I don't know about you, but I can scarcely believe we're almost into the Lenten season -- and Easter's actually late this year! For most of my life, I never paid much attention to Lent, but I'm coming to appreciate the idea of a temporary abstinence, whether it be the bike-commute grumbling I tried to give up one year, or the Facebook fast I'm considering this year.
Short breaks like that provide a chance to gently tug at the seams of my life and test how often-unconscious routines shape my life. Are they making me more or less like the kind of person I'd like to be? With writing, for example, the move-related break I took last fall gave me a chance to see which ideas stuck around and matured, rather than constantly trying to think up more-reactive, new pitches.
This year I also spent the weeks leading up to Pray for the Johns Day more focused on research than promotion (more on the reasons for that later), so I've only written one new piece since last month:
- Your religious guide to sex, in which I review popular Christian and Jewish sex guides for OnFaith
Whatever you do or don't read, I hope something in this email pushes you toward rest, joy or wonder. (And if you need a push toward prayer, think about attending the Lenten Prayer Retreat, March 8-9.)
- Beck on First Listen: NPR lets you stream his contemplative new album Morning Phase. The Wall St. Journal talked with Beck about the evolution of his music in the last two (!) decades.
- Spend enough time in a mass-transit system, and you'll notice a certain music in the changing tones of trains and swiping cards. Now LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy wants to make the most of those notes by tweaking and reharmonizing the various sounds of the turnstyles to produce a richer sound. Here's hoping he gets a chance to.
- Jazz on prime-time: I've been a Harry Connick Jr. fan since ... well, I'm not sure, actually; college at least. But whether you usually pan him or love him, you've gotta respect this schooling of J-Lo on the pentatonic scale. It gives me a bit of hope for American music education to have someone like him on American Idol.
- While I've heard Wim Wenders' name a lot from certain friends, I regret I've yet see any of his films. That may change soon, thanks to this poem used in the film Wings of Desire, which a friend just shared. Translation can't mar the beauty of "Song of Childhood," though I daresay the German original is deeper still. Anyone want to come watch Wings of Desire if/when I get it from the library?
:: film & visual art ::
- Though I haven't actually seen many Bollywood films, I have a soft spot for the genre. This teaser for The Lunchbox -- hopefully coming to the Bay Area in March? -- sounds really promising.
- Ostensibly this New Yorker article covers a "Christian" alternative to the Oscars, but once the writer interviews former Christianity Today film critic Jeff Overstreet, things take a different turn.
- Despite all that Instagram and Photoshop let you do, I still tend to think software programs will never fully replicate -- or replace -- pre-digital methods of making pictures. Case in point: these haunting tintype portraits made at the last Sundance Festival, including one of the last known photos of Philip Seymour Hoffman.
I started drafting this, Philip Seymour Hoffman's death had just been
announced. Though I have not seen many of his major roles, even an
occasional viewer could feel some of the aura emanating from his body of
work. A.O. Scott had an especially astute read:
"[Hoffman's] goal seemed to be not just the psychological truth that has long been the baseline criterion of post-Method acting, but a moral uncertainty that remains too fraught and frightening for many of us, in art or in life, to engage.
"This is not just a matter of seeking out gray areas or mapping ambiguities. Hoffman’s characters exist, more often than not, in a state of ethical and existential torment. They are stuck on the battleground where pride and conscience contend with base and ugly instincts."
Alissa Wilkinson, who reviews films for Christianity Today, also had a thoughtful take: "Acting was less job, more vocation or calling, almost a cross to bear, as wild as that may sound."
:: reading/food for thought ::
- I still need to read this Slate piece on the problem with trying to "do what you love," but by all accounts, it's a thoughtful challenge to conventional wisdom.
- Jazz on TheAtlantic.com: How brains see music as language
- Margin scribbling in the New York Times: As an inveterate note-taker, I appreciated this musing on the habit of taking notes in book margins.
I've yet to be persuaded that electronic options for note-taking work
the same. How can they be as revelatory as comments scribbled in one's
:: food ::
- Next time I'm in New York, I might have to try the homemade bitters at this East Village joint.
- If you've been getting these emails a while, you probably
remember the name Eric Felten from some past rhapsody on the erstwhile Wall Street Journal
columnist. Tonight, after combing through several recipes for a
sidecar, I decided to see if Felten ever covered it (though no recipe
appears in his book How's Your Drink). The column I found
did not disappoint. History, film and poetry: I give you Eric Felten
... and a recipe. In keeping with the marginalia essay above, I just
penned said recipe into my copy of Felten's book How's Your Drink? (drawn from but certainly an incomplete record of his wonderful column).
- For non-alcoholic drink experimentation, try this recipe for turmeric tonic, using a spice common in Indian cooking and reputed to help fight both insomnia and cancer.