“Confronted by despair, I’ve summoned hope,” Gabby Giffords said last night, nine years after she was almost killed in a mass shooting as a Congress member from Arizona. “Confronted by paralysis and aphasia, I responded with grit and determination. I put one foot in front of the other. I found one word and then another.” Finding the words to describe despair, let alone overcome it, is a hugely personal project, and approaches differ, but here are three creative reads to get you going this weekend. Watch Giffords first, then dive in:
1) All About Love, by Bell Hooks, or bell hooks, was written 20 years ago. Its insight into distancing is timeless:
Although we live in close contact with neighbors, masses of people in our society feel alienated, cut off, alone. Isolation and loneliness are central causes of depression and despair. Yet they are the outcome of life in a culture where things matter more than people. Materialism creates a world of narcissism in which the focus of life is solely on acquisition and consumption. A culture of narcissism is not a place where love can flourish. The emergence of a “me” culture is a direct response to our nation’s failure to truly actualize the vision of democracy articulated in our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
All About Love is a poetic collection of critical essays on what resilience looks like, and it looks like bell hooks.
2) The Invention of Solitude is Paul Auster’s moving memoir about his family’s skeletons—a philosophically penetrating book that draws a line between physical and social distance; enforced and chosen isolation; lockdown and evasion. Which of these we invent is an answerable question in Auster’s hands. Describing one family member, he writes: “[His] capacity for evasion was almost limitless…What people saw when he appeared before them was not really him, but a person he had invented…Solitary. But not in the sense of being alone. Solitary in the sense of retreat.”
3) Albert Murray’s Stomping the Blues asks and empowers us all to keep the blues at bay. Murray is musical, lyrically questioning what he sees as orthodoxies in pursuit of creativity and freedom. He was a lifelong friend of Ralph Ellison, and a founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center. I interviewed Murray for the Village Voice in his New York home in 2003, before he passed away. Drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re down for a Murray marathon.