Wednesday, February 24, 2010

PEN Award finalists announced

From today's Washington Post, written by Marissa Newhall:

Books by Sherman Alexie, Barbara Kingsolver, Lorraine M. López, Lorrie Moore and Colson Whitehead are finalists for the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the PEN/Faulkner Foundation announced Tuesday.

Alexie's short-story collection "War Dances" and Kingsolver's historical novel "The Lacuna" are in contention for the $15,000 prize along with López's "Homicide Survivors Picnic and Other Stories," Moore's "A Gate at the Stairs" and Whitehead's "Sag Harbor."

The winner of the award, the country's largest peer-juried prize for fiction, will be named March 23.

Judges considered nearly 350 entries -- all novels and short-story collections by American authors published in 2009.

Last year's winner, "Netherland" by Joseph O'Neill, was rushed into paperback after President Obama mentioned it in a newspaper interview. Having tired of briefing books, Obama said, he had taken respite in O'Neill's tale of cricket and friendship in post-9/11 New York City.

As each year's winner is thought of as "first among equals," all five finalists will be honored May 8 at an award ceremony at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Each runner-up will receive $5,000.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wrestle with life, then grow and learn

Wrestle with life, then grow and learn
Published: Friday, February 19, 2010 9:11 AM US/eastern

Wrestling with life, while always difficult and sometimes traumatic, is both unavoidable and, more importantly, necessary because wrestling with life helps us develop vision in life as well as expectations. Wrestling with life gives us insight as well as experience. We grow in compassion and in character. Wrestling with life — difficult and scarring though it is — transforms us and enables us to transform.

Wrestling with life is of the essence of life. In the process, we learn things about ourselves and we come to understand some things about God as well. God gives life, and in the giving allows us to be co-creators, full participants with the chance to make decisions, and part of making decisions is taking charge of our lives.

Wrestling with life drives us to find God within us and God in the darkness that surrounds us. Think about that for a moment. Some of us hesitate to say that God is within us, maybe because we think it sounds like we are puffing ourselves up, elevating ourselves above others, showing off and so on. Others hesitate to say that God is in the darkness that surrounds us, as though the darkness is only the absence of God.

But instead, a lesson from the story of Jacob wrestling in the dark, a lesson I think God would have us know is that wrestling with life helps us find God within and God in the darkness that surrounds us.

Here’s how Rumi, a 12th-century poet, put it:
I saw Grief drinking a cup of sorrow and called out, “It tastes sweet, does it not?”
“You've caught me, and now you've ruined my business," said Grief. "How can I sell sorrow when you know it's a blessing?”

There is beauty in the dark valleys of life. We call it hope. We call it spiritual growth -- grounded in the ability to remember a difficult past, either our own or someone else’s, that became new life more than we could ever imagine. Our difficult pasts — our times of scuffling and scrapping, rumbling and wrestling with life — prove to us that whatever it was that we ever before thought would crush us, would trample us, would completely paralyze us has been survived.

And if that is true, then we can survive and grow through whatever we are wrestling with now.

Saturday, February 06, 2010


Feeling emotional? Write it down
By Nathan Day Wilson
Published: Friday, February 5, 2010 9:11 AM US/eastern

I love the ability of writing to change lives. My life, your life, our lives as a community — writing has the capacity to change them all, and change them for the better.

One of the ways our individual lives can be changed through writing is by keeping a journal. Psychologists have found that writing about your feelings can help the brain overcome emotional upsets and leave you feeling happier.

In particular, brain scans on volunteers showed that putting feelings down on paper reduces activity in a part of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for controlling the intensity of our emotions. They’re calling this the “Bridget Jones effect.” Kind of lame shorthand if you ask me, but nobody did. And my wife likes those movies, so don’t tell her I said that.

Here’s the skinny: Whether you elaborate on your feelings in a diary, pen lines of poetry or jot down song lyrics to express negative emotions, there appears to be positive healthy effects. UCLA psychologist Matthew Lieberman said the effect differs from catharsis, which usually involves coming to terms with an emotional problem by seeing it in a different light. Lieberman said, “Writing seems to help the brain regulate emotion unintentionally. Whether it’s writing things down in a diary, writing bad poetry or making up song lyrics that should never be played on the radio, it seems to help people emotionally.”

I think Lieberman was talking about me when he said that about bad song lyrics, but I’ll try not to be offended. Too much. I’ll deal with it in my journal.

The psychologists investigated the effect by inviting people to visit the lab for a brain scan before asking them to write for 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days. Half of the participants wrote about a recent emotional experience, while the other half wrote about a neutral experience. Those who wrote about an emotional experience showed more activity in the prefrontal cortex, which in turn decreased neural activity linked to strong emotional feelings.

Two parts of this study surprised me: Men benefited from writing about their feelings more than women, and writing by hand had a bigger effect than typing.

A quote from Lieberman made sense: “The reason (that men tend to show greater benefits) might be that women more freely put their feelings into words, so this is less of a novel experience for them.” Living in a house of all women, I can witness to the brother’s comments about women freely verbalizing their feelings!

Anyhow, the point of this column, if there is one, is that writing about your emotions can help. It can help you recover from emotional distress, process situations, release tension and more.

So get out those pens and write!

Wilson is pastor of First Christian Church, 118 W. Washington St. His book, “Waging Peace Amidst Raging War: The Impact of Religious Peacemaking Institutions” is to be published in the fall. His e-mail is