Alexei Navalny (on NOT GIVING UP)

[2-minute read]

Alexei Navalny died in February. I’m sure somebody knows why and how, but the great WE doesn’t. It is not impossible that nothing acutely nefarious happened in his Russian prison four months back. Maybe his body had just had enough after the earlier poisoning and years spent on the run or in jail. But there is no doubt that, aged 47, he had sacrificed not only his freedom but his life to oppose injustice and to offer hope to the despairing. His death should be remembered. I learned more about him after he left us, and his words and example still work on me.

This is dramatically capsulized in his “final words” to Russian compatriots in the event of his death; they close the Oscar-winning 2022 documentary film Navalny, which chronicles what the dissident lawyer had come to understand following his nearly miraculous recovery from an obviously sinister poisoning in 2020. He is about to return to near-certain imprisonment or even death in his mother country. His interviewer asks him what, in the event of his demise, he would want to say to his fellow Russians. His answer is powerfully simple.

“NOT GIVE UP.” He speaks quietly to the camera, but something in his eyes had me writing it in capital letters. That is his message.

Of course, the film-maker wants more, and Alexei Navalny provides it. He includes a well-known saying, often unattributed or wrongly so¹, but it feels true coming from him. In so doing, he leaves for his countrymen, and for anyone and all peoples facing apparently overwhelming oppression – and hey, even for a Canadian Bahá’í-guy basketball coach with a comfy life and a scribbling itch – these quietly defiant words:

“I have something very obvious to tell you. You’re not allowed to give up. If they decide to kill me, it means that we are incredibly strong. We need to utilize this power, to not give up, to remember we are a huge power that is being oppressed by these bad dudes.

“We don’t realize how strong we actually are.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. SO DON’T DO NOTHING.”

Don’t do nothing, noble reader. And try to do it in ALL-CAPS.

¹ When attributed, it most often goes to the Irish intellectual Edmund Burke, who said something in the same vein but not in these words. Reuters Fact Check has philosopher John Stuart Mill writing a speech saying, “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” (Wasn’t that an enjoyable detour?)

Writing and Doom

That day’s Sinking Feeling Epiphany:

Every day is September.

(Can I still do this?)

The day after Labour Day — in Canada, it’s the first Monday of September — always loomed anxiously. For most of my adult life, it meant being back in a high school classroom, the Return of the Creature. From about the last week of August, the Creature Dreams would begin their annual limited engagement. (It’s an auspicious day, great things to teach or coach, but I can’t find my classroom/the gym, materials are a bizarro mess, and wait didn’t I have clothes on before? and this place looks vaguely familiar but why’s the ceiling getting so low and holy-cow-my-feet-are-stuck-in-what.) Teaching and coaching were performance arts, and so there was performance anxiety, more than 20 years of it, but mainly confined to the first Tuesday morning of the school year. I always got an adrenalizing dose of can I still do this? but I was unfailingly reassured about five minutes into period one: yeah, ‘course you can. You’re built for this. I am Creature. Hear me creach!

Maybe I’m just tired and lonely in this writing thing. In June, we were not only packing, finishing our teaching jobs, and preparing to leave China and our Chinese friends after five years, but I’d accepted a writing deadline: June 30.¹

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Better Read Than Never: THE WAR OF ART

[As with most of my “BRTN” reviews, a more concise version of this review will be published in an ex-patriate’s magazine in my Chinese city, Focus on DalianI can buy a pizza with my fee.]

I finished my third reading of a favourite guide – or was that four? – not long ago, and realized that I haven’t written about The War of Art much. (There are many scribblings and fluorescent highlightings in the pages of Steven Pressfield’s brief 2002 masterpiece on the struggle to be creative, and I have a seminar in mind, but this is my first sustained post, I think.) This is a book to be read and re-read, and is sometimes uncomfortably insistent on cutting through the crap and requiring a response from its reader. I hope you won’t avoid it on THAT account!

Pressfield might be best known for his first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance (and the Will Smith movie that was based on it), but his main niche is historical fiction.

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