Tag Archives: God

why we write: sean conner

22 Nov
The following is the first installment of “Why We Write,” a series of personal reflections on the craft of writing. Each installment is poignant in its own way, but in sum the series is a sincere and astounding collection of thoughts, emotions, and ambitions regarding the profession of writing. Take of each what you will.

:: :: ::

Sean Conner

I attended the baptism on a Sunday. I stood on the sand of a fake beach and watched a pastor tilt the heads of people into the stillness of Clinton Lake and bring them to Jesus. I always assumed God’s water, the holy stuff, the H-2-O of rituals and ceremonies, had to be blessed and ordained by some spiritual guru like the Pope, or an archbishop, or their hierarchal equivalents in other Christian denominations. It was hard to imagine that the molecules of holy water and the molecules of the water in this man-made lake were the same. Well, the molecules would be the same, but there’s my assumption that holy water has a little more magic powder thrown in. Some vestige of authority. Holy water, by my understanding, hadn’t been idly weaving towards shore day after day. Holy water doesn’t have gasoline in it, or fish shit. At the edge of the water I think about this and have a tough time disassociating this baptism from summer afternoons at the pool and the friendly dunking that oft ensued.  Continue reading


17 Nov

Americans have to be told not to throw their pennies into small bodies of water. Anything smaller than a swimming pool and it’s inevitably lined with copper. There’s probably hundreds of dollars in the larger fountains. Do we even wish for anything when we do it? Or do we just toss out of habit?

I’m standing at end of a bridge, over the Metra tracks that mark the barrier between the Art Institute’s original building and its Modern Wing. A jutting piece of aluminum has collected the past month’s rain and the museum’s patrons can’t help themselves. There are pennies and nickels and dimes. Two keys. A perfect maple leaf. Etchings at the water’s edge look like fossilized shells. The water is drying up  slowly, leaving dirt on the aluminum in wide bands of varying colors. When it disappears completely, the sight will confuse people. Hundreds of coins in a bare aluminum trough, as if someone accidentally spilled a very large purse.  Continue reading

the kinetic nature of A and H

26 Apr

After months of carrying it from place to place, drawing looks and raised eyebrows and questions and guffaws, I’ve finally finished Adam Levin’s The Instructions. I’ll probably write a bit about it here, but for now, here’s an excerpt from the novel, a chunk I’ve been typing out since I read this passage, way back on page 414.


Name: Gurion ben-Judah Maccabee

Grade: 5 6 7 8

Homeroom: The Cage

Date: 11/15/2006

Complaint Against Student (from Complaint Against Student Sheet)

Fistfight with Ronrico Asparagus and on top of that assaulting Michael Bregman by spitting on the guy. Gym locker-room. 2nd Period. 11/14/06. Mr. Desormie.

Step 5 Assignment: Write a letter to yourself in which you explain 1) why you are at step 5 (in-school suspension), 2) what you could do in order to avoid step 5 (receiving in-school suspension) in the future, 3) what you have learned from being at step 5 (in-school suspension), 4) what you have learned from writing this letter to yourself. Include a Title, an Introduction, a Body, and a Conclusion. This letter will be collected at the end of in-school suspension. This letter will be stored in your permanent file.


Kinetic Principles of Your A and H


1. Attention (A) must fix itself on something. Once a thing is fixed on, that thing demands concentration.

2. If we measure A in units, and we assert that 100 units of A = the amount of A it takes to concentrate on one typical task (one fullthing), then most people in the world have exactly 100 units.

3. Some people, like me and Benji Nakamook, have more units of A than are needed to concentrate on a fullthing. People like us have 175 units of A. These people will henceforth be known as You.


Hardly anything in the world demands exactly 75 A-units for concentration, let alone 175.

Normal Places

In normal places, ones that are filled with brief actions and randomness, there are, in addition to some fullthings, thousands of things for A to fix on that are not full. Therefore, if You are in one of these normal places, it is not unlikely that Your A will fix on a set of things that, together, demand exactly 175 unites = It is likely, in a normal place, that You will be able to concentrate on whatever things You’re doing = Your A probably won’t get D’d.

Abnormal Places

In abnormally still and quiet places like classrooms, although there are many available fullthings for A to fix on—many available things that demand exactly 100 units of A—there are hardly any that demand less than 100 units. Fidgeting, for example, demands just 10-20 units, depending on the intricacy of the fidget. Another 20-30 units, depending on the quality of the sound, may be demanded by the task of listening to the background noise that gets past where Your earlids would be if You had any. But even if while concentrating on one fullthing, You fidget and listen to noise 25-45 more units remain, and all of them must fix on something.

The Remainder

What the remainder fixes on will be the nearest thing, which—as You are in a place containing few breif actions and little randomness—is almost always going to be a fullthing.

Because a fullthing demands 100 units of A for concentration, the 25-45 unit remainder is insufficient.

But even if You don’t fidget or listen to noise—even if Your 175 units of A are divided between only two fullthings—You are still 25 units shy of the A required to concentrate on both: While 200 units are being demanded by a pair of fullthings, only 175 are available, and that is why the fullthings enter into a cycle of thievery.

An Ultimately Doomed, However Momentarily Useful, Analogy

To understand the thievery cycle, it is a little bit useful to think of A-units as electrons—to think of A as being stolen back and forth between fullthings to fill their concentration-demands the way electrons get traded between bonded atoms to complete their outer-rings.

With atoms, the trading of the electrons happens at the speed of light—so fast that it is as if at any given time, each atom has a full outer ring, which is why it is only a little bit useful think of A like electrons: A does not move nearly as fast as light, and so A is never as if in more than one place at a time. When demanded A arrives at one fullthing, that fullthing holds onto it for a second or two while the other fullthing demands it back; not only that, but the A takes time to travel from one fullthing to the other.

So then, with two fullthings demanding Your A, the following four arrangements cycle over a period of seconds.:

1. Fullthing1 has 100 units and Fullthing2 has 75 units

2. Fullthing1 has 75 units, Fullthing2 has 75 units, and 25 units are traveling from Fullthing1 to Fullthing2

3. Fullthing1 has 75 units, Fullthing2 has 100 units

4. Fullthing1 has 75 units, Fullthing2 has 75 units, and 25 units are traveling from Fullthing2 to Fullthing1

In a vacuum, this cycle would repeat forever, but You are never in a vacuum. This cycle is only the beginning of a larger one.

The Larger One

Within a few passes, something, usually a fullthing, will get in the path of the traveling A-units (i.e., during arrangement 2 or 4) and the units will fix on that something so that now there are three fullthings demanding concentration = three fullthings demanding 100 units each. This not only decreases the frequency at which each fullthing within the cycle possesses 100 units, but increases the overall number of units being demanded at any given time. Worse than that, the amount of time that the A is in transit increases, which creates more opportunities for things—again, usually fullthings—to get in the path of your traveling A. The process thereby continues to degrade at an exponential rate. Nonetheless, it is not an entropic process. If it were entropic, it would eventually stabilize—single units of your A would come to free-float around the universe, fixing on and being stolen from so many random things, both fullthings and non-, that you could never concentrate again. That very sad kind of math, baruch Hashem, is entirely avoided by means of hyper (H).

A Blessing

H is a blessing. Here is how it arises:

After a certain number of things—usually between 9 and 11, depending on how many are fullthings—have entered the cycle, the paths of the traveling A criss-cross and the A begins to act like a thing, itself = the traveling A itself demands A = You get distracted by the fact of Your distraction = You find Yourself paying attention to Your attention.

And paying attention to Your attention, You find Yourself.

Before, You operated as if the A was You, as if it was You being divided and shuffled between fullthings. But now that the A has begun to demand A, You—the most basic You, the part of You that never changes, the part this is always there, that has been there, watching—You think: If I can pay attention to my attention, then I must be something other than my attention. You don’t actually think that so much as You watch it get thought, yet it’s at this point that You come to know, however briefly, that You are neither Your A, nor what Your A fixes on, but a soul. This is where You find out, for the billionth time, that You are partly God. If You were not partly God, how could something like A, something that emanates from you, demand anything of You? If there were no God in You, how could something like A, something that is completely subject to Your will, be capable of willing things on its own, much less things that go against Your will? It couldn’t. And it is here that You become hyper = here You watch, in softer focus that is normally comfortable, every insufficiently concentrated-upon thing that You A has fixed on at once, and You respond to all of it, at once. You do not necessarily respond in ways that are best for the world around You, but You respond to everything. You respond to everything in some way or another because that is the nature of the most basic You, the nature of your God. The nature of God is hyper.


Unlike God, You are not all God (although God is not all of God, all of God is God: where much of You is made of something else like blood and bones and muscle, He has nothing but Him; He is only God minus the pieces of Himself that are inside of us) so you cannot remain for all too long.

After a few minutes of H, the A units spasm like an overworked muscle. They lose their fix on the things they have fixed on, and the things they had been fixed on no longer demand them. Now only You demand them and so your A returns to You, a few units at a time. How long it all takes to amass depends on how far the units that were fixed on the farthest thing have to travel. Once it’s all gathered in You, the A quits spazzing and the cycle starts over.

For Further Consideration

The question arises as to whether or not Your A can be aggregated with the A of other Yous in such a way as to satisfy the concentration-demands of fullthings.

I.e. Suppose there are 4 Yous. With 175 A-units per You, the aggregate number of A-units is 700, which is exactly as many A-units as it takes to concentrate on 7 fullthings.

So, if A can be aggregated, then 4 Yous should be able to concentrate on 7 fullthings at once = 4 Yours should be able to perform the tasks of 7 normal people within the same amount of time and space as it would take 4 normal people to perform 4 tasks. In concentrating on 7 fullthings, then—if 4 Yous can in fact aggregate their A to do so—4 Yous would not become hyper; the kind of A-unit slippage that leads to the thievery cycle that occurs when 1 You attempts concentration on 2 fullthings would never begin, for there would be no remainder of A-units in the case of 4 Yous and 7 fullthings.

And just because 4 Yous who are concentrated on 7 fullthings would almost definitely look very H to an outsider, that does not make it so. Looking H to the eyes of outsiders may, in fact, be to the advantage of 4 Yous.

E.g. If 4 Yous were soldiers, the 4 Yous could conceivably prepare for and maybe even launch a war’s decisive battle right in front of their enemy without their enemy knowing it = The appearance of the 4 Yous’ H-ness could provide a kind of cover similar to that of David ben-Jesse’s youth or the Yiddish accent of that Palmach operative’s telephone voice when he gave fair warning to the British. For what did Goliath see from across the battlefield? He didn’t see a killer taking aim with a deadly weapon. He saw a boy inexplicably swinging a leather strap over his head. A moment later, Goliath was gone. And what did the British colonists hear when the operative phoned in the Palmach’s warning to vacate the King David Hotel? They didn’t hear the voice of a stealth guerrilla group that was about to explode British headquarters. They heard a nut with a Yiddish accent making a prank call. A couple hours later, there was one less place for the Brits to sleep, and quite a few less Brits.

The capacity to aggregate A would be a very useful capacity. Whether or not such a capacity exists, and how one (or 4 or 8 or 12 or 40) might engage it if it does exist, is surely worth further consideration.

t & o & rrents

26 Mar

“Anything that falls apart does so because we built it ourselves.”


how does it strike you?

They Got the God I Want

24 Mar

[Or, Gotta Learn to Get Happy Along the Way]

“you can have all the diamonds, you can have all the gold
but someday you’re still gonna get old
you gotta learn to get happy along the way”
—Langhorne Slim

“God loves you.”
—lots of people

“God loves me.”
—lots more people

“I’m fascinated, not in love.”


anger and bitterness. this is me at you God. because you could still be a figment—even a good figment. maybe a Dad who left. or did I leave? your message has been sent out and I proclaim it, but who do I fight for, speak of, love? when you don’t know your lover, is that not a farce? a dark mockery, malicious and absent, stricken and running. ?

is it… what?
what do I seek?
if it’s you I’ll
find I’m still
not sure.

but their faces on you, with you, of you—I can’t deny wanting love, but you and me had a rough start; patch it up? it’s been a slow leak long time coming—if I’d stop sticking nails in it we might have a shot. only problem is this bag is burning a hole in my pocket. stress relief, you understand. that puncture pop! and gentle hiss.

those words, yes.
the man, yes.
the concepts and
catechism, sure.
what is it to
love and suffer
and love?

wrapped in bed with a strangler; so scaly and thick. smooth like a lover’s leg. why give that up? coiled and safe it’s a long, black limousine to whisk me away.

but wait.
no I want
to figure it out
but it’s not head stuff
rather a mathematical chaos
that confuses and
strips me
of anything
remotely my own…

I could say it’s my struggle or stumbling block or lucky break or lovechild but to say anything is back to the cerebral and back to that highway segment I’ve driven ruts into. silence is in order like a pardon. but I’m calling on a governor who isn’t known for benevolence. who has probable cause against my criminal self. my head may be split by morning and it’s me who will have dropped the blade. Soft pillow, hold me until I dry out and you are my red red accomplice. and Victim.

so hopeless am I
am I?

there isn’t an answer today. just the deal, there’s no catch. my marionette strings cut and I’m to life! But streets are dangerous for a wooden puppet. I left an arm back at Crawford and Douglass splintered but worn smooth by iron-tires. so is it wasted by my map and hat and little red wagon? the applications in my little, wooden hand, the cherry shoes on my feet. they were dancing shoes it said on the package. but my feet don’t move but down the sidewalk in the direction I got turned around.

silly silly silly
move, my feet! move!
you can waddle or jump
duck or kangaroo rat,
pregnant or scaredy-cat
just go! go!
move! dance!
you can!
we have enough exclamation points!
yes! hope!
cotton candy growing up from the ground!
ecstatic electricity!



17 Feb


… | … | … PART ONE

my brother recently wrote about some horrific things.

Today in Thailand there will be several hundred women who will begin to be raped for 24 hours straight until they are numbed into useful sex slaves. There is a lot of blood involved. It’s the only way to feed a hungry market – hunger that, when fed, only becomes hungrier.

nothing we say will change the fact that so many suffer tonight at the hands of a few. Thailand could outlaw the sex trade—as if such a remote possibility existed—and women would be raped nonetheless.

is it depressing that we are so helpless? frustrating that in so many ways our beliefs are futile? yes it is. but we gotta move on, so we ignore it, put it away in a box marked “For Later” and go about our lives.

what are supposed to do? become vigilantes? Become lawyers? Missionaries? Advocates? Soldiers? Documentarians. Songwriters. World Leaders. No position of power can force evil out of a human being. Likewise, there is evil inside all of us. Without an interconnected web of trade and profit and convenience, slavery would be useless. So we hold at least a tiny fraction of the blame. All of us. The child in her classroom and the restaurant owner in his home. The politician and the delivery driver and the graphic designer. The artist and everyone in his studio, in his paintings.

but we aren’t getting any closer to a response are we? and while we’ve been discussing the issue, seven more girls have been brought into brothels for a first-night experience.

what do we do? we could go with Shane Hipps for this one.

“electronic culture creates empathy at a distance. your soul is not designed to withstand the weight of planetary suffering”

He’s right. It’s why we’re sitting here, reading words on a small screen. we are overwhelmed and cannot respond at all.

so, for the logician, we have reached a conclusion. we focus on something else. something closer. more in our sphere.

but this, really, is not ok.

if we don’t care we’re not human. Hipps’ observation isn’t a stopping point. we can do something, can’t we?

… | … | … PART TWO

Kevin Bales is the leading expert on modern slavery. His book Disposable People was a breakthrough work on the subject and he is president of the U.S.’ sister organization to Britain’s Anti-Slavery International.

He recently published his third book on the subject, Ending Slavery: How we free today’s slaves.

In a page and half, he illustrates how complex the problem is by asking over 60 questions—questions that must be answered—ranging from the specifics of rescued children…

[What diet, medical care, and physical rehabilitation will return his health and youth? How do we reach his mind? How will the trauma of slavery affect him as he grows? Can we find his parents? And how will they deal with the reunion if we do?]

to bigger questions of numbers and logistics…

[How many children can the (anti-slavery) groups reach, and how many are beyond their ability to save? Should they be spending more time lobbying governments or freeing children? What happens if they run out of money?]

to why exactly slavery is so profitable in our world…

[How do we differentiate a slave-made rug from one that is made by a free worker? If we all stopped buying rugs, would that make the lives of child slaves better or worse? What about the other things that slaves around the world make? Are they in our homes as well?]

to laws and regulations and the enforcement required to make them real…

[Should our own laws keep slave-made goods out of our country or take advantage of their cheapness? Do they arrest the slaveholders in our country or punish freed slaves as “illegal aliens?” Can our politicians do anything about slavery in other countries? Does opening the global market have to lead to the impoverishment and enslavement of some people?]

to questions that challenge our every action and every minute we let pass indifferently…

[Is there some difference between our children and children forced into slavery that makes their enslavement acceptable? Are we willing to pay more for goods made by free people? Are we willing to pay more taxes to pay for the rescue and rehabilitation of slaves?]

The book goes on to attempt to answer the questions. And this makes me happy. Because those questions were ones that have had me, on occasion, literally furious with this seemingly impossible problem.

I’m only on page 48. But hopefully, when I’m done, I’ll have a better understanding of what I can do to help stop global slavery, which Bales asserts, can be done.

In the meantime, pray and hope that the anti-slavery organizations that are working right now will continue the fight for human rights, that they will be funded and have the energy, the contacts, and the manpower to free the slaves.

One child at a time.

Grace & Peace [for all].