healing the heart

healing the heart of democracy

If you have ever loved someone or something—a man, a woman, a child, a job, an idea, or an ideal—you probably know what it means to have your heart broken by failure, loss, betrayal, decline, or death. Like most Americans, I love democracy, and like many I know, it breaks my heart when democracy is threatened, from within or without. What else should I feel when “We the People” find our will trumped by corporate money, official corruption, and Orwellian lies? Or when we undermine ourselves by indulging in cheap animosities toward those who disagree with us instead of engaging our differences like grown-ups?

Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker J. Palmer


I can’t get enough of Steve Yarbrough’s writing

“Just look at what happens to poets,” I used to tell my honors class on the first day of school. “Half the time they go mad. And you know why I think that happens? Too much truth distilled to its essence, all surrounding evidence ignored or discarded. And I’m not faulting them for that. They’re just doing what poets are supposed to, and they’ve left us some beautiful works of literature, some of which have lasted for hundreds of years.” – Safe from the Neighbors by Steve Yarbrough

safe from the neighbors

Living with a Wild God

Of course we are shaped by our mutual dependency, and to a degree that is almost embarrassing. I have no argument with that. Other than certain insects, humans are the most social of animals. Infants who are not cuddled or held die of a syndrome called “failure to thrive.” Seemingly successful adults can be driven to depression or suicide by a lover’s rejection or an accumulation of professional slights. Which is to say that we are “hive” animals or—to invoke a more extravagant biological metaphor—we are the individual nuclei studded throughout a syncytium of shared protoplasm, utterly dependent on each other for structure and nutrients. To be pinched off from the main body of the community is to risk real damage, and one form the damage can take, I’m willingly to concede, is an inability to enter wholeheartedly into what is social defined as real.

– Barbara Ehrenreich, Living with a Wild God


living with a wild god

shades of Larry Brown

Pete went out the front door and looked across the street at the courthouse. The light in the judge’s office was out, but Judge Dyson and another man stood under a maple on the courthouse lawn talking politics in the light of the moon. The judge gestured animatedly. Dyson the old Democrat, fighting the good fight for the sinned-in-his-heart President Carter. Pete had read the race was close, but it wasn’t close here in Rimrock County. The people who lived up in the Yaak in their tar paper cabins and half-finished log homesteads weren’t political—they were perfect anarchists. Most of them lived here because the government was a negligible presence. They cut down their own trees for firewood. They hunted and fished whenever they wanted. Most trucks had a snowplow. Some even objected to the delivery of mail.

Dyson could generate a plurality of straight-ticket Democratic votes with state and federal employees and union guys, but he only prevailed on Election Day because the better part of the county actively avoided voting or mocked it, submitting Mickey Mouse as a write-in candidate.

But this year something was off. Hand-painted REAGAN COUNTRY signs had bloomed up in the pastures along the highway. Places that weren’t even hamlets, just little outposts of fierce individualism. The people the judge tried to cajole now didn’t care how long he’d been in the legislature, what committees he’d been on, or what pull he may or may not still have. They may have liked him personally, but not his pedigree.

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Fourth of July Creek

why we believe the way we do

Remember, too, that the narratives that keep you bound together are nearly impervious to direct attack. If three men couldn’t see eye to eye on who among them was and was not the real Jesus, your chances of swaying someone on the Internet to trade in his belief system concerning religion, art, wedge issues, politics, or literally anything else at all are pretty grim. Personal narratives and private mythologies don’t flip in an instant; they don’t trade places in a single argument. If minds change at all, they change slowly. As the author Michael Perry writes in Off Main Street, “We accrete truth like silt. It hones us like wind over sandstone.”

. . . In addition, you have a proclivity for believing and accepting things more readily when they are delivered to you in story form. Raw data may be more accurate, but you’d rather simplify things and move on with your day than pore over charts and data visualizations. An emotional appeal gets into your head better than a statistical analysis. A lecture sprinkled with jokes and unexpected turns will sway you more than one delivered via PowerPoint slides. Truth and accuracy usually lose when pitted against a riveting account—even when that account is coming from inside your noggin. . . . Whenever things start to get just a little difficult to understand, you replace that anxiety with false understanding in story form.

You are Now Less Dumb by David McRaney

less dumb



The Transcriptionist

She scans the front page, reads about Greek sailors who have been detained as witnesses of “environmental crimes.” The men are living in a hotel near Kennedy Airport, and every afternoon they pack their single duffel bags and sit in the parking lot waiting for the shipping company to pay that day’s hotel bill so they can check back in. This is the only time they venture outside, because their passports have been taken and they are, as one sailor says, “100 percent illegal.”

They spend their days watching television and waiting and eating food from the vending machines.
“The hard part is not knowing when we can leave,” one man says. “It is a little like living at sea. But only the bad parts. The hotel is like a ship but we are not moving. We are living at sea without the sea. We cannot leave. We must wait.” They have been in the hotel for four months.

. . . She looks to her left: the newspaper blurs before her, the letters appear as if under a microscope, little parasites floating on the pulpy page. The news cycle now has no recovery time, we are bombarded with so much news that it has lost its meaning and people look for signposts that they touch like rosaries to order their world, repetition without affect.It did not take long for news of war to be added to the rosary, touched but not felt.

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland

the transcriptionist


Joseph Smith

If one sentence could describe the last few months of Joseph’s life it would be: Wait, there is more. In April 1844, he preached the most famous sermons of his life, what some regard as one of the most famous sermons ever preached in America. As if on a whim, Joseph turned nearly 2,000 years of Christian belief on its head at a funeral service for his loyal colleague King Follett. Joseph had laid the groundwork for a new world order, and for the foundational ritual for his entire church, but that was in secret. Now, speaking in Nauvoo’s East Grove, under a massive canopy of elm and chestnut trees, he unpacked some of the most radical Christian doctrine ever preached on the American continent. He spoke for two hours, shouting against a heavy wind. The following day, he lost his voice.

Joseph started out with his boldest statement: “We suppose that God was God from eternity,” he shouted. “I will refute that idea. God that sits enthroned is a man like one of yourselves.”

It is the first principle to know. We may conserve with him and that he once was a man like us. God was once as one of us and was on a planet as Jesus was in the flesh. I defy all hell and earth to refute it.

Joseph referred to gods in the plural, because he explained that gods evolved from men and were not created ex nihilo, out of nothing. The raw material of godhead was a form of free intelligence that preexisted our creation. From intelligence, God became a man, then perfected himself to become a god. So did Jesus Christ. And so, Joseph said, can you. “You have got to learn how to be a god yourself in order to save yourself,” he proclaimed,

–to be priests and kings as all Gods have done—by going from a small degree to another—from exaltation—till they are able to sit in glory as with those who sit enthroned.

This became the “doctrine of eternal progression,” the Mormons’ supremely optimistic belief in the perfectibility of men and women living on earth. Joseph freed his followers from the strictures of pre-destination and the inevitability of sin. This was Joseph’s final, grandiose gift of hope to his people—and yet another nail in his coffin. In one long, loud sermon, he had dynamited the entire Christian cosmology, the underpinnings of every creedal prayer to have emerged in the previous 2,000 years.

American Crucifixion by Alex Beam




Reinventing American Literature

By the time Twain became a typesetter, America’s love affair with newsprint was growing fast. In 1776, the country had 37 newspapers. By 1830, it counted 715. By 1840, that number had doubled. Steam-powered machines made printing cheaper and faster; rising literacy fueled demand. A complex ecology emerged, with high-circulation city papers at the top, one-editor sheets at the bottom, and a diverse spectrum of typographical wildlife in between. Gardening tips shared space with sensationalized crime reports; serialized romances appeared alongside partisan hack jobs. “Story papers” delivered cheap thrills in the form adventure tales; illustrated weeklies used detailed engravings to visualize the news.

The newspaper revolution recreated America’s first popular culture. Twain belonged wholly to this revolution, and the world he discovered in the Far West was its most fertile staging ground. Newspapers helped colonize the Pacific coast. They stoked the gold rush by publishing letters from the mines and endorsements from powerful editors like Horace Greeley, and they carried ads for California-bound ships and stagecoaches. Since the price of a ticket was prohibitive to the very poor. The emigrants mostly came from literate backgrounds, and they began printing newspapers and books when they reached the Far West. By 1870, California had one of the highest literacy rates in the nation: only 7.3 percent of its residents over the age of ten couldn’t’ write, compared with 20 percent national-wide. The region’s wealth financed a range of publications and gave people the leisure to read them. As Twain observed, there was no surer sign of “flush times” in a Far Western boomtown than the founding of a “literary paper.” Poetry and fiction mattered to miners and farmers, merchants and bankers. For them the printed word wasn’t a luxury—it was a lifeline. It fostered a sense of place, a feeling of community, in a frontier far from home.

The Bohemians by Ben Tarnoff






in paradise

Rudolf Hoess has mainly interested Olin because before his execution he composed a memoir said to be mostly trustworthy. At the end of World War I, age seventeen, he served as the youngest noncommissioned officer in the German army. Joining Hitler’s party in 1922, he soon proved his mettle by committing a political murder for its leaders and enduring six years in prison. In 1934, Hoess was conscripted for the black-booted SS; in official photographs of its high-ranking officers, he is the stocky man seen often at the elbow of his mentor, Minister of the Interior Heinrich Himmler, the tall triple-chinned Minister of the Interior in bottle-bottomed glasses. In May of 1940, after a tour of duty at the Sachsenhausen camp. Hoess was transferred to Oswiecim, bringing with him a squad of thirty condemned criminals to carry out SS orders as the barracks Kapos. By his own account, Hoess took such pride in his efficiency that photographers were invited from Berlin to record his operation for unlucky colleagues who had had no opportunity to visit.

Like perpetrators of atrocities worldwide, Rudolf Hoess would lay all blame on his superiors, describing himself as “a normal person overcome by a ruthless concept of obedience.” This appraisal of his own character seems almost rational when compared to the vainglory of Adolf Eichmann, for whom the knowledge that he helped consign five million Jewish human beings to their deaths was a source of “extraordinary satisfaction.” “I shall leap into my grave laughing,” Eichmann said.

– In Paradise by Peter Mathiessen

 in paradise



Mobutu became a lonely man who grew more melancholy with each passing day. He seemed to fall prey to the longing for excess that marks all those for whom life holds no more surprises. In Europe he bought one chic property after the other. He owned a dozen castles, storage spaces, and residences in the wealthy Brussels boroughs of Ukkel and Sint-Genesius-Rode. He owned a luxurious, eight-hundred-square-meter (nearly 8,500-square-foot) apartment on Avenue Foch in Paris, Savigny Castle close to Lausanne, Switzerland, a palazzo in Venice, a sumptuous villa on the French Rivera, an equestrian estate in the Portuguese Algarve, and a series of hotels in West Africa and South Africa, not to mention his luxury yacht on the Congo. But the most incredible of all his residences was, without a doubt, Gbadolite. In the middle of the jungle in his native region, close to the border with the Central African Republic, he had a city built, complete with banks, a post office, a well-equipped hospital, a hypermodern hotel, and a landing strip that could accommodate the Concorde. (Zizi Kabongo: “That’s right, as a journalist I once took the Concorde from Gbadolite to Japan.”) A cathedral was added, with a crypt that was to serve as the family grave, and a Chinese village with pagodas and imported Chinese people. The crowning glory was Mobutu’s opulent, 15,000-square-meter (158,400-square-foot) palace. The mahogany doors were seven meters (nearly twenty-three feet) high and inlaid with malachite. The walls were covered with Carrara marble and silk tapestries. Crystal chandeliers, Venetian mirrors, Empire furniture: no expense was spared, no luxury was too excessive. There were Jacuzzis, massage rooms, a swimming pool, and a beauty parlor. Mrs. Mobutu had a walk-in closet fifty meters (over 160 feet) long where she hung her extensive collective of French couture, some one thousand creations in all. Beneath the building itself, thousands of top French vintages lay gathering dust (if not actually going sour in the tropical climate). There as a discotheque for the children and a bomb shelter for the family. The fountains scattered around the grounds splashed around the clock and were lit at night—in a region that had almost no electrical network. Mobutu threw state banquets for thousands of guests where the pink champagne—his favorite beverage—flowed freely and the suckling pigs lay grinning with an orange in their mouths.

“He had the great chefs of France and Belgium flown in,” recalled Kibambi Shintwa, a man who still retained his “authentic” name. Shintwa had worked as a reporter for the presidence from 1982 and was closely acquainted with Mobutu.
. . . Mobutu’s corruption was so shocking that it caused a long-forgotten term to resurface in the English language: kleptocracy.

Congo The Epic History of A People by David Van Reybrouck



one sentence

One sentence:

“Desperately Lonely Swing Set Needs Loving Home”

the fault in our stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

This is a book from which  I absolutely can’t quote any ‘snippets’  – anything I posted would be too much. I loved this book. Read it.

From the book jacket: “Damn near genius. . . . The Fault in Our Stars is a love story, one of the most genuine and moving ones in recent American fiction, but it’s also an existential tragedy of tremendous intelligence and courage and sadness.”

Read it!


We are reputed to be good Christians go to Rome, they are papists. go to Geneva, they are Calvinists. go to the north of Germany, they are Lutherans. come to London, they are none of these[.] orthodoxy is a mode. it is one thing at one time and in one place. it is something else at another time, and in another place, or even in the same place: for in this religious country of ours, without seeking proofs in any other, men have been burned under one reign, for the very same doctrines they were obliged to profess in another. you damn all those who differ from you. – Thomas Jefferson, quoted in Wilson, introduction to Jefferson’s Literary Commonplace Book, 156; Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an by Denise A. Spellberg



“. . . These books are like old friends.

“When I’m choosing something new, though, something just for myself, my favorite kind of character is a woman in a faraway place. India. Or Bangkok. Sometimes she leaves her husband. Sometimes she never had a husband because she knew, wisely, that married life would not be for her. I like when she has multiple lovers. I like when she wears hats to block her fair skin from the sun. I like when she travels and has adventures. I like descriptions of hotels and suitcases with stickers on them. I like descriptions of food and clothes and jewelry. A little romance but not too much. The story is period. No cell phones. No social networking. No Internet at all. Ideally, it’s set in the 1920s or the 1940s. Maybe there’s a war going on but it’s just a backdrop. No bloodshed. Some sex but nothing too graphic. No children. Children often spoil a story for me.”

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

storied life

The Wrong Enemy

One day an Afghan I knew and trusted told me a story he had never dared tell anyone, even his closest family. He had worked as an interpreter for the U.S. military for several years. One night he had accompanied U.S. special operations commandos on a raid. Helicopters dropped off the team a mile or so from their target village, and they hiked in silence to its edge. The unit split up, and the interpreter went with a group of four men to a house in the center of the village. Two men were in front of him and two behind, armed with American assault weapons with silencers attached. They moved without noise, communicating with hand signals. They kicked in the door of the house and entered a room. A gas lamp was burning very low but enough for the interpreter to see the astonished faces of a young couple in their twenties as they leapt up from their bed on the floor. “Why? Why are you shooting?” the man asked. The Americans did not answer. They crouched and shot them both. They fired four or five rounds, the silencers making a dull “tick, tick” sound. As the woman fell, she let out a dying gasp. A child sleeping beside them began to cry. The Americans moved straight on to the next room. The translator began to shake. This time he did not enter the room but stopped at the door. He saw four people by the lamplight. A grandmother stood, her head uncovered, and asked, “What’s happening? Why” Three teenagers, a boy and two girls, were cowering on the floor, wordless, trying to hide among their bedclothes. The Americans did not speak. They fired two or three rounds. The translator did not see who was shot. He was never asked to translate anything. “You have to wait until they ask. If you say anything, or translate anything, they say ‘Shut up, mother-fucker, or I’ll shoot you.’ “

The Wrong Enemy America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014 by Carlotta Gall




my sandbox

I long ago abandoned myself to a blind lust for the written word. Literature is my sandbox. In it I play, build my forts and castles, spend glorious time. It is the world outside that box that gives me trouble. I have adapted tamely, though not conventionally, to this visible world so I can retreat without much inconvenience into my inner world of books. Transmuting this sandy metaphor, if literature is my sandbox, then the real world is my hourglass – an hourglass that drains grain by grain. Literature gives me life, and life kills me.

Well, life kills everyone.

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

an unncessarywoman

The Internal Enemy

In June 1814 on Maryland’s Patuxent River, four young men escaped from the Sotterley Plantation of John Rousby Plater. The master especially valued Peregrine Young, “a most valuable [house] servant” appraised at $700, and Ignatius Seale, “a black smith” assessed at $800. A month later, all four returned to Plater’s plantation, bearing arms and wearing the red jackets of Colonial Marines. They guided a raid that liberated forty-four more slaves: nine men, twelve women, and twenty-three children. They included eight Youngs, nine Seales, and three Woods, who must have been related to the pioneers. Spotting the initial runaways in uniforms, Plater rebuked the British captain: “It is improper sir, to take slaves; and to put arms in their hands is more so.” The captain pointedly replied, “Who began the war?”

. . . How many slaves escaped from the shores of the Chesapeake during the War of 1812? Historians usually rely on the “definitive list” compiled by the postwar commission established to compensate masters. That list records 3 from the District of Columbia, 714 from Maryland, and 1,721 from Virginia, for a total of 2,438. The Chesapeake region accounted for two-thirds (2,438 of the 3,580 total) of the wartime runaways as determined by the claims commission, with Georgia generated the next largest number of runaways: 7833. The balance *319) fled in smaller numbers from Louisiana, Delaware, South Carolina, and the territories of Mississippi and Alabama.

The 3,580 total for the United States understates the true number of runaways, particularly in the Chesapeake, because the commission required claimants to submit complex documentation formally notarized by county magistrates.

The Internal Enemy by Alan Taylor

theinternal enemy



being wrong – and having faith

Imagine for a moment that a man is hiking in the Alps when he suddenly finds his progress blocked by a narrow but terrifyingly deep crevasse. There’s no safe passage around it, and he cannot retreat the way he came. The question, then, isn’t what the man should do; his only option is to leap over the chasm. The question is how he should feel about doing it.

This hypothetical scenario was devised by William James to help us think about the merits of certainty. While most of his fellow philosophers were criticizing it as intellectually untenable or morally repugnant or both, James decided to come to its defense. Or rather, to its partial defense: he, too, worried about the potential moral consequences of certainty—but, ever the pragmatist, he argued that it had also some distinct practical advantages. However intellectually honorable doubt might be, he pointed out, it would clearly serve our hypothetical hiker poorly. The better option would be for him to believe absolutely in his ability to leap over the crevasse.

James meant by this that shaky ground should not always deter us from unshakable faith. There are countless instances when our own lives or the larger world have been changed for the better by a passionate conviction: that you can lower your cholesterol or get into medical school or secure a better future for your children; that polio can be eradicated or that the wilderness can be protected or that people with disabilities should not be prevented from rich and full participation I public life. As James put it, sometimes unswerving beliefs “help to make the truth which they declare.”

Being Wrong Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz


being wrong

Eklund Hotel – in Burke’s fiction

After the charges against Doc were dropped, Temple and Lucas and I drove back to Texas through the northern tip of New Mexico and stopped for the night at Clayton, a short distance from the Texas state line. We walked from the motel at the end of what had been a state line. We walked from the motel at the end of what had been a scorching day to a nineteenth-century hotel named the Eklund and had dinner in a dining room paneled with hard-carved mahogany. The hotel was three stories, built of quarried stone, anchored in the hardpan like a fortress against the wind, but the guest rooms had long ago been boarded up and the check-in desk and boxes for mail and metal keys abandoned to dust and cobweb.

On the wall of the small lobby was a framed photograph of outlaw Black Jack Ketchum being fitted with a noose on a freshly carpentered scaffold. Another photograph showed him after the trapdoor had collapsed under his feet. Ketchum was dressed in a black suit and white shirt and his face showed no expression in the moments before his death, as though he were a witness to a predictable historical event rather than a participant in it.

Bitterroot by James Lee Burke


hotel eklund - april 2014


Eklund - April 2014
Eklund – April 2014
Eklund - April 2014
Eklund – April 2014
Eklund - April 2014
Eklund – April 2014


That’s when it began to become clear that Ethan was a little unlike other boys and men before him, who have all inherited a Y chromosome from their fathers. Though rare, it’s not unheard of for a child who is genetically a girl to develop as a boy when a very small piece of Y chromosome that contains a region called SRY (which stands for sex-determining region Y) is inherited. When this happens, a person’s entire course of development can be shifted toward the male road instead of the female one.

In search of this little piece of SRY, the next step we employed in Ethan’s case was called FISH (fluorescence in situ hybridization). The FISH test involves using a molecular probe that binds only to parts of the chromosome that are complementary.

What we expected to see in Ethan was that the FISH for the SRY region would be positive, as it is in other cases that present in this way. But it wasn’t. In fact, it’s not only that Ethan didn’t inherit a Y chromosome from his father, he didn’t even get a microscopic trace of one. And that didn’t leave us with many known genetic explanations as to how Ethan could have turned into a boy.

Actually, according to the genetics textbook sitting on my desk, he really should have been a girl.

. . . For a very long time the dogma has been that while chromosomally we may be male or female, developmentally we all start out the same. If we inherit a Y chromosome, or even a very small part of it, we take a detour toward maleness. In the absence of that, though we’d all continue to head down the genetic path of being a female.
But in Ethan, as we saw, that wasn’t the situation. So we began to suspect that the conventional genetic wisdom was indeed wrong.

. . . What I am suggesting, however, is that our sexual biology isn’t just about genetic sex, but rather the unique combination of genes, timing and the environment. As we keep seeing, people who fall away from the norm, for whatever reason, have a lot to teach the rest of us.

That’s not just the case for the one-in-a-billion cases like Ethan, but also for hundreds of millions of people around the world who don’t conform, genetically, biologically, sexually, or socially, to the rigid and traditional view of masculinity and femininity.

Inheritance by Sharon Moalem, MD, PHD