Remembering Elmore Leonard

Remembering Elmore Leonard

Elmore Leonard, the prolific and respected crime novelist, died last week on August 20, 2013 at his home following complications from a recent stroke. He was 87. You can read his obituary in the Washington Post here. Known for his pitch-perfect dialogue, memorable characters, and great humor, Leonard authored nearly 50 books (including the novels Bandits, Get Shorty, Rum Punch, and Raylan). He began writing pulp westerns in the 1950s because, as he says, he enjoyed watching westerns at the time. He originally earned $90 for his short story 3:10 to Yuma, which was made into a film starring Russel Crowe and Christian Bale in 2007. Rum Punch was the basis for Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 film Jackie Brown. Most recently, his short story Fire in the Hole was the inspiration for the FX hit series Justified starring Timothy Olyphant.   Elmore Leonard on Writing The two clips below are from a January 2012 interview and Q&A session Elmore Leonard conducted with The Center for Fiction. In the clips, Leonard discusses his writing philosophy (“If it’s not fun, why do it?”), his ear for dialogue, creative process, and long writing career, including his famous 10 Rules for Writing Fiction.        ...

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The World Is Getting Better, Not Worse

The World Is Getting Better, Not Worse

Is the Human Race in Decline? I read a comment on another blog yesterday in which an individual argued that humanity has been “decaying” over the last three to four centuries because we’ve basically devolved from a supposedly “high level of spiritual knowledge and understanding of life to lower levels where the technical language is the norm.” The commenter went on to argue that people today are confused and incapable of comprehending anything complex. Unless something is delivered simplistically, his point was, most people “grow tired and bored.” The trend, therefore, is for everything to be reduced more and more into an overly simplified form to the point where, the commenter asserted, adults now act like children. In fact, he even went so far as to suggest that in the future most literature would be a form of children’s literature. Now, it’s not my intention to slam or ridicule the author of those comments in any manner. But his underlying hypothesis is intriguing and not totally uncommon,  and I feel it’s important enough to explore and address – has the human race been in intellectual, spiritual, and moral decline since peaking in some golden past, in this case somewhere between 1613-1713 (i.e. three to four centuries ago)?   Renaissance, Reason, and Enlightenment To me, the Age of Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, was a natural extension of the European Renaissance that preceded it. And to be sure, it was a heady time as science and reason began to take firmer root in a world that had previously been dominated almost exclusively by organized religion. So I can certainly understand why someone would argue that the Age of Enlightenment was an historical high point and a phenomenal era of human achievement. After all, this was the era of Descartes and Hobbes and Pascal and Newton and Milton and Jefferson and Voltaire. They certainly don’t make them like that any more . . . Of course, it goes the other way, too. Because back then, they didn’t quite make them like Einstein and Stephen Hawking and Mahatma Gandhi and Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King Jr. Now, from a historical perspective, the era doesn’t align cleanly with the 1613-1713 period...

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The 3 Piles of Shit

The 3 Piles of Shit

Back in my college years, I developed this theory I called The Three Piles of Shit. (I originally considered titling this post The Three Piles of Crap in order to keep this blog’s family friendly status unparalleled on the web, but hell, if you can’t be true to the spirit of your own youth, how can you be trusted when it comes to anything important?) Regardless, this wasn’t so much a theory as it was a metaphor of how I envisioned my role in life. Or more specifically, how I envisioned navigating my life. Basically, I divided the universe into three piles.   Pile #1 – The Universe itself This was all the stuff I didn’t know and hadn’t experienced. It was absolutely gargantuan in size because, well, it was the universe. And my objective, as I saw it, was to sort through that pile, to start working through it piece by piece, taking an individual idea or experience from the Universe and then, after evaluating it, placing it in one of two separate piles. Most of the ideas, thoughts, experiences, etc., would go into Pile #2.   Pile #2 – The Discard Pile Pile #2 is the discard pile. That’s not to say it contains only worthless items. On the contrary, it contains some extraordinarily valuable information and resources. For example, I have nothing against mechanical engineering or the ability to hang wallpaper. I’m thrilled that we live in a world where there are mechanical engineers and individuals who are gifted when it comes to applying wallpaper to a wall, but in the end, those two disciplines just aren’t for me. (I also suck at connecting a tank to the back of a toilet without ending up with either a leak or a cracked tank.) Moving an item from Pile #1 to Pile #2 should not be construed as a judgment on my part that the item in question is without merit. Without doubt, there IS a lot of crap in Pile #2. But there are a lot of other very valuable elements as well. It’s just that those elements don’t personally resonate with me. They don’t appeal to me, they don’t speak to me, they don’t call...

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The World Is Your Personal Alexandria

The World Is Your Personal Alexandria

The city of Alexandria was an important trading hub and at one time was the intellectual and cultural center of the ancient world, renowned for its comprehensive library, which was said to have had as many as 500,000 scrolls. Yeah, I know – sometimes it feels like I have that many scraps of paper floating around my cluttered desk, office, dining room table, various flat surfaces, and garage myself. But that’s not the point. It’s not about the quantity of the collection, but the quality. Or rather, the impetus we humans have to preserve what we consider important in the first place. That’s all a library is after all – an attempt to preserve the best of what we, as a civilization, have created in order to feed and inspire us in the here and now as well as a gift we bestow to the future. And that’s the essence of Renaissance, too.   And I’m Telling You This Because . . . So unless this is National Library Day, what exactly is the purpose of today’s little history lesson? The purpose is to underscore the point that it’s never been easier to build your own personal Library of Alexandria than it is right now – and to encourage you to appreciate that fact as well as urge you, if you haven’t already, to begin construction on such a library. And, no, I’m not talking about renting warehouse space and getting into hoarding mode. I’m talking about collecting the resources, the wisdom, and the art that you consider to be the “best” – the pieces that feed and inspire you, the pieces that you personally find important, the pieces that make you feel most alive. And the reason why I said it’s never been easier to do this than it is right now is because this can largely be a virtual construction. What an amazing and transformative technological revolution – the digitalization and democratization of information. Thanks to companies like Amazon and Apple and Netflix and Google (and many others), we can now easily – and for the most part pretty inexpensively – explore, organize, and assemble our own private collections from a nearly inexhaustible supply of books and...

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Jimi Hendrix at Monterey

Jimi Hendrix at Monterey

To me, Jimi Hendrix’s performance at the Monterey International Pop Music Festival in 1967, is the epitome of Renaissance. The first time I saw the concert footage, in particular the Wild Thing finale, I was blown away. After muttering more than a few astonished expletives, I literally said, “This means anything is possible.” Ultimately, that is the purpose and the very spirit of Renaissance – that anything is possible, that there are no boundaries, that we can connect to something so much larger than ourselves that the world itself is in danger of exploding from the sheer intensity of so much creativity and energy.   The Source of Renaissance On second thought, I wouldn’t characterize it as connecting to something “larger than ourselves.” That leads to externalization, the impulse to take powerful and authentic spiritual experiences and reduce them to manageable, bite-sized religious creeds. I think a better way to say it is that Renaissance occurs and expresses itself when we connect to something within us that is so large and powerful that it’s hard to believe that it doesn’t originate outside of us. Is it transpersonal, too? Sure. As I’ve said elsewhere, the big cultural and Historical Renaissances occur when enough individuals cultivate and experience Personal Renaissances, and it’s also difficult – if not impossible – to have a Personal Renaissance in a vacuum. But at the atomic, building block level, I believe that we first first plant the seeds of Renaissance within our own hearts and minds and the visceral parts of ourselves. It’s only later when those seeds take root and grow to full bloom do they explode into the outer world so that we and everyone around us are left gaping in awe.   Hendrix @ Monterey – The Performance Rather than provide a lot of commentary about the performance itself or the socio-historical background and implications or the rivalry with The Who, I’m just going to let the Jimi Hendrix performance speak for itself. From a logistical angle, I’ll just add that I’ve cobbled together most – if not all – of the performance from YouTube videos, and (I hope!) in the correct order. Enjoy!   Killin’ Floor   Foxy Lady   Like a Rolling...

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Pancreatic Cancer Early Detection Breakthrough

Pancreatic Cancer Early Detection Breakthrough

In the spring of 2012, at the age of 15, Jack Andraka won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair for his development of a test for early detection of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer kills upwards of 40,000 Americans each year, and the 5 year survival rate is something abysmal like 6%. A big reason for its deadliness is that conventional testing for pancreatic cancer is pretty ineffective. There just aren’t a lot of symptoms early on, and by the time there are and the cancer is diagnosed, it’s likely already in an advanced stage and has already spread.     Pancreatic Cancer – A Reason to Hope?   But things may be about to change – thanks to Jack Andraka’s groundbreaking approach for an early detection test which is accurate, inexpensive, and can be done with a simple blood test (read: non-invasive). Importantly, the approach might be effective for early detection of ovarian and lung cancers as well. Below is a video of Jack Andraka delivering a Ted Talk back in February 2013 in Long Beach, California where he discusses how he came up with the idea and all the effort than went into the process of developing the test. I love this video for two reasons. First – the breakthrough itself is remarkable – a simple blood test could end up saving tens of thousands of lives every year (although, as The Smithsonian Magazine reports, it could still take 10 years until this test is available to the public). Second – this is exactly the kind of spirit and mindset we should all strive to embrace in our own lives. The kind that doesn’t accept limitations and conventional wisdom and things as they’ve always been. Or . . . You have powers you never dreamed of. You can do things you never thought you could do. There are no limitations in what you can do except the limitations of your own mind. – Darwin Kingsley     Pretty exciting, huh? When you watch a video like this, it’s kind of hard to take all the frightened cynics seriously who seem to believe our best days are behind us. What do you think?...

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