An Eclectic Human
A newsletter about design, community, and being a human

1.06 What type of human we'd like to be

Last week we talked about favorite books and stories. Here’s what you wrote:

From Walt:

The two books that I consider to have influenced me are the Bible and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.

First Steinbeck: This book was required reading in my ninth grade English class. At a time when my whole knowledge of the Great Depression was someone in my parents’ or grandparents’ generation telling me how well off I was, I saw how a little thing like lack of rain put people on a long-term path of slavery. Even before I witnessed a police beating in person, I saw the police assaulting poor Okies that tried to grow food of their own.

Where it helped is that as a business major, I constantly read and heard about “self-made” folks, people who “made it” … but this kept me aware that there are no self-made people. Chance or divine providence, along with assistance from others, helped make successful or break the failure. Often, both had attempted to do similar things at similar times, but one rose as though annointed from on high while the other fell as though cursed.

The Bible: I love to read how people maintained their faith in God and continued doing what was right despite long periods of hardship. In Hebrews 11, we read about all those whose dedication paid off in well-known victories, but we also see an acknowledgement of those who died without seeing their victory, but still persisted.

For more than twenty years, I frequently had to choose between paying some bill (rent, car payment, fuel to get to work) or eating for the last three days of a pay period. It is amazing to look back ten years after that period ended, but it was the Bible’s encouragement to continue doing what you should that kept me going.

Maria shared her thoughts on what makes good storytelling:

I don’t have a particular book that leaps to mind when I think about a book that has shaped my life. But there are many stories that come to mind that have affected me in small ways throughout my life. Some people might argue that stories are intended for entertainment, but in my mind there needs to be more than just funny jokes and explosions to give a story value. Ultimately, I think that whether or not a story speaks to its audience in a way that changes them is the best measure of its value. It doesn’t need to be a big change and it doesn’t need to affect every single person who experiences it.

I think stories do this by having what I call “heart.” I don’t mean heart in the way people say Disney movies have heart, though some of them do have quite a lot. Stories with heart can still end sadly. Stories with heart can still make you angry, upset, confused, frustrated. Heart is a measure of the humanity in the piece—the expression of the human condition/experience. This doesn’t mean the characters have to be human; they simply need to deal with facets of humanity. They typically do that through a conflict, internal or external. Often external conflicts are reflections of internal ones. In a similar way, we can see similarities between the conflicts of characters and our own conflict. We see how they deal with their situation and either agree or disagree, teaching us more about ourselves.

Matt Haig, a British novelist, recently said on Twitter, “People don’t read books to ‘escape’. We read to find new parts of ourselves. We think we are in a one-room house. Books make you a mansion.” While Matt focused on books, I think this is true of any story in any medium—books, movies, audio plays, etc. We live experiences we may never have to face in real life through the stories of others, teaching us more about ourselves. What would I do if it were illegal to read or own books? I’ve never had to deal with that, but reading Fahrenheit 451, I can maybe learn about myself through that story. This is why the stories with “heart” are the most valuable; they teach us what type of human we are and what type of human we’d like to be.

• • •

The artist with the most music in my iTunes library is Adam Young’s Owl City. I discovered him in the “Fireflies” heyday but went on to buy almost every album he’s released. Some of it has stood up rather well over time (e.g., parts of Maybe I’m Dreaming), some is a product of its time but lost its appeal when trends changed (e.g., Of June, The Midsummer Station), and some I still love for its nostalgic value (e.g., Ocean Eyes). One of his recent tracks, “This Isn’t the End”, tells a heart-wrenching story that has deeply affected me.

While I still love Owl City, other artists have lost my interest. Amber Pacific was often in my headphones during a time when I liked their angsty teenage vibe, but it’s unappealing to me now. Many Justin Bieber and One Direction songs seem like old bubblegum—tasty and catchy at the time but now overworn and terribly bland.

Music that’s intricate and deep seems to remain perpetually fresh. Classical music, the mainstay of my childhood, seems to bear fruit at each new examination. Owl City’s less pop-inspired and more quirky (often nonsensical) tracks are the ones I most enjoy. Lately, an album called CLAYE by Dylan Seeger has borne endless fascination for me—he wrote so much meaning and intricacy into the music that I notice something new every time. It’s an extremely weird album, but it has grown on me and I’m now rather fond of it.

My tastes will continue to change over time, but it’s worthwhile to notice the commonalities among the music that has withstood my evolving ear and the fickleness of the “music industry”. The songs that capture my imagination or tell a memorable story top the list.

• • •

What makes a piece of music meaningful for you? Are there albums or songs that have remained favorites over the years?

—Steve

Older article
1.05 Danny and Reuven