I did my best to see the best in a bad situation (for 6 years!)

Two men released from al Qaeda captivity after six years in northern Mali made their first public appearances Thursday, recounting their ordeals. […] The extremists have made a fortune over the last decade abducting foreigners in the vast Sahel region and demanding enormous ransoms for their release.

When asked how they coped during their long years in the desert with their captors, Mr. Gustafsson said he converted to Islam “to save my life.” He said fleeing the extremists had been “out of the question.” He had been on a motorcycle tour of Africa when he was seized.

Mr. McGown, who said he also converted to Islam, said his captors gave him clothes, food and medication.

“I did my best to see the best in a bad situation,” he said. He described how he learned some Arabic to communicate and said he watched birds migrate “backwards and forwards” across the vast Sahara.

~ By Associated Press: excerpts from Men Who Were Held by al Qaeda Tell of Ordeal (wsj.com, August 10, 2017)


Photograph: Freed hostage Stephen McGown with his wife Catherine on Thursday. Photo by Gulshan Khan, Agence France-Presse

that warning from the past, that call to the future, what the gentle leaves of the ginkgo trees are still trying to tell us.

Excerpts from The Whispering Leaves of the Hiroshima Ginkgo Trees by Ariel Dorfman:

On Aug. 6, 1945, a 14-year-old schoolboy named Akihiro Takahashi was knocked unconscious by a deafening roar and a flash of blinding light. When he awoke, he found that he had been thrown many yards by the detonation of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima. He had survived because his school was about a mile from the epicenter of the blast.

Dazed and burned, Akihiro headed to the river to cool himself. Along the way, he witnessed a scene of apocalypse: corpses strewn like rocks, a baby crying in the arms of its charred mother, scalded men peppered with shards of glass, their clothes melted, wandering like ghosts through the wasteland, the unbreathable darkened air, the raging conflagrations. In an instant, some 80,000 men, women and children had perished. In the days and months that followed, tens of thousands more succumbed to their injuries and the effects of radiation.

I met Mr. Takahashi in 1984, when he was the director of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. By then middle-aged, his body was a testament to that war crime and its aftermath. One ear was flat and mangled, his hands were gnarled, and from a finger on each grew a black fingernail.  “You must see the hibakujumoku, the survivor trees,” he said to me, almost as an order, at the end of a long conversation in his office. “You must see the ginkgos.” […]

The ginkgo, I learned, was an expert in survival, a species found in fossils 270 million years old. These specific trees had endured because their roots underground had been spared the nuclear annihilation. Within days of the explosion they had sprouted new greenery — surrounded by Hiroshima’s horrors of carbonized bodies and black rain and wailing survivors. The ginkgos, Mr. Takahashi said, expressed better than anything he could say through an interpreter the endurance of hope, the need for peace and reconciliation. […] [Read more…]

Hopper, in films…forget the words. Watch. (90 sec)


Over the years we’ve brought you a handful of video essays about the relationship between visual and cinematic art, how directors will borrow from famous paintings and sculptures in their framing, but never before have we brought you such an essay that focuses exclusively on the influence of one artist. Thanks to editor Ignacio Montalvo, however, now we can.

Edward Hopper is one of the most famous American artists of the 20th century. A native New-Yorker, Hopper was a realist whose work was centered around depictions of modern American life, like a starker sort of Norman Rockwell, a man not afraid to show the shadows blended into the everyday. His most famous work, Nighthawks, a simple late-nite diner scene from 1942, has been recreated time and time again in film, television, and graphic print, but that’s just one of the artist’s many paintings that have appealed to filmmakers over the years. In episode eight of the new Twin Peaks, an episode many, myself included, consider one of the most artistic achievements the medium has ever known, Lynch makes no less than three direct visual references to Hopper’s work, which in his hands become perversions of the American dream.

Many other filmmakers have also interpreted Hopper through their personal perspectives, ranging from the innocent to the corrupt, realistic to farcical, and severe to lighthearted. Press play above to start your tour through the Movie Museum of Edward Hopper.

~ H. Perry Horton, “Framed: The Influence of Artist Edward Hopper on Contemporary Cinema” from Film School Rejects, August 8, 2017


Related Posts: Edward Hopper

Here am I, struggling along in my world, and there is the dog, dreaming in hers.

Sitting on my purple couch, working on my next book with my little dog sleeping next to me, I thought, Here am I, struggling along in my world, and there is the dog, dreaming in hers. Where are we both, really, as this little planet where we live, tucked away in an unimportant corner of an unknowable universe, spins on? This is what Henry Beston says in “The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod”: In a world older and more complete than ours, [animals] move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

~ Eleanor Lerman


Quote Source: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels Photo: Obsessed with Goldens

It’s been a long day

I was interrupted. People – People. – Phone. – Phone. – Endless. And I am so tired. – :And I would like to sleep under trees – Red ones – Blue ones – Swirling passionate ones – It has been a broken up day – … All fine – but I so damnably tired – I…found I had failed –

~ Alfred Stieglitz · [New York City] ·  June 30, 1917, from My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz

 


Notes:

  • Photo: National Geographic (December 18, 2015) Photographing autumn foliage in Kyoto, Japan. Aurora Simionescu came upon these illuminated paper umbrellas in a stand of bamboo trees at Kodaiji Temple. But capturing this image of the display wasn’t easy. “Illuminated traditional paper umbrellas were scattered throughout the temple grounds as a part of [the autumn illumination] festival,” she explains, “but I especially liked how they broke the monotony of the bamboo forest by adding a splash of color.
  • Related Posts: It’s been a long day

All together now…


Anna Voloshyna and Valyzaveta Yakhno of Ukraine compete in the Women’s Duet Technical Routine at the Budapest 2017 FINA World Championships. (Adam Pretty, Getty Images, wsj.com, July 14, 2017)

 

Sit down. Shut up. Pay attention. Repeat, hundreds of times over.

I found that trees are full of sound. Wind reveals the architecture of branches and leaves, and every tree has its own wind sound, emerging from the particularities of its physiology. For example, the Ponderosa pine trees in Colorado sound different from the same species in California. Each has needles adapted to the local environment, so each sounds different when the wind blows. Broad-leaves trees are likewise diverse in their voices. City trees have rumbles of buses and trains running through them, changing the form of their wood. Birds sing from branches and insects gnaw on inner wood. Then there are tree sounds that are too high for our ears, but by listening with sensitive microphones I heard water pulsing through branches and ultrasonic clicks of distress in drought-stricken twigs. These sounds combined with the voices of market vendors working in the trees’ shade, birds singing amid traffic noise, and surf sucking at palm roots on an eroding beach. Sound is a great way into tree lives: it passes around and through solid barriers, revealing what our eyes cannot see.

~ David George Haskell, in an interview by Caspar Henderson titled: David George Haskell recommends the best books on Trees (fivebooks.com, July 13, 2017)


Notes:

  • Other notable statements in this interview by David George Haskell: “Smelling the soil, talking to other people, holding an acorn in your hand, coming to know the sounds of birds and trees: these have great power once we wake to them, partly because they are such multi-sensory activities, engaging mind and emotion… (Yet) Our modern dependence on trees is mostly hidden from our senses. We don’t hear the rain passing through forest canopies on its way to the reservoir. We don’t smell the wood pellets and coal chunks that power our computers and homes. The wood that frames our houses, holds up our furniture, and gives us paper arrives with signs of its ecological history purged. So we imagine that we’ve transcended our ancestors’ close relationship with trees. But this is illusion. There is no good future for Homo sapiens without forests. Yet forests are in crisis. We live in an age of great diminishment. In just the first dozen years of this millennium, 2.3 million square kilometres of forest were lost – cut, burned, drowned, desertified – yet only 0.8 million regrew or were replanted.
  • Photo: François Vigneron with Four in a Square (via Newthom)

 

Lower your standards. Now!

Carl Richards, from Free Yourself of Your Harshest Critic, and Plow Ahead:

You’re fired. No, seriously. Pack up your stuff, and get out. But let me be clear: The job you’re fired from is one you never should have had in the first place — being a critic of your own work. Done, finished, not your job anymore. When you finish creating something and you start to wonder if it’s any good … nope! Don’t try to answer. You no longer get to decide. If you need me to fire you, awesome, consider it done. But in fact, what would be even better is if you fire yourself. Let me tell you why.

Five or six years ago, when I first started writing the weekly Sketch Guy column, I would have pieces I was certain would go viral. I said to myself, “I nailed it, everyone’s going to love it, a million people are going to share it!” And then, I would hear nothing. For some reason, it just didn’t get the play — no comments, no feedback, nothing. Then there were times when I was completely surprised in the opposite way…I had this experience enough times to realize that I was simply terrible at judging whether my work was good or not. And guess what? So are you. You’re just too close to it.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to matter, as your job now officially has nothing to do with deciding if the work is good. Your job is to do the work, put it out there and let the world decide.  Now, I know that sounds scary. But let’s be dead clear about something: You’re not John Steinbeck (and neither was he, at the start). You have to get there first. And the only way to do that is through practice and criticism. But the only way to get practice and criticism is to make and share your work. This isn’t just about writing. It’s about anything meaningful you do. Singing, painting, entrepreneurship, giving financial advice, museum curating, boat building, skiing, whatever. Whatever it is, your job is to do the work, to become the best you can be. [Read more…]

Saturday Morning

Chew your way into a new world.
Munch leaves. Molt. Rest. Molt again.
Self-reinvention is everything…

Amy Gerstler, from “Advice from a Caterpillar” in  Dearest Creature (2009)


Notes:

It’s just doubt, that’s the biggest thing.

You’ve been doing stand-up since the late ‘80s. Do you remember your worst night?

Oh, there are so many of them. In the beginning, there are endless amounts of worst nights. But there was one, after “Everybody Loves Raymond” had been on for a year, out at the University of Florida’s Gator Growl. It’s in the stadium, like, 30,000 people, Dave Chappelle, Larry the Cable Guy and me. Five minutes in, I heard a woman yell out, “You better start getting funny.”

Anything you miss about those early days?

There was something gratifying about going up onstage in front of a room full of total strangers. They’ve never seen you in their life, and they’re kind of like, who is this guy? And then you win that crowd over. That will never happen again, only because somebody in the audience has seen me. Seinfeld said, they give you the first 10 minutes if you’re well known. But you still gotta be funny.

When you first started taking on dramatic roles, what was your biggest worry?

You wonder, are you any good? It’s just doubt, that’s the biggest thing. The desire is there. But then I also want to be a pro golfer, and that’s never gonna happen.

You still have worries like that?

Oh yeah. No matter how successful you are. I hear that from other comedians all the time. You’re just waiting for the funny police to come and arrest you as an impostor.

~ Robert Ito, excerpts from his interview with Ray Romano in “Ray Romano Still Fears the ‘Funny Police’” (NY Times, June 30, 2017)


Photo of Ray Romano: Aces Comedy

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