Tag Archives: Barack Obama

On evil and hope

Want to see some powerful writing? Check out the speech US President Barack Obama delivered at a memorial service following the horrific Tucson shootings.

Plaudits to the President’s speechwriting team as this is a mighty effort that had to traverse rough terrain very carefully. Think about all the things this piece of writing had to achieve. It had to pay tribute to those who lost their lives to an act of cowardice. It had to send a message of hope for those survivors who were wounded or bereaved. It had to thank the civilians who had the courage to tackle the gunman as he reloaded. It had to signify strength and calm in the face of a nation factionalised by gun culture.

It did all that. It also had to somehow make sense of a senseless act. To tell people around the planet that evil won’t win.

The line that resonated most strongly with me makes us all world leaders in the struggle against hate and violence. It states: “We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that’s entirely up to us.”

Music on the wind

When The Big Day Out is held at the Melbourne Showgrounds, I can hear chunks of the artists on the main stage from my yard – depending on which way the wind blows.

I remember hearing most of New Order’s set a few years back. Very cool. It helps if I know the music as I can mentally add the bits the wind doesn’t deliver. However, one act I knew nothing about literally blew me away – this track from Canadian band Arcade Fire:

Arcade Fire has been compared with one of my all-time rock heroes, Bruce Springsteen … and yes, I reckon I can hear the influences in some of their tracks. Another link is that the Boss and the Fire are both big-time Obama supporters. Indeed, search the YouTubes and you’ll find a phone-recording of my favourite Arcade Fire track, Intervention, being played at the Obama Staff Ball no less.

Imagine getting that call: “Hello, it’s the president of the U-nited States. Yes, Obama. No… I’m not bullshitting. It’s me. I want you to play to my staff…”

I’d have linked the White House clip here but one of the staffers is singing so badly it kills the song. Here it is loud and live in Scotland instead:

Story: Hope over fear

The best-selling bible of screenwriting, Robert McKee’s Story, dedicates its initial chapter to the purpose of storytelling – a quest for the universal human truths that bind us together. McKee says “Story isn’t a flight from reality but a vehicle that carries us on our search for reality, our best effort to make sense out of the anarchy of existence”.

My life, as a journalist, author, parent and human, has been a search for story. I firmly believe that it is by hearing each others’ stories that we learn to see beyond differences in skin colour, socioeconomic background, faith and philosophy. Story brings insight, appreciation, empathy. From these flow compassion and tolerance.

The biggest story in the world today is the inauguration of the new American president.

What I find moving is how the entire globe seems to have invested so much hope in this one man. Listening to talkback radio today and viewing online comments it felt like the world had been starved of hope. As if we’ve been weighed down. Scared. Deadened. Left to winnow for meaning in consumerism and other hedonistic pursuits. (Ouch. Where did that sentence come from, Tim?)

Conscious of the weight of expectation on President Obama’s shoulders, I read his inauguration speech with anticipation. There were several phrases that stood out for me and numerous examples of powerful use of story (along with a forceful repudiation of the outgoing administration).

The phrases:
“We gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

Later:

“There are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.”

Later still:

People will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

The context of the latter comment was a challenge to foreign ruling powers opposed to US interests. Nonetheless, it works as a stand-alone statement for all to absorb.

As to the President’s use of story, here’s a blog post from The New York Times’ Timothy Egan that sums up how the world was watching, seeking “a story to inhabit”.

Let’s hope we find it.

Story-sense and a healthy dose of hope

When Spiderman’s Peter Parker gets an inkling that something villainous is going down, his “spider-sense” tingles. I like to think I have a story-sense that operates in a similar way.

My current manuscript is based on the sensory tinglings that came from staying in a lighthouse keepers’ cottage on Kangaroo Island. I already found the setting incredibly evocative but a visit to a tiny cemetery sealed the deal. There was a story lingering in the air that I couldn’t help but explore.

Perhaps this story-sense is a legacy of my time in journalism, where it’s more commonly referred to as “a nose for news”. Good journalists prosper according to their capacity to glean a story that their competitors are unaware of. As Canberra gallery veteran Laurie Oakes told ABC Radio today, journalists are like police officers; they are never completely off duty. Their nose for news should always be twitching. (It then comes down to personal and professional ethics what they report and what they overlook.)

I love it when my story-sense is triggered as this is usually followed by a surge in curiosity and creativity. The hard yakka of writing comes well after this conceptual moment – when I toil to hone inspiration into an idea that a reader might get excited (and stay excited) about.

Sometimes the story is much bigger than a mere narrative nugget you stumble across. Sometimes the story is so big we all live it. I can’t help but feel yesterday’s US presidential election was one of those moments.

My sense is that the world held its breath yesterday, hoping and praying for an electoral miracle. And we got one. This old planet of ours is gasping for healing and leadership – areas in which the US has been impotent yet arrogantly assertive for several years.

Now the president-elect of the ailing, unpopular superpower is a young man with a Christian mother, Muslim father and an international upbringing. Barack Obama’s charisma is palpable, his speech-making inspirational (plaudits to his writers) and, from a distance, he seems to personify calm, ethical leadership.

Maybe I’m cashing cheques on a story we’re all yet to write but there’s no harm in hoping. The energy yesterday as the world waited for an election result was amazing. So, no matter what your faith, perhaps we should all harness that collective hope again, praying that this amazing story has a happy ending for our planet. The beginning has certainly been fantastic.