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Today marks the end of National Short Story Month (NaShoStoMo for short—and yes, this exists, in addition to May being National Bike Month, National Hamburger Month, and National Moving Month. Who knew?) Some of our favorite works of fiction this past year were story collections (plus: remember Oprah’s 2009 Book Club pick, the short story collection about children in Africa, “Say You’re One of Them”?), and while looking for a way to celebrate them, we stumbled on Storyville, an app that lets you keep up with the newest ones out there without purchasing a library's worth of different collections. Every Tuesday, you receive a single fresh story right to your phone or ipad—ranging from tales by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors like Jennifer Egan to those by up-and-comers like Emma Straub and Tania James.
“Every year, hundreds of wonderful short stories are published, but readers have no idea they exist,” says Paul Vidich, one of Storyville's co-founders. “We’re trying to engage fiction fans in a new conversation. And with the stories on your phone or iPad, they’re always with you—on the bus, at the airport, in your bed. (Paul is right about that: I got so caught up reading writer Ana Menendez’s Traveling Fools, a whimsical yarn about a man who flies away on a weather balloon while waiting in line at Starbucks that I didn’t even hear the cashier call my name three times!)
Here’s a few more fast, easy ways to delve into short stories that should hold you over until NaShoStoMo 2013:
Unrequited love stories
John Irving's new smash novel
But how, oh how, do people do it? I'm still furious about a prank that was pulled on me in seventh grade. People like me would do well to study Fatemah Golmakani. This woman is a beacon of goodwill and forgiveness. Her 22-year-old son was murdered last year in an act of gang violence so brutal that Golmakani suffered a heart attack while hearing the details in court. Since the four killers were sentenced to prison, Golmakani has summoned up vast forces of compassion, and now plans to start a charity to help the teens who killed her son.
According to the Huffington Post, Golmakani said, "What these men didn’t realize was that when they murdered my son, all their hopes and dreams were buried in Milad’s grave with him." She wants to start a charity that will include a safe space for troubled teens -- and you'll never guess how she plans to raise the money to get her charity off the ground. This woman is the definition of large-hearted, and it occurs to me, this is what it truly means to be a mother. The care-and-feeding-of-the-young is one part of it, but also there is this, the consciousness that every troubled person, even a criminal, is somebody's baby, has a damaged child inside of them. That everyone, even a murderer, wants to be forgiven and loved. If only we could all go through our daily lives remembering this, what Fatemah knows: "that forgiveness is the greatest remedy for grief."
Forgiveness in Action
Give Yourself the Gift of Forgiveness
4 Steps to Forgiveness
As Ravitz puts it, Aesha, who "was given away by her father to settle a family score," "seems starved for attention, and cannot get enough cuddling." The portrait that follows is of an unforgettable personality -- wild, tempestuous, as full of joy and rage as the most capricious toddler. According to Ravitz, "She has had to learn far more than language. Aesha didn’t know there are days of the week...In many ways, Aesha is at a crossroads -- somewhere between a wide-eyed and innocent child, a young woman who has a lifetime ahead of her, and a survivor who’s already experienced more than anyone should."
Read the whole moving essay and watch the video to learn more about Aesha, including the unexpected turn her story has taken. As I weepily read, I can't help thinking how one of the saddest (and most beautiful) parts of this story is how with everything that has happened to Aesha, all she wants is a family. What she's missing most seems to be a chance to be, belatedly, a kid. How the simplest things in life -- a cuddle, swinging at the playground, feeling safe and loved -- are, so often, the most elusive.
Afghan Girls Box For Sisterhood
On worthiness: "Because the mighty and the strong don’t hold women in high regard, we feel that we’re not worthy of being held in high regard. So we miss one of the greatest steps a woman can take, which is the chance to be on her own side; to be her own health advocate. You really have to believe you’re worthy. That is the first step."
On fear. "So many of women don’t trust authority. They’re afraid of the mammogram machine. They’re afraid of the Pap smear. But those of us who know must show! Really, it is imperative that we not stop talking. We must not become impatient. And we must not think that we can lecture women into thinking better of themselves and their health. What we do is we love them. A person knows when somebody really cares."
On colds. "I think quite often the mind can heal the body. In fact, if
I’m traveling and in a hotel, and I wake up with a little scratch on my throat,
I get up and begin to shout, “Get out of my body! I don’t need you! Get out!
Get out of my body! Now, now!” Later, I go outside and the maids will
be in the lobby and they look around like, “Who tried to get into that woman’s body?”
It’s funny, of course. But you have to give your body permission to heal itself.
Just about a month before his death, Yauch spoke with Project Happiness about the true meaning of -- and way to find -- happiness. He explained how his work for the people of Tibet had contributed to his own sense of happiness and peace: "I guess one way to look at it is that if one wants to create more happiness in their life in the future, then working towards doing more altruistic things or things to benefit other people, that’s the way to get there."
The interviewer asked him what everyday, non-celebs can do to make the world a better place. I love Yauch's response: "Everything we do affects other people... Every way that we interact with other people, even if it’s like, you’re at the store and buying something, and it’s the way that you interact with the clerk at the store. EVERY action that we take has some motivation of either being selfish or altruistic. All that adds up."
To Yauch happiness was looking outward, whether that translated into making music that meant something to people or getting involved in a large-scale human rights campaign. And looking outward, as he put it, can be a part of every day, every interaction. You don't have to make a number one hit, but you can make music to entertain your friends or family or self. You don't have to save all of Tibet, but you can be polite to the clerk at the store. According to Yauch in this interview, everyday kindness was the way to long-term happiness. And if you're looking for short-term happiness, a shot of pure silly joy in the moment, you might just have to listen to some Beastie Boys.
Read the entire interview, and learn more about Project Happiness, here.
Meet Mr. Happy Man
Revelations From the Happy Movie
How to be Happy
But Meena and others like her have found that secret literary groups, where they phone in poems for literate women to transcribe, allow them to express themselves -- their frustrations at their controlled existences, at being forced to marry people they don't want to, or not having access to education or ways to support themselves. In Meena's case, tradition dictates that she marry one of her dead fiancé's brothers. According to the Times: "She doesn’t dare protest directly, but reciting poetry to Amail allows her to speak out against her lot...Pashtun poetry has long been a form of rebellion for Afghan women, belying the notion that they are submissive or defeated."
Can you imagine it -- really imagine it -- not being allowed to so much as express an opinion? Can you imagine the release you would feel, finally having a chance, through poetry, to communicate -- even if it had to be shrouded in metaphor and mystery? These women (the poets, the scribes who help them) are truly brave. But they also remind us of the power of art -- whether it's poetry or music or dance or whatever it is -- to say the unsayable. In this case, literally.
Afghan Girls Who Box for Sisterhood
The Age-Old Art of Spoken Poetry
I happened upon this blog post by Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons called "The Scary Ordinary Man That Was Mike Wallace," in which Gibbons writes, "Wallace was considered a lightweight for years...in 1962, he had a game change moment." His game change moment? The accidental death of his young son Peter while on a hiking trip in Greece. "Stunned, he...reassessed his life. He didn't want to be what he considered a lightweight anymore. He wanted to do serious news. He wasn't sure what that meant, but he knew he couldn't continue what he was doing. "
Who knew that this thing no one should ever have to experience, the death of a child, was what inspired Wallace to get serious? Who knew he was ever not serious? It seems that the skilled seeker of secrets was harboring one of his own. As is, we are reminded (again), almost everyone.
A Guide to Confessing Your Deep Dark Secrets
The Accident That Was Anjelica Huston's Aha! Moment
The tale of Amelia Earheart has all the aspects of a great tragedy: a brave, unlikely heroine; the inkling that anything is possible; and of course, the lasting mystery—we still don't know why Earheart's bid to be the first woman to fly around the world failed, or what happened to her.
This June, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery is commemorating the 75th anniversary of Earheart's flight by relaunching a search for the wreckage of her plane. Of course I hope they learn something about her fate, and I am excited to see the way the search is stirring up interest in a pioneer of women-can-do-anything-ness. But what's so compelling, to me, about Earheart, is the hugeness of her ambition. There's been a lot of talk of failure in the past few years--everyone from neuroscientists to the editors at the Harvard Business Review. As dismal as the consequences of mistakes may be (and, indeed, were for Earheart), those who follow want to know what happened, in their ongoing efforts not just to push beyond old boundaries but to see that outsize ambition eventually fulfilled, possibly even surpassed.
Read the whole article in the Christian Science Monitor to learn what politician is rallying support for the cause (and for an awesome slideshow of Earheart and other wonder women).
How Failure Can Lead to Success
Let a Failure Liberate You
Who hasn't watched a bird soar through the sky and wished humans would hurry up and learn to fly already? After all, air travel may be kind of magical in an abstract way, but the actual experience ends up being akin to a long bus ride and unless you really love single-serve booze it hardly stirs the soul. Enter Human Birdwings. Apparently, Dutch engineer Jarno Smeets has created wings that allow a man to fly. You have to see this video:
A post on Science, Space, and Robots raises the possibility of the Human Birdwings video being a hoax. The blogger wonders whether the wings are long enough to support a grown man, and evinces a general sense of skepticism, which after all is what scientists are supposed to do. Personally, I'm less interested in whether or not the flight is real, and more simply blown away by the footage. Every time I watch this, I realize I've got a huge, goofy grin on my face. The flier's excitement is so childlike and palpable and complete. That moment when he lifts from the ground and flaps off into the sky! Imagine it! In the video, Smeets breathlessly describes running and then seeing the ground moving away, and his "really intense feeling of freedom...a truly magical feeling."
I hope the flight is real, I do. But even if it's not, I appreciate the vision behind it -- the fact that a man exists who has devoted himself to realizing an impossible dream, who is working hard to make it possible.
Impossible Dreams to Never Give Up On
Live Life Like It's An Adventure
I thought of this when I read this article about helping the Japanese people to heal, one year after the tsunami destroyed so many people's homes and killed 19,000 people. According to the New York Daily News, "furry, robotic seals that respond to human touch are being used in Japan to treat depression among survivors of last year’s tsunami disaster. 'Paro' is being offered to people made homeless by the disaster and is offering a much-needed bit of affection with his burbling noises and the appreciative flapping of fins when he comes into contact with people."
How fascinating that just touching something can have such healing powers. For people living in temporary housing in Kesennuma, an area badly hit by the tsunami, the trauma of last spring's storm is still a very present part of everyday reality, and as one woman told the Daily News, "Many of my neighbours don't want to have new pets because they don't want to remember." Enter the adorable robots.
But you don't have to recovering from a life-shattering trauma to experiment with non-traditional healing. We all have days pocked with small-scale wounds—the unsettled aftermath of a friend's unkind words, the lingering adrenaline from a near-fender-bender. Whatever your hurt, try a touch—hugging a friend, stroking a foster kitty, cozying up to an animatronic seal should you find yourself near one—and see, er feel, what happens next.
The Power of Therapeutic Touch