After the flood

Clarendon Canal

A new report imagines Boston inundated by rising sea levels — as much as 7.5 feet higher than today. Above, Clarendon Street in the Back Bay converted into a canal. My office is just a few blocks from this intersection.

All alike

Sooner or later, the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.

V.S. Pritchett, “Gibbon and the Home Guard” (via)

Photo of the Day

Mediterranean Mantis

A Mediterranean mantis. This photo is among the early entries in the 2014 National Geographic Photo Contest.

Resisting the present

To judge by the clock, the present moment is nothing but a hairline which, ideally, should have no width at all — except that it would then be invisible. If you are bewitched by the clock you will therefore have no present. “Now” will be no more than the geometrical point at which the future becomes the past. But if you sense and feel the world materially, you will discover that there never is, or was, or will be anything except the present….

For the perfect accomplishment of any art, you must get this feeling of the eternal present into your bones — for it is the secret of proper timing. No rush. No dawdle. Just the sense of flowing with the course of events in the same way that you dance to music, neither trying to outpace it nor lagging behind. Hurrying and delaying are alike ways of trying to resist the present.

Alan Watts

Van Gogh Museum

Detail - Wheatfield With Crows

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam has a beautifully designed web site with, apparently, the entire collection available in eye-popping high resolution. It is amazing what detail you can see in these high-res images, right down to the brush strokes and globs of paint. It is as if the museum guards all turned their backs and allowed you to press your nose right up to the canvas. Above is a detail from “Wheatfield With Crows” (1890), one of the last pictures Van Gogh painted before his suicide. The complete picture is below, and you can click the image to see it a little larger. But to get the full effect, go download the insanely huge image at the museum’s web site.

In May, the Met in New York posted 400,000 high-res images from its collection, so this seems to be a trend.

Van Gogh - Wheatfield With Crows (1890)

Twain on “show, don’t tell”

Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.

Mark Twain

The virtues of hackery

Mario Puzo thought he was slumming when he wrote The Godfather. He was broke, an aspiring literary novelist with some respectful reviews but not many sales, and he hoped that a thriller about the mob might make a quick buck. … In fact, the writing of The Godfather released something fresh in Puzo’s imagination—a streak that was both potboilerish and also a little baroque—and if the result wasn’t “literary,” exactly, it was great pop fiction. … The director of those movies, Francis Ford Coppola, originally felt about them the way Puzo felt about his book; he considered them commercial hackwork compared with his more “artistic” films like “Rumble Fish” and “One From the Heart.”  And as in Puzo’s case, that attitude actually proved liberating, enabling Mr. Coppola to adopt a style that was grander and more operatic—more “epic,” to use the Hollywood term—but also less arty and self-conscious than the one he used for his more personal projects. Mr. Coppola’s “Godfather” enterprise went off the rails in “Part III,” which came out in 1990, when self-importance again seemed to overtake him (along with his star, Al Pacino) and he was no longer in touch with the story’s roots in pop culture and gangster-movie mythology.

Charles McGrath

I suppose there is a more compelling case to be made for artistic ambition, but it is worth remembering that great, lasting work often comes when artists aim low.

The First Flight

The first successful powered flight by the Wright brothers, 1903.

The Atlantic has posted a series of remarkable photos of the Wright brothers’ early experiments in flight. Above:

First flight: 120 feet in 12 seconds, on December 17, 1903. This photograph shows man’s first powered, controlled, sustained flight. Orville Wright at the controls of the machine, lying prone on the lower wing with hips in the cradle which operated the wing-warping mechanism. Wilbur Wright running alongside to balance the machine, has just released his hold on the forward upright of the right wing. The starting rail, the wing-rest, a coil box, and other items needed for flight preparation are visible behind the machine. Orville Wright preset the camera and had John T. Daniels squeeze the rubber bulb, tripping the shutter.

Moonshot thinking

“Never do it the same way again”

Beginners sometimes ask me how a novel is written, the answer to which is: Any way at all. One knows only when it is finished, and then if one is at all serious, he will never do it the same way again.

Thomas Berger, author of Little Big Man

Oh, the places you’ll go

Mission Flats in Greece

Mission Flats at the beach in Greece. Thank you, Sia Kouma.

Whose voice does the reader hear?

I don’t believe that poems are written to be heard, or as Mill said, to be overheard; nor are poems addressed to their reader. I believe that poems are a score for performance by the reader, and that you become the speaking voice. You don’t read or overhear the voice in the poem, you are the voice in the poem. You stand behind the words and speak them as your own — so that it is a very different form of reading from what you might do in a novel where a character is telling the story, where the speaking voice is usurped by a fictional person to whom you listen as the novel unfolds.

Helen Vendler

Billy Budd manuscript

Billy Budd manuscript, 1888-89

Melville’s original handwritten manuscript of Billy Budd (via). (Click image to view full size.)

Orwell

George Orwell colorized

Colorized by Edvos. Date and photographer unknown. (Via Colorized History.)

Flickr Find of the Day

Back Bay 1870's

The Back Bay in progress. Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, looking west toward the intersection of Dartmouth Street, ca. 1872. The photo seems to have been taken from the tower of the First Baptist Church, on the corner of Clarendon Street. From the wonderful Flickr stream of the Boston Public Library.

South End, June 10: Last appearance for the summer

South End poster

Boston rapid transit map, 1954

Boston Rapid Transit map 1954

Click image to view full size. Via Cartographia.

The Artist in the Arena

Brené Brown on dealing with critics real and imagined. Helpful advice for creatives of all kinds, writers included. Of course, the Teddy Roosevelt quote that was so meaningful to Brown, about “the man in the arena,” is one that every writer should keep close by, for those low moments.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Gut churn

Jad Abumrad, co-creator of Radiolab, puts a name to a familiar feeling, gut churn: “that radical uncertainty that you feel when you’re trying to work without a template, which is not something I think we as a creative community talk enough about: how crummy it feels to make something that’s new” (4:54). The suggestion that gut churn might actually be a good thing, a sign that what you are creating is truly new and original, is helpful if counterintuitive advice.

Just keep making

just_keep_making_frame_white_2_lo_grande

Amen. You can buy this poster here.