McPhee on writing, structure and the void

Out the back door and under the big ash was a picnic table. At the end of summer, 1966, I lay down on it for nearly two weeks, staring up into branches and leaves, fighting fear and panic, because I had no idea where or how to begin a piece of writing for The New Yorker. I went inside for lunch, surely, and at night, of course, but otherwise remained flat on my back on the table…The picnic-table crisis came along toward the end of my second year as a New Yorker staff writer (a euphemistic term that means unsalaried freelance close to the magazine). In some twenty months, I had submitted half a dozen pieces, short and long, and the editor, William Shawn, had bought them all. You would think that by then I would have developed some confidence in writing a new story, but I hadn’t, and never would. To lack confidence at the outset seems rational to me. It doesn’t matter that something you’ve done before worked out well. Your last piece is never going to write your next one for you. Square 1 does not become Square 2, just Square 1 squared and cubed. [link]

Learning to fear those who “serve and protect”

Here’s what happened to a black kid raised by white parents who never taught him to fear the police:

“So I ask them, ‘Can I please see a warrant before you continue the search?’ ” Landau says. “And they grab me and began to hit me in the face. I could hear Addison in the background yelling, ‘Stop! Leave him alone.’

“I was hit several times, and I remember gasping for air” and spitting blood, he says.

“And then I hear an officer shout out, ‘He’s reaching for a gun,’ ” he tells his mother. “I immediately started yelling, ‘No, I’m not. I’m not reaching for anything.’ “

Landau felt a gun against his head, he says. “And I expected to be shot. And at that point I lost consciousness. … “It took 45 stitches to close up the lacerations in my face alone,” Landau says. [link]

And one more story from years ago, the account of poet Ravi Shankar who was arrested for a crime he didn’t commit:

I hadn’t been read my rights or granted a phone call. After an hour my arresting officer returned — but only to take me for a mug shot and digital fingerprinting. Eventually he showed me my arrest warrant. It was for a 5-foot-10, 140-pound white male. I happen to be a 6-foot-2, 200-pound, Indian man. I pointed out the discrepancy. “Tell it to the judge,” he said. [link]

Partition, 1966 by WH Auden.

Today, in 1947, India and Pakistan were partitioned, starting a process that put 14.5 million people into motion, most becoming (at least briefly), refugees. My family was one of them.

Partition, 1966 by WH Auden

Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on this land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
With their different diets and incompatible gods.
‘Time,’ they had briefed him in London, ‘is short. It’s too late
For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we’ve arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you.’

Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
Patrolling the gardens to keep assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.

The next day he sailed for England, where he quickly forgot
The case, as a good lawyer must. Return he would not,
Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot. [link]

Excerpt from Langston Hughes: Let America Be America Again, July 1936

O, Let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–
The land where EVERY man is free.
The land that’s mine–
The poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again….
O, yes
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!
An ever living seed,
Its dream
Lies deep in the heart of me
We, the people, must redeem
Our land, the mines, the plants,the rivers,
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!

Pogonophilia geographica

[Via BoingBoing]
Here’s the list of the most facial-hair-friendly U.S. cities, in order:

1. Boston
2. Los Angeles
3. Miami
4. Chicago
5. Salt Lake City
6. Minneapolis
7. Austin
8. Seattle
9. Denver
10. Nashville
11. Dallas
12. San Diego
13. Philadelphia
14. Houston
15. Detroit
16. New York
17. Indianapolis
18. Atlanta
19. Washington, D.C.
20. Pittsburgh

Instagram echoes the grand themes of western art

Isn’t it striking that the most-typical and most-maligned genres of Instagram imagery happen to correspond to the primary genres of Western secular art? All that #foodporn is still-life; all those #selfies, self-portraits. All those vacation vistas are #landscape; art-historically speaking, #beachday pics evoke the hoariest cliché of middle-class leisure iconography. (As for the #nudes, I guess they are going on over on Snapchat.) [link]