How To Be Wise

Posted in America, Books, Clips, Culture, Science on September 3, 2017 by frankbures

Cutler2017007-2 copyMy latest column from The Rotarian:

Recently I was looking through some of my grandmother’s things and came across her tattered, softcover Bible. As I paged through it, a yellowed newspaper article fell out. It was from a 1966 edition of the Minneapolis Star, written by a certain Dr. Walter C. Alvarez. It was titled “You Can Grow Old Gracefully.”

Nowadays, that sentiment is not very widespread. Growing old has become something to be dreaded, feared, and, if possible, avoided. This is partly rooted in America’s youth-oriented culture, which differs from that of places like Japan or parts of Africa, where older people are seen as repositories of wisdom and authority.

Still, I liked the headline of Dr. Alvarez’s column, even if the useful advice in his article was limited to exhortations to read widely, be friendly, and try to cultivate an interesting persona in youth and middle age. If you become a good and interesting person when you’re young, he wrote, you will be a good and interesting person when you are old.

My grandmother did, in fact, age gracefully. She never become bitter or isolated or hopeless, even though her husband died – after falling off a ladder – just four years after she cut out that article. For as long as she could manage, she played bridge, went to water aerobics, and worked the crossword puzzle, and she always seemed able to see the humor in things. That she kept that article – in her Bible no less – meant that she must have had some faith that aging gracefully was something she could do.

Read the rest here.

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Shooting A Year of Sunrises

Posted in America, Art, Clips, Outdoors, Video on August 20, 2017 by frankbures

Recent story from the Star Tribune:

DEFe-8sVYAAA0biLast fall I was staying in Red Wing when I got up early to go for a run on the iconic Barn Bluff towering over the river city. The hill wasn’t far from our hotel and seemed like a good place to watch the sun come up.

When I got to the top, the light was still dim, but I was surprised to find a woman there, silhouetted against the morning sky at the eastern overlook. She had a tripod and a camera pointed at the horizon.

Her name was Ellen Lentsch, a 44-year-old aspiring photographer, and it was her 274th consecutive sunrise on the bluff. She had 93 more before she would accomplish her goal: To photograph the sunrise from that same point every day for a year. Her idea was to put them together to be able to see the sun moving across the sky and back again. She also wanted to capture the moment in all its colors and moods and to cast a familiar sight in a new light.

“The world around us,” she says, “we take it for granted. But if we pause a moment and look around, there’s so much beauty right in our own backyard. I want people to see that. I want people to realize this is not an ugly world.”

Read the rest here.

The Kiwis’ Edge in America’s Cup: Drones

Posted in Clips, Outdoors, Science on July 1, 2017 by frankbures

From the New York Times:

Nick Bowers heard his phone ring at 5 one morning in September 2015. He struggled out of bed and answered. On the line was a boat maker from Holland with an urgent request: Could he be in Italy that night to shoot video of the A-Class World Catamaran Championships?

Bowers, who lived in Lake Geneva, Wis., where he ran a small video production company, packed his drones and hurried to the airport in Chicago.

Word of Bowers’s dramatic sailing footage had been spreading through the sailing world. It was gorgeous and mesmerizing.

Bailey White, president of the United States A-Class Sailing Association, who recruited Bowers for the race in Italy, remembers his first impression. “I had never seen anyone be able to shoot the angles he was shooting,” White said. “While the boat was up in the air foiling, he was getting so low flying this drone that he was actually below the boat, so you got a sense for exactly how the boat was performing and how the sailors were doing.”

Bowers, whose work would earn him a spot with one of the two teams currently racing in the finals of the 2017 America’s Cup, came on this style almost accidentally. At first, he started filming without a monitor because he couldn’t afford one. He learned to work by watching the drone instead of watching the video feed. But he quickly found this gave him both better control and better footage.

Read the rest here.

 

New Classes: Essays and Longform

Posted in Uncategorized on June 21, 2017 by frankbures

imagesOn August 5, I’ll be teaching two seminars at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. If you’re interested (and in town) you’re more than welcome:

Going the Distance: Writing Longform Nonfiction

Some years ago, pundits predicted the end of the attention span. Then a strange thing happened: Publishers noticed that longer stories got more readers and better traffic on their websites. People, it seemed, wanted longer, more immersive story. Thus “longform” was born. In this class we’ll look at what that is, how to write it and how to sell it. We’ll learn how you can go long in your essays, travel, features and profiles. We’ll hear from some well-known writers who do this work, and will look at some of the techniques used by top writers to make their longform stories more compelling. Finally we will look at the markets for publishing longform work.

From Here to There: The Art of The Essay

The essay is one of the most ubiquitous genres of writing in our world, and can be the most fun to write. In this class, we will look at the essay’s history, the art of writing them and what is wrong with many essays today (and how to make them right).  Essays have been around for a long time. Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) is usually credited with inventing the term and the genre, which derives it’s name from the French word, bae16essayer, or “to attempt.” The idea is that an essay tries to move toward an understanding of some questions or event or issue.  Today, they have become one of the more versatile, vibrant genres of writing out there, and we will look at essays running the gamut from the humble op-ed to the sprawling ambitious work of of the great writers of our day. We will finished the class by looking at where and how to published the kinds of essays you want to write.

 

Ill Winds: On Fan Death

Posted in Asia, Culture, Geography of Madness, Press, Science, Uncategorized on June 14, 2017 by frankbures

lead_960Had a nice interview with Katie Heaney for her story at The Atlantic:

Is My Electric Fan Going to Kill Me in My Sleep?

When I was a kid, someone told me that running a fan too close to my face was dangerous to my health, and I’ve kind of believed it ever since. For the 20-some years since, I’ve assumed that person was one of my parents, but when I mentioned this to them recently, neither had any idea what I was talking about. “That doesn’t sound like something I’d believe,” my dad said, and he’s right, it doesn’t. But I know someone in my home once told me to move my fan further away from my bed so I wouldn’t get sick overnight, and if it wasn’t my parents, then who was it? My best guess at this time is a paranoid babysitter. No matter that I never encountered any substantiating evidence; the idea of a fan’s concentrated breeze making me sick held enough intuitive sway in my childhood psyche that it stuck there. Even though I know now that it isn’t exactly true, I wonder if there’s something to the idea—it had to come from somewhere. Right?

In fact, many cultures across the globe have their own stories of wind-based illnesses, says Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness. In his book, Bures writes that some ancient Chinese medical texts warned readers of “wind insanity” and even “wind stupidity.” Variations on these beliefs persist today, too; in Italy, people wear scarves around their necks to protect against colpo d’aria (a hit of air), and in the Czech Republic, some people fear the wind from air conditioners and refrigerators, believing they cause rheumatism, among other health issues. Most (if not all) Americans have been told not to go outside with wet hair lest we “catch a chill”—a belief in a cause-and-effect model with little scientific backing. Perhaps the most extreme form of these supposed illnesses can be found in Korea, where they call it something else: fan death, or the belief that running a fan in an enclosed room will actually kill you.

Read the rest here.

 

Why we Love the Apocalypse

Posted in America, Books, Clips, Culture, Video on May 31, 2017 by frankbures

Video from Aeon, adapted from the essay, Dispatches from the Ruins.

Teaching a Stone to Fly: The World Rock Skipping Championship

Posted in America, Clips, Culture, Outdoors, Science, Travel on May 30, 2017 by frankbures

From Minnesota Monthly:

Late one afternoon last summer, our family arrived at a campsite on the western shore of Lake Michigan. We had been driving all day, across Wisconsin on our way further east. The four of us—my wife and two daughters, ages 7 and 10—set up our tent, made dinner, then went down to the water. Two-foot waves were rolling across the lake, a taste of what lay ahead: We were going to the Mackinac Island Stone Skipping Competition—the oldest, most prestigious rock-skipping tournament in the United States, if not the world. Every Fourth of July, elite skippers (many former and current world-record holders) take turns throwing their stones into the waters where lakes Huron and Michigan meet, also known for having rolling, two-foot waves crashing on the beach.

I looked down, saw a decent skipping stone, and picked it up. My daughters were watching. The older one spoke up.

“Are you prepared for the fact that you probably won’t win?” she asked.

I threw the stone.

“Four,” she said. “But it caught a wave.”

My shoulders sagged.

“Don’t doubt yourself, Daddy!”

Her younger sister looked at her. “But you doubted him,” she said.

“That’s different.”

Prepared or not, I knew I had a knack for skipping. Some years earlier, I’d been driving through the mountains when I stopped at a roadside lake. The water was smooth as glass. I bent down, picked up a wide, flat stone, and sent it skimming across the water. It went on for what felt like forever, until it finally hit the rocky shore on the other side.

Behind me, a young boy spoke up.

“Wow,” he said. “You must be the world-champion rock skipper.”

I wasn’t. At least not yet. But I’d been skipping stones my whole life, ever since I was around my daughters’ ages, always getting better and better. There was almost nothing I loved better than the feeling of knowing—even before it hit the water—that you had a perfect throw, one that defies nature by making a stone both fly and float.

Mackinac, I had learned, was the place where such things were decided. These were my people—the ones who could spend hours on a beach looking for just the right stone, who would fill bags and boxes with skippers from secret locations, who would throw until their arm gave way, lost in the simple sorcery of stone skipping.

Read the rest here.