This beautiful short film by Erik Wernquist, set to the words of Carl Sagan, sums up so much of what I believe about the world. Happy New Year to wanderers everywhere!
From The Rotarian:
Down the road in front of me, the light turned red. As our car slowed, from the corner of my eye I saw a man standing in the middle of the street with a sign that said he was homeless and needed money. My wife and two daughters were in the car with me. I looked straight ahead.
From behind me, a small voice spoke. “Can we give him some money?” It was my eight-year-old daughter. I didn’t answer. The light turned green, and I drove on. The voice spoke again.
“Why are you so mean, Daddy?” she said.
“Yeah,” my wife chimed in, smiling. “Why are you so mean?” She was sort of joking, sort of not.
My daughter continued: “How would you feel if you were a poor person and all you had was scraggly clothes and people just drove past you?”
“I don’t know,” I said. And honestly, I didn’t know how I would feel – let alone how that guy felt. In fact, I hadn’t thought about that sort of thing for some time. Back in college, for a senior project about homelessness, I’d played a homeless person in a movie. And I’d done some volunteering here and there, but in raising children lately, everything extraneous has been swept away.
For most of the year, it’s easy to get absorbed in our own lives. But the holidays are supposed to be different. This is the time when our thoughts are supposed to turn to others – to the people we buy gifts for, to those less fortunate than us. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol plays on stages across the country. Every year, ghosts visit Ebenezer Scrooge and show him how hard his heart has become, and how little happiness all his wealth has brought him.
In the December 2014 issue of Men’s Health is a story I did about living organ donors, people like Dan Coyne who donated a kidney to a woman at his local grocery store. People like Todd Musgraves who didn’t even know who he donated his kidney to, but who knew that someone needed it. It’s a fascinating story full of compelling people, and it raised questions about what we give to others and what we receive in return. The piece is online here and can listen to an interview I did for Men’s Health Live on iTunes here:
If you would like to become a living donor, contact a transplant center near you, or find out what kidney donation involves at the Living Kidney Donor Network. To donate bone marrow, visit Be The Match.
From the Jewish Journal (originally from The Rotarian).
In 2008 in his Los Angeles home, a man named Dave Freeman fell, hit his head and died. This wouldn’t have been big news, except that the 47-year-old Freeman had launched what became an entire genre of books when, in 1999, he and a friend published “100 Things to Do Before You Die.” In it, they exhorted people to get out and experience things like the Namaqualand wildflower bloom in South Africa, or a voodoo pilgrimage in Haiti, or the Fringe Festival Nude Night Surfing competition in Australia.
Before his death, if I thought about Freeman at all, it was to dismiss his book as a gimmicky Christmas present you might get from an aunt who doesn’t know you very well. But since his demise, I have found my thoughts returning to him and his project.
“This life is a short journey,” Freeman wrote in the introduction, then told the reader to “get off your butt and create a fabulous memory or two” before it was over. It was a call to arms against complacency, a prod to approach life as a beast to be wrestled to the ground rather than one to be led placidly to the stockade.
From The Rotarian:
We live in an interconnected world, and the cultural currents can be hard to navigate. In Clash! How to Thrive in a Multicultural World (Plume, 2014), Hazel Rose Markus and Alana Conner focus on what causes the most cross-cultural heartbreak.
“As cultural psychologists,” the authors write, “we study how different cultures help create different ways of being a person – what we call different selves.” They define the independent self as “individual, unique, influencing others and their environments, free from constraints, and equal (yet great!).” The interdependent self, meanwhile, sees its position as “relational, similar to others, adjusting to their situations, rooted in traditions and obligations and ranked in pecking orders.”
These are not fixed traits – the authors call them “styles of self.” But they are powerful in shaping how we act, how we feel, and what we expect from those around us. Clash! is filled with fascinating examples of how this plays out, such as the story of the English teacher in Japan who couldn’t understand why his students were failing despite all his pep talks and praise. As soon as he started criticizing them and telling them how poorly the students were doing, they improved.
In the middle of Hong Kong Island is a mountain known as the Peak. A cable car climbs the slope from the city, arriving at a building called the Peak Tower. Take the escalators to the top and you’ll find one of the most breathtaking views in the world.
On one side is the forest of skyscrapers that makes up the megacity of Hong Kong. On the other, trees cover the mountain as it sweeps down to the ocean, which itself stretches out to the horizon. A cool wind from the sea washes over Peak Tower, and on the currents above, raptors drift, looking for prey. Below, through Hong Kong’s hazy air, helicopters fly, and further out boats slip through the harbor across giant waves that look almost gentle from the Peak.
I stood there for almost two hours when I was in Hong Kong recently. I didn’t want the experience to end. I wanted to soak it up, not knowing if I would be back. I took a few photos, but most of the time I just looked out over the edge.
Before long, the other tourists in my group left and new ones arrived. This happened several times, and the more I watched, the more puzzled I became. Over and over, I saw people stand at the edge with their phones and cameras. They would take one picture, look at it, delete it, then take another.
Some people did this again and again until they got the right one. When satisfied, they left. Another time, I watched an entire family take some photos, then sit down on a bench and stare at their phones for half an hour. They barely seemed to know where they were.
Had a nice chat with Porter Fox over at Nowhere Magazine on, among other things:
What’s the difference between travel writing and journalism?
I guess it depends what kind of travel writing and what kind of journalism you’re talking about. Destination travel writing tells people how they can have a certain kind of experience for themselves. Narrative travel writing tells a story. Journalism tells you what is happening in a certain part of the world, but its time frame is usually very short. I feel like the very best travel writing not only tells you a story, but it brings you to a place and helps you understand how it got to be the way it is, what it’s like to be there. It gives you a deeper understanding of not only what it happening there, but why. James Fenton’s “The Snap Election” is a great example, as is Michael Herr’s Dispatches.