Category Archives: Essays

James Baldwin as Prophet

By Sophie Browner

In one of the opening scenes of Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro, we are shown a clip of James Baldwin as a guest on The Dick Cavett Show. Cavett is asking Baldwin about whether he is hopeful or despairing for the future. Baldwin breaks into that dazzling gap-toothed smile of his and takes a breath before beginning. It is a particular skill of Baldwin’s that remains uniquely his own: to rain down thunderous truth with such measured grace. In Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin writes of living in a white world, “One is always in the position of having to decide between amputation and gangrene.” Neither option is particularly enticing: either one lives as a cripple or suffers the “equally unbearable…risk of swelling up slowly, in agony, with poison.” To throw a glass of water at the owner of a diner who refused to serve him — something Baldwin writes about in his book — is amputation. To smile through the ignorant questions of white folks, that’s surely gangrene. To tell the truth, Baldwin concedes to Cavett, he doesn’t have much hope. Does that make Baldwin a pessimist or a fortune-teller? Continue reading

A Beacon of Sanity in Our Age of Polarity: On Contemporary Sufism and the Works of Idries Shah

By John Zada

With the Internet and social media offering everyone an instant voice and platform, it sometimes feels as if we’ve all become standard bearers of a cause, or a medley of them. The ease with which we can publicly air our viewpoints everyday, even many times a day, has created a ruckus of opposing perspectives that is staggering in its intensity and breadth. We are exposed to many different ideas and points of view, which is a good thing. But what we fail to see in all the exciting rabble-rousing is that we’re also engendering a toxic culture of disputation that is seeping into all areas of life. Continue reading

Between the History of Zimbabwe and the Future of America

By Nathan Deuel

We fell to our knees, high above a gorge, at an under-visited safari lodge beside one of Zimbabwe’s national parks. Our daughter was with her grandparents in Illinois. Our friends from Los Angeles stood there with us, mouths open wide. Bemused, or maybe proud, but surely aware he was the reason we’d come so far, our pal from Harare closed his eyes. The beauty we beheld was incongruous, after everything I’d read, and I was strangely relieved when I learned the river below swarmed with crocodiles. Back in America, it was just barely 2017. Continue reading

On “Traditional Ecological Knowledge” for the 21st Century

By Jon Christensen

There are different stories to be told about our relationship with nature, different understandings, different knowledge, still.

Tending the Wild, a new documentary on the traditional ecological knowledge of California Indians produced by KCET and Link TV, makes this abundantly clear. The documentary builds on the work of ethno-ecologist M. Kat Anderson and her book of the same title Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of Californian’s Natural Resources (University of California Press, 2005) through in-depth, personal, on-the-ground stories from around California about indigenous management of the essential trinity of fire, water, and food. Continue reading

What Happens When Young Adult Protagonists Grow Up?

By Jane Mendle

Anne of Green Gables makes a terrible adult.

Whimsical, imaginative, and open-hearted as a young girl, the 30-something mother of six has given up her writing and set aside her ambitions. As she bluntly explains, “I had wonderful dreams once” but “a busy mother hasn’t much time for that.” Instead, she frets about her marriage, agonizes about whether she is still attractive, and takes a vindictive pleasure that her husband’s glamorous college girlfriend has become “considerably stouter.” Continue reading

Touch Me

By Jon Boorstin

Trump won on November 8th. Then came our shock, our shame at getting this country so wrong, grief and despair. A few days later Leonard Cohen died. “You Want it Darker.” My wife, a cheerful person buoyed by hope, fought back. She saw web scuttlebutt on a Million Woman’s March and before it had a permit or a place or speakers, she booked her brother’s sofa in DC. Just another internet fantasy, but her own. Then she asked my opinion, knowing I’d boost her. Forty years on, we’re getting darker together. Continue reading

Leonard Cohen’s Art of Losing

By Oksana Maksymchuk

In a 1959 letter to Canadian publisher Jack McClellan, a 25-year old Leonard Cohen characterized his audience as “inner-directed adolescents, lovers in all degrees of anguish, disappointed Platonists, pornography-peepers, hair-handed monks and Popists, French-Canadian intellectuals, unpublished writers, curious musicians etc., all that holy following of my Art.” After he turned to songwriting and the circle of his admirers grew ever wider, the description remained surprisingly accurate. What bonds the groups on Cohen’s list is the sense of striving, an underlying — and mostly inarticulate — need. The 1960s, when Cohen emerged, was, after all, a moment for movements, and Cohen’s witty catalog suggested that even the misfits — scattered in their idiosyncratic pursuits — would have a movement of their own. Continue reading