Shepard Fairey on street art: “It has the ability to reach people who are not a captive audience”

Shepard Fairey

Shepard Fairey (Credit: Getty/Anthony Wallace)

Shepard Fairey was once a young underground street-artist familiar only to fans of graffiti art and California’s lowbrow movement. In recent years, though, he’s become an internationally known figure who did much exposed posters supporting Barack Obama’s 2008 run for the presidency: His work can be seen not only on telephone poles and the sides of buildings but in the Smithsonian, The Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Fairey is one of a handful of street artists represented in a new art book called “Eleven Spring,” which captures an important street art show in Lower Manhattan organized by the Wooster Collective website. The show, which took place on just three days in December 2006, drew artists including The London Police and Lady Pink, who sprayed or painted work before a building near New York’s Bowery district was turned into condos. Besides contributing work to the exhibit, Fairey also writes one of the book’s introductions.

Salon corresponded by email with Fairey while he was traveling between Los Angeles, where he is based, and Hong Kong, where he was working on a project. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Tell us a little about this show on Spring Street  what was the idea behind it and why was the art there worth capturing in a book like this one?

Eleven Spring was a constantly changing surface for unsanctioned street art for years, so the opportunity to allow street artists to cover the walls inside made sense because of its exterior authenticity and history. The art was worth capturing because Wooster Collective curated a group of the most influential and talented artists from the movement.

Wooster had been showcasing many of these artists on their site and were extremely familiar with street art culture. Street artists are competitive by nature so bringing the group together meant that everyone wanted to do strong work to rise to the top of the field.

Street art, in general, has come a long way since you started doing it as a college student around 1990 — the cult of Banksy, gallery shows like Eleven Spring, the Museum of Contemporary Art “Art in the Streets” exhibit in 2011, your own fame around the Obama posters. Does street art seem as exciting and full of possibility as it once was, or does it risk becoming blunted from popularity and exposure, like punk rock or something?

I’m still excited about street art because it has the ability to reach people who are not a captive audience. If you are going to an artist’s gallery or museum show or website, you might find something interesting and new, but it’s not the same as the visceral experience of encountering something unexpected on the street.

I still enjoy putting work up on the street because I know there’s the possibility of connecting with someone that is not already a fan of the genre for my art in particular. All cultural movements have the potential for bandwagon jumpers and oversaturation, but in my opinion, good work always breaks through even when someone thinks they’re a jaded hipster.

You’ve expressed some disappointment with the Obama presidency. With him close to leaving office, have you reconsidered at all? How does he stand up in general?

I’ve been very happy with Obama’s communication and forward movement on issues like climate change, protection of Planned Parenthood, gun safety, and marriage equality for the last two years. I think Obama is a very very high-quality human being who has the right concerns but was met with a lot of obstacles. I think the long view of his presidency will be very favorable.

Have you followed the current political race closely, or has it just been too harsh and ugly to handle? Have you done any public art about it?

I have followed it very closely. I made some art for Bernie Sanders and some art against Trump includ[ing] poster kits that were distributed to swing states.  Unfortunately, Trump was still elected. We’ve done some public work around Make America Smart Again.

You’ve been through some rough stuff over the last few years — copyright suits over appropriation, charges of vandalism. Do the existing laws, and the way they are enforced and interpreted, limit what artists in the public sphere can do? How would you like to see things change?

A lot of the laws have broad latitude for interpretation which means that a corporation with an ax to grind or a police department with an ax to grind can make my life or any other artist’s life difficult if they choose to. I respect copyright, but I don’t always agree with the corporate interpretations of copyright law. Obviously, I think the police would be using their time better worrying about things other than public art, but regardless of my feelings about those specific issues, having and expressing an opinion always has its risks.

Street art is associated with a few big cities — New York, Los Angeles, London, maybe San Francisco or Oakland. But today you are, I think, in Asia. Has it spread around the world by now, or has it been in these places for decades?

The Internet has allowed street art and graffiti culture to grow globally because even people who don’t travel can see a vast array of examples online. I think the impulse for people to create indoors and out is ageless but now there are many more ways to find inspiration and accelerate the technical learning curve.

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Childish Gambino’s “Awaken My Love”: What happens when a rapper releases an album containing no rap at all?

2014 iHeartRadio Music Festival Village - Show

(Credit: Getty/Isaac Brekken)

The events of the past year should have served as a loud awakening for anyone who had fantasized that America is a post-racial nation. The sounds of the past year, on the other hand, have hinted that American popular music is nearing a post-genre moment.

This year the lines between category have continued to blur, particularly when it comes to the role of rock sounds in popular music. The year’s best rock music (Car Seat Headrest, Mitski, Teen Suicide) has again been relegated to “indie” and “alt” status, but rock’s staples, in the music’s attitude and instruments, have become pronounced in much of the year’s best hip-hop and R&B — if you can still call it that.     

Take for instance this week’s biggest release, The Weeknd’s “Starboy.” It is, like previous Weeknd records, nocturnal, pulsating R&B. The Weeknd’s voice animates an alluring underworld lurking in the shadows of a refurbished 1980s metropolis. Familiar Weeknd themes, such as sexual dominance and drug use, are reintroduced. But sonically the album takes more cues from ’80s rock music. “There are new inspirations on this album,” The Weeknd told Zane Lowe in a recent Beats 1 interview. “The production feels aggressive but still sexy. The Smiths, Bad Brains, Talking Heads, Prince, and DeBarge play roles. . . . It’s hard to label the sound because, when I first came out, nobody would label it R&B. I just want to keep pushing the envelope without it feeling forced.”

The songs that listeners would have been most hesitant to label R&B when The Weeknd began releasing music in 2010 come halfway through the record. Lana Del Ray sings hauntingly on “Stargirl Interlude,” a song powered by a slow, heavy bass and drum kit pulse that vaguely recalls Can’s “Vitamin C.” And that song gives way to “Sidewalks,” which in structure and instrumentation (a fluttering electric guitar in the fore, bass and percussion providing tempo) is a traditional rock song. But the Weeknd sing-raps in the style of Drake and Kendrick Lamar also raps. This is one of the moments on the album where things get aggressive, delightfully so.

There’s a lot happening within this sequence, but it manages not to feel forced. Maybe that’s because of The Weeknd’s vocal versatility — not to be mistaken for vast range. Or maybe it is because such hybridization has become standard in pop. This is not, after all, the first time that Kendrick has rapped on a rock song made by a rock outsider.

Elsewhere, one of the last Goliath, guitar-wielding capital “R” rock stars, Jack White — Who that comes after him in rock’s lineage can fill a stadium? — has played a critical role on two of the year’s best albums, Tribe Called Quest’s “We Got It From Here. . . Thank You 4 Your Service” and Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.”

White’s collaboration with Tribe came about last year, when White, a Tribe fan who is conscious of rock’s debt to the blues, asked Q-Tip for permission to play one of their old hits, “Excursions,” in a live show. Q-Tip’s appreciation of White was mutual; he agreed and joined White in his Madison Square Garden stop.

The joint performance was loud, rollicking, full of testosterone and swagger — reminiscent of Run DMC’s 1986 remake of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” White’s guitar brings some of that same energy to the three songs he had a hand in on “We Got It From Here. . . ” In particular, he sets the mood on “Ego” with a foreboding bump-a-bump beat; and midway through the song he uses his guitar solo like a defibrillator, delivering an electric jolt.

Though White plays a different string instrument, the bass, on Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” the effect is similar, if not more pronounced. He joins her on the album’s third song, “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” deploys a titanic Led Zeppelin-sampled drum beat (which is itself taken from a Memphis Minnie song) and sets the stage for Beyoncé to, you know, wreck shit. Her singing is frayed, simultaneously furious and prideful: “I am the dragon breathing fire/ Beautiful mane, I’m the lion/ Beautiful man, I know you’re lying/ I am not broken, I’m not crying, I’m not crying,” she sings. And on the hook, “When you hurt me, you hurt yourself/ Don’t hurt yourself.”    

“Don’t Hurt Yourself” is Beyoncé at her most defiant. The song is intensely personal — a response to her husband’s infidelity — but there’s also more than a whiff of the political. It’s a female empowerment anthem, one piece of a bigger, beautiful black female empowerment album — and, simply, a fantastic work of art. Beyoncé, like The Weeknd and Tribe, reclaimed rock chords, pumped them with fresh swagger and built an exclamatory moment within her album.   

It’s not a new feat, the fusion of rock and hip-hip, rock and R&B. But presently the comingling of these different genres sounds less clunky and more pointed than in past incarnations (just listen to past tries by Lil Wayne, Kid Cudi or Linkin Park and Jay Z). These rock samples have emotional context and purpose: They’re exclamation points, beaming with confrontation, pride and sometimes a sense of the dark unknown.   

Speaking of which, on Friday, Donald Glover, who raps under the name Childish Gambino, will release “Awaken My Love,” an album that does not seem to include any rapping. Instead, according to Jonah Weiner, who heard an early slice of the album at Glover’s Pharos festival, said Gambino “leaves rap behind for trippy funk rock indebted to ’70s visionaries like Funkadelic and Sly & The Family Stone.” In one of the album’s two prereleased singles “Me and Your Momma.”  

Just don’t try to label it.

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A&E’s “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath”: Your antidote to seasonal belief disorder

Leah Remini

Leah Remini (Credit: AP/Richard Shotwell/Reuters/Mario Anzuoni/Photo montage by Salon)

Barely 40 seconds into opening episode of A&E’s “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath,” premiering Tuesday at 10 p.m., a title card appears that reads, “The Church disputes many of the statements made by those appearing in this program.”

The message goes on to direct viewers to a webpage for more information in the form of letters provided by the Church of Scientology regarding “matters discussed in this series.” As of early Tuesday afternoon, hours prior to the nonfiction program’s debut, the link in question was not yet live. No matter: Remini gave viewers an idea of what they’ll find there in the following preview trailer.

Just in case that initial disclaimer wasn’t enough to appease the notoriously litigious church, the aforementioned title card runs regularly throughout the hour alongside other cards displaying excerpts of church correspondence with A&E attempting to discredit Remini’s sources, many of them former senior members of the church, as well as impugning Remini herself.

The first declared dispute directly follows that overall disclaimer and starts with “viewers should know the duplicity at work when Ms. Remini stage-managed her departure from the Church of Scientology.”

Happy Holidays, folks, and welcome to the season of fascination, wonder and the magic of belief. Most viewers probably wouldn’t count “Scientology and the Aftermath” among their holiday viewing options, we’re guessing. But when you think about it, Remini’s eight-part series is a palate cleanser, an antidote to all the saccharine sentiment blanketing the TV schedule about dancing snowmen and deer that fly through the air without accidentally being propelled by the front end of a Chevy.

Because belief is a marvelous concept, that spoonful of sugar that helps life go down easier. Applied judiciously with a good heart and common sense, belief opens us up to endless possibilities. It steels us to endure life’s harsher tests and infuses us with hope, regardless of the cruel reality surrounding us.

Belief can also seduce people into believing that an obese stranger is going to bring a sackful of toys after he squeezes down a chimney. Or it can lead people to think an all-powerful intergalactic dictator named Xenu sacrificed humanity’s ancestors by dropping hydrogen bombs on them long ago, as Scientology’s belief system goes. It can inspire people to be their best selves or legitimize inhumane, deplorable behavior.

The Church of Scientology would love for A&E viewers to see “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath” as a work of fantasy on the same level of “A Year Without a Santa Claus” or “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” The fact that it sent threatening letters to A&E dated as recently as Nov. 2 makes this abundantly clear.

Including excerpts of these letters in the telecast is the network’s way of covering its backside from a legal perspective, a stipulation probably required by the church. Doing so also has precisely the opposite effect of what the Church of Scientology intended, in that they further solidify any outrage a person might feel at hearing allegations of physical, psychological and sexual abuse recounted in Remini’s series.

I use the words “might feel,” by the way, because at this point it’s hard to imagine that anyone obsessed with the secretive inner workings of the Church of Scientology would be shocked at anything Remini’s subjects have to reveal in “Scientology and the Aftermath.” From that famous 2012 Vanity Fair exposé “What Katie Didn’t Know” to Alex Gibney’s compelling 2015 documentary “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief,” there’s plenty of documentation that exposes the church’s practices.

Knowing that Remini’s series has so vociferously riled up the church has to have goosed the curiosity of the A&E audience far more than if it had done the minimal disavowal and left it at that. Which (insert uninhibited, maniacal laugh track here) would never happen.

But that protest only serves to legitimize “Scientology and the Aftermath,” a series that mimics some of the anxiety-inducing, rough-edged vérité style of such A&E cohorts as “Intervention” and “The Killing Season” and is hosted by the down-to-earth star of “The King of Queens.”

What “Scientology and the Aftermath” lacks in cinematic polish and caliber of familiar celebrities as featured in “Going Clear” —  such as director Paul Haggis, one of the most famous Hollywood adherents to publicly defect from the church prior to Remini — is somewhat supplanted by Remini’s honest anger and frustration, both of which blaze across the screen in reaction to particularly damning revelations.

Remini’s overall likability is this program’s most valuable asset. She’s a credible guide whose genuine New York-bred personality makes someone picture having her over for a book club or poker night, and her brashness lends an unvarnished humanity to her interactions with her interview subjects.

Prior to coming out against Scientology in her 2015 bestseller “Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology,” Remini enjoyed CBS sitcom success that propelled her to a level of stardom. The actress says the church attempted to exploit her celebrity in order to recruit others and, according to an interview in The Hollywood Reporter, attempt to quash an unflattering report on “60 Minutes.”

Aided by archival footage of filmed Scientology events and other available church-related videos, Remini briefly explains how she came to be member of the church and her well-publicized exit, a lengthy ordeal that began with a terse interaction she had at the 2006 wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.

Although Remini specifies that the series was inspired by public reaction to her book, she also quickly redirects its focus to the show’s professed purpose, which she says is to expose and hold accountable the people who are committing abuses and breaking up families.

And the people interviewed in the first episode of  “Scientology and the Aftermath” are defectors from the organization’s highest levels, including Mike Rinder, the founding director of Scientology International and former head of its Office of Special Affairs until he left the church in 2007, and Amy Scobee.

Scobee was indoctrinated into the church’s clergy structure known as Sea Org as a teenager and served as the former director of Scientology’s Celebrity Centres for a decade before leaving the Church. Contrary to the best efforts of the church’s negative campaigning, the inclusion of Scobee and Rinder’s testimonials lend legitimacy and emotional weight to allegations concerning of some of Scientology’s more damaging practices, such as its cutting off contact with family members it has expelled.

For those who don’t believe Scobee’s story, the premiere also features a heartbreaking interview with her mother, Bonny Elliott from her Seattle hospital bed. The church has plenty of say about Scobee in its correspondence, but shows enough savvy to refrain from besmirching the reputation of a dying woman.

The question I was left with after viewing “Scientology and the Aftermath” is, to whom do Remini and her subjects go for action or recourse? For that matter, to whom is this project directed? Church followers aren’t going to watch it. People who are already consumed by the weirdness of Scientology aren’t going to discover anything they don’t already know. And one episode is enough for the freshly curious to get the gist of the church’s dubious practices. It is hard to fathom anyone other than the most hardcore obsessives sticking around for all eight installments of this limited series.

Really, the Church of Scientology’s barrage of letters could be the best publicity Remini’s series could ask for. And the network might not be the entity paying for that extra promotion when all is said and done; reportedly Remini is demanding that the church retract the letters, which she calls “libelous,” and pay her $1.5 million in compensation.

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Fake news is modern propaganda: In the Trump era, history repeats itself not as farce but as clickbait

Campaign 2016 Trump

(Credit: AP/John Locher)

A new report published in The Washington Post alleges that Russia was involved in disseminating fake news designed to get Donald Trump elected.

One report, entitled “Trolling for Trump: How Russia Is Trying to Destroy Our Democracy,” was published in War on the Rocks, an online journal focusing on matters of foreign policy and national security. The other was courtesy of PropOrNot, a nonpartisan research group. Each came to the same conclusion — that Russian officials deployed a mixture of spambots and human agents to generate and spread false information that would be favorable to the Republican party.

These tactics proved extraordinarily effective throughout the 2016 election, according to PropOrNot. The group claims that fake stories created by Russian interests were shared over 213 million times during the race.

You should have every reason to take these findings with a grain of salt. No less than Glenn Greenwald questioned PropOrNot’s transparency in a post for The Intercept, given that the group has yet to disclose who exactly is a part of its so-called “nonpartisan” leadership. Even the group’s executive director asked to remain anonymous in the Washington Post report, citing fear of being targeted by Russian trolls.

Tellingly, the outlet reports that a number of media organizations “passed on this story” before The Washington Post picked it up.

Despite this valid criticism, there’s one important take away from these reports. The problem of “fake news” is more than simply an issue of false or shoddy reporting, a controversy that Facebook has recently found itself at the center of following insider information that the company did little to stop the spread of such stories, for fear the platform would appear biased against conservatives. This is about a targeted campaign of “disinformation,” as Soviet Russia used to call it, influencing the U.S. political system.

Calling it fake news hides the truth of what this phenomenon truly is — propaganda, designed to erode the foundations of democracy itself.

President Barack Obama warned about the powerful, dangerous effects of fake news during a press conference following Trump’s surprise Electoral College victory. The president-elect upset pollsters who estimated that his challenger, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was leading by an average of three to four points in the days leading up to the election. Pundits have scrambled to explain Trump’s rise to power — with many pointing to the media as a powerful tool in stirring up hatred and racial division.

Obama claimed that partisanship in the name of journalism is the enemy of an informed public.

“If we are not serious about the facts and what’s true and what’s not, particularly in the social media era when so many get information from sound bites and snippets off their phone, if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems,” said President Obama.

The Washington Post wasn’t the first to point out that politically motivated interests are in the business of corking the bat for their preferred candidate.

An October study from BuzzFeed found that while there are fake news websites on both sides of the partisan divide, viral news hoaxes were twice as likely to be shilling for Donald Trump as Hillary Clinton. Sites that disseminate disinformation for the GOP include platforms like Eagle Rising and American News, the latter of which commands a Facebook audience of 5 million. That’s more social media followers than respected websites like Vox, The Atlantic, Slate, or the Los Angeles Times.

A recent story from American News claimed that Michelle Obama criticized Melania Trump, saying that the former model doesn’t have the “credentials” to fill her shoes as the First Lady. That report isn’t true, but it didn’t stop the article from receiving over 6,000 likes, just on the Republican outlet’s Facebook page. (Curiously, the original publication date was last year, despite references to Trump being the “president-elect.”)

Freedom Daily, which boasts more than 1 million followers, pushed a fake story about Black Lives Matter activists beating up a white man and dousing him with gasoline. On Sunday, Eagle Rising shared a meme of a Peanuts cartoon in which Linus tells Charlie Brown, “Under President Trump, it will be safe to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”

Platforms like these, while a product of the digital age, are not exclusive to present day. Throughout the history of propaganda, news media have been used not to combat propaganda but as tools to further its reach. During the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler controlled the production of radio, television, and film in Germany, creating stylized films with Leni Riefenstahl to illustrate the power and the glory of his empire. In order to stay in business, newspapers were effectively a megaphone for the Nazi party.

Even the venerated Associated Press found itself in the position of being forced to work with Hitler if the outlet wanted access to the German leader.

Historian Harriet Scharnberg, a professor at Martin Luther University in Halle, Germany, reported that the AP was forced to collude with Hitler to avoid the fate of papers like The Guardian, which was shut down by the German government. A journal article published in Studies in Contemporary History claims that the outlet was required to sign a “Schriftleitergesetz,” a so-called “editor’s law” that promised not to publish any material “calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich abroad or at home.”

In addition to hiring German propaganda officers, the outlet was also compelled to engage in self-censorship. The AP declined to publish photos of the countless Jewish victims murdered during a siege on the town of Lviv in 1941, the largest city in Western Ukraine.

“[T]he American press was only supplied with photographs showing the victims of the Soviet police and ‘brute’ Red Army war criminals,” Schanberg told The Guardian.

Schanberg believes that Germany’s control of the media during World War II, whether it was “The Triumph of the Will” or forcing national newspapers to ignore the killings of millions of Jews, homosexuals, and people with disabilities, was central to its ability to govern effectively. It allowed the Third Reich to “portray a war of extermination as a conventional war,” as she argues.

Fake news serves the same purpose in Trump’s America: to normalize the abnormal by legitimizing the president-elect’s stay in the White House.

For instance, a recent article from American News makes it appear as if Trump has a near universal mandate from the U.S. population. Published Sunday, the report claims that recent polls from the Pew Research Center show that 96 percent of Americans feel “hopeful” about his impending presidency, adding that another 74 percent even feel “proud” of the reality star turned politician being elected to office.

“The growing support comes after a tumultuous few weeks following a heated election,” the website claims. “Now, it appears Americans are realizing that change can be a very good thing for our country.

The most recent findings from Pew actually show the exact opposite: Trump will enter the White House viewed less favorably than any candidate in recent history. Just 30 percent of voters scored the president-elect with an “A” or a “B” grade, as opposed to the 57 percent of Americans who gave Obama such marks four years ago. Even worse, he scores less favorably than any of the losing candidates since the incumbent George H.W. Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton in 1992, as well as 13 points lower than Clinton.

What has changed about propaganda under Trump is not the tools by which it operates but its scale. While hundreds of newspapers were forced to become puppets for Hitler under Nazi Germany, there are thousands of websites on the Internet reporting on the election.

Websites like Google and Facebook have either been unwilling to stop the spread of disinformation, in fear of right-wing backlash, or unable to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s a calculated fabrication. As The Washington Post points out, the top result on Google’s search engine in the days following the election was a website claiming that Trump emerged victorious in the popular vote by a 700,000 ballot margin. In truth, Clinton now leads in the popular vote by 2.2 million.

Viral hoaxes have actually been more effective at catching the readership’s attention than traditional news stories. BuzzFeed found that 54 percent of news stories that were clicked on, liked, or shared on Facebook users’ newsfeeds during the election were propaganda cleverly disguised to look like the real thing.

That’s not just a forgery. In helping create leaders like Donald Trump, digital propaganda is a threat to the future of our country, and it needs to be stopped before history repeats itself not as farce but as clickbait.

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Words act like wild animals: “We don’t understand that no language could ever sit still”

John McWhorter

John McWhorter (Credit: Macmillon)

Why does language change? Why do we get so upset when it does? And is there any way to stop it? These are some of the questions linguist John McWhorter tackles in his fascinating new book “Words on the Move.”

Subtitled “Why English Won’t — and Can’t Sit Still (Like, Literally),” the book tracks certain words and idioms through time and considers grammar, vowels and Chaucer in a way that’s a lot more fun than eighth-grade English class. The same process by which we get goofy slang expressions in contemporary America, he has written, follows precisely the script for “how Latin became French.”

McWhorter, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and the author of numerous books about language, music and black culture, spoke to Salon from his university office. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

How often does language change in a way that makes people say, “I am really pleased with the way things are going here”? Or “I love this new term I heard on TV or from my young friend”? It always seems to be “The kids don’t know how to speak anyone” or “Can you believe the way people are misusing this familiar phrase?”

Why is our attitude to language inherently conservative even though language itself isn’t?

Well we’re caught in something analogous to the way people before Darwin saw animals in plants. We see these things here, and there is no way to perceive what the past of the Earth is. Or to perceive it you need to be a trained geologist. And no one knows anything about genes yet. So then when somebody comes along and says, “Well actually animals and plants have always been changing. They weren’t like this before, and they won’t be like this later.”

At first that’s counterintuitive and people resist it.

Language is the same way because we have writing. So we think naturally, as people in a literate society, we think of language as what’s on the page. That’s the real thing; speaking is just an approximation. Language sits still. But then we hear new things coming in and unless it strikes us as catchy, we think, It’s not supposed to do that because that’s not what in the book. So when new things happen, they’re processed as vulgar and as broken. We don’t understand that no language could ever sit still.

Right, so we say, “This can’t be right because it didn’t sound this way the last time or five years ago.” Or “That’s not what my dad told me.”

It’s “Because this is what was written down, and what was written down never changes, and language is writing.” So we’re stuck with that illusion.

It’s so hard to perceive this but the way Old English became this English is the same thing that’s happening to this English now. We wouldn’t have wanted those changes not to happen, so why do we want those changes not to happen now?

The evolution that goes back to Anglo-Saxon is just proceeding along; it’s why we don’t talk like they did in “Beowulf.”


So are you just eternally approving about this stuff? Are all the new words and usages OK with you? You spend a lot of time in your book defending the language’s growth and evolution. Aren’t there cases where you just say, “Man, that is just unfortunate.”

No. I approve of all of it because there’s no logical basis for saying the way a language is going is wrong. So it may seem like I’m making a political point or some kind of aesthetic point.

If you thought about me ideologically, you might think that because of some of my renegade views of race that I would be somebody who doesn’t like that language changes. Which is not true. Any linguist, no matter what their politics are, knows that language has to change the way cloud formations have to change. There would be no way for it not to.

But that doesn’t mean that I’m not human. There are things I hear that sound to me a little bit off or a little bit vulgar — especially if they are said by people who are not of what we might call the upper classes. Anybody hears language in that way. But there is nothing I have ever heard that’s new where I have thought, That’s not the way it should be.

And that includes the way people below a certain age use “like.” There is just no scientific grounds for thinking something is wrong partly because if you do a linguistic analysis, anything we use has structure and order and meaning and that includes like. Nothing is just, you know, sprinkled throughout the language with no system.

So, I have my preferences. For example, young people are saying, “Based off of this, blah blah blah.” But to me it’s supposed to be “based on.” “Based off of” to me sounds like someone didn’t quite hammer a nail in. That’s just my aesthetic feeling. My linguistic feeling is that things are changing, and in 100 years more people will probably say “based off of” than “based on.” “Based on” will probably sound a bit Henry James.

And, you know, it doesn’t matter; it’s just the way language changes. Just as in Henry James, you’d say, “in Mulberry Street,” not “on Mulberry Street.” You just know around 1930 there were people saying, “What do you mean, ‘on Mulberry Street?’” We think now, Who cares. And it’s just the same for anything that bothers us now.

If more people could understand that, they’d be less upset about the new things they’re hearing because they’re never gonna stop hearing these new things.

So you’re a guy who’s in favor of any and all slang, and yet your book is not particularly slangy. Can you describe your approach to writing, particularly your decision to write in a kind of sturdy and traditional — perhaps a touch stodgy — but still accessible, style?

Actually most people criticize me for writing in too informal a style.

In the academy, you mean?

Well, from reviewers, too. I actually write these days in a style that combines accessibility with the odd word that I consider kind of cute.

But I write like I talk. And perhaps I speak a bit more formally than most people. But it’s a deliberate choice: I really don’t believe in writing with a tie on, so to speak. Some people do not like that about my writing; they think I am not taking things seriously or trying to pull a kind of stunt. My students often say to me, “I really hear you in your books.”

Part of that is because I am so impatient with conservative ideas about how language is supposed to be. I love old books and the ancient prose. It’s cute like old perfume or looking at a silent movie. But really, you should be able to write more like you talk than we’re often told. So my books are written as if you’re just sitting and listening to me in my living room. And I insist on that with editors, even though a lot of them push back at me.

And yet, you are a scholar of language who approves of slang but who writes with very little of it.

Well, one, I’m not the slangiest person. And two, I know now — I’ve been writing now for 20 years — that if you use something that’s up-to-the-minute, it looks ridiculous in 10 years. And so, for example, in some older books I’d write something like “Don’t go there.” Well now it looks very 1999. So I try not to be slangy but colloquial is what I try for.


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The “War on Drugs” is rigged: Now that the face of addiction is white, will anything change?


Black tar heroin (Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

The “War on Drugs” is bullshit; it’s just another way for the top 1 percent to benefit off the pain that accompanies poverty. A bullet wound, a life sentence or an overdose for us is a paycheck for them. But alas, there’s hope­­: The new wave of white-suburban Rice-Krispies-treat-after-school soccer-program drug addicts may bring the change we all need.

I teach an English class at the University of Baltimore. We cover a range of topics dealing with culture and the way it’s documented. Somehow drugs came up in class. “There’s an awful heroin epidemic sweeping across our country,” a small white woman wearing big frames said, bursting into tears. “Our kids are quickly becoming addicted and dying!” She removed her glasses to wipe her face, before saying how she never thought her suburb would mirror a drug-infested city.

“Maybe it’s new to you,” I replied. “But if you’re black and poor, the heroin epidemic has been around.”

I showed them the ’90s by telling them about Yellow Face Kerry with the short cornrows and how he liked to carry the same things to the park every time: a lighter, a tablespoon, a hypodermic needle, a belt that doubled as a tourniquet and a sack of dope when he could swing it.

Kerry would strangle his calf with his belt until a few veins blushed and popped, then he’d flick, flick , flick the lighter until a sturdy flame hung under his tablespoon. His eyes would flare as the fire made the spoon glow orange and the liquid contents inside bubbled enough until it reached a temperature that only he could eyeball. Then he’d dab the tip of his needle into the heated solution until it filled the syringe. The next stop was in that rose-bruised calf vein where he sank the needle and pushed until a little of his own blood flushed in. One more push returned that glob of dope-mixed blood back into his system as he loosened the belt and slipped into an easy nod.

He’d float away to wherever dope fiends float to, as the rest of us preteens would play basketball next to the bench he leaned on. Kerry didn’t scare us because his presence was normal: Junkies, dope fiends, sales, shooters, baseheads or whatever your region calls them were normal.


I’ve been a professional writer for two years now and away from the drug game for more than a decade. It feels like eons since I parked European cars smack dab in the middle of poverty, jumped out like a pop star with pop-star clothes on and received all the praise from the other dealers, the ladies, the fiends and basically everybody but the cops.

Today I walk those same blocks as an advocate­­, a person who pulls kids away from the drug game — not by demonizing their actions, but by exposing them to other options that kids like us don’t normally get and telling the truth about selling drugs­: how the money doesn’t match the risk and how it’s a vicious trap that has captured them, me and the dudes that came before us. Again, this isn’t new; it has been like that for decades.

Back in the ’70s, Nixon’s drug war planted the seeds that then were fertilized by Reagan and Bush in ’80s and that grew into the field of mass incarceration harvested and cosigned by Bill Clinton in the ’90s. John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s domestic policy chief, told Harper’s magazine that Nixon’s “War on Drugs” was meant to target black people.

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news,” explained Ehrlichman. “Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Their plan worked. America watched the number of African-Americans being incarcerated soar past that of whites and then blacks were released into society only as partial citizens. Drug polices can easily make you unemployable, leave you ineligible for financial aid for higher education and ineligible for public housing or welfare. You are basically like a slave — a captured human with partial rights. What do you do for money? How do you assimilate? This is America, and everything has a cost. Having nothing drives a person crazy and pushes them towards two realities  —  one of a user or that of a dealer.


I use art to explain these things, and admittedly at times it’s difficult. The drug game has changed. I’m a dinosaur, a house phone, a walking tombstone­­. Friends mentioned in my first book “The Cook Up,” some of the guys who even made it to the book launch, are now dead and gone: RIP to Cheese and Pretty Boy Kory. There’s a shortage of us 30-somethings who barely crawled out of the ’90s, leaving me to be one of the few cats from that era with positive insight.

And trying to define those harsh times to these new dealers with their dyed dreads, painted-on jeans and drug habits worse than the junkies they serve is tougher than an MIT algorithm. I don’t understand their language, their moves, the selfies they take with their weapons or even the point of them slangin’ with the money being even less now than when I was active.

But when the young bulls do listen I explain that in Baltimore, 97 percent of the people born into poverty die in poverty, and I understand that heroin dealer is one of the few jobs that’s always hiring. It’s been like that in our inner cities and will continue to be like that until those unfair drug policies are changed. The government and big business profits off of those same policies, so they aren’t excited to change anything — which means it’s up to us. We are responsible for getting guys like Yellow Face Kerry the help he needs and kicking the drugs out of our communities.


What my student didn’t know is that white addiction is not a new wave. Many articles have been published on the rampant drug use in white communities and how it surpasses that of African-American communities, even though the media and stereotypes would lead you to believe the opposite. The wild card is held by these opioid-slinging pharmaceutical companies that couldn’t wait to have doctors prescribe the drug for anything from a slightly scratched pinky to a bad day. I fully understand that addiction because they had me, too; luckily, those pills weren’t half as easy to get in the early 2000s as they are now.

When so many people in white communities went Percocet crazy that doctors were finally being called out for their role in creating the epidemic and forced to lessen the large amounts that they were shelling out, it was too late. Percocet is like synthetic heroin, so if the doctor cancels your prescription, you can get the same feeling from the street pharmacist, and that’s exactly what the white kids are doing. As a result, treatment centers are popping up everywhere, I hope this leads to us effectively addressing this issue.

I well up with depression when I think about Yellow Face Kerry and his battle with addiction. White people and those in more privileged areas are starting to feel the same way. And even though I’d never wish that pain on anybody, I’m glad this problem is finally getting the attention it needs. I hope books like “The Cook Up,” along with artists like Jay Z continuing to speak out and raise awareness, helps bring about change. But the first step is acknowledging that the “War on Drugs” is bullshit, and only the top 1 percent are supposed to win.

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Trading places: Which TV family would you like to spend the holidays with?


(Credit: Fox)

To Google “dysfunctional family” is to confront a series of questions “People Also Ask.” “What constitutes a healthy family?” tops that list. With the holiday season upon us, I hope that more of us can strive to see the ways in which our families are functional, blessed and whole, alike in their differences, and not always anyone’s first choice of dinner companions.

Read the rest of Joanna Novak’s piece and take our poll below.

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Everything old is new again: Philip Guston’s cartoons of Dick Nixon on display at Hauser & Wirth gallery give cold comfort

Guston Nixon

Detail of “San Clemente” by Philip Guston. (Credit: The Estate of Philip Guston, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth; Photo: Christopher Burke Studio)

It is at once funny, frightening and perversely comforting to see Richard Nixon rendered with a phallus for a nose. This might not always be the case. But today, at least as far as the late Philip Guston’s 170-plus cartoon depictions of Dick Nixon (on display at New York City’s Hauser & Wirth gallery through Jan. 14) are concerned, it is.

Most of Guston’s cartoons were produced during a monthlong frenzy in the summer of 1971. Guston was living in Woodstock, New York, at the time, taking refuge from an art world that had scorned his recent stylistic shift from abstraction to figurative work. (New York Times art critic Hilton Kramer notoriously deemed him “A Mandarin Pretending to Be a Stumblebum.”)

Though Guston was removed from the art world, he wasn’t solitary. He would regularly get together with his friend, the writer Philip Roth, who had also retreated to Woodstock following the publication of his sexually out-there novel “Portnoy’s Complaint.” And together, they would compulsively share their contempt for the sitting president.

“Roth remembers that he and Guston spoke about Nixon ‘not in any analytic way,’ but in terms of an ‘exuberance’ for a reviled figure who Roth observed seemed like a comic invention of Moliere,” wrote Debra Bricker Balken in her 2001 book, “Philip Guston’s Poor Richard.” “They were both transfixed, as [Roth] described, by the ‘Uriah Heepisms and Tartuffisms of our presiding President,’ someone who unwittingly opened himself up to mimicry and caricature.” Their shared obsession led Roth to write the first few chapters of what would become the satirical novel “Our Gang” and publish them in The New York Review of Books. And Roth’s writing inspired Guston’s manic month of cartooning.

The cartoons are compositionally simple line drawings (black and white, captionless). If not for their graphic quality, they wouldn’t look out of place in The New Yorker. They portray various farcical moments in Nixon’s life, beginning in Whittier, California, with a young Nixon fantasizing about his future, span his campaign and his presidency and culminate with the projection that Nixon would be remembered as nothing more than a “Nixon Cookie.” Together, they form a satirical narrative, “Poor Richard,” that pokes fun at Nixon’s ruthless ambition, dishonesty and hypocrisy.

The humor lies in the images’ specificity — oh, and, you know, the anatomical insinuation. Nixon, who served as Dwight Eisenhower’s vice president from 1953 to 1961 and ran an unsuccessful presidential bid in 1960, had been a prominent conservative politician for decades by the time of his 1968 presidential victory. Watergate has become his legacy, but his faults, both the physical and those of disposition, were abundantly apparent to liberal detractors even before he took office.

It’s not hard to find columns and letters to the editor from the time that warned of the dangers Nixon posed. “Nixon is one of the chief architects of his party’s decline in public confidence — he exemplifies its failure in creative, courageous leadership, able and willing to grapple with the problems of an open society in the 20th century,” one such New York Times letter to the editor from 1968 read in response to the prospect of Nixon’s nomination. Besides giving Nixon a phallic nose, which, like Pinocchio, grows as Nixon lies, Guston presents Nixon as a grubby con man, with five o’clock shadow and shabby suits, cynically endearing himself to voters he doesn’t care about — hippies, the elderly, African-Americans.

Even distilled to little more than jowls, a widow’s peak and a schnoz, the characterization looks unmistakably like Richard Nixon. And yet in the aftermath of the 2016 election, it’s hard not to see the contemporary president-elect in Guston’s depiction. Guston’s Nixon is a babbling blowhard who suffers under the weight of his own ambition. The opening images in the series borrow a line from Nixon’s Republican National Convention acceptance speech (“He hears the train go by at night and he dreams of faraway places where he’d like to go. It seems like an impossible dream.”) to satirize Nixon’s self-mythologizing.

The story begins with a train rumbling through Southern California, the quote “It seems like an impossible dream” bubbling in the clouds; then only a few cartoons further into the narrative the once innocent Nixon has his nose up and inside the celebrity evangelist preacher Billy Graham; and later, he and his confidants then vice president Spiro Agnew and attorney general John Mitchell are donning Ku Klux Klan robes. His holy conception of himself doesn’t match his nefarious actions.

The circumstances are different today, but the dishonesty and hypocrisy are of the same breed. Despite having built his fortune from a mighty inheritance, Trump has framed himself as a self-made man. “I’ve always been good at making money,” he has often bragged. He fashions himself a populist champion of middle America’s coal miners, but has made a career, in Manhattan, preying on society’s most vulnerable people. Trump, like Nixon, is an adroit dissembler and in that way an incredible target for satire. 

Where Guston captured Nixon yelling through a television, it’s easy to imagine Trump furiously tweeting. Where Guston depicted Nixon promoting an ambitious diplomatic trip to China, it’s easy to imagine Trump promoting a YUGE wall. And where Guston imagines Nixon, Spiro Agnew and John Mitchell wearing KKK garb, well, the figures are nondescript enough that they could easily be Trump, Mike Pence and Steve Bannon under the robes.

The spookiness of the parallels is heightened by a tangential connection between the two men. During Nixon’s post-presidential life, he and Trump would occasionally write each other letters. In 1987, Nixon wrote Trump a note of congratulations following Trump’s appearance on the “Phil Donahue Show.” “I did not see the program, but Mrs. Nixon told me that you were great,” Nixon wrote. “As you can imagine, she is an expert on politics and she predicts whenever you decide to run for office you will be a winner!”

Pat Nixon proved to be prescient. Her prophecy was fulfilled in part because Trump mimicked some of her husband’s 1968 campaign tactics, including his fearmongering, stark law-and-order remedies and opposition to an overreaching government: He even co-opted the phrase “silent majority.”

“I think what Nixon understood is that when the world is falling apart, people want a strong leader whose highest priority is protecting America first,” Trump said this past spring. “The ’60s were bad, really bad. And it’s really bad now. Americans feel like it’s chaos again.”

Of course, Nixon only heightened the chaos of the 1960s. Rather than putting a swift end to the Vietnam War as he had promised during his campaign, Nixon undermined peace negotiations that were in the works between Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration and South Vietnam president Nguyễn Văn Thiệu. Upon taking office, he expanded the war. Then there was Watergate.

Here, it bears repeating the Guston made “Poor Richard” in 1971 before the ensuing scandal. The cartoons weren’t shown publicly until 2001 when some of them were published in Bricker Balken’s book and unveiled in a Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition. Though their content is subversive, they did not affect public discourse or interpretation of Nixon during his presidency or even during his life. Rather, they are a historical time capsule.

In them, Guston was not satirizing Nixon’s acts and misdeeds so much as he was satirizing Nixon’s flaws of character. It was those flaws of character that eventually led to the abuse of power and disorder that came to define Nixon and his administration. In Trump, Bricker Balken told me she sees Nixon’s mendacity and hypocrisy redoubled. The prospect of what that might mean for America, and the world more broadly, is terrifying.

And yet paradoxically, “Poor Richard” also powerfully serves as a sedative. By presenting Nixon as so thoroughly irregular, the cartoons give American a precedent to Trump. Looked at from a certain angle, Nixon’s story has a happy ending: America’s safeguards proved to be more powerful than any one dickhead.

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“Mr. Pig”: a wonderful road movie about family and transcendence, co-written and directed by Diego Luna

Mr. Pig

Danny Glover in “Mr. Pig” (Credit: Sundance Institute)

“Mr. Pig,” directed and co-written by Diego Luna, of “Y Tu Mamá También” fame, is an unassuming gem. Currently unspooling as part of the “Hola Mexico Film Festival,” a traveling series, it will be released on DVD in January.

The film stars Danny Glover as Ambrose, a 75-year-old farmer who heads from California to Jalisco, Mexico, to sell Howard, his prized pig. He wants to give the money to his daughter, Eunice (Maya Rudolph), as he has not been a very good father to her. When Eunice arrives in Mexico to help her father on his journey, they rehash their troubled past and try to find a way of moving forward for the future.

Luna’s film may have a familiar storyline of father-daughter bonding on a road trip — and admittedly, there are contrivances along the way — but the young filmmaker coaxes terrific performances from both Glover and Rudolph, and the film’s messages about aging, tradition and letting go resonate. “Mr. Pig” is a quietly powerful drama, filled with wry observations on life and family.

The actor turned filmmaker chatted with Salon about hogs, Mexico and parenting.

Diego, what did you know about raising, farming and caring medically for hogs?!

I didn’t know much [about pig farming] when I started writing. The idea about a pig farmer came to me a long time ago when I was making the film “Abel.” I was talking to Augusto Mendoza [who co-wrote “Abel” with Luna] about finding something new to do. I don’t know who said it, but we said, “Mr. Pig.”

So we wanted to do a full-on comedy about a pig farmer who had the perfect setting to raise a pig and was going to Mexico [to sell the pig at] a pig farm. And then we started describing this character and talking about our parents. Augusto’s father passed away while we were writing, so we stopped.

When I came back to work on the script, I gave Augusto a call to talk about our fathers and parents in a more mature moment in their lives — parents who need their kids to take care of them. We traveled to pig farms and did research, and it was shocking to see how the pigs were raised. It was clear we would have a good chance to comment on that and how little we think about what happens to a pig that gets to our table.

I also wanted to comment on the absence of pleasure in the life of the pigs that we eat. We talked about pig farming in a much more respectful way.

How much did Howard the pig weigh?

He grew fast. When we started shooting he was around 120 kilos, and now he’s like 200! He was already a big pig. I had this weird image in my head of a farmer walking with a gigantic pig who is not pink but is his best friend and behaves like a pet.  

Although the film is set almost entirely in Mexico, most of the dialogue is in English, and the main character is a 75-year-old African-American man. What prompted you to write and direct this particular story?

I was trying to do a full-on comedy. We wanted to make a love letter to our parents. It was about the idea of migration, from the other way around — an American going to Mexico to find freedom he can’t find in the States. I think that’s still there . . . even though it’s more a drama with humor. I liked the idea of this guy going to Mexico and having to bribe an officer to get the pig into the country.

Another thing that was important for me in making this journey was that the film is a love letter to Mexico. I like traveling around my country with the perspective of an American. You need to see your reality through the eyes of someone else to acknowledge and understand what you have.

Howard can be seen as a symbol in the film. What does Howard represent to you? Or does he need to be anything other than a pig?

That pig represents the love Ambrose couldn’t give his daughter. He has a second chance with her. He represents all that love he had but did not give. He relates better to animals than humans. Howard also represents the love that just exists for Ambrose; it’s what Eunice needs to see in order to forgive him. She understands that he is someone who also experienced the distance between them. She’s not alone. In the end, the pig represents the energy and spirit of Ambrose. He gets to an idealistic place through his pig.

The father-daughter bond in the movie is very affecting. What observations do you have about family and the relationship between the characters?

I have kids — a daughter and a son. I’m making a film about what matters to me and my relationship with my own father. I understand every second matters. I like that I can share my experience as a father with my father. It’s interesting to see the way he approached my education and the way I approach my kids’ [education].

I’m always comparing my choices with his. That’s what the film is about. I’m the character of the daughter. In the beginning you think it’s a road trip between a pig and old man, and when Eunice comes in, she’s the conscience. She’s ready to leave everything behind and think about forgiveness. I wanted my father to see the film and hope he gets the message.

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Meditation is saving my sanity this year


(Credit: Luna Vandoorne via Shutterstock)

Nobody’s ever accused me of being the calm in the storm. The adjective “mellow” has never once been lobbed in my direction. I am instead every overscheduled working mother cliché you’ve ever seen, the kind of woman who can frequently be spotted clutching a caffeinated beverage and yelling “DAMMIT” at a just-missed subway train. And that’s precisely why I can say with authority that we all really need to be meditating a lot right now.

I came to meditation via yoga and I’m pretty sure I came to yoga via a deep-seated loathing of spin class. Though I am spiritual, I’m also very loud and very Jersey and don’t do well with sitting still. But shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer for the first time six years ago, I realized that I needed to really step up my mental health game, big time, to deal with the persistent anxiety of a grueling situation and an uncertain future.

What I experienced then was a feeling quite like what many of us have been experiencing recently in the wake of the election. That’s why I know that becoming overrun by stress is not productive. And the more you insist that you’re not the type for meditation, the more you’ll likely benefit from it.

As the fresh disasters of this apparently ceaseless garbage fire of a year have piled up, I confess I have not been great about keeping my daily practice of taking just 10 — even just 5! — minutes for quiet and centering. Who has time to disconnect for a few breaths when you know that when you open your eyes again, another insane thing will have happened?

But in August when a family member wound up in the hospital in a life-or-death situation, I found myself suggesting to a cousin that she download a meditation course app and try it for just a few minutes. She texted me a hour later to say it had turned around her entire day and helped her attend to the barrage of challenges she was suddenly facing. That’s when I figured I’d better start taking my own advice.

There are few things that people love to brag about failing at more than meditation. When you tell people you meditate, you’re likely to get a condescending “That’s great . . .   for you. My mind just works too fast. I can’t. I can’t shut it off.” OK, thanks for the humble brag! But with effort and a little information, I have come to realize that meditation is not something that needs to be approached competitively. Nor is the practice a surrender to active thought.

Our culture praises multitasking and purposeless busywork. No wonder then that imperfect stillness can seem so frightening. Let me therefore assure you that when I meditate in the morning, I am not nailing it — especially lately. My thoughts flutter to what I need to get done. My chest sometimes feels tight with the burdens of very real stress. Then I return to breaths, and the space between them, and I get humble and I try again.

And that’s where the mindfulness is. That’s where the actual benefits come in. It’s not about floating on a lotus blossom or whatever. It’s about having the recognition of where I am, physically and emotionally, and moving through it better. It’s about learning to let go.

The benefits of meditation are numerous and well established: Regular practice fights depression and anxiety, and can even rewire your brain. No, it’s not easy, but it’s not hard either once you embrace your own relationship with distraction and accept it as part of the process. As a 2010 NPR feature reported, just a few deep, calming breaths have  “immediate effects” on the heart rate and blood pressure, and can “dampen the production of harmful stress hormones.” I don’t know about you, but I could use all the stress dampening I can get right now, and I can certainly invest a few minutes of my day in fortifying my well-being.

My own practice is cobbled together from different sources. Lots of people swear by Headspace, but I like Meditation Studio  and Insight Timer.  I sometimes use guided meditations, sometimes white noise from an app like Beyond and sometimes I simply focus on a mantra. Like any other healthy habit, it doesn’t have to be beast mode. On crowded days, part-time healthy eating is better than round-the-clock junk food, five minutes of exercise is more beneficial than no minutes of exercise, five minutes of meditation is better than no minutes of meditation.

Just try it. Try it today. Then try it again tomorrow. Keep trying. Make it routine. Don’t talk yourself out of it. Become friends with doing things messily. Don’t be intimidated by the quiet inside yourself. It’s waiting for you to find it.

There are no gold stars for achieving the most zen. Are lots of other people’s meditation practices more awesome than mine? I’m sure they are. So what? There are also definitely no gold stars for being the most type A, overworked, underslept version of yourself. Even with all my flaws at meditation, I still enjoy the genuine benefits of a consistent, self-forgiving practice: lowered stress levels, less reactive responses to outside pressures and an overall less panicky demeanor in very panicky times. And I’d rather be mediocre at being mindful than excel at being a nervous wreck.

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