photography

What Do Ernest Hemingway and the Dalai Lama Have in Common?

It sounds like the beginning of a joke on a Laughy Taffy wrapper, right? Well it’s not. Ernest Hemingway and His Holiness the Dalai Lama really do have something in common. They have both been to the remote Wood River Valley, a small yet wealthy area in central Idaho.

What these two men did there, however, contrasts sharply. Hemingway had a house in Ketchum, a small town in the valley, which is where he put a shotgun to his head in 1961. The Dalai Lama, in 2005, visited Sun Valley, another small town, to “bring his message of compassion to Sun Valley during the anniversary of 9/11” (Idaho Mountain Express). (more…)

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Labyrinth in the Desert

The desert west of town is a lonely expanse of volcanic fissures, sage, and shotgun shells. My wife Avery and I ventured out here to walk the labyrinth, a piece of land art designed by Scott Samuelson, her former professor. (more…)

Going Undercover, Saving Sex Slaves

The auditorium of the old Rexburg Tabernacle is packed. Everyone here has come to hear Tim Ballard speak, the man who founded Operation Underground Railroad, a non-profit devoted to liberating child sex slaves. O.U.R. jump teams travel to countries like Colombia and Haiti, pose as buyers for sex slaves, and organize big deals with local sex traffickers. At the right moment, local police burst in with weapons drawn, arresting traffickers and O.U.R. team members. The traffickers are taken to jail, the teams are released, and the rescued children are placed in reputable care. It’s as intense as any sting Hollywood could contrive, but this is completely real, dangerous, and far more rewarding. (more…)

The Uncomfortable Solution to World Poverty

For several months, my wife has been trying to get me to read an essay called “The Solution to World Poverty,” which appeared in The New York Times Magazine in 1999. The author, Peter Singer, presents the idea that if we don’t give all our surplus money to help people in need, we are not living an ethical lifestyle.

I put off reading the essay because I knew it would make me uncomfortable. I was nervous to assume responsibility for whatever knowledge it might contain. Finally, I read it at work during a recent lunch break, and I was right. It challenged me in ways that I’m still working through. (more…)

How to Become a Great Writer

I always say that it’s better to hear than to be heard, and I think this applies to writing. Some writers think they can sit at a desk all day and come up with some great stuff that people want to read. I hate to break it to you, but if the only thing you ever experience is your desk, your writing is going to be really boring. To tell a great story, you must first live a great story. So here’s how you become a great writer: (more…)