of people expected to maintain social connections.
When a man becomes angry in an argument or debate, people are more likely to abandon their own positions and defer to his. But when a woman acts the same way, she’s likely to elicit the opposite response.
This persistent denial of subjectivity, knowledge, and reasonable concerns—commonly known as gaslighting—is deeply harmful and often abusive.
Anger is usually about saying “no” in a world where women are conditioned to say almost anything but “no.”
A cultivated feminine habit of prioritizing the needs of others and putting people at ease frequently puts us at a disadvantage.
We understand that abandoning our anger is a necessary adaptation to a perpetual undercurrent of possible male violence.
Anger is like water. No matter how hard a person tries to dam, divert, or deny it, it will find a way, usually along the path of least resistance.
It took me too long to realize that the people most inclined to say “You sound angry” are the same people who uniformly don’t care to ask “Why?” They’re interested in silence, not dialogue.
Most people, needing help raising their children, don’t want to think of this kind of child care in terms of the commodification of maternal ideals. And yet we as a society often demand that immigrant and impoverished women meet these ideals while simultaneously denying them the ability, by socially maintaining their low status, low wages, and lack of benefits or childcare support, to mother their own children.
In motherhood, we can find joy, love, security, community, and, for many women, life’s greatest purpose. It is not and should not be, however, the inevitable path for all girls and women; the standard against which we are all measured. It is a basic human decency to create a society in which motherhood is not wielded as a weapon against women, in which it is not coerced, forced, punishing, violent, and life threatening.
We care in so many ways, but for motherhood to be truly dignified, compassionate, purposeful, and fulfilling, it must presume a woman’s right to freely choose to be a parent. Unfortunately, this is not the world we live in. Instead, motherhood, the ideal, smothers women’s ability to protest unfairness and injustice.
A world full of women who smile on demand is a world where women’s anger is irrelevant and where the threat of male violence is legitimized.
Sexual harassment and violence are so normalized among girls and women that they don’t often consciously register them as abusive behaviors.
In my experience, most men don’t learn, as boys, to think about how different their experiences are from those of the girls and women around them. Men learn to regard rape as a moment in time; a discreet episode with a beginning, middle, and end. But for women, rape is thousands of moments that we fold into ourselves over a lifetime.
Girls and women adapt to these intrusions, usually by not talking about them, blaming themselves, or doing their best to ignore what is happening around them.
There is deep cultural resistance to taking women’s fears of male violence seriously.
Ask a man what his greatest fear is about serving jail time, and he will almost inevitably say he fears being raped. What can we deduce from the fact that jail is to men what life is to so many women?
Most college students surveyed, for example, believe that up to 50 percent of women lie about being raped. Other studies similarly show that police officers with fewer than eight years of experience also believe roughly that percentage of those alleging rape are lying. As recently as 2003, people jokingly referred to Philadelphia’s sex crimes unit as “the lying bitch unit.” This doubt remains true despite studies, conducted across multiple countries, consistently finding that the incidence of false rape claims ranges from just 2 percent to 8 percent, approximately the same as it is for any other crime.
Teaching girls to “stay safe” early in life, while simultaneously discouraging anger and aggression and cultivating physical fragility, all contribute to the association of weakness and fearfulness with femininity. Anger and aggression do not fit easily with these lessons. If we say we are scared, it is understandable and easy for others who can focus on what we, as individuals, can do to avoid feeling fear instead of what they, communally, can do to stem threats.
When women display anger, men are more likely to respond with anger, but when men show anger, women respond with fear. Women, more fearful, are less likely to respond to anger in situations when men might.
In the face of threat, we often learn that the “normal” physiological response is fight-or-flight. This description reflects men’s experiences, not women’s.
UCLA professor and social psychologist Shelley Taylor and her colleagues showed that when men and women encounter stress and threats, their actual physical reactions differ. Men’s bodies release the chemicals norepinephrine and cortisol, which prompt fight-or-flight behaviors.
Women, too, experience faster pulses and elevated blood pressure, but their bodies, instead, produce two different chemicals: endorphins and oxytocin, which lead to “tend-and-befriend” behaviors. Women become more affiliative and appear to be friendly. “Fight or flight” is the “normal” response... if you are a man, yet it is the standard to which women are held.
We learn as girls to read faces and other body indicators, and we develop tactics for lowering the temperature of encounters, a process known as de-escalation. The ability and inclination to take this approach is supported by socialization and the practical reality that women are often physically smaller than the people threatening them.
Simply “leaving” or “walking away” is often not a rational option. When we feel fear, or anger, or a combination of both, we often freeze, act confused, and stop talking in order to think. We become still and quiet, and we smile. We make our rage small; we acquiesce, deflect, soothe, and shrug. Giggling is sublimation. Laughing is a path to survival. And if smiling and laughter are not options, we cry: a self-silencing deferral that is often misinterpreted as weakness.
Women in heterosexual relationships, more likely to follow traditional gender-role expectations, are more prone to display traditionally feminine traits, like crying, and silence their anger than women in egalitarian relationships are. Feminine anger is particularly difficult in more conventional frameworks because the expression of anger itself is conceived as a failure to be a “good” woman.
In 2014 Turkey’s then deputy prime minister, Bülent Arinç, condemned the act of women smiling in public (in other words, opening their mouths) as a sign of “moral decline of modern society.”
Women are especially not supposed to question or publicly shame men for their behavior. If they use their public voices to address topics that go beyond their gender roles, families, and appearance—particularly if they challenge that limitation—they can count on public hostility, off-and online.
Discomfort with women speaking authoritatively is universal.
Women have to work doubly, triply hard to be considered credible and authoritative.
The notion of older women’s anger is even less appealing than girls’ nascent rage. Older women are supposed to disappear or, if not, at least be quiet and take care of others.
In 2015, writer Nicola Griffith analyzed fifteen years’ worth of top literary awards, demonstrating a systemic preference for male protagonists in books written by men. In the case of the Pulitzer Prize, for example, “women wrote zero out of 15 prize-winning books wholly from the point of view of a woman or girl.”
Some criticisms were constructive, but women were castigated repeatedly for personality and communication skills, such as: “Pay attention to your tone,” “Stop being so judgmental!” “Let others shine,” “Step back,” and “Be a little more patient.”
Hands up if you think women aren’t storing up their anger at being told, in millions of small ways, that they should follow the rules, shut up, and be grateful for what they are given.
In these early lessons and contexts, overt sexism isn’t the problem, benevolence is. It’s hard to be angry at or resent people who love you and are working hard to take care of you. This is a significant part of why sexism is so difficult to call out at its most granular and intimate levels: at home and in settings that often dominate social life.
A benevolent sexist says, “Motherhood is the most important job in the world”—and then proceeds to act on the belief that “girls are worse at math,” to pay mothers less, and to penalize men who want to care for their children. It’s a solid way to make people feel good while they are being materially discriminated against.
Nearly 50 percent of men without high school diplomas and 25 percent of those with college degrees believe that women fall back on using gender discrimination as an excuse for workplace outcomes that they don’t like.
Even when presented with personal experience and irrefutable evidence of bias and sexism, many men refuse to admit what the women around them are experiencing.
People who deny sexism will always be more hostile to your anger than to what is actually causing your anger.
The core issue is that, no matter where you may live in the world, dominant norms of masculinity are actively constructed out of women’s vulnerabilities.
Both men and women respond with anger when another person acts in critical, aggressive, and controlling ways, but many men exhibit those behaviors as a function of being adequately masculine. The behaviors that women say cause them to feel intense anger are often those that men display as aspects of traditional masculinity. In women, on the other hand, the controlling and aggressive behavior that men might find enraging indicates that a woman is not conforming to traditional norms. A similar justifying pattern is evident in how anger can affect relationships between women
It is, of course, not only men who believe in separate spheres, or who deny women’s words and anger. It’s often, sometimes much more often, other women.
For example, studies indicate that women with benevolently sexist beliefs are the most hostile to other women when they demonstrate raw ambition or display political power.
Thinking that the world is just and hoping that it can be more just are very different orientations. Studies show that women will maintain beliefs in separate gender spheres and a just world, supporting patriarchal norms even when it puts them at a clear disadvantage.
Denial and diversion allow people to maintain psychological equilibrium and stave off feelings of powerlessness in the face of emotionally disruptive and anxiety-provoking information.
Denial is rarely based on facts or reasoning. It is a visceral emotional defense that overrides reason, critical thinking, and deliberation.
These two lines explain a lot to me.
Men who believe in separate spheres and adhere to benevolently sexist beliefs don’t “see” women’s anger as legitimate because to see the problems, and risks, that women face as real would require status-threatening change.
As members of juries, for example, women who score high in benevolent sexism and just-world beliefs are the most likely to harshly judge rape victims or women who have been abused by intimate partners. They will overlook the broader meaning and context of male perpetration and its prevalence. None of this is to excuse racism or sexism or other forms of bias and overt prejudice, but, rather, it is to point out why anger, and arguing on the basis of facts, so often fail to change minds.
In this case, yes, there were economic concerns but what this voting bloc did was leverage racial privilege to maintain status, even if their gendered rights were being degraded.
When people encounter overwhelming evidence of social inequality that defies what they believe about their own natures, the world, and their place in it, instead of processing facts and addressing what they mean, they up the ante on gaslighting, victim blaming, exaggerating the benefits of inequitable social systems, and adamantly defending the status quo. They respond in anger and are prone to shut down women’s angry demands.
Crosscultural studies reveal some universal qualities about authoritarian mind-sets: rigid adherence to rules, strict moral codes, strong feelings of contempt and disgust, obedience to social groups, an aversion to introspection, and a propensity and desire to punish others. At the most intimate scales, in families, the same can be said for rigid enforcement of gender norms.
Studies reveal another consistent and related pattern: antifeminism and contempt for women are related directly to authoritarian beliefs.
The most powerful effect is the division of women and men in such a way that it is “natural” for women to not want, seek, or hold power.
Despite claims to the opposite, conservatives simply do not appear to believe women can or should be full participants in society.
Speaking from a position of moral authority and often with righteous anger are vital to having a public voice and holding political power. But when women assert themselves, whether they are openly angry or not, they often encounter social opprobrium, invalidation, backlash, and punishment.
Women being good at resisting male power, which is significantly what we are talking about in terms of anger, politics, and denial, is often a matter of embodiment as resistance.
Friedman quoted Princeton University lecturer Erin K. Vearncombe, an expert on the cultural meaning of appearance, who explained, “absent hair on a woman’s head can be read as disruptive to the politics of the male gaze.”
If you can’t focus on a woman’s hair, it is infinitely more difficult to ignore what comes out of her mouth.
This cracked me up.
If you are inclined to think that raising the issue of race when discussing gender inequality in America is counterproductive, it can mean only that you are not “seeing” your own privileges and are unwilling to sit with discomfort.
It is frequently the case that while we recognize male leaders as representative of “humanity,” we fail to do the same for women leaders.
It might make more sense for those concerned with the relevance or representation of movements like these to focus on the question of why the quiet anger and energy of women voters and politicians are so often ignored in favor of the loudest man in the room.
Studies show that women who display or express anger in deliberative groups, for example, are taken less seriously than the men around them are.
Powerlessness is one of the reasons women cry more. It is less likely to cause an angry response in the person a woman is talking to.
Girls are constantly seeking ways to convince people they know, respect, and love that what they are saying when they describe their experiences or their anger and frustration is true, and that it is serious. Even at just eight to ten years old, young girls have been found in studies to think they will be made fun of or disciplined when they display anger.
We all have the right to believe what we believe and to live life as we see fit. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get to call what is clearly discrimination by its proper name. Benevolent sexism is still sexism. Religious sexism is still sexism.
Anger is an emotion. It is neither good nor bad. While uncomfortable, it’s not inherently undesirable. Most of the anger-related problems we encounter come from its social construction and how our emotions are filtered through our identities and social location relative to others. Anger should not be an entitlement.
When women are asked why they continue to associate being angry with negative outcomes and fear, they say it is because they do not want to “lose control” and act in “inappropriate” ways.
Anger is a moral emotion that hinges on our making judgments about the people and world around us. As women, we are supposed to be one step removed from both moral thinking and the authority that comes with it. Our feelings of anger, deep in our bones, our blood, and our minds, are a refutation of that oppressive standard and the control of women that comes with it.
People who understand how they are feeling are able to be patient and thoughtful in anger.
You might tend toward getting angry quickly, known as trait anger, or you might be a person who is slower to anger even when provoked, known as state anger.
If you find you are crying and silent but seething inside, what circumstances are leading to your feelings of powerlessness?
An adult relationship that can’t withstand your saying you feel angry is probably not a healthy one and, if that pattern is sustained, probably not worth continuing.
I remind myself sometimes that the root of the word aggressive is related closely to the Latin word aggredi, meaning “to go forward.”
Ask yourself, “Does being assertive make me feel anxious?” “Do I repeatedly use minimizing words, such as just when I write emails?” “How frequently do I begin a sentence with Sorry?” Do you give in or backtrack on a demand quickly and easily?
In many environments, all you have to do to be castigated as an angry woman is to say something out loud, so you might as well say exactly what’s bothering you and get on with it.
There is discomfort in understanding. There will always be people who are deeply uncomfortable with your anger. They will attempt to diminish what you say by disparaging your choice of expression. This is a kind of laziness and a sure symptom of dismissal and, sometimes, abuse.
It helps, in these circumstances, to think of the difference between being nice, which girls are taught to do at all costs, and being kind. Nice is something you do to please others, even if you have no interest, desire, or reason to. Kindness, on the other hand, assumes that you are true to yourself first.
Care with purpose. Understand that this includes taking care of your own health and well-being. Learn to say no and to say no unapologetically.
RETHINK FORGIVENESS. It is often the case that our anger comes from feeling betrayed, disappointed, and taken for granted. The feelings we have—hurt, resentment, frustration, and rage—are often portrayed as negative and not worth being taken seriously. We are often encouraged to ignore, forgive, and forget. For women whose lives are informed by faith, forgiveness is frequently prioritized over beneficial resolutions. Being forgiving in self-sacrificial ways is emotional labor par excellence.
The expectation of forgiveness often involves shaming you for not feeling forgiving. This is dismissive in that it ignores feelings of hurt, pain, and trauma and contributes to the sense that you do not deserve to be heard. Forgive nothing until you are good and ready to, especially if there has been no indication that the behavior causing you distress has changed.
If you find yourself easily frustrated, irritable, and stressed, the focus of your anger is almost certainly misplaced. Flying off the handle in unpredictable ways rarely makes change or makes you feel better. Anger like this is usually a symptom of unaddressed emotions and, almost always, a history of having learned that expressing your emotions is not only bad but also makes you a bad person.
In sports, you are able to develop mastery over a honed sense of the potential of aggression, with or without anger, to alter your environment as well as what professor and cultural historian Maud Lavin (the author of Push Comes to Shove: New Images of Aggressive Women) describes as the “sheer physical joy of exerting aggression outward instead of inward.”
When asked, women are consistent about the primary causes of anger in their lives: overwork and stress; feeling as though they are being taken for granted; other people’s irresponsibility or taking credit for what they are doing; and being condescended to, humiliated, or demeaned.
For most of us, anger is related to the desire for greater control in the workplace—of our own careers, our physical safety, our ability to earn a living, our health.
Okay, we know that I really disliked the first book I read that says things don't suck. Most of my intense dislike of the book comes from the Gladwell way that Ridley writes: "Let me state something as fact, give you a story that supports the fact, and claim it true for everything," which is, lets be open about this, quite what the whole Cheetoh delusion is about. The difference between Cheetoh and Ridley / Gladwell is that we like what Ridley / Gladwell are saying, so we don't go out and track down the sources and sees what's up. At least with Cheetoh, we know he's lying. With Ridley, we don't know, because he buried his sources and when we found them, we realized they were quoting other sources that quoted other sources and no one actually did much of the research.
Anyway. I'm grumpy. I'm not a fan of the everything is sweet and wonderful, because not everything is.
That said, show me the evidence, show me the data, and I will listen. Point out that pessimism is often used as a reason to do nothing, and I will hear you.
Show me where I am wrong, and I will change my mind.
Not about disliking a poorly supported book of anecdotes heralded as science, but about the progress of mankind.
This book does a great job at showing us just how much better we are with progress. However much we rail against the destruction of the planet, the injustices of the world, the atrocitities of men, and the shit people do to each other, in a collective way, we are much better off than we were 50 years ago, 100 years ago, 200 years ago, a millenium ago. We murder less. We starve less. We live longer. We have more opportunties.
We have different health problems, sure. Fewer women die in childbirth (yay!), more people die of drug overdoses (boo!). Fewer people die of the flu (yay!), more people die of Alzheimer’s (boo!). I don't know anyone who wants to go back to outdoor toilets, cleaning clothes by beating them, or an era without dentists, painkillers, easy transportation, or computers. "Roughing it" has its appeal in the ability to go back to not-roughing-it.
Which is what this book is saying. We are all "enlightened" similar to the Enlightenment, and that's a good thing according to Pinker. Many things happening in the world really suck, and we're heading in the wrong direction locally thanks to the deliberate greed in the Executive Branch of the United States, but overall, humans are in a better place than we have ever been.
This book is long. It took me a while to read it. If ever I were going to make an argument for tracking the number of book pages read instead of the number of books I've read, this book would be Exhibit A. I could (and should) have expected this book to break my rapid reading streak. I still recommend it, though, to anyone who can read a long book (I know a lot of people who can't or won't), or is interested in the topic, or wants to tell me that things are awful. The local might be horrible, but the global isn't.
The reason the punishment should fit the crime, for example, is not to balance some mystical scale of justice but to ensure that a wrongdoer stops at a minor crime rather than escalating to a more harmful one. Cruel punishments, whether or not they are in some sense “deserved,” are no more effective at deterring harm than moderate but surer punishments, and they desensitize spectators and brutalize the society that implements them. The Enlightenment
Though everyone wants to be right, as soon as people start to air their incompatible views it becomes clear that not everyone can be right about everything. Also, the desire to be right can collide with a second desire, to know the truth, which is uppermost in the minds of bystanders to an argument who are not invested in which side wins. Communities can thereby come up with rules that allow true beliefs to emerge from the rough-and-tumble of argument, such as that you have to provide reasons for your beliefs, you’re allowed to point out flaws in the beliefs of others, and you’re not allowed to forcibly shut people up who disagree with you. Add in the rule that you should allow the world to show you whether your beliefs are true or false, and we can call the rules science. With the right rules, a community of less than fully rational thinkers can cultivate rational thoughts.
So for all the flaws in human nature, it contains the seeds of its own improvement, as long as it comes up with norms and institutions that channel parochial interests into universal benefits. Among those norms are free speech, nonviolence, cooperation, cosmopolitanism, human rights, and an acknowledgment of human fallibility, and among the institutions are science, education, media, democratic government, international organizations, and markets.
Since the 1960s, trust in the institutions of modernity has sunk, and the second decade of the 21st century saw the rise of populist movements that blatantly repudiate the ideals of the Enlightenment. 1 They are tribalist rather than cosmopolitan, authoritarian rather than democratic, contemptuous of experts rather than respectful of knowledge, and nostalgic for an idyllic past rather than hopeful for a better future.
To take something on faith means to believe it without good reason, so by definition a faith in the existence of supernatural entities clashes with reason. Religions also commonly clash with humanism whenever they elevate some moral good above the well-being of humans, such as accepting a divine savior, ratifying a sacred narrative, enforcing rituals and taboos, proselytizing other people to do the same, and punishing or demonizing those who don’t. Religions can also clash with humanism by valuing souls above lives, which is not as uplifting as it sounds. Belief in an afterlife implies that health and happiness are not such a big deal, because life on earth is an infinitesimal portion of one’s existence; that coercing people into accepting salvation is doing them a favor; and that martyrdom may be the best thing that can ever happen to you.
Enlightenment idea is that people are the expendable cells of a superorganism—a clan, tribe, ethnic group, religion, race, class, or nation—and that the supreme good is the glory of this collectivity rather than the well-being of the people who make it up. An obvious example is nationalism, in which the superorganism is the nation-state, namely an ethnic group with a government.
Humans are a social species, and the well-being of every individual depends on patterns of cooperation and harmony that span a community. When a “nation” is conceived as a tacit social contract among people sharing a territory, like a condominium association, it is an essential means for advancing its members’ flourishing. And of course it is genuinely admirable for one individual to sacrifice his or her interests for those of many individuals. It’s quite another thing when a person is forced to make the supreme sacrifice for the benefit of a charismatic leader, a square of cloth, or colors on a map. Nor is it sweet and right to clasp death in order to prevent a province from seceding, expand a sphere of influence, or carry out an irredentist crusade.
Defenders of the faith insist that religion has the exclusive franchise for questions about what matters. Or that even if we sophisticated people don’t need religion to be moral, the teeming masses do. Or that even if everyone would be better off without religious faith, it’s pointless to talk about the place of religion in the world because religion is a part of human nature,
Yes, it’s not just those who intellectualize for a living who think the world is going to hell in a handcart. It’s ordinary people when they switch into intellectualizing mode. Psychologists have long known that people tend to see their own lives through rose-colored glasses: they think they’re less likely than the average person to become the victim of a divorce, layoff, accident, illness, or crime. But change the question from the people’s lives to their society, and they transform from Pollyanna to Eeyore.
Whether or not the world really is getting worse, the nature of news will interact with the nature of cognition to make us think that it is. News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a journalist saying to the camera, “I’m reporting live from a country where a war has not broken out”—or a city that has not been bombed, or a school that has not been shot up. As long as bad things have
The nature of news is likely to distort people’s view of the world because of a mental bug that the psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman called the Availability heuristic: people estimate the probability of an event or the frequency of a kind of thing by the ease with which instances come to mind. 11 In many walks of life this is a serviceable rule of thumb. Frequent events leave stronger memory traces, so stronger memories generally indicate more-frequent events:
But whenever a memory turns up high in the result list of the mind’s search engine for reasons other than frequency—because it is recent, vivid, gory, distinctive, or upsetting—people will overestimate how likely it is in the world.
Consumers of negative news, not surprisingly, become glum: a recent literature review cited “misperception of risk, anxiety, lower mood levels, learned helplessness, contempt and hostility towards others, desensitization, and in some cases, . . . complete avoidance of the news.” 15 And they become fatalistic, saying things like “Why should I vote? It’s not gonna help,” or “I could donate money, but there’s just gonna be another kid who’s starving next week.” 16
This “ideological rather than accidental innumeracy” leads writers to notice, for example, that wars take place today and wars took place in the past and to conclude that “nothing has changed”—failing to acknowledge the difference between an era with a handful of wars that collectively kill in the thousands and an era with dozens of wars that collectively killed in the millions.
Experiments have shown that a critic who pans a book is perceived as more competent than a critic who praises it, and the same may be true of critics of society. 27
At least since the time of the Hebrew prophets, who blended their social criticism with forewarnings of disaster, pessimism has been equated with moral seriousness. Journalists
The financial writer Morgan Housel has observed that while pessimists sound like they’re trying to help you, optimists sound like they’re trying to sell you something. 28 Whenever someone offers a solution to a problem, critics will be quick to point out that it is not a panacea, a silver bullet, a magic bullet, or a one-size-fits-all solution; it’s just a Band-Aid or a quick technological fix that fails to get at the root causes and will blow back with side effects and unintended consequences. Of
Trump was the beneficiary of a belief—near universal in American journalism—that “serious news” can essentially be defined as “what’s going wrong.” . . . For decades, journalism’s steady focus on problems and seemingly incurable pathologies was preparing the soil that allowed Trump’s seeds of discontent and despair to take root. . . . One consequence is that many Americans today have difficulty imagining, valuing or even believing in the promise of incremental system change, which leads to a greater appetite for revolutionary, smash-the-machine change. 30
Most people agree that life is better than death. Health is better than sickness. Sustenance is better than hunger. Abundance is better than poverty. Peace is better than war. Safety is better than danger. Freedom is better than tyranny. Equal rights are better than bigotry and discrimination. Literacy is better than illiteracy. Knowledge is better than ignorance. Intelligence is better than dull-wittedness. Happiness is better than misery. Opportunities to enjoy family, friends, culture, and nature are better than drudgery and monotony. All these things can be measured. If they have increased over time, that is progress.
Max Roser’s Our World in Data, Marian Tupy’s HumanProgress, and Hans Rosling’s Gapminder.
In my view the best projection of the outcome of our multicentury war on death is Stein’s Law—“ Things that can’t go on forever don’t”—as amended by Davies’s Corollary—“ Things that can’t go on forever can go on much longer than you think.”
History is written not so much by the victors as by the affluent, the sliver of humanity with the leisure and education to write about it.
“In 1976,” Radelet writes, “Mao single-handedly and dramatically changed the direction of global poverty with one simple act: he died.” 32
For reasons we have seen, market economies can generate wealth prodigiously while totalitarian planned economies impose scarcity, stagnation, and often famine. Market economies, in addition to reaping the benefits of specialization and providing incentives for people to produce things that other people want, solve the problem of coordinating the efforts of hundreds of millions of people by using prices to propagate information about need and availability far and wide, a computational problem that no planner is brilliant enough to solve from a central bureau.
In developing countries, inequality is not dispiriting but heartening: people in the more unequal societies are happier. The authors suggest that whatever envy, status anxiety, or relative deprivation people may feel in poor, unequal countries is swamped by hope. Inequality is seen as a harbinger of opportunity, a sign that education and other routes to upward mobility might pay off for them and their children.
Many studies in psychology have shown that people, including young children, prefer windfalls to be split evenly among participants, even if everyone ends up with less overall. That led some psychologists to posit a syndrome called inequity aversion: an apparent desire to spread the wealth. But in their recent article “Why People Prefer Unequal Societies,” the psychologists Christina Starmans, Mark Sheskin, and Paul Bloom took another look at the studies and found that people prefer unequal distributions, both among fellow participants in the lab and among citizens in their country, as long as they sense that the allocation is fair: that the bonuses go to harder workers, more generous helpers, or even the lucky winners of an impartial lottery.
Narratives about the causes of inequality loom larger in people’s minds than the existence of inequality. That creates an opening for politicians to rouse the rabble by singling out cheaters who take more than their fair share: welfare queens, immigrants, foreign countries, bankers, or the rich, sometimes identified with ethnic minorities.
zero in on solutions to each problem: investment in research and infrastructure to escape economic stagnation, regulation of the finance sector to reduce instability, broader access to education and job training to facilitate economic mobility, electoral transparency and finance reform to eliminate illicit influence, and so on. The influence of money on politics is particularly pernicious because it can distort every government policy, but it’s not the same issue as income inequality. After all, in the absence of electoral reform the richest donors can get the ear of politicians whether they earn 2 percent of national income or 8 percent of it.
Scheidel concludes, “All of us who prize greater economic equality would do well to remember that with the rarest of exceptions it was only ever brought forth in sorrow. Be careful what you wish for.” 28
The explosion in social spending has redefined the mission of government: from warring and policing to also nurturing.
And tellingly, the number of libertarian paradises in the world—developed countries without substantial social spending—is zero. 39 The correlation between social spending and social well-being holds only up to a point: the curve levels off starting at around 25 percent and may even drop off at higher proportions.
In reality social spending is never exactly like insurance but is a combination of insurance, investment, and charity. Its success thus depends on the degree to which the citizens of a country sense they are part of one community, and that fellow feeling can be strained when the beneficiaries are disproportionately immigrants or ethnic minorities. 40 These tensions are inherent to social spending and will always be politically contentious.
Today’s discussions of inequality often compare the present era unfavorably with a golden age of well-paying, dignified, blue-collar jobs that have been made obsolete by automation and globalization. This idyllic image is belied by contemporary depictions of the harshness of working-class life in that era,
Income inequality, in sum, is not a counterexample to human progress, and we are not living in a dystopia of falling incomes that has reversed the centuries-long rise in prosperity.
Inequality is not the same as poverty, and it is not a fundamental dimension of human flourishing.
A second realization of the ecomodernist movement is that industrialization has been good for humanity.
Economists speak of the environmental Kuznets curve, a counterpart to the U-shaped arc for inequality as a function of economic growth. As countries first develop, they prioritize growth over environmental purity. But as they get richer, their thoughts turn to the environment. 9 If people can afford electricity only at the cost of some smog, they’ll live with the smog, but when they can afford both electricity and clean air, they’ll spring for the clean air.
Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel, using data from the World Values Survey, have found that people with stronger emancipative values—tolerance, equality, freedom of thought and speech—which tend to go with affluence and education, are also more likely to recycle and to pressure governments and businesses into protecting the environment. 10
according to the ecologist Stuart Pimm, the overall rate of extinctions has been reduced by 75 percent. 31
Like all demonstrations of progress, reports on the improving state of the environment are often met with a combination of anger and illogic. The fact that many measures of environmental quality are improving does not mean that everything is OK, that the environment got better by itself, or that we can just sit back and relax.
The problem is that carbon emissions are a classic public goods game, also known as a Tragedy of the Commons. People benefit from everyone else’s sacrifices and suffer from their own, so everyone has an incentive to be a free rider and let everyone else make the sacrifice, and everyone suffers.
I agree with Pope Francis and the climate justice warriors that preventing climate change is a moral issue because it has the potential to harm billions, particularly the world’s poor. But morality is different from moralizing, and is often poorly served by it.
The enlightened response to climate change is to figure out how to get the most energy with the least emission of greenhouse gases.
zones of anarchy are always violent. 28 It’s not because everyone wants to prey on everyone else, but because in the absence of a government the threat of violence can be self-inflating. If even a few potential predators lurk in the region or could show up on short notice, people must adopt an aggressive posture to deter them. This deterrent is credible only if they advertise their resolve by retaliating against any affront and avenging any depredation, regardless of the cost. This “Hobbesian trap,” as it is sometimes called, can easily set off cycles of feuding and vendetta: you have to be at least as violent as your adversaries lest you become their doormat.
Here is Eisner’s one-sentence summary of how to halve the homicide rate within three decades: “An effective rule of law, based on legitimate law enforcement, victim protection, swift and fair adjudication, moderate punishment, and humane prisons is critical to sustainable reductions in lethal violence.” 32
While the threat of ever-harsher punishments is both cheap and emotionally satisfying, it’s not particularly effective, because scofflaws just treat them like rare accidents—horrible, yes, but a risk that comes with the job. Punishments that are predictable, even if less draconian, are likelier to be factored into day-to-day choices.
Troublemakers also have narcissistic and sociopathic thought patterns, such as that they are always in the right, that they are entitled to universal deference, that disagreements are personal insults, and that other people have no feelings or interests. Though they cannot be “cured” of these delusions, they can be trained to recognize and counteract them.
Other terrorists belong to militant groups that seek to call attention to their cause, to extort a government to change its policies, to provoke it into an extreme response that might recruit new sympathizers or create a zone of chaos for them to exploit, or to undermine the government by spreading the impression that it cannot protect its own citizens. Before we conclude that they “pose a threat to the existence or survival of the United States,” we should bear in mind how weak the tactic actually is. 15 The historian Yuval Harari notes that terrorism is the opposite of military action, which tries to damage the enemy’s ability to retaliate and prevail.
From their position of weakness, Harari notes, what terrorists seek to accomplish is not damage but theater.
Though terrorists hope for the best, their small-scale violence almost never gets them what they want.
Indeed, the rise of terrorism in public awareness is not a sign of how dangerous the world has become but the opposite.
Harari points out that in the Middle Ages, every sector of society retained a private militia—aristocrats, guilds, towns, even churches and monasteries—and they secured their interests by force:
As modern states have successfully claimed a monopoly on force, driving down the rate of killing within their borders, they opened a niche for terrorism: The state has stressed so many times that it will not tolerate political violence within its borders that it has no alternative but to see any act of terrorism as intolerable. The citizens, for their part, have become used to zero political violence, so the theatre of terror incites in them visceral fears of anarchy, making them feel as if the social order is about to collapse. After centuries of bloody struggles, we have crawled out of the black hole of violence, but we feel that the black hole is still there, patiently waiting to swallow us again. A few gruesome atrocities and we imagine that we are falling back in. 19
As states try to carry out the impossible mandate of protecting their citizens from all political violence everywhere and all the time, they are tempted to respond with theater of their own.
Instead, countries could deal with terrorism by deploying their greatest advantage: knowledge and analysis, not least knowledge of the numbers. The
The media can examine their essential role in the show business of terrorism by calibrating their coverage to the objective dangers and giving more thought to the perverse incentives they have set up. (Lankford, together with the sociologist Erik Madfis, has recommended a policy for rampage shootings of “Don’t Name Them, Don’t Show Them, but Report Everything Else,” based on a policy for juvenile shooters already in effect in Canada and on other strategies of calculated media self-restraint.)
Over the long run, terrorist movements sputter out as their small-scale violence fails to achieve their strategic goals, even as it causes local misery and fear.
Political scientists are repeatedly astonished by the shallowness and incoherence of people’s political beliefs, and by the tenuous connection of their preferences to their votes and to the behavior of their representatives. 21 Most voters are ignorant not just of current policy options but of basic facts, such as what the major branches of government are, who the United States fought in World War II, and which countries have used nuclear weapons. Their opinions flip depending on how a question is worded: they say that the government spends too much on “welfare” but too little on “assistance to the poor,” and that it should “use military force” but not “go to war.” When they do formulate a preference, they commonly vote for a candidate with the opposite one. But it hardly matters, because once in office politicians vote the positions of their party regardless of the opinions of their constituents. Nor does voting even provide much of a feedback signal about a government’s performance. Voters punish incumbents for recent events over which they have dubious control, such as macroeconomic swings and terrorist strikes, or no control at all, such as droughts, floods, even shark attacks.
They use the franchise as a form of self-expression: they vote for candidates who they think are like them and stand for their kind of people.
When an election is a contest between aspiring despots, rival factions fear the worst if the other side wins and try to intimidate each other from the ballot box.
The latest fashion in dictatorship has been called the competitive, electoral, kleptocratic, statist, or patronal authoritarian regime. 22 (Putin’s Russia is the prototype.) The incumbents use the formidable resources of the state to harass the opposition, set up fake opposition parties, use state-controlled media to spread congenial narratives, manipulate electoral rules, tilt voter registration, and jigger the elections themselves. (Patronal authoritarians, for all that, are not invulnerable—the color revolutions sent several of them packing.)
In his 1945 book The Open Society and Its Enemies, the philosopher Karl Popper argued that democracy should be understood not as the answer to the question “Who should rule?” (namely, “The People”), but as a solution to the problem of how to dismiss bad leadership without bloodshed. 23
Democracy, he suggests, is essentially based on giving people the freedom to complain: “It comes about when the people effectively agree not to use violence to replace the leadership, and the leadership leaves them free to try to dislodge it by any other means.”
The contrast between the messy reality of democracy and the civics-class ideal leads to perennial disillusionment.
Reviewing the history, Mueller concludes that “inequality, disagreement, apathy, and ignorance seem to be normal, not abnormal, in a democracy, and to a considerable degree the beauty of the form is that it works despite these qualities—or, in some important respects, because of them.” 26
Its main prerequisite is that a government be competent enough to protect people from anarchic violence so they don’t fall prey to, or even welcome, the first strongman who promises he can do the job.
Ideas matter, too. For democracy to take root, influential people (particularly people with guns) have to think that it is better than alternatives such as theocracy, the divine right of kings, colonial paternalism, the dictatorship of the proletariat (in practice, its “revolutionary vanguard”), or authoritarian rule by a charismatic leader who directly embodies the will of the people.
Conversely, as people recognize that democracies are relatively nice places to live, the idea of democracy can become contagious and the number can increase over time.
The freedom to complain rests on an assurance that the government won’t punish or silence the complainer. The front line in democratization, then, is constraining the government from abusing its monopoly on force to brutalize its uppity citizens.
These red lines are not the same as electoral democracy, since a majority of voters may be indifferent to government brutality as long as it isn’t directed at them. In practice, democratic countries do show greater respect for human rights.
There are five main female characters in this book, and I identify with four of them. Why did I pick up this book again?
Okay, for reals, this was not an easy book for me to read. The plot has five intertwined plots, a single woman who wants a child, an overachieving teen, a wife/mother in a relationship that isn't working, an arctic explorer/scientist, and a hippie / herbalist / off-the-grid non-conformist. Four of them live in costal Oregon, the explorer is the subject of the single woman's biography.
I do not know how this book ended up on my reading list. I suspect because it is a reasonable Handmaid's Tale-like near-future dystopian where Roe vs. Wade is repealed, and an eight-celled blastocyst is considered a full person in the eyes of the law, making even miscarriages suspect under the law, and women are aware that this near-future dystopian is much, much closer than we want to believe.
As far as I'm concerned, abortion can be illegal when we get the equivalent for men, something where they have no control over their own bodies, are shamed by society, forced to live with the consequences of a strongly personal and highly private decision made public decided by someone else, have to risk their lives, and have their bodies destroyed for the rest of their lives. Which is to say, no, abortion should never be illegal because it isn't your decision, it is the carrying woman's and only the woman's decision. The cells are not a person until they can sustain themselves outside of the womb. This book hits nearly every trigger I can imagine when it comes to women being lesser than men.
The single woman teacher who wants a kid. Fuck.
The overachiving high school student with all the same arguments I make. Fuck.
The wife / mother in a relationship that isn't working. Fuck.
The arctic explorer who needs a male peer to publish her work under his name to get it published. Fuck.
The non-confirming weird herbalist character? Didn't particular identify with her. 80% isn't too bad for an author, I'd argue.
Anyway, yes, this book is worth reading. I started it, couldn't put it done, was done with is in a day. Four books in four days, time to read something that'll take me a bit to finish.
The sea does not ask permission or wait for instruction. It doesn’t suffer from not knowing what on earth, exactly, it is meant to do.
These kids, after all, have not been lost yet. Staring up at her, jaws rimmed with baby fat, they are perched on the brink of not giving a shit. They still give a shit, but not, most of them, for long.
Waiting on the hard little plastic chair, under elevator music and fluorescent glare, the biographer takes out her notebook. Everything in this notebook must be in list form, and any list is eligible.
A book of lists. This intrigues me, but not enough to convert my journal to the format.
On the first night, the mender asked what that noise was and learned it was the ocean.
“But when does it stop?”
“Never,” said her aunt. “It’s perpetual, though impermanent.”
And the mender’s mother said, “Pretentious much?”
The hard-sunk eyes the wife once found beguiling are not eyes she would wish upon her daughter. Bex’s will have purplish circles before long.
But who cares what the girl looks like, if she is happy?
The world will care.
She’s one of those people who think they will understand something if they hear its name, when really they will only hear its name.
“Let’s spend the taxpayers’ money to criminalize vulnerable women, shall we?” said Ro/ Miss in class, and somebody said, “But if they’re breaking the law, they are criminals,” and Ro/ Miss said, “Laws aren’t natural phenomena. They have particular and often horrific histories. Ever heard of the Nuremberg Laws? Ever heard of Jim Crow?”
The border control can detain any woman or girl they “reasonably” suspect of crossing into Canada for the purpose of ending a pregnancy. Seekers are returned (by police escort) to their state of residence, where the district attorney can prosecute them for attempting a termination.
Or does the desire come from some creaturely place, pre-civilized, some biological throb that floods her bloodways with the message Make more of yourself! To repeat, not to improve.
Asking why she wants a kid.
Her eighth-grade social-studies class held a mock debate on abortion. The daughter prepared bullet points for the pro-choice team.
Her father proofread her work, as usual; but instead of his usual “This is top-notch!” he sat down beside her, rested a hand on her shoulder, and said he was concerned about the implications of her argument. “What if your bio mother had chosen to terminate?”
“Well, she didn’t, but other people should be able to.”
“Think of all the happy adopted families that wouldn’t exist.”
“But Dad, a lot of women would still give their babies up for adoption.”
“But what about the women who didn’t?”
“Why can’t everyone just decide for themselves?”
“When someone decides to murder a fellow human with a gun, we put them in jail, don’t we?”
“Not if they’re a cop.”
“Think of all the families waiting for a child. Think of me and your mom, how long we waited.”
“An embryo is a living being.”
“So is a dandelion.”
“Well, I can’t imagine the world without you, pigeon, and neither can your mother.”
A hundred miles is too far for an unplanned pinch. She is thirty-seven years old and pines for her mother.
I understand this. Very much.
“Given your age, your FSH levels, and now this diagnosis, the chance of conception via IUI is little to none.”
“But if there’s a chance, at least—”
“By ‘little to none,’ I mean more like ‘none.’”
Taut pain at the back of her mouth. “Oh.”
I understand this. Very much.
This planet may be choking to death, bleeding from every hole, but still she would choose them, every time.
“Your shift now,” she says. “I’m going for a walk.”
“What about lunch?”
“I ate with the kids in town.”
“But I haven’t eaten.”
“I was waiting for you,” he says. “There’s nothing in the house.”
“What am I supposed to have, then?”
The wife starts for the kitchen, then stops. “Actually, it’s not my job to figure out what you’re having for lunch.”
I understand this. Very much.
The nurse has trouble, as usual, finding a vein. “They’re way buried.”
“The one closer to the elbow usually works better—?”
“First let’s see what we can get over here.”
F---ing hate this when it happens. Look, I know my body better than you do, if I say use this other place, use this other place.
... the biographer wrote emails to her representatives. Marched in protests in Salem and Portland. Donated to Planned Parenthood. But she wasn’t all that worried. It had to be political theater, she thought, a flexing of muscle by the conservative-controlled House ...
Because those in power don't listen to the people they represent.
A smart spinster. If the daughter were to say that word in front of Ro/ Miss, she’d get a sermon: What does the word “spinster” do that “bachelor” doesn’t do? Why do they carry different associations? These are language acts, people!
She is too chickenshit to leave her marriage. She wants Didier to leave it first.
Why do some walruses in Washington, DC, who’ve never met the daughter care what she does with the clump? They don’t seem bothered that baby wolves are shot to death from helicopters. Those babies were already breathing on their own, running and sleeping and eating on their own, whereas the clump is not even a baby yet. Couldn’t survive two seconds outside the daughter.
“Tell me what’s going on, Mattie.”
“You’ve never gotten a B minus on a quiz before.”
Apparently my junior high school experience wasn't special, other smart girls had similar ones with grades slipping, too.
I first saw this book at the Getty Villa bookstore, when I didn't buy a bunch of physical books because I didn't want to carry them home, and was intrigued at the opening discussion about how Odysseus' wife Penelope's son told her to shut up when she voiced her opinion about her own future. Did I really read that opening correctly? Had I missed this when I was reading as a kid?
Yuuuuuuuuuup. I read it correctly. Yep, I missed it as a kid.
I picked up this book shortly thereafter from the library and read it quickly, it's a short book, essentially two essays from two lectures Mary Beard had given about women and, uh, power.
More specifically, the way women are seen in public discourse (not favorably) and in power (not favorably). Women have been dealing with being second class citizens for centuries, millennia even, of being told they are property or unfit or less.
Beard shows us the literature, gives us the quotes, demonstrates how over and over again power and the female gender do not go together historically. The concept isn't new, but it is finally, finally coming to the nation's, nay, the world's awareness.
My only gripe with the book is the subtitle, "A Manifesto." A manifesto is "a public declaration of policy and aims, especially one issued before an election by a political party or candidate." This book is a reflection, it gives no guidance or policy or direction from where we have been. I wanted the direction.
I recommend the book, yes, but read it as "this is how it is and was," not "here's a path to change."
Women, in other words, may in extreme circumstances publicly defend their own sectional interests, but not speak for men or the community as a whole.
As we saw with Telemachus, to become a man (or at least an elite man) was to claim the right to speak. Public speech was a – if not the – defining attribute of maleness.
In the words many of us learned at school, she seems positively to avow her own androgyny: I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too –an odd slogan to get young girls to learn. The truth is that she probably never said anything of the sort. There is no script from her hand or that of her speech-writer, no eye-witness account, and the canonical version comes from the letter of an unreliable commentator, with his own axe to grind, written almost forty years later.
A notorious recent case was the silencing of Elizabeth Warren in the US Senate – and her exclusion from the debate – when she attempted to read out a letter by Coretta Scott King.
Few of us, I suspect, know enough about the rules of senatorial debate to know how justified this was, formally. But those rules did not stop Bernie Sanders and other senators (admittedly in her support) reading out exactly the same letter and not being excluded.
Do those words matter? Of course they do, because they underpin an idiom that acts to remove the authority, the force, even the humour from what women have to say.
It is still the case that when listeners hear a female voice, they do not hear a voice that connotes authority; or rather they have not learned how to hear authority in it; they don’t hear muthos.
More interesting is another cultural connection this reveals: that unpopular, controversial or just plain different views when voiced by a woman are taken as indications of her stupidity.
It is not that you disagree, it is that she is stupid: ‘Sorry, love, you just don’t understand.’ I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been called ‘an ignorant moron’.
And I've lost count of the number of times a guy has told a woman she should "read the paper," when she's the one who authored said paper.
How do I get my point heard? How do I get it noticed? How do I get to belong in the discussion? I am sure it is something some men feel too, but if there’s one thing that bonds women of all backgrounds, of all political colours, in all kinds of business and profession, it is the classic experience of the failed intervention; you’re at a meeting, you make a point, then a short silence follows, and after a few awkward seconds some man picks up where he had just left off: ‘What I was saying was …’ You might as well never have opened your mouth, and you end up blaming both yourself and the men whose exclusive club the discussion appears to be.
Why, yes, yes this was my experience at Twitter, thanks to Arnaud, who would routinely tell me no, but yes to the guy who repeated my words immediately after.
The regulation trouser suits, or at least the trousers, worn by so many Western female political leaders, from Angela Merkel to Hillary Clinton, may be convenient and practical; they may be a signal of the refusal to become a clothes horse, which is the fate of so many political wives; but they are also a simple tactic –like lowering the timbre of the voice –to make the female appear more male, to fit the part of power.
Ben Cody once commented to me that I dress very conservatively. I wondered about his comment, have looked at my standard outfit, and realized that, well, yeah, it is remarkably conservative: no hijab, but all of my body is covered with many layers, my clothes are unshaped, and nothing beyond my hands and head are exposed. I'm not sure when I drifted into my uniform, but I know it was a defensive response to cultural pressures I didn't want.
And it was that idea of the divorce between women and power that made Melissa McCarthy’s parodies of the one time White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Saturday Night Live so effective. It was said that these annoyed President Trump more than most satires on his regime, because, according to one of the ‘sources close to him’, ‘he doesn’t like his people to appear weak.’ Decode that, and what it actually means is that he doesn’t like his men to be parodied by and as women. Weakness comes with a female gender.
"Weakness comes with a female gender." We all know Trump is weak, so go McCarthy and her parody!
But Athenian drama in particular, and the Greek imagination more generally, has offered our imaginations a series of unforgettable women: Medea, Clytemnestra and Antigone among many others. They are not, however, role models –far from it. For the most part, they are portrayed as abusers rather than users of power. They take it illegitimately, in a way that leads to chaos, to the fracture of the state, to death and destruction. They are monstrous hybrids, who are not, in the Greek sense, women at all. And the unflinching logic of their stories is that they must be disempowered and put back in their place. In fact, it is the unquestionable mess that women make of power in Greek myth that justifies their exclusion from it in real life, and justifies the rule of men.
Then she’s a virgin, when the raison d’être of the female sex was breeding new citizens.
Athena, warrior god, was portrayed as a man. Gotcha.
We have to be more reflective about what power is, what it is for, and how it is measured.
But I do wonder if, in some places, the presence of large numbers of women in parliament means that parliament is where the power is not.
Those reasons are much more basic: it is flagrantly unjust to keep women out, by whatever unconscious means we do so; and we simply cannot afford to do without women’s expertise, whether it is in technology, the economy or social care.
But this is still treating power as something elite, coupled to public prestige, to the individual charisma of so-called ‘leadership’, and often, though not always, to a degree of celebrity. It is also treating power very narrowly, as an object of possession that only the few – mostly men – can own or wield (that’s exactly what’s summed up by the image of Perseus, brandishing his sword). On those terms, women as a gender – not as some individuals – are by definition excluded from it.
You cannot easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige. It means thinking collaboratively, about the power of followers not just of leaders. It means, above all, thinking about power as an attribute or even a verb (‘ to power’), not as a possession.
What I have in mind is the ability to be effective, to make a difference in the world, and the right to be taken seriously, together as much as individually. It is power in that sense that many women feel they don’t have –and that they want. Why the popular resonance of ‘mansplaining’ (despite the intense dislike of the term felt by many men)? It hits home for us because it points straight to what it feels like not to be taken seriously: a bit like when I get lectured on Roman history on Twitter.
If I were starting this book again from scratch, I would find more space to defend women’s right to be wrong, at least occasionally.