THE DEVIL IN MASSACHUSETTS

The following is an excerpt of a new Online Exclusive, by Katie Ryder. Read the full piece on believermag.com.

The night of the manhunt that ended when Dzokhar Tsarnaev was caught, hiding like a child who had played at a game for far too long, under a tarp in a boat on dry land, I sat in a bar lit by narrow filament bulbs shining through hanging, chain-bound baskets of pennies. Above the wall stocked with liquor, light flickered through shapes cut from a wooden border—a serpent, it looked like, a sun, maybe a figure dancing. A friend and I sat next to each other, thumbing continually through social media feeds, searching for news from Boston, turning sometimes to tell each other what we’d found. People we knew were barricaded in their living rooms.

An old acquaintance wrote that he and his young daughters had missed the explosions near the finish line by mere minutes, and cut quickly to a common pulse: “Puritan justice circa 17th century please.”

Within days of the bombing, there were rumors that the death penalty would be reinstated in Massachusetts: non-binding referenda showed that voters would support it, and an amendment quickly reached the floor of the state House of Representatives. The government of the Commonwealth, which had abolished the death penalty in 1984, for now rejected any change. But Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s trial was likely to be a part of a federal case, which meant that punishment by death could indeed be decided in Massachusetts.

In the weeks and months following the explosions, the words “witch hunt” rang, with frequency, over television transmissions, radio broadcasts, and across computer screens. Investigations of the attack on Americans in Benghazi had been, and continued to be, “a witch hunt.” The IRS targeting scandal, surveillance of journalists under PRISM, and many smaller political maneuvers were wrapped in these words—formerly weighty, now seeming flimsy, decorative. During the week of the Boston search, the online forum Reddit was accused of encouraging a witch hunt by asking its online community to find matches for a man in the grainy surveillance photographs of one of the bombers released by the FBI. Days later, following the harassment of innocent people like the family of twenty-two year old Brown University student Sunil Tripathi, who had been missing since March, Reddit apologized, using the same words: “witch hunt.” The words clapped against the cobblestones of Boston, and turned the dust of the cruel colony that came before it.

In the same days and weeks, the evils of our government were also decried in mainstream forums with unusual force. The day before the Boston bombing, the New York Times had published an op-ed written by Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel—one of ninety-three prisoners at Guantanamo participating in a hunger strike, then in its third month. Al Hasan Moqbel had described his haphazard arrest, eleven years and three months prior, and the excruciating process of being force-fed via a long tube reaching through his nose and into his stomach, by members of the U.S. military. Days later, an op-ed by the Times’ own editorial board condemned the continued captivity of uncharged, untried prisoners at the detention center: by that third week of April, of one hundred and sixty-six men being held in cells at the prison, only six were facing active charges. There were almost fifty men at Guantanamo whom the government admitted it had insufficient evidence to prosecute but deemed too dangerous to be released. We kept them—and keep them—that is, not because of any crime, but because of fear.

Read the full piece on believermag.com.

From a new online exclusive:Elizabeth Gilbert interviewed by Vendela Vida

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THE BELIEVER: You said that when it comes to your own work you’re “plodding and disciplined and methodical.” Can you please elaborate on this? Do you have a pattern? Is it the same pattern with all books? How long did it take you to write The Signature of All Things? It’s a long, dense book that, as we’ve discussed, required a great deal of research. What does your method entail?
ELIZABETH GILBERT: Goethe said, “Never hurry, never rest.” That’s how I write: methodically and carefully. Never in a fugue state, never in a blitz of inspiration, but never stuck in the grip of paralysis, either. When I’m at work, I get up early, go to my desk, and just plod along for a very reasonable four hours at most. Then I take a break for lunch, walk the dog, do my emails, think about the book all afternoon, have dinner with my husband, and return to it the next day after a good night’s sleep. It is the least glamorous means of writing one could ever imagine, but it absolutely works for me. Sit there all morning, and the pages come.
I think again I can point to my mother for having taught me how to work steadfastly. I remember how she used to use the kitchen timer a lot when we were kids, to count out the one hour that we needed to practice the piano, or clean our rooms, or do homework. I was never the student in high school or college who pulled all-nighters, either, and for the same reason: I’d had it drilled into me as a child to work as you go, to work the same pace every day, to spread out the discomfort and the boredom of work evenly, as well as spreading out the inspiration and the joy. What can I say: we are Swedes. Not glitzy, not romantic, but very reliable. The pattern is the same with all books. I can no more imagine writing at 3 a.m., or drunk, or stoned, or high on Red Bull, or in my dirty pajamas, than I can imagine writing on a papyrus roll. I have no idea how people survive that kind of reckless, devil-may-care work pattern. And with research it’s kind of the same thing—though I can put in way more hours researching than writing.
Read the whole interview here.

From a new online exclusive:
Elizabeth Gilbert interviewed by Vendela Vida

*

THE BELIEVER: You said that when it comes to your own work you’re “plodding and disciplined and methodical.” Can you please elaborate on this? Do you have a pattern? Is it the same pattern with all books? How long did it take you to write The Signature of All Things? It’s a long, dense book that, as we’ve discussed, required a great deal of research. What does your method entail?

ELIZABETH GILBERT: Goethe said, “Never hurry, never rest.” That’s how I write: methodically and carefully. Never in a fugue state, never in a blitz of inspiration, but never stuck in the grip of paralysis, either. When I’m at work, I get up early, go to my desk, and just plod along for a very reasonable four hours at most. Then I take a break for lunch, walk the dog, do my emails, think about the book all afternoon, have dinner with my husband, and return to it the next day after a good night’s sleep. It is the least glamorous means of writing one could ever imagine, but it absolutely works for me. Sit there all morning, and the pages come.

I think again I can point to my mother for having taught me how to work steadfastly. I remember how she used to use the kitchen timer a lot when we were kids, to count out the one hour that we needed to practice the piano, or clean our rooms, or do homework. I was never the student in high school or college who pulled all-nighters, either, and for the same reason: I’d had it drilled into me as a child to work as you go, to work the same pace every day, to spread out the discomfort and the boredom of work evenly, as well as spreading out the inspiration and the joy. What can I say: we are Swedes. Not glitzy, not romantic, but very reliable. The pattern is the same with all books. I can no more imagine writing at 3 a.m., or drunk, or stoned, or high on Red Bull, or in my dirty pajamas, than I can imagine writing on a papyrus roll. I have no idea how people survive that kind of reckless, devil-may-care work pattern. And with research it’s kind of the same thing—though I can put in way more hours researching than writing.

Read the whole interview here.

MICHAEL W. CLUNE: My experience with addiction convinced me that there was no getting out from any place within myself. My memories, my impulses, my reflexes, my relationships, my goals, my future, past, and present were all terminally infected. So to escape the memory disease—to escape addiction—I had to start over, outside me. How to get outside?
The first step was forming new habits. Every night, I just wrote a list of things that are good to do, and the next day I read the list and did them—did them until I didn’t have to read the list anymore. Brush my teeth. Eat a banana. Work on my dissertation for three hours. Take a walk. Go to an NA meeting. Repeat. Pretty soon I’m a different person. The self isn’t really that solid; it’s mostly composed of things from the outside world. And habits are the tape and rope and staples that get things outside stuck in us.
Sometimes people tell me they’re scared to get into recovery, because they’re scared they’ll lose the “real me.” I’ve never been able to understand this. I’ve always been very happy to lose the real me, it’s just hard to find takers. Habit is a taker.
Meditation is another. And that was the part I didn’t really want to analyze, because once I did, when I was writing that scene about meditation, it hit me that what my friend Cash had said all those years ago was true: the thing I find in meditation is the thing I found in heroin—timelessness in time, stasis in motion.

An excerpt from Tao Lin and Michael W. Clune’s recent conversation about memory, the self, their books, Sid Meier’s Civilization, and dying one trillion times. Read the rest on Believermag.com. 

MICHAEL W. CLUNE: My experience with addiction convinced me that there was no getting out from any place within myself. My memories, my impulses, my reflexes, my relationships, my goals, my future, past, and present were all terminally infected. So to escape the memory disease—to escape addiction—I had to start over, outside me. How to get outside?

The first step was forming new habits. Every night, I just wrote a list of things that are good to do, and the next day I read the list and did them—did them until I didn’t have to read the list anymore. Brush my teeth. Eat a banana. Work on my dissertation for three hours. Take a walk. Go to an NA meeting. Repeat. Pretty soon I’m a different person. The self isn’t really that solid; it’s mostly composed of things from the outside world. And habits are the tape and rope and staples that get things outside stuck in us.

Sometimes people tell me they’re scared to get into recovery, because they’re scared they’ll lose the “real me.” I’ve never been able to understand this. I’ve always been very happy to lose the real me, it’s just hard to find takers. Habit is a taker.

Meditation is another. And that was the part I didn’t really want to analyze, because once I did, when I was writing that scene about meditation, it hit me that what my friend Cash had said all those years ago was true: the thing I find in meditation is the thing I found in heroin—timelessness in time, stasis in motion.

An excerpt from Tao Lin and Michael W. Clune’s recent conversation about memory, the self, their books, Sid Meier’s Civilization, and dying one trillion times. Read the rest on Believermag.com. 

THE BELIEVER: I’m reminded of my own worries about journalism as much of it moves toward a nonprofit model, funded—like much of literature and academia already is—by grants, awards, foundations, and benefactors who keep it existing because they think it should exist, but not necessarily because anyone has asked for it.
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: If I find out, the next time I see you, that you’re teaching journalism, I think I’ll slit my wrists, because then it becomes merely a perpetuation of itself, without any external reason for it.
BLVR: I have different things to say about my own journalism program at UC Berkeley, but with MFA creative writing programs, there is this problem: “Come under my wing for fourty thousand dollars a year and you can be like me—successful.” And we think, Of course he’s successful; he gets to teach all of us, when in reality, he has to teach because he’s not successful at all.
RR: [Gives a thumbs-up] Yes, yes.
BLVR: So often, it’s as if these programs exist only to employ people.
RR: All right, except that you’re a consumer. You exist in a society where consumers exert a great deal of power. You can start asking those questions. The issue of education that’s not being deliberated right now is astonishing. There are careers to be made right now by asking those questions. You know, the guy who owns PayPal, Peter Thiel, he’s pretty good. He thinks what education is is basically the banks. It’s just selling you something, and it’s taking your money, and it’s not doing anything for you, it’s just taking your money. And it’s telling you that if you invest in this stock, “BA,” that it’s going to be worth something in five years. [Laughs] And it’s not worth anything!
A lot of the techies in Silicon Valley are arguing against the whole idea of a structured education system. But that’s because a lot of them are solitary creatures. They’re geniuses who didn’t become geniuses in a classroom. They became geniuses almost in spite of a classroom. That doesn’t work for all people. Basically what education is for a lot of people is a social experience. In other words, you and I are classmates. There was a lecture today on Thomas Jefferson, and it was kind of hard, I didn’t get the last part of it. And I say to you after class, “Did you understand what he was saying?” And you say, “Some of it,” and I say, “What exactly did he mean when he said such and such?” That’s how education happens. It’s not simply University of Phoenix, me sitting at a computer. It’s this interaction. It’s not only us talking about Thomas Jefferson, it’s us playing basketball together, and in the larger context of this social experience—eating, being dormitory roommates, you falling out of love with your girlfriend and me having to listen to the story of it. Education is that human process of feeling your body mature, feeding your mind with ideas that it never had before, or information you never had. You simply cannot do that on a computer. You can’t do that. You understand?
No one is explaining how that works. No one is explaining how journalism works. Did you see my piece on the death of the San Francisco Chronicle? I argued, basically, that the way this paper existed in the nineteenth century was that a group of men, your age, came to this city and basically told San Francisco something it didn’t know about itself. It told them about other people in town. It generated interest in people about themselves, basically. It told that man in that Victorian house what those people in that Victorian house were doing. Now, you can say, why should he be interested in them? Well, his children go to the same school; he’s paying taxes and these people are using those taxes. There are any number of reasons why. I think we’re looking at this backward; I don’t think we really understand the social function of institutions. And when we talk about the death of those institutions, we’re really not talking about those institutions; we’re talking about the social framework that gave life to those institutions. You understand?
Let me give you a really simple example: Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. There are several people at Fox News who had the idea of a conservative, really right-of-center television network, because most of the television networks were repetitive, they were sort of centrist-left institutions; they wanted something brash, rude, opinionated, kind of politically incorrect, and they knew they could create an audience, because the audience was already there. They could tap it. They could make it exist.
It’s this joint process. It’s me realizing you exist, and me realizing that in order for me to start getting your attention, all I have to do is start giving you Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. And then you create me; you create my power. “Yeah, there’s this show. Every night at five o’clock, this guy says exactly what I think.” You know? [Laughs] You think Fox News is dying? Rupert Murdoch might have troubles, but the enterprise is doing pretty well. I think newspapers are dying, his newspaper in London. I don’t know how the Post is doing in New York, and I think the Wall Street Journal will survive his death, probably, but I don’t think the next generation of kids is going to want to support it. [Pause] That’s what I’m saying to you. As a journalist, you have to figure out who your audience is and you have to create them. You’re not doing that.
Continue reading here.

THE BELIEVER: I’m reminded of my own worries about journalism as much of it moves toward a nonprofit model, funded—like much of literature and academia already is—by grants, awards, foundations, and benefactors who keep it existing because they think it should exist, but not necessarily because anyone has asked for it.

RICHARD RODRIGUEZ: If I find out, the next time I see you, that you’re teaching journalism, I think I’ll slit my wrists, because then it becomes merely a perpetuation of itself, without any external reason for it.

BLVR: I have different things to say about my own journalism program at UC Berkeley, but with MFA creative writing programs, there is this problem: “Come under my wing for fourty thousand dollars a year and you can be like me—successful.” And we think, Of course he’s successful; he gets to teach all of us, when in reality, he has to teach because he’s not successful at all.

RR: [Gives a thumbs-up] Yes, yes.

BLVR: So often, it’s as if these programs exist only to employ people.

RR: All right, except that you’re a consumer. You exist in a society where consumers exert a great deal of power. You can start asking those questions. The issue of education that’s not being deliberated right now is astonishing. There are careers to be made right now by asking those questions. You know, the guy who owns PayPal, Peter Thiel, he’s pretty good. He thinks what education is is basically the banks. It’s just selling you something, and it’s taking your money, and it’s not doing anything for you, it’s just taking your money. And it’s telling you that if you invest in this stock, “BA,” that it’s going to be worth something in five years. [Laughs] And it’s not worth anything!

A lot of the techies in Silicon Valley are arguing against the whole idea of a structured education system. But that’s because a lot of them are solitary creatures. They’re geniuses who didn’t become geniuses in a classroom. They became geniuses almost in spite of a classroom. That doesn’t work for all people. Basically what education is for a lot of people is a social experience. In other words, you and I are classmates. There was a lecture today on Thomas Jefferson, and it was kind of hard, I didn’t get the last part of it. And I say to you after class, “Did you understand what he was saying?” And you say, “Some of it,” and I say, “What exactly did he mean when he said such and such?” That’s how education happens. It’s not simply University of Phoenix, me sitting at a computer. It’s this interaction. It’s not only us talking about Thomas Jefferson, it’s us playing basketball together, and in the larger context of this social experience—eating, being dormitory roommates, you falling out of love with your girlfriend and me having to listen to the story of it. Education is that human process of feeling your body mature, feeding your mind with ideas that it never had before, or information you never had. You simply cannot do that on a computer. You can’t do that. You understand?

No one is explaining how that works. No one is explaining how journalism works. Did you see my piece on the death of the San Francisco Chronicle? I argued, basically, that the way this paper existed in the nineteenth century was that a group of men, your age, came to this city and basically told San Francisco something it didn’t know about itself. It told them about other people in town. It generated interest in people about themselves, basically. It told that man in that Victorian house what those people in that Victorian house were doing. Now, you can say, why should he be interested in them? Well, his children go to the same school; he’s paying taxes and these people are using those taxes. There are any number of reasons why. I think we’re looking at this backward; I don’t think we really understand the social function of institutions. And when we talk about the death of those institutions, we’re really not talking about those institutions; we’re talking about the social framework that gave life to those institutions. You understand?

Let me give you a really simple example: Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News. There are several people at Fox News who had the idea of a conservative, really right-of-center television network, because most of the television networks were repetitive, they were sort of centrist-left institutions; they wanted something brash, rude, opinionated, kind of politically incorrect, and they knew they could create an audience, because the audience was already there. They could tap it. They could make it exist.

It’s this joint process. It’s me realizing you exist, and me realizing that in order for me to start getting your attention, all I have to do is start giving you Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. And then you create me; you create my power. “Yeah, there’s this show. Every night at five o’clock, this guy says exactly what I think.” You know? [Laughs] You think Fox News is dying? Rupert Murdoch might have troubles, but the enterprise is doing pretty well. I think newspapers are dying, his newspaper in London. I don’t know how the Post is doing in New York, and I think the Wall Street Journal will survive his death, probably, but I don’t think the next generation of kids is going to want to support it. [Pause] That’s what I’m saying to you. As a journalist, you have to figure out who your audience is and you have to create them. You’re not doing that.

Continue reading here.