Here are two pieces of wonderful writing that I’ve encountered recently and would like to share with you. One is a five year old story that shows what sports journalism really could be if it could slip off it’s celebrity gossip shackles. The other is a just published opinion piece on Obama that summarizes my thoughts so eloquently that I have just read it three times in one sitting.
Gary Smith writes about the death of Max Kellerman’s brother Sam at the hands of a boxer they had both supported personally and professionally:
Max entered Price’s office in Hollywood to sign his two-year, $1.66 million deal with Fox. Sam came along to ink his first contract: a $4,600 deal to write 23 columns for foxsports.com, which Max had helped arrange. Price watched in astonishment: Everything was upside down. As Max hastily scribbled his signature in silence, Sam shouted, "Everybody stand back! I’m about to sign my contract! Wait a minute! Photograph!" Sam struck a bonus-baby signing pose, then swaggered out of the office. Max hurried to catch up to him and kiss him on the forehead, his eyes misting with so much pride in his brother’s achievement that Price, for the only time in his life, felt cheated to have been an only child.
The story is an emotionally wrenching narrative about what it means to be a family, the gifts and burdens that come with each person’s particular familial experience and what it means to see talent and possibility unfulfilled. I highly recommend it.
Drew Westen’s Op-Ed in Saturday’s New York Times addresses the transformation of Obama the candidate into Obama the president. In the tradition of the best opinion pieces, Westen states his case with a straightforward ease and obvious sincerity that serves to slip each sentence into the reader’s consciousness as if it were in fact an original thought from the reader himself. In short, he says what I have been thinking in much better terms than I have been thinking them and that has strengthened, enhanced and sharpened my views on the recent debt crisis and Obama’s entire presidency. The closing paragraph is especially moving:
But the arc of history does not bend toward justice through capitulation cast as compromise. It does not bend when 400 people control more of the wealth than 150 million of their fellow Americans. It does not bend when the average middle-class family has seen its income stagnate over the last 30 years while the richest 1 percent has seen its income rise astronomically. It does not bend when we cut the fixed incomes of our parents and grandparents so hedge fund managers can keep their 15 percent tax rates. It does not bend when only one side in negotiations between workers and their bosses is allowed representation. And it does not bend when, as political scientists have shown, it is not public opinion but the opinions of the wealthy that predict the votes of the Senate. The arc of history can bend only so far before it breaks.
I’ve always felt that instead of “Thinking Man”, humans should really be called “Storytelling Man”. Any suggestion that other animal’s do not think is laughable. The thing that separate us from our other animal brethren is that our sense of self allows us to perceive the events of our lives as part of a narrative. Our brain edits that roaring and chaotic stream of information that makes up reality into a more easily digestible movie with us as the leading man or woman.
We tell stories to ourselves and others as a way to share information rapidly and durably. It helps us to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others even long after our deaths. Our stories outlive us and they carry us towards the future. The also help us to make snap decisions in the here and now, especially when our choices aren’t necessarily palatable or without cost.
Unfortunately, that reliance on narrative to shape and process our world can also lead us to making irrational choices. Sometimes, the narrative stops being a tool and instead becomes the actual goal in itself. Sometimes, the narrative is twisted and distorted so severely by our baser emotions that it begins to lead us towards the edge of the cliff instead of away from it.
True leaders understand that in a deeply intuitive way. I wish we had one of those leaders in our country.
Anyway, I feel inspired. I think I’ll start writing on Monday.