How to Negate Hate

Recently I gave a talk to the freshman at a local college on the theme of negating hate. Their common reading this year was All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque’s novel set in World War I. The protagonist is a young soldier named Paul Baumer. A German. Our enemy in that war. To negate hate, the idea is, you have to get to know your enemy, see him as a human being. Turn the enemy into the… Read more

Looking For Release

This post originally appeared at Good Letters on May 9, 2012. Dayne, my mother’s ex-boyfriend, spent his childhood in Tennessee, where he got his southern drawl and where his father, who drank, would stomp through the house and sweep his long arm across the crowded kitchen counter smashing greasy dishes onto the linoleum. It was a habit that followed their family on the move to Sauk Village, to Jeffrey Street, where Dayne’s father bought a house and kept rusting car… Read more

Silent Mysteries

Lately, it seems, everyone is talking about silence—how they have less of it, how they wish they had more of it, how our Twittering lives have eaten away at some fundamental interior space that we didn’t even know was fragile to begin with. And the conversation about silence inspires its own cottage industry. You can purchase books on silence—both its history and its power. Beautiful movies have been released about suffering up against God’s silence, their accompanying soundtracks available for… Read more

The Arm, the Girl, and the Guard

In a long room with three doorways in Tokyo’s National Museum of Modern Art, somewhere in the humming midgut of the building, hangs an oil painting of a man’s arm holding a hammer above a length of chain. In front of the painting about three paces away is a twenty-two-year-old girl (her wording) who’s spent the past four months studying legislation for the prosecution of rape as a war crime during the Yugoslav Wars. About eight paces directly behind her… Read more

Poetry Friday: “The Anxiety Offices”

Are any of us sleeping much lately? With such grief in the world right now, I suspect anxiety keeps a lot of us awake nights. What a rosary of sound and image Lisa Russ Spaar gives us to work through with this poem, beginning in the early evening of a sleepless night and ending with dawn. Ampersands replace conjunctions and each couplet spills into the next, giving us a spatial reflection of insomnia’s claustrophobia. And within the narrow confines of… Read more

Cinematic Longings for Sophia in mother! and Blade Runner 2049

Two of our most compelling film directors working in the Hollywood studio system—Darren Aronofsky and Denis Villeneuve—recently released startling movies, and the movies have obvious differences. Aronofsky’s mother! is an original psychological horror film allegorizing in unorthodox ways the Biblical mythology. Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049 is a science fiction sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic, with the same neo-noir tone. I’m struck by a common thread that binds each film’s disturbing vision of the future: the missing mother. These films… Read more

The Road to Dogmascus

I’ve clearly missed some important cultural boat, for people love so many things that I just simply don’t get. Beer, Star Wars, zombies, body piercings. While my friends devote themselves to these phenomena with cultish fervor, I look on with confusion, if not a little disgust. But the item that used to top my list? (Allow me a moment to duck.) Dogs. (more…) Read more

Famous Last Words

Towards the end of his life, Winston Churchill famously quipped: “I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.” As is always the case with humor, a world of seriousness is implied. For one thing, the statement rests upon an understanding of worth, or the lack thereof. It does not presume a consequence—i.e., there is no confident assurance of acceptance and glad welcome upon the meeting. There… Read more

To Be Born Again

The day after Yom Kippur 5778   When I finish being born for the fourth time, I will live in a house by the sea. The windows facing the ocean will hold the ocean, as much as glass can hold. The phone will vibrate with messages of peace. There will still be a trashcan: everything that lives creates waste. This trashcan will be streaked with the oils of summer, the waste of dreams of vacationers who have been returned to… Read more

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