You don’t need to be an immigrant or a minority to know what it feels like to be rejected by a desirable group, or any group for that matter, even a group that didn’t seem to exist until you walked up to it and the circle closed to exclude you. You just need to remember high school, or that sickening feeling you had walking down the street after a breakup and looking at all those couples holding hands as if they were touched by divine grace and you by plague. I do have this feeling of not belonging now and then, but I didn’t think I was going to revisit it when I picked up The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. Continue reading
These days, I read in the US news about a possible nuclear war with North Korea, a trade war with China, Mexico, and other countries, an invasion of Venezuela, of all places, and of course the reasserted racism of the right. Never before have I felt the urge to understand what the hell is going on in the world around me. I’ve always been an avid reader of history, and the more I read, the harder it is to see simple explanations to anything, but I needed some clarity, and so I picked up a copy of Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall, an experienced war and foreign correspondent for Britain’s Sky News TV. Continue reading
I moved to the United States from Romania in 2001, and it took a family tragedy for me to understand that I cannot straddle the world and have two homes half a planet apart. Now that I’ve learned the limitations of living in the real world, where the laws of physics apply no matter what we dream of or how hard we pray, there’s this feeling of anticlimax to being uprooted. Maybe my roots are now deeper into this American soil than they were out of the Romanian one sixteen years ago. Or not. Continue reading
“What’s war like?” I asked my grandfather once, when I was in middle school.
He was sitting on the sofa in his living room, rich Persian rug on the floor, dark wood furniture about him—a safe storytelling setting. He had a mellow Transylvanian accent and not a tooth left in his mouth. I don’t remember how he started to tell me about his four years on the battlefields of World War II, but I remember how animated he became when he described how his friend’s head was cut off by shrapnel and how it rolled on the ground with its tongue flicking in an out, collecting dirt. My grandfather mimicked the scene, his tongue flicking in and out of his toothless mouth, and then he stopped and didn’t speak for a long time. He just stared at the red-hued Persian rug at his feet. Continue reading
Years ago, while studying for my US citizenship exam, I paused over the words “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence. Because I grew up in Europe during the time of popular uprisings against communist regimes, I was used to words such as freedom and justice and equality in revolutionary speech, so the pursuit of happiness sounded like it didn’t belong in a declaration of independence from tyranny and oppression.
It wasn’t the first time I wondered how had those Founding Fathers been so enlightened to consider the mental health of their people at a time of war and disease and superstition. Today we have counselors and self-help and wellness support groups, but they didn’t, back in 1776, yet Jefferson thought it was important to put those fine words in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. Continue reading
When my friend Cristina speaks, I listen. Cristina is both a scientist and an artist, and throughout the years she guided me in learning about the world of science and the world of art. Years ago, she explained to me how the Inca irrigated their terraces in Machu Picchu and Tipon, and later she exposed me to the forgotten artisanal Romanian culture. A few months ago she told me about her experience in Greece, where she stood inside the ruins of Mycene (second millennium BCE) and felt the air and the ground vibrate with sound. Cristina knew she was experiencing pressure waves vibrating in the air around her and inside her body, but still, the experience was eerie.
“In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God.” – John 1:1.
There is no story there, things were final from the very beginning, everything else flows from that fixed point in the universe. Unless… there is a story, but it’s not so obvious.
In his book, The Evolution of God, Robert Wright tells that story, which began millennia ago with the primordial faith that many things, not just people, have souls. In 1871, Edward Tylor, founder of social anthropology, called “animism” the “infant philosophy of mankind” created by “ancient savage philosophers” who, like today’s thinkers, were trying to explain why good and bad things happened, and if there was a way to predict and influence those forces for the better. Continue reading
I don’t remember when I bought my copy of The Art of War, but whenever I did, that copy must have been the last one in the store because the front cover is scuffed, yet I bought it anyway. It’s a beautiful book, with dark hardcovers sewn together with red, glossy thread. The words—both in traditional Chinese and English—are printed on cream-colored sheets of paper folded in half with the writing on the outside. From the note on the second page I learned that the book is bound in traditional Chinese style. To turn a page, I slip my finger underneath the thick edge where the sheet is folded. This is the kind of detail that matters if I ever wrote a story about China before the 20th century CE. Continue reading