On Friendship

I’ve been trying for ages to write about a friend from many years and cities and jobs ago, and the questions that have always trailed out from his story are, What do we owe our friends and family? What do we owe to the people we love? What kind of difference can we make in…

Just Because it Works Doesn’t Mean It’s True

It’s always refreshing to hear a religious person, who is trying to convince you of the truth of their faith, suddenly realize the actually wonderful mystery of faith: they can’t actually prove it. And so instead they end up saying something like, “I can’t prove it, but it clearly works.” This is what they say…

Consider the Lilies That We Aren’t

Over the past few years it’s been easy enough for me to notice how eager and energetic infants and toddlers are to know just about everything. What they don’t seek out themselves by clumsy curiosity, they are given and eventually take up in their own way, with guidance. At the same time, it’s been all…

How Best to Teach?

While I’m the only member of my family who isn’t a teacher, what it means to teach others has always been on my mind. And so, comments from recent posts make me ask questions like these: If we believe that something like rock music is clearly lesser than classical music; or that the likes of…

Crying Wolf?

Picking up some pizza at a favorite place the other week, it was hard not to notice that right by the counter a new TV had been installed. Hanging just where anyone entering or leaving the restaurant would see it, the screen toggled between stock photos of Italy and Italian food, and ads for local…

Alone (Fiction)

A few people have asked for the full story excerpted in this post. Not sure if this is anyone else’s experience of high school anxiety, but here’s one attempt to replicate it: Alone Freshman year, this kid I played baseball with in the summers, he bets me who’ll win a football game on Sunday, says…

Do We Just Like What We Like?

The other day I happened across one of those huge So and So’s Guide to Classical Music, and for the hell of it I paged around to the only modern composers I really know (Philip Glass, Henryk Gorecki, Arvo Pärt, and John Tavener), and they were all pretty much panned as fads. Ages ago when…

Everything Means Everything

Last year a good friend of mine, a great artist of immense intelligence and humanity, nevertheless wrote to me about the birth of his child: “I’d been in search of meaning my whole life, and there it was.” Surely this was the usual thing we hear after a child is born, but for him it…

Can We Talk About the Limitations of Identity for Half a Second?

1. Like many of us, as a lonely and vaguely unhappy teenager I justified a natural tendency towards silence and social awkwardness with the thought, Why would I want to talk to Those People anyway? Those People, of course, were comprised of nearly everybody but me, all of them slotted off into easy categories I…

Empathy & Ultraviolence

For all of my talk about people being seduced by culture and violence, it’s worth saying that I’ve fallen under the spell many times. From late gradeschool on, when I first discovered writing, oftentimes I tried to sum up my sense of loneliness, and later actual depression, by writing fictional accounts of school shooters. One…

To Criticize the Critic

What use does criticism serve, if any? I’m thinking here of the reviews of books, movies, or music, whether the smallest notices in newspapers on up to book-length studies. Do some of us genuinely enjoy a good suggestion? Have we found a handful of voices that we trust, that feel like a friend, and so…

Civilization Does Not Civilize

There is a remarkable moment in an interview with the writer George Steiner. That familiar question about the Nazis comes up, of how someone who listened to Bach and Beethoven by day could put people in gas chambers by night: Steiner: “[there are those who are] certain that the cultivation of the sensibility of beauty,…