hope

Jules Feiffer Encourages Failure


 

Jules Feiffer was a huge catalyst in the creation of The Phantom Tollbooth. He wasn’t simply the illustrator, but a next-door neighbor and co-dreamer with Norton Juster. We often hear about the value of resilience through failure, but Feiffer seems almost to encourage an attitude of looking forward to it. A failure often carries more potential for illumination than a straightforward success.

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Further Reading

Norton Juster On Creative Agony

Kurt Vonnegut Says Hate Gets Things Done

Mark Twain’s Amusement With Pains

 

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Norton Juster On The Agony Of Creating


Norton Juster on writing and The Phantom Tollbooth from Maria Popova on Vimeo.

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As I make my way through the whimsical world of The Phantom Tollbooth for the first time, I am delighted as a reader and reassured as a writer. To hear that such genius minds as Maurice Sendak and Norton Juster had fears in the creative process and still managed to endear themselves to others through their mad ideas gives me hope and freedom to believe that we can continue to connect through silly stories.

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Further Reading

Dave Eggers’ Fear As An Author

In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

J.R.R. Tolkien On Creativity And Fear

Gal. V & VII


The old man,
who decays as cynic,
you scorn, you deride;
as a young man
you would not have known him.

The young man,
who bleeds optimism,
you exalt, you extol;
will this world not,
in the end, have its way with him?

As father, as husbandman,
as carer for lives,
the weight of beauty
in all nature
and all natures
bores holes in the top of the soul,
making permeable,
capable to feel immense gravity
of life.

The constance of loss,
of life and limb and understanding and innocence
flooded that soul,
without relief,
without respite,
until it sank down under immense gravity
of death.

There is no drain
to empty the optimist soul.
Weight of caring
drags it down to fiery depths,
as a surgeon’s oath
in the midst
of red battle.

You young men
know some things
of history, repeating
of peers, distracted
of money, bending all wills
of influence, wooing.

You do not know some things, sneering at
the withered face,
the weathered lines,
the hardened brow.
These signs of hope deferred
and prayers unanswered
are the knell of your aspirations.
May your sneers turn to dread and woe.

The old man,
who decays a cynic,
you scorn, you deride;
history, repeating
peers, distracted
in the end, you are him,
he was you.

Will this world not,
in the end, have its way with you?

– M. Landers, May 2014

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Further Reading

“The Town Lays Awake Together”

Wendell Berry’s Greatest Poem

“Listen Awhile, Ye Nations, And Be Dumb!”

Two Year Olds Are Not Terrible


My second daughter (who is now a middle child!) turned two a couple of months ago. While she is extremely different from her older sister, there is one similarity between them that has struck me. Being a two year old is tough work for everyone, but it is emphatically NOT terrible.

Her older sister is a three-and-a-half-year-old dreamer. She’s barely aware of her physical surroundings; easily engrossed in cartoon worlds; always coming up with bizarre, creative ideas; and constantly singing, dancing, or talking about dragons, ghosts, and castles. She always forces me to be the princess and deems herself the king.

My newly established two-year-old is intensely opposite. She loves singing and dancing as well, but she is hyper aware of her physical surroundings and other people’s emotions, she would rather take a nap than watch Gummi Bears with us, and she gets great joy out of putting trash in the garbage or trying to help sweep the dining room floor.

When my older daughter got to be about two, we saw what people often see. An easily satisfied temperment gave way to something newly challenging, which people frequently call “terrible”. Our older daughter would become easily enraged. She had a difficult time learning to engage in communication about any point in contest. Any hint at disrupting her fun, even accidental, would provide kindling for a quick melt-down. In helping her grow, we had to learn to temper our discipline and patience with intentional efforts to create communication and dialogue, both in and out of trouble situations.

My younger daughter is, of course, proving to be a very different person. When she gets in trouble, it’s often drastically different trouble from her older sister’s. She does not respond to interruption or correction by freaking out, but with a cold, hard stare of defiance. She seems to feel that she has been watching the world and adults long enough to understand how things should be done and she will not be easily dissuaded. She often gets bent out of shape when we attempt to help her with simple tasks like putting her shoes on the right feet. She wants to contribute and she wants to do so on her own terms.

Something in a child changes when they get to be about that age, and that something is developing personal desires for ideal outcomes. Children near the two year mark are becoming more fully human in that they are developing intuitions, tastes, preferences, and goals. They are learning to choose their emotions. They are beginning to do what everyone else ahead of them does every day until they die. They are making conscious decisions and gauging consequences.

Is a two year old terrible? No more than any adult. The transition that happens around two years is more drastic even than the transitions of puberty. A child is learning to have preferences, to plan ahead, and to believe in and build into their own identity and identities of others. Along with these stunningly beautiful core elements of being human comes a whole slew of misused emotional responses and improper judgements.

We parents are actually still learning what they have just begun. As a dad, I am still trying to learn to guide my children to make good decisions without making poor, emotionally-driven decisions myself. At nearly 28 years old, I still have a tendency I picked up around two years old, a tendency to get so emotionally overwhelmed by the behaviors I can’t control in others that I act out of anger or exasperation. I try to be louder or prove I’m stronger-willed.

My kids are just starting to come to grips with the hopes, fears, dreams, and discouragements of being a human in this world. My older daughter isn’t even four yet and she’s gaining tons of ground in learning to communicate better, even with so many poor examples on our part. Recognizing these things helps me focus on who I’m led to be and leading others from that identity instead of focusing on forcing the appropriate responses of a two-year-old who is trying to learn not to be terrible at living.

I think that sums it up. Two-year-olds seem like a lot of work because they are becoming more like the rest of us. My two-year-old just woke up from her nap and brought me a couple of misplaced coat hangers that she expects me to put away appropriately, so I’m signing off!

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Further Reading

What Daughters Should Expect From Fathers

The Tragedy Of Childbirth

A Poem On War And Children

Vonnegut Says Hate Is What Gets Things Done


“As a member of a zippier generation, with sparkle in its eyes and a snap in its stride, let me tell you what kept us as high as kites a lot of the time: hatred. All my life I’ve had people to hate — from Hitler to Nixon, not that those two are at all comparable in their villainy. It is a tragedy, perhaps, that human beings can get so much energy and enthusiasm from hate. If you want to feel ten feet tall and as though you could run a hundred miles without stopping, hate beats pure cocaine any day. Hitler resurrected a beaten, bankrupt, half-starved nation with hatred and nothing more. Imagine that.

[…]

The members of your graduating class are not sleepy, are not listless, are not apathetic. They are simply performing the experiment of doing without hate. Hate is the missing vitamin or mineral or whatever in their diet, they have sensed correctly that hate, in the long run, is about as nourishing as cyanide.”

– Kurt Vonnegut, speaking to the graduating class at Fredonia College, 1978.
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I would have loved to hear Kurt Vonnegut speak publically. He was apparently as appreciable a speaker as a writer, as he was very frequently engaged. His tone is always one that catches us off guard with encouragement, whimsy, and dark self-deprecation toward the human race.

While I’m not sure that I have seen any evidence of a generation without hate for fuel, I do find his concept here simple, self-evident, and fundamentally understated else ware. Often men have worked entire philosophies off of a basis that includes this theory, but rarely does one actually think about the fact that fear and hate often work hand in hand as our greatest motivators. The great striding leaps of human ingenuity in the past couple centuries have not helped to build up individual security and eliminate worry and hatred as everyone seems always to be hoping they will. They have been fuel for and sparked by the greatest wars and genocides in history.

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Further Reading

What C.S. Lewis Knew About The Holocaust Before WWII

Vonnegut’s Views On Religion And Science

Wendell Berry On Family And The Cold War

Michael Pollan Didn’t Start This


“Americans today are having a national conversation about food and agriculture that it would have been impossible to imagine even a few short years ago. To many Americans it must sound like a brand-new conversation, with its racing talk about high price for cheap food, or the links between soil and health, or the impossibility of a society eating well and being in good health unless it also farms well. But to read the essays in this sparkling anthology, many of them dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, is to realize just how little of what we are saying and hearing today Wendell Berry hasn’t already said, bracingly, before.

And in that “we” I most definitely, and somewhat abashedly, include myself. I challenge you to find an idea or insight in my own recent writings on food and farming that isn’t prefigured (to put it charitably) in Berry’s essays on agriculture. There might be one or two in there somewhere, but I must say that reading and rereading these essays has been a deeply humbling experience.

It has also been a powerful reminder that the national conversation now unfolding around the subject of food and farming really began back in the 1970s, with the work of Berry and a small handful of his contemporaries, including Francis Moore Lappé, Barry Commoner, and Joan Gussow. All four of these writers are supreme dot connectors, deeply skeptical of reductive science, and far ahead not only in their grasp of the science of ecology but in their ability to actually think ecologically: to draw lines of connection between hamburgers and the price of oil, or between the vibrancy of life in the soil and the health of the plants and animals and people eating from that soil.”

– Michael Pollan, excerpt from his Introduction to Wendell Berry’s farm essay collection Bring It To The Table

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I truly respect men like Michael Pollan and Joel Salatin, but, as Pollan himself lets us know here, they are late to the game when it comes to the crisic farming, economic, and ecological situations today. They were simply born too late, and their interest in the issue is necessarily similar to mine in that it is basically reactionary.

If I were born in the 1940s, would I so easily see the growing problems of the changing system that Berry and Lappé saw the 1960s? I would love to say yes, of course I could spot the obvious flaws, but since almost no one else did, I can’t be confident that I would have been so cautious. We have to look to the men who saw the problems not because of their results but by their roots in poor thinking and short-sighted planning. The Berrys and Fukuokas were thinking differently when the problems were still originating; their thoughts and opinions carry the weight of an utterly alternative outlook from the start.

Do we need younger men to take on this alternative mindset? I certainly hope so; I am eager to be one. Ideally everyone would catch on to a different big picture from the current pipe dreams being dealt out. The problem itself has lasted so long at this point that it would be difficult for those who saw it coming to outlive it. Generations must pick up the torch to make change, but we have to always go back to what went wrong and who witnessed it happening.

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Related Reading

An Agricultural Insight From Tolkien And Lewis

A Japanese Scientist Questions The Reasonability Of Agricutural Science

Wendell Berry On The Difference Btween A Path And A Road

The Tragedy Of Childbirth: If It Hurts, Embrace It


This morning, around 5:30, my wife gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy. This baby ended up coming 15 days after his original due date and was born at home, my wife’s first VBAC. Mother and child are both in absolutely wonderful, if exhausted, shape.

The 14 hours or so of labor were utterly depleting, surreal, and some of the most emotionally moving experiences I’ve partaken in. There are a few human experiences which draw out our character and beliefs through situational responses and participating in the birth of a child is one of the most moving and least discussed of these experiences.

I think we often shrug away from this sort of experience because of the amount of hope investment and lack of control available through such a trying time. People can argue statistics day and night about the safety and ethics of homebirth v. hospital birth or vaginal v. C-section, but in the end I think our prefered stance really comes out of our capability to accept life-threatening and potentially tragic situations without attempting to control them. No one wants to stand by and watch tragedy befall their loved ones, but it is a constant and real possibilty. While we understand a lot about the human body and how to “successfully” modify its efforts at the birthing process, the truth is that it knows what it’s up to and often our attempts to improve upon its effects can just as easily thwart an ideal outcome.

So why do we insist upon an ever more informed and proactive approach? I would agrue that it is generally out of a fear of experiencing the emotional gravity of a situation out of our own control. We would rather trust a professional and work to create the outcome than trust fate or nature, though the professional always knows less than what the natural body is capable of.

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As we slowly labored through the evening and the night, we experienced all available emotions. My wife was eager then scared, prayerful and penitent, cursing her existence and submissive to God’s will. She prayed for strength at time and at other times she prayed to die. She accused us of lying to her and of not trying to help her. She was a wreck and then she was utterly calm. She kept believing that she was incapable of birthing and it would never happen. Overall and through this, she was like a warrior whose battle was within her own mind and body.

I was there to help her as best I could through every contraction. Even though I didn’t experience any on the birthing pain, I got a front row seat to see the physical aspects of the pain. I shared in all her emotional fears and more. The sheer exhaustion of physically fighting a body as it tries to work a baby out creates insanity. Mostly I assumed that all the midwives thought I was a terrible husband. At times I thought of telling my wife to suck it up. I wanted to run away because I knew I wasn’t good enough. I sat in awe of her resolve. I decided that she should have tried to deal with the pain more efficiently. I knew at some point that my muscles would literally give out. Overall, we both went back and forth between having hope and losing faith. We had times of trusting each other, the birthing process in her body, the midwives, and God. We also separately experienced times of condemning one another, the entire experience, the people we had chosen to rely on, and the will of God.

Human beings need these definitive experiences. We need to run marathons that we have invested our very lives in, completely draining and testing our commitments and our trust. We tend toward shallowness and half-hearted relations. We don’t want to experience hardships that test our true merits and expose out faults. Hardships might provide solid feedback and consequences.

Pushing ourselves to emotional, physical, and spiritual brinks provides us with increased strength and knowledge of the reality of our current beliefs and what we are fit to accomplish. My wife did more than either of us originally wanted her to or expected her capable of, and she showed herself to be a hero of mine. Our son’s life is the memorial of his mother’s strength.

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I’ll leave you with this transcript of a comment from comedian Louis C.K. on the value of experiencing emotions to their fullness instead of living in distraction.

“You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.

And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It’s starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it…

That’s why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they’re killing, everybody’s murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard. . .

(After hearing a song that brought back sad memories.)

And I go, ‘oh, I’m getting sad, gotta get the phone and write “hi” to like 50 people’…then I said, ‘you know what, don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness, stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck.’

And I let it come, and I just started to feel ‘oh my God,’and I pulled over and I just cried like a bitch. I cried so much. And it was beautiful. Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments.

And then I had happy feelings. Because when you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad, and then I met it with true, profound happiness. It was such a trip.

The thing is, because we don’t want that first bit of sad, we push it away with a little phone or a jack-off or the food. You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kinda satisfied with your product, and then you die.”

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Related reading

How To Get Rid Of Faith

Our Decisions Make Lives

What Daughters Should Expect From Their Fathers

The Tragedy Of Having A Baby


UPDATE!!!

My wife is 41+ weeks pregnant with our third child. Even though we’ve done this (twice) before, we are attempting a VBAC home-birth and we’ve both been running the full gamut of stressful and nervous emotions. All signs point toward a healthy and comfortable baby who just doesn’t want to come out yet(who can blame them?), but expecting to go into labor every hour for 3 weeks is exhausting.

The other day, after a solid cry session, my wife expressed again her current emotions in the constant waiting and said “I just feel like something bad has happened and I have to convince myself to be okay and bear it.” The truth is that anything we put significant hope in is a tragedy until it is fulfilled. It’s not tragic because we don’t want this baby, its tragic because we really, REALLY want this baby and we can’t do anything to get at it.

From a storytelling perspective, this makes a lot of sense. The goals that any characters hope toward and how their actions and fate play together are the plot of a strong story. The only difference between a traditional comedy and a tragedy is whether the hopes of the protagonist were eventually fulfilled. In a comedy he gets the girl and the happily-ever-after. In a tragedy he dies alone. Either way, the plot along the way is tinged with some level of fear that his hope is misplaced.

I think life should be full of these experiences. They suck pretty badly, but if we want to cultivate things like faith and hopefulness then we have to pour a lot of them out before we start seeing them rewarded. We live in a world that mostly let’s us down. Whether its the people we care for or the general negativity of circumstances, cultures, or political structures, we have more reasons to stop hoping and cut off faith in beauty and love and truth-acted-upon. But there is reason to hope, though we only do so in weakness now.

We’re pushing in to this idea. We’re recognizing the confusion and frustration and are choosing actively to have hope that we will look back in joy and laugh at what becomes a comedy in hindsight. We want ever stronger and stronger muscles of faith, persevering to trust in the truth regardless of attacks or whispers against it. As a farmer plants his seeds in the spring and watches the seasons change in eagerness, we have hoped and prayed toward this child’s birth and will continue to seek and find rest in the future healthy delivery of a son or daughter (we don’t know which!)

UPDATE!!!

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Further reading

What Daughters Should Expect From Their Fathers

Wanna Change The World? Shake Someone’s Hand!

What Christians Can Learn From Atheists

Wanna Change The World? Shake Someone’s Hand!


We see it almost every day. Whether its a government cover-up, corporate fraud, or a religious group’s controversial public statements, we are bombarded more than every by a constant stream of articles and headlines about the latest controversies. Thanks to social media, we are becoming the ones who are most responsible for determining what issues gain steam and become headlines. I’m just as guilty as anyone else of feeling required to chime in and make sure other people hear my opinions on the current big issue. We find it necessary to identify ourselves as being for or against these brands.

Brands, you may ask? Why yes, every political candidate, Hollywood star, and non-profit organization is, at its core, simply a brand. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the social media world of likes, retweets, and reposting sensationalized articles. We recognize and either endorse or condemn nearly every public entity as a brand to be consumed or blacklisted in our modern online context.

But what most of us really want is to make the world a better place, right? I mean, isn’t that what we think we want somewhere deep down? Isn’t that in some dysfunctional way connected to the root motivation of many of our pins and tweets and likes and posts? How can we begin to actually make this world a better place to live? By liking statuses and reposting inspirational memes?

Here’s the fact:  We are hiding behind our ideas of good and bad when we should be acting upon them. We’re trying to decide what to endorse when we should be asking ourselves how to take action and relate.

Relate? Yes, as in a relationship, where two beings enter into actually knowing one another personally and, often, in person. True, this does require more work than scrolling through a newsfeed and often it will entail sharing our own hopes, dreams, mistakes, and brokenness, but I will promise you something. If you do this often, it will prove to be worth your time.

What if we stopped investing so much of our time into reading articles about group’s stances and started reaching out to tell our friends what encourages us about them? What if we stopped trying to decide where to point the finger and started lifting one to help a new neighbor move in? Supporting a non-profit that helps the hungry in the third world is really important and hugely valuable, but helping the homeless in your own city has a greater impact on you and builds an actual, ongoing relationship between you and the people your helping.

So get out there! Be a great dad. Be a great mom. Be a great dad or mom to someone even if you have no children of your own. Make meals for people you don’t know well. It’s okay that it might be awkward the first time. Share a beer on your porch with the guy next door after work. Write a letter, on paper, and mail it to someone you highly value. Start investing into the real people all around you.

You might just find that pointing out the bad has never been as rewarding as doing the good.

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Related:

– On the dangers of being Optimistic

– Poetry and Children and War

– How does the Common Core Standard hold up?

Author Quotes: Mark Twain, Alcohol, and Amusement


Here is another absolute gem I came upon in Mason Curry’s Daily Rituals.  This time it is none other than Mark Twain being described by a personal friend.  

“In those days he was troubled with sleeplessness, or, rather, with reluctant sleepiness, and he had various specifics for promoting it. At first it had been champagne just before going to bed, and we provided that, but later he appeared from Boston with four bottles of lager-beer under his arms; lager-beer, he said now, was the only thing to make you go to sleep, and we provided that. Still later, on a visit I paid him at Hartford, I learned that hot Scotch was the only soporific worth considering, and Scotch whiskey duly found its place on our sideboard. One day, very long afterward, I asked him if he were still taking hot Scotch to make him sleep. He said he was not taking anything. For a while he had found going to bed on the bath-room floor a soporific; then one night he went to rest in his own bed at ten o’clock, and he had gone promptly to sleep without anything. He had done the like with the like effect ever since. Of course, it amused him; there were few experiences of life, grave or gay, which did not amuse him, even when they wronged him.”
*Bold emphasis mine.  

This little anecdote seems to summarize the popularity of Samuel Clemens’ work and a good many of his famous thoughts quite well. There is something very comforting and reassuring about an author (or any human) who is capable of sharp cultural and personal analysis while maintaining a good-humor. We trust people who are well aware of the travesties of humanity in general and their own brokenness while maintaining hopefulness and engaging others. We know the truth, we recognize it together, and we keep renewing our faith.