reprinting this 2013 classic because can’t find my copy of this book, wondering if I loaned it to one of you.
Nice work boys.
Wilson got his start doing a survey of all the ants in Alabama.
There’s the question of, why did I pick ants, you know? Why not butterflies or whatever? And the answer is that they’re so abundant, they’re easy to find, and they’re easy to study, and they’re so interesting. They have social habits that differ from one kind of ant to the next. You know, each kind of ant has almost the equivalent of a different human culture. So each species is a wonderful object to study in itself. In fact, I honestly can’t…cannot understand why most people don’t study ants.
Somewhere else I think I heard Wilson say something like “once you start to study ants it’s hard to be interested in anything else.”
Look at the wild coolness on Bert Hölldobler:
Just finished reading:
A strange thing to read, maybe. Here is the story of how I came to read it.
Some years ago, filming the finale of The Office on Dwight Schrute’s farm:
I looked around at the inland Malibu landscape and got to wondering if there could be a show about the pioneers: people who arrived on empty* land and built their lives there.
So as research I picked up the first book I thought of:
Didn’t finish it. Got distracted before I got off the third page, probably at first by my phone and then by my life.
A true Save The Cat
On the first page of O Pioneers!, there is a true Save The Cat situation.
We’re in the middle of a blizzard, and Little Emil’s cat has gone up a telegraph pole, and he’s afraid it’ll freeze:
Down in Australia in August, I saw the cool Penguin Classics edition:
and picked it up thinking, eh what the hell I should find out what happened to that cat.
Well, I found out, and I found out what happened to Emil and his sister Alexandra for the next forty years.
I believe an error was made in choosing this quote for the front page:
It isn’t the most interesting one from the book. I might’ve chosen this:
Or even, if we’re going re: ducks, this:
This quote made me think of the news:
Also can’t say that the epigraph is especially sexy:
Perhaps it’s better in the original Polish.
But still I pressed on, and in the end, I gotta give it up to O Pioneers!
The life of Willa Cather
Willa Cather must’ve been quite something. She was born in Gore, Virginia, but as a girl she was brought to Red Cloud, Nebraska:
where she made a real impression:
Was Willa Cather a lesbian?
Willa Cather shot out of Nebraska like a rocket.
The closest relationships in her life were with women, and she lived with one Edith Lewis:
for close to thirty years. Some biographers hesitate to call her a lesbian, though, saying she never identified herself that way.
Willa Cather Memorial Prairie
Willa died in 1947. She has a memorial prairie named after her, it’s the number 2 thing to do in Red Cloud, NE after her house:
Willa on writing
O Pioneers! still holds up. I found myself moved by it, and it’s short. Cather has a way of summing up loneliness, heartache, longing, compassion, in a few short lines.
I went ahead and got Willa’s collected essays on writing.
Here she tells how she came to write O Pioneers!, her second book:
She wrote in some opposition to the detail-filled writing of Balzac:
Interesting point here:
Red Cloud, Nebraska
Here’s a picture of downtown Red Cloud from Google Maps:
About as solid a Trump country as you will find:
As of 2000 the median income for a household in the city was $26,389, and the median income for a family was $34,038. Males had a median income of $26,364 versus $17,232 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,772. About 8.4% of families and 13.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.9% of those under age 18 and 10.1% of those age 65 or over.
David McCullough has something moving to say about Red Cloud and Willa and her other famous book:
I found O Pioneers! very moving and powerful, let me share with you why:
Warning: O Pioneers! spoiler
Skip this if you intend to read the book with suspense in mind.
But I doubt you will. I found this the most moving passage, and worth all the reading. Let me set it up for you:
Emil, he of the lost cat on page 2, grows up under the guidance of his older sister, Alexandra. She’s really the focus of our story. Carl, the local boy who saves the cat, is in love with her, but he can’t really take it out on the plains, so he goes off, and leaves her behind. She’s left to care for her brothers.
Emil, youngest brother, does great. He goes on to college at the University of Nebraska, while Alexandra stays to watch over the farm. All the while Emil’s been in love with a neighbor girl, Marie. She marries another man, though.
Still, Emil and Marie are in love. Eventually Marie’s husband, Frank Shabata, finds his wife and Emil together. In a crazed rage he murders Marie and Emil both.
Alexandra, alone at age forty, is heartbroken, left adrift at the death of her brother. But still, she feels sympathy for Frank Shabata, who’s been sent to prison in Lincoln for his crime.
Alexandra, lost and in pain, decides to go visit Frank in prison. In afternoon/dusk, after arriving in Lincoln, she wanders the campus of the university, thinking of her murdered brother. Desperate for any kind of connection, she runs into a student:
Walt Whitman Reads: America
The Whitman Recording
The title of O Pioneers! comes from a poem by Walt Whitman.
Some years ago, a recording of Walt Whitman’s voice, said to have been recorded onto an Edison wax cylinder around 1889 or 1890, was rediscovered.
In these times when it seems maybe we lost our way, nationally, it made me feel good to hear this. Forty-six seconds long:
Contains WILD spoilers!
1) This movie has a high degree of difficulty.
I read 2/3s of the book Wild – abandoned it before I finished, but I did the same thing with Eat Pray Love and then years later started over and found it very impressive. Perhaps a similar fate awaits Wild & me.
At least two top-notch women I know swear by Tiny Beautiful Things. I like reading interviews with Cheryl Strayed, she seems like the real deal.
In books you can get into somebody’s head. That is their killer advantage, and why I don’t think books are going anywhere anytime soon. You just can’t do that in a movie. Wild the movie does a pretty good job of this, but it’s sort of just doomed, imo. This is a story about a person’s journey from one mental state to another, with most of the work done internally. Very hard to dramatize.
While there are good tricks towards doing that in this movie, it comes up a little short on the radical innovations needed to tell that story in a movie. Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay: a dude who is good at this kind of thing, his books make excellent movies, but maybe a true writer-director could’ve worked the solutions even tighter?
[One particular note: it seemed to me like all the cutaways should’ve cut a few beats earlier. You’re always like, “ok, here we go, we’re about to cutaway to Cheryl’s childhood.”]
2) The story has a motivation problem.
Cheryl decided to do this, herself. No one made her, asked her, even cares if she accomplishes her goal. So when she faces difficulty or problems, it easy to think “well, you’re the one who decided to hike the PCT, dumdum. Why should I care about this?”
In a story, a person sets out to do something and arrives at a win/lose/draw (thanks to John Gardner for articulating that for me). What would count as a win in this story? Getting to Ashland? No, who cares about Ashland, nothing but hippies in Ashland. The goal of this story is: Cheryl restoring herself (whether or not she knows that’s the goal at the start).
But: that’s an internal goal, how will you show it in a movie? It’s easier to answer these questions in a book, where Cheryl can articulate her reasons and get you with her and make you see that this particular journey is important even if nothing tangible’s at stake.
3) Still, pretty good movie.
Despite all that I thought the ending was pretty satisfying. It’s hard to make a pretty good movie. When Reese Witherspoon yells “FUCK YOU BITCH!” I thought that was good acting.
Sometimes I think all the hugely successful actresses [Reese, Anne Hathaway, etc.] are such intense people that when they act like normal people their instinct is to be way too intense. I would argue Julianne Moore might be the best at not doing this. Think how hard that must be: to act intense but not at your full-bore intense because you somehow intuitively understand that your own “full bore” is too strong for the screen. Acting is crazy hard.
Like all criticism should, let this come with a disclaimer: it’s easy to be a critic hard to make a thing, makers > critics x1000!
4) Interesting sex stuff in this movie.
I do remember in the book being jarred by the period of sexual degradation and heroin, hadn’t realized that was part of the tale. It was new territory, I felt, in exploring a woman’s sexual… could we call it addiction? self-punishment? Cheryl’s not not in control at that point, right? But she also isn’t having a great time. It’s fucked up, she knows it’s fucked up. But it’s not fucked up because she’s a slut, it’s fucked up because she’s not being the woman she wants to be (right?).
Whatever, it made me think/was also slightly titillating/made me feel kind of bad for the husband she was compulsively cheating on. What are the nice guy husbands of America to make of Eat Pray Love and Wild, two biggest women’s memoirs of the last ten years, that both start with a woman leaving her nice guy husband for sexual adventuring?
How often in a movie do you see sex that is intended to be not rape but also not fun?
5) The music in this movie is kind of good but also kind of sucks.
That’s my take anyway. What if I told you that in 2014 we were making an epic movie about a woman’s adventure across America? Would you say that scattered samples of Simon & Garfunkel is the best we could do? Fuck no! Why didn’t they get some awesome woman to make a badass score like Eddie Vedder did for the man-equivalent, Into The Wild?
6) There’s a weird shoutout to REI in this movie.
Where Reese calls them to get new boots and is like “you’re my favorite company ever.” Maybe Cheryl really felt that way. I have a bunch of stuff from REI, but sometimes I think their business model is based on making you think going outdoors is more expensive and complicated than it really is to sell you more junk. Which, weirdly: in the same scene where Cheryl learns about REI’s return policy, the dude is like “you don’t need all this shit.”
Former REI CEO Sally Jewell is Secretary of the Interior.
Strikes me as a very Obama kind of pick: on the one hand, kind of hip and modern and innovative, but on the other hand she was still the CEO of a huge corporation.
7) Wild and Eat Pray Love are in long American literary tradition of spiritual narrative.
If I were a grad student at Yale I’d write my Ph. D. on this, trace it all back through Emerson and Puritan religious narratives and captive narratives of 18th century New England and I’d be the smartest boy in the seminar. Since I’m not in grad school though I can make my point in one sentence which is that things that seem radical and new are often just new versions of an old tradition, we’re not so different from the past or as wildly inventive as we think we are, etc.
8) Is this how women go through life? Constantly having to wonder if a random dude is a rapist?
Damn, that might be the most important aspect of Wild, seeing the world through a woman’s eyes, showing that tension of life. When I walk around at 11pm or so in my neighborhood and I see women walking their dogs it always feels very tense. My instinct to somehow indicate I am not a rapist usually just seems to make the problem worse.
ANYWAY: one reason I was excited to see Wild is I’ve been to many of the settings along the Pacific Crest Trail on fishing trips. Here, for example, is a photo of Kennedy Meadows:
Kennedy Meadows is like a plateau high up in the Sierras. To get there you drive up a crazy 27-mile twisty road up from the 395. If you find yourself there, be sure to stop at The Grumpy Bear:
They’re happy to teach you about jerking meat:
Don’t get it confused with the other Kennedy Meadows up in Sonora.
While I was up there I crossed the PCT and wondered if it would be interesting to film a couple seconds of walking on it:
If you’d like to see Wild, but only have ten seconds, my film gets at similar themes but with more nauseating camerawork.
The Green Cathedral or De Groene Kathedraal located near Almere Netherlands, is an artistic planting of Lombardy poplars (Populus nigra italica) that mimics the size and shape of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Reims, France….The work was planted by Marinus Boezem (b. 1934) on April 16, 1987 in Southern Flevoland, Nederland.
While walking there I assume you should listen to Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Notre Dame (1360s), composed for the cathedral at Reims (which isn’t too shabby in stone either).
Machaut survived the Black Death which devastated Europe, and spent his later years living in Rheims composing and supervising the creation of his complete-works manuscripts. His poem Le voir dit(probably 1361–1365) purports to recount a late love affair with a 19-year-old girl, Péronne d’Armentières, although the accuracy of the work as autobiography is contested.
Pictures from wikipedia and from inhabit.com
A famous flyfishing fly, the Chernobyl ant was designed (it appears, research cursory) by Mark Forslund and Allen Wooley, guides on the Green River below Flaming Gorge, Utah.
That picture is from the website of Elburgon Flies Supply, “a leading fly fishing flies supplier in Africa.”