All the best wishes for those mockingbirds at the Liberate Conference in Fort Lauderdale this weekend, including our very own David Zahl.
1. Along with the rest of the blogosphere this week, we wish David Foster Wallace a happy 50th birthday. There’s too many blessings to recount, but the web has exploded with numerous avenues for you to get your feet wet or soul soaked. Take a look at The Awl’s “46 Things to Read and See for David Foster Wallace’s 50th Birthday,” a piece of which includes an 86-minute interview with German TV ZDF, the first of which you’ll find below (ht CR). The Open Culture website also has provided “30 Free Essays & Stories” for your perusal. Also, check out John Jeremiah Sullivan‘s GQ essay on the man…splendid!
2. This American Life‘s Ira Glass pays serious homage to NPR rival Radiolab in his Appreciation Essay on Transom. An intriguing thing–it’s like the Yankees’ GM talking up the legendary beauty of the Boston Red Sox–but he has some very genuine compliments to hand out, and for good reason. He says something about Radiolab‘s grace-filled treatment of science (using everyday language and banter) that lends a lesson to anybody who really has anything to say to anyone–great food for thought for the methodology of the sermon-giver (ht SY).
Take the opening of their show on the mathematics of random chance, stochasticity. The first aesthetic choice Jad and Robert make is that they don’t say you’re about to listen to a show about math or science. They don’t use the word stochasticity. They know those things would be a serious turn off for lots of people. In doing this, Jad and Robert sidestep most of the conventions of a normal science show – hell, of most normal broadcast journalism. I think our fellow public broadcasters do lots of accidentally counterproductive things without thinking twice, things that prevent lots of people from connecting with their work. On the very fine PBS science show Nova, the narration is that chipper TV style that says: “I’m talking to you in a big official voice. I’m talking to you like a grownup who’s teaching you something.” They accidentally make it feel like school. Radiolab avoids that entirely. I love science, but never watch Nova, because of the old-fashioned aesthetics. Nova can be corny. But I never miss Radiolab.
The result of keeping mum on this particular point? Rob Walker, writing in the New York Times, admitted something I experienced myself: “I heard several episodes of Radiolab before I figured out that it was supposed to be about science. I thought the ‘lab’ part of the title referred to experimentation with the medium.”
Just as Radiolab rarely says it’s a science show, we made a conscious choice when we started This American Life that although it’s a documentary show, we’d never call it that, and in fact we’d avoid the word whenever possible, because “documentary” sounds like it’s going to be boring. Heavy. Not entertaining. Even I hold my breath a little before tuning in a documentary program, and I make documentaries for a living.
3. In the kidscape (sort of), the Wall Street Journal reported that wand-wielder J.K. Rowling will be putting out an adult novel, that, “will be very different to the Harry Potter series.” She added, “The freedom to explore new territory is a gift that Harry‘s success has brought me.””
Also, on the Pixar front, the newest Brave trailer was just released (ht TB):
4. Did you see this one in the Onion? “Woman in Ninth Year of Letting Boyfriend Down Easy” Or the article in the Huffington Post, “Are We Raising a Generation of Helpless Kids?” Both tell the story we already know all too well: That we are recidivistic leaners-on, and that our propensities towards instant gratification have only compounded the issue. Here’s Mickey Goodman:
Where did we go wrong?
We’ve told our kids to dream big – and now any small act seems insignificant. In the great scheme of things, kids can’t instantly change the world. They have to take small, first steps – which seem like no progress at all to them. Nothing short of instant fame is good enough. “It’s time we tell them that doing great things starts with accomplishing small goals,” he says.
We gave our kids every comfort – and now they can’t delay gratification. And we heard the message loud and clear. We, too, pace in front of the microwave, become angry when things don’t go our way at work, rage at traffic. “Now it’s time to relay the importance of waiting for the things we want, deferring to the wishes of others and surrendering personal desires in the pursuit of something bigger than ‘me,’” Elmore says.
…”We need to let our kids fail at 12 – which is far better than at 42,” he says. “We need to tell them the truth (with grace) that the notion of ‘you can do anything you want’ is not necessarily true.”
5. Our Mockingbird hero over at Christianity Today, and last year’s NYC Conference speaker, Mark Galli, has a beautiful reflection on the most important discipline in the season of Lent: that is the discipline of “Giving Up Self-Discipline.” Despite the fact that we are stubbornly driven towards projects of self-improvement, Galli discusses that not only is this missing the point altogether, its just not practically sound.
I grant that there are superstar Christians whose motives during and after Lent are more purely God-driven. And I ask for their prayers. But I suspect that most Christians are like me, and being inveterately selfish people, we naturally try to turn Lent into an exercise of self-improvement, though we do give God a supporting role. But why bother with God at all if mere self-improvement is the goal? There are plenty of helpful self-improvement programs out there—to help us lose weight, to help us organize our schedules, to help us have better sex, and so on and so forth. Most never enlist God’s help, and I don’t have a problem with that. I take it that God planned it this way. Maybe he’s saying, “Hey, when it comes to small things like this, I’ve given you sufficient abilities to manage your lives on your own. Why are you bothering me about this?” In short, I don’t believe we need Lent or God to improve ourselves in these small matters.
But we need Lent and God if we’re going to get saved.
Here’s the one invaluable thing that Lent teaches: Yes, Martha, you are the undisciplined, self-centered human being you suspected you were. Yes, Frank, you are in many respects a miserable excuse for a human being. Yes, we are sinners, and sinners without hope. When it comes to the really important things—like learning to have faith, hope, and love—we can’t do a blessed thing to improve ourselves. These come as gifts or they don’t come at all.
And a little fun with Cormac McCarthy…