April 28, 2011
April 24, 2011
Elif Batuman’s life changed when she published a bestselling book. In The Guardian, she writes about how it feels no longer to be the outsider – and about asking Jonathan Franzen for some weed.
The young writer is someone whom the world has let down, ignored, persecuted or exasperated, someone accustomed to “poverty and the world’s indifference” – accustomed, as Franzen was before they put him on the cover of Time magazine, to working furiously in a tiny studio, wearing earmuffs and sitting on a chair held together with duct tape. To a large extent, this opposition with the world supplies both motivation and the content of most early writings.
She ends her piece with another all-too-familiar conundrum of engaging in long-term writing projects:
“Let’s say you’re writing a long piece. It takes months or even years to finish. How do you keep your style consistent?” The girl, who had seemed only mildly interested in the boy’s previous questions, sat up. “Yes! You change and grow as a person – so how do you keep that change out of your writing?”
For the first time in years, I remembered what it was like to worry about consistency, about balancing one’s influences and establishing a voice, about staying the same. At some point, you get it down. Then the hard part is figuring out how to change.
Read the complete article, here: guardian.co.uk
April 21, 2011
I heard the author Jonathan Ames tell this story elsewhere. Apparently he tells it quite a bit. Whichever way it provided to be the singular impetus for my new obsession, fencing. Here is his very literary and florid articulation of his greatest fencing match:
April 21, 2011
Beautiful collaboration betweeen cellist Yo-Yo Ma and gangsta walker/dancer Lil’ Buck:
There’s an obscene amount to do, see, read, hear and watch out there. There’s so much, in fact, that there’s no way one will do everything.
Linda Holmes wrote a great piece on NPR about this.
Consider books alone. Let’s say you read two a week, and sometimes you take on a long one that takes you a whole week. That’s quite a brisk pace for the average person. That lets you finish, let’s say, 100 books a year. If we assume you start now, and you’re 15, and you are willing to continue at this pace until you’re 80. That’s 6,500 books, which really sounds like a lot.
Let’s do you another favor: Let’s further assume you limit yourself to books from the last, say, 250 years. Nothing before 1761. This cuts out giant, enormous swaths of literature, of course, but we’ll assume you’re willing to write off thousands of years of writing in an effort to be reasonably well-read.
Of course, by the time you’re 80, there will be 65 more years of new books, so by then, you’re dealing with 315 years of books, which allows you to read about 20 books from each year. You’ll have to break down your 20 books each year between fiction and nonfiction – you have to cover history, philosophy, essays, diaries, science, religion, science fiction, westerns, political theory … I hope you weren’t planning to go out very much.
This overabundance is a blessing, really. It retains a childlike zest for acquiring information inside of us. It keeps life fresh and mysterious.
It’s sad, but it’s also … great, really. Imagine if you’d seen everything good, or if you knew about everything good. Imagine if you really got to all the recordings and books and movies you’re “supposed to see.” Imagine you got through everybody’s list, until everything you hadn’t read didn’t really need reading. That would imply that all the cultural value the world has managed to produce since a glob of primordial ooze first picked up a violin is so tiny and insignificant that a single human being can gobble all of it in one lifetime. That would make us failures, I think.
If “well-read” means “not missing anything,” then nobody has a chance. If “well-read” means “making a genuine effort to explore thoughtfully,” then yes, we can all be well-read. But what we’ve seen is always going to be a very small cup dipped out of a very big ocean, and turning your back on the ocean to stare into the cup can’t change that.
Holmes proposes that there are two methods for weeding through this overabundant world, culling and surrender:
Culling is easy; it implies a huge amount of control and mastery. Surrender, on the other hand, is a little sad. That’s the moment you realize you’re separated from so much. That’s your moment of understanding that you’ll miss most of the music and the dancing and the art and the books and the films that there have ever been and ever will be, and right now, there’s something being performed somewhere in the world that you’re not seeing that you would love.
She further expounds on these methods of navigation:
It’s an effort, I think, to make the world smaller and easier to manage, to make the awareness of what we’re missing less painful. There are people who choose not to watch television – and plenty of people don’t, and good for them – who find it easier to declare that they don’t watch television because there is no good television (which is culling) than to say they choose to do other things, but acknowledge that they’re missing out on Mad Men (which is surrender).
Read the whole article, here: www.npr.org
April 18, 2011
A great essay on perception and time as seen through the neuroscientist David Eagleman’s work:
“(B)rain time,” as Eagleman calls it, is intrinsically subjective. “Try this exercise,” he suggests in a recent essay. “Put this book down and go look in a mirror. Now move your eyes back and forth, so that you’re looking at your left eye, then at your right eye, then at your left eye again. When your eyes shift from one position to the other, they take time to move and land on the other location. But here’s the kicker: you never see your eyes move.” There’s no evidence of any gaps in your perception—no darkened stretches like bits of blank film—yet much of what you see has been edited out. Your brain has taken a complicated scene of eyes darting back and forth and recut it as a simple one: your eyes stare straight ahead. Where did the missing moments go?
The question raises a fundamental issue of consciousness: how much of what we perceive exists outside of us and how much is a product of our minds? Time is a dimension like any other, fixed and defined down to its tiniest increments: millennia to microseconds, aeons to quartz oscillations. Yet the data rarely matches our reality. The rapid eye movements in the mirror, known as saccades, aren’t the only things that get edited out. The jittery camera shake of everyday vision is similarly smoothed over, and our memories are often radically revised. What else are we missing? When Eagleman was a boy, his favorite joke had a turtle walking into a sheriff’s office. “I’ve just been attacked by three snails!” he shouts. “Tell me what happened,” the sheriff replies. The turtle shakes his head: “I don’t know, it all happened so fast.”
Eagleman, a charismatic man with a wealth of analogies and abilities to teach, draws his notions – a myriad of complex notions – of time and perception out:
The brain, he writes, is like Kublai Khan, the great Mongol emperor of the thirteenth century. It sits enthroned in its skull, “encased in darkness and silence,” at a lofty remove from brute reality. Messengers stream in from every corner of the sensory kingdom, bringing word of distant sights, sounds, and smells. Their reports arrive at different rates, often long out of date, yet the details are all stitched together into a seamless chronology. The difference is that Kublai Khan was piecing together the past. The brain is describing the present—processing reams of disjointed data on the fly, editing everything down to an instantaneous now.
Eagleman explains much, including why it is that it seems as though time moves more rapidly, the older we become.
Read Burkhard Bilger’s whole article on David Eagleman, here: www.newyorker.com
April 15, 2011
Babe Ruth loved the ladies. He also loved his cock. And while he had hundreds upon hundreds of women (lots of prostitutes and cathouses) – he only had one cock. He made sure to insert it wherever he could.
Ruth was obsessed with the penis and not merely because he was famously well-endowed. His speech was peppered with phallic allusions, such as “I can knock the penis off any ball that ever was pitched.” A large stack of mail was “as big as my penis.” When he aged he confided to Lieb, “The worst of this is that I no longer can see my penis when I stand up.” The female genitalia weren’t left out. Asked “How’s it going, Jidge?” he would response, “Pussy good, pussy good.”
from: “The House That Ruth Built”, by Robert Weintraub
April 12, 2011
A great article from The Guardian, about the widow Karen Green and the aftermath of her novelist husband David Foster Wallace and his suicide. Wallace, killed himself in 2008, in the couple’s backyard – he bound his hands together and hanged himself from a belt. Wallace’s widow speaks publicly for the first time about her struggles with her husband’s life and her profound inability to truly celebrate his work. Because of his death, it is true that Wallace has been heralded even more; even turned into a “celebrity writer dude”. Green is not comfortable with this. She is dumbfounded and heartbroken that his work became even more illuminated and even more poignant.
Still, to this day, she says, she has “a different ending (for him, for me): it’s the one where he controls his own damn poignancy, and also kisses me goodnight…”
From her new life, the perspective is not a romantic one. It is a practical one.
“I think I’m supposed to buck up and be the professional widow… and I have found that very hard. Very hard. I mean one day you are a couple living in a little house and watching The Wire box-set for the third time, and letting the dogs do their antic stuff, and then suddenly you are supposed to be functioning as the great writer’s widow. That wasn’t how we lived when David was alive. I felt about him like I would if I had been married to a sweet school teacher.”
Read the whole article here: www.guardian.co.
April 12, 2011
Combining a personal family tragedy and epic cinematography of the West, Hanna Ranch has the unique formula to be as extraordinary a film as Kirk Hanna was a man.
Born into a life as a rancher, Kirk Hanna became a leader in the environmental ranching movement that set out to protect the West from relentlessly encroaching development and misuse. Kirk saw his ranch, and the world, holistically, balancing the needs and impact of agriculture and the environment. Kirk’s opinion was widely sought and respected, and some saw him as a future governor of Colorado.
But not everything was so clear to Kirk, and the dynamics of a family-run business were causing a rift in the ranch. Kirk was torn, and unlike everyone else, he saw himself as the weak link on the ranch. Depression spiraled quickly and Kirk took his own life just over a decade ago.
Despite the tragic end to his life, Kirk’s legacy and fight live on as his family and friends continue to protect the West by saving Hanna Ranch.
Our friend and great songwriter Joe Sampson did the music for the film.