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It Could Be Worse: The False Gospel of Optimism (and Pessimism) - Carrie Willard

In this talk from our annual conference in New York City, Carrie Willard discusses the pitfalls of wearing rose-colored glasses when life gets hard. Topics include pleasantly surprised pessimists, the tyranny of positive thinking, Psalm 89, and Steel Magnolias. Has to be the most delightful talk out there about worst-case scenarios:

It Could Be Worse: The False Gospel of Optimism (and Pessimism) – Carrie Willard from Mockingbird on Vimeo.

An Ode to the Mockingbird Calling Outside My Window at 2AM

An Ode to the Mockingbird Calling Outside My Window at 2AM

This spring, for weeks at a time, a mockingbird has sat in a birch tree outside our bedroom window, calling out for hours on end in the middle of the night, well before dawn. Blaring his latest remix of car alarms, ring tones and other birds from the neighborhood, he relentlessly calls out into the […]

Stop Blaming the Devil: You Can Do Bad All By Yourself

Stop Blaming the Devil: You Can Do Bad All By Yourself

The first time I heard someone blame Satan I had just graduated from college. Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and my parish priest and I were standing in an elderly woman’s backyard helping her clean out a freezer. There were crawfish. She had not had power for weeks. It was August in Mississippi. You […]

He Was Number One (or, Why Not Everyone Gets A’s, According to Alfie Kohn)

He Was Number One (or, Why Not Everyone Gets A’s, According to Alfie Kohn)

Imagine a high school graduation. Family and friends proudly jostle for a view of their students turning tassels on stage. Imagine the students’ camaraderie, the collective sigh of relief: summer spans ahead, former identities fade. Outcasts, athletes, nerds all face the world, now wide with opportunity. Imagine, also, the salutatorian standing and speaking about her […]

None Without Faith (or a Strong Belief in the Reality of Evil)

None Without Faith (or a Strong Belief in the Reality of Evil)

The following comes from Chris Arnade’s book of photography “Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America,” pages 110-111, chapter 3: God Filled My Emptiness. Everyone I met [in the South Bronx] who was living homeless or battling an addiction held a deep faith. Street walking is stunningly dangerous work, and everyone has stories of being […]

Happy Father's Day: Try Not to Kill Dad

Happy Father's Day: Try Not to Kill Dad

Here we are, the week before Father’s Day, and I decided to make a shopping trip for my husband to my favorite local gift shop. It is the kind of place that I could walk into and find five pairs of earrings I can’t live without and a tray for my work desk that says, […]

If Jesus Were a Dietitian

If Jesus Were a Dietitian

“I was my sickest and loneliest when I appeared my healthiest.” How’s that for an admission? Yet it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Jessica Knoll’s recent op-ed for The NY Times, the provocatively titled “Smash the Wellness Industry.” She describes a somewhat harrowing relationship with food and body that sounds […]

Parenting Is Impossible

A little snippet from Nick Lannon’s incisive new book, Life Is Impossible: And That’s Good News:

I think I first became aware of the impossible in my life—at least aware enough that it kicked off a sort of mini existential crisis—when my wife and I were approaching the birth of our first child. I realized, as the date came closer and closer, that I was becoming more and more nervous and agitated. I’d never been a father before, and I wasn’t sure I could be a good one. In fact, I wasn’t sure what to do at all! The choices seemed endless: cloth diapers or disposable? Jarred food or blend-your-own? Breast milk or formula? Spanking or not? Harvard or Yale?

In all seriousness, though, the decision tree that spread out before me was tremendous—never-ending, actually—and it was stressing me out. It wasn’t until later that I realized what was actually going on. It turned out that I was subconsciously convinced—in a way that I never would have admitted consciously—that if I made all the right choices along that infinite parenting decision tree, that my child would grow up to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or the next Oprah Winfrey. You’ll say, of course, that such a thought is ridiculous…and of course you’re right. But we all think this way, all the time. Most of the stress in our lives comes from the fact that we’ve convinced ourselves—often only subconsciously—that the sum of our decision-making will determine how well things turn out for us. Who wouldn’t feel stressed? In that scheme, your happy future depends on every minute-by-minute choice that you make!

What finally gave me some peace, and the ability to approach the birth of our daughter with some mental stability, was the realization that making all the right decisions along the parenting decision tree was impossible. Not difficult, impossible. It wasn’t something that I could buckle down on, or something I could solve with parenting books or daddy blogs…there was no way to make my way through unscathed. No, I had to acknowledge from the very beginning that failure was my sure destination. “Success,” as I had subconsciously defined it, was impossible. Ironically and counterintuitively, it was in admitting failure that I found peace.

What (Not) to Do When There Is a War on Everything

What (Not) to Do When There Is a War on Everything

Of all the noble feelings which fill the human heart in the exciting tumult of battle, none, we must admit, are so powerful and constant as the soul’s thirst for honor and renown. – Carl von Clausewitz In addition to the trade war and the culture wars and the war on drugs, you may have […]

Notes on Beauty

Notes on Beauty

I am getting older. If you believe in science, which I do, then I guess we’re all getting older. The aging process for me has been underway for 35 years now, but I’ve only really become aware of it recently. My hands are starting to look like my mom’s. Things that were once firm and […]

Maine: The Way Life Should Have Been

Maine: The Way Life Should Have Been

As you cross over the Maine state line, a sign reads “Welcome to Maine: The Way Life Should Be.” It’s one of the better state mottos (not as good as “Nebraska: Honestly, it’s not for everyone,” but far better than the sad and desperate “West Virginia: Open for Business!”). Whenever I cross into Maine, a […]

The Writing on the Bag (Paper, Plastic, or Shame?)

The Writing on the Bag (Paper, Plastic, or Shame?)

This one comes to us from Blake Nail. The box of Cookie Crisp taunts you as you reach for the Grape Nuts and sigh. You travel over to aisle 9 where the peanut butter is and realize you should just grab some jelly while you’re at it. Make a stop in aisle 14 for the […]