Back in October I walked into our training room here at Gateway Center to find something in the ballpark of 50 orange jack-o-lanterns filled to the brim with candy and there were stickers everywhere and streamers too. I had the distinct feeling that a party was brewing. In fact, someone had made a donation specifically for the purpose of throwing the kids staying in our Women’s and Children’s Center a party for Halloween. I wish I knew who donated these items because I would love to send them a thank you note. They understood something really important.
Every week there is a pastor and his wife who come to tutor children in various subjects. At Christmas time they brought a friend who dressed up like an elf and gathered the children to her feet and with her little elf stocking hat on she told the story of the candy cane: it’s legend and meaning and why it’s important. The kids sat enraptured in the story. There was a birthday cake in celebration of the birth of Jesus in a corner, ready to be cut and shared. It was an unorthodox Christmas ritual, but hey, the kids love cake. There’s something about Christmas that does me in when watching this scene, so before I know it I’m ducking back to my desk to hide the tears in my eyes. My little Grinch heart was suddenly three sizes too big.
I get calls all the time. Sometimes we get folks who just want to drop off some clothes that they really want to see go to people who need them. We have partnerships with great organizations that provide necessary supplies like socks, towels, hygiene kits, and shower curtains. We need it all and we use every last scrap. Sometimes we find a bag of what amounts to trash dropped off and that breaks your heart that some people don’t understand what the Halloween People know. Yet sometimes the most thoughtful souls you have ever met will call me up saying they have decorated shoe boxes full of goodies specifically for the mothers to be given on Mother’s Day. It’s a little miracle, these phone calls. It’s a beautiful sight to see our Volunteer Coordinator carting through dozens of Easter baskets that were donated by a loving member of our community.
The key is that we have to keep celebrating. We have to press on in finding the beauty and wonder of a day and say “thank you”. We have to sing and dance and eat cake because there is something very human in this. For a lot of people who are experiencing homelessness, being treated like a human can often be a rare thing. It’s easy to avoid eye contact on the street and it’s easier to think of the people sleeping under the bridge or on a park bench as just an unfortunate part of the scenery. Yet, these are people like you and me. By virtue of our species, we celebrate special days, we celebrate the turning of seasons, and we celebrate each other. There is a great dignity in this and it’s easy to overlook in the hustle of providing services. Sometimes doing a job can cloud or view of our greater mission.
The other day we had a big group of volunteers down from Ohio and some kids and their parents doing arts and crafts with them in our lobby. It turns out that we had a birthday of a small boy. I think he was turning 4 years old. Think back to when you turned four. Can you remember? If you can, it’s likely one of your earliest memories. The delight of the cake and the presents and, who knows, maybe you had a bounce castle and a magician. I certainly was not quite that privileged.
This little boy had a big cupcake that our volunteer coordinator pulled out of nowhere. We gathered all around and we asked him if we could sing to him. He said no, but he would allow us to sing to his grandmother. So we did. We sang Happy Birthday in full-sailed gusto to the boy’s grandmother, and then he had his giant cupcake. We clapped and smiled and we went back to work. I hope that boy graduates from high school and goes to college. I hope he has a family one day and a job that fulfills him. I hope he has a house and a dog, if he likes dogs. I want the same things for him that we want for ourselves, because he’s a boy, a person. I hope he looks back and remembers our off-key singing and knows that he was worth celebrating that day… that day and always.
I have worked here at Gateway Center for about nine months now. Not much of a span of time to be working somewhere, I know. Stories are accumulated, one way or another, wherever it is that you make your bacon to bring home at the end of the week. Yet Gateway Center presents a whole new world of stories. The hard times and struggles definitely manifest themselves often, but there’s also hilarity; silly moments with volunteers and co-workers and clients too. We laugh and we cry like the tides coming in and out of the harbor. It’s just the way of life here on Pryor Street. Sometimes there are stories that take a minute or a month or more to digest, to take root, and to grow back out in the form of words articulated with some level of coherence.
It was the week before Christmas and the weatherman was calling for far chillier nights than we had experienced in months. It was later in the afternoon and I was working at my old desk on something to do with weekend scheduling or some other spreadsheet oriented deal, the kinds of tasks that somebody has to do, so it might as well be me. Our receptionist calls me out to the front to meet a gentleman who we will call Harry. Harry was elderly, with a white beard and a thin frame. He had a walker, and he was obviously tired, having walked a good ways that day. Harry had a wide and natural smile. We shook hands and he pulled out this letter from an organization down the road called “Hosea Feed the Hungry”. This is the non-profit that was started by famed Atlanta civil rights leader Hosea Williams. If you’re from around here then you would know them for their massive holiday meals they serve to the homeless on days like Thanksgiving and Christmas. They do a lot more too, providing services all year long, which is why I was meeting Harry here in the closing days of Advent.
Harry was so kind, so cool. He would appreciate anything we could do, but he knew we were going to be full. We were full that morning when I sent out the daily vacancy report and any openings that might have come were likely to have evaporated by this late stage in the day. We were filled up to the brim, like always. But I told Harry I would check, and so I went back to my desk and called upstairs, and you wouldn’t believe it but they were going to have a bed open up right there in that moment, a little miracle like on 34th Street. I walked out to the lobby, grinning from ear to ear, ready to give him the news. But I found him engaged with a case manager named Ebony. They were just chatting and smiling and catching up like there were some kind of old buddies. I interrupted as business-professionally as I could to deliver the happy news that there was a space for Harry and started to give directions to the elevator to the second floor and over and around the corner to the proper office so he could find his room.
Ebony said, “That’s okay, Jason. I’ll show Mr. Harry were to go. We’ve known each other a long time.” I shook his hand and he asked my name, saying how much he appreciated what I had done. I told him it was nothing and it was just my job and I smiled, turning back to the hallway and towards my desk.
I was just about halfway back when I hear Ebony call from the door, “Jason! Hold on. I want to tell you something.”
I walk back, “What’s up?”
“Do you see this medal around Mr. Harry’s neck?” Hanging from the gentleman’s necklace was a bronze medallion with a relief of Martin Luther King Jr.’s face and the words “I have a dream” inscribed around the edge.
Ebony continued, “Mr. Harry here marched in the civil rights movement back in the 1960’s. Hosea gave these medals out to only about 10 of his top aides, Mr. Harry being one of them. I just wanted you to know who this was the next time you see him.”
Ebony wanted me to know that who we were standing with that day was a hero.
How many heroes do I walk past every day on the south end of Peachtree Street? How many men and women have sacrificed so much for their communities and families and no one knows their names or what they’ve done to change the world in some way? Unless you asked everyone their story, which wouldn’t be a bad idea at all, then we’d never know. Instead we often continue to assign stories to the people we pass. That guy is an alcoholic and that woman over there is a drug addict. They’re welfare queens and takers and thieves. Maybe it’s not pure disdain, maybe we dress it up with pity in our voices: “Somebody really ought to help these people.” Words like these.
But the truth I learned that day, if I haven’t had this lesson a million other ways in my time working at Gateway, is this: every person has a story. Every person is indwelt with great dignity, some folks have just forgotten. Some people seem on the outside weaker than anything I have ever seen but are really stronger than cliffs standing sentinel along the seaside.
Harry, with his big white beard and bigger smile, was that kind of strong. He once walked in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and he has walked the same streets as a man without a home with his walker guiding him. I haven’t seen him since that day, but I believe he’s doing okay. People like that just know how to live.
There are these days, from time to time, where we can’t seem to draw energy off of anything. It’s like the whole earth has stopped having gravity, and the sun no longer produces photosynthesis. Vitamin D is all but dried up completely.
Maybe it’s the long winter, or maybe my body finally grew a resistance to coffee. Oh- maybe it was the cough syrup I drank last night to help me sleep. Or the fact that I haven’t been to the gym in a few days.
Whatever it is, I’m going to cook some dinner for a couple of friends, I’m going to wash up, and then I’m going to dive back into the problems and solutions that Tuesday has for me. Every now and again a day feels like it never really started. Alas, we’ll hope to wake again tomorrow.
The Annual Personal Inventory of Thanksgiving
From the day I was born until I was five, when she moved away, my best friend was a girl named Courtney who lived next door to me. She was probably a year or so older than me, but as far as I was concerned she could have run for city council. She was beautiful too. If you meet a woman when you’re that young who just shines like that then I think you learn how to appreciate the fairer side of our species in a way that you never lose or ever fully understand. Courtney and I would lay outside in the grass and cast our eyes on the clouds lazily circulating through this perfect blue of southern suburbia. She taught me to find the various shapes and imagine what they could be, shifting slowly from one form and then dissipating right in front of you. It’s interesting how one of your earliest memories can be that of a cotton ball white cloud set on a sheet of sky blue, how I knew it for a moment and then it was gone. I know it’s silly, but there’s a part of me somewhere that wonders how I could still remember a cloud, and there’s an even crazier part of me that wonders if that cloud would know me if it passed over me again. It makes me want to go outside a little bit more with my head turned upwards.
If I passed Courtney on the street today would she know me? Would I know her, that dear and oldest of friends? I don’t think it’s possible. There was one brief spell where one person was my best friend and she had all the answers and all the secrets, and I was just a child soaking in the world through the green grass and honey suckles that hung on the fence separating our yards. When I think about gratitude, I think about Courtney. She was so much for that time, and then gone. Lost and yet found over and over again through my memories. Like clouds that keep passing through the sky, signaling images to the movie screen of my mind.
Everyday when the sun is hanging low on the eastern side of the sky I am greeted by a guy named Tim who lives at my place of work, the place where homeless men and women come to stay for a time. Every morning I pass him on my way to my desk. He’s there on the brick ledge by Peachtree St, smoking his cigarette and reading his books. I caught him the other day reading some John Updike, so we talked about his short stories and his famous basketball playing character. We bonded over a discussion of Philip Roth and the great American stories that have poured out through one voice for the past 50 years.
Every morning Tim is there, just as happy and kind as he can be. His face is worn from the years of worry and sad times that are gone now. Tim is stable now, working, assisting us, living in one our rooms. He wants to help people get on their feet and back to where they believe in themselves again. He reads the good books, or whatever he can find. When I walk out the door at night, nowadays with the sun barely lit, a candle on the very last bit of wick, I find Tim there again, slowly enjoying his cigarette, usually reading or chatting to a homeless man on the sidewalk. Tim is a signpost for me. Tim is a monument. Bless him for his smile, bless him for the kindness in his eyes, bless him for his curious mind that persists on through the struggles, through the winters that last too long. I’m so grateful for Tim there every morning and every night, marking out the days and weeks. The months that will grow into years, until one day he will finally find himself turning the key to his own home once again. And then I’ll be grateful all over again.
Receiving encouragement is something of a miracle, if you think about it. We really can be self centered. I, for one, can be incredibly self-centered. We are often caught up in our world’s and our own needs and our own desires to think of the infinite and compelling worth and profound beauty of any one of the hundreds of people that we cross paths with each day. I have a lot of beautiful and talented friends, but to think that an old man I pass on the street who has no home is also really beautiful and is also very talented and worthy of joy and peace is startling, because how do we go about the work of telling the world who they are? It’s a miracle that any of us have each other at all, and to be grateful for that work of God is something to wrap my arms around in this season. For the people that are there for me to love, may I love them well. For Courtney, and all the other wonderful people I once knew, I hope they have more than enough love on their plate. More love than they can possibly know what to do with. And I hope they know it. For the one’s who are with me now, who are to my right and my left, can I have the courage to remind them as often as possible who they are? I say all of this because of this talk I had with our receptionist today. We sat down in the conference room late in the day and I conducted her 90-day review. She’s 62 years old, just going back to work to make end’s meet. She’s a stellar woman. She does an amazing job and makes my life so much better at work just by her presence. When I asked her at the end of our meeting what I could do to help her or, in general, improve upon from my position of supervisor, her response was this, “No. I think we make a really good team. And you know, as a grandmother and as a mother- I believe in you. I think you’re going to do really great things. And I want you to know that I want those things for you.” What kind of kindness is this? Who could deserve this gift? What a gift it was, though. And to think that I was supposed to be evaluating and, really, encouraging her in that meeting.
Somehow God gave me the gift of the past 5 years to lose a lot of weight. Sure, it’s been tough. It’s been slow. The last 6 months since moving back to America have been horrendous. The goals are there, though, and I trust the work will be done. I trust in God to carry his work to completion, and I think he is teaching me to trust that I can do my little part, to run my miles, to eat my kale. What really gets me is that if you knew me back then and if you could remember just how obscenely heavy I was, then you realize that it’s no minor miracle that my body works the way it does. Even with still being a big guy with so much further to go- I don’t have knees that ache. My back doesn’t hurt. My feet are working and all the vital signs keep ticking right as rain. Thursday morning I will pull myself up out of the depths of a November morning to run a half marathon for the first time. I’m so thankful that I can run. I am so thankful that I can keep putting one leg in front of the other. I’m so thankful that I can move. It’s not something that we get forever, but I want to enjoy it for every day that it’s here. While I’m at it, I’m thankful for this park that I get to trot through at my hilarious little pace.
I’m thankful for my time in England. I’m thankful for those guys on that team, every last one of them, those who were there in the beginning and those that carry it on. I love them. And I love the people that run Globalscope. I miss those dear British friends, but how lucky am I that I know they’ll come to visit? Some sooner rather than later, too. How gracious is this life? If you’ve never been to England then you need to know two things: 1. It’s not what you think it is. There are no fawns or wizards that I can discern of. 2. If you have the chance to live there, to know the people and to love them as they are, then you’ll find that it’s better than the fantasy Royal Narnia Hogwarts version that we have with the phone booths and the double decker buses. Also, it’s cold and it rains a lot, but I’m okay with that.
Last night I ate with a room full of brand new friends. Tonight I’ll sit out on a patio watching the skyline with friends I’ve known now for a decade. There are people who I love whom I don’t talk too often, and a few who I ache with love for that I don’t speak with at all, even if my love is soaked through with anger sometimes. And then, I called my mother and spoke for just 5 minutes on my way home for work, and she’s doing alright, and she’s on the other end of that line, and I’m thankful too for that.
A couple of days ago I was walking through the big main lobby of where I work. There are hundreds of people there who are experiencing homelessness. They are there for showers and food. They are there to speak to case managers and to find a place to live. There are kids there. There are so many little children, children who are sleeping with their mom’s in cars and under bridges. Kids who have been hauled over to where I work for the sake of shelter, for a refuge, and God willing, a chance to have a stable childhood. The first day of work when I walked out into that area I talked to a woman who was at least 70. She was tough to understand, but she was moving out of Gateway that day, ready for the next step. She was so excited to go find a job, so excited to find her daughter and see how she was doing. I could hardly breath, I could hardly move. By standing there and hearing her story I think I was learning slowly how to be a human in a deeper way. My eyes fill up thinking back. Well, as I was saying- a couple of days ago I was walking through that main lobby. Children are running around. One kid is running through, but he’s no older than 2 or maybe just maybe on the brink of 3. He’s got a little bit of snot around his nose. His shoelaces are untied. His mom walks over and her hands are full with a baby and a bag and a bottle and she’s not going to be tying any shoes right then. Can I do it, ma’am? “Sure, go ahead.”
I reach down and take his shoelaces in my hand, tying them over once and double knotting them for good measure. As I rise up again, I see his little face is trained on mine. He’s beaming at me. I’ve never seen a 2 year old smile like that. I’ve never seen a 2 year old so delighted by having a strange guy tie up his shoe laces. He gave me a high five and his mother pulled him away and he followed with his hand in hers, but as he walked his face never turned from me. He looked back the whole time just shining with some kind of unexplainable joy with me. I guess that’s what gratitude looks like, but I doubt that he’ll ever be able to name it or remember it. Or maybe he will and I’ll become like one of those clouds I used to know in a quarter century old sky.
I hope he remembers, and I hope he wonders if I remember him. I promise I will, because that moment created it’s own Thanksgiving within me. I think that’s what gratitude does. I think it opens up these rooms of remembering in our ghostly old hearts. I believe these little rooms work together to keep us alive. I think they keep the sparks in our eyes as we go from miracle to miracle, from heartbreak to disaster, from mother to son and father to daughter, from life to each brief flash of a passing life, little shooting stars that we are.
I’m so thankful. I’m so thankful. Creation is made new every morning, and I get to be there to see it, if only for a short spell. I am so thankful.
*Title borrowed from Haruki Murkami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which was borrowed from What I Talk About When I Talk About Love by Raymond Carver. Murakami received permission from Carver, but something tells me that neither of them are planning on answering any emails that I might send.
Yesterday I was asking someone who is new to me what her name is. Her full name. No shortened abbreviated nicknames but the outright birth certificate name on the attendance sheet name. I met someone tonight at a reading group I’m attending and asked the proper spelling of one person’s name. Is that a Katherine with a K or a Catherine or do we have a rogue, hip, “ryn” attached to the end?
People’s names are fascinating little sentences. One of my best friend’s middle name is “Jack”. Not short for “John” like Jack usually is, but outright just Jack. I love it. I like knowing it.
It’s one of those things that I always do but have never really noticed until now. I want to know your name. The whole sha-bang, as it were.
Whenever someone gets my whole name they are always compelled to say it all out loud together, like they are pulling together different puzzle pieces into one final picture, sizing it up with their tongues and rolling it around with my identity, “Jason. Joseph. Tatum”.
Just like that and again, “JasonJosephTatum”. And one more time with feeling, properly spaced and starting to sound familiar: “Jason Joseph Tatum”. It’s when we learn someone’s full name on those occasions where we’ve actually taken the time to ask them because we want to know them, because we want to understand them a little better. We pause for a breath there at the end. We don’t even think about it, but we let it settle somewhere we don’t even know, and then we move forward.
I like to know a person’s name.
I like to imagine your parents meeting you for the first time in that delivery room, you’re all pink and screaming covered in that stuff. There you are brand new and your mother and father look on at your tiny closed eyes and they say it… your name… for the first time. They speak it over you.
They spoke it with such love and affection, I bet. Even the worst parents you’ve ever met did. In that hushed void of time that your name was filled by they met you and they gave something incredible to you. You were pure innocence. Whatever pain surrounded them, whatever tragedy laid at the door of their past or your future was nothing then. You just were: a little breathing collection of organized dust with nothing to call your own except this name.
I like to know a person’s full name and imagine that moment when our parents whispered it over us for the first time in a quiet room swirling in a chaotic mess of life. All that you ever are, all that you ever will be- it began here, and that’s something beautiful to me.
I go to old songs, the “oldies”, as they are known, as a comfort food for my ears. They make me feel better, like old sweatshirts make me feel better. Have you ever noticed though how desperate they all are? They are pure earnestness, each and every track. Not a hint of irony or cynicism. No sarcastic self-defense lines that are designed to shield the writer from the pain.
The just let it all out onto the microphone, and many of them let their pain out in other, less constructive ways. But there they are, resonating in us, some kind of heartache and hurt that we all know too well, we just don’t know how to say it, or don’t want to- don’t want to expose those tenderest of places.
Yet Otis Redding nearly cries through 50 years gone by straight out of my laptop: “That’s how strong my love is… that’s how strong my love is.”
Just something I’m thinking about on a Saturday.
By: Jason Tatum
July 17, 2012
Before you read another sentence of this article, I ask that you go to Esquire and read this article. It’s going to take you awhile, but this is important. I’ll be here when you are finished.
There are a few items that I think we need to take into serious consideration when forming a response to journalism of this kind. Who is writing this article? It’s Tom Junod, one of the most respected magazine writers in the country. He is a regular at Esquire, and this a relevant item to consider. I have a member of my family whom I love dearly but believes in every possible negative conspiracy surrounding the man that is Barack H. Obama. In my dear uncle’s eyes, everything about the personal and professional history of our 44th President is just a myth, a composite of lies fabricated for the purpose of political control, an engineered product written by Communist in cahoots with the established national media. It’s not enough to say that he was born in Kenya. He doesn’t believe that our President ever went to college, ever attended law school, or even taught at the University of Chicago. He asked me if I had ever read about Barack Obama’s history. I told him in a very sheepish way that I had read the biography done by David Remick from The New Yorker. “That’s not credible”, was his response. Nothing, it seems, is credible unless it comes from a Hotmail account that was sent from the very dark, deep beginnings of the internet. Yet, I love the man and I know he is a good guy. I want to believe that if we were to sit down and have an honest conversation about ideals and values, then we would likely find that we are not that far away from each other. However it remains a constant in our relationship that we have completely different beginning points when it comes to determining what is true and what is fiction.
When it comes to sources I think we can all agree that Esquire is not a usual landing place for the Tea Party devotee. In my opinion as a longtime reader of the magazine, I find that they generally lean sympathetically to the political left. That is one reason why a piece like Junod’s should be taken seriously by a common reader such as myself. It’s important because a subject like this is something that party loyal people do not want to touch on either side. The Left can’t ask questions because it could comprise the President. The Right can’t ask questions because they ceded every last bit of moral high ground in the previous administration when it comes to the use of powers in office.
The main question that this article raises for me is simply, “How should I respond?” I believe in good, elected, and accountable government to being crucial in determining our place in the world and history. I believe that it is important, generally speaking, to support our elected and appointed officials regardless of where our personal political leanings may reside. I was and remain today a supporter of our President’s general policy standpoints and believe in his approach to practical and measured government. Yes, I do realize that just saying that will cause some friends of mine to lose their minds with anger. Please, let the issue here be the issue and save our criticisms of health care and immigration and birth certificates for another day. With this being said, my support must not leave me silent when there are serious questions to be asked about how power is being executed.
To refer back to the central illustration of Junod’s story, the idea that a 16 year old non-combatant was killed by an American drone and there has been no follow-up or review is a travesty for our country’s credibility.
I know that the reality of government is a lot less rosy than we can possibly imagine and that the harsh political climate that we face worldwide may require tactics that seem contrary to our ideals. However, we can not maintain any kind of standard of good government, much less a high standard, if we do not challenge serious moral decisions being made from our most powerful leaders. I believe that our president is a good man and deliberate in his decisions, however we can not shape the kind of society that we desire to pass on to our children if we simply do not ask hard questions. In fact, instead of the extreme wings of the political spectrum rallying against each other’s leaders (see moveon.org’s infamous “General Betray Us” campaign and just about everything that the Tea Party has said), it is crucial for the American Center to take responsibility in calling for the highest standards of accountability. It is only the American Center that still has the credibility and the numbers to actually move the needle in regards to good government and high standards of accountability. We must not acquiesce this role and we certainly can not let it pass us by. We have to engage with strength and fortitude.
Of course, we lead best with our vote, but that is not the end of our responsibility. It is crucial that when we read something like Junod’s piece that we do not grow cynical. Cynicism is passive and unproductive. Cynicism creates what we would like to believe an easy way out of the woods from an individual’s prospective. In reality, cynicism cedes our power to fanatics on the fringe. Rather, I would prefer that the center engage in these complicated questions of morality because these choices are largely left untouched otherwise. In the end, however, I believe that these are the matters that will most powerfully shape the direction of our nation’s standing in the world. When it becomes a matter of course for the President of the United States to order the execution of an innocent boy, we are not just on some metaphorically slippery slope. I believe that we are tumbling off a cliff. How will incidents like this one shape the hearts and minds of Yemen’s youth 10 or 15 years down the road? Is it fatalistic to see that perhaps we are creating a worse situation for ourselves than even the one in which we found ourselves on September 11, 2001? I do not believe so, nor do I believe that we can cede these questions to chance.
If we believe that it is not our responsibility to engage in these kinds of questions and hold our leaders to the highest burden of accountability then we are no longer functioning as the kind of republic that our candidates will tout so dramatically over the coming months leading up to the general election.
It is not a matter of politics nor a concern for right winning a blow to the left or vice versa. This is about taking responsibility for our course, for when an innocent boy dies by the direct order of the president, any president, and that boy happens to also be a U.S. Citizen, then I do not see it as being over-dramatic to say that our entire future hangs in the balance. Rather, if there were ever a place in our society to see ourselves as the collective Atlas holding the world on our shoulders, then this is surely it. Who will defend the rights of this boy? Who will hold our leaders to the very highest standards? If it is not us, the most powerful collective force in the world, then I can’t imagine who else will.
I love to read, and I have one of those remarkably unhelpful personalities that wants to take everything in and read every last word. I’d also like to see every film and watch every good TV show and listen to every beautiful note of every song that’s ever been composed worth hearing.
I do this because I’m probably a consumer. These things fill me up in a way and I think they make me feel good. Words are the top of my list and part of this is because I have found that the power of a well written word provides lasting dividends over the space of your life. Most people won’t watch an entire season of a TV show and have it change their life (My friend Carl is a remarkable exception). But, give yourself to a well-written book or article and you might find a slice of an idea that keeps coming back to you in situation and context over and over again. It’s a beautiful thing. Plus, a large bank of information is the foundation, or the well, for where good ideas come from. If you want to form ideas then you have to have a lot of information in your well. This begins with reading.
I though it might be a nice thing to share a few of the tools I’ve used to be able to consistently read the journalistic pieces that I want to read. I have cobbled this method over time and not very intentionally, but now I’ve arrived at something that seems to work and I’m happy with my ability to keep up with the content that I generally like and am curious about.
So, here it is.
Both of these sites are curating the web for the best of long, narrative style pieces of journalism. They give you a bite-sized hook and the link. It’s up to you whether you take it or not.
The beauty of following one or both of these services is that they are free and are doing the hard work for you. No need to scour 25 various websites, searching out the good stuff. They’re doing that work for you. Now you get to pick the best of the best, or whatever happens to strike your fancy.
The pro for longform.org is that it is extensive. They seem to miss very little and are also active in bringing back lots of older articles that are relevant to today’s news. They also will bring together collections that feature either a certain writer or a certain topic. I’ve seen the “Longform Guide to Saturday Night Live” for instance. I grew up on SNL before it was probably appropriate for me to even stay up that late, so I’m fascinated by the inner-workings of the show. When I was in the 3rd grade I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and I told them, “I want to be on SNL.” So there you can see why a guide like this would provide me with endless entertainment. Over the past 35 years there have been many, many profiles on the show. Longform.org is providing a service.
Longreads.com is subscribed to as well. They have less posts and are not as filled-out as Longform, which could be blessing if you’re trying to get to the point. The biggest service that Longreads gives is that in their header they tell you the number of words of the article and the estimated time it should take you to read it. That’s incredibly handy.
In the next post I’ll talk about where to put all of those articles now that you’ve found them.
“Raise your words, not your voice. It’s rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” - Rumi
I’m at this odd age now. This time of transition that a lot of my friends are going through, a time that I’m working out with a bit of fear and trembling. It’s a time when many of my friends are having not their first but their second child. Some are finished and have hit the showers after their fourth little reproduction.
I love watching my friends be parents. I don’t think I know any of them to be particularly bad parents, or even average. Maybe I’m biased or maybe I’m comparing poorly or perhaps I don’t see the real-life Kardashian mania that goes on when I’m not there (to be honest, I’ve never seen anything with the Kardasians in it. They could well be lovely people).
I’m not convinced, though. I think my friends are great parents because I get to watch them so much. And I think that most of them are close enough to me to let their guard down. I’m not the friend that just comes over for dinner every so often. I’m the one who spends 12 hours there. I tend to show up and we go on adventures. It was once me and Travis back when we were in high school. Now it’s a family affair. I love it. So I believe that to what extent this is possible, I get to see my friends really parent their kids. I maintain that they’re good at it.
Here is why I think this. I watch them communicate with their kids. I see the way they talk to them. I am sort of a sponge for this kind of thing and it’s probably out of a lot of reasons that go back to my childhood, but that’s a different essay, a different book altogether. Sometimes I feel like I’m observing the art of parenthood the way an alien would quietly take in the quirks of the human race. I study it, and I hope to the good Lord that I’m taking it in so that when my time comes I’ll be able to actually help my children thrive.
At first I noticed how my friends would get down on their kid’s level, how they would look them in the eye. From even a couple of years ago I can hear Travis’s voice as he asks his oldest daughter a question, as he explains the nature of what just happened to his oldest son. They started doing this work from the very beginning, and it was amazing to witness how responsive a two year old could be to direction if they had been talked to early on. That was the first lesson: communicate everything. Everything. It looks, from my perspective, to be really hard work, but I suppose it’s the type of work that makes everything else a little bit easier down the road. Or at least that’s my naive hope.
I noticed something else the other day that I hadn’t picked up on before. I notice that my friends, Robert and Natalie, Travis and Liz, and so many others, do something else. They give their kids choices. They have choices in every context, so they understand that they can pick their own destiny, yet there will be consequences or rewards depending on the action. Right now the choices line up with with everyday ecstasies and heartbreaks like treats, bath times, and wether or not they really need another item from Pixar’s never-ending stream of “Cars” products. Later on, however, we’ll see a whole new set of choices emerge. As a wise man I know always says, “Life gets better, but life gets harder.” As I’m experiencing this march into full-maturity, this quest of sorts, I ponder how right he is. Our choices become more complex, and provided that we act with wisdom (sometimes I do, many times I do not), then the consequences or rewards are proportionally as filling and deep. It’s very simple, the sort of thing that my grandfather would have explained to me had he lived on.
This is amazing to see now, and I realize that many people know this stuff intuitively because they had parents who bred it into them, who mixed it in with the applesauce. My experience was a bit different. For me it often feels like I’m discovering the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A kid that doesn’t know he has choices, I think, begins to see the world as a matter of inevitability. He can start to slowly believe that things just happen. It’s a mark of passivity, which might be the single most unattractive quality in anyone.
So I watch the way Robert or Liz talk to their children, giving them a way, giving them a set of options with explained consequences for whichever path is taken. I see Benjamin and Amaris make a decision. I see them taking ownership for their own lives, even though they’re incredibly young. It’s beautiful, I’ve begun to realize.
I read an article the other day that was just amazing. It had to do with Creating vs. Consuming, and the former being a standard mark of maturity in a man. Just about every line rings with clarity and knowing.
The author speaks of how boys consume. Their capacity for pleasure is shallow and superficial, so they constantly need to go back to the well and get filled up. It doesn’t last so they just need more. It’s exhausting for everyone, and it’s an empty pursuit.
A man, however, learns to gain pleasure through creating. To Make Something gives back over and over again. The joy and pleasure of it’s existence, that which you are responsible for, is like living beside a river. It’s constant, it’s deep, it’s the stuff of life. Mature people create, kids consume. Maturity is dying to your old self and creating a life that is fruitful, that is creative, that gives. We can create just about anything and enjoy it. My friend is currently making a table out of solid cherry. Others are creating families where previously there was none. I’m building a new career, not so I can consume more stuff, but so that I can use my skills and success for the benefit of others: the poor, the disenfranchised, my own kids, my neighbor. That’s what I want to pursue above all things, this kind of maturity that creates. I am a long way off yet.
On Saturday I had brunch with an old friend who I had not seen in a couple of years. She took me over to the old jail on Pryor Street in downtown Atlanta, where she works at what is now the Gateway Center. It’s an amazing program that is working to end homelessness in Atlanta. As we were talking about the programs that they have, I asked her if she believes in what she is doing. She told me that she could point me to countless success stories off the top of her head of people who’s lives have completely changed. She told me that every person that comes to them has a choice, and if they don’t want to do it, then they are not captive.
I said, “So you’re saying they have a choice?”
“Yes!”, she said. “It’s human. We have the tools, but they have the choice in what they do with it, what they do with their lives.”
And then it hit me how incredible it is that my friend’s kids, the ones who all call me their uncle, how sweet their life can be and how pleasurable their dance through their years may be as they learn now, at the ages of 2 and 3 and 5 that life does not happen by a matter of the moon and the stars falling out of alignment. Life isn’t passive, it doesn’t just occur. We are making choices still and roads and trails are being taken every moment of every day. We get to pick. And the trick from there, I think, is just to be brave. Or at least more brave than we are afraid.
If you missed it, I had this to say yesterday to a bicyclist riding down Boulevard in Atlanta.
Below I am posting a very thoughtful post from a reader that I don’t know personally. After that is my response.
I stumbled upon your post and I was going to say something similar to “Guest.”
Some background: I ride in the city but I’m no expert. And I drive in the city, too; I understand your irritation. I just wanted to speak up regarding bicyclists riding two-abreast.
It’s my understanding that, on roads with multiple lanes traveling in a single direction (like much of Boulevard), a pair of bikers can “take the lane.” This usually means that they ride two-abreast in the right-hand lane and that vehicular traffic passes them in the left lane(s).
It’s not so much about not hindering the speed of other traffic as it is about safely accommodating all vehicles on the road.
Don’t get me wrong; the rider wasn’t fully in the right. Passing stopped traffic along the median is, pardon the statement, a dick move. And also illegal. That stuff really irritates me because I try to be a good-citizen cyclist. But I wanted to give voice to those of us who try our hardest to ride legally and safely.
PS: This part concerned me:
“When we kindly asked you to move over, you started yelling at us about how it was your road and you can ride wherever you want. You actually sounded entitled to act like a jerk. It sounded like you truly believed that it was your right to do what you were doing.”
“I can tell you that it is not your right. Nor is it mine, if I buy a bicycle and peddle it around Atlanta. It’s no more your right to behave that way than it would be for me to force my hunk of steeled Mazda onto your back tire, coercing you into popping onto the sidewalk.”As I mentioned, the rider probably had the right to not move over (I’m at work and unable to research (and thus cite) specific code/best practices, so I say “probably”). And it’d be your right, too, if (when?) you get a bike to ride in the city. But it’s really, really, really not okay to threaten violence to a vulnerable rider. Even if he is a total jerk. And, in my opinion, even after the fact.
I know it’s your blog, and of course you can say whatever, it’s just that the bike/car culture clash in Atlanta is terrifying sometimes, and reading that gave me chills.
And you probably already know this, but just for the record it is also illegal for any adult to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk in Atlanta. :)
And my reply:
“I really appreciate your post. When this entire incident occurred, I said to my friend, “I’m going to look up what the law says about this and either issue a public apology or a statement of rights.”
It appears from the blog that you cited that I may very well be wrong. A few people mentioned that the laws weren’t very good or in favor of cyclist, and I said that my position wasn’t to comment on the wisdom of the law (to borrow from our Chief Justice), but rather to simply state what it says and ask that people follow suit.
With that being said, if I’m wrong then I am wrong and I’m okay with it.
And I want to be very very clear that I was in no way threatening violence to anyone. My point was precisely that I do not have the right to coerce someone out of my way just because I have the bigger and faster vehicle. I truly believe in the rights of bicyclists to be able use the road safely. It just seemed that this guy was particularly inconsiderate, if not acting illegally. If what he did was legal (median riding not withstanding), then I’m in the wrong and I apologize. But please believe me that violence was never a threat, an option, or a thought. My intended point was specially counter to that. I’m sorry that it wasn’t made more clear.
Again, thank you so much for your thoughtful post.
To The Guy On The Bicycle On Boulevard,
Today I was operating a motor vehicle and you were on a bicycle. You seemed to be riding alongside a girlfriend of sorts. I want you to know a couple of things that I really believe.
I love bikes. I want one myself. I actually was so obsessed with the idea of biking across the city that I bought one when I lived in England, even though the bike I got was decrepit and unusable and the weather on Great Britain is appropriate for riding exposed to the damp elements approximately twice per year. I think bicycles are magical devices. They are good for the environment, for our health, and for the overall well-being of society. I am decidedly pro-bicycle.
Also, I believe whole-heartedly that the bicyclist has every right to be on the same road that automobiles are using. It’s a common space for all types of machines, not only the ones that move the fastest.
Having said that, I need you to review your Georgia law concerning the rights of the bicyclist. It appears that you are confused about some of the particulars of the law. It is not legal for you to ride two-abreast, no matter how much you desire to pedal and gaze longingly into your girlfriend’s sweat-stinging eyes. Furthermore, it is not your right to ride wherever you please in the road. Today you put yourself squarely in the middle of the lane. Then, when all of the cars were stopped at a light, you moved yourself to the yellow median and cut in front of everyone else. Then, if I can even believe my own eyes, you went back to riding in the middle of the lane as if you were really operating a BMW and not a Huffy.
When we kindly asked you to move over, you started yelling at us about how it was your road and you can ride wherever you want. You actually sounded entitled to act like a jerk. It sounded like you truly believed that it was your right to do what you were doing.
I can tell you that it is not your right. Nor is it mine, if I buy a bicycle and peddle it around Atlanta. It’s no more your right to behave that way than it would be for me to force my hunk of steeled Mazda onto your back tire, coercing you into popping onto the sidewalk. In the spirit of the our most recent holiday celebration, this land is your land, this land is my land.
Yet, there are rules to these things. Apparently The Georgia General Assembly, that law-making club that meets in the golden domed building downtown, has formed a consensus on how to travel in these situations. These are them, for your reference:
As stated in Georgia Bicycle Traffic Laws:
(a) Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway shall ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable, except when turning left or avoiding hazards to safe cycling, when the lane is too narrow to share safely with a motor vehicle, when traveling at the same speed as traffic, or while exercising due care when passing a standing vehicle or one proceeding in the same direction; provided, however, that every person operating a bicycle away from the right side of the roadway shall exercise reasonable care and shall give due consideration to the other applicable rules of the road. As used in this subsection, the term “hazards to safe cycling” includes, but is not limited to, surface debris, rough pavement, drain grates which areparallel to the side of the roadway, parked or stopped vehicles, potentially opening car doors, or any other objects which threaten the safety of a person operating a bicycle.
(b) Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.
Thank you for your consideration. May your days on two wheels be ever merry and bright.
Jason J. Tatum, Bicycle Enthusiast
Note: As was pointed out, it is legal to ride two-abreast, but not more so. How this works in conjunction with the first part of the law is unclear to me. It would seem to say that it is okay to ride two-abreast as long as you are not in the way of other traffic, which seems to be the spirit of the first section of the quoted law.