John McPhee

I could barely get through Coming Into the Country, John McPhee’s nonfiction book about Alaska, so packed was it with vivid descriptions. I felt like I was consuming lush poetry, compressed experience, and I could only handle small amounts, three pages or so, at a time. I brought this as a complaint to my friend Andrew Alexander. He said something along the lines of, “Isn’t that what writing is supposed to be like?” I had to agree, and reluctantly noticed the pettiness of my complaint.

Recently, I came across an article to McPhee linked by Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Workweek:

Writing with the Master – The Magic of John McPhee

The parts of the article that stood out for me:

John McPhee’s class was pass-fail. I’m increasingly anti-grading, so this resonated with me. Grading seems like it can put the emphasis on ranking you relative to your classmates, which is not the point of school. The point of school is to challenge you and help you learn and grow. Far from being less rigorous, McPhee’s class seemed more rigorous — he provided feedback that was succinct, often biting — “Sober up.” was a comment Tim Ferriss said he received — and other times celebratory.

I intend to make updates to this post as I continue researching.

For now, here are some more links upon links within articles:


James Gurney: A Visionary and Inventive Artist

I’m sorry for the delay in posting this week. I’ll see to it that the next posts are on Friday as planned.

One of my favorite books as a child was Dinotopia by James Gurney. I love the alphabet that the dinosaurs created using footprints. I love the intricate pictures of the machines. I love seeing human beings riding pterodactyls through the sky. I love that Gurney played with biomimicry (before it became a buzzword), tree houses, flight, language, romance, adventure, an island, and dinosaurs all within the same series.

Perhaps one of the aspects that appeals to me from the books is that human beings and dinosaurs seem to be working mutualistically with each other, and with their environment. Together, they create beautiful and sustainable cities, like this one.

Part of the trouble for western countries is the seductive ease of using fossil fuels and disposable products, in spite of the hidden toll it’s taking. Global warming aside, hydrocarbons and other compounds get into the water and muck up our fish and shellfish. Oysters and scallops and clams were once a national treasure. Now there are few places in the U.S. where you can get an abundant amount of shellfish that are safe to eat right away. It takes a concerted effort to decide the trajectory of our cities now and into the future, and how our cities and towns mesh with the environment.

How can we live in such a way that we are conscious of what we take out, and what we put back in?

Look at the lights above your head. Look at your computer screen. Where does the electricity come from? Where do the minerals and the parts come from? What is the factory like where the pieces are assembled? In too many factories, the workers suffer poor health from breathing stale air, doing repetitive work for long hours that leaves the mind and body aching. Everyone benefits from range of motion. People can’t live truly rich lives when they don’t have access to fresh food, fresh air, or wild places like mountains, streams, rivers, lakes, the ocean, plains, or forests.

I’m not advocated for ditching technology. We can do great things with it, and connect, and make change happen.

Can we do better? We can advocate for better working conditions, and we can better respect the products by remembering where the parts come from. Which minerals? Which mine? Which forest? We should also keep in mind where the products go when we’re done with them, and how well the local landfills can, or can’t, keep them separate from the farms, schools, houses, and conservation areas nearby. Yes, we can do better.