From the Noösphere to Out There

Out ThereNew story from the Star Tribune:

Not long after I graduated from college in the mid-1990s, I got a job as a cashier at Midwest Mountaineering, a popular outdoors store in Minneapolis. The best thing about it (apart from the employee discount) was getting to read Outside magazine when business got slow.

In those days Outside’s pages were filled with writers I loved: Jon Krakauer, Tim Cahill, David Quammen. Around that same time, the magazine came out with its first anthology: “Out of the Noösphere.” It was filled with classic stories from the previous two decades. I read my copy until it fell apart.

Since then, Outside has come out with a few other collections, all filled with great stories. This year it published another: “Out There: The Wildest Stories from Outside Magazine,” an assortment of “misadventures.” These include everything from working the “groover” (toilet boat) on a Grand Canyon raft, to canoeing the Mississippi River in a 57-foot flood, to an immersion in the strange world of competitive water sliding.

Most of the stories in “Out There” date from the 2000s, which got me thinking about howOOTN writing on the outdoors has changed over the years. After all, the genre is one of our great traditions, dating back to the likes of Henry David Thoreau, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and others. Yet for much of the 20th century, the writing was dominated by muscular prose, sarcastically described by Cahill, Outside’s co-founder, as “ ‘Man’s Adventure,’ ‘Adventures for Men’ and ‘Man’s Testicles.’ ” In a recent interview, he said the goal in founding the magazine was simply to write, “stories about the outdoors that were literate. That’s all.”

Read the rest here.

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Under Purple Skies: Minneapolis Stories

Next year, Belt Publishing will be compiling an anthology of essays, stories, and poems about Minneapolis as part of its City Anthology Series.

Minneapolis and the surrounding area has emerged as one of the literary centers of the country, and this anthology will mark the advent of the post-Wobegon era. We are looking for stories, scenes and memories from the city that evoke the place in compelling ways. Submissions can be related to a specific place, event (personal or historical) or personage, and must take place in or around the city. St. Paul will also be considered, as will most suburbs.

The anthology will be edited by Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness, occasional instructor at the Loft Literary Center, and editor of the Lester Literary Update. An introduction will be written by Star Tribune “Books” editor Laurie Hertzel, author of News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist.

To submit an entry, please see more details here.

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Goodbye, Garrison

img_2017-10_Essay_Writers_01_GFrom Minnesota Monthly:

I wasn’t the biggest Prince fan (just the hits, mainly) but I still felt weepy the whole week after he died. Every day the newspaper came, and for some reason I couldn’t get myself to read it. So the papers piled, up and there they sit, still today. In a similar way, the changing of the guard at A Prairie Home Companion threw me off kilter. While I love the new host, Chris Thile, and his manic mandolin energy, I still feel a little lost when I turn on the radio and Keillor isn’t there as he has been most of my life.

Some days, I even miss the Metrodome.

Nostalgia is a powerful force, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. For some time now, but especially in the last year or two, the nature of what it means to be a Minnesotan has changed without most of us noticing.

Read the rest here.

How To Be Wise

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.

Paperback Writer: Geography of Madness

Paperback Release

I’m very happy to announce the publication of the paperback edition of The Geography of Madness by Melville House. The past year has been full of fascinating conversations on everything from missing members to the mysteries of PMS. It seems like the tide is turning toward a more nuanced, less mechanistic, view of how the body and mind interact. If Geography helped advance that discussion, I am glad.

Below is a roundup of reviews and interviews that have come out since the hardcover publication, for which I’m deeply grateful. I want to thank everyone who bought and read the book. I hope it rang true on some level.

Interviews
The Atlantic: Diseases You Only Get if You Believe in Them
Toronto Globe and Mail: Penis thieves? Voodoo death? Frank Bures suggests such maladies aren’t all in our heads
Meaning of Life TV: Culture-bound syndromes
Rain Taxi: The Fluidity of the Human Brain
The Isthmus: On the trail of penis thieves

GoMmech.indd

 

Reviews
New Scientist: Stolen penises and other exotic psychological tales
The Australian: From penis thieves to voodoo
The Guardian: Is your penis really shrinking?
Maclean’s: Penis thievery and other strange syndromes
Star Tribune: “Ambitious and exhaustively reported, this thoughtful book examines culture, beliefs and madness.”

 

Further discussion
Slate: We’re not scientists, but PMS is real.
Vox: Of course PMS is “real.”
New York: Yes, PMS IS Real

 

Reviews in other languages:
Enfermedades que tienes sólo si crees en ellas
Più crediamo di essere stressati più lo siamo veramente
Kroppen, själen, penistjuven
Er zijn ziektes die je alleen hebt als je gelooft dat ze bestaan

Geography of Madness: Book Club Edition

GoMmech.inddIf you’re considering The Geography of Madness for your book club, please feel free to contact me, and to use the questions below for your discussion.

Book Club Discussion Questions:

1) One main themes of The Geography of Madness is that stories (about the world, about our lives, about our bodies) are contagious. Can you think of a story, or an experience, that changed what you believed was possible?

2) Do you believe the brain and the mind are the same thing? If not, what is the difference?

3) The stories in The Geography of Madness raise the question of free will: How much do you choose the life you live? How much do you learn (or catch) you life choices from those around you?

4) Have you ever found yourself immersed in a situation where you did not know the rules? What was that like?

5) In The Geography of Madness, the author argues that our mindset and our expectations have biological consequences. Does that resemble your experience? If so, how?
[Further reading: On the Body as Machine.]

6) Try to imagine living in a world where it was possible to have your genitals stolen, either by magic or by ghosts. How would you protect yourself?

7) In The Geography of Madness, the author argues that a strong sense of self—of your story— can help to activate your endogenous (internal) healing systems and vice versa. Do you remember a time when a stressful or difficult period seemed to be followed by a health problem or sickness?
[Further reading: Writing the Self]

8) In The Geography of Madness, did anyone’s genital actually disappear? If not, what happened? Does it matter?

9) Is there a belief that everyone around you holds, but that you don’t share? How did you come to doubt this?

10) The Handbook of Depression points to a genetic marker associated with greater vulnerability to depression. Yet this link only holds true in Western cultures. Why would that be?

11) Have you ever had a health problem you were afraid to talk about, or that others didn’t believe in?

12) In The Geography of Madness, the author argues that cultural syndromes are “real” syndromes, but that their causes might not lie where we think they do. Do you think they are “real” or “imaginary”?

13) Over the last few years, gluten intolerance has been rising. This rise occurs at a time of increasing anxiety about the relationship between food, health and identity. What’s changed: our bodies or our culture?

14) After reading The Geography of Madness, how would you describe what culture is?

15) How much does a your culture create you? How much do you create your culture?

16) Have you ever had a cultural syndrome?