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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Shoah: A Table of Elements

by Dov Abramson, guest contributor

Shoah: a Table of Elements

"The trade of chemist (fortified, in my case, by the experience of Auschwitz), teaches you to overcome, indeed to ignore, certain revulsions that are neither necessary nor congenital: matter is matter, neither noble nor vile, infinitely transformable, and its proximate origin is of no importance whatsoever. Nitrogen is nitrogen, it passes miraculously from the air into plants, from these into animals, and from animals into us; when its function in our body is exhausted, we eliminate it, but it still remains nitrogen, aseptic, innocent."
—Primo Levi, The Periodic Table

The Holocaust represented a contradiction in perception: ordered, regimented evil and unrestrained, billowing pain. For decades, artists have sought to capture the ineffable destruction that befell the Jewish people.

"Shoah: A Table of Elements" describes the task of making order of the ungraspable. In so doing, it works to release some of the emotional charge of our most raw subjects, while evoking the more prominent associations of the Holocaust: the gases, the smoke, the debris.

"Shoah: A Table of Elements" is a meditation on how we commit to memory, how we use symbols, and how we represent that which we cannot behold.

שואה: לוח יסודות


Dov AbramsonDov Abramson is founder and creative director of an art and design studio in Jerusalem, Israel. His work combines classic graphic design and branding with independent artistic work that deals with Jewish and Israeli identity. His projects have been featured in Zeek, Forward, Maariv, Haaretz, and the Chicago Tribune, and his art has been exhibited at The Jewish Museum in New York and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the On Being Tumblr. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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I Am from… Fire

by Angela Blake, guest contributor

SevenPhoto by Alicia Reiner/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I am from fire.

I’m from the fire my father had for life and the fire my mother had for living. His was fueled by parties, drugs, wit, and self-involvement, hers by longing, anger, spite, and sweat. He was vivid; he hit her skin like sunshine and she finally felt warmth from an external source. She smoldered. He was curious to know how her sweat turned to the steam that hovered over her skin. What was her heat source? How could someone burn so hot without catching fire?

In the end, he combusted, was consumed by his own fire. In his 30’s, he was raging out of control, in his 40’s he was a smoking pile of embers. Today, he’s ash. He is gray and the heft of him scatters with the slightest breeze. Even his wit burned away. His heat from the outside stoked her burning on the inside and she nearly exploded. She had to protect herself or be destroyed.

She put down her longing, anger, and spite and put in more sweat. She worked and struggled and toiled and fought — she sweat, sweat, sweat, sweat — until the steam rose and condensed and rose and condensed, protecting her from the fire that was him and keeping the burn inside of her. It was a kiln, churning and working — always working — to produce something better, something that wasn’t just burning away life, but something that was living. She wanted to go on living, she needed to keep on living. She couldn’t let him take her, too. She couldn’t be burned away too. She had to work, work, sweat, sweat, burn, burn!

And I was born. I was ignited and her steamy sweat cooled me so I wouldn’t burn away. His flames, her burning, my birth.

I am living with a pocket full of ashes and a stomach full of embers. I am from fire.


Angela BlakeAngela Blake lives in South Bend, Indiana and regularly rants, rambles, and reflects on life as a black chick in the Midwest at Afro(ec)centric.

Angela submitted this essay in response to our call-out for readers to fill in the blank, “I am from…” If you’d like to finish this phrase and share something about yourself, your heritage, your geography, your interior mind, your imaginings or vulnerabilities, read the simple guidelines and submit your work for consideration.

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A Little Bit of Mindfulness Meditation Can Reduce a Lot of Pain

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

MRI Scans of Brain of Novice Meditator with Pain MRI images of the brain of a novice meditator show signs of pain nearly disappear. (source: Robert Coghill/Wake Forest University School of Medicine)

"You might not need extensive training [in meditation] to realize pain-relief benefits. Most people don’t have time to spend months in a monastery."
Fadel Zeidan, neuroscientist

On the NPR Shots blog, Adam Cole highlights a study at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center showing that even novice meditators are able to curb their pain after a few training sessions. Cole writes:

In the study, a small group of healthy medical students attended four 20-minute training sessions on “mindfulness meditation” — a technique adapted from a Tibetan Buddhist form of meditation called samatha.It’s all about acknowledging and letting go of distraction. …

So how did the researchers gauge the effect? They administered a very distracting bit of pain: A small, thermal stimulator heated to 120 degrees was applied to the back of each volunteer’s right calf. The subjects reported both the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain. If pain were music, intensity would be volume. Unpleasantness would have more of an emotional component, kind of like how much you love or hate a song.

After meditation training, the subjects reported a 40 percent decrease in pain intensity and a 57 percent reduction in pain unpleasantness. And it wasn’t just their perception of pain that changed. Brain activity changed too.

Be sure to read Cole’s article for the details.

(h/t stotheb, via almaswithinalmas)

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It Gets Better Project

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The YouTube project called "It Gets Better" is a noble effort to help save the many young gay and questioning children and teenagers out there right now who are struggling, who are contemplating suicide. The project tries to show those “despairing LGBT kids who are being bullied and harassed, kids who don’t think they have a future” that adults who were in their same situation as them have endured and emerged in a safer, happier place. They are examples that life goes on, that situations do improve.

The video above of Dan Savage, the author of the syndicated sex column “Savage Love” and who started this project after Billy Lucas’ suicide, and his husband should be a vivid reminder to all of us about the true virtue of civility and kindness. No matter where you stand on the gay rights issue, this video should appeal to the need for a common decency for all people.

And for all of you Project Runway fans, Tim Gunn has recently released his contribution to the project with a troubling story from his own childhood:

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