Creative Tension in the White Imagination

selma_to_montgomery_marchesTension Isn’t Usually Pretty

A Facebook video shows a deputy sheriff getting in the face of a young black protester attempting to access the courthouse lawn in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. The young man keeps his cool, insisting their intentions are merely to pray peacefully, but the deputy isn’t interested. He just wants them to leave.

“You take your prayers back to your church,” he sneers. “That’s the proper place to pray.”

I’ve been thinking about creative tension. Not because I’m into conflict; I’m not—particularly when it comes to the self-righteous rhetoric of our polarized politics.

When Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of creative tension, he meant the kind of existential social crisis that prophetic actions can produce. He meant drawing out latent aggressions and biases by peacefully holding the higher moral ground. [Read more…]

Dead People: Leszek Kolakowski (1927-2009)

kolakowskiFor Gregory Wolfe 

The following is an excerpt from Meis’s new book Dead People, published June 24 by Zero Books.


Leszek Kolakowski died July 17, 2009. He was a philosopher, a man of letters, historian of ideas. He lived the twentieth century life. It sucked. But like many a Pole, he made the best of a bad situation. The opening lines of the Polish National Anthem are, after all, “Poland has not yet perished.” Poles know that everything will turn out for the worst. It always does. [Read more…]

Eden at the Indy 500


I managed to live in Indiana for forty years before visiting the Indianapolis 500. A friend offered my husband and me tickets on our anniversary weekend, which also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the race itself, an event that was expected to draw half a million people.

“Oh, why do you want to do that?” My family has used this rhetorical question for many years to discourage wanton desires.

We have shared a long-standing prejudice against the race, because it is a place people go to sit in the sun too long while consuming too much alcohol, and my family largely consists of fair-skinned people who do not drink. We have also casually directed this disdain at amusement parks, cruises and the state of Florida for the same reasons.

My dark secret is that I sort of like drinking in the sun. Like nearly all the forbidden things I’ve tried, it feels quite good, until it’s horrible. [Read more…]

The Arab of the Future

The Arab of the FutureI snuck into a chair while a friend was describing how growing up under a repressive regime infects and perverts children. He wasn’t talking about his own life; he was commenting on the selection for our graphic novel reading group—a program of our wonderful Evanston Public Library.

I was late, and I hate showing up late, so I sat down and listened to try to catch up. I didn’t want to be that guy who makes everyone repeat the stuff he would have heard had he been there on time.

But, of course, they were just moving on from the main question I had hoped to discuss, and I wasn’t comfortable trying to guide us back myself. I didn’t know how, as a white Western male, to ask if a book by a half-Arab author could be racist against Arabs.

The book was The Arab of the Future, originally published in French and recently available in English. In it, Riad Sattouf tells the story of his life from ages two to eight, during which time his father, a Syrian who met Riad’s French mother while studying at the Sorbonne, moved the family first to Libya, then to Syria. [Read more…]

Odd Northern Indiana

Michigan DunesRoute 41 takes you along the coast of Lake Michigan out of Chicago. If you are trying to stay close to the lake, then veer off Route 41 at Whiting and tack southeast onto Route 20. That’s where the landscape takes a turn toward oddness.

You’re between Chicago, Illinois and Gary, Indiana. Those excited by intellectually fashionable terms would call this area a “liminal space.” It is a hazy, indeterminate quasi-urban wasteland shot through with train tracks and industrial properties, some functioning and some long ago abandoned to the elements, steel and iron rusting slowly as the wind and the sun and the rain do their work, season upon season.

There are people here. They live in pocketed neighborhoods squished between fields of gasoline silos, generating plants, and graveyards for dead and dying railroad cars, old trucks, unidentifiable machines sinking inch-by-inch into the earth. [Read more…]