What is it about train journeys that make us feel more alive than taking a plane or riding in the car?
For one, trains are part of the environment. Like snakes, they can weave in and out of nature. They go unimpeded into mountains, cities, forests, and slither by oceans.
There’s no better way to see the world than riding the train.
It gives us a chance to paint the world with our eyes. Each blink of an eye flashes novelty, like scrolling an Instagram feed into life.
Trains are just what we need in a dizzying mobile-first society. They give us a chance to slow down, but at the same time light up the brain with curiosity and compel us to see more, do more, and appreciate the beauty of our surroundings.
PS. I took the train from Seattle down to Los Angeles once, not quite the length of Moscow to the Far-East on the Trans-Siberian Railway, but undoubtedly a memorable one. It was an excellent time to reflect on my own life’s journey and to take pictures. I wrote a semi-fictional book about the trip earlier this year, which you can read for free right here.
The structure of a stream lies within its anti-structure, the unpredictable and chaotic movement of its flow; fresh water slithering over rocks, persisting downward all the way into the mouth of the river.
Streams can only perform their function if nature permits such fluidity, the human renter backs off, and it swims unimpeded; flexing a dynamic energy so essential to the information Earth collects.
Once Paul finally sat down, he made an effort to scan his body and feel his feet touch the floor. He stretched his head back to gaze through the skylight. The combined light and shadow of the glass-sheathed car danced around him like a carousel. The ambient shapes of silence put him in a trance. The plane thousands of feet above looked like a butterfly who’s wings froze to the shutter of the camera in the eye. He regained his focus, this time shuffling his feet to swirl around in the chair, searching, not for anything in particular but anything unusual.
Please let me know your feedback on the book on Twitter. Which chapter or line is your favorite? What would you have liked to read more of? Just send a tweet to @bombtune or email me at wellsbaum[at]gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!
We reach for the phone to find ourselves. We’d rather outsource our frustration and boredom to a widget than deal with our anxieties directly.
The mobile phone makes it easier to cope (read: ignore) the world going on around us. It’s easy: we just don’t pay attention; plus, we can crush dissent with our own filters. But echo chambers confirm prejudice.
There’s chaos in the cosmos, disorder in peace. If we can’t tolerate ambiguity, then we’ll succumb to the fickleness of weather patterns.
Perhaps the lost are found, the only ones looking up.
The 19th-century French novelist Gustave Flaubert once said to be “be regular and orderly in your life like a Bourgeois so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
Vivian Maier took this to heart. No one ever knew this nanny was an artist of her own.
She took over 100,000 photos, mostly street photographs of downtown Chicago, and kept them for her own viewing, including her selfies. Taking pictures was her happy place, a creative outlet, that allowed her to see the world with a third eye. She wrote with light.
Today, Maier would’ve been an Instagram and VSCO sensation. While she may have resisted social media given her inclination as a loner, she probably would’ve enjoyed connecting with others who shared the same passion. The internet unleashes the weirdness in all of us, motivating us to share our work.
Van Gogh only sold one piece of artwork in his life, to his brother. His posthumous reputation speaks for itself, as does Maier’s.
“It’s such an American thing that nothing is real until it’s on television.” – Tom Nichols
It doesn’t matter what books we write or discoveries we make. People only remember us if we appear on TV. In Tom Nichols’ case, succeeding on on Jeopardy superseded his professional accolades as a published author, foreign advisor, and professor at Naval War College.
Television is magic. It informs large audiences that we exist. That’s where talents like Will Smith established their brand. But TV also generates the antithesis: it makes stupid people famous.
The Kardashians pollute the news with their meaninglessness. The President too is a product of the mass marketing machine that is TV. The tube amplifies our status, but it rarely legitimizes the importance of work. Just ask Professor Robert Kelly whose video will forever be remembered as the poster parent for those who work from home with kids. And yes, online is an extension of TV, including YouTube, SnapChat, and Facebook Live. The future of storytelling is pervasive and persuasive video.
Like a social media following, appearing on TV lends instant credibility. Fame is forever tied to visual media. What’s universally more important though is what we build with our bare hands off-screen.
Trains suck in the US for more reasons than one. Here’s why America will continue to lag behind Western Europe and Japan.
America is too vast: There aren’t enough dense cities close enough to each other than East Coast, West Coast, and SouthWest.
Expensive/slow: It costs $40 to travel from DC to NYC, a 3 hour and 30-minute ride. The Amtrak Acela can get there in 2 hours and 50 minutes at a cost of $120. Conversely, it costs $30 and just a little over 2 hours to go the same distance from Rennes, France to Paris.
Weak demand: Amtrak runs 300 train journeys per day while France’s state-owned SNCF operates 14,000 train journeys per day.
Little Funding: Amtrak estimates that it will cost $151 Billion to build a high-speed track like France’s in the Northeast Corridor. But the government has other budgetary priorities. So Amtrak is stuck sharing the tracks with freight trains–Union Pacific and BNSF–who own a combined 98.6% of America’s railways.
Given other methods of travel – planes, buses, and soon to come self-driving cars, not to mention Elon Musk’s ‘Hyperloop,’ train travel is not going to get any faster, cheaper, and overall more convenient. However, at least Amtrak is upgrading the next important thing: WiFi.
Leon Jacobs writes on the Crew Blog about the benefits of setting creative constraints. He uses the 1960s film The Perfect Human to illustrate what happens when the director Jorgen Leth takes on full creative control. The upshot is a boring movie about humans.
Years later one of Leth’s students, Lars von Trier, challenges him to remake the film with a set of assigned “obstructions” or challenges. Von Trier sends him to Cuba to remake the movie in 12 half-second frames. Although Leth is initially scared, he ends up creating a much more compelling film the original.
The higher the obstruction, the more single-minded the problem, the more the creative mind is challenged.
Creativity is boundless. The paradox of creativity is that setting limitations focuses you on getting started and helps you end up with a superior product. The next time someone gives you a project, asks for some constrictions. As Jacob concludes, “ironically, the focus is what frees us.”