Marjorie Williams, 2004: Every other day of the year, any mother knows that glitter is the work of Satan, but last Sunday it lit her skin with a dew of every color.
Jay Price: Four pagers went off simultaneously early Monday, and the on-duty helicopter crew pulled themselves from their warm bunks at Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City. It was 3 a.m.
Some 180 miles away, the 180-foot replica of the three-masted tall ship HMS Bounty, built for a 1962 Marlon Brando movie, was dying. Its 16-member crew, heading south from Connecticut to Florida, had gambled that they could beat Hurricane Sandy by driving far east, but the storm was too big, too powerful.
Mike Wilson: TAMPA — A dark-haired woman pushing a double stroller appeared at Airside E security Saturday morning nearly out of breath.
Two tiny girls reclined in the stroller. A blond woman bustled alongside, carrying bags and cardboard signs.
The dark-haired woman told the Tampa International Airport security officer, “My husband is coming back from his deployment, and he has never met his daughter. Can I go to the front of the line?”
Whatever had been important to the people in that line five seconds earlier suddenly ceased to matter. All that counted now was that this woman and her children get to the gate before her husband emerged.
John Jeremiah Sullivan: About a month ago, editors from this magazine, which employs me, and from which I am therefore loath to turn down assignments even when they are horrifying, assigned me to get a series of massages and other body treatments here in the coastal town where I live, Wilmington, southeastern N.C., Port City of Progress and Pleasure. There was a semi-legitimate journalistic impulse behind it, but it was also billed as an act of mercy. I’d been traveling and writing a lot for them, spending a lot of time in middle seats on international flights, and my body had reached new levels of vileness. The yellowish gray-green circles under my eyes had a micropebbled texture, and my skin gave off a sebaceousy sheen of coffee-packet coffee. My calves had developed a vague thrombotic throb. It was the kind of premature aging where you think, I’ll come back from this but not all the way.
When you feel like that, you don’t leap to be naked in rooms with an assortment of strangers while they rub their hands all over your bare flesh — there’s probably a fetish group for becoming as physically disgusting as you can and then procuring massages, but that’s not my damage. Also, there’s something about massage in general that makes me less, not more, relaxed. The boredom of it, the entrapment. Like you, probably, I know a couple of people who go around parties rubbing other people’s backs, and I cringe at their approaching hands. One of these shoulder-pirates laughed at me for it once, after I flinched, telling me I needed to “learn to receive love,” and I thought, That’s probably true, I’d bet I do. Faux-wise passive-aggressive hippie maxims always seem true and wounding in the moment.
Strong, important investigative work from Alexandra Zayas.
Part I: They shaved him bald that first morning in 2008, put him in an orange jumpsuit and made him exercise past dark.
Through the night, as he slept on the floor, they forced him awake for more.
The sun had not yet risen over the Christian military home when Samson Lehman collapsed for the sixth time. Still, he said, they made him run.
The screaming, the endless exercise, it was all in the name of God, a necessary step at the Gateway Christian Military Academy on the path to righteousness.
So when Samson vomited, they threw him a rag. When his urine turned red, they said that was normal.
By Day 3, the 15-year-old was on the verge of death, his dehydrated organs shutting down.
Slumped against a wall, cold and immobile, Lehman recalls men who recited Scripture calling him a wimp. And he thought: Maybe, if I die here, someone will shut this place down.
Not in Florida.
By Henry Allen
April 3, 1983
Satan? You gotta be kidding. Didn’t science fix that superstitious wagon for good? Didn’t Valium and birth-control pills, those aspirins for the soul, chase him away like a mild headache?
Satan is that hooves-and-tail number that ended up on the cutting floor of the big movie we call the 20th century. Satan is the backwoods preaching bit they do right before they start handling the snakes. Satan is what used to explain crime and craziness before we learned it was a lack of job- training programs or sex education.
Check out the words of the 20th century’s favorite prophet, Sigmund Freud. He said that Satan is a father substitute for people who are “too poorly gifted, too ineffective to make a living and belong to that well- known type, the eternal suckling . . .”
Satan, in other words, is for wimps and gimps.
Unless we’re talking about Satan Superstar and Beelzebub Bestseller. And then it seems we can’t get enough of The Fiend, the Prince of this World, the Evil One. In books and movies, he makes his presence known in everything from the fog to the soul of a St. Bernard, although where we like to see The Deceiver most is in children.
Parents: has your child been levitating at bedtime? Bellowing like the MGM lion with a Jesuit education? Vomiting pea soup all over the minister? These are the warning signs that the baby sitter has been letting him or her stay up late to watch “The Exorcist,” “The Omen” or “Rosemary’s Baby.” Or maybe just the nightly news about the latest ritual murder, cattle mutilation or Manson-style massacre.
But note that Our Most Enlightened Thinkers don’t worry that we’ll be corrupted into actually worrying about Old Scratch because of this stuff. That’s because they know that it’s all a healthy inoculation against serious belief in Powers of the Air, a little dead tissue from the corpse of evil to get those antibodies of intellectual smugness pumping through our psyches.
“There are two equal and opposite errors about the devils into which our race can fall. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors.”–C. S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters.
As Mick Jagger sings in “Sympathy for the Devil,” Satan has been around for “a long, long year,” and his job, in whatever culture he has appeared in, is generally to get blamed for evil, pain and bad luck. We get the word “Satan” from Hebrew, in which it means “the accuser” or “the adversary.” Oddly enough, he doesn’t make that many appearances in the Bible, and even when he does, it’s subject to interpretation. Was that Satan behind those Foster-Grants in the Garden of Eden, or was it just a serpent incarnating evil?
Further on, Satan appears as a district attorney advising God to throw the book at Job. He tempts David to take a census. There are foreshadowings of the story of Satan as the prideful fallen angel in Isaiah, but it isn’t until the New Testament, and the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, that we see him as clearly separate from God.
Right here, belief in Satan gets tricky. If God is all-good and all- powerful, why does he let Satan and evil exist?
This is known as “The Problem of Evil,” and it’s still a favorite lever for college philosophy professors who want to move undergraduate minds toward doubt, that deity of liberal thinking.
St. Anthony, the desert meditator, saw Satan as a pig. But the mass-produced model usually comes with hooves, horns and tail, sometimes half-human, like the classical god Pan, and often goatlike (as in goat– the one you blame). Sometimes he has bat wings, too, signifying his past glory as an archangel who would rather “reign in hell than serve in heaven,” as Milton put it when he made Satan a muscular and charming titan in “Paradise Lost.”
These are all wonderfully easy not to believe in.
More persuasive is Dostoevski in The Brothers Karamazov:
“He was a gentleman . . . going a little gray, with long thick hair and a pointed beard . . . He had lived in good society, but bit by bit, impoverished by his youthful dissipations and the recent abolition of serfdom, he had become a sort of high-class sponger . . .”
By the 1940s, when Denis de Rougemont was writing The Devil’s Share, there was scarcely anything left at all:
“Like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland, the Devil has in our day completely disappeared, leaving only a grin hovering in mid-air which is imperceptible to people in a hurry.”
Satan is the ultimate absentee landlord, and we’re keeping up the property very nicely for him. How pleased any devil would be to hear us preaching the fern-bar wisdom of two decades now: if it feels good, do it, because you only go around once and you want to cross the finish line saying: “I did it my way.”
And don’t above all don’t repress anything. If you feel angry, for instance, be angry. After all, it’s a certified sin, one of the seven deadly ones, and what more recommendation can you need for a good time?
And if we want to say the devil doesn’t exist, that’s fine, too.
“The Devil’s cleverest wile is to convince us that he does not exist.”– Charles Baudelaire, in Short Prose Poems.
The most nothingness and absence of meaning we find in existence, the better the devil is supposed to like it.
Says Goethe’s Mephisto: “I am that which cancels out . . . Everything in existence is worthy only of destruction, so it would be better if nothing existed.”
Imagine how Satan must savor the most fashionable emotions of our time: paranoia, existential despair and free-floating anxiety. (Not to mention the collected works of Joan Didion.)
Here’s C. S. Lewis on people in Hell: “They’ve got cinemas and fish and chip shops and advertisements and all the sorts of things they want. The appalling lack of any intellectual life doesn’t worry them.” It’s just that there’s this nagging sense of unreality.
Doesn’t sound all that different from Georgetown.
That’s Lewis’s point, of course.
But since Satan doesn’t exist, we don’t have to worry about that. At least, it’s nothing that a little group therapy and another real estate boom wouldn’t cure.
I continue to be surprised and delighted by the upstart This Land Press, and I’m glad they’re getting attention. This project — it’s more than that at this point — gives me great hope. I love the gumption. I love the verve. I love finding an actual newspaper from home in my mailbox biweekly. Give people interesting stories well done in an attractive format and you’ll succeed. If you don’t subscribe, you should.
Across the street from a Fastenal hardware store in the shadow of Tulsa’s aging art-deco skyline, the staff of what is perhaps the best for-profit local journalism startup in the country has yet to reinvent the craft. Eleven full-time editorial employees sit at desks scattered across the rooms of a bright red house with Astroturf carpeting, telling stories about their community. As This Land Press founder and editor Michael Mason would argue, if this sounds unremarkable, it’s because journalism’s vision of its own future has become overly complicated.
In its short existence—one year as a passion project and another 18 months as a venture-capital-backed multimedia company—This Land has consistently produced the kinds of in-depth features and investigations that much of the industry is looking to nonprofit models to sustain. While still in its pre-investment days, it published a groundbreaking, internationally cited profile of Oklahoma native Bradley Manning, the army private accused of funneling thousands of pages of classified documents to WikiLeaks. Last September, it took an historical approach to investigative journalism, revealing that a founding father of Tulsa was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and an architect of the city’s notorious race riot in 1921. More recently, it published an investigation into sexual abuse of students at a school run by a local megachurch.
This Land is on pace to become cash-flow-positive next spring—which means that, in two years as a fully functioning business, it will have found a way to earn more money than it spends. If it stays on track thereafter, it will continue to expand its newsroom while earning a profit for its owners. It’s far too early to tell whether that will happen, but the trajectory is promising. No equivalent organization (and, granted, there aren’t many) has come so close to financial self-sufficiency so quickly. Most noteworthy is the fact that if This Land becomes profitable, it will have done so not in spite of its investment in locally focused, literary journalism, but because of it. Rather than hoping that the market might one day find a way to support great journalism—as the current discussion about the future of news suggests—This Land is betting that it can do so now.
A couple of new ones you might want to check out:
The Next Wave, edited by Walt Harrington and Mike Sager.
Next Wave is fascinating and beautiful reading for enthusiasts and students of vibrant, you-are-there, literary non-fiction. Each chapter includes a photo, a bio, a personal essay, and an outstanding magazine or newspaper story from a different up-and-coming writer. Compiled by two award-winning literary journalists/educators from the last generation, Next Wave is a celebration of today’s greatest writing and a roadmap for aspiring practitioners of tomorrow, a joyful reminder that literary journalism alive and well, and that artful craftsmanship will never go out of fashion.
And it’s full of stuff from our friends.
Second is Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch, by Constance Hale.
A writing handbook that celebrates the infinite pizzazz of verbs.
Writers know it instinctively: Verbs make a sentence zing. Grammar gurus agree: Drama in writing emerges from the interplay of a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb). Constance Hale, the best-selling author of Sin and Syntax, zooms in on the colorful world of verbs. Synthesizing the pedagogical and the popular, the scholarly and the scandalous, Hale combines the wit of Bill Bryson with the practical wisdom of William Zinsser. She marches through linguistic history to paint a layered picture of our language—from before it really existed to the quirky usages we see online today. She warns about habits to avoid and inspires with samples of brilliant writing. A veteran teacher, Hale gives writing prompts along the way, helping readers “try, do, write, play.” Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch guides us to more powerful writing by demonstrating how to use great verbs with style.