In “Ski. Climb. Write.” (Winter 2018), Emily Stifler Wolfe chronicled how the legendary climber and skier Dick Dorworth was transformed by his Zen practice. D. C. Risker considered the article part of an overplayed trend toward profiling extraordinary figures, writing, “The extreme case always seems in vogue. . . . Isn’t ordinary life supposed to be the way . . . especially in Zen?” Others found the article inspiring; @foreverantrim tweeted that the article was “simply fantastic.”
It’s anybody’s guess why forecasters do this job. It could be the smell of powder, throwing 50 pound shots from the helicopter, watching hard slab failure release energy over several alpine basins at once, or maybe just the company you keep.
Whatever the reasons, you get hooked on the excitement and the challenges of the job. It requires a lot of field experience (series of non-fatal errors), collection of empirical evidence, listening to your inner voice (intuition), and distilling all of the variables to reduce uncertainties until you can finally make a decision that you can live with. There are many truths to be learned. It’s no big mystery; you pay attention and do your work because you don’t want to be a victim of your own bad planning. It helps to be comfortable in the world of uncertainties.
Perhaps more than anything, many Americans must want a conclusion to the deep existential uncertainty surrounding the Presidency of Donald Trump. Will Trump be brought down by the investigation of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, or by the multiple interlocking inquiries into criminal conduct by the Trump Organization? Or will he survive, somehow stronger, and even win a second term? Behind these immediate uncertainties is another, even more unbearable question: Is our nation healthy or dying? Will we eventually be able to move forward from Trump’s Presidency, satisfied that justice has been achieved?
That uncertainty will not end tomorrow, or next week, or whatever day Mueller submits his desperately awaited report to the Attorney General, William Barr. Though this report has achieved something like mythological status as a deus ex machina of the Trump Presidency, its formal submission to the Department of Justice will only begin a process that could, if anything, be more confusing and chaotic than much of what has come before.
Of course, the delivery of the Mueller report will be a crucial moment in American politics. For months, there have been rumors about the timing of Mueller’s report, but this week’s chatter has taken on a new certainty. Andrew Weissmann, the member of Mueller’s team who is considered most capable of turning witnesses, is stepping down. Reporters who have sat out the frenzy of Mueller predictions have, this week, become engaged, passing on word from their Justice Department sources that Mueller’s report will come in hours or days, not weeks or months.
Neal Katyal, President Barack Obama’s Solicitor General, who drafted the Department of Justice special-counsel regulations, in 1999, warned, in a Times Op-Ed last month, that Mueller’s report is unlikely to have the heft or shocking details of Kenneth Starr’s. Instead, Katyal expects Mueller to issue a report that is in line with the regulations, which call for no more than a concise summary of the special counsel’s findings and allow for the document to be kept confidential. That said, Katyal has also observed, on Twitter, that the Attorney General is required to produce a second report for Congress that explains each of Mueller’s actions and inactions. From the outset, then, there will be, at minimum, two reports.
There could easily be more. Attorney General Barr is not required to release the report that he receives from Mueller or the Justice Department’s views of any potentially illegal actions that the Mueller documents reveal. Members of Congress are free to issue their own reports about what they have learned, and some may release whatever they receive soon after they receive it. It seems highly possible that, instead of one text that addresses all of our questions, there will be multiple secondhand reports, of varying levels of trustworthiness, that will interact with our overwhelmed and fractured media and political system to spread more, not less, confusion. The greatest test of our democracy may be what happens next.
She was obsessed. Obsessed with poetry. Obsessed with pottery. And she scratched her poetry onto her pottery. In doing so Otagaki Rengetsu put an end to the long standing separation of immaterial beauty of poetry and the material poetry of ceramics. She made them one. This was bold, particularly when it came to ceramics used in the tea ceremony, celebrating rusticity, austerity and simplicity.
And still today we sense Rengetsu’s artistic boldness in her poetic pottery and potted poetry.
along the Kamo riverbank
the moon is high—
settling on my sleeves in the deep of night
the year’s first frost.
The average precipitation, including rain and melted snow, was 9.01 inches during meteorological winter, which spans December, January and February. That amount was 2.22 inches above normal and broke the record of 8.99 inches set during the winter of 1997-1998.
Both the winters of 1997-1998 and the present featured El Niño events, which tend to increase the flow of Pacific moisture into the Lower 48 states.
Of the three winter months this year, the finale was particularly soggy, ranking second-wettest on record. Nineteen states posted one of their 10 wettest Februaries. Tennessee registered its wettest February, while the month ranked…
In July 2018, At War published a piece by Jonathan Bratten that traced the history of wartime graffiti over more than 150 years of conflict and described how it has come to define military culture with its own vocabulary, characters and aesthetics. “These drawings, scratchings and markings serve a far greater purpose than merely offering a glimpse into the past: They are a defiant and public proclamation of a human being’s existence,” Bratten noted. I asked readers to send in their own photos from deployment and an explanation of why the graffiti they documented resonated with them.
The Library of Congress has announced the acquisition of a trove of letters from Georgia O’Keeffe — photographed here by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz.
Alfred Stieglitz/Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, The Alfred Stieglitz Collection, Purchase and Gift of The Georgia O’Keeffe Foundation.
Imagine Georgia O’Keeffe needing “luck” to paint a flower. But there it is, in the artist’s twirling calligraphy, in a letter to her friend, documentary filmmaker Henwar Rodakiewicz.
The letter is in a never-before-seen trove of O’Keeffe’s correspondences newly acquired by the Library of Congress. In this particular 1936 letter, O’Keeffe writes about an “order for a big flower painting” for cosmetics executive Elizabeth Arden. Though she’d been painting flowers for years, this commission stood to expose her to a much wider audience.
Barbara Bair, manuscript curator with the Library of Congress, says this was an important step toward O’Keeffe becoming more independent as an artist. Up to that point, her artistic career was mostly managed by her husband, the photographer and art promoter Alfred Stieglitz.
“The Arden commission is seen as significant for where it would be shown — a salon for women,” Bair says. “Women became O’Keeffe’s biggest fans and patrons. Arden, who had money, was endorsing her.” Bair adds that it was the first commercial commission O’Keeffe completed: “And it was a big success.”
The result was “Jimson Weed,” currently on display at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, for which O’Keeffe was paid $10,000 — a large sum at the time, especially considering it was during the Great Depression. Soon, O’Keeffe had another commercial job, painting in Hawaii for a Dole Company promotional campaign.
The collection, which also includes letters Stieglitz wrote to Rodakiewicz, were discovered by a couple as they cleaned out a new home they’d purchased in Santa Fe, N.M. The house belonged to the filmmaker’s widow.
“Over the course of going through what was left behind,” Bair says, “they found in a closet a box of Sunsetmagazines. In the box was a manila envelope [containing the letters].”
After O’Keeffe met Rodakiewicz in Taos, N.M. in 1929, the three (including Stieglitz) became friends and traveled in the same artistic circles. For Bair, this stash of O’Keeffe’s letters, spanning 1929-1947, captures a time of great transition as the artist splits her time between the East Coast and the Southwest.
Bair notes that in 1933, O’Keeffe went through a period of severe depression and was unable to paint. In February 1934, she wrote to Rodakiewicz:
The letters also reveal the importance of natural beauty to O’Keeffe’s work. The colors of her outdoor settings naturally impacted her art: the greens of Lake George, N.Y.; the black and white of New York City. Bair says the reds and other colors of New Mexico “revived her artistic juices.”
“She feels at home in the desert,” Bair says. “Her soul expands there. She picks up new subject matter — skulls, the desert landscape. She responds beautifully to the Southwestern landscape.”
In a letter from 1944, O’Keeffe describes the view from her New Mexico home near the mountain of Cerro Pedernal — the inspiration for many of her paintings.
As the poet behind the San Francisco literary institution turns 100, the city is preparing for ‘Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day’
The last couple of years have taken their toll on Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The American publisher, poet, painter and political activist is frail and nearly blind. He spends a lot of time in bed, relying on his assistant for emails and phone calls.
His body might be failing him. But his mind is still on fire. He’s hoping for a revolution. Trouble is, he says, “the United States isn’t ready for a revolution”.
Ferlinghetti is turning 100 years old this Sunday. And the man knows a thing or two about revolutions. He helped start one himself, changing the face of literary culture in the United States when he co-founded City Lightsbookshop in 1953 with a college professor friend, Peter Dean Martin.
Born in Yonkers, New York, in 1919, Ferlinghetti came to California in the early 1950s, drawn to the state as a place where people could start over. It was what he called this country’s last frontier.
Ferlinghetti’s mission for his new bookstore and publishing company was aligned with his left-leaning politics: to break literature out of its stuffy, academic cage, its self-centered focus on what he calls “the me me me”, and make it accessible to all.
It was a big risk.
“We were young and foolish,” he says. “And we had no money.”
Unlike most other bookstores around the country, which closed at 5pm on weekdays and were shuttered completely at the weekends, City Lights stayed open seven days a week and late into the night. Ferlinghetti wanted to create a sense of community, a place for people to toss around ideas.
The business was originally focused on selling paperback books, at a time when the literary establishment only cared about hardbacks. (These days, it sells both.)
“Paperbacks weren’t considered real books,” says Ferlinghetti. “The only paperback books were murder mysteries and some science fiction.”
But Ferlinghetti was all about democratizing literature. City Lights weathered its fair share of ups and downs over the years, including financial woes and Ferlinghetti’s arrest in 1957 on obscenity charges for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s groundbreaking epic poem Howl. The charges were dropped, setting an important precedent for reducing censorship in the publishing world.
The bookstore and publishing house became an institution, attracting and influencing literary figures across the generations, from the author Jack Kerouac to the film-maker Francis Ford Coppola (who once said of Ferlinghetti: “Lawrence gets you laughing, then hits you with the truth”) to the writer and publisher Dave Eggers.
“When I got to San Francisco in 1992, everything we did was sort of influenced by City Lights,” says Eggers. “We were trying to stand on their shoulders.”
Ferlinghetti himself is an institution. There’s a San Francisco street named after him. The city of San Francisco is proclaiming 24 March, his birthday, “Lawrence Ferlinghetti Day”. And his centennial celebrations are going on all month.
“Well, as long as it keeps growing, someone is going to have to water it,” Ferlinghetti says.
He will also release his latest book, Little Boy. This autobiographical novel packed with classical literary allusions is written in a careening, stream-of-consciousness style that feels both intimate and – because it’s written in the third person and mostly does away with conventional paragraphing and punctuation – estranging.
The book was many years in the making. It took Ferlinghetti’s longtime, New York-based agent, Sterling Lord, a while to sell. Lord says six publishers contacted him when they heard Ferlinghetti was coming out with a new novel. But all of them ended up turning Little Boy down. “In my view, they were really just the wrong publishers,” Lord says. Ultimately, Penguin Random House’s Doubleday division picked it up.
Little Boy’s story begins, abruptly, with Ferlinghetti’s mother abandoning her newborn son after his father dies of a heart attack. A beloved, childless aunt whisks baby Lawrence off to France. The story rushes forwards, with dizzying circumlocutions, from there. The patchwork of biographical narrative and freewheeling forays into societal commentary (“the icebergs melting and all that and humankind the temporary tenant floating toward the precipice unable to stop itself and its self-destruction”) makes the book feel like a memoir.
That’s not a word Ferlinghetti uses to describe his new book. “I object to using that description,” he says. “Because a memoir denotes a very genteel type of writing.”
It wasn’t until Ferlinghetti was studying for his doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris on the GI bill, after serving in the US navy during the second world war, that he started writing his own poetry.
I ask him if he still speaks French (“Oui! Certainement!”) and about the encounters, mentioned in Little Boy, with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in postwar Paris. He tells me he never actually met the existentialist couple. But he enjoyed spying on them from a cafe across the street. “I wouldn’t dare go up and try and engage Beauvoir and Sartre in conversation,” Ferlinghetti says. “I can imagine Sartre signalling to the waiter, and the waiter giving me the boot out of the front door.”
But Ferlinghetti is not known for his shyness: he has long been seen as accessible to fans. “He’s very gracious,” says Elaine Katzenberger, City Lights’ current director and publisher, who has known Ferlinghetti since the early 1980s. “When he was still here every day, fixing a lightbulb or some other little thing, he never refused somebody who wanted to talk to him. He usually looked for some commonality to have a little conversation with them.”
Still, doing things the Ferlinghetti way hasn’t always been easy. Katzenberger says his idealistic, poetry-for-all vision is hard to maintain in today’s profit-driven publishing marketplace.
“We don’t have bestsellers, and we’re not publishing bestsellers,” Katzenberger says. “Staying true to those ideals and maintaining them, that’s the hardest thing. And on the other hand, it’s the most important thing.”
At the end of our interview, I ask Ferlinghetti if he’s proud of his many accomplishments.
“I don’t know, that word, ‘proud’, is just too egotistic,” he says.
How about satisfied?
“I would never use that word.”
OK. Um … happy?
“Yeah, happy would be better,” he says. “Except when you get down to try and define the word happy, then you’re really in trouble.”
He’d really much rather get back to our discussion about what it would take to start a revolution.
“It would take a whole new generation not devoted to the glorification of the capitalist system,” Ferlinghetti says, chuckling. “A generation not trapped in the me, me, me.”