New Here?
     
Identity

A Circle of Uncertainty and the Blessed (Interruption of) Assurance

A Circle of Uncertainty and the Blessed (Interruption of) Assurance

I almost called this post “The Cage of Anxiety,” but that seemed a little hokey. Still—playing off Auden’s poem is as good a place as any to start a discussion on anxiety, which was what Nitsuh Abebe does in the recent First Words essay for the New York Times Magazine:

In 1947, W.H. Auden published a very long poem that, despite winning a Pulitzer Prize, is now remembered less for its contents than for its title: “The Age of Anxiety.” Something about the idea that an age can be anxious must resonate deep in America’s cultural bones, because the phrase has been…

Read More > > >

Blazes of Selfish Glory and Scary Clowns

Blazes of Selfish Glory and Scary Clowns

I once told a couple of friends while having a dark moment, and only half-jokingly, that my dream was to move to India, volunteer at the Sisters of Charity and die of the inevitable dysentery that would swiftly follow. I mean, my first world immune system would have all the resilience of wet tissue paper. That’d give me about, let’s say, over/under, two months of usefulness, but at least I would go out in a useful blaze of glory. It would certainly be good filler for my eulogy.

What’s that about? Simply, my desire to control my own narrative. We feel…

Read More > > >

Identity Narratives from the Bathroom Floor

Identity Narratives from the Bathroom Floor

If you’ve never seen The Bachelor (though chances are you probably have), then you’ve missed some of reality TV’s best attempts to turn real people into caricatures. Whether it’s the intention of the contestant, the careful edits of the producers, or a combination of both, every person who steps out of the limo has a cohesive and clear-cut identity. Usually this is executed in the narrative portion of the show when we “meet” the contestant and get a nice video montage of her life, but it can also be done through behind-the-scenes commentary (“My friends all consider me the party girl…

Read More > > >

Freedom Isn’t Free

Freedom Isn’t Free

Another glimpse into our Food & Drink Issue. This essay is written by Connor Gwin. 

It is a funny thing, getting sober in seminary. I spent years discerning my call to ordained ministry and answering questions from committee after committee, only to find myself in front of the mirror in my seminary dorm room. It was the morning after a blur of a day spent drinking to celebrate St. Patrick. The celebration ended in a blackout, as they seemed to more and more, and there I stood in front of my bathroom mirror. I gazed into my own eyes and spoke…

Read More > > >

NCAA Final Four: The Gamecocks are “Letting the Sun Go Down On Their Anger”

NCAA Final Four: The Gamecocks are “Letting the Sun Go Down On Their Anger”

You may say, “Well that’s not biblical,” but the Gamecocks have to, or they don’t get to play. No, seriously, if a player doesn’t show up angry, he sits the bench. “If you’re not matching his intensity, you’re not going to be on the floor,” said freshman guard Tommy Corchiani, while describing coach Frank Martin. That intensity? It ain’t no joke. I remember first noticing Martin when he coached Kansas State in the NCAA tourney a few years back. On a court full of very large, physically imposing people, he stood out to me as (by far) the most ominous presence,…

Read More > > >

Liars and Madmen and You: The Art of Narrative – A Conference Breakout Preview

Here begins our conference breakout previews–sneak peeks of the various topics we’ll talk about in NYC this April! Check out the conference site for more details

Most people will recognize Stephen King’s It as the one about the killer clown. Which it is. But at 1100 pages, it has to be more than that, you know? In his dedication King writes: “Fiction is the truth inside the lie”—which, I’ll admit, I still don’t fully get—but that’s nevertheless a good place to begin investigating one of It’s running themes: extracting the truth from the lies, particularly the ones we tell ourselves. Centered around a group of raggle-taggle tweens, It is a story about growing up and facing fears, about selectively remembering (and discarding) our early painful memories. What the characters develop, as their first line of defense against the killer clown in question, is an elaborate but ultimately fragile method of narrative construction that carries them into adulthood: Mike Hanlon, one of the story’s protagonists, explains, “We lie best when we lie to ourselves.”

It’s true for all of us. With the recent deluge of social studies concerning #confirmationbias, and with the self-righteousness of American politics cropping up wherever we look—not to mention moral dispatches from Starbucks cups—there’s never been a better time to take a second glance at the stories we tell ourselves. If spun right, “taking control of your narrative” can sound just as liberating as “taking a trip to Aruba”; but the late David Carr, in his memoir, The Night of the Gun, illustrates the exhausting side of this self-embossed coin: “You spread versions of yourself around, giving each person the truth he or she needs—you need, actually—to keep them at one remove.”

So let’s get all our narratives in one place and talk about them, Friday, April 28, 3:30PM, at the 10th Annual Mockingbird Conference. We’ll discuss some of the best stories told by liars and madmen, including some by me and some by you. And—of course—we’ll talk about the great, final page-turner that illuminates the truth about us and pulls us into it, not as tragic heroes but as pardoned villains.

Register for the conference here!

How Did I Get Here: Breakdowns in IKEA and Other Tales from an Average and Foreign Life

How Did I Get Here: Breakdowns in IKEA and Other Tales from an Average and Foreign Life

I’m standing in IKEA, and I am shattered.

It’s not often one has an existential crisis in the checkout lane of a Swedish furniture store in the suburbs of Sydney–I think–but it happened to me, and very recently. In the twenty minutes (that felt like an eternity) that I spent behind the cart holding my two young children and a mountain of decorative crap, I came to question every #blessed gift and decision that got me to this exact point in the universe: to this store, to this country, to these children, to this marriage, to this God.

How’s that for a…

Read More > > >

Gratitude for the Waves

Gratitude for the Waves

Grateful for this reflection by Richard Mammana. 

In the genetic funnel that began my life, the English came in 1634, and the Dutch a few months later. The Germans came in annual waves as religious Pietists or farming Protestants between 1720 and 1750, and again as song- and beer-loving Papists in the 1860s. My cheek swab and my waist tell a story of German rotundity with just fractional admixtures of religion and surname. The Italians arrived with their mozzarella in the famous year of 1901. By the time I was born in Pennsylvania in 1979, we had somehow avoided the temptations of Manifest…

Read More > > >

If This is Us, Then I Am Frank Gallagher

If This is Us, Then I Am Frank Gallagher

Every week millions of people tune in to watch the emotional, touching, and poignant This is Us and my Facebook newsfeed is all:

😢

And every week I’m like:

🙄

I realize that writing about my dislike of the show is akin to social atheism. We all want to believe that our family story looks like the attractive, well-written characters we see played out each week. But you can count my country ass out.

I do not like This is Us. It feels emotionally manipulative and unrealistic. But then again, I didn’t like Parenthood either. I KNOW. KICK ME…

Read More > > >

James Joyce, circa 1922

Big Little Deaths

In a memorable section of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Daedalus comes upon a relatively large sum of money and squanders it, prodigal son style. Daedalus shifts several times in the novel from extreme penitence and self-denial to full-on pursuit of his sinful desires. This tension between reverence for accepted teachings and the rebellious grandiosity of youth is fertile ground in literature, and well-traveled mental territory for an angsty young man. But groping after a higher plateau, an intimation of immortality, comes at a price. Whether it’s listening to upbeat music in a packed concert…

Read More > > >

“Logan” (Wolverine) – The Incarnate Superman

“Logan” (Wolverine) – The Incarnate Superman

I’ve never been a Superman guy. I think that started when he reversed the rotation of the earth to save Lois Lane. It just seemed sooo…lame. My logic was simple: if a superhero is so strong that he can (one) stop the earth’s movement, and (two) PUSH IT BACK in the opposite direction, who can beat him? For me, buying into Superman was like randomly deciding that I was a Cowboys fan who never lived in Texas, or a Yankees fan who had never traveled west of the Mississippi. Superman fandom felt like “front-runnerism” — i.e. “I’ve picked the best…

Read More > > >

Frak Me! On Cussing and Taboo Aversion

Frak Me! On Cussing and Taboo Aversion

This one, on cussing and cultural taboos, comes to us from Scott Larousse.

Of recent trends in language, the increased frequency of curse words stands out. On Twitter, in speeches, in pop books, and in online news and opinion outlets, certain words are on the rise. A recent Gmail ad invited me to sign up for its listserv by clicking a button labeled “Hello Yeah”; The A.V. Club’s report on the Oscars is headlined, “Here’s what we know about the great Best Picture f*%&-up of 2017.” The Net is increasingly rife with cuss-words.

As a kid, I remember our stunned silence when a…

Read More > > >