A Facebook reminder told me this morning that I launched this website two years ago today. Funny, it feels like much longer ago. It has not lived up to my initial goal of creating an active space for dialogue and thought, I've been lazy about putting to paper my thoughts for quite some time now. That's not so much a confession as a statement of fact. While I have no clear plans for what this should be in the future, I'm comfortable with its existence as a time machine to thoughts and opinions of the last couple years. It seems fitting that we celebrate the end of 2015 in the same way we launched in 2013, with a list of things to read. Don't consider this the best things written in the past year or expect any sort of exhaustive collection or even a wholesale endorsement of the ideas or authors, these are simply the five things I've read that I haven't been able to leave behind. The phrases and perspectives that keeping coming back to me, the words I've valued in 2015.
Cheers to a new year. Cheers to always being pushed from comfort to something more.
"I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world."
The truth of the matter is that I could fill this list with things written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Over the last several years, no other writer has written words that have seared me like his. This book is essential. It is brutal and honest and hard to turn away from. It will not set you at ease, but that is it's greatest strength. I could stop my list here. I wish everyone would read this. Here's the first chapter, get started.
"Well, love is unconditional and incomprehensible. And I believe it is possible to love in absence of mutual respect."
I can't really explain exactly what moved me so much about this article. But it did, and still does. There's honesty and beauty in the midst of pain and growth. I don't know, just read it.
"Now tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for the young people of Baltimore to remain peaceful and "nonviolent." These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question."
I mentioned before that I could fill this list with things written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I meant it. This article was written as events in Baltimore escalated following the death of Freddie Gray. Coates provides context which serves to deconstruct the knee-jerk response of calls for peace and nonviolence as an echo of the "aggressor calling time-out" in the middle of a war. I don't know exactly where I land on the proper response, but Coates challenged my assumptions, and there's nothing more I can ask for from a writer. To draw me out of my comfort zone and make me see events and situations from all perspectives. (Want more Ta-Nehisi? Here or here are good places to start).
“Marc: Why are we so afraid of joy?
Judd: That’s the question. And I’ve thought about it a lot, and I think it’s because we think right behind joy is a knife that will cut our throat if we really feel it. It’s almost like a laugh—your chin goes up and your throat is exposed. If I laugh too loud, someone will slit my throat. That’s the terror of joy.”
This is a big divergence from everything else on this list, but it is far and away the most enjoyable thing I read this year. A collection of the interviews that Judd Apatow has conducted over the last several decades, this book is hilarious, poignant and meaningful. I keep coming back to it.
"I asked him if he could help me understand that better, and he described a letter from Tolkien in response to a priest who had questioned whether Tolkien's mythos was sufficiently doctrinaire, since it treated death not as a punishment for the sin of the fall but as a gift. “Tolkien says, in a letter back: ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” Colbert knocked his knuckles on the table. “ ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ ” he said again. His eyes were filled with tears. “So it would be ungrateful not to take everything with gratitude. It doesn't mean you want it. I can hold both of those ideas in my head...It's not the same thing as wanting it to have happened,” he said. “But you can't change everything about the world. You certainly can't change things that have already happened.”
Consider that this is coming from a man who millions of people will soon watch on their televisions every night—if only there were a way to measure the virality of this, which he'll never say on TV, I imagine, but which, as far as I can tell, he practices every waking minute of his life.
The next thing he said I wrote on a slip of paper in his office and have carried it around with me since. It's our choice, whether to hate something in our lives or to love every moment of them, even the parts that bring us pain. “At every moment, we are volunteers."
I found this exploration of Colbert's creative process and that of creating a late night television show super interesting. But it paled in comparison to how I felt about his thoughts about life and tragedy and joy. I have nothing but the greatest respect for him, and the phrase, "At every moment, we are volunteers" has not left me since I first read this article.