We started a new project. It’s a work in progress at this point and phase one is complete. We cut the spines off of two copies of Allen’s book, Where the North Sea Touches Alabama. Starting with the preface, we reassembled the pages into what will eventually be an accordion style book. At this stage, we’re just playing with the materials and seeing what comes next. I’m enjoying the collaboration.
I’ve been back in Buffalo for one week now. It’s Saturday, the first day I’ve had a chance to really relax since my return and I’ve been spending some time going through the photos I took on my trip.
I shot this image on my last night in Newcastle. The next day I took the train to Sydney where I rested my head in an airport hotel before my flight home the following morning. This picture reminds me of the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. My grandfather gave it to me to read on a flight from Omaha to Seattle to visit with him and his wife one summer when I was 15. He said it would be a quick, yet inspirational read for my travels. Although it spent almost 40 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list when it originally came out, the book, written by Richard Bach, received mixed reviews and several critics found it to be a little naive. Even so, I enjoyed it when I was 15. And I often think of it when I encounter seagulls in my travels or near my home in Buffalo which is close to Lake Erie.
I found this fantastic (and ridiculous) review of the book that really gets at the heart of why I still think of Jonathan Livingston Seagull fondly:
An animal fantasy about a philosophical gull who is profoundly affected by flying, but who demands too much of his community and is cast out by it. He becomes an extremely well behaved accursed wanderer, then dies, and in post-humous FANTASY sequences—though he is too wise really to question the fact of death, and too calmly confident to have doubts about his continuing upward mobility&—he learns greater wisdom. Back on Earth, he continues to preach and heal and finally returns to heaven, where he belongs. – John Clute, for The Encyclopedia of Fantasy
“Why is it that the hardest thing in the world is to convince a bird that he is free, and that he can prove it for himself if he’d just spend a little time practicing? Why should that be so hard?”
– Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach
I had the wonderful opportunity to contribute to this amazing project by Allen Shelton and Nathan M. Peracciny. It’s a book trailer for Allen’s book, Where the North Sea Touches Alabama. I also manage the blog, Soft Arcades which showcases the work of Allen Shelton. Check it out.
Allen Shelton’s “Where the North Sea Touches Alabama” (On sale by University of Chicago Press: press.uchicago.edu) is a work of sociological fictocriticism that explores not only the author’s relationship to the artist but his physical, historical, and social relationship to northeastern Alabama, in rare style.
“In Christ there is no East or West, North or South, and the North Sea touches Alabama.” Part of the sermon by a Sand Mountain preacher, 1979.
This utterance by a preacher inexplicably came true when the dead artist Patrik Keim’s coffin may have been uncovered two hundred miles from where it was interned in an ancient beaver swamp in Alabama by dozer operator who quickly reburied the miraculous coffin. The artist Keim was obsessed by the North Sea.
The report of the investigation into the event is titled Where the North Sea Touches Alabama by Allen Shelton, University of Chicago Press, 2013. The fictocritical account is part memoir, part steam-punk theory, and a hard edged psychic materialist analysis of the possible return.
Book Trailer credits
Directed & Edited by Nathan Peracciny
Lesley Stern, author of The Smoking Book.
Michael Joyce, author of Foucault, in Winter, in the Linnaeus Garden.
Donna Haraway, author of A Cyborg Manifesto.
Kathleen Stewart, author of Ordinary Affects.
Special thanks to:
Anne Costello, Molly Jarboe, Lesley Stern, Michael Joyce, Donna Haraway, Kathleen Stewart, Ruah, Nadja, and Tyree Shelton.
Artistic contributions by:
Julian Montague, Molly Jarboe, and Patrik Keim’s archives.
Outliers: The Story of Success is an interesting read to be sure. In it’s pages, Malcolm Gladwell presents numerous examples of remarkable individuals who have achieved great things in their lives. He argues, “It is not the brightest who succeed. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities — and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.” He discusses some of the fascinating circumstances around the success of the Beatles, Bill Gates and Joe Flom, an extraordinary mergers-and-acquisition attorney who happens to be of Jewish descent, for example. According to Gladwell, those circumstances are not limited to innate personal ability. The timing within history of ones birth, their home environment growing up, and their cultural heritage are also major factors.
About half way through the book, however, I began to detect a blaring fault line leading me to put the book down and check out some reviews on line. I typed “Women in Outliers” into Google search and discovered several links to articles like the one below.
Sure enough, my suspicions were correct. Not one single woman is discussed among the case studies of successful outliers. NOT ONE! It’s just strange! And Gladwell makes no attempt to account for their conspicuous absence. I continued reading the book anyway, however, because I did find it interesting and enjoyable. As with his other books, like Tipping Point and Blink, in Outliers Gladwell exhibits an unquestionable ability to challenge many of our assumptions about everyday phenomena in a compelling way. In the end, I still have to agree with the conclusion to the article above by Ellen Snortland. “Unless we stop squandering the talents of girls and women, we’re apt to destroy our own world from the very real dangers of gender imbalance.”
In the midst of my regular and usually quite aimless meanderings online, searching for meaning on subjects I obsess over and research in my spare time, I was recently reminded of this talk entitled, This is Water, given by David Foster Wallace in 2005, addressing the graduating class at Kenyon College. DFW committed suicide in 2008 and it is impossible to read or listen to this talk now without thinking of what was to come when he originally delivered it.
In (This is Water) he argues, gorgeously, against “unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.” – From The New Yorker
He begins with a parable:
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
DFW goes on to say:
“The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance.”
As I read on, I was so moved, I decided to order the speech which has been reprinted in book form by the Hatchet Book Group.
Only once did David Foster Wallace give a public talk on his views on life, during a commencement address given in 2005 at Kenyon College. The speech is reprinted for the first time in book form in THIS IS WATER. How does one keep from going through their comfortable, prosperous adult life unconsciously? How do we get ourselves out of the foreground of our thoughts and achieve compassion? The speech captures Wallace’s electric intellect as well as his grace in attention to others. After his death, it became a treasured piece of writing reprinted in The Wall Street Journal and the London Times, commented on endlessly in blogs, and emailed from friend to friend.
Writing with his one-of-a-kind blend of causal humor, exacting intellect, and practical philosophy, David Foster Wallace probes the challenges of daily living and offers advice that renews us with every reading.
It’s a small and lovely book and I’ve been carrying it around for days. I especially like how DFW eloquently points out that we are not victims of some innate inclination for how we find meaning in our lives, or as he puts it, we are not “hardwired” in some specific way. Instead we are free to choose. It’s so easy to become trapped in the tedium of every day life and think that we are free.
“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.
It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.
Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.” – David Foster Wallace
There’s so much more to discover… Google This is Water, and see for yourself.