Walt Whitman on being yourself

“And do not call the tortoise unworthy because she is not something else,
And the jay in the woods never studied the gamut, yet trills pretty well to me,

And the look of the bay mare shames silliness out of me.”

–from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”

Walter “Walt” Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) was an American poet, essayist, and journalist. A humanist, he was a part of the transition between transcendentalism and realism, incorporating both views in his works. Whitman is among the most influential poets in the American canon, often called the father of free verse. Wikipedia

Kafka on staying weird

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion.”

–Franz Kafka (July 3, 1883 – June 3, 1924) was a German-speaking Bohemian Jewish novelist and short story writer, widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century literature. Wikipedia

Michelle Tea’s promise

“I will meet you in the dirtiest city you can dream of. We will drink cocktails so sweet they pucker our cheeks, as we perch on cracked leather bar stools. I will buy you plates of calcium and protein and we will run through the streets in excellent danger.”

―Michelle Tea is an American author, poet, and literary arts organizer whose autobiographical works explore queer culture, feminism, race, class, prostitution, and other topics. She is originally from Chelsea, Massachusetts and currently lives in Los Angeles. Wikipedia

Born1971 

Lesbian Herstory Archives Daughters of Bilitis Video Project: Billye Talmadge

Collection Description

Born on December 7, 1929 in Missouri, Billye Talmadge was raised by her mother in Oklahoma. She completed her education early and began her teaching career at 21. She took jobs in Tacoma, Seattle and Oakland, eventually moving to San Francisco where she began her involvement with the Daughters of Bilitis, with Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, to provide education to its member and the general public. In the DOB she served as a member, officer, volunteer, and peer counselor; she was involved with the Gab ‘n Java sessions, The Ladder magazine, and in the formation and development of the Council on Religion and Homosexuals. Her involvement with the DOB lasted until 1965, when she went on to receive more education in counseling, and worked as a special education teacher in the California school system, receiving recognition as Teacher of the Year in 1971. From 1965 to 1979 Billye dedicated herself to the help of people of all kinds and was became a mentor in a group called The Prosperos. Currently, Billye Talmadge is 85 and is living in Portland, Oregon in an assisted living facility.  [Billye died on October 24, 2018 at the age of 88.  –BB]

For two-part interview with Billye Talmadge, here’s the link:  http://herstories.prattinfoschool.nyc/omeka/collections/show/73

Sergius and Bacchus: Paired male saints loved each other in ancient Roman army

Saints Sergius and Bacchus were third-century Roman soldiers, Christian martyrs and men who loved each other. Their story is told here in words and images for their feast day on Oct. 7.

The close bond between Sergius and Bacchus has been emphasized since the earliest accounts, and recent scholarship has revealed their homosexuality. The oldest record of their martyrdom describes them as erastai (Greek for “lovers”). Scholars believe that they may have been united in the rite of adelphopoiesis (brother-making), a kind of early Christian same-sex marriage.

From ancient times until today these “gay saints” have inspired some of the most beautiful art depicting the holiness of same-sex couples, sometimes in a homoerotic way. A classic example of paired saints, Sergius and Bacchus were high-ranking young officers in the Roman army. Sergius was primicerius (commander) and Bacchus was secundarius (subaltern officer). They were tortured to death around 303 in present-day Syria after they refused to attend sacrifices to Zeus, thus revealing their secret Christianity.

Saints Sergius and Bacchus. 7th Century icon from St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai in Israel. Now in an art museum in Kiev, Ukraine. (Wikimedia Commons)

The men were arrested and paraded through the streets in women’s clothing in an unsuccessful effort to humiliate them. Early accounts say that they responded by chanting that they were dressed as brides of Christ. They told their captors that women’s dress never stopped women from worshiping Christ, so it wouldn’t stop them, either. Then Sergius and Bacchus were separated and beaten so severely that Bacchus died.

According to the early manuscripts, Bacchus appeared to Sergius that night with a face as radiant as an angel’s, dressed once again as a soldier. He urged Sergius not to give up because they would be reunited in heaven as lovers. His statement is unique in the history of martyrs. Usually the promised reward is union with God, not with a lover. Over the next days Sergius was tortured and eventually beheaded.

Sergius’ tomb became a famous shrine, and for nearly 1,000 years the couple was revered as the official patrons of the Byzantine army. Many early churches were named after Sergius, sometimes with Bacchus. They have been recognized as martyrs by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. The pair was venerated through the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Latin America and among the Slavs.

Yale history professor John Boswell names Sergius and Bacchus as one of the three primary pairs of same-sex lovers in the early church in his book “Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe”. (The others are Polyeuct and Nearchus and Felicity and Perpetua.)

The Roman Catholic Church stripped Sergius and Bacchus from its liturgical calendar in 1969 — the same year that New York’s Stonewall riots launched the modern gay liberation movement. Supposedly they were “de-canonized” due to lack of historical evidence, but some see it as an anti-gay action since they clearly had churches dedicated to them long before medieval times. Sergius and Bacchus continue to be popular saints with Christian Arabs and now among LGBTQ Christians and allies.

Sergius and Bacchus are celebrated in art

In a striking 2013 painting at the top of this post, Alessio Ciani of Italy shows young Sergius and Bacchus embracing in their red-and-white military uniforms. He has done a wide variety of LGBT illustrations and gay homoerotic art. His work has been exhibited in Milan and Perugia.

Sergius and Bacchus photo by Scott Sella

“Saints Sergius and Bacchus” by Robert Lentz is part of Scott Sella’s sacred art collection in Akron, Ohio. Photo by Scott Sella.

“Saints Sergius and Bacchus” by Robert Lentz is probably the best-known icon of the pair in the LGBTQ community. It was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. The icon of the loving pair was commissioned by the Living Circle, an interfaith LGBTQ spirituality center founded by Dennis O’Neill. It was first displayed in June 1994 when they carried it in Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade for the first time. “Saints Sergius and Bacchus” is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked major controversy since 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda. They caused such a stir that in order to keep the peace between his Franciscan province and the Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Lentz temporarily gave away the copyright for the 10 controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. Lentz’ own moving spiritual journey and some of his icons are included in the book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry. Permission to use these “Images That Challenge” was withdrawn from websites such as Q Spirit in 2018, but some of them can still be found at TrinityStores.com.

“Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus” from Cristianas y Cristianos de Madrid LGTB+H (CRISMHOM)

One of the newest icons of Sergius and Bacchus was painted by a member of the Cristianas y Cristianos de Madrid LGTB+H (CRISMHOM), an LGBTQ Christian community in Madrid, Spain. The artist is serving as a missionary in Mozambique. He portrays Christ inside a rainbow medallion uniting Sergius and Bacchus as they join hands and gaze into each other’s eyes. Sacred flames burn in their hearts.

“Sts. Sergius and Bacchus” by Plamen PetrovSt. Martha Church, Morton Grove, IL

Another new image of third-century gay saints Sergius and Bacchus is a stained glass window donated in 2011 to an Illinois church by its LGBT parishioners. The new Sergius and Bacchus window (above) was dedicated in September 2011 at St. Martha’s Church in Morton Grove, Illinois, as a gift from its LGBT members. Rev. Dennis O’Neill, pastor, believes it is the first window dedicated to Sergius and Bacchus in any church in the United States. O’Neill is the author of Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People. The book includes a chapter retelling the love story of Sergius and Bacchus with historical detail.

The Sergius and Bacchus window is part of a project in which members of St. Martha’s diverse congregation were selecting and paying for a set of 20 windows of saints from their various homelands. LGBT members contributed the “friendship window” depicting Sergius and Bacchus. It is a companion to the “marriage window” which shows St. Elizabeth of Hungary and her husband, Blessed Ludwig of Thuringia.

Artist Plamen Petrov worked with Daprato Rigali Studios to design and create the stained glass windows. He was born in Sevlievo, Bulgaria in 1966 and currently lives in Chicago. He graduated from University St. Cyril and St Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria’s Faculty of Fine Art in 1995, with an M.F.A. in graphic art – printmaking and pedagogy of figurative arts. For more than a dozen years he specialized mostly in stained glass, but his creativity takes many forms, since he also works in mosaics, murals, oil, acrylic, photography and graphic design. His artwork may be seen across Chicago and Illinois, and in many countries all over the world.

“Baccus and Sergius” by Brandon Buehring

Massachusetts artist Brandon Buehring included Sergius and Bacchus in his “Legendary Love: A Queer History Project.” He uses pencil sketches and essays “to remind queer people and our allies of our sacred birthright as healers, educators, truth-tellers, spiritual leaders, warriors and artists.” The project features 20 sketches of queer historical and mythological figures from many cultures around the world. He has a M.Ed. degree in counseling with an LGBT emphasis from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He works in higher education administration as well as being a freelance illustrator based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

The painting below is by California gay artist Rick Herold. “I over the years as a painter have been interested in the idea of the spirit and the flesh as one — began by Tantric art influences and then using my Catholic background,” he told the Jesus in Love Blog. He paints with enamel on the reverse side of clear plexiglas.

“Saints Sergius and Bacchus” by Rick Herold (details below)

Herold has a bachelor of arts degree in art and theology from the Benedictine Monastic University of St. John in Minnesota and a master of fine arts degree from Otis Institute of Art in Los Angeles. His religious artwork included a Stations of the Cross commissioned by Bob Hope for a church in Ohio before a conflict over modern art with the Los Angeles cardinal led to disillusionment with the church. Herold came out as gay and turned to painting male nudes.

“St. Bacchus and St. Sergius: Patrons of Same-Sex Couples by Maria Cristina

A banner saying “patrons of same sex couples” hangs above Bacchus and Sergius in a colorful icon by Maria Cristina, an artist based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

“Saints Sergius and Bacchus” by Ray Avito

On the day that California artist Ray Avito first heard the story of Sergius and Bacchus, he sketched a delightfully unpretentious portrait of the pair (pictured above). He said it was based on “the suspicion that they may have been more than just comrades in arms.”

“Marriage of Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus” (2013) by Tony de Carlo
“Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus” by Tony de Carlo

Sergius and Bacchus are among the many saints painted by Georgia artist Tony de Carlo. Raised Catholic, he started painting saints to counteract the church’s demonization of LGBT people. For more info, see my article Tony De Carlo: Artist affirms gay love with saints, Adam and Steve, and marriage equality paintings.

“Saints Sergius and Bacchus” by Ryan Grant Long

Historical men who loved men, including Sergius and Bacchus, are painted by American artist Ryan Grant Long in his “Fairy Tales” series. Sergius and Bacchus are usually portrayed as static icons, side by side staring straight at the viewer. But Long catches them gazing into each other’s eyes during a private moment in their prison cell. For more info, see my article Artist paints history’s gay couples: Interview with Ryan Grant Long.

“Bacchus” and “Sergius” from the series “Five Saints” (2008) by Anthony Gayton. © Anthony Gayton / www.anthonygayton.com

Noted British photographer Anthony Gayton does stylized homoerotic photos based on the history of gay culture. He shows Sergius and Bacchus stripped and bound as prisoners in two separate photos. The images are intended to be shown together, but by design they can also be separated.

Appropriate Bible quotes are on banners above them. For Bacchus: “But I will not take my love from him, nor will I ever betray my faithfulness.” (Psalm 89:33). For Sergius: “All thy commandments are faithful, they persecute me wrongly; help thou me.” (Psalm 119: 86)

His Sergius and Bacchus photos belong to the series “Five Saints.” In addition to exploring saints, Gayton’s work uses historical themes inspired by such diverse sources as mythology, Renaissance and Baroque painting and early photography. Gayton’s work is published in his book Sinners and Saints.

A 20th-century icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus appears in the courtyard of the Monastery of Mar Sarkis and Bakhos in Maaloula, Syria. (Wikimedia Commons)
Early Christian saints Sergius and Bacchus appear as “patrons of homosexuality” on handsome handmade cufflinks from artist Shoushan of Artisan Courtyard. Saints Sergius and Bacchus pendants are available as cufflinks, pendants, lockets and bracelets through her My Altar shop. The same icon is also available on shirts at Shoushan’s Etsy shop.
Sergius and Bacchus religious medals show the couple together with the words, “Pray for us.”
 Sergius and Bacchus are celebrated in literature, dance and music
Their same-sex love story is set amid dramatic events of the Roman Empire events in the 2014 novel “The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus” by David Reddish. The explosive gay romance of the soldier-saints unfolds during the Roman Empire in the 2014 novel “The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus” by  David Reddish. Sergius and Bacchus meet, fall in love, have a commitment ceremony, and face deadly threats in a novel based on historical and archeological discoveries. It dramatizes the final gasp of paganism, the politics of newborn Christianity, and the re-discovered rites of same-sex unions performed by the early church. From the forests of Gaul to the streets of Constantinople, from the secret Christian hideaways of the deaconess Macrina to the palace of the emperor, the novel provides adventure and romance while examining questions of sexuality, faith, sacrifice, patriotism and the nature of God. It was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in the gay romance category.
A screenwriter as well as a novelist, Reddish has won awards for his political activism as well as pop culture acclaim for his fashion design work. He graduated with a degree in film from the University of Central Florida and resides in Los Angeles.

The relationship of Sergius and Bacchus was reimagined in dance by Elastic Theatre in 2009 and is available on video. The description states, “Some have come to believe that they were lovers, and their ambiguous relationship has raised fascinating and inevitably controversial issues of gender and sexuality in early Christianity. With an original vocal score devised collaboratively by the company and choreography by Lola Maury, the piece premiered at the Arcola Theatre in July 2009 and was subsequently presented as part of the Borderline Opera season at London Metropolitan University.”

One of the many traditional hymns to Saints Sergius and Bacchus includes this verse:
How good, or how pleasent is the brotherly knowledge of Your Martyrs, O God.
For they did not know natural brothers in the flesh,
but for the faith were considered brothers who struggled until death.
Through their prayers, O God, have mercy on us.

Two new hymns to Sergius and Bacchus was written by George Staelens, the blogger at “Blogue de Georges.”  The hymns can be heard in performance at this link from the Old-Catholic chapel of Saint Servais. Here is one stanza, which can be sung to many tunes such as “Old 100th.”

Stronger than death, the love has won ;
Sergius and Bacchus are but one ;
After their passion, they’re in heav’n ;
Together they shall rise again.

Top image credit:
“Sergius and Bacchus” by Alessio Ciani

____
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

 

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Kittredge Cherry

Founder at Q Spirit
Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian Christian author who writes regularly about LGBTQ spirituality.She holds degrees in religion, journalism and art history.She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served as its national ecumenical officer, advocating for LGBTQ rights at the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches.

Jesus Announces Plans To Return Once The Dow Clears 27,000 (theonion.com)

THE HEAVENS—Urging Christians nationwide to “Buy! Buy! Buy!” on Thursday, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, announced that He will come again to judge the living and the dead once the Dow clears 27,000. “Listen, my children, and I will tell you—when the NYSE closing bell rings out and the Dow Jones Industrial Average soars above 27,000 points, I will return to strike down the wicked and reign over the righteous forevermore,” said Our Lord and Savior, adding that only increased consumer confidence and low interest rates could hasten His glorious Second Coming. “Rejoice, stockholders, for the kingdom of God is at hand, assuming this upward trend continues. Repent and believe in the gospel of the bull market.” At press time, the Prince of Peace and Everlasting Counselor was scrambling to sell after the Dow had plunged 500 points.

34 years ago, a KGB defector chillingly predicted modern America

A disturbing interview given by a KGB defector in 1984 describes America of today and outlines four stages of mass brainwashing used by the KGB.

  • Bezmenov described this process as “a great brainwashing” which has four basic stages.
  • The first stage is called “demoralization” which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve.
  • According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country.

President Trump was almost universally panned for the press conference that followed the meeting with Russia’s President Putin in Helsinki, Finland. Trump was seen as capitulating to Russia by refusing to confront Putin on the issue of past and present interference in American elections. In fact, the American president seemed to be saying he doesn’t support the findings of his own intelligence agencies and instead prefers to take the Russian leader at his word. Even if he’s changed his tune under the backlash.

Whether you believe Putin really has some kind of compromising material to make Trump do his bidding or if Trump is simply being nice to people who partially helped get him elected, or if you somehow still think, despite ample evidence to the contrary, that all this is much ado about nothing, the fact is President Putin is a very experienced former KGB officer. He has both the know-how and the intelligence to carry out very far-sighted and ingenious operations. We don’t know his endgame and neither do we know how much of his KGB training he still employs, but in light of current events, there may be a way for us to get a deeper understanding by studying the words of Yuri Alexandrovich Bezmenov, a former KGB agent who defected to Canada in 1970.

In 1984, Bezmenov gave an interview to G. Edward Griffin from which much can be learned today. His most chilling point was that there’s a long-term plan put in play by Russia to defeat America through psychological warfare and “demoralization”. It’s a long game that takes decades to achieve but it may already be bearing fruit.

Bezmenov made the point that the work of the KGB mainly does not involve espionage, despite what our popular culture may tell us. Most of the work,85% of it, was “a slow process which we call either ideological subversion, active measures, or psychological warfare.”

What does that mean? Bezmenov explained that the most striking thing about ideological subversion is that it happens in the open as a legitimate process. “You can see it with your own eyes,” he said. The American media would be able to see it, if it just focused on it.

Here’s how he further defined ideological subversion:

“What it basically means is: to change the perception of reality of every American to such an extent that despite of the abundance of information no one is able to come to sensible conclusions in the interest of defending themselves, their families, their community, and their country.”

Bezmenov described this process as “a great brainwashing” which has four basic stages. The first stage is called “demoralization” which takes from 15 to 20 years to achieve. According to the former KGB agent, that is the minimum number of years it takes to re-educate one generation of students that is normally exposed to the ideology of its country. In other words, the time it takes to change what the people are thinking.

He used the examples of 1960s hippies coming to positions of power in the ’80s in the government and businesses of America. Bezmenov claimed this generation was already “contaminated” by Marxist-Leninist values. Of course, this claim that many baby boomers are somehow espousing KGB-tainted ideas is hard to believe but Bezmenov’s larger point addressed why people who have been gradually “demoralized” are unable to understand that this has happened to them.

Referring to such people, Bezmenov said:

“They are programmed to think and react to certain stimuli in a certain pattern [alluding to Pavlov]. You can not change their mind even if you expose them to authentic information. Even if you prove that white is white and black is black, you still can not change the basic perception and the logic of behavior.”

Demoralization is a process that is “irreversible”. Bezmenov actually thought (back in 1984) that the process of demoralizing America was already completed. It would take another generation and another couple of decades to get the people to think differently and return to their patriotic American values, claimed the agent.

.

Vladimir Putin in a KGB uniform around 1980

In what is perhaps a most striking passage in the interview, here’s how Bezmenov described the state of a “demoralized” person:

“As I mentioned before, exposure to true information does not matter anymore,” said Bezmenov. “A person who was demoralized is unable to assess true information. The facts tell nothing to him. Even if I shower him with information, with authentic proof, with documents, with pictures; even if I take him by force to the Soviet Union and show him [a] concentration camp, he will refuse to believe it, until he [receives] a kick in his fan-bottom. When a military boot crashes his balls then he will understand. But not before that. That’s the [tragedy] of the situation of demoralization.”

It’s hard not to see in that the state of many modern Americans. We have become a society of polarized tribes, with some people flat out rejecting facts in favor of narratives and opinions.

Once demoralization is completed, the second stage of ideological brainwashing is “destabilization”. During this two-to-five-year period, asserted Bezmenov, what matters is the targeting of essential structural elements of a nation: economy, foreign relations, and defense systems. Basically, the subverter (Russia) would look to destabilize every one of those areas in the United States, considerably weakening it.

The third stage would be “crisis”. It would take only up to six weeks to send a country into crisis, explained Bezmenov. The crisis would bring “a violent change of power, structure, and economy” and will be followed by the last stage, “normalization.” That’s when your country is basically taken over, living under a new ideology and reality.

This will happen to America unless it gets rid of people who will bring it to a crisis, warned Bezmenov. What’s more “if people will fail to grasp the impending danger of that development, nothing ever can help [the] United States,” adding, “You may kiss goodbye to your freedom.”

It bears saying that when he made this statement, he was warning about baby boomers and Democrats of the time.

In another, somewhat terrifying excerpt, here’s what Bezmenov had to say about what is really happening in the United States. It may think it is living in peace, but it has been actively at war with Russia. And for some time:

“Most of the American politicians, media, and educational system trains another generation of people who think they are living at the peacetime,” said the former KGB agent. “False. United States is in a state of war: undeclared, total war against the basic principles and foundations of this system.”

Whether you think that is true may depend on your politics, but the reality of Russian active measures, as has been outlined in the recent indictments by the special counselor Robert Mueller, give Bezmenov’s words new urgency.

You can watch the full interview here: 

Don’t call kids “smart”

People labeled “smart” at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong. Life grows stagnant.

DEBRA HUGHES / SHUTTERSTOCK

At whatever age smart people develop the idea that they are smart, they also tend to develop vulnerability around relinquishing that label. So the difference between telling a kid “You did a great job” and “You are smart” isn’t subtle. That is, at least, according to one growing movement in education and parenting that advocates for retirement of “the S word.”

The idea is that when we praise kids for being smart, those kids think: Oh good, I’m smart. And then later, when those kids mess up, which they will, they think:Oh no, I’m not smart after all. People will think I’m not smart after all. And that’s the worst. That’s a risk to avoid, they learn.“Smart” kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.

“Mistakes grow your brain,” as the professor of mathematics education at Stanford University Jo Boaler put it on Monday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by The Atlantic. I wondered why, then, my brain is not so distended that it spills out of my ears and nose. I should have to stuff it back inside like a sleeping bag, and I should have to carry Q-tips around during social events as stuffing implements. Boaler notes, more eloquently, that at least a small part of the forebrain called the thalamus can appreciably grow after periods of the sort of cognitive stimulation involved in mistake-making. What matters for improving performance is that a person is challenged, which requires a mindset that is receptive to being challenged—if not actively seeking out challenge and failure. And that may be the most important thing a teacher can impart.

People are born with some innate cognitive differences, but those differences are eclipsed by early achievement, Boaler argues. When people perform well (academically or otherwise) at early ages and are labeled smart or gifted, they become less likely to challenge themselves. They become less likely to make mistakes, because they stay in their comfortable comfort zone and stop growing. And their fixed mindset persists through adulthood. The simple and innocent praising of a smart kid feeds an insidious problem that some researchers track all the way up to gender inequality in STEM careers.

So ending the reign of the word, as Boaler calls it, is a grand mission. “It’s imperative that we don’t praise kids by telling them they’re smart,” she argued in a Monday lecture to an audience that received her message with many knowing nods. “You can tell kids that they’ve done something fantastic, but don’t label them as smart.”

The idea of a fixed mindset, in which people are smart or not smart, stands in contrast to a growth mindset, in which people become intelligent and knowledgeable through practice. In her 2006 book The New Psychology of Success, psychologist Carol Dweck described the two: People with growth mindsets believe that the harder they work, the smarter they get. And the subtleties of the ways in which we praise kids are related to the mindsets those kids develop.

The group most damaged by fixed-mindset thinking is high-achieving girls, Boaler argues, because it’s girls who are told by society that they probably won’t be as good as boys at math and science. That means girls are only more likely to avoid challenging themselves in science and math, and that aversion to making mistakes leads to less learning and progress. The more that certain disciplines cling to ideas of giftedness, the fewer female Ph.D.s there are in those fields.

“When we give kids the message that mistakes are good, that successful people make mistakes, it can change their entire trajectory,” Boaler said. 100 percent is not an ideal score. When kids come home from school and announce that they got everything right on their school work, Dweck advises parents to offer some sympathy: Oh, I’m sorry you didn’t get the chance to learn.

Speaking of percentages, math is a good example of the importance of avoiding the fixed mindset. The idea of a “math person” or a math gene is a primary reason for so much math nihilism, math failure, and “math trauma,” as Boaler called it on Monday. When kids get the idea that they “aren’t math people,” they start a downward trajectory, and their career options shrink immediately and substantially. There is also the common idea of a wall in math: People learn math until they hit a wall where they just can’t keep up. That wall may be trigonometry, and it may be advanced calculus, and it may be calculating a tip. In no other discipline but math are people so given to thinking, instead of I need to practice, just Well, I’m not good.

“Big news,” Boaler said during her lecture, “there is no wall.”

With that, she advanced her Powerpoint and to a slide bearing a rendering of the Kool-Aid Man busting through a brick wall.

“I didn’t know who this was,” she said. “One of my teammates made this slide. I’ve learned that this is Kool-Aid Man.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

JAMES HAMBLIN, MD, is a staff writer at The Atlantic. He hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk and is the author of a book by the same title. | More

Tchaikovsky on Depression and Finding Beauty Amid the Wreckage of the Soul

By Maria Popova (brainpickings.org)

tchaikovsky_letters1.jpg?w=680“An artist needs a certain amount of turmoil and confusion,” Joni Mitchell once told an interviewer. Indeed, the history of the arts is the history of the complex relationship between creativity and mental illness. But while psychologists have found that a low dose of melancholy enhances creativity, its clinical extreme in depression can be creatively debilitating.

Few artists have walked that fine line with more tenacity and self-awareness than the great Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (May 7, 1840–November 6, 1893). Frequently throughout his correspondence with family and friends, collected in The Life and Letters of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (public librarypublic domain) — the source of his enduring ideas on work ethic vs. inspirationthe paradox of client work, and why you should never allow interruptions in your creative process — Tchaikovsky notes his cyclical lapses into depression, undergirded by a dogged dedication to looking for beauty and meaning amid the spiritual wreckage. This intimate tango of sadness and radiance is ultimately what gives his music its timeless edge in penetrating the soul.

tchaikovsky2.jpg?w=680

In a letter from the spring of 1870, shortly after his thirtieth birthday, Tchaikovsky writes:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngI am sitting at the open window (at four a.m.) and breathing the lovely air of a spring morning… Life is still good, [and] it is worth living on a May morning… I assert that life is beautiful in spite of everything! This “everything” includes the following items: 1. Illness; I am getting much too stout, and my nerves are all to pieces. 2. The Conservatoire oppresses me to extinction; I am more and more convinced that I am absolutely unfitted to teach the theory of music. 3. My pecuniary situation is very bad. 4. I am very doubtful if Undine will be performed. I have heard that they are likely to throw me over.

In a word, there are many thorns, but the roses are there too.

Even though Tchaikovsky frequently lamented his “wearing, maddening depression,” perhaps most remarkable yet quintessentially human about his disposition was the ability to assure his loved ones of the very things he was unable to internalize himself — for who among us hasn’t found that it is far easier to offer light to our dearest humans in situations that leave our own inner worlds shrouded in impenetrable darkness?

In the fall of 1876, Tchaikovsky consoles his beloved nephew through a period of dejection and melancholy:

2e292385-dc1c-4cfe-b95e-845f6f98c2ec.pngProbably you were not quite well, my little dove, when you wrote to me, for a note of real melancholy pervaded your letter. I recognized in it a nature closely akin to my own. I know the feeling only too well. In my life, too, there are days, hours, weeks, aye, and months, in which everything looks black, when I am tormented by the thought that I am forsaken, that no one cares for me. Indeed, my life is of little worth to anyone. Were I to vanish from the face of the earth to-day, it would be no great loss to Russian music, and would certainly cause no one great unhappiness. In short, I live a selfish bachelor’s life. I work for myself alone, and care only for myself. This is certainly very comfortable, although dull, narrow, and lifeless. But that you, who are indispensable to so many whose happiness you make, that you can give way to depression, is more than I can believe. How can you doubt for a moment the love and esteem of those who surround you? How could it be possible not to love you? No, there is no one in the world more dearly loved than you are. As for me, it would be absurd to speak of my love for you. If I care for anyone, it is for you, for your family, for my brothers and our old Dad. I love you all, not because you are my relations, but because you are the best people in the world.

The Life and Letters of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky remains a wonderful and abidingly rewarding read in its entirety. Complement this particular fragment with Charles Dickens’s beautiful missive of consolation to his bereaved sister and E.B. White’s assuring letter to a man who had lost faith in life.

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