|Kokoro ("Heart"), 17th-century Japanese calligraphy via Onmark Productions.|
In my work as projectile-eclectic philosopher and continental observer at good old Yale University, where I have served in recent years or at least months in an endowed chair as W.F. Buckley Memorial Professor of Humility Studies, I frequently have an opportunity to tell students eager to learn the writer's craft from a diligent if diffident craftsman that eighty percent of the work is done before a fellow puts thumb to thinkpad, in preparatory work, in the accumulation of the literary gold dust of fact and wisdom, and in hammering it into preliminary shape in the interior of one's mind.
Thus when it comes time for me to write a column, after a hearty breakfast and an hour's sitting meditation, I like to begin by gaming it out in [jump]
the vastnesses of my living room in palpable form right there on the floor, lining up the draft of each paragraph in a broad architectural design outlined by throws and pillows, up the nave and across to the transepts of an imaginary cathedral, before I wind it up in the precincts of the sanctuary; or in fair weather out on the veranda in literal chalk, as a spiritual hopscotch. If something in the harmony of its proportions displeases me, I don't sit there pushing and pinching bits of it around but tear the whole thing down and start over again, because it needs to be realized, when the concept is finally ripe, in a single disciplined but passionate gesture. This puts me in something of the same league as John McPhee, though his approach is on a huge scale that suits his geological subjects, while I generally stick to the deft and delicate tracery of the traditional eight-legged essay.
Though in fact I was thinking of writing a book this autumn. I don't know whether I mentioned it to you or not. In the end I began to feel it was more of a young man's game, this writing of books, decade after decade, a little ostentatious and even somewhat unseemly in an already established sage. And then with so many ideas I found it hard to settle on just one.
Calligraphy style, Bordeaux City, by Mr. Stack/Keusta.
Anyway as we come to the end of the year—a bleak time in some respects when the mind wanders all too easily into a dark region of fatigue and defeat, and yet a time of stocktaking, remembrance, and reassessing the values that make us what we are—it's appropriate that we give some thought to our country, and the things I've managed to say about it through this difficult and trying period. I'd like to just point out some of the less commented-on highlights of 2013.
January found us coping as well as we could with the inevitable inauguration of Barack Obama for a second term as president. I was making the case for maintaining our rich American tradition of inequality, a job that may have struck some as quixotic or even irrelevant; but I was vindicated months later when Obama finally came out to acknowledge that wiping out inequality, effectively turning us all into shaven-headed unisex robots, would be the theme of his term.
In March, as the so-called sequester began to bite into the budgets of nonprofits, I was thinking about the New Suburbanism of my favorite social scientist, Joel Kotkin, and the need for people to reaffirm their social-spiritual connections by moving to the suburbs, as detailed in my earliest book, Bobos in Narnia (a review of the work focusing on its helpfulness for readers in Christian ministry is found at Christian Mind). Particularly noteworthy is the use I made of the Modern Orthodox Jews of Midwood, Brooklyn, as an example of the benefits of religious observance, without noting that I am Jewish myself and don't practice any of that shit, an example of hutzpa even I have rarely equaled.
By late spring the unrolling of presidential scandal had developed to flood proportions, prompting me to think of how I could turn the late great American conservative Clinton Rossiter into a froth-at-the-mouth teabagger by decontextualizing a famous quotation from him. Although it wasn't in my view so much the amount of government that was the problem in the case of the Obama scandals as government's attitude of not knowing its place—I mean, what part of "civil servant" do you not understand?
|Seal-script Saru (Monkey) by Christopher Mayo.|
Meanwhile Egypt began to crumble and it was getting to be time for my quarterly visit to Friedmanland, in July, when I came out to clarify that the problem was the Egyptians' lack of mental equipment, demonstrating once for all that there is really just about no kind of racism you can't get away with once you've got tenure at the Times; and as autumn and book leave approached I began to wonder if there was any height left for me to scale.
But I shouldn't have worried, because there was still at least one more spectacular Brooksery left for me to perform—a sweet and summery home run, when I devoted a column to comparing myself to the drug-tainted Yankee Alex Rodriguez, showing clearly why I'm a much better person than he is. Come to think of it, it's been a pretty great year after all. So here's, as we uncork another bottle of the sparkly (there are now Proseccos that are just as expensive as any French Champagne, bobos, so go for it), to a 2014 just as great, though not, I hope, as great for you as it will be for me, inequality being as important to our national character as it is.