We were having dinner and I was trying to think up ideas for a Keep Going book trailer and I thought, “Why not just have Owen letter it?” (He’s six.) I asked him and he said sure and we shot it right there at the kitchen table and I edited it on my laptop in the bathroom while he took a tub. (I’m not sure if it’s going to be the book trailer, but it’s a book trailer!)
She wrote it, she said, after reading a story in the newspaper about a drowned man whose friends thought he was just waving. (I’m thinking of John Lennon’s “A Day in the Life,” now, and wondering just how many pieces of art have come from the newspaper. In Gimme Danger, Iggy Pop makes fun of Andy Warhol for suggesting to him, “Why don’t you… just sing what it says in the newspaper?”)
“A lot of people pretend, out of bravery, really, that they are very jolly and ordinary sorts of chaps, but really they do not feel at all at home in the world or able to make friends easily,” Smith explained. “Sometimes the brave pretense breaks down…”
It’s impossible after hearing the poem not to look around at the world and wonder who is waving and who is drowning.
Here is a longer video interview in which she recites the poem and also sings:
— BBC Archive (@BBCArchive) September 20, 2018
Love this piece by Bob and Roberta Smith. “HBs are for architects” is the pencil trash talk I didn’t know I needed. (My wife has a master’s degree in architecture.)
In The Believer, writer Kashana Cauley examines the origins of the term “woke”:
The Oxford English Dictionary credits William Melvin Kelley with the first printed, political use of woke, in a 1962 New York Times article titled “If You’re Woke You Dig It,” about white cooption of black language. But twenty years earlier, in a 1942 edition of Negro Digest, J. Saunders Redding used the term in an article about labor unions. A black, unionized mine worker told him: “Waking up is a damn sight harder than going to sleep, but we’ll stay woke up longer.” Barry Beckham’s 1972 play Garvey Lives! is often cited as another early example of the word’s political meaning. A character exclaims, in reference to Marcus Garvey, “I been sleeping all my life. And now that Mr. Garvey done woke me up, I’m gon stay woke. And I’m gon help him wake up other black folk.” This is the version of woke that I grew up with: a call to study and act against anti-black oppression.
(Sidenote: Kathryn Schulz wrote a really interesting piece in the New Yorker about what happened to William Melvin Kelley, noting that he published his debut novel, A Different Drummer, a few weeks after the “woke” op-ed, at the age of 24. He and his wife moved around, from Paris to Jamaica, converted to Judaism, homeschooled their kids, and eventually moved back to the US to settle in Harlem. He was 32 when his last published book was released. “He wrote constantly for the next forty-seven years, never published another book, and died a year ago, at the age of seventy-nine.”)
“Stay woke” sort of hit the wider pop consciousness in 2008 with Erykah Badu’s “Master Teacher Melody” (Listen closely: Is the refrain, “I stay woke” or “I’d stay woke”?):
You can also hear it in Childish Gambino’s 2016 track, “Redbone”:
“Stay Woke” became the rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement and then hit the mainstream, with (white) people like Jill Stein and, dear lord, Jack Dorsey, using it, causing many to say, “It’s Time To Put ‘Woke’ To Sleep”:
A word meant to imply a constant state of striving, course-correcting and growth has been heard now, for almost a decade, as a static and performative state of being.
In this recent interview with Erykah Badu (who I love, btw), titled, “Erykah Badu Helped Define ‘Wokeness.’ Now She’s a Target,” she talks about her sense of the phrase:
[W]hen we say that it means we just pay attention to what’s going on around us, and are not easily swayed by the media, or by the angry mob, or by the group. You know: Stay focused, pay attention…. Stay woke just means pay attention to everything, don’t lean on your own understanding or anyone else’s, observe, evolve, eliminate things that no longer evolve. That’s what it means. Stay conscious, stay awake. It doesn’t mean judge others. It doesn’t mean gang up on somebody who you feel is not woke. That’s not evolved.
“You don’t need an app, you need someone gently to tell you that you should consider the possibility that writing is not just about writing, it’s also (and maybe mainly) about the space in between the writing, when nothing seems to be happening, or random stuff is having an incoherent party inside your head.”
— Jenny Diski
In Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos, he writes, “Exhilaration comes from naming the unnamable and hearing it named.” I was exhilarated as a reader at the point of the book when he explains a phenomenon I’d thought about, but never had a name for: “reentry.” (Actually, I had used that word before, but only when talking about being on the road and then coming back home to family life — never for the making and consuming of art itself.)
[W]hat is not generally recognized is that the successful launch of self into orbit of transcendence is necessarily attended by problems of reentry. What goes up must come down. The best film of the year ends at nine o’clock. What to do at ten? What did Faulkner do after writing the last sentence of Light in August? Get drunk for a week. What did Dostoevsky do after finishing The Idiot? Spend three days and nights at the roulette table. What does the reader do after finishing either book? How long does his exaltation last?
Percy points out that “the most spectacular problems of reentry seem to be experienced by artists and writers.” Percy then lists a bunch of reentry options, such as anesthesia (drugs), travel, sex, suicide, etc. (One needs to remember that the whole book is both brilliant and tongue-in-cheek, which can be hard, especially for American readers. “People in America are so binary,” said Ian Svenonius, whose books I love and also keep you wondering is-he-serious-or-joking? “They think that if something’s funny that it’s not serious. If you can manage to be funny, that doesn’t mean that things don’t mean anything.”)
One of the reasons I’m such a huge fan of a daily routine and the Groundhog Day approach to working is that it attempts to minimize these exact problems of re-entry that Percy outlines. By scheduling little doses of daily transcendence in which you work on your art, you can pop in and out of your everyday life without becoming a horrible parent or drug addict or total maniac. (Many argue that that’s just the price of Great Art, but I’ve never never bought it.)
It rarely happens, but everyone once in a while I make something that absolutely, positively, 100% sums up everything I’m feeling at the moment.
Then I post it on Instagram and take a nap.
Here is a beautiful passage about walking from Elizabeth McCracken’s Bowlaway:
In the mornings he would walk…. At the start of a walk, alone or moving, the sun at his back or cold rain down his collar, he was more himself than under any other circumstance, until he had walked so far he was not himself, not a self, but joined to the world. Invisibly joined. Had a religion been founded on this, purely this, he would have converted….. Proof of God? Proof was in the world, and the way you visited the world was on foot…. Your walking was a devotion.
Filed under: walking
“Your kids… They don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
“Attitudes are caught, not taught.”
Fiona Apple once admitted that she doesn’t want kids, but she spends a lot of time buying and reading parenting books. The interviewer said, “So you’re the parent and the child.” Apple replied, “Well, I mean, you always have to be.”
Every time I read a piece like Pamela Paul’s “Let Children Get Bored Again,” I want to cross out the word “children” and write “us.”
The problem with parenting tips is that the best way to help your children become the kind of person you want them to be is by surrounding them with the kinds of people you want them to be. This includes you.
You can’t tell kids anything. Kids want to be like adults. They want to do what the adults are doing. You have to let them see adults behaving like the whole, human beings you’d like them to be.
If we want to raise whole human beings, we have to become whole human beings ourselves.
This is the really, really hard work.
Want your kids to read more? Let them see you reading every day.
Want your kids to practice an instrument? Let them see you practicing an instrument.
Want your kids to spend more time outside? Let them see you without your phone.
There’s no guarantee that your kids will copy your modeling, but they’ll get a glimpse of an engaged human. As my twitter pal, Lori Pickert, author of Project-Based Homeschooling, tweeted a few years ago:
parents keep trying to push their kids toward certain interests when it works so much better to just dig into those interests yourself
oh, wait .. those aren’t YOUR interests? so you don’t want to dig into them? they aren’t your child’s interests either; why would THEY?
joyfully dig into your own interests and share all the ensuing wins, frustrations, struggles, successes
let your kids love what they love
when you share your learning and doing, you don’t make them also love (whatever); you DO show them how great it is to do meaningful work
If you spend more time in your life doing the things that you love and that you feel are worthwhile, the kids in your life will get hip to what that looks like.
“If adults can show what they love in front of kids, there’ll be some child who says, ‘I’d like to be like that!’ or ‘I’d like to do that!’” said Fred Rogers. He told a story about a sculptor in a nursery school he was working in when he was getting his master’s degree in child development:
There was a man who would come every week to sculpt in front of the kids. The director said, “I don’t want you to teach sculpting, I want you to do what you do and love it in front of the children.” During that year, clay was never used more imaginatively, before or after…. A great gift of any adult to a child, it seems to me, is to love what you do in front of the child. I mean, if you love to bicycle, if you love to repair things, do that in front of the children. Let them catch the attitude that that’s fun. Because you know, attitudes are caught, not taught.”