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Duration:02:50
Uploaded:2016-07-05
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A Thoughts from Places video from the shores of America's third coast in Michigan, in which John thinks about living in the middle, chasing the horizon, and the unexpected pleasures of being an observer.

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Good morning, Hank, it's Tuesday. So I'm on vacation in Michigan right now, and the days here unspool in a kind of slow motion. I read and write and hang out with my family and stare out at this great lake which to the human eye might as well be an ocean since it stretches up all the way to the horizon.

I love a good horizon line. I remember as a kid wondering what would happen if you sailed out to the horizon. I mean, I knew the world was round and everything, but it sure looked like it ended. Like if you sailed far enough you'd be in the sky. And then as I got older I realized you could chase the horizon forever and never actually get to it. Which gave me this weird kind of comfort, I find it hard to describe.

One of my favorite artist's is the Japanese photographer is Hiroshi Sugimoto, and he has a series of photographs called seascapes where he photographed water horizons all over the world from the Tasman Sea to the Caribbean to the Sea of Japan to the Baltic to the Mediterranean to Lake Superior. Sugimoto has said that water and air vouchsafe for our very existence, and maybe that's the comfort I feel looking out at a water horizon. Maybe I feel my existence vouchsafed.

These days seeing the hard line of the horizon makes me think not about the edge of the world but of the edgelessness of it. "The world is a globe," Terry Pratchett wrote, "the farther you sail the closer to home you are."

Like, our dad grew up in Indianapolis back when it's nickname was naptown, because nothing ever happened there. It was a place that attracted people who actively wanted to live quiet lives in the flat and unbeautiful middle of America. The kind of place Nick Carraway could retreat to at the end of the Great Gatsby after being unable to bear the awful excitement of New York. Our dad worked like hell to get out of Indianapolis. He and Mom left for good a few weeks after I was born, and never looked back. And then in 2007, Sarah and I were living in New York, and I called Dad with the news. "Sarah had gotten a job," I told him, "in, hmm, well, in Indianapolis." And he said, "you can't be serious."

I'd sailed away from a birthplace I never really knew to Orlando and Birmingham, Chicago, and New York, and ended up right back where I started. I use to think of that as a failure, that I'd ended up back in the middle. Midwesterners sometimes call the Great Lakes the third coast, or we brag that our great sea is unsalted and sharkless, but we know that our lakes are not as grand as the coastal oceans. I felt I had failed because I wasn't looking out at the greatest horizon, or swimming with the strongest current, or battling the biggest waves.

I use to think that even though you could never get to the horizon, you had to keep chasing it your whole life. That, in fact, the whole point of life was to chase after the unreachable horizon. I use to think that Moby-Dick's captain, Ahab, who loses everything in pursuit of that great white whale was the only proper hero in American fiction. But now, Hank, I find myself content, utterly content to look at the horizon, rather than to chase after it. I like the middle. I'm happy here, at this lake which can trick my eyes into believe it goes on forever. I think I've underrated happiness, and also underrated the pleasure of just observing. So thanks for watching with me, Hank. I'll see you on Friday.