New 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 how 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.
From the Minnesota Conservation Volunteer Magazine.
South of Minneapolis, not far from the banks of the Minnesota River, we’re standing at the frontier of food, on the fringe of fine dining. Actually, we’re standing in a field full of clover and goldenrod and thousands—or tens of thousands—of grasshoppers. The insects are what we seek.
With me is Kiah Brasch, one of Minnesota’s few entomophagists, or people who knowingly, enthusiastically, eat insects.
“We go back and forth on what to call the practice,” Brasch says. “If you call it entomophagy, it sounds clinical and unapproachable. If you say edible insects, it sounds like they’re barely edible. It doesn’t sound delicious. So I’ve ended up using insect cuisine.”
What, then, to call people like Brasch? Insect cuisine eaters? Bug biters? So entomophagists it is.
We’re on land owned by a friend of hers. We arrived here early, while the air was cool and the grasshoppers were slow. We started in a stand of tall grasses that was full of fat, huge differential grasshoppers, one of Minnesota’s largest grasshopper species. They sat still as we picked them up and put them in our net. Soon, though, the sun came up and they got faster. When we reached for them, they would jump away or drop into the grass below and disappear.
Read the rest here.
On 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, essayer, 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.
Had 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.
From Longitude Books:
One of the places I remember most clearly (and fondly) is Obock, Djibouti, a town on the edge of the Red Sea where I traveled several years ago for a story for Nowhere Magazine. Obock is hot and miserable and there is nothing to do. At night thousands of migrants stream through the area on their way from Ethiopia and Somalia to the Middle East where they hope to find work. When I got there I found that the hotel the tourism office in the capital recommended had closed long ago. On my first day I was harassed by the local police for being there.
What I remember best, though, was how refreshing it was to be so uncatered to, so far from everything. It didn’t matter to anyone (except a few curious folks) whether I was there or not. This must have been something like was the French poet Arthur Rimbaud felt when he first arrived there in the mid-1880s to escape his former life and become an arms dealer: It was like the whole world could slip away.
Read the rest here.
Consensus is growing that we have entered a new geological era called the Anthropocene. As it does, so does anxiety about our fate as a species. This was the subject of a recent piece I did for Aeon on our love of apocalyptic fiction, film and stories. We fear the end might be near, but we also fear we are part of something from which we have no way to extricate ourselves. If you feel this too, read on.
One day in the early 1980s, I was flipping through the TV channels, when I stopped at a news report. The announcer was grey-haired. His tone was urgent. His pronouncement was dire: between the war in the Middle East, famine in Africa, AIDS in the cities, and communists in Afghanistan, it was clear that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were upon us. The end had come.
We were Methodists and I’d never heard this sort of prediction. But to my grade-school mind, the evidence seemed ironclad, the case closed. I looked out the window and could hear the drumming of hoof beats.
Life went on, however, and those particular horsemen went out to pasture. In time, others broke loose, only to slow their stride as well. Sometimes, the end seemed near. Others it would recede. But over the years, I began to see it wasn’t the end that was close. It was our dread of it. The apocalypse wasn’t coming: it was always with us. It arrived in a stampede of our fears, be they nuclear or biological, religious or technological.
Read the rest here.
I’m not sure that I should be considered any sort of “branding expert,” but I do have an essay in the current Poets & Writers on my ambivalence about self-promotion, and the struggle to balance promoting your work with promoting yourself. See the print edition if you can get it!