Certain Poor Shepherds

4170806345_e0f381d5e2_zLong ago, when there were only three television stations, you had to wait for what you wanted. That feature had the benefit of making things exceptional, which is the perplexing irony of our times. Able to have all so quickly—with high speed downloads and internet superhighways—things don’t hold their value as long. Our taste buds are sanded clean from a glut of widely available sugar, a torrent of rainbows has blasted us colorblind, and iTunes has stunned us tone-deaf and tin-eared.

In the past, anticipation—having to wait—raised the worth of the arrival. We learn this lesson at Lent every year, and promptly forget it on Easter Monday. But hardheaded as we are, that’s the true way of things. Nuns and monks often tell the disbelieving that without privation, you cannot know joy; without sacrifice, you cannot marvel at abundance. St. Theresa slept on straw; St. Theresa walked barefoot; and yet, St. Theresa achieved her ecstasy. How about you? [Read more...]

The Infinite Sincerity of Bill Murray

Bill Murray  Resimleri 4In Bill Murray’s long movie career, I don’t think he’s ever played a flat out bad guy. Neither to my knowledge has he ever been a geek. He’s been crazy from time to time, and he’s been on the wrong side of the law, but without fail he’s supremely likeable. Most importantly, he’s never been uncool (I am on record as saying he’s the coolest man on earth).

Fine directors have used him to great effect, Sophia Coppola, Lost in Translation; Jim Jarmusch, Broken Flowers; Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day; though none have capitalized on his talents as much as Wes Anderson.

Anderson, one of the most original, imaginative, and delightful of today’s directors has showcased Murray in Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, and offered him plum vignettes in The Darjeeling Limited and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

He’s always had his own way of going, lived within his own enigmatic code, and never ever disappointed. It’s difficult to isolate exactly what’s made him so distinctive, but I’m of the opinion that it has to do with sincerity.

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The Subtle Traitor

Back-stabbingI’m about to describe a character. He doesn’t exist everywhere, nor is he a threat to everyone. But it’s important to sketch out his profile, because he’s hardly ever seen for what he is, and because his brotherly embraces can end with a knife between your ribs.

To be even halfway familiar with him, you have to be from a place, or of a group, that has a “checkered past”—a group whose forebears transgressed against the modern orthodoxies in a big time way. I’m talking “Mark of Cain” stuff that gets you centuries of bad PR. These forebears are often losers in the wars, both military and cultural, so their sins get chiseled into marble.

Being a white (rumor of a Choctaw somewhere won’t cut it), Christian, Southern, heterosexual male, in good health and with no certifiable mental deficits (damn it), I’m in pretty bad standing. My immediate family didn’t even have the decency to be poor. So I’m everybody’s worst nightmare—on the wrong side of all government quotas. Worse, if you dig around in my family magnolia tree, you’ll find the reason those quotas got instituted in the first place.

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Breaking the Fall in Alice McDermott’s Someone

SomeoneAt the beginning of Alice McDermott’s latest novel, Someone, an unattractive but good-natured girl divulges her deepest desire. One day, coming home on the subway, she fell against a man—someone who managed to catch her—an event that was memorable because he was kind in the way that he did it. It’s clear that in that short moment she comes to love him, as we are fully capable of doing with strangers—even those who will always remain strangers.

She does not see the man again, but that does not stop her from looking. Laughing at her own foolishness, she says that she finds herself watching for him—subway ride after ride—in hopes of another such encounter. If it ever happened again, this time she would fall against him on purpose, to be caught by design. Because the best thing she has known in life so far has been the very fact that she was caught, and that someone was kind to her in the act of doing so.

This character, richly drawn, makes her appearance early in the novel, and like the man she hopes to encounter but never will, evanesces from the story within a few short pages. But the impression that she makes upon the narrator, Mary—a child when she first hears the story—lasts throughout the balance of the work. The rest of Mary’s life is marked by the relation of this yearning—that there be someone there when she, and those she loves, invariably, ineluctably, inescapably, fall.

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The Saints of Mount Midoriyama

7268364-0-4Loving my fellow man has never come easy. Candidly speaking, I love a small contingency of folks, am fond of a goodly portion of others, indifferent to the vast majority, with the trailing remainder either disliked or outright despised.

That doesn’t bode well for me in the long-range view of my religion, I admit. I read Dante’s Purgatorio—which is what I’m shooting for, purgatory, for starters—and got a little squeamish when I saw the mountain was only seven stories high. I’m hoping they’ve added a few more since Dante got the grand tour, because I’m not sure seven levels of purification will do the job.

However, by way of divine grace, I’ve been provided with something that should help. I’ve discovered a means by which I can learn to love my fellow man. And it all has to do with a reality show called American Ninja Warrior. [Read more...]