One of the great poets of our time, W. S. Merwin, passed away recently. A brilliant writer and conservationist, Merwin spent the final period of his life on a former pineapple plantation in Hawaii, working to restore the surrounding rainforest. … I’ve drawn inspiration from Merwin’s writing because it teaches us about ourselves, our world, and how we as humans connect to nature. Most of us don’t spend a lot of time on poetry but Merwin’s death reminded me of how a good poem can inspire and instruct. So if you’re in the mood, give one of them a try.
Obama’s pointer took me to a recently published collection of Merwin’s poetry: “The Essential W. S. Merwin“. Yesterday, on Father’s Day, I was flipping through this collection and happened to come across his poem “The Unwritten” which I really enjoyed. It’s about a pencil – and how the pencil holds words “that have never been written, never been spoken, never been taught”. He concludes with:
it could be that there’s only one word and it’s all we need it’s here in this pencil
every pencil in the world is like this
And, that word is not just in every pencil in the world – but in every human too!…
I just finished reading Ken Langone’s memoir “I Love Capitalism“. It’s quite a story – of his life growing up and gradually becoming very successful as a co-founder of Home Depot. He tells many stories along the way about his family, business partners, deals, Ross Perot – and Eliot Spitzer (!). A quick delightful read! Here’s a recent review of the book in the Wall St. Journal.
“Everybody talks about the bottom line, but as I’ve seen time and time again, you ignore the human element of business at your peril. Most of the seven deadly sins can and do come into play, and chemistry between people—good chemistry or bad—always has an effect, sometimes a huge effect: in boardrooms, in executive offices, in sales meetings.”
Just finished reading The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson. It’s a crypto-thriller set in the near present day. Lots of twists and turns – and excitement. A very enjoyable summer read!
“Our democracy cannot survive its current downward drift into tribalism, extremism, and seething resentment. Today it’s ‘us versus them’ in America. Politics is little more than blood sport. As a result, our willingness to believe the worst about everyone outside our own bubble is growing, and our ability to solve problems and seize opportunities is shrinking. We have to do better.”
During one of Deb’s sections, she commented about local language – and how the locals in Eastport are using language as “a power tool of their development.” She described how a local group of women in Eastport had noticed the use of “de– words” in many articles describing Eastport – “words like: ‘depressed,’ ‘dependent,’ ‘decline,’ ‘despair’” and how those words were often used to describe aspects of Eastport’s economics, services, schools, or population.
Deb describes how this group then set forth to crowd out the de- words with re- words: like ‘rebound,’ ‘rediscover,’ ‘redesign,’ ‘reverse,’ ‘renew,’ ‘reenergize,’ ‘reemerge.’ and that they encouraged reporters and politicians to substitute the more positive words in their descriptions of Eastport. What a great idea!…
I’m a fickle reader – and read a wide variety of stuff. As a result, I like to browse a lot of books before deciding to dive in and truly reading one. I’ve come to rely on a couple of tools to help me in my quest for interesting book content.
When I come across mention of a book that sounds of interest, I will typically first search Amazon and take a look at the reviews for the book. I also frequently download the book’s sample so that I can spend a bit more time deciding whether I want to invest time and money in the book.
To quickly accomplish this, I use a Launchbar keyboard shortcut on my Mac’s which invokes an Amazon book search and opens a new browser tab directly on the book’s page. This is super fast and convenient – in a flash I can be there. Sometimes, if I’m in the middle of something, I’ll trigger the search, the tab will open, and then I’ll come back to it later. It will wait patiently for me to return.
In addition to free Kindle book samples, another Amazon feature – “Look Inside the Book” – is also helpful for reviewing the first few pages of a book.
I’ve used this approach for several years and it’s become second nature. More recently, I discovered Overdrive’s free iOS app Libby which performs a similar function for me doing a library search for a book. I have library cards for several of the area libraries and have set them all up in Libby. I can open Libby, enter a search, and see if one of my libraries has the book available in ebook format. If so, I can borrow it – or place a hold to be notified when a copy becomes available. Once I borrow it, I can request that the book be downloaded to my Kindle.
I have the Kindle app on all of my devices: Mac’s, iPhone, iPads, etc. Any book (or book sample) that I’ve downloaded to Kindle can be opened on any of those devices – depending on what’s with me.
The two tools that make this all possible are Launchbar on my Mac and the Libby app on iOS.
While I knew I couldn’t devote the time required to actually enroll in the course, I hadn’t heard of the book before – so I thought I might enjoy just getting a copy. As it turns out, the book is priced like a textbook – but I still decided to get it. For the last couple of months it’s just sat on a bookshelf in my home office – until today.
This afternoon – looking for a pre-holiday relief from work work – I picked up the book and found a cozy place away from the office to begin exploring. I read the book’s Introduction and its explanation of the book’s structure (Stories, Commentaries on specific stories, Casebooks on specific authors, and an appendix with Charters’ discussions about short stories, the genre, etc.)
One of my favorite writers – ever – is John Steinbeck. There’s one story by Steinbeck in Charters’ book – “The Chrysanthemums“. The story, like much of Steinbeck’s work, is based in California’s Monterey County – and, specifically, in Salinas.
Steinbeck begins the story:
The high grey flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot.
Many years ago I owned a small airplane and, from time to time, I would need to fly in actual instrument conditions to maintain my proficiency for instrument flight. I have vivid memories of one morning taking off and flying purposely to Salinas – which was fogged in at the time and, as a result, would provide me the opportunity to shoot an instrument approach into Salinas Airport in actual instrument conditions. Steinbeck’s story – and his opening sentences – brought those memories flooding back.
That morning was just as Steinbeck described – the fog was a lid on the valley. It was a closed pot. Approaching Salinas, I was in clear blue sky above but I needed to penetrate that fog to get below it and land at Salinas. As I was communicating with the approach controller, he cleared me for an instrument approach and I began descending into the fog – transitioning from clear blue sky to only flying from the instruments in the cockpit of my airplane.
My approach began normally – me feeling good about getting into actual IMC. But then something happened – the directional gyro suddenly began spinning. This was not supposed to happen!
The directional gyro provides the pilot with information on the heading the aircraft is pointed. It’s one of several important instruments which pilots need to continuously scan when they’re flying in the clouds. One of the risks pilots face when flying in instrument conditions is a failure of one of these critical instruments. So – here I was – in the fog, descending into Salinas, but with a spinning directional gyro.
Pilots are taught that maintaining the scan of all of the critical instruments is vital while flying on instruments. If one of the critical instruments fails, a pilot can become fixated on the failed instrument, stop scanning the others, and lose situational awareness. When I was flying, there were circular plastic covers with suction devices on the back that you could use to quickly slap over a malfunctioning instrument to prevent it from becoming your sole focus. I had a couple of those – but when the moment strikes they’re not handy – being tucked away in a flight bag in the back seat!
So I forced myself to just ignore the damn spinning directional gyro – and figure a way out.
The fog layer was perhaps 1,500 feet thick – maybe even less. I knew I had blue sky above me. If I could break off the approach, applying power and keeping the wings level, I could get back up to that clear blue sky air. And that’s what I did. I radioed Salinas Tower that I was breaking off the approach. He responded with “State your intentions” – and I cancelled my instrument approach as I climbed above the fog and headed back home. I never did land at Salinas that morning. I also never trusted that directional gyro again – and had it replaced.
As I read the opening sentences of Steinbeck’s story, the memories of my foggy morning encounter with Salinas came flooding back. In Steinbeck’s story, Elisa has her own challenges with the Salinas fog as a metaphor for her life. She lived there. For me it was just a close encounter. I made it back.
Looking at Krasny’s course syllabus, I think I’ll begin exploring the other writers he’s featured in Charters’ book – as I move beyond this initial Steinbeck story. The book is such a treasure trove of stories – I know I need – and want – to dive deeper. I’m sure more memories await!
Earlier this week I listened to Valérie Jardin’s Street Focus podcast with her interview of Gail Albert Halaban, author of Paris Views. Valérie’s weekly podcast is one of my favorites in the photography genre – and this episode was extra special as the two of them explored Gail’s work shooting neighborhood scenes – into neighbor’s windows – with Gail shooting with the permission of both sides. After listening to the podcast, I checked out Gail’s website and some of her other work.
After listening and then looking at Gail’s work, I checked out Gail’s website and some of her other work and then ordered a copy of Paris Views – which arrived today. It’s a stunner!
I’ve bought a lot of photography books over the last few years – but this one was different. All too often, I flip through the pages quickly – just scanning for interesting composition, light, gesture – and put the book away for future reference.
With Paris Views, I slowed down – each of her images makes you just want to see and explore the details. The book is beautifully printed by her publisher Aperture and you find yourself just wanting to spend time – taking the time to see what she’s captured.
Gail’s created a wonderful body of work with Paris Views – and a beautiful book with wonderful views with the light, textures, and people of Paris.
Gail’s new project is called “Meet Your Neighbor” – she writes: “I photograph from one window to another with the consent of both parties. I am doing this all over the world.” Maybe you’d like to participate?
If you want to explore Paris street photography, I highly recommend spending a week on the streets of Paris with Valérie. I spent a very special week with her and a great group of colleagues last fall – doesn’t get much better! Here’s my album of images from that trip. Check out her Paris workshop schedule.
Jay shared everything with us – as he said, “It’s all I’ve got.” We suffered his harsh (but useful!) critiques, his stories and jokes, but also his love and care. Remarkable. Beautiful.
Jay’s just published a new book which discusses perhaps the most important primary theme of his teaching – it’s all about capturing light, gesture and color – the three ingredients that make images great images. While light and color are certainly important, my favorite is gesture. And, I think it’s Jay’s favorite too. He writes:
“You will, in time, see and show others not just the superficial, but the details, the meanings and the implications of all that you look at: the wetness, reflectivity, and power of water; the subtlety of clouds; the texture of the bark of the tree; the delightful surface of a finished piece of wood; the smoothness of a baby; the rough, ragged face of the aged; or the aerial perspective of diminishing clarity in a series of mountains.”
Yes, the details – and the gestures – “the little eccentric things that people did that gave them individuality and made them interesting. … When I see these things and I’m lucky enough to get them, I can’t stop grinning like an idiot.”
Oh Jay! You make me smile – and reflect on the beautiful impact you had on me. Love ya, man!
I’ve been enjoying reading Greg McKeown‘s new book “Essentialism” – and, after listening to the beginning, put together this image suitable for desktop or screen saver use. It’s a shot made in the kitchen at the James Johnston House in Half Moon Bay – and was one that seemed to focus on the essential!
It’s been a while since I’ve made a book recommendation – but this is a good one. Over the weekend, I finished reading Brad Stone‘s remarkable story about Jeff Bezos and Amazon.
While some of the Amazonreviewers dispute Stone’s story telling, he does a masterful job of walking through the history of Amazon and educating us on the ins and outs of Jeff Bezos’ approach to building a business. And what an amazing business he’s built.
This is one of those business biographies worth the time – there are great stories of the competitive spirit, the absolute cheapness of the culture, and the power of plowing everything you make in the way of profits back into growing and extending the business. “Your margin is my opportunity” is a quote attributed to Bezos and Stone brings that attitude to life in this great story.
If you like this kind of business history, you’ll really enjoy Stone’s storytelling and come away educated and enlightened. Brad Stone was interviewed today on KQED’s Forum program with Michael Krasny – it’s worth a listen!