The new issue of The Mockingbird is out the door and holy moly is it awesome. In fact, I dare say it’s the best one yet (#scorekeeping #ethanrichardsonismyhero). But we need your help publicizing! There are some promotional copies available, so if you know of someone/anyone who might help us get the word out or distribute, drop us a line at info@mbird.com, and we’ll pop a copy in the mail post-haste. Otherwise, once you get it, tell the world. We really couldn’t be prouder of this thing. And if you’re wondering what the quote on the inner cover is this time, wonder no longer. It’s taken from the first panel below:

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1. That selection worked out a lot more serendipitously than we could have anticipated. A few weeks ago we mentioned the release of Exploring Calvin and Hobbes, the catalog of an exhibit of the beloved comic strip at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University last year, and the book shipped this very week. To commemorate the release, The Wall Street Journal called it “America’s Most Profound Comic Strip“. The main attraction of the new publication, and the reason for the publicity, is that it contains a lengthy interview with legendarily camera-shy creator Bill Watterson, perhaps the lengthiest he’s ever given. You can read excerpts here and here, and the Washington Post has a full write-up.

As you might expect, it’s worth every penny. Watterson comes across exactly as you think he would: a charming and remarkably level-headed artist, generous yet principled, funny and wise and somehow not full of himself. Yet as singular a triumph as the strip is/was, the most lasting impression may be how miraculous it was that Watterson was able to walk away once he sensed that the work was “complete”. He treats this as the only sane maneuver for someone in his position, but as we all know, it is anything but. A few other little discoveries to mention: the man did not grow up in a religious house, Lucian Freud is one of his favorite painters, and he’s not that into tablets (surprise surprise) or Frank Miller’s Batman. Again, it’s worth getting the book to absorb the sweep of the whole thing (and spend a little more time in that world), but a couple of my favorite quotes are the following:

“You don’t want a syndicate telling you what to draw–there will be no spark unless it comes from your own ideas. What I didn’t realize was that nobody out there knows what they’re looking for until they see it. You don’t build the peg to fit a hole; the peg needs to bore its own hole.”

Daily minutiae are not actually trivial. It’s a wonderful thing to draw your attention to tiny little moments and small episodes. There can be something simple, grounded, and true when you observe those generally unnoticed small things. I tend to like that scale. Whenever I go to a computer-animated movie, I think “Oh, please, not another quest”. You know, must we always journey to discover ourselves, find home, and save Christmas? (laughter)”

Those in need of a dose of the strip are encouraged to peruse our archives. Over the years we’ve built up quite a collection.

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2. From a project that defines the word ‘success’–commercially and artistically–we head to the opposite end of the spectrum. Eve Fairbanks contributed a terrific short reflection to The Washington Post on the subject of failure, in particular the way it has come to be fetishized by success-o-holics, i.e. valued chiefly for its role in eventually producing its opposite. Or as Fairbanks puts it, “in contemporary life, we respect failure only if we can interpret it as a stepping-stone to accomplishment.” If it sounds familiar, well, it’s not the first time we’ve found ourselves in sync with Eve. Here’s hoping she writes a book soon and that it’s a mammoth, well, you know, ht SU:

A week ago, a group of young writers asked me what my favorite writing achievement was; I proudly told the story of an essay that was at first rejected by a favorite magazine and then, after much work and rewriting, accepted at another. The tale, presented as a celebration of the necessity of making mistakes, was in fact a sly way of revealing not my fallibility but my tenacity. My reaction to initial failure, I was claiming, is what makes me not fail in the long run.

The real truth, though, is that most of our mistakes cannot really be said to have such obvious redemptive power. Most of the time, we simply lose time. We retrace our steps. We let friends fall away; we hurt our families. We do idiotic things in our work. We make mistakes from which we learn and, more often, mistakes from which we fail to learn. Aware of our errors, but frequently unable to do better, we hang our heads.

Part of our upcoming event in Tyler - only 2 weeks away! Click on the image for more details.

Part of our upcoming event in Tyler – only 2 weeks away! Click on the image for more details.

The writer Kathryn Schulz has suggested that acknowledging the distinctive essence of failure rather than straining to invest it with positive utility actually allows us to experience a greater range of emotions and see more texture and color in the world. Just as understanding the night as merely a period that gives birth to day would cause us to miss so much of its particular charm, so seeing failure only as an element of success causes us to dismiss at least half of the human experience. Failure, she says, can feed imagination, as we construct ideas of what might have happened if we hadn’t made mistakes. It gives rise to black humor. It can make us less arrogant, more empathetic.

Arthur Brooks offered a similar if slightly more utilitarian (sigh) take in The Times, adding a Lenten gloss. Best line comes at the end when he describes the season, with its increasingly countercultural acknowledgment of death and darkness, as “rebellion for grown-ups”. Again, those looking to fill in the theological blanks might look here.

3. On the brighter side, the videos from the Liberate conference are up! The presentations were fabulous, but I’m sure we can all agree that the most visually significant moment happened midway through JAZ’s second devotion. I’m told that the audio of his addiction session should be available soon. Stay tuned. And many thanks, again, to all who made that event happen.

4. Our very own Sarah Condon is over at She Loves Magazine this week with the characteristically wonderful “When Mothering and Priesting Mingle”. To wit:

I am convinced that in order to see Grace and Law in action, one need look no further than my house on a chaotic Saturday morning. By 9am my four-year-old will have three art projects on the go and been to time out at least once. The baby will have required a few diaper changes, multiple silly songs, and will have had me on vigilant “don’t put that in your mouth” watch.

Then there are the shortcomings I face about myself in the midst of this scene: easily overwhelmed, prone to raising my voice, longing to go hide in the garage. It takes time, but it always hits me: grace and law, empathy and rules, skinned knees and kissed foreheads—God’s love is scattered all over my life.

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5. Social Science Study of the Week is a tie: Between the sounds-like-The-Onion-but-isn’t “New Study Confirms That There Are Way Too Many Studies” (!) and the one parsing the difference between narcissism and high self-esteem that the Pacific Standard reported on in their beautifully titled “How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Narcissists”. The gist: don’t worship them. Elsewhere, The Science of Us rounded up 17 Things We Know About Forgiveness (from science), and there’s quite a few gems, among them the fact that this may in fact be an area where religious people have a leg up (phew!). But my favorite observation is the second one:

Cats never forgive. Scientists have observed conciliatory behavior in many different animal species; the bulk of the research has been on primates like bonobos, mountain gorillas, and chimps, who often follow confrontations with friendly behavior like embracing or kissing. Scientists have observed similar behaviors in non-primates like goats and hyenas; the only species that has so far failed to show outward signs of reconciliation are domestic cats.

6. In the self-promotion department, I was floored by Ellis Brazeal’s response to the Guns N Roses chapter in A Mess of Help:

If God is as gracious to us as David Zahl is to Axl Rose, then heaven is probably going to be more like Paradise City than the monastery or the clouds or the golden streets promoted by American evangelicals. There will be rock guitars rather than angel’s harps. The grass will be green, and the girls will be pretty. Indeed, we’ll all be beautiful–reflected in the glow of Jesus’ love.

Thank you, Ellis–that’s genuinely humbling and deeply encouraging. I was also honored to be a guest on the new podcast Burn After Listening, hosted by Nick Rynerson, on which we discussed various elements of the book (law, gospel, adolescence, Paul Westerberg, etc). You can listen here. It’s a great program–definitely subscribe if you haven’t already. Finally, as you may have seen in our recent newsletter, I’m psyched to announce that I’ll be in Birmingham, AL on Thursday May 7th to promote the release. More details here.

7. In film, Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship has finished filming–homina homina homina. First image from the shoot is somewhere in this post (one guess). The Atlantic unpacks why the 80s were the last great decade for “family” movies, 1985 being the highwater mark. In short, it comes down to the advent of the PG-13 rating, computer animation, and believable superheroes. Speaking of superheroes though, these alter-ego business cards are clever (see above). Exciting news about Spielberg directing The BFG.

8. Lastly, humor-wise, The Onion gave us “Man Suddenly Regrets Being Asked to be Taken Seriously By Peers“, and I can’t believe we’ve never posted “That Sucker Jesus Has Forgiven Me For Some Pretty Bad Sins“, ht JD. Perfection.

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