Hello! Have something to read
The Arundhati Roy op-ed about the COVID crisis in India is highly recommended. I realize you've probably seen it promoted elsewhere, but if you haven't read it, give yourself time and a bit of distance from everything else. It is difficult to fully process. Every moment I spent reading it, I realized that my own country could still go this direction--making a virus a million times worse through denial, scapegoating, and thinking that gloating over one's perceived enemies is the only end in life.
Everything happening in India can happen everywhere else. I suppose I need to think less about "fascism" and more about the lazy and cruel habits of mind that have created "fascists." The latter are in profusion.
Michael Chitwood, "Men Throwing Bricks"
What does happiness look like, feel like? Lots of things, but there’s one idea that’s been around. You’re happy when the work you do can be perceived a minor miracle:
Men Throwing Bricks (from The Writer's Almanac) Michael Chitwood The one on the ground lofts two at a time with just the right lift for them to finish their rise as the one on the scaffold turns to accept them like a gift and place them on the growing stack. They chime slightly on the catch. You'd have to do this daily, morning and afternoon, not to marvel.
“The one on the ground lofts two at a time / with just the right lift.” I can’t imagine myself lifting a brick, let alone throwing one. But here, a construction worker lofts them. They ascend, “with just the right lift.”
An act that could be violent, that we’d normally call irresponsible, is itself extraordinary. A brick toss, of all things, shows exquisite sensitivity to another person. These bricks are caught: “the one on the scaffold turns / to accept them like a gift and place them / on the growing stack.” Again, I know I wouldn’t be able to catch a brick, no matter how gently it was thrown. (To be fair: I can’t catch my keys if they’re lofted at me.)
Several small miracles make the full miracle. A brick is thrown just the right way; someone is willing and able to receive them; the result is that something is built. A pile that isn’t anything in particular becomes a building on account of processes so orderly that they seem to point to a far greater reality.
It’s a beautiful sight. But what does it mean?
“They chime slightly / on the catch.” There’s a long tradition of associating music with Creation. “The angels sing” isn’t just a phrase for describing heavenly praise. It can serve as an account of how the universe was made by God. Mathematics, music, the order underlying all other possibilities of order: you get the idea.
It’s a bit too neat for my taste. What I find interesting is the link between happiness and wonder. That if we’re happy, say, doing our work well, it will have a wondrous quality to it.
One might say we’ve broken this notion in our materialism, but I’m not so sure. Quite a few business owners feel the need to prove that they have some special insight. That they’re more learned than lucky. People who marry because they have a vision of the perfect husband, wife, or family think they can advise everyone else on what to do with their lives.
The idea at play seems to be like the following. Whatever success, whatever portion of happiness we have, is a wonder. Because it is a wonder, it is dependent on some special, unique insight. We know something, therefore we have.
What I like best about these two guys throwing bricks: their superpower is primarily muscle memory. What they’re doing is amazing. It is wondrous, they’re probably happy. A miracle makes the everyday happen. And that’s all we can say.
Well, maybe we can say a bit more. Chitwood ends his poem with lines which I see as self-referential: “You'd have to do this daily, / morning and afternoon, not to marvel.” When writing, we put the words together, brick-by-brick. Lofting them, catching them, crafting something useful. As discipline, it’s unceasing.
A writer and a construction worker don’t see this as wondrous. And that’s curious, because there’s lots to be wondered at, stemming not so much from the success but from the doing. Those bricks might build a strip mall where the best store sells CBD oil. A writer will put together a fantastic story for an in-flight magazine. There’s insight, to some degree, within the process of building. But the real wonder is in recognizing what’s happening in the first place. That bricks can be thrown and “chime” into place. That a few marks scratched on paper communicate so much.