Thornton Wilder talked, in that Paris Review interview, about the difficulty of recreating the past: ‘It lies in the effort to employ the past tense in such a way that it does not rob those events of their character of having occurred in freedom.’ That’s the difficulty exactly—how do you write about something that happened long ago in a way so that it has the openness, the feeling of events happening in freedom? How to write solid history and, at the same time, give life to the past and see the world as it was to those vanished people, with an understanding of what they didn’t know. The problem with so much of history as it’s taught and written is that it’s so often presented as if it were all on a track—this followed that. In truth, nothing ever had to happen the way it happened. Nothing was preordained. There was always a degree of tension, of risk, and the question of what was going to happen next. The Brooklyn Bridge was built. You know that, it’s standing there today, but they didn’t know that at the start.
Every meeting I’ve ever had since I began full-time advocacy, I have brought with me a book of Seamus Heaney’s poems. I always think if you’re asking somebody for something it’s a good idea to give them something first. So I always gave them Seamus Heaney’s poems. This is from the pope to every president I have ever met. In this past week I gave Seamus’s book Electric Light to President Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia. She’s currently obsessed with the efforts to bring electricity to her people so she could not believe it.
Seamus has been with me on every journey I have taken, and there have been many times when a retreat into his words has kept me afloat. Most of our life in this kind of work is very concrete, full of facts, but we all have to seek redress from time to time in poetry. Seamus was where I went for that. He was the quietest storm that ever blew into town. As an activist, From the Republic of Conscience has been like a bible for me, something I return to and have returned to for as long as I can remember. Some of those phrases are like tattoos for me, worn very close to the heart.
You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect,’ is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes…When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care? Does any woman regard it as a sign of love in a man that he neither knows nor cares how she is looking? Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved…Of all powers he forgives most, but he condones least: he is pleased with little, but demands all.
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing … is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough … Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths … Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you in your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is … they’re unconscious.
Will [New York City] remain an incubator of greatness, or become a catchment basin for the already great and their regressing-to-the-mean descendants? Will it continue to be the city to which people think to flee when they’ve boxed up their things in Kansas or Chengdu, tired of their narrow reality? Will it be a place where people can bend their fate?…That role, and that idea, had something to do with the words inscribed on a plaque at the foot of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.” The lines were about foreign immigration, but they spoke equally to migrants from other American places, who arrived simply with the longing to become some unexpressed incarnation of themselves. As E.B. White memorably wrote, “Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion.” That settler might be “a farmer arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart.
Jane Friedman: Everything I Learned About Leadership From Managing a 20-Person Team at a Midsize Publisher in the Midwest
One of my friends was recently promoted at her job. She asked me for advice on how to be a good leader for her team. Here’s what I wrote her.
1. Listen more than you speak. If you’re not asking many questions, you’re probably making too many assumptions.
1.5. Always confirm and restate…