Want success as a writer? Get rejected.

So argues Kim Liao, persuasively,  in Lit Hub. She said she managed 43 rejections last year — a personal best.

Last year, I got rejected 43 times by literary magazines, residencies, and fellowships—my best record since I started shooting for getting 100 rejections per year. It’s harder than it sounds, but also more gratifying.

In late 2011, a writer friend was sharing her experiences of having months of uninterrupted writing time at her residencies at the Millay Colony, Ragdale, and Yaddo. I was staggered by her impressive rates of acceptance. You probably have one of those friends, too—you know the one I’m talking about, that friend who is a beautiful writer, but who also seems to win everything? I could barely believe that she had the balls to apply to—let alone, get accepted to—several residencies, a prestigious fellowship, and publications in journals I had actually heard of.

I asked her what her secret was, and she said something that would change my professional life as a writer: “Collect rejections. Set rejection goals. I know someone who shoots for one hundred rejections in a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances, too.”

This small piece of advice struck a deep chord in my fragile creative ego. My vulnerable ego only wants to be loved and accepted, to have my words ring out from a loudspeaker in Times Square while a neon ticker scrolls the text across a skyscraper, but it’s a big old coward. My ego resists mustering up the courage to submit writing to literary magazines, pitch articles, and apply for grants, residencies, and fellowships. Yet these painful processes are necessary evils if we are ever to climb out of our safe but hermetic cocoons of isolation and share our writing with the world.

Even simpler, of course, 43 rejections mean probably submitting a piece of her work to some journal or other every single week of the year. Impressive! Need to get back to submitting pitches and work on Fridays. Who cares about the irony of the process: get cracking.

rejections

 

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For Atlas Obscura: Why Scientists Are Worried about a Landslide No One Saw or Heard

Here’s the lead (er, lede) I pitched to Atlas Obscura, which (to my delight) they ran unchanged, giving me a welcome chance to write an interesting story I learned about at the AGU Fall Meeting from Kevin Krajick of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory:

If a steep mountainside in a remote national park gives way and drops 200 million tons of rock into deep glacial water, will anyone hear?

In the case of the massive landslide that fell into Taan Fjord, Alaska, the answer was no—and yes.

No one heard the mountainside fall into the fjord on a rainy night on October 17, 2015. No one saw an almost unimaginably huge and powerful wave crest at 600 feet and sweep down the inlet. The tsunami obliterated forests on both sides of the inlet, and its rush to the sea dragged an iceberg over a marine spit and out into coastal Icy Bay. The enormous wave, an estimated 60 feet high in the middle of the inlet, traveled eight miles to open water and made it all the way to about five miles north of Icy Bay Lodge.

Thousands of miles away, at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory north of New York City, a pair of geologists noticed an unusual squiggle on a seismograph. The team of Göran Ekström and Colin Stark has in recent years pioneered a new method of detecting unusual seismic events that don’t send out the fast-moving compressional waves characteristic of earthquakes. Instead they look for subtler surface waves, or undulations, that radiate much more slowly through the surface of the earth. These are the kinds of waves sent out by collapsing volcanoes, calving ice sheets, and massive landslides.

“There are not that many landslide detections by us in a given year, maybe just half a dozen,” says Ekström. “We now know that when we detect something, it is often spectacular. We had just detected another landslide in the Yukon a week earlier, and had it confirmed, so I was quite excited when I saw another detection in the Saint Elias range, especially since it was not detected by anyone else, and because it was so large.”

Story looks great (sez me). Thanks to the photographer Bjorn Olson and the scientists at Ground Truth Trekking for the photos and for taking time out from vacations in exotic places with little connectivity for taking the time to talk to me, such as the wonderfully articulate expedition leader Bretwood “Hig” Higham.

Here’s the rest of the story, with a favorite photo, of the Taan Fjord and Mt Saint Elias. Please read!

taan fjord

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What is the musical analog of poetry? (Moonlight)

Composer Nicholas Brittel talks to Song Exploder about how he discovered the theme to Moonlight:

On what drew him to Moonlight:
When I first read [the script], I was just overwhelmed by this feeling of beauty and poetry, that was really the starting point for my personal experience with the film. There was just this incredible sense of beauty and of sensitivity and tenderness and intimacy in the screenplay. What was amazing to me when I first saw the early cuts of the film after it was shot was how well Barry had preserved that feeling of poetry in the movie.

My first emotional reaction to the film was that sense of poetry. I actually was saying to myself, What is the musical analog of poetry? Among the first things I sent to Barry was a piece of music I wrote that I called “Piano and Violin Poem,” because I was sort of trying to channel this idea — that actually [turned into] Little’s theme.

When it comes to the Academy Awards tomorrow night, La La Land will probably win for best score (and most other categories) but Moonlight’s score is in fact musical poetry — deserves rememberi

As the composer manipulates the sound itself, algorithmically dropping the pitch and in other ways reworking Little’s theme, refracting it so it’s almost but not quite unrecognizeable, we hear memory itself grinding gears, struggling to process the emotions it stirs up.

The only flaw in the score, sez me, is that the official version doesn’t include “Hello Stranger,” the classic R&B song with which the story concluduesa. So I”m including it here.

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Drought over for Ojai? Not yet, but…

Much of Ventura County has now (this water year, beginning in October) reached 100% of annual rainfall. Cheri Carlson writes in the VC Star

This is the first winter since 2011 for the area to get above-average rainfall.

Much of the Ventura County has had 120 to 180 percent of normal rainfall so far this year, ranging from 10 to 21 inches.

Four cities  – Camarillo, Moorpark, Oxnard and Port Hueneme – already have recorded as much rain as they normally would get in a year.

20170207_ca_noneIn Ojai, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, we have are at about 150% of normal, at over 15 inches (including over 10 inches in January). Yet look at the US Drought Monitor and it shows much of the county still in extreme drought.

As Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford writes today in the NYTImes, this wild ride from extreme drought to extreme precipitation will not surprise climate scientists.

“The other bitter reality is that this extremely wet winter will not wash away the drought. Depending where one looks, California lost out on one to three full years of precipitation from 2012 to 2016. That is a lot of water to make up in one year, and as of last week almost half of California was still in a state of drought. The moisture deficits that have accumulated during the drought have not been seen in our lifetimes. They have caused thousands of California residents to go without running water, resulted in groundwater contamination and permanent loss of aquifer storage capacity, and have severely stressed tens of millions of trees. As a result, even after this wet year, rural communities, groundwater aquifers and forest ecosystems will still feel the effects of the drought.”

But if we’ve had 150% of normal, and we are between one and three years of water deficit, surely it’s plausible to think that a really good storm — one that might drop between 3 and 10 inches of rain over six days, putting us at over 200% of an average water year, in record-setting territory, as is forecast — might bring us nearly to normal? Such as this image (via UC San Diego)  showing water vapor smacking California repeatedly over the next week?

Sounds plausible. Let us pray for rain — with not too much flooding. Just enough extremity, but not too much.

iwv_USWC_loop

 

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The madness of Trump’s “alternative facts”

A tsunami of derision has attached itself to the President Trump’s best explainer/apologizer KellyAnne Conway’s assertion last week that the President’s press secretary was offering alternative facts to explain the President’s obviously wrong belief regarding the (small) size of the crowd at his inauguration. Even some of the best coaches in professional basketball, led by Steve Kerr of the Warriors, have joined in the mockery.

When asked about his [Houston Rockets] team struggling, going 3-5 over their last eight games, [Coach Mike]D’Antoni told reporters: “Actually we won all those games. I’m going with that alternative fact thing.”

The best column I’ve seen on the subject of the new administration’s um, assertion of untruths, comes from Dana Milbank, the most popular newspaper columnist in the country, who points out that President Trump is “barking mad.”

“It was almost raining,” the new president told CIA workers in Langley, recounting his inaugural address, “but God looked down and he said, we’re not going to let it rain on your speech. In fact, when I first started, I said, oh, no. The first line, I got hit by a couple of drops. And I said, oh, this is too bad, but we’ll go right through it. But the truth is that it stopped immediately. It was amazing. And then it became really sunny. And then I walked off and it poured right after I left. It poured.”

Really sunny? I was there for the inaugural address, in the sixth row, about 40 feet from Trump, and I remembered the exact opposite: It began to rain when he started and tapered off toward the end. There wasn’t a single ray of sunshine, before, during or after the speech. Was my memory playing tricks on me?

No, of course not — the current President of the United States has so little regard for fact that he will without a second’s qualm lie about even the weather, even about the same weather experienced by thousands of his fellow Americans, and millions more watching on television. Many professionals are saying in public that he is in fact clinically mentally ill.

But this week along with the derision and the psychoanalysis I heard some words of wisdom (methinks) from a much-loved California public official, John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources, who told a packed crowd of hundreds of cientists, bureaucrats, and advocates at the California Climate Change Symposium that we must not be distracted from their work in the environment and on climate change by “alternative facts.”

I quote Hunter Thompson, who said in the Nixon years “when the going gets tough, the weird turn pro.” It’s tempting to want to do all things but if we’re going to be pros we’re going to have to focus. It means people need to work on one or two or three issues. Being scattershot is not the right response. I think people sort of get this: if I care about reproductive rights I get with Planned Parenthood. I join the ACLU to defend immigrants rights. But the question [I have for you] is, how do I plug in on climate change? What I want to do in closing is pass that challenge on to you. I think that there is a ready and willing public and it’s not enough for government agencies to say this is what we’re doing, even though I think we’re doing our best work in years.

I’ve gone this far without mentioning “alternative facts.’ There’s a nuance here. If you focus totally on alternative facts you’re allowing someone else to drive the debate and it’s on us to focus on the real facts…That means not going down ratholes and that we really focus in a way that is meaningful and not scattershot. I think we are to up to it and we are going to drive this debate. So don’t get deterred. We are going to be pros.

Yes, we are — and it starts with believing our eyes. Shouldn’t be impossible, as Orwell reminds us.

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Wounded Earth: poem and photograph

The late great C.K. Williams thinks through the suffering of the earth — whose suffering is it really?

Is it as I suspect not that rare for you to be
wounded ravaged stripped of so much
of what you wore with seeming pride

your seething glittering oceans your forests
nothing new for you meteors comets
volcanoes extinctions the battering ice ages

so perhaps we shouldn’t psalm poor earth
for truly we moan and despair for ourselves
cast into that future we dread while the time

in which we sorrowed you’ll not have regretted
because how can earth not have a past
and how can earth even with a past so fouled

not notice how we departed leaving our heirs
to mourn this patch this sherd of existence
we’d been so confident we’d cherish forever

C. K. Williams

Falling Ill
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The last lines haunt, and bring up the work of the great wounded landscape photographer Edward Burtynksy, recently profiled in The New Yorker (and esp powerful on-line by the way).

Burtynsky photographs the “wounded ravaged stripped” earth without apology, rather like the earth in Williams’ poem I think, and photographically strips it of us and all our wailing and moaning and shows it as it is. Our feelings about the damage mean so little to the planet really.

oilbunkering5nigerdelta2016

 

Or Burtynsky puts it in The New Yorker story:

“I am not out to tell people a unitary story about what they should do to save the earth but, rather, to give people a picture of what it takes to live the way we do.’ ”

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Jerry Brown challenges Trump on climate

In a fiery speech on science, climate, and policy at the American Geophysical Union today, Gov. Jerry Brown challenged the “miasma of nonsense” from the incoming Trump administration on climate questions and promised the thousands of earth scientists in the audience that the state of California would support their work.

“Never has so much power been lodged in so few hands,” Brown said to the scientists. “But it’s not about this politician or that politician. It’s about big oil, big financial institutions. We need to mobilize all your efforts as truth tellers to fight back.”

brownspeech

Brown’s pugilistic rhetoric inspired several standing ovations from the scientists, who are being attacked in the right wing press. The incoming administration has already sent a questionnaire to the Department of Energy asking for the names of scientists working on climate issues — an implicit threat of a witchhunt (Politico).

“The time has never been more urgent or your work never more important. The climate is changing, temperatures are rising, oceans are becoming more acidified, habitats are under stress – the world is facing tremendous danger,” said Brown at the American Geophysical Union’s annual fall meeting in San Francisco. “We’ve got a lot of firepower. We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the universities, we have the national labs and we have the political clout and sophistication for the battle – and we will persevere. Have no doubt about that.”

Brown reminded the scientists that California has a long history of taking the lead on questions of the environment — with clean air standards from the California Air Resources Board that were eventually adopted by the Obama administration for the nation, for example. He spoke of signing memorandums of understanding with over 100 nations, states, and provinces (for more detail see the statement from his office).

I’ve never seen a more inspiring speech given at the AGU (and I’ve seen many, from the likes of James Hansen, Lonnie Thompson, et al).

“This is a big fight,” Brown said, and made it clear that he welcomed the fight. He even promised that if the incoming administration “turns off the satellites, that California will launch its own damn satellite. We’re going to collect that data.” (From the Sacramento Bee story, the best I’ve seen on the speech.)

But one of the most interesting turns (which has not been reported as of yet) came when the former Jesuit acolyte Brown reminded the scientists of the spiritual vice of “tepidity.” He went on to suggest that by “reduction ad absurdum” the incoming administration will make ridiculous its own dismissal of climate change.

He scoffed at right-wing “clowns in the media,” calling out Brietbart by name, for claiming that global warming is due to “cow farts.”

“Eventually the truth will prevail,” Governor Brown continued. “This is not a battle of one day or one election. This is a long-term slog into the future and you are there, the foot soldiers of change and understanding and scientific collaboration.”

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The mercurial John Lennon: from 12/7/1980

A nice column from conservative Carl Cannon of the OC Register tells the story of what happened when Annie Liebowitz went to the Dakota to photograph John Lennon for Rolling Stone, back in l980:

On the morning of December 8, 1980, Leibovitz arrived at the Dakota, the apartment building west of Central Park where John Lennon and Yoko Ono lived. Although Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner “never told me what do to” when she went on a photo shoot, Leibovitz has said, this one time he did: “Please get some pictures without her.”

Meaning Yoko. But Liebowitz was thinking of the cover of their record, Double Fantasy, and its kiss.

“This was the 1980s—romance was a little dead,” she recalled later. “And I was so moved by that kiss.”

She suggested a picture of the two of them naked. Yoko balked, and then began to consider the possibility, but in the meantime the mercurial Lennon with Liebowitz had come up with a new idea — him naked and Yoko clothed.

lenonyoko.0

 

Liebowitz took a Polaroid of the pose: they all three agreed this was the picture for the story.

Cannon writes:

In just 12 hours, John would be dead, shot outside the Dakota by a deranged fan. Six weeks later, January 22, 1981, Rolling Stone gave grieving music fans this last image. It’s was John Lennon’s gift to us, really. When Annie Leibovitz had arrived that morning, he had made it clear he wanted his wife in the pictures. Pointing at Yoko, he had insisted simply, “I want to be with her.”

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Is desalination the answer for drought in Ventura County?

Although climate change was hardly mentioned in the two-hour discussion of desalination led by Ventura County supervisor Steve Bennett last Thursday at the county government center, the question of drought has clearly been very much on the minds of water officials in the county.

Even more alarming, possibly, might be an earthquake that could interrupt supplies to county residents from the State Water Project, which supplies most of the water to about 640,000 people in the county.

Said Susan Mulligan, an engineer who manages the Calleguas district that supplies most of the county, during the discussion:

“The question of an earthquake cutting us off isn’t a question of if; it’s a question of when. If 75 percent of the water [from the State Water Project] is cut off, we don’t even have health and safety water at that point.”

The quote comes from a story in the Ventura County Star by Tony Biascotti. The even-handed story stayed away from conclusions, except to point out one vexing fact. Because it will take on the order of fourteen years to permit, research, and build a seawater desalination plant — according to a study cited by Mulligan — such a plant won’t solve our current water shortage woes right now.

Bennett took an unusual and fresh approach to the water supply question: stating no position of his own, and pointing out that the county has no direct authority over water, he nonetheless brought four real experts to the podium, gave them ten minutes each to make a presentation, and then asked questions — about cost, about permitting, about alternatives, and so on. Here’s the video, from his supervisorial site.

From this reporter’s perspective, the most useful advice came from Joshua Haggmark of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara was once dependent, as is western Ventura County now, mostly on a local watershed and reservoir (Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara), augmented with groundwater from wells. After an on-and-off again history with a desalination plant, build in response to the last drought in the late 1980’s early 1990’s, Santa Barbara has now has all but completely exhausted Lake Cachuma. Until it really begins to rain again, if it ever does, the county now relies on a great variety of different sources, as illustrated by this slide from Haggmark’s presentation:

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The strongest proponent of desalination was Scott Maloni, a vice-president from a private company called Poseidon that has built a fairly large plant in San Diego that supplies a significant portion of the county’s water. That’s the upside: the downside is that it cost a billion dollars, and took fifteen years to construct and permit.

Two significant questions were not asked, from this reporter’s perspective. What plans, if any, does Mulligan and Calleguas have to develop some form of desalination? They clearly have a need for water for at the minimum health and safety for two-thirds of the county: What are they thinking?

Second, if as much science indicates Southern California is headed for a substantially drier future, is there any real alternative to at least some desalination? (Desalination doesn’t have to draw from the sea — it’s cheaper and easier to desalinate brackish groundwater or effluent from water treatment plants, such as in Oxnard.)

(The climate change/perpetual drought question may be a hyperobject: a fact so big and omnipresent it cannot be mentioned in local reporting. This is part of a fascinating theory being pioneered by a BBC documentarian named Adam Curtis.)

But judging from the tenor of Haggmark’s remarks about what happened in Santa Barbara, my conclusion is that water districts may not have much choice but to develop a diversity of sources to survive, including some desal. He said:

“Desalination is not going to solve all your problems, but it certainly helps to have diversity in your supplies,” said panelist Joshua Haggmark, water resources manager for the city of Santa Barbara. “You want diversity in your stock portfolio, you want diversity in your community, and water supply is the same thing.”

Interesting to hear him connect the concept of diversity to both politics and investments.

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“It’s getting worse”: Alt-Right denies NASA data

Charlie Sykes, a popular and sane host of a right-wing talk show called Right Wisconsin, a man who declared his opposition to Trump early in the campaign, just penned an editorial in Politico that warns that the “Alt-Reality” media attack/denial machine will be “emboldened” by President-Elect Trump’s victory.

As Trump slouched toward the nomination he was backed by a conservative media that had successfully created an alternative reality bubble around his candidacy. When Trump claimed that “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey had celebrated the attacks on 9/11, for instance, callers to my show lined up to provide supporting evidence the only source of which was an echo chamber of partisan bloggers; listeners chimed in with evidence they had seen on Facebook linking Ted Cruz’ father to the JFK assassination.

Sykes is talking about a problem for the conservative media (such as himself) that opposed Trump, but he quickly adds that the problem will be even worse for the mainstream media.

For years, Rush Limbaugh has gibed about what he calls the “state-controlled media”—the fawning liberal news outlets that Limbaugh has long decried for their lack of critical coverage of President Obama—but we may be about to see what one actually looks like—an alt-reality news outlet operating from within 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The new media will not only provide propaganda cover for the administration, but also direct the fire of a loose confederation of conservative outlets against critics and dissenters. Already, Fox’s Sean Hannity has urged Trump to freeze out the mainstream media and talk directly to the nation.

Worse, Sykes — who was vilified by Trump followers for his lack of faith — warns of “counter-narratives” to be launched by conspiracy theorists such as Alex Jones and alt-right warriors such as Breitbart, run by Trump’s newly named chief advisor. Such as denying global warming for example — as in a post this week from Brietbart. Also known as lies and lying.

The headline says it all. No need to read it in the original German.

http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/11/24/german-professor-nasa-fiddled-climate-data-unbelievable-scale/

So the battle lines are drawn: the Trumpers will deny NASA data on global warming, using “politcally correct environmental monitoring‘ as an excuse to defund the agency, according to his science advisor Bob Walker.

Even as the Arctic is 36 degrees above normal in November (not reflected in this graph of a couple of years ago).

Which is more terrifying: the lying of the Alt-Right or a physical reality our species has never experienced?

arctic-temperature-increase-since-1880-nasa

Guess we’ll find out.

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