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Comics, Wrestling and Telling the Story of Andre the Giant

Box Brown, the author of the new Andre the Giant graphic novel talks about the similarities between the art of comics and professional wrestling and his admiration for the subject of his new book. AndretheGiant

Comics and wrestling seem like a natural fit to me.  When, as an adult, you tell someone you’re interested in comics you have to be prepared to defend that.  I think there can be a lot of misconceptions about what comics are and what comics can be, like that they’re only for kids or perhaps a generation of older men still living in their parents’ basements.  As a comic artist (and reader) I know this just is not the case.  Comics is a medium capable of an infinite range of expressions—an art form.  I believe that pro-wrestling is an art form too.

Surely then, if pro-wrestling is an art form, it has had no greater master than Andre the Giant.  Andre had a condition known as acromegaly, which caused him to grow too large for his own good.  When he was told he wouldn’t live past the age of forty, he decided to live the life he had to the fullest.  Andre had a leg up in the pro-wrestling business, because he was a huge man who was naturally foreboding. But he didn’t rest on that.  He knew how to work a crowd the way great comedians and MCs do.  He knew how to play both a “babyface” (good guy) and “heel” (bad guy) to perfection.  He also worked constantly for many many years to develop his craft. 

In pro-wrestling when two wrestlers are developing a match they say they are telling a story in the ring.  So, in addition to all the storylines that go into a pro-wrestling television show, the two athletes in the ring are telling a story.  It’s a sequential story that has the qualities we look for in the greatest works of literature.  The hero sets out on a quest and is tested and beaten down and eventually he rises to the occasion to defeat and overcome his detractors.  Each story is different and can be a drama, tragedy or comedy.  Each wrestler has his own unique style and way to depict his character.  Is it that different from using a brush and ink (and Photoshop) to tell this type of story on the comic page? 

I think of Andre’s story as a tragic one.  He was disabled for a large part of his life and he died at only forty six years old.  He was mostly portrayed on TV and spoken of as a kind man with gentle heart.  But Andre was only human.  He had all the flaws and personal idiosyncrasies that we all have.  He was imperfect at times.  He spent a lot of time in pain.  I think he felt disconnected to this world that he didn’t quite fit in.  Every aspect of his life had to be special fitted for him, from his clothes to his cutlery to his cars.

Towards the end of Andre’s career he was in a lot of pain. People said he probably should have retired and he could have, financially, but instead he persevered.  I think this is what I admire most about him.  I think those moments when he was in the ring creating stories were extremely important to him and really made him happy.  I hope one day when I’m nearing the end I continue to persevere and create the way Andre did. 


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The Time of the Finite

Philippe Squarzoni, author of Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science asks, “How can we--each of us in our own sphere--handle the fundamental contradictions between our lifestyle and the needs of the environment?” ClimateChanged

In 2006, while I was working on my previous documentary graphic novel, I began to look into the issue of global warming. I realized that, probably like most of us, I didn’t know a lot about it, and I decided to explore it more seriously.

I grasped, then, the nature of the climate crisis, the gravity of the situation, and the enormity of the changes that would have to be put in place to escape the worst consequences of climate change. And it became clear to me that it could not be just a few pages devoted to it, but an entire book itself, to which I committed six years of work.

The IPCC reports, scientific books on the subject, and interviews with experts and journalists paint a rather bleak picture of our collective future. While the first part of my book details the causes and consequences of climate change, in the second part it addresses possible alternatives and the energy scenarios that will allow us to escape this as best as possible.

It’s both this growing understanding and the questions that are posed on an individual level that Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science recounts.

How can we—each of us in our own sphere—handle the fundamental contradictions between our lifestyle and the needs of the environment?

If the magnitude of the changes that must be made far exceed the capacity of our individual actions, then true change must be made on a much broader, structural level—these must be political decisions, where, unfortunately, inaction is the order of the day.

Each of the past three decades, the surface of the earth has been successively hotter, compared to all other decades since 1850. Greenhouse gas emissions are now higher than in the most pessimistic predictions.

We stand, in a way, in the intermediate period between two moments in history. A first one where the riches of nature were considered infinite, unlimited resources, a period of perpetual growth. This was the time of promise. But we must move now into a second period, where the constraints of the climate are imposed on us—the depletion of resources, the limits of the planet. This is the time of the finite.

In Montana, “brown season” is a name for a fifth season, a period of transition between winter and spring. A period of uncertainty, from which we must now move on.


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Americans Interned

"Gaijin" Summary: With a white mother and a Japanese father, Koji Miyamoto quickly realizes that his home in San Francisco is no longer a welcoming one after Pearl Harbor is attacked. And once he's sent to an internment camp, he learns that being half white at the camp is just as difficult as being half Japanese on the streets of an American city during WWII. Gaijin

When I was ten years old, I read a big stack of books about children and the Holocaust. I was horrified at the thought of children like myself being locked up in those terrible camps. One day my mom told me, “You know, we have family members who were put in an American prison camp during World War Two.”  I didn’t believe her. “America would never do something like that.” I said.

She sat me down and filled me in. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, by the Japanese navy, Americans became very frightened of all Japanese people, even those who were U.S. citizens. In 1942, the government took those fears to an extreme and imprisoned more than 112,000 people of Japanese ancestry in prison camps across western America. Over half of those interned were children and two thirds were U.S. citizens.

The camps were situated in extremely harsh country—mostly high desert, which was very hot in the summer, very cold in the winter. People were made to live in uninsulated tar-paper shacks. My mom told me that my great-aunt Adeline, her daughter, Mary, and Mary’s young children were a just few of those who were forced into one of these prison camps during the war—a camp called Manzanar.

I am not of Japanese descent; my ancestors came mostly from Ireland. So, I didn’t understand: How did my Irish American relatives end up in camps for Japanese Americans?   

Continue reading "Americans Interned" »

Guest Blogger: Gwyneth Paltrow

WithinGwyneth Paltrow is an Oscar winner and author of the New York Times best-selling cookbook, My Father's Daughter. She is a mother and an actress, splitting her time between London and New York.

When my latest cookbook, It's All Good, was nearly complete, I was still searching for someone to write the foreword.  Because the book included amazing recipes based on a particular healing diet I had been prescribed by my physician, I immediately thought of Dr. Habib Sadeghi.  Not only did he understand the medicinal qualities of whole foods, but also the spiritual partnership we have with the earth that provides them to us.  I was extremely grateful when Dr. Sadeghi agreed, and even more so when I recently received the opportunity to return the favor and write the foreword to his incredible new book, Within.

What struck me immediately about Within is that it’s so universal.  Yes, it focuses on the goal of losing weight, but it does so with principles that can be applied to anything we want to achieve.  It’s really a life map instead of a diet.  In fact, it isn’t a diet at all because he never mentions food or even exercise.  The world doesn’t need another carb counting lecture.  It’s really a healing workout for the soul, and that seems only fitting since people often call him the Old Soul Doctor.  

They say that over a lifetime, everyone has at least one story or experience that will break your heart. If that’s true, then Dr. Sadeghi has enough for three lifetimes.  He’s an old soul not because of what he’s been through, but because of how he survived and thrived on the other side of those difficulties. In Within, he shares the tools he used to get through those experiences and the wisdom he earned in the process. 

That’s why I was so proud to write the foreword to Within.  Who hasn’t wanted to change their life in some significant way and felt totally lost as to how to make that happen?  Dr. Sadeghi isn’t a motivational guru.  Even better; he’s somebody who’s “been there”.  If direct experience is the only real teacher in life, then Dr. Sadeghi has a PhD in getting your life off life support.  You’ll feel his compassion on every page and he never talks down to the reader.  Instead, he approaches every subject with the same intuitive empathy that makes him so successful as a physician.

I highly recommend Within, no matter what kind of change you’re seeking in your life.  Just be prepared for a paradigm shift in the way you think and feel that only comes from fearlessly “stepping into your loving”.

--Gwyneth Paltrow

Guest Blog: “It’s a Lovely, Lucky Thing to Have Children.” by Vivek J. Tiwary

“It’s a Lovely, Lucky Thing to Have Children”

51MKOlwmk1LThat’s what Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein told a distraught John Lennon, who had just learned that his girlfriend Cynthia Powell was pregnant.

As a gay man in 1960’s England, it would have been impossible for Brian Epstein to imagine ever having children. Forget gay marriage or adoption—Brian was worried about staying out of jail. Homosexuality was a felony. Brian fondly called the Beatles his “boys” and while scandal-seeking journalists have suggested that this endearment underscored salacious desires, I think it was reflective of a lovelier, though more complicated truth. For Brian, the Beatles weren’t just treasured clients—they were the children he could never have.

Like many good fathers, Brian dreamed big dreams for his boys—“The Beatles are going to be bigger than Elvis!” he proudly boasted, and “the Beatles are going to elevate pop music to an art form!” He believed that the Beatles would spread a great message of love across the globe. And he moved mountains in the service of these dreams—convincing EMI to sign the Beatles after they (and every other record label) had already passed on the band; crafting the famous Beatles’ suits, haircuts, and performance-ending bows; twisting Ed Sullivan’s arm into booking the Beatles when a British band had never made an impact in the United States; and so on. And yet the most important thing that Brian gave the Beatles was not a business item. It was, simply put, love. Engineering the great runaway freight train that was the Beatles in the 1960’s was a man who nurtured them, protected them, and encouraged them to think of their band as a family. Brian’s love for the Beatles’ was an unconditional love—the love of a father to a child. The kind of love that the Beatles sang about so often.

Luckily for Brian, the trickster amongst his boys John Lennon once said that there were only two people in his life that he actually listened to and would do what they told him to—Brian Epstein and Yoko Ono.

My own father died when I was 20, and my mother died just a few years after that. I was an only child, so the loss was devastating and exhaustive. My home felt so quiet in those years. I didn’t feel so much alone as I felt quiet… And now it’s 20 years later, I’m married to an inspiring wife, I have two delightful children—and my home is noisier than I ever imagined possible! It’s full of childish laughter, joy… and the lovesongs of the Beatles.

Vivek with his two children

I’ve loved sharing the Beatles with my children in part because it completes a circle that began when my  parents first played the Beatles for me. It feels like witnessing magic to see my kids respond to their songs almost exactly as I did, to truly see how cross-generational this band really is.

And just as I’ve loved sharing the Beatles with my kids, I’ve loved sharing the Brian Epstein story with them—because it’s the story of a man who in the face of tremendous obstacles made a spectacular dream come true. What father doesn’t want his children to grow up with that kind of inspiration?

I dedicated “The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story” to my mother and to Brian Esptein’s mother, because it’s with these fab ladies that it all truly began. But in many ways, “The Fifth Beatle” really belongs to the next generation.

John Lennon said, “Make your own dream. That's the Beatles' story, isn't it?” I suppose it is. But digging deeper than that, it’s really the story of the man who made the Beatles—the story of The Fifth Beatle, Brian Epstein.



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Guest Blogger: Alan Weisman, author of "Countdown"

CountdownAlan Weisman is the author of several books, including The World Without Us: an international best-seller translated in 34 languages, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the Wenjin Book Prize of the National Library of China.

Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth? addresses a question I’d left dangling at the end of my last book, The World Without Us, a thought experiment that imagined what would happen if people vanished from our planet. The idea of theoretically wiping us from the Earth was to show that, despite colossal damage we’ve wreaked, nature has remarkable healing powers. When relieved of the pressures we humans daily heap upon it, restoration and renewal commence with surprising swiftness.  My hope was that readers, seduced by the gorgeous prospect of a refreshed, healthy Earth, might ask themselves how we could add Homo sapiens back into the picture—only in harmony, not mortal combat, with the rest of nature.

The question I’d left them to ponder was how many people can this planet really hold without capsizing it? A million more of us every 4½ days didn’t sound sustainable– was it time for us to consider gradually bringing ourselves down to a workable equilibrium with our Earthly habitat, before nature brutally did that for us?

This delicate, potentially explosive notion generated so much subsequent discussion that I realized I should investigate it fully.  It’s easy to grasp why populations of prey, predators, and forage plants have to be kept in balance in a national park, but much harder when your own species is in question.  Anticipating the cultural and emotional pitfalls, I’d need to apply objective tools of journalism to learn if the optimum number of humans could actually be determined, and if there were something we could realistically and humanely do about it.

I also had to confront three corollary questions: How much ecosystem is required to preserve human life – what species or ecological processes are essential to our survival?  And if, in order to survive, we have to avoid growing beyond 10 billion—or even reduce our numbers from our current 7+ billion—is there an acceptable, nonviolent way to convince a majority of the world’s religions, nationalities, and political systems that it's in their best interest to do so, or is there anything in their liturgies, histories, or belief systems that might embrace the seemingly unnatural idea of limiting ourselves? Finally, how might we design an economy for a shrinking population, and then for a stable, optimal one—meaning, a way to prosper without constant growth?

My research ended up taking me to 21 countries, starting in Israel and Palestine, ending in Iran, with much of Europe, Africa, the Americas, and the Far East in between. More than one expert I met commented that I was asking the most important questions on Earth—but they were probably impossible to answer.

My reply was that if these are the most important questions on Earth, we’d damn well better try.

--Alan Weisman

Guest Blogger: Bruce Poon Tip, author of "Looptail"

LooptailLooptail combines both Bruce Poon Tip's first-person account of his entrepreneurial instincts to start and develop G Adventures, an international travel adventure company, and along the way, he reveals his unusual management secrets that not only keep his employees engaged but also keep his customers  happy.

“Our purpose in life is achieving happiness.”

- His Holiness The Dalai Lama

I am not Buddhist (I get asked this all the time), but in truth, this teaching of His Holiness the Dalai Lama has helped me build G Adventures - the world’s most successful adventure travel company and evolve it into a social enterprise that elevates its customers to a higher purpose -- all through travel.

Reaching this point was definitely not easy. In LooptailI tell the story of how it all started and why at G Adventures, we’re now in the business of changing people’s lives.

My Looptail started in 1997, seven years after I founded G Adventures in my apartment by maxing out two credit cards. I had to, because no bank would give me a loan to provide start up funding for my business.

Business was not good in 1997. In fact, my fledging company was facing bankruptcy. I was in Nepal, en route to Tibet, leading a group of travelers (which was not uncommon for me at that time). I truly thought that at the end of this trip, when I returned back to Toronto, that we were going to have to close down my business for good.

Nevertheless, as my group got set to depart our hotel for the next leg of our journey, I swapped my copy of Wired, the infamous John Belushi biography for Great Ocean – the authorized biography of Ten‐zin Gyatso, the great fourteenth Dalai Lama. Little did I know that reading that unique book would not only lay the foundation of what would change me as a person (and would result in me getting thrown in a Burmese prison a few days later), but it motivated me to think in new and innovative ways about how to create a different kind of company.

Not only did some fairly karmic events happen to turn things around quickly, but soon after my trip my business began to grow rapidly. But that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted G Adventures to be so much more than JUST a travel company.

These days, we’re at a point at G Adventures where our entire global business is shaped around five core values and our business model is rooted in happiness, community and karma.

As I type this, I realize that this may sound like we’re a bunch of hippies here at G Adventures. To be honest, we do have our share of Birkenstock-wearing employees, but our business numbers don’t lie: In addition to growing profits year after year, even during economic downturns and recessions, we also maintain an incredibly happy workforce, which has won numerous awards. Best of all, we maintain a 99% customer satisfaction rating.

I recently received some amazing news - His Holiness The Dalai Lama has written the foreword for Looptail and in it, thanks me for “…making an active contribution to creating more peaceful and happier world.”  To say that I am honored and thrilled is an understatement. For me this is validation that we have grown into a true social enterprise that inspires and elevates its customers and employees to a higher purpose and have transcended our industry. This, of course, makes me very, very happy.

Looptail is a business book. The thought of this may scare (or bore) some of you, but don’t worry. Throughout the book, there are many stories of travel, adventure, interesting characters, and meaningful connections that I have encountered along my journey.

I hope that you will read Looptail and will be inspired to find happiness in your life and work. 


Bruce Poon Tip


Guest Blogger: Sona Mehring, on "Hope Conquers All"

Hope Conquers AllSona Mehring is the Founder and CEO of – the online social network that helps people start private, personal websites to negotiate their health journeys in the best possible way: supported by all the love, hope, and compassion their families and friends can muster. Now she has Hope Conquers All, a book of uplifting personal stories from people who have had a CaringBridge Site for themselves, a friend, or a loved one.

Hugs are a big part of my life.

I get hugged a lot – at airports, malls, conferences, by people on the street…you name it. It’s really humbling and sometimes very emotional too, because the people usually thank me and tell me how CaringBridge changed their lives, or the life of someone they know and love.

It’s wonderful, but I wasn’t aiming for that kind of notoriety or love when I started CaringBridge or conceived Hope Conquers All. It’s just another result of the power of people coming together, providing love and hope, in a time of need.

Besides the hugs, I’ve heard from families rallying around a mom, dad or child diagnosed with cancer, people who are injured and recovering, or people afflicted in some other way. A CaringBridge Site connects them with everyone who cares about them. It lets them know something very important in their difficult time: You are not alone.

All the Beautiful Stories

All the beautiful stories I’ve heard could easily fill another dozen books, and they’d be just as compelling as Hope Conquers All.  The ones I’ve selected here are told in plain language with no artificial, sentimental frills. They need none. They describe compassion and hope, loss and grief, the power of love and the beauty of the human spirit in simple, unadorned language. That’s their power.

This book isn’t about me. It’s about revealing the spiritual presence that connects us all. And one day, I realized that I had the power to share these stories and that Hope Conquers All would be another way to bring people together. Now that’s important.”

--Sona Mehring

Guest Blogger: Paul Bogard, author of "The End of Night"

The End of NightPaul Bogard's The End of Night is a deeply panoramic tour of the night, from its brightest spots to the darkest skies we have left.

People are often surprised to hear me admit that I’m afraid of the dark. I mean, I’m the guy who wrote the book on the importance of natural darkness, right? Absolutely. But it’s true—ever since I was a little kid I have been afraid of the dark.

What’s changed for me, especially over the three years I worked on The End of Night, is how much respect I have gained for the dark. I’ve learned so much more than I ever knew about how valuable darkness is for so many aspects of life: for human physical and mental and spiritual health, for the health of the ecosystems on which we rely. One theme that runs through the book is that all life on earth evolved in bright days and dark nights, and we need both for optimal health. It’s not that artificial light at night is bad—to the contrary, it can be beautiful and helpful—it’s just that we are using so much more of it than we need, and we are using it in ways that are irresponsible, wasteful, and even harmful.

The reason we do this—use more light than we need to—has a lot to do with our fear of the dark. Because we are afraid of the dark, we avoid, ignore, and know little about it. Our knee-jerk reaction to darkness is to turn on a light, and most of us never spend any time in the dark. One idea that never fails to impress me is how it’s estimated that 8 of 10 children born in the US today will never live where they can see the Milky Way. And unfortunately, the vast majority of these children will never even visit areas where they might experience a truly dark night. Our fear of the dark is a natural human reaction—we have long feared the dark. But when you add the fact that most of us never spend any time in real darkness, our fear of the dark festers, and all too often we then use it as an excuse to light our nights more brightly than we need to.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t things to fear at night. And no one I talked to for The End of Night argued that we ought to get rid of our lights. But people told me again and again that just because some light can help improve our safety and security, that doesn’t mean more light will improve our safety and security more. In fact, solving light pollution—which is readily in our ability to do—goes hand in hand with improving our safety at night. The way we tend to use light at night—spraying it in all directions, including into our eyes, into the sky, and even into our bedrooms—makes it harder for us to see, creates shadows where the “bad guys” can hide, and gives us the illusion of safety. Lights alone do not make us safe, and darkness alone does not endanger us.

And so that brings me back to being afraid of the dark. I can’t really help it—my fear of the dark is part of me, as it has been part of humanity since time began. But it’s not really the darkness that scares me, but what is sometimes in the darkness. Darkness alone is vitally important to us, and we actually harm ourselves and our beautiful world by chasing it away with too much light.

“Learn to reverence night and to put away the vulgar fear of it,” wrote Henry Beston in 1928. He was writing from Cape Cod, where his nights were very dark, but where he could already see “lights and ever more lights” diminishing the natural darkness he loved. I wanted to write a book that would help make readers aware of the artificial light all around us, and the many costs of that lights. But I especially wanted to write a book that would help readers to begin to reverence night.

Even if, like me, they have always been afraid of the dark.

--Paul Bogard

Q&A with Leandra Medine, author of "Man Repeller"

Man RepellerThis question/answer is between Amanda Englander and Leandra Medine about Man Repeller, a collection of awkwardly funny experiences, a sweet love story, and above all, a reminder to celebrate and embrace a world made for women, by women.

Amanda Englander: You’ve shared a lot of personal stories on your website. What made you want to write a book? How was it different from writing for your website? 

Leandra Medine: What writer doesn't dream of at some point, publishing a book? I'd grown really accustomed to condensing my stories to 1000 words or less so figured challenging myself to writing in far longer form and not for the purpose of, say, my senior thesis would be good for me. I think (hope) I was right.

So many things about the book are different. For one thing, I am used to getting immediate feedback on my stories. They're determined either good or bad, and then the following story is catered to the accrued data of the previous story. With my book, I spent eight months writing and editing the stories, and never knew if they'd resonate with the same enthusiasm that the blog posts do. Frankly, I feel like I'm in a perpetual state of “waiting room syndrome.”

In addition to that, most of the writing for my blog is pretty pertinent. A story I post this week may be irrelevant next week and so stepping out of the mindset and beginning to think more evergreen was something of a challenge as well. Also, it's pretty easy to forget bad blog posts, they get pushed down on the homepage and then clocked into the archive. Once that book is out there--it's out there forever. FOREVER.

Amanda Englander: How did you choose which stories to tell in this book? If you had to relive one of them, which would it be—and would you be wearing the same thing? Are there any outfits that you cover in the book that you won’t be able to wear anymore?

Leandra Medine: Well, I knew that the all-encompassing message of the book was going to be a combination of the evolution of Man Repeller and the relationship that found me married. So when considering which stories to include/discard I had to think about whether or not what I wanted to share was integral to that story-telling process. I would totally go back to the Harem Pants, but only if I knew then what I know now. It would have made the situation comical instead of tragic. To be honest--I don't think i'd wear 75% of the things that I wore and documented throughout the book. That's the great thing about fashion, isn't it? One day you like it, love it, can't live without it and the next day it makes you recoil.

Amanda Englander: Where do you write? Tell us a little bit about your process.

Leandra Medine: Typically at my desk--I wish it was more interesting. I used to like writing at my kitchen counter but found that my bar stool seating was doing a huge disservice to my back. I am pretty sure I have developed scoliosis. In terms of the process, I have definitely found that shutting my wifi off is an important part of actually getting the work done. When people say it took them years and years and years to write a book, I often wonder how much accounts for the procrastination process, too. Getting down words is important, even if you turn out scrapping each and every one of them. 

Amanda Englander: What do you read for fun? Who are some of your favorite writers? Do you have any literary fashion icons?

Leandra Medine: I read a lot of creative nonfiction. Some of my favorite authors include David Foster Wallace, Joan Didion, David Sedaris, Fran Lebowitz, and recently George Saunders. Currently, I am reading a book by Ray McGill Jr called On Sincerity. I'm not sure Fran Lebowitz meant to become anyone's literary fashion icon, but there's a reason I cut my hair if you know what I'm saying. 

Amanda Englander: What would your advice be for someone who thinks they have a great idea or a story to tell?           

Leandra Medine: Tell it. Don't be shy, don't be embarrassed, and definitely don't think about the writing process. Just tell it to the best of your ability. You can rest assured that at least someone will care, like it, and want to hear more. (Hi, Mom.)

Amanda Englander: You’re a fashion rule breaker—but is there one rule you’d never break?

Leandra Medine: Probably not.