Joseph Campbell. His writings on semiotics, comparative religion and mythology (in particular ‘The Power of Myth’ and ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces’) helped inspire the framework on which I built my character Robert Langdon. The PBS interview series with Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers was hands down the most thought-provoking conversation I’ve ever witnessed. Campbell’s breadth of knowledge about the origins of religious belief enabled him to respond with clarity and logic to some very challenging questions about contradictions inherent in faith, religion, and scripture. I remember admiring Campbell’s matter-of-fact responses and wanting my own character Langdon to project that same respectful understanding when faced with complex spiritual issues.
—Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, in response to being asked about the one writer he could meet, dead or alive, during an interview for The New York Times Sunday Book Review.
Of all the people he could meet, I must admit that I’m rather surprised to see it is JC.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
An enchanting hour of poetry drawing on the ways family and religion shape our lives. Marie Howe, poet laureate of New York State, works and plays with her Catholic upbringing, the universal drama of family, and the ordinary time that sustains us. The moral life, she says, is lived out in what we say as much as what we do — and so words have a power to save us.
Live Video: In the Room with Kevin Kling
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
WHEN: Feb 9th, 2012 (1pm CT/2pm ET)
If you listen to NPR, there’s a good chance you’ve been regaled by the unparalleled storytelling of Kevin Kling. His popular commentaries and hilarious autobiographical tales have graced the public radio airwaves and his plays have been staged across the United States.
Born with a congenital birth defect, Kling’s left hand has no wrist or thumb, and that same arm is 75 percent the size of his right arm. And then, about five years ago, a motorcycle accident took away the use of his right arm when the brachial plexus nerves were pulled out of their sockets.
In a face-to-face conversation from the studios of American Public Media and Minnesota Public Radio, Krista Tippett will talk to this American humorist and writer about confronting and embracing these physical challenges and his own mortality, and the will to create rather than despair. Through his work and his personal story, we’ll focus on his work as an artist, the importance of humor and craft in his spiritual life, and how he finds meaning in the world around him.
You’re welcome to watch it here, or join us on our events page where you can chat with other folks watching it.
When your only female character exists to be bartered and abused, that is lazy writing. When you raise the stakes by threatening a woman with rape, that is lazy writing. When you demonstrate the ‘seriousness’ of a situation by describing a brutal rape, that is lazy writing. When you inject emotion into a flagging scene by making the man throw the woman against the wall, that is lazy writing. Not only is it lazy writing, but when rape is used lightly and cheaply as a convenient narrative device, it hurts people.
—Monica Byrne, from the Durham-based playwright’s blog post, "The use of rape in narrative"
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Writing as Compassion
Kate Moos, managing producer
William Maxwell treats his personal material as if it were history. It is one part memory, one part research and one part hearsay but one hundred percent compassion. Compassion in my mind is an admixture of feeling and sustained attention with regard to others. Compassion is the absence of cruelty. Compassion is steady and relaxed—allowing patience where we may not have any for ourselves. Compassion is acceptance of what you didn’t realize or can’t understand. Compassion is not attainable without process—going through the various methods of drafting. Each one provides you with another perspective, another point of focus. Each method provides more ingredients to the approach that helps the content to stand on its own so that the writer can leave it behind them.
Most Wednesday nights I’m at the kitchen table staring into my laptop screen at a living room full of women. It’s my writing group, which is presided over by Nancy Beckett, an incredible playwright and writing teacher in Chicago. My admiration for her insight, depth, and crazy, mordant Irish wit never evaporates.
Everyone else assembles in her apartment for our three-hour sessions; I Skype in from St. Paul.
This week we read an excerpt from the great editor and writer William Maxwell’s creative nonfiction, and, as is the drill each week, Nancy gave us her deeply insightful lesson, a portion of which I cite above.
What I love about this work is that it goes past how to string sentences together, though there is that. It reminds me why I write. As Nancy would say, “People write because they can’t help themselves.” I write in order to know. I write in order to be changed.
(photo above: Tina, one of the group members, reads from her novel-in-progress.)
Elizabeth’s Fig, Remembered
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer
The piece of paper pictured above is the same document discussed by Krista and Dr. Alan Dienstag in our recent program about Alzheimer’s disease, written by a woman suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s. You can really see how the author, Elizabeth, struggled to finally articulate the simple, poetic recollection:
I can remember picking a fig from a tree in Athens. My lover watched me with delight.
Elizabeth wrote about this memory while she was participating in Lifelines, a writing group for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. The Lifelines Writing Group was a collaboration between Alan Dienstag and the novelist Don DeLillo — and from Dienstag’s account, he was skeptical about the idea at first. However, DeLillo sold him with a simple statement, which Dienstag writes about in his essay reflecting on the Lifelines experience:
Writing is a form of memory. The phrase stayed with me for some time. I repeated it to myself and told it to others with whom I worked. I realized that for all of my work with people with memory impairments, I had thought very little about memory. To the extent that I thought about memory at all, it was in fact about the loss of memory. It had never really occurred to me to think about other forms of memory and the possibilities inherent in them.
I found myself gripped by the story of Lifelines, both on hearing his interview with Krista and then later when I read his essay. On an intellectual level, his account touches on the value of writing, the complexity of memory, and the power of collaboration — all things that I find fascinating.
But I think the real meat of the story is how it really gets to a deeper existential fear that we all share on some level — one that doesn’t require an Alzheimer’s diagnosis to experience. It’s something we also touched on recently with our program with Mercedes Doretti: a fear of disappearing. While Doretti touches on the emotional trauma caused by the disappearance of family and loved ones, Dienstag’s account of the Lifelines group gets at the horrifying prospect of losing one’s self.
This is why seeing these documents can touch on such a deep level — Dienstag calls them "acts of remembering," to me they’re small stones cast in a battle for the vanishing self, a battle that is in some ways won with every person that reads one of these memories.
Here’s another memory written by Charlotte, an 84-year-old participant in the Lifelines writing group. You can also read part of it in her handwriting here.
I remember the first time I walked with my parents on the bridge that went to Brooklyn. It was hard for me and I fell very often. My father would pick me up and carry me for a while and put me back to walk It took a little time to learn to walk all the way but I did. I remember as I write this about the cat that lived with us who also like to walk and when he saw us ready to go he was right with us and we loved it.
I carried a love for walking all through my life, and even now when things go bad I walk and things seem to get better.
I hope I’ll be able to walk as long as I live.