What happens when we lose our grip on our literary infrastructure?

Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War. Photo by Cassowary Colorizations via Creative Commons.

This essay originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News.

In July of 1961, when a self-inflicted shotgun blast killed Ernest Hemingway in Ketchum, Idaho, the news hit in a way that’s impossible to imagine today.

Two years earlier, George Reeves, Superman in the popular 1950s TV show, had also died of a gunshot wound and left us kids on the block to ponder the irony of how the Man of Steel could be felled not by kryptonite but a mere bullet.

But young as we were, we knew the…

Be ready for the impact of downsizing on your soul

Photo by Stephanie Harvey on Unsplash

This column orignally appeared in The Dallas Morning News.

It was the night before moving and row upon row of cardboard boxes snaked through our house in the Austin near-burbs. A home of 15 years, comfortable as a pair of old sneakers, had become a collection of bare, echoing rooms.

Our decision to downsize to an uber-efficient condo had seemed eminently reasonable in the five years it took to make it. Hey, no more driveways to sweep, yards to rake or storm drains to de-goop! Liberation was at hand.

Turns out there was just one problem.

“I’m already homesick,” I…

Old verities about the centrality of truth have been conked on the head.

Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

This column originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News.

In 2008, back in the halcyon days of the digital revolution, author Nicholas Carr sent up a warning flare in his provocatively titled Atlantic article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The progressively addled attention spans he predicted have come to pass and then some.

What few foresaw, however, was just how angry and crazy our online lives would make us. Today’s mainstreaming of QAnon-style conspiracies has put us far enough down the digital rabbit hole that it’s an open question if or when we’ll find our way out.

Personally, I’d say…

Distrust of the media is up, conspiracy theories are in, but giving up on wresting meaning from the news isn’t the answer.

Finding a quiet mental space may help us to construct our meaning. Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash

In normal times, before COVID put the kibosh on casual conversations at the gym, a public event or an eatery, I’d be approached by people, not to give me the business about teaching journalism for a living (“Aha, one of those news fakers!”), but to voice a bewildered plea:

So much information flooding in, so many outlets to choose from, they’d say. How am I supposed to make sense of the news?

COVID isolation has only added to…

An extraordinary new documentary called ‘My Octopus Teacher’ taught me to turn the tables on an old family story.

Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash

This column originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News.

I confess I never warmed to our friend the octopus. I like to think I’m as animal-friendly as the next person, but for this cephalopod I’ve reserved the categories of enemy and dinner.

My uncharitable attitude turned on an old family tale. When I was 6 or 7, my grandmother told me the eye-popping story of a trip to the beach in the early 1920s when she said a giant octopus crawled from the North Pacific with an eye to pulling my toddler mother into the surf for a meal. …

Better listening by journalists could help heal a divided nation.

Photo by Jason Zeis on Unsplash

This column originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News.

It’s no secret the incoming Biden administration faces long odds in taming the partisan antagonisms and ill will roiling America and eclipsing its health and promise. The news media have an important role to play, but they need to do a better job of listening.

In the aftermath of the Nov. 3 election, Axios’ Jim VandeHei didn’t mince words: “All of us — and the media, in particular — need some clear-eyed, humble self-reflection as the dust settles.” Why? …

Regard for science and rational thinking has eroded in the U.S. in recent years. Why it needs to make a comeback.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

This column originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News.

Looking for evidence of what made America great? A good place to start is our genius for scientific envelope-pushing. Since World War II, it’s brought forth one game-changer after another, in cars and planes, computers and phones — you name it. American innovation has led the world as medical breakthroughs made workers and their families healthier and longer-lived.

That’s what makes President Donald Trump’s war on science so gobsmackingly perverse…

What a gentle, rigorous high school social studies teacher tried to help us see in 1968 remains all too timely today.

Photo by Sean Lee on Unsplash

This column originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News.

The fervor for justice that engulfed America’s streets after the killing of George Floyd generated new hope for a change of heart in how white America sees Black America. Yet despite the understandable optimism, there are ample reasons for caution.

As New York Times columnist Charles Blow suggested, converting good intentions into actions that thwart systemic racism begs a kind of empathetic vision white America has typically found in short…

Are we closer to stepping on the cosmic banana peel than we think?

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

This column originally appeared in The Dallas Morning News.

If there was ever an unfunnier time in America, it’s hard to remember. Of course, COVID-19 isolation makes it hard enough to keep track of what day it is. Yet you can’t ignore the uproar over whether to reopen, half-open or stay shut and warnings of brewing civil unrest, as the coronavirus continues its dark romp through our cities and towns.

Time to chill just a bit? Enjoy some of that rollicking wit for which Americans are famous?

Good luck. Our vaunted sense of humor, as showcased by Stephen Colbert and…

We weren’t spending enough time in deep, face-to-face conversation even before coronavirus.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

This piece was originally written for and published in The Dallas Morning News.

There I was feeling good about myself for adapting so quickly to the Zoom boom. Like many college profs, I pivoted to teaching classes via videoconferencing this spring with trepidation. Seeing my quarantine-scattered students all lined up and smiling on my laptop screen, however, made Zoom seem like an unqualified blessing.

I then read a piece in The New York Times entitled “Why Zoom Is Terrible.” As Kate Murphy reported, experts seem to agree “the…

Tracy Dahlby

Career journalist. Former foreign correspondent. Professor, University of Texas at Austin.

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