Where Soldiers Come From

When I was a young boy I saw the movie The Deer Hunter on television for the first time. Although I didn’t have the emotional maturity or the historical knowledge to put it all in perspective, I was deeply moved by the film and the actors (Robert De Niro, Meryl Streep, Christopher Walken). It spawned an enduring interest in the Vietnam War for me and also gave me a stellar template to judge films and acting against ever since.

The very idea of a group of friends from a small Pennsylvania coal town joining the Army together, fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, and then returning home to their friends and family as vastly different human beings is riveting drama. Yet It turns out that the story in The Deer Hunter is not too far from what is happening right now in Michigan.

A new documentary titled Where Soldiers Come From is now in limited release across the country and it tells the story of 9 boys (men) from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan—a rural area along the Canadian border— who joined the Army National Guard as a group and ultimately served in Afghanistan together. What intrigues me about the film is that the director was able to spend four years following the men, including being with them before they joined the Army so we can see into what one critic called “the enclosed world of youth.”

Here is the trailer:

The Future of ‘Jobs’

“Job creation is a false idol. The future is about gigs and assets and art and an ever-shifting series of partnerships and projects. It will change the fabric of our society along the way. No one is demanding that we like the change, but the sooner we see it and set out to become an irreplaceable linchpin, the faster the pain will fade, as we get down to the work that needs to be (and now can be) done.”  –Seth Godin

Muriel Spark’s “A Far Cry From Kensington”

  A New Directions edition.

Had the good fortune of finding the novel A Far Cry From Kensington by the British novelist Muriel Spark this past weekend. I have had Memento Mori on my shelf for some time, but have not gotten around to reading it.

This New Directions edition was just $1 at Book-Off, which is a Japanese-based used book store with all sorts of English-language gems inside.

I have begun reading A Far Cry and see why Spark has such a stellar reputation–she is a masterful writer.

Sir Ken Robinson on Finding Your Passion

Although I’m tempted to call this talk by Sir Ken Robinson “Humanism Gone Wild”–for Robinson surely views mankind as an immanently perfectible being if only given the right sort of parental and societal support (I don’t share this view )–it is too engaging and interesting a lecture not to recommend to everyone.

I’d also like to recommend an interview with Robinson on the fine radio program “Radio Open Source” hosted by Christopher Lydon. Please watch the Robinson lecture here:

New Documentary on Walker Percy

It’s excellent news to learn that novelist Walker Percy may be getting more attention with the upcoming documentary Walker Percy: A Documentary Film. A man of the South and a Roman Catholic, his books tackle the big moral and spiritual questions that modern novelists, regrettably, have long since abandoned.

It’s interesting how often his novel The Moviegoer, which won the National Book Award in 1962, is mentioned as a beloved book by writer of all stripes. I recently heard an interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Philip Schultz who cited the book as a special influence on him  as a teenager. “I think it was the first time I read something that provoked in me a level of emotion that painting did,” He said. “I loved Percy’s passion for philosophical insight and his lyrical, ever-spiraling ideas.”

Of his own work, Percy said he was looking for:

A theory of man, man as more than organism, more than consumer––man the wayfarer, man the pilgrim, man in transit, on a journey.

The film will appear on PBS next month. Watch a preview:

Discussion With British Chef Marco Pierre White

In many ways I’m the last person to appreciate a talk by a famous international chef–I’m picky, American and provincial in my eating habits–yet I found this discussion by Marco Pierre White fascinating and inspiring. He is a charming, intelligent man who understands both his craft and his place in the world. The chef as artist proves true in Mr. White’s case.

My Essay in ‘The Millions’

I recently published an essay on the online literary site The Millions titled, “Paris, Wikipedia and My Middle Age Crisis.”

Each man’s middle age crisis begins at an indeterminate age and offers a peculiar window into the architecture of masculine decline. In this respect it mimics death, which is both punctual and ruthlessly efficient in its demolitions. For many men, the crisis begins with the fear that your Emersonian Self-Reliance is spent, or even worse, you’ve sucked so deeply on the marrow of life that you are now as penniless as Henry David Thoreau . . . Go here to read the full essay.