There is a kind of loneliness that lodges itself in the psyche and never fully leaves, a loneliness most anguishing not in solitude but in companionship and amid the crowd. If solitude fertilizes the imagination, loneliness vacuums it of vitality and sands the baseboards of the spirit with the scratchy restlessness of longing — for connection, for communion, for escape. And yet it is out of this restlessness that so many great works of art are born.
In the late summer of 1928, a month before the publication of Orlandosubverted stereotypes and revolutionized culture, 44-year-old Woolf found herself grappling once more with the yin-yang of loneliness and creation. In a diary entry penned at Monk’s House — the countryside cottage she and her husband had bought in Sussex a decade earlier, where she crafted some of her most beloved works — she writes:
Often down here I have entered into a sanctuary … of great agony once; and always some terror; so afraid one is of loneliness; of seeing to the bottom of the vessel. That is one of the experiences I have had here in some Augusts; and got then to a consciousness of what I call “reality”: a thing I see before me: something abstract; but residing in the downs or sky; beside which nothing matters; in which I shall rest and continue to exist. Reality I call it. And I fancy sometimes this is the most necessary thing to me: that which I seek. But who knows — once one takes a pen and writes? How difficult not to go making “reality” this and that, whereas it is one thing. Now perhaps this is my gift: this perhaps is what distinguishes me from other people: I think it may be rare to have so acute a sense of something like that — but again, who knows? I would like to express it too.
The following fall, thirteen days before the publication of A Room of One’s Own — that ultimate paean to the relationship between loneliness and creative vitality — Woolf revisits the subject in her diary, contemplating the strange ways in which we deny or confer validity upon our loneliness…
Maria Popova is a reader, writer, interestingness hunter-gatherer, and curious mind at large, who writes for WiredUK, The Atlantic,The New York Times, and Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, among others. She is also an am an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.
A wonderful piece from one of my favorite historians
Our mission is simple. And it means death to one of our greatest lusts.
by Allen Guelzo, PhD in Christianity Today
It is very nearly four decades since, as a terribly callow graduate student with an interest in philosophy, I made a pilgrimage with a friend to the home of a professor of Christian apologetics. I was looking for direction, and even though Cornelius Van Til had been retired for many years, he was known to welcome inquirers—whom he often greeted on his front porch with a rake in hand, suggesting that perhaps they could pile-up his leaves for him before they talked.
I was hoping to hear an intimidating, intellectually-convoluted, scholastic, metaphysical strategy for blowing the philosopher’s version of Gideon’s trumpet. Van Til, then pushing 80 stood with his hard white comb of hair brushed back from his cliff-like brow, and the smile of an old Dutch dairy farmer (which his father had been). I asked, “Dr. Van Til, why did you decide to devote your life to the study of philosophy and the teaching of apologetics?”
And I then sat back to allow the metaphysics free room to roll. Van Til never blinked.
“Why,” he said, “to protect Christ’s little ones.”
The surprise that could have dropped me to the floor that afternoon has never quite evaporated. Why, to protect Christ’s little ones. Not only because those words express a great nobility in a few syllables, but because, remembering them, they cast down every castle of intellectual folly I erect, or am tempted to erect. And because, at the end, I am not worthy of them, and because anyone who understands that the kingdom of God is our true home, that God’s people are truly our people, and that this is a world by turns indifferent and hostile to both, must see those words as a true reminder of what we owe to each other as Christians, and in what relation we stand to each other.
I recall those words—Why, to protect Christ’s little ones—with tears, both because I have not always lived according to them, and because it is precisely the world of the scholar and historian that encourages me to ignore them…
Allen Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, where he serves as Director of the Civil War Era Studies Program. He is widely recognized as one of the leading scholars of the Civil War in general and Abraham Lincoln in particular. He is also a committed Christian and churchman. Though far better known for his work on Lincoln and the Civil War, he has also written noteworthy studies on Jonathan Edwards and free will and on the Reformed Episcopalians, as well as co-editing a book on the New England Theology. (Bio by Justin Taylor, who I gratefully thank for pointing me to Allen’s article.)
Regardless of what parents tell their children, books are routinely judged by their covers. Indeed, many book titles encapsulate a premise so obvious that the text itself seems superfluous. I’m talking about the literary equivalents of Hot Tub Time Machine or Aliens vs. Predator. I should know—I’m the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies.
I can envision a future when such books will pass from individual to individual via secret-Santa office parties. They’ll be good for a chuckle, and then not surface until the ensuing Christmas. Most of my colleagues assumed that I wrote this book to make political scientists laugh a little—and they would be partially right. And yet a funny thing happened while I crafted a satire about world politics and zombies: I learned about the virtue of seriousness.
To be clear, the zombies in my book are not metaphors for thuggish political discourse or symbols of brainless economic ideologies. I’m talking about the genuine article: ghouls rising from the grave to feast upon the living.
Why write a book about the threat posed by the living dead? Sure, the ratings of AMC’s The Walking Dead demonstrate their popular cachet, but international relations is Very Serious Business. There is no shortage of “real” threats to scare analysts: nuclear proliferation, terrorism, pandemics, financial instability, cyberwarfare. Why introduce an implausible, shuffling, stumbling creature that desires only braaaaiiiiiinnnnnnns into the mix?
The End of the World as We Know It
The premise started out innocently enough. Scanning the Web on a bright August day in 2009, I stumbled upon a serious paper that modeled zombies as representative of certain kinds of pathogens. The paper soberly concluded: “An outbreak of zombies infecting humans is likely to be disastrous, unless extremely aggressive tactics are employed against the undead. … A zombie outbreak is likely to lead to the collapse of civilization, unless it is dealt with quickly.”
The paper was entertaining and informative—but it lacked a political analysis. It failed to take into account variations in national responses, not to mention the cross-border coordination problems that an army of the undead would create. So I spent a few hours thinking about how various international-relations theories would respond to a zombie attack, wrote up a blog post intended to make a few colleagues giggle, and moved on.
The response to the post dragged me back in. A brilliant discussion thread emerged, with inspired comments tackling paradigms I had overlooked. At the next professional meeting I attended, more than one colleague told me that my post would be useful for teaching students. The more feedback I received, the more I realized that the average undergraduate knows a lot more about zombies than about world politics. A straight explanation of abstruse theoretical paradigms can cause a student’s mind to wander. Explaining realism, liberalism, or constructivism by way of references to Dawn of the Dead or Shaun of the Dead is much easier.
I’m not the only political scientist to recognize this fact. Major academic presses have recently published books that use everything from the literary canon to The Godfather to explain foreign affairs. Peer-reviewed scholarship has been published on international relations and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and the Harry Potter books. Wizards, vampires, aliens, and hobbits had been covered, but I could legitimately identify a “zombie gap” in the literature.
My motivations were not strictly pedagogical. I have been in too many brain-rotting seminar debates about whether someone should be labeled a “defensive realist” or a “neoliberal institutionalist.” I’ve read the works of too many scholars who throw around quotes from Kenneth Waltz’s Theory of International Politics as party apparatchiks must have done with Mao’s Little Red Book. I love my field—but I worry about its descent into scholasticism for its own sake. Applying international-relations theory to a zombie-infested world was a way of affectionately but satirically tweaking the field’s strictures.
But first I had to educate myself about the zombie genre, about which I knew little. I’ve never been a fan of horror movies—indeed, truth be told, my only childhood memory of a horror film was watching 10 minutes ofPoltergeist and then not sleeping that night. But I delved into the zombie canon, from the obvious highlights (George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, Max Brooks’s World War Z), to more obscure fare (Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, one of the funniest and most disgusting films ever made).
Armed with a knowledge of the undead that extended beyond Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, I sat down to write—and quickly hit a brick wall. My prose was clunky and ham-handed, full of obvious, unfunny jokes. It turns out that it’s hard to write about the living dead without drowning in puns. I drew attention to “gnawing problems with the literature” and declared my intention to “get at the meat of the problem.” I could feel the decaying corpse of Milton Berle elbowing me in the ribs. I sought advice from my editor, Chuck Myers, who wisely explained that my tone needed to be as deadpan as possible. Only by writing in a serious manner could the absurdity of the premise be revealed. Now the words began to flow, although it was etymologically impossible to root out all of the puns.
On the way toward completing the book, I encountered a series of intellectual surprises. For starters, I realized that zombies are a great synecdoche for a constellation of emerging threats. Even though it is relatively easy to define a zombie, the genre diverges widely on the capabilities of the living dead. In some films, like, say, Planet Terror, zombies possess enough intelligence to act like bioterrorists. In others, zombies are more like mindless but intuitive disease vectors. In this way, the living dead are the perfect 21st-century threat: They are not well understood by serious analysts, they possess protean capabilities, and the challenge they pose is very grave. (See what I mean about the puns?)
I looked at the literature on “zombielike events,” calamities akin to an army of reanimated, ravenous corpses. This meant researching the sociology of panic, the political economy of natural disasters, and the ways in which past epidemics have affected world politics. I was new to this scholarship—jumping into it gave me the same thrill of discovery I felt as a grad student.
In predicting possible outcomes, I embraced Rudra Sil and Peter Katzenstein’s concept of analytic eclecticism, which draws from multiple theoretical approaches to attack a policy problem. The standard international-relations paradigms have their uses, but practitioners within them tend to develop conceptual blinders about causal mechanisms that do not conform to their own model’s internal logic.
Thinking through the implications of a zombie attack, I came away with a more optimistic take on humanity and a more pessimistic take on my field. While traditional zombie narratives tend to end in apocalypse, most of the theoretical approaches I surveyed suggested vigorous policy responses should we be attacked by the living dead. Realists would push for a live-and-let-live arrangement between the undead and everyone else. Liberals would call for an imperfect but useful global governing body to regulate the undead—a World Zombie Organization. Constructivists would call for a robust, pluralistic security community dedicated to preventing new zombie outbreaks and socializing existing zombies into human society. Bureaucracies would very likely err in their initial responses, but they’d adapt.
Predictions such as those suggest that maybe, just maybe, the zombie canon’s dominant equation of zombies + feckless humans = postapocalyptic wasteland is perhaps overstated. That said, even these “optimistic” outcomes would be unmitigated disasters from the perspective of human security. In a world where zombies concentrate in the weakest countries—stronger states are better equipped to fend off the threat—billions of human beings would face an additional menace on top of disease, poverty, and the erosion of the rule of law.
As I thought through these various scenarios, it became clear that the ability of standard international-relations paradigms to adequately analyze threats is eroding. Most theories are state-centric, but interstate conflict is on the wane. Consider again the list of real-world threats above; almost none of them emanate from states. Neither terrorists nor hackers possess large swaths of territory, making retaliation difficult. Natural disasters like earthquakes or volcanoes do not possess “agency” as we understand the concept. Neither do diseases or melting glaciers.
The international-relations profession has always started with the state—and governments will continue to play a vital role in world politics. But the field has been slow to adapt to the plethora of asymmetric threats that we now face. Unless that changes, international-relations scholars will be hard-pressed to offer cogent policy responses to emerging threats, much less the living dead.
Combining satire and scholarship is a risky enterprise. I have no doubt that many readers will conclude that I failed miserably. On the other hand, if the book gets people who wouldn’t ordinarily care about world politics to laugh, and then think, then the royalties—I mean, the intellectual benefits—will vastly exceed the costs.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. His latest book, Theories of International Politics and Zombies, has just been published by Princeton University Press. Originally published as “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Zombies” in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“Take everything that’s bright and beautiful in you and introduce it to the shadow side of yourself… When you are able to say, ‘I am … my shadow as well as my light,’ the shadow’s power is put in service of the good.” -Parker Palmer
In 1974, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher and Oxford alumnus Chögyam Trungpa founded Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado — a most unusual and emboldening not-for-profit educational institution named after the eleventh-century Indian Buddhist sage Naropa and intended as a 100-year experiment of combining the best methodologies of Western scholarship with the most timeless tenets of Eastern wisdom, fusing academic and experiential learning with contemplative practice. Under the auspices of its Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, founded by Allen Ginsberg, the university hosted a number of lectures and readings by such luminaries as John Cage, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac himself, for all of whom Buddhism was a major influence.
In 2015, Naropa University awarded its first-ever honorary degree of Doctor of Contemplative Education to author, educator, and Center for Courage & Renewalfounder Parker Palmer — one of the most luminous and hope-giving minds of our time, whose beautiful writings on inner wholeness and the art of letting your soul speak spring from a spirit of embodied poetics. In May of 2015, he took the podium before the university’s graduating class and delivered one ofthe greatest commencement addresses of all time — a beam of shimmering wisdom illuminating the six pillars of a meaningful human existence, experience-tested and honestly earned in the course of a long life fully lived.
Be reckless when it comes to affairs of the heart.
What I really mean … is be passionate, fall madly in love with life. Be passionate about some part of the natural and/or human worlds and take risks on its behalf, no matter how vulnerable they make you. No one ever died saying, “I’m sure glad for the self-centered, self-serving and self-protective life I lived.”
Offer yourself to the world — your energies, your gifts, your visions, your heart — with open-hearted generosity. But understand that when you live that way you will soon learn how little you know and how easy it is to fail.
To grow in love and service, you — I, all of us — must value ignorance as much as knowledge and failure as much as success… Clinging to what you already know and do well is the path to an unlived life. So, cultivate beginner’s mind, walk straight into your not-knowing, and take the risk of failing and falling again and again, then getting up again and again to learn — that’s the path to a life lived large, in service of love, truth, and justice.
I had lived thirty good years before enduring my first food poisoning — odds quite fortunate in the grand scheme of things, but miserably unfortunate in the immediate experience of it. I found myself completely incapacitated to erect the pillars of my daily life — too cognitively foggy to read and write, too physically weak to work out or even meditate. The temporary disability soon elevated the assault on my mind and body to a new height of anguish: an intense experience of stress. Even as I consoled myself with Nabokov’s exceptionally florid account of food poisoning, I couldn’t shake the overwhelming malaise that had engulfed me — somehow, a physical illness had completely colored my psychoemotional reality.
This experience, of course, is far from uncommon. Long before scientists began shedding light on how our minds and bodies actually affect one another, an intuitive understanding of this dialogue between the body and the emotions, or feelings, emerged and permeated our very language: We use “feeling sick” as a grab-bag term for both the sensory symptoms — fever, fatigue, nausea — and the psychological malaise, woven of emotions like sadness and apathy.
Pre-modern medicine, in fact, has recognized this link between disease and emotion for millennia. Ancient Greek, Roman, and Indian Ayurvedic physicians all enlisted the theory of the four humors — blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm — in their healing practices, believing that imbalances in these four visible secretions of the body caused disease and were themselves often caused by the emotions. These beliefs are fossilized in our present language —melancholy comes from the Latin words for “black” (melan) and “bitter bile” (choler), and we think of a melancholic person as gloomy or embittered; a phlegmatic person is languid and impassive, for phlegm makes one lethargic.
And then French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes came along in the seventeenth century, taking it upon himself to eradicate the superstitions that fueled the religious wars of the era by planting the seed of rationalism. But the very tenets that laid the foundation of modern science — the idea that truth comes only from what can be visibly ascertained and proven beyond doubt — severed this link between the physical body and the emotions; those mysterious and fleeting forces, the biological basis of which the tools of modern neuroscience are only just beginning to understand, seemed to exist entirely outside the realm of what could be examined with the tools of rationalism.
For nearly three centuries, the idea that our emotions could impact our physical health remained scientific taboo — setting out to fight one type of dogma, Descartes had inadvertently created another, which we’re only just beginning to shake off…
In a truly post-Christian America, Christians find themselves ostracized, misunderstood, marginalized, and often the victims of seemingly unmerited and scathing accusations. It seems in today’s world, Christians are known more for what we’re against than what we’re for.But, the truth is Christians are some of the most giving people on the planet, committed to their families, churches, and communities. It’s true we’re far from perfect, but if most Christians are decentindividuals who strive to love and serve others, what went wrong?Phil Cooke is on a mission to show Christians how to fix our “branding” problem in America.
Phil Cooke is a writer, television producer, and media consultant based in Burbank, California, as well as a critic of some aspects of contemporary American and American-influenced Christian culture. He is a fundamentalist Christian and, as Scott McClellan of Collide Magazine wrote, “At times, Cooke may appear to be Christian media’s biggest critic but, as he is quick to point out, he criticizes because he loves.”
He is a long-time producer of nationally known religious and inspirational programming, and has worked for such clients as Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, The Salvation Army, Mercy Ships, The American Bible Society, and the YouVersion Bible App. Cooke produced Billy Graham’s most-seen program, “Starting Over,” which reached around 1.5 billion people in 200 countries in one day. Joel Osteen said, “Phil Cooke is one of the greatest communicators of our generation.”
During this teleseminar training call, you’ll discover:
What branding is, and what it isn’t
What happened to Christianity from a P.R. perspective
What branding and religion have in common
How to handle public opinion on the gay marriage issue
Why public perception is often received as reality and what to do about it
What Christians can do to help fix the branding (or perception) of Christianity in culture
To join Phil for this FREE webinar, register here.
“When power corrupts, poetry cleanses,” John F. Kennedy proclaimed in his touching tribute to Robert Frost, celebrating poetry as “the means of saving power from itself.” And although poetry itself exerts a singular power over the human spirit, as one of the greatest poets of all time observed, it is hardly a power that comes easily to the poet: “Writing poetry is an unnatural act,” Elizabeth Bishop wrote when she was only twenty-three. So how, then, does one come to master this unnatural power — how does one become a Poet?
In this recording from the consistently transcendent On Being, Berry brings his beautifully aged voice to the poem — which is in many ways not only about how to be a poet, but also about how to be an artist of any kind. With its insistence on the vitalizing power of silence and stillness and self-refinement, it is perhaps, above all, about how to be a complete human being.
Maria Popova is a reader, writer, interestingness hunter-gatherer, and curious mind at large, who writes for WiredUK, The Atlantic,The New York Times, and Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, among others. She is also an am an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.
That’s what the wise and wonderful Neil Gaiman explores in a fantastic lecture two and a half years in the making, part of the Long Now Foundation’s nourishing and necessary seminars on long-term thinking.
Nearly half a century after French molecular biologist Jacques Monod proposed what he called the “abstract kingdom” — a conceptual parallel to the biosphere, populated by ideas that propagate like organisms do in the natural world — and after Richard Dawkins built upon this concept to coin the word “meme,” Gaiman suggests stories are a life-form obeying the same rules of genesis, reproduction, and propagation that organic matter does.
Please enjoy, with transcribed highlights below.
Considering the scientific definition of life as a process that “includes the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death,” Gaiman argues that stories are alive — that they can, and do, outlive even the world’s oldest living trees by millennia:
Do stories grow? Pretty obviously — anybody who has ever heard a joke being passed on from one person to another knows that they can grow, they can change. Can stories reproduce? Well, yes. Not spontaneously, obviously — they tend to need people as vectors. We are the media in which they reproduce; we are their petri dishes… Stories grow, sometimes they shrink. And they reproduce — they inspire other stories. And, of course, if they do not change, stories die.
On story being the original and deepest creative act:
Pictures, I think, may have been a way of transmitting stories. The drawings on cave walls that we assume are acts of worship or of sympathetic magic, intended to bring hunters luck and good kills. I keep wondering if, actually, they’re just ways of telling stories: “We came over that bridge and we saw a herd of wooly bisons.” And I wonder that because people tell stories — it’s an enormous part of what makes us human.
We will do an awful lot for stories — we will endure an awful lot for stories. And stories, in their turn — like some kind of symbiote — help us endure and make sense of our lives.
A lot of stories do appear to begin as intrinsic to religions and belief systems — a lot of the ones we have have gods or goddesses in them; they teach us how the world exists; they teach us the rules of living in the world. But they also have to come in an attractive enough package that we take pleasure from them and we want to help them propagate.
Gaiman illustrates this with the most breath-stopping testament to what we endure for stories as they in turn help us endure, by way of his 97-year-old cousin Helen, a Polish Holocaust survivor…
Maria Popova is a reader, writer, interestingness hunter-gatherer, and curious mind at large, who writes for WiredUK, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, among others. She is also an am an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.
Core motivations are the things you are uniquely and naturally motivated to do. These are the things that energize you, and that give you a sense of meaning and fulfillment because they express something central to your identity.
Some weeks are a blur. You go from one thing to the next. Last week was like that for me.
I’m sure you’ve been there. You work hard, and grind through the daily tasks. You’re productive. But something is missing inside. If you’re like me, lurking in the background is the question: “At the end of the day, week, month, and years, will it add up to something meaningful?”
Create Meaning in Your Work
We all want to do meaningful work—work that contributes to the well-being of others in a way that uniquely expresses and defines who we are.
The problem is we often expect meaningful work to be given to us—to come from outside ourselves. If only the boss would give me the right project. If only the right job would land in my lap. Even if you get a job or project that has a direct line of sight to meaningful outcomes, you can still approach it in a way that doesn’t create meaning.
In short, we often give away our responsibility to create meaning in our work.
Meaningful Leadership is a Work of Art
Meaningful work isn’t given to us. Meaningful work is a work of art. We create meaningful work day in and day out. Or, put differently, we infuse our work with meaning. It involves what you do and how you do it. If you take small steps each day toward creating meaning in your work, you will express and define who you are in the meaning you create.
If you have a formal leadership position, your job is to create meaning for your team and organization. Even if you don’t have a formal leadership position, you can still create meaning for your team through your contributions and the way you approach your work. There are two compelling reasons why you should do this.
Meaning contributes to the well-being of your co-workers and your team as a whole, which is intrinsically valuable.
Meaning has market value.
In their book, The Why of Work, Dave and Wendy Ulrich document the market value of meaningful work. Employees who find and create meaning in their work develop their competence more than those who don’t. They are more committed and productive. They stay longer and experience higher levels of job satisfaction. More engaged employees, in turn, leads to increased customer commitment.
Two Big Ideas to Help You Create Meaning at Work Today
Here are two tips to help you create meaningful work starting today…
Todd W. Hall, PhD is Professor of Psychology, Director of the Institute for Research on Psychology and Spirituality, and Editor of the Journal of Psychology and Theology, at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, in the Los Angeles area. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Biola University, and a doctoral specialization in measurement and psychometrics from UCLA. Using his expertise in clinical psychology, spirituality, leadership, and organizational development, Dr. Hall helps leaders and organizations maximize their potential and effectiveness.
Maria Popova is a Futures of Entertainment Fellow, a hunter-gatherer and curious mind at large. Her blog, Brain Pickings, is a “human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.” Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.
The collected works of Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century preacher and one of America’s most famous theologians, are now available for download thanks to Logos Bible Software. But for those who don’t want to cough up $1,289.95 to purchase them, there’s good news: The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale Divinity School lets you view them online for free.
“Edwards is widely recognized as one of the most important American thinkers and religious figures and as a major figure in the history of Christian thought,” said Kenneth Minkema, executive director of Yale’s Jonathan Edwards Center. “Publication of his works is important for providing resources for those, such as students, who wish to learn for the first time about his influences, thought and legacies.”
The release of Edwards’ work is more than a historical contribution. It comes at a moment of renewed interest in the preacher, especially among conservative evangelicals and “New Calvinists,” mostly evangelicals who are acolytes of Edwards’ brand of Calvinist theology.
According to Minkema, there are more than 4,000 books, articles, dissertations and other writings on Edwards, and they are increasing in frequency.
We live in a culture of dividedness and fragmentation of the self. When we contemplate what it takes to live a full life, we extol mindfulness and wholeheartedness. But being wholehearted is only sufficient if your heart is your whole self; being mindful is only sufficient if your mind is all you are. We are, of course, so much more expansive than our hearts and our minds and our perfect abs, or whatever fragment we choose to fixate on. But we compartmentalize our experience in this way, divide it into fragments, as if to divide and conquer it. I’ve written before about our resistance to speaking of the soul, of which those of us who uphold secular ideals of rationalism are especially culpable. And yet I find, over and over, that the fullest people – the people most whole and most alive – are those unafraid and unashamed of the soul.
The soul has had no greater champion in this age of fragments than Anne Lamott – a writer of exceptional lucidity and enchantment, with a rare way of becalming our modern anxieties and ancient anguishes, from grief and gratitude to the perils of perfectionism to how we keep ourselves small with people-pleasing. In Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair (public library), Lamott lays bare the deepest, most worn yet most resilient threads of the soul and laces out of the loose ends an extraordinary lattice of assurance and grace – assurance that there is hope for awakening in ourselves “a deeper sense of immediacy or spirit or playfulness” amid the slumber of ordinary life, and for those moments when we feel like all such hope is lost, the grace of trusting “that we do endure, and that out of the wreckage something surprising will rise.”