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December 1, 2013
Tenth of December is one of the NYT's best books of 2013We're lucky to have a New York Time best-seller who won the coveted title granted by the NYT's of one of the best books of 2013 right before his lecture! See author George Saunders on Monday, December 9, 2013. Tickets are selling quickly, so you may have to call to get on our wait list. Our box office number is 412-622-8866.
December 3, 2013
George Saunders's Advice to Graduates: "err in the direction of kindness."Read the entire article on The New York Times.
Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).
And I intend to respect that tradition.
Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time "dances," so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: "Looking back, what do you regret?" And they'll tell you. Sometimes, as you know, they'll tell you even if you haven't asked. Sometimes, even when you've specifically requested they not tell you, they'll tell you.
So: What do I regret? Being poor from time to time? Not really. Working terrible jobs, like "knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?" (And don't even ASK what that entails.) No. I don't regret that. Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked? And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months? Not so much. Do I regret the occasional humiliation? Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl? No. I don't even regret that.
But here's something I do regret:
In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be "ELLEN." ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat's-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.
So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased ("Your hair taste good?" - that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she'd look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she'd drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: "How was your day, sweetie?" and she'd say, "Oh, fine." And her mother would say, "Making any friends?" and she'd go, "Sure, lots."
Sometimes I'd see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.
And then - they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.
One day she was there, next day she wasn't.
End of story.
Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.
But still. It bothers me.
So here's something I know to be true, although it's a little corny, and I don't quite know what to do with it:
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded... sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?
Those who were kindest to you, I bet.
It's a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I'd say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.
Now, the million-dollar question: What's our problem? Why aren't we kinder?
Here's what I think:
Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we're central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we're separate from the universe (there's US and then, out there, all that other junk - dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we're permanent (death is real, o.k., sure - for you, but not for me).
Now, we don't really believe these things -intellectually we know better - but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what's actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.
So, the second million-dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?
Well, yes, good question.
Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.
Read the rest of the speech on The New York Times.
December 7, 2013
Executive Director Jayne Adair Will Retire on May 31, 2014
FOR RELEASE MONDAY, OCT 7th, NOON:
Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Executive Director Jayne Adair
Will Retire on May 31, 2014
Announcement at Tonight's Literary Evenings Program with Sue Grafton
October 7, Pittsburgh, PA - Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Executive Director Jayne Adair has informed the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Board of Directors of her decision to retire at the end of May 2014. Alice B. Mitinger, president of the PA&L board, will announce Ms. Adair's pending retirement and the beginning of the executive search to the audience at tonight's Literary Evenings program featuring the writer of the Alphabet Mystery Series, Sue Grafton.
"Jayne has engaged the community with her vision, creativity and passion for the mission of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures," says Mitinger. "With the programming she has developed, we have reached many new audiences and with her leadership, the organization has achieved a position of sustainability. We applaud Jayne for all her accomplishments as we begin our search for her successor."
Jayne Adair joined Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures as executive director in June 2007. Subscription tickets to the Literary Evenings series have increased by 70% since September 2007, and new program ventures have been created to expand both the audience and the mission of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures. Among the programs Adair created is a series of free book talks, started in spring 2011 at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Main branch in Oakland. Under her leadership, Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures premiered The Moth Mainstage in 2009, and has developed it into one of Pittsburgh's most highly-anticipated annual events.
Support for Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures from individual contributors, businesses, schools, and the local foundation community has also increased substantially over the past six years. "I have had the honor of directing one of the country's most notable literary arts organizations," says Adair. "I will leave at the end of seven years grateful to have served our devoted audience and to have strengthened Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures."
Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures was founded as a non-profit literary arts organization in 1991. Its mission is to connect world-class authors and their work with local readers of all ages and backgrounds and by doing so, to elevate the quality of civic discourse in the local community.
Now in its 23rd season, Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures' LITERARY EVENINGS MONDAY NIGHT LECTURE SERIES is an annual series of ten literary lectures in Oakland's Carnegie Music Hall sponsored by The Drue Heinz Trust. The organization also produces two literary series in partnership with Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Writers LIVE @ CLP-Main, a free series of book talks and readings, and PA&L Kids & Teens, featuring acclaimed authors of books for children and teens. Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures also presents selected events featuring popular writers for general audiences to encourage an ongoing interest in the lifelong pursuit of reading.
The Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures Board now begins its search for the new executive director. The Board's goal is to identify Jayne Adair's successor by the spring of next year. Information is available here.