Breaking Bad’s Walter White is My Shining Star

image1When I first met Walter White, I was in pretty bad shape. Incapacitated by my own depression and anxiety, I couldn’t bring myself to concentrate on much of anything. But the moment I began watching Breaking Bad and laid eyes on that desperate man trembling with a gun in his signature tighty whities, a bullet-riddled RV smoking in the desert behind him, I was transfixed. A struggling high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, Walt turns to a life of crime with his former student Jesse Pinkman, producing and selling crystal meth to secure his family’s financial future before he dies.

I had always hated—actually, feared—violence and bloodshed. As a high school sophomore, I fainted during a filmstrip about making tourniquets. As a result, the drivers’ ed department exempted me from viewing Red Asphalt, a body-strewn movie produced by Highway Patrol in my home state of California. But the next year I fainted in my U.S. History class as my teacher simply described his Vietnam injury. Well into adulthood, I continued to experience all manner of dizziness, nausea, and cold sweats when faced with suffering.

So why did I take instant interest, even comfort, in a man who lurched down a dirt road with unconscious, poisoned men rolling around the floor of an RV? Why me, the girl who did not attend one drinking party in high school or college and who has never lit, snorted, or injected a thing? With every reason to fill my mind with good things, why did I keep wanting to return one of the most disturbing TV shows of all time? [Read more...]

Charlie Hebdo and the Inner Soul of Humor

16246547072_48798fd8a5_m (1)My friend Justin Smith recently wrote a piece for Harper’s Magazine. Justin is a brilliant guy, a philosopher and historian of ideas who also happens to write well and think clearly. Those things do not come together all that often. He’s been teaching for the last couple of years in Paris, at Université Paris Diderot-Paris VII.

This put him at Ground Zero, more or less, on January seventh of this year when the Kouachi brothers entered the offices of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo and opened fire. [Read more...]

Triple Scoop

By Jessica Mesman Griffith

3714575165_05a6e53752_mMy best friend died suddenly almost two years ago. She’d lived across the country from me for almost ten years by then, and since our relationship mostly happened over the phone and email, it’s easy to sink into the feeling that we just haven’t spoken in a while. The phone will ring and I’ll catch myself hoping it’s her.

Then I have to face it: never again.

I’ve thought of her often in these last weeks of pregnancy. Maybe it’s the sleeplessness. I lie in the dark, feeling the twists and stretches of my growing child, struggling to recall the last conversations we had. We had a fight before she died—not unusual for us—and we weren’t speaking. [Read more...]

Monasticism in Lockdown America, Part 9: Psalms, In the End

Continued from yesterday

 

11826685814_171e060196_mThinking of the psalms as a way to cycle through the entire range of human experience, I recently brought them with me into juvenile detention.

The kids there, on Sunday afternoons, shuffle through automated doors wearing orange jumpsuits and pink booties and take their seats shyly around bolted-down steel tables with me.

These are boys and girls who have likely seen, and felt on their bodies, and heard, what no child should have to see or feel or hear. And after absorbing all they’ve endured and trying to maintain composure, they have probably been kicked out of classrooms for not watching their tongues. For small outbursts, foul language, bad attitudes. Now, in detention, they spend most of their time in lockdown, in cells of their own, alone. [Read more...]

Monasticism in Lockdown America, Part 8: Psalms, In the Beginning

4591112088_e1c7fb17da_mI always privately hated the psalms.

Most of them, anyway. As a teenager, I’d leaf through the Bible’s songbook quite often and feel it was full of self-pity and self-righteousness, often launching into bombastic praise of God and two lines later wishing curses on enemies. I didn’t understand why Christians still used the psalms, and so often.

As I got older, it was the worst part of visiting a monastery for me: hearing monks or nuns fill up so much of their time together chanting through these oft-sub-merciful prayers. The sentiments throughout the ancient songbook seemed so far from the heart Jesus teaches us to inhabit. They felt human, as Nietzsche said, all too human. Yet monasteries cycle through the entire Psalter month after month, year after year. [Read more...]


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