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A 3-Question Interview with author and journalist James Nestor

Q: You've experienced more adventures than most people do in a lifetime. If you could give everyone in the world the opportunity to go on one of those adventures, what journey or experience would you pick and why? A: Go dive with a whale. It's the most paradigm-shifting experience you'll ever have. Having your body clicked and vibrated by the world's largest predator, communing these beasts eye-to-eye, and knowing that they can kill you in an instant but choose not to, and, instead come to you in peace, speaking their names or whatever, after all we've done...

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“Get” not “have”

I do not have to do yard work. I get to do yard work because I live in a house that has a yard. In Florida, I lived in a friend’s dining room that was too small for a twin bed. I slept on a cot and hung sheets over the doors for privacy. I do not have to work. I get to work. I make enough to own a house, and I do not have to work two jobs (or three or four or five, all of which I’ve done before). I do not have to eat. I get to eat. I was so broke when I lived...

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The big f’ing kahuna

The one and only time I truly tried to surf, I couldn't get my board past the tiny waves at the shore. I spent 20 minutes swimming as hard as I ever have. I'd make it three feet, get knocked back four. When I felt like passing out, I shambled out of the water, sat down and puked. I brushed sand over my vomit like a cat covering its droppings. Kenny rode the waves for another half hour, and we left. I never bothered surfing again. It's a metaphor for life. We can get so beat down...

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A different way to live

A different way to live An Amish boy's church clothes. Yesterday, we toured an Amish farm outside Berlin, Ohio. A 16-year-old in an ankle-length dress showed us the schoolhouse. It was the sort of place Abe Lincoln might have studied in. "We appreciate and use the services of people with advanced educations," she said, "but we feel like an eighth grade education is sufficient for our way of life." "Have you ever used a computer?" I asked. "No. I'd probably be lost." "Have you ever watched TV?" "No." Two days a week, she gives farm tours. Occasionally, she works as a substitute teacher....

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The darkest corners of the basement

This winter will mark four years of working on my first book, and I just finished what I believe is rewrite No. 10 Friday. Over the past 13 weeks, I stole a hundred little snippets of time: 30 minutes on my lunch breaks, bleary-eyed sessions after putting the kids to bed, and 10- to 15-page marathon sessions on Fridays when I'm off work. I aim for 10 hours of writing a week (tracking it with a timer and a spreadsheet); most weeks, I get in seven. Over four years, that means I've logged roughly 1,500 hours on this...

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A life I never wanted

I spent a decade trying to quit smoking. This is it, I'd say, my last pack. 24 hours later, I'd slink back to the gas station for more. I was a failure machine. Again and again, I failed. And every time I failed, I blamed myself -- my lack of willpower. Apparently, my willpower was broken. I finally quit with the patch. A tiny square not much bigger than a band aid, you put it on your skin, and it leeches a steady dose of nicotine into your bloodstream. The moment I put it on, my cravings went away. I was suspicious. Was it...

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Summoning a soul from the stars

Come October, the children will outnumber the adults in our home. We found out Baby No. 3’s gender on Thursday. “Don’t hate me if I’m wrong,” the ultrasound tech said. “But see that line? That indicates the vaginal lips. It looks like you’re having a girl.” “Does she look ok?” my wife asked. “She looks fine. Completely normal.” Are there more powerful words in the English language? Completely normal. God, I hadn’t realized how badly I needed to hear that. At the moment, she weighs 15 ounces, as much as a can of kidney beans. Later, the OB would tell us she’s...

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How I prioritize my to-do lists

Every morning, I sit down and make a list of things to do. I don't prioritize them by how long they'll take. I don't prioritize them by importance. I rank them by how much I hate the idea of doing them. The more I dread something, the higher I put it on my list. I reserve the penthouse, that enviable spot at the very top of my list, for the shittiest, most dreaded thing of all. Then, I work on it first. Here's why: the things we dread are always the hardest and most important. We might...

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There is no wasted effort: An afternoon with Writer’s Digest editor Jessica Strawser

Beer in hand, I listened to Ron Rollins interview Jessica Strawser about the writing life in an Oregon District garden last weekend. The editor of Writer's Digest, Strawser grew up writing. She even remembers asking her babysitters to critique her stories. "It's beautifully written," they'd tell her, "but you might want to consider having something happen." Good advice for all of us, I'd say. For an hour, Strawser answered questions from Ron Rollins (an editor and former colleague at the Dayton Daily News) and the audience. Here were three of my favorite takeaways: 1) What do all the writers...

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