Bob Stanley looks back on the legacy of Prince and Madonna, 30 Years after the release of ‘Purple Rain’ in “Highs in the Mid-Eighties” for the Paris Review.
I recently came across an aphorism which made me smile:
I smiled because – I mean – how many wooden, lifeless bits of prose have you read in your life which were caused by someone taking this idea too far? There’s a reason that this particular type of bad writing is often called “legalistic”: It is a joyless, bloodless, anti-human kind of writing – which is probably part of why you have to pay a lawyer $300 an hour to read it.
Most of the writers that I enjoy reading place their words on the page with a sort of lightness. It feels like someone speaking to you, like someone trying to be understood. If good writing is a sort of magic trick, then a good writer is the magician, the rabbit, and the top hat – all rolled up in one. It is craft combined with the courage to show yourself as you are that lets you pull yourself out of the hat.
It’s a hard thing, but some writers can seemingly do it with ease.
Lauren and I just finished watching “The Human Condition”, a 10 hour Japanese film that shows what can happen to human ideals in a less-than-ideal world.
Maybe that’s why I felt like I wanted to share a few “booster shots of humanity” with you tonight… so here are some items that I came across this week which I think showcase the better aspects of our nature.
“Faces of the Tsunami”
The main character in “The Human Condition” rails against the suffering of those around him while his peers stand around and say “shikata ga nai” (a Japanese idiom for “it can’t be helped”). Writer MIN JIN LEE examines what “shikata ga nai” means to survivors of last year’s devastating disasters in Japan, but the accompanying “Faces of the Tsunami” photo series by photographer DENIS ROUVRE is the part that really captured me. It is a look into the actual human faces of the tragedy and I think you’ll come away from it inspired by the strength and dignity that you see.
What The Tools Are For
There were three bits of technology writing that I saw this week which I thought went beyond the usual “nuts-and-bolts” fare and into far more interesting territory: looking at the human purposes for the tools we use.
GABE WEATHERHEAD wrote this excellent piece which starts off as a straightforward software review before lunging into more personal territory. Regular readers know I am a fan of Gabe’s work and posts like this are a good example of why.
BRETT KELLY shared his own approach to preserving important memories and, in the process, actually shared some of his most important memories with his readers.
Finally, PATRICK RHONE‘s story of his daughter’s first exposure to American commercial television clarified the problems with the TV industry’s business model in a way that some overly-wonky analysis would have likely clouded.
By the way, people who want to show support for humanistic tech writing like this should use the Macdrifter donation page, buy a copy of “Evernote Essentials” or “Keeping it Straight”, or subscribe to the Read & Trust Premium Newsletter (which regularly features Brett and Patrick’s writing).
“Two Splendid Journalists”
It has been an especially bad month for American journalism — first from the loss of ANTHONY SHADID and now with news of the death of MARIE COLVIN. David Remnick wrote a moving tribute to Colvin for the New Yorker and Sherry Ricchiardi for the American Journalism Review pays her respects to both Shadid and Colvin in a piece called “Remembering Two Splendid Journalists”. In it, she shares personal stories about how each reporter tried to make a meaningful impact for people living in the war-torn places that they covered.
I thought this passage was on-point and especially lovely:
“Even in brief conversations, these two journalists forcefully drove home their message: The human condition was a sacred beat. When Shadid drove into an Iraqi village, he went straight to the barber shop or the local mosque. “You can find out everything there if they trust you,” he said. Colvin traveled with Chechen rebels, sleeping in caves with bags of grenades for a pillow. “You eat what they eat, you drink what they drink, you never act like you are above them,” she said.”
Whatever beat you patrol, I think that showing respect for “the human condition” gives your work additional depth and impact. Many thanks to everyone mentioned above for bringing that level of respect to the areas that they cover!
I’m a fan of Spotify, a freemium music service which gives listeners access to a collection of over 15 million songs. It’s a fantastic way to enjoy music, but its library is so large that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed with options when it comes to putting together playlists or finding new artists.
One solution: “Spotify Search Playlists”. Here are two search tips which can help you quickly find music that gets your head nodding and makes your ears happy.
I wasn’t aware of journalist Anthony Shadid until I learned of his recent death, but I found myself inspired by his work and by the recollections of his peers:
A Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for the Washington Post (and more recently the New York Times), Shadid died at the age of 43 of an asthma attack while on assignment in Syria, prompting an outpouring of grief from his colleagues and his readers. He also wrote several acclaimed books about the Middle East, including the soon-to-be released “House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East”.
Shadid went beyond the standard practice of documenting the actions of the powerful by also telling “smaller” stories about the daily experiences of ordinary people, earning his reputation for putting a human face on some of the Middle East’s political and social complexities.
Of his work, Amy Sullivan of The Atlantic said “There are great reporters and there are great writers. And then there are the rare few who inspire awe by being both.” “He was the best of our breed” said TIME’s Bobby Ghosh, going on to express a sentiment which I saw echoed by many others: Shadid’s talent, combined with his lack of ego, made him one of the finest journalists of his generation.
To humanize something, I think, requires a deep well of both humility and empathy. It is the act of making one person’s interior experience visible to the rest of us. With professional skill and with personal kindness, Anthony Shadid made a life’s work out of helping people understand each another better. It seems to me that his ability to write “poetry on deadline” won’t soon be replaced, but perhaps it’s that spirit of generosity towards both the people he wrote about and the people he worked with which will be his most enduring legacy.