December 6, 2013
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First of all, I am not
finished with this book but there is a bit that I would like to share about it. Yesterday I was reading Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays by Christopher Hitchens on the flight from Doha, Qatar, to Bangkok. This book is an excellent tome of essays and reviews. The writing is smart and thorough. While reading I came upon a chapter entitled ‘Scenes from and Execution’ which was originally an essay written about the witnessing of an execution in the state of Missouri. But this one struck me between the eyes in that it was written by Hitchens, probably my favoritie contemporay essayist but he’d written it from Potosi, Missouri, the childhood home of Michael Parks who was my classmate at the Defense Language Institute and is a life long brother to me. This I saw from the outset. But further into the chapter I see that Hitchens discusses the sixty minute stay of execution for my high school classmate, Kirt Wainwright. Yes, I grew up and went to school with that guy – as did everyone else in the Prescott High School class of 1985.
I’ve been haunted by this chapter since reading it.
October 14, 2013
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One of the issues that I constantly struggle with is interruptions. I guess I would be like others who might lose their place or their thought or even worse, their inspiration. When I am at home I face a bit more of a lack of focus but in my office, when left alone, I can generally focus quite well. As I look forward in my life I can see the need for focus so much more even than before. I also see that my writing skills, or lack thereof, will be that which boosts me or hinders me. This is why focus is important. I don’t deny it.
I read so much about cluttered desks and how that takes away from focus. I have not one but two cluttered desks and I can say that this isn’t really much of a distraction for me. My distractions are the two legged kind. People. Although I leave messages that from such-and-such hour to such-and-such hour I am not to be disturbed most people either completely ignore it or they feel that they have something with an urgency superseding my need for quiet and privacy. I guess I could start bashing people’s brains in. Perhaps I think, since people are all creatures of habit, that I could set a time every day that would make it a captial offense to disturb me. This might be better than having an ad hoc timing.
I guess the key to all this is organization. Something I have struggled with my entire life.
August 3, 2013
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Since I brought up the question about how to define a literary classic I was given a rule of thumb that books should be at least twenty years old and was shown a sample list that begins in antiquity (it included Gilgamesh) yet came right up to modern times. I was a bit surprised to see Isaac Asimov, Ken Kesey, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker all had one book there. So I see that at least some consider the test if time not to be a huge factor, though the twenty years struck me as quite soon for a book to be considered a classic. Even cars must wait until forty years.
I say this because I would suppose to be a classic a book would have to have resonance with a successive generations, not just the generation in which the book reach its fame. I know this isn’t air tight as some books are “rediscovered” for various reasons and some books make it through generations, I’m convinced, because they are required reading in some programs. (Think Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle here.)
And wouldn’t classics have to be such by general consensus? As an example I’m going back to a book that I’ve mentioned before, Joseph Conrad’s Gaspar Ruiz. I have tried discussing this book with a few literature types none of whom had read it and only one claimed to have known of it. So it is arguable that even though it was written by one if the best known authors if his time and was probably a best seller in its day, and even though I enjoyed reading the book if your average ‘literary types’ hadn’t a clue about the book how could we agree that it is a classic?
I do realize that there are classics in national literatures that your average reader may not have heard of. For instance the Vietnamese consider Nguyen Du to be their Shakespeare yet how many outside of Vietnam have heard of, let alone read, his magnum opus, Kieu? And likewise there are unknown books that can constitute classics within genres. In these two examples it is hard to argue against a book being a classic.
I guess there are many parallels between this question and the Great Books arguments that go on in academic circles.
October 29, 2012
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Sorry folks. I’m holding back a rant here. I promise to try to keep it simple though.
So often I got to a blog that I like only to read a post from a guest blogger. Don’t get me wrong, many times this person is interesting and I still read what they have to say. And sometimes I pick up their blog. But something just doesn’t sit really well with me on this guest blogger thing.
Firstly, I feel that most blogs are meant to be personal. It is the word from you. (Isn’t it?) I have a bit of a relationship with you. I read the blog because of that.
Secondly, even though I read loads of blogs, there are only so many blogs I can read. If your guest post has a better one, I might follow that one instead.
Thirdly, if I see enough guest bloggers who aren’t spot on a topic that I am interested in then I am outta there. I might be back. I might not.
July 25, 2012
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I know that boat loads has been said already about grammar and punctuation going all to hell with the rise of the internet. I might as well put my two cents worth in here too…
Never in my life have I seen a language degenerate like our beloved English has not that "virtually" (pardon the pun – though none was intended) everyone is now online is some way, shape or form. Before, when virtually all of our written language was on paper, be it in print, typing or simply someone’s scribble on a piece of paper, it would be fair game to make judgments on things like punctuation and grammar. Now, it is virtually against the law to correct the laziness that is all around.
Back in the 1980′s, when rap exploded onto the scene, poor grammar and pronunciation became "okay" and even enviable. The rise of the internet – and we can’t pin this down to a generation – has made it possible to write an entire book without capitalizing any proper nouns or words at the beginning of a sentence. This is more than a tip of the hat to e.e. cummings as I would assume that 99.99% of those who are doing this haven’t the fainest idea who he is. AND THEN THERE IS THE ‘ALL CAPS’ CROWD. To me this sucks just as badly. One of my secret pet peeves is to see western Europeans who will put their family names or the name of their hometown or company in all caps. They have a huge habit of that and many haven’t the faintest clue why they do it if you ask them. If you ask me, and nobody is, I still say it is most uncalled for.
Though I don’t believe in all certainty that people who are typing this way are always poor thinkers. Many believe they are only taking shortcuts. But these short cuts are just laziness. And it leads to laziness in other things as well. The way your think. The way you double check. The way your write.
I haven’t met anyone above the age of twelve years old who hasn’t heard the old adage about first impressions. Well, why do so few people tend to care when it comes to their writing? It really beats me, to be quite honest. I also know that I seem to be in a minority here. I have mentioned this to several fellow writers and people who are just friends. Many of them think that this is one of the ways that language is simply changing. If this is the case then I want to be on record to say that this is a negative change.
If you are one of the ones who are guilty of dropping your guard on proper capitalization and punctuation then I urge you to re-think what you are doing. I dare say you are making a poor choice with your writing, your thought process and your all important public image.
July 10, 2012
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A few years ago I flew from Bangkok to Dakar, Sénégal, via Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This was pretty much in the day that you couldn’t bring an iPad along to read (they didn’t exist – remember those days?) so we were down to books, newspapers and magazines. Normally in lengthy international flights I bring a minimum of two books but this time I mistakenly packed one in my luggage. It did me no good in the belly of the plane when I finished reading the first book in the business class lounge in Addis. When we’d boarded the leg of the flight that was to stop in Bamako, Mali, prior to continuing on to Dakar I was getting pretty damned bored. The movies didn’t catch me and I was out of reading material. One of the stewardesses offered me the one remaining magazine that wasn’t passed around to the other passengers: Paris Match!
I have studied French as an autodidact off and on for years. But let me stress that this has been truly “off and on”. For the time actually put in maybe I have had a decent return on investment but in no way do I set the house in fire en français. But I liked the challenge. I occupied my mind with French for the next two hours or so then stuffed the magazine away in my bag. I do recall at being very disappointed in the amount that I did not understand. I felt like an infant.
During the week I was busy at work and so I was out of my hotel room pretty much night and day. But on the last day prior to my departure I was informed that I was bumped from my flight. I wouldn’t be leaving the next morning as planned. I didn’t feel like going out anymore so I stayed in. But instead of pulling out my second book that I brought along (people who know me know I’m not a television person) I yanked out that French magazine and tried to make another go of it. This time I felt better re-reading the magazine. Each article I read now had a context. When I put the magazine down before shutting off the light I felt better about my abilities in French.
When I finally did get back in the air, and after spending a short while in Mali and a few days in Ethiopia, I grabbed the magazine again. I thought I would use it to burn up the hours between Addis Ababa and Thailand. But a funny thing happened… I breezed through the magazine as if it were written in English! I had comprehended the longer articles with little trouble at all, and sans dictionaire, as I didn’t have one on the trip.
Language educator Stephen Krashen would have called my perusal of this French magazine as “comprehensive input” and I wouldn’t necessarily disagree on a language acquisition level. But I think that is not all that was going on either. I think the brain somehow passes over that which it already knows in order to take in something new. It is why doing something again and again is the key to mastery and expertise. But at the same time doing something again and again, if done with purpose, can actually be a shortcut. The initial struggle is part of the process so if you accept this at the outset your mind’s eye will catch the things you missed before and turn that into skill, into knowledge, and if we are lucky, eventually into wisdom.
Practically, it also means to me that I’m better off to re-read several times and re-write much less. And also that I can learn some French by myself from Paris Match!
July 9, 2012
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Today I did very little of the writing I see myself doing. Instead I wrote an OpEd for my company and I wrote several pages for a company website. I somehow see this as the same even though it is different. Of course, this kind of writing could be seen as dull and boring, the “have to” stuff that puts food on the table. But I was thinking about it today and it occurred to me that while I was writing this OpEd piece and then later pages for the website that this kind of writing is actually excellent preparation for any other kind of writing. Of course, you need to be clear in what you are trying to say. You need to edit what you write both as you go along and also when you have finished.
But that’s not what I was specifically thinking about. I was thinking about something that might be even more important.
Yes, if what I write in an OpEd or for a website can’t be persuasive then what good would my other writing be? If I cannot persuade a reader to think or act in everyday style, evening if it is writing a simple e-mail then it won’t come across in any book that I write.
Or any blog update that I might post for that matter.