RSSCategory: Writing

Two ways to prevent one from doing something

March 18, 2011 | By | 2 Replies More
Two ways to prevent one from doing something

There are two ways to keep a person from doing X.

A) Make it impossible to do X. Make it illegal or expensive or impractical, for instance; or

B) Fill up a person’s life with dozens of other obligations such that he or she no longer has any time to do X.

I’m dealing with B) at the moment. I have a dozen writing projects I’ve been working on, but I can’t get to them because I’m feeling exhausted with all the other things going on in my life. These “distractions” I’ve been doing for the past two weeks are important things that I want to do or I need to do (e.g., spending time with my children and tending to crushing duties at work, such as arguing appeals, writing a brief that was just filed with the United States Supreme Court and reconstructing my workstation at the law office after my hard drive died).

No one is telling me to stop writing, but the result is the same because of all of these other obligations. There are only so many hours in a week. I have only so much energy and focus, and I find that in order to do original writing I absolutely need blocks of several contiguous hours, at a minimum. Those chunks of quality time have disappeared lately. I’m frustrated, because I very much want to follow up on some articles and write some new ones. On the other hand, my life is full and good. I shouldn’t have any complaints, other than I have this urge to try to figure things out, and I do this much better when I write.

In moments like these I’m so glad that I decided to make this website a community of writers, an intersection. But there are also other reasons I chose to make this a community, especially the increased interactions with the other authors–an opportunity to learn from each other.

Bottom line, I’m sending trackbacks here and there to let readers know that I’m still alive, and I hope to be more active at this site soon.

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The Hellhound and HeLa: Recent American Historical Writing At Its Best

February 1, 2011 | By | Reply More
The Hellhound and HeLa: Recent American Historical Writing At Its Best

The last really good history I read was “Hellhound On His Trail, ” which follows James Earl Ray’s path from his childhood in Alton, Illinois through a violent intersection with the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and continues to follow Ray’s trajectory with his quizzical recantations of his “life’s purpose.” With the same cool hand, Sides sketches the strengths and inadequacies of Dr. King’s inner circle and paints larger atmospheric strokes with newspaper headlines on the increasing violence in response to desegregation and the influence of war in Vietnam on national sentiment about federal involvement in heretofore state affairs.

By themselves, vignettes about Ray’s lackluster career as a petty criminal, his stunted attempts at artistic grandeur and addiction to prostitutes would simply depress the reader. Here, the intentional failures and manipulations of Hoover’s FBI and first-hand accounts of Ray’s behavior appear like birds descending on a tragic town, flickering across the broader canvas creating momentum and dread. Awful as the true subject of this thriller may be, I found myself disappointed to reach the end.

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One space, not two

January 16, 2011 | By | 5 Replies More
One space, not two

I have been one of the hold-outs, but no more. This article by Farhad Manjoo of Slate has convinced me that I shall henceforth use only one space after a period.

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More than writing

December 21, 2010 | By | Reply More
More than writing

Several years ago, my neighbor Tony and I were talking about a social issue. Tony is a good thoughtful man, and the conversation turned rather intense. In the middle of the conversation, I blurted out something like “I’m really concerned about that issue.”

Tony shot back,” No, you are not concerned. If you were, you be doing something about it.”

He caught me flat-footed, and his words have haunted me ever since. I think Tony was right. If we care about something, we should be doing something about it, or at least trying to do something about it. Further, blogging about a problem is quite often not doing too terribly much about that problem. I’m don’t mean to disparage writing, because I very much think that written information can change the world by helping people understand it better. But writing about things is a method that too often shows its limits, especially when it turns into ranting. And an especially annoying kind of ranting is when one rants to others who are already sympathetic to the cause. And the worst kind of writing is ranting to sympathetic audiences in ways that are mostly calculated to show off how much one knows or to try to draw attention an ostentatious writing style.

So here’s my resolution for 2011. Here’s to doing more than merely writing, but actually trying to change the world in physical ways. And to the extent that I choose to write, here’s to writing in a straight-forward way to audiences that are not quite sympathetic. And here’s to writing that aims to get people out of their seats and into the streets. Here’s to stepping out from behind my computer more than I have before, and trying to make a tangible difference.

I will continue to take my writing seriously next year. I have lots of ideas bubbling in my head, and many of these are ideas inspired by cognitive science ideas that bear upon the fact that human animals so often live dysfunctionally. I will try to keep my concerns in stride better than I have in the past, because being too serious is not effective, and good humor can serve as a sharp blade that often slices through close-mindedness. Here’s to the upcoming year, during which I will work harder to make my blogging process more connected and more relevant to the real life concerns I articulate.

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Worms, Roxanne! Worms!

November 16, 2010 | By | 3 Replies More
Worms, Roxanne! Worms!

New Oxford American Dictionary blog editor Lauren Appelwick is reporting “refudiate” as the 2010 Word of the Year, joining past recipients “unfriend”, “truthiness” and so many other wonders of the internet age. Lexicographer Susie Dent makes her subjective choice each year (many collected here). As she is employed by the Oxford University Press, additional credibility is lent to her selections I can only assume by virtue of “Oxford” and “University” being used in the same sentence. Thus, an internet search for “word of the year” often tags the “Oxford” or “Oxford Dictionary” or some similar modifier to the “WOTY”.

I have fun fracturing the mother tongue all the time. But I don’t expect any of my misconstruations to make their way into the lexicon of American English. Particulalry when they are disavowed as mistypes then claimed intentional.

I don’t know about you, but for me, “Oxford” unfairly or not conjures up images of staid and primped stuffed shirts. Make no mistake. They never got over our insurrection and are mocking us again. And that is ginormously discombobulating.

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The Pundit’s Whine

October 29, 2010 | By | 2 Replies More
The Pundit’s Whine

I try to ignore Glenn Beck. I think he’s pathetic. All he can do is whine about things he quite often doesn’t understand. For instance, his latest peeve has to do with being bumped out of line by science fiction. Yeah, that’s right. Glenn Beck’s book Broke has been number 1 on Amazon for a while and it apparently got beat out finally by a science fiction anthology.

His complaint that this is from “the left” is telling. First off he’s trying to make it sound like some profound philosophical issue, that a science fiction collection outsold his book on Amazon. (He also noted that the Keith Richards autobiography bumped him as well and please note the twist he gives that.)

Why the Left? Is science fiction a left-wing thing? I know a lot of SF writers who style themselves right-wing, libertarian, conservative, etc. Some of them are very good, too, and I have read some of their work with pleasure. Unless they were writing from an overtly political stance, I found no reason to call them on their “rightishness” because they outsold another writer’s work that might have been a bit leftish. This is just a silly complaint and displays an obsession with partisan politics or just immaturity. This is, of course, Glenn Beck we’re talking about, who seems to find more reasons to evoke Nazi similes than any other pundit I know of and has occasionally shed tears over the abuse he sees our great country enduring from the left.

But this is ridiculous. Because isn’t this…I mean, Glenn, isn’t this just the free market making itself heard? Your book can’t stay number one because that would belie the whole principle of competition you claim to believe in. Everybody who works hard and honestly should have their shot at being number one for a little while and this anthology is a poster-child for hard work and perseverance because, well, it’s self-published! It doesn’t even have a major (or minor) publishing house behind it! It got there all on its own, man! This is the flower of the free market! David whupping Goliath’s ass! This should make you proud!

No, he berates it because it has to do with death or the culture of death, which he equates with left-wing politics somehow. And for good measure drags Keith Richards into the whole death equation.

[More . . . ]

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A Celebration of the Book

October 15, 2010 | By | Reply More
A Celebration of the Book

What follows is a public service announcement. I’m taking some time to put on my President’s hat and talk about our upcoming event.

We’re a week away from the Celebration. October 23rd at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri.

If you’ve been reading this blog any length of time, then you know about my involvement. For the last 8 1/2 years I’ve been working for it, trying to make it better, five of those years as president. We’ve done some pretty cool things in that time.

The Missouri Center for the Book has, like most such organizations, been undergoing some ups and downs the last few years. We have been reorganizing in order to be a more vital part of the literary and reading community in Missouri. Among the things that we have done over the last few years is the establishment of the Poet Laureate office for the state. We are instrumental in running the program and selecting the candidates for the post every two years. The program has been very popular. We also continue to run the state Letters About Literature Awards for students. Every year we send representatives to the National Book Festival.

And we put on our annual Celebration.

[More . . . ]

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Pressure, Temperature, Volume!

October 14, 2010 | By | 6 Replies More
Pressure, Temperature, Volume!

Warning – Science Geekery ahead!

Am I the only person in the world who gets that we can control for Boyle’s Law?

While reading a (Science Fiction) book, by a very respected author*, I encountered a scene where a character brews some coffee. Yum! I love coffee! But my delightful anticipation was immediately spoiled by the character’s complaints about how the low ambient pressure makes for lukewarm coffee!

Seriously?

Have people never heard of these amazing newfangled devices called pressure cookers? Heck, Europeans have had little stovetop espresso makers for many many years, that are essentially little one-shot pressure cookers! With the correct setup such equipment can produce strong, hot coffee regardless of the ambient pressure!

Whenever I come across such obvious stupidity it kills the story for me.

Get the little details right, people! Let me enjoy my stories and enjoy my coffee (regardless of ambient)!

* in defense of the Author, he is an older American, so can be excused for not really understanding the difference between coffee and the pale brown caffeinated beverage that shares that name in the States.

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Stories stick, while data is discounted

September 23, 2010 | By | 1 Reply More
Stories stick, while data is discounted

Over at Andy Goodman’s Free Range Journal, we hear more evidence that “Stories stick,” while “data is discounted.”

At this site we quite often see this problem in some of our comments. Someone who was taught a Bible story at a young age will ignore great quantities of statistical data in order to save the (Bible) story. The scientific story of evolution all-too-often wins when pitted against Adam and Eve. Even though natural selection offers an elegant story, it is not as available to many people as the bible story against which it competes. Then there’s no contest between the scientific data versus the Bible story.

Perhaps scientists need to develop better story frames if we are to have any chance against Adam and Eve. Same issue with Sarah Palin, who offers simple stories that stick with her followers. What chance does a statistics-wielding politician have against such simple stories as “Drill Baby Drill” or “America is the World’s Greatest Country”?

In this earlier post, I pointed out the correlation between innumeracy and rejection of the scientific theory of evolution.

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