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Week 7/19/21

PUBLISHED: July 23, 2021

In an effort to better acquaint you, the reader, with the VQR staff, members of our team will share excerpts from our personal reading—The Best 200 Words I Read All Week. From fact to fiction, from comedic to tragic, we hope you find as much to admire in these selections as we do. 


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All of us have places where we feel comfortable with our surroundings, and we hope that we’ll find our way to at least some minor inspiration if we stay there long enough. Moving away from those familiar spaces and places raises the stakes. It puts us in a position where we will find either major inspiration or no inspiration at all. It’s an adrenaline rush. It renews the risk.

Shaking it up doesn’t need to be dramatic. It can be simple….

Be receptive to ideas all around you….

I hear snippets of conversation that turn into rhythms. I hear references that spark other references. I hear words I don’t understand, which motivates me to go and look them up and create new ideas. I’m not unique in this…They are nexus points. But they are also gateways to departure….

Get Actively Away….

It’s not about taking breaks, or pauses, or naps. It’s about excursions. It’s about departures….

Editorial Intern Webster Austin
Except from Creative Quest by Questlove


“It was a 75-cent accounting error in the computer usage accounts,” says Stoll, who looked—and still looks—like he stepped straight off the pages of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. “I traced the error to an unauthorized user who had used about nine seconds and not paid for it.” Stoll assumed the trespasser was a Cal undergraduate doing it on a lark, “just some kid on campus who was yanking my chain.”

Fascinated by the challenge of identifying the intruder, he spent the next ten months trying to solve the puzzle, often sleeping on a cot at the lab instead of going home, because whoever it was tended to log on late at night. “It was like a piece of yarn dangling from a sweater,” he says. “You keep pulling on it and discovering that the yarn never ends. The sweater keeps unraveling until all you end up with is a mountain of tangles.”

As he made his way through the thickets of information, it gradually dawned on him that this was no Cal student. Stoll was able to follow the thread as far as a call center at MITRE, a defense contractor in McLean, Virginia, not far from CIA headquarters.

He attached a teleprinter to the line and sat back and watched in amazement as the hacker used the LBL computers to gain access to military bases across the country, searching for files containing words like nuclear or SDI (short for President Reagan’s controversial Strategic Defense Initiative program, a proposed “missile shield” that threatened to further destabilize an already tenuous nuclear détente. Critics derisively referred to it as “Star Wars.”). The hacker, Stoll says, “was like a cuckoo bird, which lays its egg in another bird’s nest so the other bird will hatch it and raise it.

“At that point, it stopped being a game. All the three-letter agencies started banging on my door—FBI, CIA, NSA, as well as the Air Force Office of Special Investigations.” And just like that, Cliff Stoll, goofball Berkeley hippie, had suddenly become Cliff Stoll, Cold Warrior. It was as if Wavy Gravy had somehow been miscast in a film adaptation of a John le Carré novel. This was no clowning around, however. This was serious stuff, involving not only national security but also the integrity of networked data everywhere.

Art Director Jenn Boggs
“How a Berkeley Eccentric Beat the Russians—and Then Made Useless, Wondrous Objects,” by Martin Snapp, in California Magazine


Back in Rome people were using the word ‘heatwave’ even though it was the middle of August. I had two projects: one was to keep cool, the other not to sneeze. When I sneezed I felt like my spine was about to burst apart. Sneezing was terrifying and now that I could not do it anymore I realised that I had always liked sneezing. Sneezing was one of life’s little pleasures, one that I could no longer risk—like sleeping on my side. I had to sleep on my back, I had to try to sleep on my back, and, as I lay awake on my back, trying to sleep, I kept thinking what a great pleasure it was to sleep on your side, and then, while you were still asleep, to roll over onto the other side. Laura had to lie on her back too and so we lay there, on our backs, thinking about the crash which we no longer thought of as an accident but as a miraculous escape. How could it have happened, how could we have got away with it? How could we have smacked straight into a cliff wall at at least 25 mph and not banged our heads, not broken anything? We were wearing only T-shirts and shorts and yet we broke nothing: we were bruised deeply but our spleens had not ruptured and our bones were not broken. We were not paralysed, we were not cabbages, we were not dead—we just had to lie on our backs and I had to avoid sneezing. It didn’t even matter that we were confined to the apartment. All I had to do to get a feel of the neighborhood, the quartiere, was hold my hand under the cold tap. First the water was warmish, room temperature, then cooler, then warm, as the pipes climbed down the walls into the apartment, hot as they moved over the sun-baked roof, warm again as they descended on the other side, in shadow, becoming cooler, and then cold, lovely black-cold, as they disappeared below ground, into the past.

Editor Paul Reyes
Excerpt from Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence, by Geoff Dyer


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