Welcome to my blog where I will post commentary on issues ranging from fiction to public policy. Tucked away in the Idea Boxes are “how to” tips on a variety of projects that have become part of our family’s culture over the years. I hope you’ll find some useful ideas there. My blog will take you through the fantastic journey of writing and publishing fiction, as well as commentary on politics, cultural trends, book reviews and family.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Marilynne Robinson on Culture and Religion

In an age when secularism and intellectualism are twin watchtowers against the encroachment of religious values into American politics, noted writer and scholar Marilynne Robinson provides both a defense and a critique of the role of religion in modern life in When I Was a Child I Read Books.

Known primarily for her fiction—Homecoming, Gilead and Home, all critically acclaimed—she has released a series of essays on American culture, politics and religion that reflect her exceptional insight and intellect.

Robinson’s principal thesis is that modern American life has been dumbed down and diminished not only by corrosive politics, materialism and marginalization of education, but also by turning our backs on all things sacred and beautiful, “everything in any way lofty.”  She blames both the secularists and the churches for this. 

She describes religious faith as something other than “a crude, explanatory strategy that should be supplanted by science” and argues that science and religion “should not be struggling for the same piece of turf.”

“Modern discourse is not really comfortable with the word ‘soul’ and in my opinion the loss of the word has been disabling, not only to religion but to literature and political thought and to every humane pursuit.”

Positing that “the language of public life has lost the character of generosity and the largeness of spirit that created the best of our institutions,” she makes the case for religion as a way to disrupt the constraints of “grasping materialism.” 

 “I realized gradually that my own religion, and religion in general, could and should disrupt [these] constraints, which amount to a small and narrow definition of what human beings are and how life is to be understood.”

In describing the soul as “the masterpiece of creation,” Robinson makes a cogent case for the importance of religion, like art and music, as a path to wisdom and to understanding the beauty and mystery of life.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Commentary on "Why Women Still Can't Have It All"

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” has engendered renewed discussion and debate about the conflicting roles women try to play as business leaders and mothers.   The issues are not new, but each successive generation of women is surprised by the obstacles faced in the workplace and at home as they try to meet these all-consuming, competing demands.

Truth is, men can’t “have it all” either.   The human animal has only so many hours a day and only so much energy.  Sure, some people are better multi-taskers, some need less sleep, some have prodigious memories or masterful organizational skills.  But even those people have to make choices. 

We’ve added another third to our life expectancy over the last hundred years, but we are still expected to squeeze all the critical work into the second quarter of our lives:  establishing a career, buying a house, having babies, raising the kids, saving for retirement.  We need to find a way to spread out some of those responsibilities over a longer period, so that we can focus more of our time on raising kids during one decade, but still freely return to the workplace with a chance to succeed at a high level a decade later.  The idea that you must establish yourself professionally by the time you’re 40 or 45, when many of us will live to be a hundred, is ridiculous.

We can’t have it all, at least not simultaneously, but there are enough productive decades in our lives to enable us to focus on a career, or the children, for five or ten years, without being locked out of opportunities later on.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

On Southern Fiction and IPOs

I celebrated the 4th of July by taking one more step towards the finish line.  One Summer in Arkansas is on track to launch before the beginning of December.

While Nat did all the work to prepare our annual 4th of July barbeque, I reviewed the last suggested changes from the copyeditor, one of the least painful steps in the process—just check “Accept Change” or “Reject Change” and Microsoft does the rest.  At this point we’re down to the classic debate about whether or not serial commas have any place in modern literature.  This is when everybody reverts to their 6th grade personality, since that’s when we learned our grammar, and at this stage of life we’re not about to deviate from what our 6th grade teacher taught us.  I can remember fighting the same fight in the middle of the night at many a financial printer during my life as a lawyer—a room full of entrepreneurs, lawyers, accountants and investment bankers sitting around a conference table at 2:00 a.m., eating junk food and arguing (in a 6th grade tone of voice) about whether serial commas belong in the prospectus for the IPO hitting the market the next day. 

Some things never change.