Thursday, August 29, 2013

Hemmingway, Briefly

Six Words


The Six Word Stories project was launched in 2008.  Inspired by a famous challenge made to Ernest Hemingway, that he could not write a complete story in six words; which he did, this project has asked people to write their memoirs in just six words. And they have done it, with grace, sentiment, and sometimes humor.  What is amazing to me about these tiny distillations is their authors ability to focus in on a singular profundity, theme, or incident in which to frame their lives.  When I try this I my mind scatters to corners of memories and epic tales of adventure, none of which contain either the significance or the brevity of a good six word story.  There is an importance to this effort though, a clearing away of the rubble of ourselves until we can see ourselves more simply, even if the rendering will always be incomplete.

Do you have a six word story of your life?  Share it below:

Hemingway's Story, which he claimed to be his best work
"For sale; baby shoes, never used."

Visit Six Word Stories:

Photo Courtesy of:

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Things They Never Tell You

Harsh Reality


A list of things to know before setting out into the world:

Anything valuable requires hard work.

If you are not willing to work hard someone else will be.

There is a big difference between the things you want and the things you need.

No one thinks about you as much as you do.

Few things are fair.

You will always have more to learn and will do much of that the hard way.

Unexpected and tragic things are inevitable; you will not be able to plan for them.

Most successes are built on the backs of failures.

You cannot make everyone like you, or even be pleased with you.

You will not be the same person in ten years that you are today.

You will be offered transformative experiences, but will not be able to predict in what way they will transform you.

You only get to do this once.

Other great lists of life lessons:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Friends and Benefits


My mother always told me to be careful how you treated people because while you never know what they carry on their plate, you can be sure that it is full.  I always thought she was talking about strangers but sometimes we need to be aware of how this plays out with people closer to us as well.  Some notes on friends:

If they are busy, keep calling.  If you are busy, keep calling.

While friends are great sounding boards, remember to also use them to celebrate the best of your life, not complain about the worst.

Assume that as friends they mean no harm and approach discussion, disagreements and misunderstandings as such.

If you know you do not agree on a topic, choose someone else to discuss it with.

Assume you know only what they choose to show you, and consider the possibility that life has its ups and downs for everyone.

Thank them, often.

The Disappointing Guru

Of Gods and Men


Here is an excellent example of exactly how twisted American culture and perspective has become.

At a stadium speaking event with the Dalai Lama recently at which I could only look around and think, "This is why we can't have nice things."

Concession stands open, selling a steady stream of corn dogs.

Sorority girl with high heels, mini skirt, and giant tub of popcorn.

The University President choosing to make "branding" the first interaction with the Dalai Lama.

Every Catholic priest in attendance, presumably in an attempt to not be outdone by the Dalai Lama and his monk brigade in their red robes, dressed in full white and green vestments.

Upset Facebook conversations when the Dalai Lama reveals himself to be exactly what he is, human.  Especially strange as he specifically discussed his own need to be seen as just another person, that being seen as the Dalai Lama can only create loneliness.

Ten thousand white, middle class liberals jumping up and down, waving their arms and yelling at the Dalai Lama, because that is what Americans do when they get excited.  This too, was something the Dalai Lama had just said we could stop doing so much of, suggesting more moderation of behavior.

Perhaps we all need to accept the idea that, just like us, the Dalai Lama is no more than a simple human being, and should be treated as such.  To expect a message more groundbreaking than that from a Buddhist monk is certainly missing the point.

Like what you are reading?  Then support the Kickstarter for my book Girl Gone Wild- On Being a Woman in the Wilderness.  Thanks!

Monday, August 26, 2013

One More Time Around


For me, the end of summer and beginning of fall has always marked the start of the new year. Perhaps it is because of the startling change of season, or the start of school, or the arrival of my birthday, but I always take this time of year to reflect on the previous twelve months and set some goals for the next twelve.  With that in mind, and before taking a brief travel hiatus, this week I want to revisit some of the most-read posts and a couple of my favorites from this year.  I hope you enjoy them the second time around.  Thanks for reading.

Also! Keep an eye out for the beginning of my Kickstarter campaign to fund the completion of my Girl Gone Wild book about being a woman in the wilderness, your support, financial or promotional by passing the word, will be much appreciated. 

From February, the most-read post this year:


In 2006 Joyce Carol Vincent was found dead in her London flat.  The cause of death was not determined due to the advanced state of decomposition of her body.  Joyce was 38 years old when she died.  Her body had lain undisturbed in her flat for nearly three years.  The story of Joyce, what there is to know and tell has been documented in the film Dreams of a Life.  

Joyce was not a shut-in, had no history of mental illness of drug abuse, and had three living sisters.  She was widely described as beautiful , vibrant, and successful.  By all accounts from those that knew her, it is as though the Joyce they knew simply slipped away; they seemed unable to reconcile the woman in the flat with the person they had known.  Contrary to the image of a recluse she was found surrounded by freshly wrapped Christmas presents; there must have been people in her life.

While there is something morbidly compelling about the unresolved cause of her death and the grim tableau of how she was found, the more disturbing element of this story is the three year wait before her discovery.  Where were family, friends, and coworkers?  Where were the neighbors or the mailman? Where, even, were the bill collectors? In the end, it took even the landlords three years to come and clear her out for unpaid rent.  

I think that the we learn more about ourselves in Joyce's story than we learn about her.  When she died in 2003 we were pre-Facebook and post nuclear-family.  2003 was right in the transition point between the constant connections of the social media age and the isolation and lack of community of the end of the 20th Century.  Three years? How can this be? It is not hard for me to imagine friends of mine disappearing and not being noticed for three or four months.  The free spirits, wanderers, or troubled souls, but three years? There is no one I know or have ever known that was in any way functional that could disappear from all things for three years and not have someone ring the bell.  

What are we to think of this?   Is Joyce some kind of social canary warning us of the dangers of our modernity? Is it an isolated case; one sad woman's quiet decline?  Is it possible that we have reached a place where people can live out their lives with no real connections?  How acceptable is distance between family members?  How important is the building of community? How long do you want to wait before someone finds you? 

This terrifies me.  Joyce's story tapped into some deeply rooted fears about mortality and loneliness.  I think that we all have these fears.  It's why we bother to call up old friends, love and lose and love again, and hassle our way through the holidays to spend time with family; so that when things go awry, someone is there to help us.  Somewhere along the line either Joyce stopped bothering, or everyone else did.  Probably a little of both.  I think a consequence of contemporary culture may be the devaluing of substantive connections with other people.  I think that we are all not so far away from being Joyce as we might like to believe.

Like what you are reading?  Then support the Kickstarter for my book Girl Gone Wild- On Being a Woman in the Wilderness.  Thanks!

References/Works Cited:

Dreams of a Life:

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Heat of Summer


Every couple of summers or so I pick up a summer flu or infection of some kind that knocks me onto the couch and under blankets.  Though summer sicknesses never seem to linger the way a winter bug will, it always feels somehow worse than in other seasons.  I know that this is entirely psychological.  Summer is the season of fun and vacations and running around outside, not the season of tea and cuddling up in the early evening, being sick isn't in the plan.  What is valuable though, is the reminder that true illness or injury, major accidents, cancer, diabetes, is never in the plan, they have no convenient season.  While spending a day or two watching movies and sipping soup might be a summer in the sunny season, days of doctors appointments, treatments with debilitating side effects, and week to months of recovery is far worse.  Losing even a day or two, seeing how quickly we fall behind in life, how much there is to miss, is a really good reminder to take good care of ourselves.  Prevention is a practice that is entirely within our control, even if it's not something that is fostered by our dominant culture.

Be well.  Stay healthy.  Make good choices.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013



If you have not seen the 2001 documentary, Okie Noodling, make some time for it.  There are more than 2000 species of catfish worldwide, some of which can weigh more than 200 pounds.  Catfish prefer shallow, fresh water and are known for their characteristic whiskers.  But the really interesting this about catfish is how people choose to catch them; with their bare hands.  Specifically, diving underground and reaching their bare hands into a hole hoping to grab a catfish and drag it to shore.  This is called noodling.  While it may sound like a simple leisure activity, noodling is actually a well-regarded and widely participated in competitive event. I will not try to do justice to it here, but suffice it to say, it might be the best sport ever.

To watch the movie or find a noodling event near you:

For more on catfish:

Like what you are reading?  Then support the Kickstarter for my book Girl Gone Wild- On Being a Woman in the Wilderness.  Thanks!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Long And Winding Road


Fifty years ago Martin Luther King Jr. and 250,000 other people marched on Washington D.C. to protest systemic inequality in the American political and social structure.  Today, only one of the day's speakers, Representative John Lewis, is still alive to talk about it.  In 1956 Martin Luther King Jr. published a comic book about Montgomery, Alabama and the non-violent struggle to end segregation.  That comic book inspired a generation of young people to take action.  It stands as a demonstration of just how savvy Martin Luther King Jr. and many of the leaders of the civil rights movement were in terms of understanding the role of media in social change.  Representative Lewis, following their example, has published a graphic novel, March (Book One), about the civil rights movement in an attempt to reach out to a whole new generation of young people.  While the novel may be about the civil rights movement of fifty years ago, and while true racial equality still seems out of touch, Lewis has said that in the 21st century, the political struggle is rooted in money, rather than race.  In listening to him in interviews it seems clear that even from his position within it, or perhaps particularly so, the political system in its current form cannot be a vehicle for change or a path to equality, racial or economic.  In reaching out to a new generation his message is simple; march on.

To see Life Magazines photo retrospective of the event:


Monday, August 19, 2013

I Don't Tell You How To


Last week Time Magazine ran a cover story about the rising numbers of child free couples in the United States.  It sparked a firestorm.  People without children are quick to defend themselves saying that they have happy and fulfilled lives, time to care for aging parents, and savings to get them through retirement.  People with children, well, they pretty much just claim that you are in an incomplete person without children, that your life in not valid, nor are your accomplishments, and that no one will take care of you when you are old. Perhaps there is some validity on both sides.  However, I feel that it is important to point out that most people with children are not heard complaining that they feel judged by people without children, or pressured, or discounted.  Most people without kids, spend a lot of time having to justify themselves, their lifestyles, and sometimes even their medical and financial status to people who thin they know how everyone's lives should be led. 

 I believe that like any other major life choice the one about whether or not to have a child is personal.  And there are all kinds of reasons, some of them medical, for not having kids, which is also personal, meaning none of anyone else's business. Which means is it should probably go without comment. Just like we do not tell strangers that they are fat and would just be happy if they lost weight, or that they really should have gone to college if they wanted to be happy, or that they don't make enough money so they just don't know what they are missing.

So the next time, before you tell some girlfriend or coworker or cousin that she is running out of time or she just doesn't know what she is missing, please remember that you do not know if perhaps she is trying, or has tried, or considers managing to not get pregnant an accomplishment   Mostly, remember that it is none of your business to pass judgement, that women without children largely do not try to make you feel like less of a person for all the things you miss because of your kids so you shouldn't either. Pressuring other women to have kids just because that's what you did reeks of righteousness and desperation to validate your own life and choices,  You never know what is really going on in someone's life so you live yours and let everyone else live theirs.

Like what you are reading?  Then support the Kickstarter for my book Girl Gone Wild- On Being a Woman in the Wilderness.  Thanks!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Where Was I?


Yesterday one of the leading news stories was about a blackout all along the east coast and into New York. At first I thought it was happening in real time, then I realized how young Brian Williams looked, they were commemorating the ten year anniversary of one of the largest blackouts in US history. Ironically for me, I have no recollection of this whatsoever, it was all brand new to me.  As I watched the images of all of New York walking to work in tennies with backpacks and water bottles I wondered how I might have missed such a large event.  Then I checked the date.  Yep, right in the middle of graduate school.  That it occurred in that two year period might have been enough for me to miss it, but I did in that time manage to take note of the presidential election and the Olympics, how might I have missed the blackout?  The only thing I can think of is field work.  During that time I was spending weeks at a time in the wilderness with no connection to the outside world except for the occasional passer-by or resupply.  I remember that same year hearing about the second Iraq invasion through a professor hiking in to see us; she said she struggled with whether or not to burden us with the news, it being so rare to find people untouched by the war.  Years earlier I remember returning home from a week of camp to race riots that to me seemed entirely out of context having missed the last week of the Rodney King trial.  Today, I wonder what other events have passed me by and how the missing pieces may shape my understanding of the world.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

So That's It


I have a long-standing curiosity about average folk and how they spend their time.  It would be easy enough to discount the majority of people as television watching, video game playing, fast food eating "average Joe's" that have no drive, special talents, or interesting hobbies but then I hear about events like food eating contests, Big Lebowski festivals, catfish noodlers, and yo-yo championships and remember that people not only participate in these things, they have to prepare for them. In order for a yo-yo world championship to exist there must be many many people entering many many events.  That means that all those people are standing in their living rooms and back yard for hours at a time mastering an obscure talent that may or may not ever be appreciated.  It means that classes and blogs and special equipment and t-shirts exist for such things.  It means that there is an entire world with it's own social network, hierarchy, and rivalries that exists just for yo-yo's. Fascinating.

To watch the World Yo-Yo Champion in action follow the link below.  The best part of the video is listening to the audience get really really excited about whatever the heck this guy is doing.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Comings and Goings


I know that it cannot possibly be true that there is ever such a thing as a day in which there is nothing interesting, notable, or newsworthy going on in the world, but at times American media does a spectacularly good job of making it appear so.  Some of today's headlines:

The Lead: Anthony Weiner talks about Hilary Clinton's possible 2016 election campaign.

Just Below: Oprah points out Swiss racism, then apologizes for the ensuing media storm.

Even Lower: Paula Dean found not guilty of workplace discrimination.

At the Bottom: American women are returning to the home post-recession, to the tune of 26 percent.


Photograph Courtesy of:

Monday, August 12, 2013

Just A Little Longer


According to the Self Storage Association of America there are now enough square feet (2.3 billion) of storage units in the United States that every American could stand under the storage canopy to take shelter from a rain storm at the same time.  Further, it is estimated that close to ten percent of all american households now rent storage spaces separate from their primary residence.  These are storage spaces needed in addition to closets, bedrooms, attics, basements and garages which if you look around the typical home are already full to bursting with stuff, DVDs, throw pillows, plastic toys, old books and magazines, out of date technology, and piles and pile of clothes.  The storage facilities sit along highways and in urban centers like great monolithic tributes to consumerism.  They are expensive and by all accounts rarely accessed by the average renter.  More than that, they betray our cultural lack of self control and our collective inability to gain a sense of perspective or proportion and while the industry saw a small (2-3 percent) contraction during the great recession, self storage in the United States is considered to be a no-lose proposition for investors.  The irony of what could be low-income housing units serving as storage for what should be being reused or resold at the local St.Vinnie's does not appear to occur to the average American, or at least it does not stop them.  Nor does the simple economics of buying less and eliminating a substantial monthly bill as a means towards some much-needed fiscal stability in the average American household.  

My observation is that Americans rely on the acquisition of possessions to validate themselves and establish their status in society.  I think though, that in the long run our possessions begin to weigh us down and pin us to a particular place and way of life.  In the era of waning resources it is time to start purging our excess, and our storage units with their movie posters, old alarm clocks and piles of old clothes is a great place to start.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Long In The Tooth


PBS has released a very well done documentary about the Cuban Missile crisis that focuses on the decision-making process of Kennedy and Krushchev.  Like any good nuclear-themed documentary Three Men Go to War scares the pants off you even though you know how it all works out in the end.  Being a child of the 80's, nuclear proliferation and the Cold-War quagmire are familiar themes that I have grown used to being afraid of but watching this film frightened me in a new way. What I was unable to get over was how very old and dangerously antique all of the weaponry and controls looked.  More than that, the interviewees talked about using bicycle messengers to rush messages to the nearest telegraph office and waiting over twelve hours for a message to be sent from one embassy to the other.  In fact, one of the most tense moments of the crisis was caused by a second letter from Krushchev arriving before the White House had responded to the first.  To be honest, the weaponry and technology being depicted looked like something a TAG student might be able to assemble from a kit in their backyard for a school science project.

While the numbers of nuclear weapons held in stockpiles has decreased significantly since the Cuban Missile Crisis, more than 17,000 are still held today in 9 different countries.  I think about that, and then I think about the Russian space program, still operational, and still using much of it's original technology and infrastructure from the 1950's and 60's.  I wonder about the aging of the world's nuclear weapons and consider that the US will spend 372 billion dollars to maintain it's own arsenal each year.  I wonder if Russia, Pakistan, France, India and North Korea have the kind of money it takes to have such dangerous toys.  I wonder how long old dogs have.

To Watch the PBS Documentary on the Cuban Missile Crisis Three Men Go to War:


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Open The Pod Bay Doors


The Japanese have launched, along with the rest of their payload destined for the international space station, a child-sized humanoid robot with verbal capabilities.  Kirobo was manufactured by Toyota with the help of the University of Tokyo and true to the manga culture of cuteness is small, wide-eyed, and cute.  It was also designed especially to be able to remain functionally mobile in zero gravity.

Prior to takeoff Kirobo had this to say, "One small step for me, a giant leap for robots."


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hell On Wheels


The Hell's Angels bike club was founded in Fontana, California in 1948.  In the wake of World War II there was an abundance both of motorcycles, a popular military vehicle of the time, and young men still itching for adventure and independence in the post-war US. Since that time the club has taken on a cloak of infamy, known as a bad bunch of roughians, criminals, and drug addicts in spite of the clubs consistent efforts at charitable outreach over the years.  The heyday for the Angels, named after WWII bomber groups, was the 1950's and 60's after the release of Marlon Brando's film The Wild Ones, the stabbing of a Rolling Stones concert goer in Candlestick Park, and Hunter S. Thompson's recounting of them in his book, A Strange and Terrible Saga. In 1965 Bill Ray, a photographer for Life Magazine, was given unprecedented access to photograph The Hell's Angels.  Most of the photographs were never published but the entire collection can now be viewed online in Life's archive collection.  The photo essay portrays them exactly as we imagine and hope for them to be, rough, dusty, in trouble with the law, and having a hell of a time.  

To view the complete photograph collection:


Monday, August 5, 2013

Bully For You


The rise of the video age has given us some astonishing glimpses into areas of the world more typically kept in the shadows, especially when it comes to the lives of our youth.  I am thinking here specifically about the increasingly frequent release of videos of bullying and outright violence between school children, sometimes very young children, like the one of the school bus incident in Florida. There is a part of me that is unsure if, as talking heads claim, there really has been a rise in violence and bullying among our youth over the past thirty years or if like many other things, we have simply grown more aware and less tolerant of it.  What does seem clear is that depression and anxiety disorders are on the rise, as is suicide, which is one of the leading causes of death for children under the age of 14.  Kids also have far more power to engage in public humiliation, and to a broader audience, than ever before via social media.  Bullying has become such a problem that a documentary film was made about it which spurred a nation-wide movement (see T
he Bully Project below). This makes me question the role of violence in general in our culture.  While I am not ready to claim that violent media content has a causal relationship to violence in youth, our culture does seem to be steeped in violence and aggression, which cannot possibly help.  Ultimately, we are all responsible for providing a safe and productive world for our children to enter, perhaps it is time to take inventory of the role of violence and aggression in our lives and rededicate ourselves to mindfulness, compromise, and reconciliation.


Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Shallow Pool


Apparently, there is a happiness craze in America.  This does not mean that Americans are reporting greater amounts of happiness or fulfillment, nor are they less depressed or healthier.  What they are is buying more products related to the topic of happiness than ever before.  In the last three months Amazon has released more than 1000 books on the subject of happiness, how to get it, keep it, and make it work for you.  The really great irony to this is that at the same time that we have turned our attention to the subject of happiness for our health and well being, a new line of research has emerged indicating that empty, selfish, things-based happiness is no better for our health than misery.  It turns out that only benevolent, meaningful happiness has any real impact on our blood pressure or gene expression and that the lottery-winning, Las Vegas partying, stick it to people you hate kind of happiness is really kind of bad for us.  That kind of happiness, it turns out, is like the fast food of the soul, it seems good on the front end, but does nothing to sustain or nourish you in the long run.

I find this research satisfying.  For a long time I have struggled with the nagging suspicion that perhaps all those people who seem happy but really make their living through unethical means, or are mean, or steal things or who accumulate way more things than they can afford and walk away from paying for it are really winning.  I have been worried that purchased happiness or happiness obtained in spite of other peoples suffering, or the happiness of mean people was just as good as any other kind of happiness.  If this is the case then where would our incentive to be good people or do good things be?   It calms me a bit to know that the easy way will not get us to longevity or inner peace, we all will have to work for it.

Out of the shallow end kids, time is wasting.