You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2008.
Malcolm Gladwell just told me I should keep writing.
Well, not exactly.
In desperation a couple weeks ago, I realized that I was in need of wisdom. Could someone, anyone, of sound mind please explain, among other things, how we arrived at this place in political history, how Palin be could be happening to us, what all this says about us as a people? For a moment, I had the misguided idea that one could impose logic on the illogical.
Who better than Malcolm Gladwell to unravel a mystery, I decided? I pictured his characteristic thesis that, on the surface, would have an obvious answer. But as the mystery unfolded, unexpected answers would emerge. I did what any desperate person would do. I stalked him.
Well, not exactly. But I did go to the New Yorker website, where Gladwell is a regular contributor, in the hopes of finding that he’d expounded on this very subject. I imagined I might breathe a sigh of relief to know that, even if people shout racist epithets in public, Gladwell would have taken the edge off by presenting an idea that I could live with. The idea, mind you, not the racist epithets.
What I found was that he hadn’t written a column since May of this year. Then I want to his own website and looked at his blog, only to find that he hadn’t written a post since March of this year. A writer like Gladwell? I became worried.
So I emailed him. My email must have sounded like he should keep his finger on the pulse of my fears about society, and that he’d shirked his duty. A few days later, my heart skipped a beat when I checked email and found his name in the inbox.
For a nerd, this is a bit like not wanting to wash your cheek for a week because your crush just kissed it. I’ll admit that the reply was not, indeed, written by Gladwell himself, but by an assistant. Still, I like to believe that when she said Gladwell thanked me for my “kind email” and that he “really appreciates you taking the time to inquire about him,” that she was telling the truth. She told me that he has a new book coming out in mid November.
Ah. Makes sense. I could live with that.
Imagine my surprise then, when I logged on to the New Yorker today, and lo and behold, there was a new column from Gladwell, the first in four months. Better yet, the column, titled “Late Bloomers,” questions the notion that genius is equated with precocity. He builds a case for exhibiting genius late in life based on repeated effort, and not so much from luck being born a prodigy. Thank goodness for that.
Gladwell says at one point, “…sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after twenty years of working at your kitchen table.”
Given my nascent attempt at writing at the ripe age of 42, I decided I’d conjured Malcolm Gladwell at just the right time. I’ll pretend he was sending a secret message my way and that he just didn’t have time to email me personally.
My mother called shortly before the third and final presidential debate the other night. She had a lilt in her voice that told me she hadn’t likely been watching the Dow plummet again on CNN.
“What are you up to?” I asked.
“I just got back from tutoring.” She said, almost breathless.
“Palling around with terrorists again, huh Mom?” It took her a moment and then she laughed at the absurdity.
My mother, her sister and several other people have just about adopted an Iraqi family in Peoria, Illinois. That an Iraqi family has a safe haven in this small city in the heartland makes me feel like all is not so bad with the world.
This small army of do-gooders, with perhaps collective American guilt, have heaped on this family much assistance. A house to live in, help finding the father a job, donated clothing and household items and tutoring for the four children. When you see the insanity going on around the world, what we’ve done to Iraq, the current election negativity, it’s easy to feel helpless and ask yourself “what’s the point of it all?” I wouldn’t be surprised if helping this family does as much for the family as it does for my mother and her friends.
Recently, my mother told me about a shopping excursion to buy Noor, the 17-year old daughter, long skirts as part of her hajib. This was no easy task apparently. It must be hard to keep the faith what with changing hemlines. They didn’t have much luck that day. But later, my mother was on a solo shopping trip, remembered Noor’s size and hit the jackpot. I don’t doubt it. My mother taught us the art of dressing well on a budget. I’m glad she can transfer those skills to another set of kids, in addition to instruction on dangling participles and puzzling through math equations.
While my mother was there tutoring the other night, the Iraqi mother brought out a spread of wonderful food. Despite a dining room table, a cloth was spread on the floor and they all sat down to eat. The family insisted that my mother and her friend Norma stay. Plates of fried fish, couscous, lots of fresh vegetables graced the floor. This family of six, with uncertainty about their living situation and the father’s job, eats very well, my mother said. It didn’t surprise me. Many cultures have an enviable connection to food that we don’t have here in the U.S.
I think about this natural exchange of kindness and generosity in the heartland, of seemingly disparate lives coming together, mutually benefiting. And yet, two states over in the heartland of Ohio, there was another kind of coming together. Attendees at a Palin rally spoke of fearing that “blacks would take over America,” that “Obama hated whites,” that “a Negra was running for President,” that “Obama was related to a terrorist.”
As good a thing it is to exercise your duty and right to vote, election season is a mixed blessing. It is during this time that ugliness rears its head and you see a side of people you could have lived without knowing.
Despite our need for a change in attitude and direction in this country, no one can take away one’s spirit or desire to have an impact on their immediate world. Even if a breath of fresh air enters the White House, there’s been a collective tuning out our leaders, including the promising ones. Perhaps this leaves us with more freedom to do things we have real power to do.
In my haste to set up a blog, once I realized it didn’t involve the effort I thought it would, I wasn’t aware I’d be asked to create a blog name. It makes sense, of course. I got up to get another cup of coffee and asked myself “What is this about? What will be the common thread to my posts?”
I also asked myself “Who cares what I think? And does the world need another blog?”
The phrase “Life Lines” popped into my head. Hardly original, but I decided to practice a couple things that are increasingly important to me: following instincts and leaving well enough alone. A lover of word play and double meaning, I decided to stick with it.
Sadly, not a moment after the phrase popped into my head, I thought of Tina Fey’s rendition of Sarah Palin being interviewed by Katie Couric. Palin asked if she could use one of her life lines when she was unable to answer a question for herself.
And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say.
Incidentally, he and I share a birthday. I’ll do my best to channel him but don’t hold your breath.
These days everyone has something to say. Despite my increasing foray into writing sort-of fiction and personal essay, I lack habitual writing. The stories for my writing group are focused, where all effort is crammed into one time frame. The immediate and public realm of a blog might force me to write more regularly.
A blog, however, invites additional computer face time into a life that already has too much of it. It seems that with every new gadget or device that enters my life, I veer away in equal amounts to activities that are the antithesis of the electronic realm. This, of course, is called balance. But there are only so many hours in a day.
I see it as a challenge to question what I value, hone my writing skills and, perhaps most important, reduce the amount of time I am reading the Huffington Post for the latest election soundbite.