How to lose a mountain: the peaks and pitfalls of exploration, near and far

0-header-dustingroh-700

It was called the Plain of Six Glaciers, which sounded like something in a Tolkien novel, what with his Battle of the Five Armies, or the Cracks of Doom, or, like, the entire Silmarillion. I stared up into the mountains at the supposed location of the mythical plain. The distant plateau was hidden by peaks and the sunlight shone from behind them.

Read more

Surrender: the upside-down beauty of the word “islam”

0-cover-670

I place my prayer rug on the floor in the direction of Mecca. It came from my grandparents, I think, from the old country. It has been a part of my life since I was a child, a fixture in our home, and now it is threadbare from wear. It’s limp like fresh chapati. The burgundy, velvet fibres fray on the parts of this rug that have cushioned our heels and knees for decades. I smooth out its wrinkles and bumps and imperfections with the brush of a flat, tender palm, like I’m tending a bed of soil in a garden. I sit beside it or on the edge of my bed for a minute or two. I breathe.

Read more

Open call for stories: How do you pray?

I admit it: I struggle with prayer. The month of Ramadan is coming up in the Islamic calendar, which means I’ll be fasting from sunrise to sunset everyday for 30 days. (If you’re counting, that’s no food or drink from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m.)

It’s a time of introspection and prayer. Yet when I’m deprived of a good night’s sleep and regular food, I tend to space out. A few years ago, after my pre-dawn meal and morning prayers, I returned to bed for a few more hours of sleep before the start of the day. In a state of half-sleep during this holy month, I imagined I was in the Emperor’s throne room in a musical version of Return of the Jedi. The old guy can dance, let me tell you.

Yet despite the difficulty (and the show tunes), Ramadan is an essential part of my spiritual life. So is daily prayer; there are times in my life where prayer actually helped me survive. These practices help me cultivate a sense of gratitude and even optimism about my life. So, creating a space for that practice is important to me. Read more

Almost the second draft

8879102414_6801624945_o

Getting close to officially completing the second draft of my novel. Picked up a print-out of the book yesterday from Staples. I’ll start a full read-through next week and spend the next month or so finalizing the draft. A lot of positive changes came via my six-month mentorship at Banff. The book is currently 85,000 words (332 pages in this format), down from 91,000 when I started the mentorship. Before that started, I had already cut it down from the 120,000 words it was as an official first draft. Throughout the mentorship, I had this fantastic feeling of watching the book get better and better with each passing day. Now I’m curious to see how all the edits turned out.

The Slow Web

Three years ago on the occasion of Ramadan, I started an info-fast. I unplugged from Twitter, disabled most of my Facebook account’s functionality, unsubscribed from all my Google Reader RSS feeds, stopped commenting on blogs and closed off comments on my blogs (that last one may have happened before or after, but let’s pretend it all happened at the same time).

There is too much to keep track of, and I simply gave up. In the end, the things you do have to add value to your life. This generation is struggling with the Web the same our parents may have struggled with watching too much TV. We are glued to this stuff. I know most of my day is spent at the computer. I wanted and still want to rethink my relationship to all this web-based activity. I suppose it’s about bringing mindfulness to the act. Slow Blogging was something I mentioned around that info-fast. Jack Cheng’s Slow Web is an idea that fits perfectly into this as well.

Timely not real-time. Rhythm not random. Moderation not excess. Knowledge not information. These are a few of the many characteristics of the Slow Web. It’s not so much a checklist as a feeling, one of being at greater ease with the web-enabled products and services in our lives.

Like Slow Food, Slow Web is concerned as much with production as it is with consumption. We as individuals can always set our own guidelines and curb the effect of the Fast Web, but as I hope I’ve illustrated, there are a number of considerations the creators of web-connected products can make to help us along. And maybe the Slow Web isn’t quite a movement yet. Maybe it’s still simmering. But I do think there is something distinctly different about the feeling that some of these products impart on their users, and that feeling manifests from the intent of their makers.

A great example of the Slow Web is the recently launched Evening Edition news site. It’s ironic that we broke away from the strictures of the broadcast, mass-communication era and are now trying to break away from (or find a different relationship to) the on-demand era.

The first draft…

Three years, eight months, and one hundred and twenty thousand words later, the messy first draft of my novel is done! Now to start reading it over. It’s messy, so this is like the alpha or something, like v 0.843. I’ll read it and spend a couple of weeks revising it before even considering it an official v 1.0 first draft (which itself is only the first of many future drafts…). I’m a little apprehensive, to be honest. This past year, I blazed through the draft. I was ticked off at myself for taking so long (never mind that I had a lot of structural decisions to make). Maybe 10 months ago, I was at something like 50,000 words, and now I’m at 120,000. So I really blazed through. I said to myself, “Don’t worry about making it perfect, just make it. It will be perfect later.” I kicked myself in the ass and have managed to end up with this thing, whatever it is, but I know I can do better—the gap between good taste and the thing I’ve made. Keep doing the work, that’s how you close the gap.

Slow blogging

What we’re approaching here is what was once “content” being stripped of its nutritious value and being processed into “content product”. See where I’m going with this? I could see, over time, readers realizing how many empty calories, in the form of news “snippets” or meaningless photos, we’ve been consuming on the web and there being a counter movement. I’ve seen the term “slow blogging” show up a few times around the web recently in different contexts, and it definitely comes to mind now. I could see a parallel on the web to what we’ve seen in the food industry, where the early adopters seek out whole, local, organic… content. From the source. On the site it was designed for, from the person who wrote it. Or at least prepared in a way that shows respect to the ingredient.

–Laura Brunow Miner, founder of Pictory (via Space Miner).

I consider myself one of those who made this realization about empty calories this year, and the “info-fast” during this past Ramadan was the perfect moment to put that realization into action.

Wade Davis

Anthropologist Wade Davis of National Geographic in an absolutely mind-blowing TED talk from 2003. I’m floored. I caught a bit of this guy today on the radio while driving back from the garage and wanted to find out more. He’s giving this year’s Massey Lecture.

The whole TED talk is fantastic, but the ending pushes it over the top for me to something transcendent:

“It’s pretty obvious, at least to all of us who have traveled in these remote reaches of the planet, to realize that they’re not remote at all. They’re homelands of somebody. They represent branches of the human imagination that go back to the dawn of time. And for all of us, the dreams of these children, like the dreams of our own children, become part of the naked geography of hope. So what we’re trying to do at the National Geographic, finally, is, we believe that politicians will never accomplish anything. We think that polemics are not persuasive, but we think that storytelling can change the world. So we are probably the best storytelling institution in the world: we have 35 million hits on our website every month, 156 nations carry our television channel, our magazines are read by millions. What we’re doing is a series of journeys to the ethnosphere where we’re gonna take our audience to places of such cultural wonder that they cannot help but come away dazzled by what they have seen, and hopefully, therefore, embrace gradually, one by one, this central revelation of anthropology: that this world deserves to exist in a diverse way, that we can find a way to live in a truly multicultural, pluralistic world, where all of the wisdom of all of all peoples can contribute to our collective well-being.”

His summary of the craft of storytelling takes the career longings and yearnings I’ve been having to a higher place, to a truer place. It transcends mere journalism and enters the realm of something almost holy. It seems to unify the spiritual searching I’ve had all these years and expressed in my exploration of religion, along with the need for relevance through journalism, my own persistent desire to write, and the urge of humans 10,000 years ago to sacralize the hunt by painting it on cave walls. Really. His vision is celebratory of the human adventure, cherishes it, and is in love with it in all its forms and manifestations.

Too many thoughts are springing forth from this. I see connections in the career I’ve sought, in what I’m writing now, in what I wrote years ago, in values and ideals I shape and form and hold dear. I, I, I need to think this through more. Not enough tags for this post! Not enough! Ahh, this is so going in my personal manifesto box. “The naked geography of hope.” Argh! And I marvel once more at the poetic capabilities of the human spirit. (Falls over)

Corbu’s favorite chair

“Once asked by a magazine editor to name his favourite chair, Le Corbusier cited the seat of a cockpit, and described the first time he ever saw an aeroplane, in the spring of 1909, in the sky above Paris—it was the aviator the Comte de Lambert taking a turn around the Eiffel Tower—as the most significant moment in his life.”

–Alain de Botton, from The Architecture of Happiness.

Overpowering brilliance

We’re working on a show about Abraham Joshua Heschel, a contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s, an ally of his in the civil rights movement, an anti-Vietnam activist, a profound religious thinker of the 20th Century. In our interview with our guest, the chancellor of New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary (where Heschel taught during his life), our guest shared some unnervingly beautiful writing of the late Rabbi Heschel that I myself would like to share. Read more