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The On Being Project

The Poem That Ends Krista’s Email Signature

Things feel differently around our studios this time of year. I’m not sure what it is, or why it’s come about. Maybe it’s the autumn energy of Minnesota? Or the new music we are playing in our studio space (our Spotify playlist of office tunes)? Or, perhaps it’s the addition of new colleagues and new opportunities. Or, could it be Krista’s new email signature, which contains an extra nugget of goodness? I haven’t asked her about its origins yet, but I thought I’d share it with you here:

What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade
a poem by Brad Aaron Modlin

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,

how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark.

After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s

voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—

something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted

Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,

and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.

The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.

And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,

and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person

add up to something.

There’s a mixture of joyfulness and playfulness rooted in a reenergized zeal that speaks to the core of our mission as a media and public life project. And we’re excited to continue our adventure with you as our traveling companions.
Words and Insights from Our Columnists

(Yamil Lage / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images / © All Rights Reserved)

Omid Safi | Seeking the Spirit in the Midst of a Hurricane
The recent hurricanes and wildfires teach us not only about climate change and human folly, but also about the fundamental goodness of people in the face of disaster:

“We live in such morally and politically divided ages. When a natural disaster hits, we can be sad, we can be in awe, but few of us can be morally mad at a hurricane. So in the absence of anger or revenge or blame, we resort to that in us which is perhaps most primal, most fundamental: compassion, love, service.”

(Yoann Boyer / Unsplash / Public Domain Dedication (CC0))

Parker Palmer | Unravel the Story You Tell Yourself, and Discover the Story You’re In
If you are one of those people who continually needs to be in control of your life and schedule, Parker offers verse from Mark Nepo, who helps us all to recognize the virtue in letting the chips fall where they may:

“The only / way to listen to what can never / be said is to quiet our need / to steer the plot.”

(Emily Kask / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images / © All Rights Reserved)

Courtney Martin | Don’t Look Away
In what feels like an endless deluge of bad news, Courtney points out that we must not check out. Her column tells the story of two incredible role models, Rosanne Haggerty and Brenda Kraus Eheart, who don’t look away but catalyze the change they want to see:

“Neither of these women is the kind who purports to save anyone. Instead, they are both fierce and humble. They know that ideas are a dime a dozen and that real, long-term change requires solving for local suffering and then getting really smart about how to shift whole systems through partnership. They do countercultural work without being obsessed with how countercultural it is. They conscientiously create the world they know is possible. They take personal responsibility for that vision. They will die trying.”

Thoughts from Our Guest Contributor

(Annie Spratt / Unsplash / Public Domain Dedication (CC0))

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett | Inconspicuous Consumption and the Rise of the Aspirational Class
Habits of consumption are changing for many people, but are they just shapeshifting? Elizabeth details a type of quiet consumption that isn’t necessarily worn over the shoulder or parked in the driveway, but one that secures and preserves social mobility for those in the know:

“While much inconspicuous consumption is extremely expensive, it shows itself through less expensive but equally pronounced signaling — from reading The Economist to buying pasture-raised eggs. Inconspicuous consumption, in other words, has become a shorthand through which the new elite signal their cultural capital to one another. In lockstep with the invoice for private preschool comes the knowledge that one should pack the lunchbox with quinoa crackers and organic fruit.”

Things We’re Reading and Watching
The Cincinnati Enquirer | Seven Days of Heroin
There’s been a lot of reporting and coverage of the opioid epidemic and the staggering uptick in heroin/fentanyl overdoses and deaths caused by it, but “Seven Days of Heroin” gives you a deeper sense of the human and systemic tolls it takes on families and communities. This day-by-day accounting punctuated with daily data totals over the course of a week brings it home. I’ll be honest, the cumulative effect is chilling, brutal… and enlightening.

Frieze | Tributes to John Ashbery (1927-2017)
With the brilliant poet’s passing, a lovely post from poets, writers, and musicians celebrating the life of one of our finest. Relish these lines of Ashbery’s:

Virtue is really stubbornness

And only in the light of lost words
Can we imagine our rewards.

The New Yorker | The Curse of the Diaeresis
One of those articles for punctuation and grammar nerds — like us — who have wondered if we should adapt our style for words such as “cooperate” or “reelect.” The brilliant Mary Norris explains all. Utterly enlightening!

Constellations of Listening + Living

the car accident
body prayer
stress hormones
we were mutually dependent
better listener
a foot in two worlds

What you see here is a poem composed by our new discovery app. It is crafted from six phrases drawn from six different conversations that make up this week’s constellation of listening. The north star (“car accident”) is “The Body’s Grace” with Matthew Sanford. How interesting to see the five other “stars” that give shape to this constellation:

Listen, share, and add them to your playlist. Then, let me know what new insights you may have gleaned from listening to this cluster of stars! My email address is [email protected] and I’m on Twitter at @trentgilliss.

On Being on Instagram
And, I’ll leave you with this sweet, illustrated card drawing on last week’s conversation for our Instagram account.

May the wind always be at your back,

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