In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.
In two straight lines, they broke their bread,
and brushed their teeth, and went to bed.
They smiled at the good, and frowned at the bad,
and sometimes they were very sad.
Last week's horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut have been swirling in my mind and heart. I don't think any of us know how to process such a tragedy. Everything seems trivial in the face of such overwhelming sorrow.
For some reason, my mind keeps drifting to Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, one of my favorite children's books. It's the wonderful tale of a school for young girls, including the plucky Madeline and her teacher and protector, Miss Clavel. It's Miss Clavel's keen ability to sense trouble that I return to again and again.
In the middle of the night, Miss Clavel turned on her light.
And she said, "Something is not right.”
Something is not right. We know that now. We likely knew it before, but we were able to lose ourselves in the day-to-day, rushing to the next place and next thing, and not face it.
There are so many stories of Miss Clavel in Newtown, Connecticut; protectors who fought and shielded, comforted and quieted. This New York Times story is unbelievably gripping. There's a line in that piece about the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School that I will never forget: "...it was hard to run with their eyes closed."
We know, little ones. We know because we've been doing it for a long time.
I can't offer a solution. I only know that things will get better through thousands of small decisions by every one of us, and maybe a few big ones, too. For the children in our midst, and their protectors, let's stop running, and open our eyes.
The Times has listed ways we can help.
We continue on with heavy hearts, and prayers for the many who are hurting.
Last week's dispatch asked, What book or article did you read this year that you wish everyone could read?
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Reading this reminded me why I love books so much. It's an exhilarating adventure, a wonderful homage to physical books, and a reminder that technology isn't all bad. The characters are compelling, the pacing is perfect, and the language is lovely. Sometimes, you just need to sit down with a rollicking story, stop taking yourself too seriously, and just enjoy the moment. This is the perfect book to meet that need. Simply wonderful.
Embassytown by China Mieville is wonderfully crafted, anthropological sci-fi that explores what it would be like to live alongside a truly alien intelligence for generations. It's an adventure, and a reflection on how language shapes society - and reality. The best book I've read in years.
Without a doubt my reading suggestions would be Quiet by Susan Caine, The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni, and The Shape of Design by Frank Chimero. Of all of those, I recommend Quiet the most. It's literally one that I wish everyone who was an introvert (like me) could read to better understand themselves, and everyone who is an extrovert would better understand their colleagues, friends, spouse, etc. by reading it.
The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander...it's the most worthwhile personal/professional development book that I've read this year. Always remember Rule #6! :)
In Nanjing Requiem, Ha Jin tells the story of unlikely heroes, families torn apart, and the guilt and turmoil of people who could do more, but didn't, during the Japanese occupation of Nanjing in 1937. It's a book without a happy ending; it's a book that reflects humanity.
I travel very light, so there's really only space for one good book. And this book has to serve different purposes. It should be easy to digest when I want an entertaining read, yet deep and meaningful when I need advice. A book I can draw inspiration from, a book that leaves room for me to make it my own. This book for me is Letters from a Stoic by Seneca. It’s age old wisdom packaged into manageable chunks without biased religious undertone. It's a book that’s universal in its applicability. (If you're new to Stoicism, I highly recommend A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine as a starter.)
For the book/article recommendation, I'd like to be a rebel and recommend this video of a dance/theatre performance by the legendary Pina Bausch. It is rare to find a fully tapped copy of her work on the internet. This piece is called Kontakhof and the video features ladies and gentlemen over 65 however Pina has staged this piece with teenagers as well.
This article about the afterlife of cheap clothes changed my behavior and my perspective. I had always delighted in the big stacks of clothes I gave away or donated - generosity and clean closets all at once. I never thought about what really happened to those clothes afterward or why I had so many to give away in the first place. I still succumb now and then to a quick fix of fashion fun ($10 skirt!), but this piece was a turning point in reconsidering and slowly shifting my consumption habits.
If I can expand “book or article” to “talk or presentation”, my answer is obvious: Bret Victor’s Inventing on Principle. I watched this talk earlier this year and it altered, fundamentally, my view of the world. I can’t say that for many things.
The book that has had a serious impact on me this year is Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. It delves into the concepts of vulnerability and shame. It gets at the heart of why vulnerability gets a bad rap, and why it's not only beneficial but necessary. I find myself thinking and talking about it every week.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides engages the last great realm of the novel, the plot that ends in marriage, but puts a post-feminst spin on it, to actually engage what it was like for me to be a college student and now a 20something. Love and relationships have changed dramatically and this is a rich work of fiction that envelops you in all the joyous torment and exquisite pain of being in love. My second choice is Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. Gilbert lays the foundation to ask the basic and yet complicated question, "what is happiness?" I read books like this to hack my own brain to be happier, more successful, more effective, and more loving.
I didn't realize how difficult this question is until I tried to answer it. I'll mention this interview with Ray Bradbury once more, but my singular choice is The Joy of Quiet, an essay by Pico Iyer. It was published last December and has played a big part in how I've thought about Uncommon ever since. "The only way to do justice to our onscreen lives is by summoning exactly the emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen."
News and such
There will not be a dispatch on Christmas Day. For the first time since the dispatch debuted on July 3, we're taking a holiday. We'll return the week after to help welcome in the new year. We can't wait to share 2013 with you.
If you could wake up anywhere in the world on January 1, where would it be?