A couple of years ago I wrote a Vast Forward blog about how I’d been watching Anthony Bourdain’s show, “Parts Unknown,” and learning how to have meaningful conversations with strangers. Bourdain’s easygoing, genuinely curious way of talking to people in the many countries whose food he explored really did help me to slice through superficial chatter and engage in interesting dialogue.
I often learn from people I’ll never meet. For example, when I was writing my book, Radical Joy for Hard Times, I read a little book on love by the 19thcentury French writer Stendahl. The feisty, urgent tone of the introduction instantly gave the “voice” I had been seeking for my book.
When I was a teenager and an absolutely devoted Beatlemaniac, I learned from their humor, togetherness, and creativity to quit hiding what I thought of as my own unacceptable weirdness. In cahoots with my friend Carrie, I embarked on outlandish escapades that tore down my isolation and opened me up to my own sense of daring.
A few days ago Paul McCartney taught me something. As most Vast Forward readers know, I went to England in September to teach a workshop and took a side trip to Liverpool, where I splurged on a 7-hour private tour of Beatles sites. That trip rekindled my love of the Beatles, and when I got home, I bought Philip Norman’s biography of Paul (see note below in What I’m Reading). I’d forgotten that Paul took such pains to be a good business manager with the Beatles’ Apple Corps and later in his own music business. His insistence on good sense, in fact, was partly what drove the other three away from him; they were content, after Brian Epstein died, to listen to promises instead of reason.
Inspired by Paul, I decided that I, too, could exhibit more business sense than I typically take pains with. Therefore, I drafted an agreement with colleagues with whom I’m about to engage in a big project. I wrote out what I’ll be responsible for and what they’ll be responsible for. I have a tendency to dive into things and figure out the details later, and this approach feels very grounded. Discussions are ongoing, but the first step is most satisfying.
What I’m reading
Paul McCartney: The Life, by Philip Norman. Norman has, fortunately, eliminated all the stories that Beatles fans have heard a hundred times, and more than half of this fat 800-page book is devoted to Paul’s life post-Beatles. Where it misses is in any real attempt to understand its subject’s inner life, which of course is the most interesting.
At the Bioneers conference in San Rafael, California October 18-20, Terry Tempest Williams was one of the keynote speakers. She talked about a team of geologists who put seismometers on Castleton Tower, a rock formation near Moab, Utah. And, said Williams, “Castleton Tower has a pulse.” She then stood completely still and let the audience hear the frequencies, the voice, of the rock. It was stunning. It turns out that the rock changes its tone depending on temperature, moisture, and the movement of the Earth. The Earth really does speak. I was moved to tears. You can listen to a recording on the Outside Magazine website.
I’m home for several weeks, for which I’m very glad. It’s been a busy, full, productive summer, and now darkness and winter return. Time to write, think, read, envision, and hang out with Andy.