Tag Archives: Love

The Crisis of Public vs Private Discourse in the Social Media Age

The other day, driving home from rehearsal, I chuckled to myself at a thought that I would probably say to friends in my living room but would never post to a public forum. It involved a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall sitting next to an overly enthusiastic Christmas decorator who seems to take extra joy at installing new holiday lights at this time of year.

Does my unwillingness to write a joke here about that irony make the thought bad in itself?  I’m not JW and I like my holidays, so it’s funny to me.  I have zero JW friends, so the risk to me personally of giving offense is slight. Yet as soon as this blog post hits the Internet, my private musings become public discourse, and they carry much more weight.

* * * *

I’ve been blogging for over ten years now. Surely at some point I’ve said things I’d now disagree with. Am I held to today’s standards for what I wrote in 2005? Should I blow up everything I’ve ever written to ensure that Future Me won’t pay the price for Past Me’s immaturity or ignorance?

And if so, what’s the point of writing anything now?  What benefit does the “average person” gain from engaging in any social media or digital discourse that might outweigh any risk of being misunderstood (or rightly understood but on the wrong side of prevailing consensus)?

Though many science fiction writers predicted we’d have global communication, only Black Mirror (the British TV series) seems to grasp how horrific mass communication can be as it engages the darkest of human nature.  In the 90s, early netizens skirted around pedophiles in chat rooms across the world. In the early 2000s, AIM kept us awake late at night (“bing!”) with 17 message windows stacked across the screen. (And we were still trying to avoid predators.)

But I don’t think any of us realized what we were getting into when Facebook opened up to public membership or when Twitter invited us to encapsulate thoughts in a space smaller than a standard text message.  We live our lives publicly now, via Instagram histories of meals eaten and trips taken, alongside Facebook shares that mingle cat videos with political fights.

The Internet is a rough rodeo. Read any comment stream and examples of Cunningham’s Law quickly surface (the fastest way to the right answer on the Internet is to post the wrong information). It’s exhausting to be corrected non-stop for pedantic elements inside a larger post. But even Cunningham couldn’t have predicted the rancor and hate which accompany those corrections or disagreements. If you can’t handle someone insulting your grandmother and suggesting that you have incestuous relations with your mother on a regular basis, you probably shouldn’t post a comment in any public discussion.

What kind of world have we fostered, then, by moving the public square into cyberspace? A lonely, nasty, and dark one (if 2017 is any indication).

Our public and private spaces have bled into one confusing sphere.  What I think to myself in the car, I might choose to say to friends who share similar backgrounds and who would not be offended. But what I write – anywhere – is publicly owned in this 21st century, subject to scrutiny and the infinite memory of Google and internet trolls.  No conversation takes place within a limited audience anymore.

 *  *  *  *

As a person grows in their understanding of the world, certain forms of humor stop being funny. And other observations move from public sharing to private chuckle. Hopefully I’m more aware of why some statements are offensive rather than merely a “joke in poor taste.”Yeah, this. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t laugh at anymore. #cringe 

Reputation (or notoriety) is critical for a society where the driving currency of fame is likes, clicks, views, and ad revenue generation.  I recall a moment in a recent episode of The Orville (a Star Trek knock-off helmed by Seth MacFarlane that’s way better than I expected it to be).   Like in Star Trek, the Orville economy doesn’t require money because people have access to free material synthesis/replication for food, clothes, or supplies. The first officer comments to a junior officer that once money ceased to be an issue for people, reputation emerged as the primary currency of value.

From the imdb character page for Lt. LaMar found here: http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0585874/quotes

Except that our new desire for protection also shuts down conversation when we need it most.

We all maintain an inner discourse rife with thoughts we’ve learned not to share because the risk is too high, even if as a society we usually benefit from airing thoughts, having them challenged by competing experiences, and growing in our understanding. (I had to add “usually” to that sentence because I’m not convinced, in a year when we saw real, live Nazis and bigots marching proudly in the streets, that all discourse is useful or helpful. Some public platforms degenerate discourse. But that’s a thought for another post.) 

Our swirling political discourse occupies a minefield of prejudice, racism, political correctness, philosophical disagreement, political theory, and religious tenets.  We face critical conversations about what freedom of speech and belief mean when white supremacists are insisting on a seat at the table.  So a little prudence about what thoughts escape my mouth into the air is probably justified.

I have grown to realize that my life as a white, WASPy female includes privileges of someone with advanced education and white skin alongside the consequences of my parents’ actions and my own. I’m the product of my upbringing and my experiences, but I’ve also learned – often through conversation with others or reading which force me to consider other perspectives- that my experience is not the yardstick by which reality is measured. 

The conservative Christianity that raised me pinned the label of evil onto a lot of concepts that a pluralistic society embraces: women holding positions of authority and power; freedom of personal expression and sexual expression; self-determination; non-traditional family groupings; non-Christian religions.  As I navigate what it means to be both Christian and American, those circles don’t nicely overlap.

For example, I have to face the implications of a patriarchal authority structure in the church and its negative effect on women, including rampant sexual harassment and abuse within Evangelical churches – a reckoning that’s yet to come. (Not that the Catholic church has succeeded much better. Toxic patriarchy is way worse when it’s located within enforced celibacy.)

I recognize that while my understanding of morality may guide which policies I support, not all people share that same perspective as they act out their values in the voting booth or public discourse. I’ve learned that some of my goals for others ought to be chosen by them for themselves, not enforced, in a pluralist republic like the United States. 

 *  *  *  *

These are confusing, difficult thoughts. I’ve been angry for ALL of 2017, nearly llivid by this point thanks to the legislative malpractice circus that led to the passage of a tax reform bill no Senator has even read, on top of six weeks of continual allegations and revelations of sexual abuse and harassment. I have zero chill right now about this stuff. 

But I know many of us are confused and secretly worried about what we’re going to wake up to once the dust settles in 2018.

I’m thrilled that chronic sexual harassers are finally getting it but also scared for my male friends who I know are good and kind people, who may have at some point set their hand on a woman’s knee or mentioned how nice her blouse looked. I don’t want to see them punished for an honest mistake that could instead become a teachable moment for better behavior int he future.  And I want us to develop new vocabulary to describe the range of actions humans can take toward each other. A hand on a knee might lead some men toward engaging in sexual abuse but it is not the same as rape or abuse. We need places to discuss this, to hash out the language and the consequences.

We can’t use a sledgehammer to solve every problem in public life, yet it seems that the collapse of public and private discourse leaves us little else.

My point is this: we’re all caught in a messy web of ideas and half-baked thoughts and assumptions which form the foundation of how we see the world. And right now, social media is making it worse. 

I’m not longing for us to return to some mythical good ol’ days. But it would be foolish not to recognize how much of a mess this is. There are few safe spaces to ask potentially explosive questions or to express doubt because no conversations are private anymore.

Perhaps, as with many of these problems, the solution lies in the Great Commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. That starts with building an actual relationship with “neighbors,” whether in digital or physical proximity.  The hard work of community development lies at the heart of diffusing the social and political rancor we’re experiencing.  I do not believe we will gain ground any other way but by building relationships. 

I played a parenting sim disguised as the best video game I’ve ever played [The Witcher 3]

Oh no. Here it is. One of those moments where you’ve got to make a snap decision, but you can feel in your heart that it’s a biggie.

Damn. If I let her go off and do this, she’s not ready. She’s going to get hurt. She doesn’t understand the risks. This could end badly – so badly. I’d be an idiot to let a teenage girl walk into that situation without her father.

But if I make the call for her, if I insist on shoving myself into her decision, then I’m also diminishing her as a person. I’m robbing her of the opportunity to become all the woman that she can be. And that’s starting to mean more to me than ‘keeping her safe.’  There’s going to come a day when I’m not there, when I can’t keep her safe. She’s got to be able to make it on her own.

I’ve spent the last week second-guessing my choices as a “parent,” worried that I could have chosen better … This wasn’t what I expected when I popped the game disk into my PS4 in December.

The Witcher 3 is a video game by a Polish studio based on a fantasy series popular there, one that is just now making its way into the American market. (You should immediately go buy the first book on Amazon, because if you like fantasy at all, you’ll enjoy it.) The books and games center on the story of Geralt the Witcher, one of the few remaining members of a guild founded in the book’s Middle Ages to fight monsters who prey on humans. As people began to populate the land (a clone of Eastern Europe) back in the day, witchers were created through mutation and strong drugs to be faster and more capable mutant humans, able to take down the terrifying creatures that the humans discovered in their land. But that was hundreds of years ago, and the witchers are a dying breed now, a relic of an older and less-enlightened age, and despised by most people as an aberration.

witcher-3-screenshot-4-840x473Geralt is a pretty hard man at the beginning of his story. Unlike many fantasy RPG’s which throw you into an open world to craft your own story, Geralt brings his own strong, established personality and a definite story arc. He reminds me of a 1930s noir detective. He speaks in short clipped sentences and sees the world in his own version of black and white. To a witcher, the politics of men matter little. His job is to kill the monsters that men can’t kill … though he wisely recognizes that many “monsters” are far better than the rich men and rulers who devour their subjects through greed and corruption. But he wasn’t created to deal with them.

***SPOILERS AHEAD*** YOU SHOULD STOP NOW IF YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED THE GAME
and you really should play this game! ….One of the best I’ve ever encountered. 

Into Geralt’s hard and lonely life comes a child, a Child of Destiny, a consequence of the Law of Surprise. (“As payment, give me something you have at home that you do not expect.” Or “Give me your first child, the one yet unborn.”) Geralt has little use for Destiny since he survives by hard training, fast reflexes, and avoiding the stupidity of a fight he cannot win. But Destiny has other plans, and inserts into his life a six year old, blond firebrand named Ciri. Geralt, when he has a home, lives with a couple other bachelor witchers in a drafty, crumbling castle. His idea of “fun” is either drinking or working out.

But suddenly, he’s a dad. And through the power of video gaming, now so are you.

qcprc7p

Ciri grows up, as children are wont to do. And so does Geralt (who’s 100 years old, by the way, when the story opens – witchers don’t really age thanks to their mutations). And so does Yenefer, Geralt’s on-again/off-again love interest, a woman who’s so polarizing, the Witcher fanbase sorts itself into #TeamYen and #TeamTriss. Yenefer is a hard woman to love. That’s a long story and I’ll leave it for the books or games to unravel for you, but it’s worth noting that I couldn’t stand her for the first several hours I played the game (or the first several hundred pages of the books). I came around later.

But what makes the Witcher 3 a stunning masterpiece of storytelling is the way it thrusts you into the job of parent, so craftily that you don’t realize it’s happened. Geralt is on a mission to find Ciri #becauseplot and along the way you’re asked to make decisions, often in the heat of a moment, about how you’re going to respond to Ciri’s attitude or request or needs.

Do you coddle her? Encourage her? Forbid her? Protect her?

It matters. There are three endings to this game, and one of them is horrible. Gamers talk about how that ending crushed them. The other two endings are “good” but also bittersweet. Parents can’t keep their kids forever. It’s not what’s meant to be, no matter how much you enjoy their company. You’ve got to let go. The big question is, will you be able to live with yourself once you see the embodiment of all your parenting choices? #allthefeels

What struck me, once I finished the game, was how much Geralt and Yenefer (and I-as-Geralt) had changed because of parenting Ciri. You realize you’re making decisions differently. They’re sacrificing themselves for the sake of this girl they’re raising. And as Ciri becomes more and more their heart-child, a woman they will fight and die for because they love her that deeply, their sacrifice is redemptive. By sacrificing themselves, they save themselves – from a life of loneliness and bitterness and selfishness. “He who saves his life shall lose it; but he who sacrifices his life for My sake, shall find it,” said Christ in the Gospels. Learning to live and love sacrificially has consequences, primarily for the person who’s learning to love selflessly.

Please dive into this game if you have any inclination toward video games at all. I promise, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, I’ll probably find you bawling your eyes out at the ending, like I did…. because that’s what a great game does for you. It drives home its story so that you cannot escape it, so that you feel it and walk around in a daze for a bit afterward, wondering how you could have been a better parent…..

I recommend reading this lovely short piece on the quality of The Witcher 3‘s storytelling.

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 11.12.52 AM.png
Over 800 awards for this game. Nothing to sneeze at.

You might also enjoy this great analysis by the guys at Extra Credits on how The Witcher 3 uses choice and romantic dilemmas to force the player to confront his/her own character:

An #Election2016 Afterthought

I was stunned to see states fall to Trump one after another…. but not surprised. The working-class rage and the palpable fear of white (especially Christians) drove voters far more than any rational discussion could.

I did not want to get out of bed this morning in Trump’s America. But here we are. And I’ll have none of this #notmypresident bullshit. Trump is your President come January 20. That’s how democracy works. Take your lumps, recognize where things need to change, and work for the good of the whole country.

The difficult work of community development always happens on the local level. The working class / poor of America said last night, “That’s it, we’re done, break the system, make it work for us because right now it isn’t.” ….Except that the federal government isn’t a magic wand. Neither is the state government.

NO government is a magic spell. Good gvernments restrain wicked men and support social structures that (hopefully) promote and enable human flourishing. Government is a powerful tool of Grace. (Don’t believe that? Spend November reading the major/minor prophets.)  One of the most toxic narratives ever to emerge from the alt-right and ultra-conservative edges of the Republicans and Libertarians is this idea that government is evil. That’s a dangerous idea and it needs to be confronted and disarmed. We can argue over “how much” government is a good or bad thing, but we should not dismantle the structures that restrain humans from acting out every desire or that provide incentive to act against our selfish individual interests for the good of the whole.

Regardless of who could have won the election, the poor/working class who are marginalized by the power-holders will likely not benefit from that power. The poverty of rural America emerges from global forces none of us can stop – not even Trump via blustery rhetoric of how he’s going to challenge global free trade. (Good luck with that, when Americans realize how high the prices go when we don’t participate in the global economy.) Neither Trump nor Hillary can make life in a poor, rural area much less bad than it is right now.

Who can? You can. I can. Our churches can. Civic organizations. Non-profits. And local governments (and state) working close to the issues, in conjunction with concerned citizens.

Stop being a once-every-four-years American. It takes 2 seconds to find out your state and national representatives’ phone numbers and email addresses, and save them to your address book. Contact them. Tell them what’s important to you and how you think your community’s needs can be met.

And get off your butt and go help the organizations in your community who bear the brunt of the work to make life better for people. Loving your neighbor is hard work much of the time. Put up or shut up.

In the meantime, the past year was one of the ugliest things I’ve ever seen. If you read that sentence and thought, “Yeah! Those jerks!” then you’ve missed my point. We all need a dose of civility and grace, and it can begin today with some honest soul-searching about how I am called to love my neighbor – especially the ones I disagree with – and how to season truth-speaking with grace so it can be heard (for the racism and misogyny and xenophobia I’ve seen this year breaks my heart).

Worth your time to read

A few good reads to kick off your week. One should never approach Monday without a good read around.

To kick off, this piece by Kutter Callaway of Fuller Seminary really hit home with me today when I read it in a back issue of Fuller Magazine that we got at work a few months ago. (Yeah, I know, I’m behind.)  He discusses the way that chronic pain distorts our view of reality, usually attacking our sense of hope the most viciously. And how Christians dealing with chronic pain gain insight into the hope offered by the Gospel. A powerful read.

Restoring Hope: Being Weak and Becoming Well – Fuller Studio

*****
From the same issue of Fuller Magazine come two excellent pieces about Christians and hospitality. This ancient set of practices has worn very thin in our modern age, and these scholars take time to explain why Christians should pursue hospitality even more fervently now.  In fact, hospitality might create a space where Christians and Muslims can gather on common ground. 

Restoring Hospitality: A Blessing for Visitor and Host – Fuller Studio

A Moratorium on Hospitality? – Fuller Studio

*****
Time is not just money. It’s also power.  And one of the significant discrepancies between working women and working men lies in their access to uninterrupted free time to think, create, or connect.

This article by Brigid Schulte gives a name to the fragmented craziness that women experience as they try to juggle work, parenting, and marriage:  leisure confetti.  

While many working men are able to access blocks of uninterrupted time, most women — especially mothers — get their leisure time only in snatches, and even then it’s dirtied with the mental anxiety of carpool logistics, supper planning, family scheduling, budgeting, etc.

Confetti. You can’t build or create anything or even feel like a real human being if the only time you get to yourself comes in scraps.

Brigid Schulte: Why time is a feminist issue

*****
I never talk on the phone much now, and aside from my teenaged spurt of nightly phone sessions with my best friends (or calls home during my college days), I’ve never been a huge phone talker.  Texting was (and is) a god-send: concise communication that people can read when they’re ready, apart from the disruption of a ringing phone.

This Slate writer disagrees, and wonders if we’ve lost something…

The Death of the Telephone Call |Slate

*****
This next one may make some folks mad…. but that’s not my intention. In fact, I’d like to post this as much to invite critique as suggest alliance.  But I think Americans need to turn a critical (in the sense of objective / evaluation) eye on football. It’s a dangerous game – one that grinds up the bodies (and brains) of players for the violent pleasure of the masses. This bothers me.

And here, this author suggests an even more troubling link – that the US military is happy to keep Americans confusing patriotism with team loyalty, to see football as  a kind of American war.

I’m not a peacenik but it doesn’t take a 60s hippie conscience to question whether Americans can tell the difference between patriotism and nationalism, between bandwagon-riding mob behavior and common sense.

How the NFL Sells – and Unabashedly Benefits From – the Inextricable Link Between Football and War |The Cauldron (Sports Illustrated)

*****
A powerful reminder that ministry which sees the recipients as “needy” will fail to be as successful as it should be.

“Do you want to know why we love him [another missionary]? He needs us. The rest of you have never needed us.”

What’s Wrong with Western Missionaries? | DesiringGod

*****
I may not be in a classroom any more (an experience that I genuinely miss pretty often), but I want everyone to read this wonderful piece directed to young teachers.  It’s a great reminder of why I taught, and why I want to spend my life trying to make education better.

In The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer suggests that we teach who we are and thus, no matter what we teach, our students judge us as “good” or not according to how we communicate who we are.

Letter to a Young High School Teacher | Comment Magazine

 

I’ll be back with some book reviews soon. Currently reading 2 or 3 that have been good reads for sure.

When the levee breaks

Sometimes all the crappy stuff kind of hits at once. I’ve noticed this. Life has a rhythm; sometimes the drummer setting the beat is Sorrow or Calamity or Hardship.

My train of thinking today has been all over the place. It started actually with feeling all the things rather than thinking them. Sometimes I have to feel my way through from beginning to end, let my emotions catch up to my head. That’s always a weird out-of-body experience, as if my brain and my gut are about a quarter turn out of step. Like trying to watch a 3D movie but without the little glasses to bring everything into focus.

Two things happened yesterday that left me feeling the drumbeat of loss pretty hard.

The first was the passing of a friend, the mother of one of our former students. Her laughter was pure light; her smile could set planets afire. She was merry, tough, beautiful, hilarious, unashamed, unafraid, badass, witty, and loving. Their family hosted gatherings at their roomy log cabin house for groups of our students since we taught their son.

And cancer removed her light from this world yesterday. Fuck cancer. I knew it was coming, had heard that hospice was involved, know how this story always ends, but it still stings. And what I feel is nothing compared to the loss felt by her children, her husband, her siblings, her close friends.

Second, I’m struggling here not to accuse the Universe of just plain aggravation and cussedness. As a friend commented, “Sometimes you have to decide whether you’re going to cash in your ‘Calvinist chips'” – i.e., whether all that talk about trusting God to order the pathway of life is just talk when the pathway doesn’t seem very orderly.

I know in my head that sometimes the path is complicated. Or sometimes you have to fight for your calling, to take hold of opportunities, especially at work. But what I’m feeling today is the sense of disappointment that comes from proposing an idea (at work) and then losing the opportunity to implement it. I know it could work out anyway; what looks like The World’s Worst Timing may be a providential boon. But my mood is out of sorts. I wanted things done “my way” and instead I feel like a living, breathing example of Irony.

And I could add a third event – the recent pileup of people in our life who need help, real help, in ways we cannot provide. Homelessness. Lack of income. Underemployment. Poor or nonexistent health care. Little access to good jobs. No path out of poverty. They come to us because the other support networks are non-existent or have broken down. And there’s little support to be had. Either you’re born into a family that takes care of you when you’re down, or you end up living in your car and trying to subsist on french fries. And I’m supposed to do something about this?

This is why I’m writing – not so you can join me in feeling bad that the world sucks, but joining me in recognizing that it’s a lot easier to sit here and feel bad about the world feeling bad than to do anything meaningful about it.

Truth is, I like my life to be comfortable and neat. I want decisions to be clear, categories orderly, people neatly classified, questions answered.  I don’t want someone calling me because they need to crash on my couch right when I’m going through a job transition.

I don’t want to face the fact that the choices I make with my salary, whether I buy myself a Starbucks or give that money to someone I actually know who needs it more than I do, are moral choices. They reveal what I value more than the words I use to describe what I think I value.

What –and who– I love is revealed by what I do, and I didn’t want that lesson hammered into my skull today along with everything else I’m struggling to feel my way through.

But there it is.

A few good reads for your weekend

I’ve run across so many excellent short pieces of writing on the Internet recently that I am going to serve up a list of Posts Worth Your Time this weekend.  None of these are particularly long, so grab them as mental snacks when you have time:

My friend John Ellis’s passionate review of Bill Mallonee’s latest album convinced me that I need to give it a listen today, and if I like it, to buy it. #becausemusic  And that’s a pretty impressive album review considering I don’t even particularly follow that genre. I appreciate people with excellent music taste who write fervently about good music.
“An Unfortunate Review” | No Depression

I saw firsthand the power of improv games in my classroom and among my students to grow their confidence, develop rapid-thinking techniques, and build deeper relationships and community. Guess what, this is great for adults too!
How Improv Can Open Up the Mind to Learning in the Classroom and Beyond | MindShift | KQED News

Not really an article, but I just heard that there will be a live (and streamed) performance of the entire Iliad in Britain this summer. Cool!
Almeida Greeks | Homer’s Iliad to become an epic online performance – BBC News

I never realized Buzzfeed did actual journalism until this spring, when I looked past all the listicle and found genuinely good reporting. This short piece about the way TLC exploits Fundamentalism and conservative Evangelicals for profit as reality TV is both sad and angering. I’m sad that Christians are so easily duped by the likes of TLC, and angry that Christians are defending the Duggars instead of crying out for much needed reforms in our circles. Sarah Jones contributes a good analysis:
How TLC’s Fundamentalism-As-Kitsch Hurts Women | Buzzfeed

Also in the land of Fundamentalism is another good read from Samantha Fields on Defeating the Dragons about how something as simple as grammar rules can be twisted into an issue of righteousness and conscience. Not all grammar nazis think prescriptive grammar is next to godliness, but I absolutely heard this line of thinking when I was in college.
I was a grammar nazi, and I was wrong | Defeating the Dragons

One of the more surprising Caitlyn Jenner pieces to emerge from the Internet was this one, a personal account from a pastor who says Jenner & the Kardashians helped plant a church in their area. Yeah, I had to read that twice too….  “Caitlyn knows who Jesus is, and Jesus knows her by name. Whether that sits comfortably on a timeline or blog comment, I know firsthand that Caitlyn has heard the good news.”
Sanctuary — I Went to Church with Bruce Jenner and Here’s What Caitlyn taught me about Jesus”

John also posted an article this week by a venerable food historian offering an interesting critique of the Slow Food movement. Is it possible for “industrial” or “processed” not to mean “evil” and “bad food”? She says, Yes. And it’s a really interesting read:

Choice of places to shop for food, choices of ingredients and dishes, choice of restaurants are all clearly ways to express class in the US. The snobbery that goes along with the choices can be irritating. And the use of phrases such as “how can we get them to eat better” set my teeth on edge.
via How Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Slow Food Theorists Got It All Wrong | Washingtonian.

And here:  Make some amazing lemon bars this weekend:
Lemon Bars With Olive Oil and Sea Salt Recipe – NYT Cooking.

A beautiful explanation of what daily, ordinary, powerful Love is like, as pictured in a relationship between a husband and his depressed wife:
Crawling Back From the Ledge – NYTimes.com

OK. Enough for now. Tune in again soon for more. 🙂

Good read: The Small, Happy Life – NYTimes.com

A a delightful read on vocation and calling that focuses on the small bits of life. Satisfaction emerges from small acts of love and meaning.

“Perhaps,” she concludes, “the mission is not a mission at all. … Everywhere there are tiny, seemingly inconsequential circumstances that, if explored, provide meaning” and chances to be generous and kind. Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments.

via The Small, Happy Life – NYTimes.com.