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On the Seculosity of Fandom, or How I Almost Got Beaten Up at a Guns N Roses Show

If you don’t move, I’ll f&%*-ing make you move, he said. I was standing in a stadium, watching the reunited Guns N Roses perform. A dream I’d harbored for actual decades, finally realized. Our seats were decent but a few rows up a large-ish party hadn’t shown, so me and my friend did what serious […]

The Evil Person I Become on a Bike

This one was written by Sarah Hinlicky Wilson. Yes, that’s me: mild-mannered theologian by foot, hate-spewing demon by bike. Note that when I say “bike,” I don’t mean a souped-up chopper bearing a Hell’s Angel in well-worn leather and a half-drunk can of Schlitz. I mean a dorky, human-powered eight-speed that I can’t even make […]

A God’s-Eye View (In the Grip of the Talons): Big Fish, Small Ponds, and the Fisher of Men

Every bus, trolley, and fire truck in my town has a proud slogan blazoned on its doors: “Charlottesville: A World Class City!” No doubt, what is meant to bring a sense of pride to our 40,000 residents is pretty cute to those who live in any actual city. The claim isn’t totally unwarranted: there’s a […]

A Bar Too High and Too Heavy

I may seem like nothing but an already crotchety almost-thirty-something who has resigned himself to the “armchair analysis” stage of athletic participation. And while that holds more than a modicum of truth (a ruptured ACL and chronic back problems will do that), I also contend that the advent of fitness culture is, indeed, religious, and […]

Thou Shalt Think Like a Proton

A follow-up to our recent discussion on The Mockingcast of the (non-)virtue of niceness, a couple paragraphs from Mariana Alessandri’s fabulous essay “Cheerfulness Cannot Be Compulsory, Whatever the T-Shirts Say” that appeared on Aeon recently:

If you have to tell someone to be cheerful, they aren’t feeling it. Cheerfulness spontaneously felt and freely given is brilliant, but it is no more virtuous than acting courageously when one isn’t scared…

Cheerfulness conceived as a virtue – à la Boy Scout Law – instead of a spontaneous feeling is a pretense. It’s not an action but it is an act. Whistling while you work might be worth defending, but forcing yourself to smile when you don’t feel like it amounts to lying to the people around you. ‘Fake it till you make it’ has brutal consequences when applied to the emotions. When conceived as the attempt to trick others into thinking that you feel cheery, cheerfulness is far from a virtue. It’s a vice. It falls on the deficiency end of the spectrum of trust. Too much trust is called naïveté, and is a vice of excess. But cheerfulness is just as bad. It confesses: I don’t trust you with my darkest feelings; I don’t think you are responsible enough to handle my inner life. Forced cheerfulness is a denial of life. All experiences taste different, and if we force a smile through the sour ones, we are not living honestly. We might want to lock out certain people from our fragile hearts, but cheerfulness is an equal-opportunity vice; it keeps even my loved ones out of reach. Whoever gets our cheery selves does not get our true selves.

Cheerfulness also unwittingly cancels out the Christian virtue of faith. It says: you can’t handle the expression of my feelings, and I deny you the chance to prove me right. Since it is built on the certainty that others will disappoint, cheerfulness lacks faith. It denies possibility. In real life, others probably will disappoint us. If we show them what we are really feeling, they will probably screw it up. But given the emphasis on cheerfulness in the US, as etched into Boy Scout Law, it’s no wonder that they screw it up. Still, a botched attempt at compassion is better than being denied the chance to fail. Here’s an anti-cheerful but virtuous attitude: expect others to fail but give them the chance. Also, recognize when someone is giving you a chance to fail them. Vulnerability is a risk and a gift.

I’m reminded of the extremely sad irony of who co-starred in the video for Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy”… ht RT:

Pastor to the Stars: A Letter to Adele

Dearest Adele, Thank you so much for the care package I received today. My nephew has just set me up with a new “boombox” I believe they call it, so I’m all set to listen to that “25” CD (he had to explain to me that your album titles correspond to your various ages at […]

Soraya Roberts Is Redefining Success

For Longreads, writer Soraya Roberts recently wrote a scintillating takedown of modern notions of success in her essay, “The Myth of Making It.” The central theme is the never-ending pursuit of “enoughness,” plus the suggestion that this nagging sense can never be appeased externally. Other topics include “comparing up,” the Skater of the Year Award, […]

From The New Yorker

Singing Along with Annie Lennox on Bad Days

This one comes to us from Bo White. A few months ago, The New York Times covered an art exhibition put together by Annie Lennox. I was immediately intrigued because the piece dealt with death but was still being touted as life-giving. In the installation, Lennox buried some personal artifacts beneath a mound of dirt, to […]

There’s No Failure Like Success (in the Meritocracy of Performancism)

Every summer our family faces a conundrum. A petty one, to be sure, but it comes up more and more as our kids get older. I’m referring to the swim team question. Usually when a fellow pool-goer asks if we’re joining up, a simple “Nope, not this year” suffices. If pushed, I’ll mumble something about […]

This is How 30 Preschoolers and a Friend Helped Me Through a Crush and an Existential Crisis

Ruby slouched in a corner, bottom lip bulging. The droves of other 2- to 7-year-olds ignored her, since a distressed child was more common than a calm one. I hesitated to speak, anticipating the melodrama that was about to erupt. Then it began: Me: Ruby, what’s wrong? Ruby: I want that toy. M: What toy? […]

The Literature Is Instagram: On Self-Care, Not Self-Help

Sayonara self-help, hello self-care. From The New York Times Kate Carraway traces the evolution of the more rules-based improvement movement into the newer, more feelings-based one. Whereas self-help “sought to categorize and instruct,” self-care now aims to “to soothe and calm.” Overall, the shift is positive: When you’re agitated, angry, or anxious, instead of imposing expectations, […]