Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Three groundbreaking journalists saw the Vietnam War differently. It’s no coincidence they were women.

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Cambodian Prime Minister Long Boret, center, meets with war correspondent Elizabeth Becker in Cambodia in 1974. (Elizabeth Becker)

Margaret Sullivan writes in the Washington Post:

Frances FitzGerald paid her own way into Vietnam. She was an “on spec” reporter with no editor to guide her, no office to support her, and no promise that anyone would publish what she wrote about the war.

She knocked out her first article on a blue Olivetti portable typewriter she had carried from New York and mailed it the cheap and slow way from a post office in the heart of Saigon’s French quarter to the Village Voice, nearly 9,000 miles away.

It arrived, and on April 21, 1966, the Voice published FitzGerald’s indictment of the chaotic U.S. war policy.

“The result was a highly original piece written in the style of an outsider, someone who asked different questions and admitted when she didn’t have answers,” wrote Elizabeth Becker in her new book, “You Don’t Belong Here: How Three Women Rewrote the Story of War,” which celebrates the work of FitzGerald, Kate Webb and Catherine Leroy.

Becker, a former war correspondent in Cambodia toward the end of the decades-long conflict, wrote about these women in part because she had experienced much of what they did — just a little later, and with appreciation for the paths they’d broken.

“I went through it at the tail end, and they were my role models,” Becker told me last week. She admired them because they had broken gender barriers, endured sexual harassment and been belittled by journalistic peers who thought women had no place near a war zone.

But “I wanted to write more than a ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ book,” said Becker, who has broken a few of her own: It’s likely that, as a stringer in Cambodia in the early 1970s, she was the first woman to regularly report from a war zone for The Washington Post. Later, she became the senior foreign editor at NPR and a New York Times correspondent.

What struck Becker about her subjects went far beyond gender. It was the women’s approach to their work. They were more interested in people than in battlefields, quicker to see the terrible cost of violence to the Vietnamese as well as to Westerners, less likely than many of their male colleagues to swallow the government’s party line.

“They brought this common humanity and an originality to their work,” Becker said.

Remarkably early, FitzGerald clearly described what American officials didn’t want the public to see: the chaos, the lack of sensible purpose.

“For the Embassy here the problem has not been how to deal with the crisis — there is no way to deal with it under U.S. Standard Operating Procedures — but rather how to explain what is happening in any coherent terms,” she wrote in that 1966 article for the Voice. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2021 at 6:22 pm

Kevin Drum muses on why blog audiences declined

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Kevin Drum has a post on the decline of blog audiences over the past decade, and it’s interesting — particularly the likelihood that capitalism (aka the need to monetize everything) bears part of the blame.

My own blog audience is relatively small in number (though I like to think high in quality), and that’s fine with me. I have negative interest in being an “influencer,” in the monetizing sense of the term. I do like to be helpful, but that’s not the same thing (as you know).

Mainly I blog because I enjoy it, and I hope that what interests me interests others enough to become readers. I don’t pursue a particular theme or restrict myself to particular topics. As it says above, this is a blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Still, Drum’s post is interesting.

I notice that he uses Newsblur as his reader; I use Inoreader. They’re much the same. And there are others — for example, Feedly. For a good list, see “The 10 Best Free RSS Reader Apps.”

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2021 at 7:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Writing

Why Biden’s Inaugural Address Succeeded: View of a one-time chief presidential speechwriter

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James Fallows writes in the Atlantic:

Political speeches follow a surprisingly simple set of rules—or at least the successful ones do. Newly sworn-in President Joe Biden observed them all in his inaugural address. Although his 20 minutes at the lectern are not likely to be parsed and studied for rhetorical flourishes, with this speech Biden accomplished something more important: He signaled how he will approach this job and this moment in history.

The first rule in political rhetoric is authenticity. Does the essence of the speech—its vocabulary, its rhythms, its cadences, its tendencies toward “plain” versus “fancy” tone—match the essence of the speaker? Does the rhetoric call attention to itself? Or does it mainly serve to transmit the mood, intention, and ideas the speaker hopes to convey?

Martin Luther King Jr. was modern America’s greatest rhetorician. But the very words and cadences of his speeches that have gone down in history—“I’ve been to the mountaintop …  I’ve seen the promised land”—would have sounded forced and stagey from most other prominent Americans. They would not have rung true even from the first Black president, Barack Obama, whose single greatest speech—his “Amazing Grace” elegy for the victims of the racist gun massacre in Charleston, South Carolina—was delivered at the historic Mother Emanuel Church, where King himself once spoke.

Obama’s eloquence, as I once argued here, is in the paragraph-scale development of ideas, rather than the sentence-by-sentence coinage of standalone phrases. The American politician I can most imagine presenting a Martin Luther King speech and sounding authentic would have been Barbara Jordan, the late Democratic Representative from Texas—who indeed gave a very King-like speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1976.

When it comes to rhetoric, many politicians would love to be considered another King, another FDR, another Jordan, another Churchill. But the wisest of them aspire to sound like the best possible version of themselves. (And the wisest of speechwriters aspire to make their own work invisible—to serve, in essence, as glaziers, creating transparent panes through which the speaker’s intent can be most clearly seen.)

Joe Biden sounded like the best version of himself on Inauguration Day. Few if any of the sentences he uttered will be chiseled into marble. The exception illustrating the rule was Biden’s summary statement about foreign policy: “We will lead not merely by the example of our power but by the power of our example.” This line, which he has used in other speeches (and which Bill Clinton also used in his speech nominating Obama back in 2008), was both a distillation of a swing away from Trumpism (as Fred Kaplan observed) and a handy case study of the rhetorical technique called chiasmus, or reversing terms. (Homely example: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s …” High-flown example: “Ask not what your country can do for you …”)

But the speech in its entirety was admirably plain and direct, and therefore plausible. It sounded not like John F. Kennedy or Barack Obama or Franklin D. Roosevelt or any other Democratic president, but like Joe Biden. It sounded like the vice president who served loyally for eight years under Obama, like the candidate who struck and stayed true to a “Can’t we just get along?” tone from the start of his 2020 campaign, like the president-elect who would not rise to the bait of Donald Trump’s taunts or sink to the depths of his discourse but instead calmly reasserted his plans to address the nation’s crises. (But it also sounded like the person who had learned from the bitter fights Obama had when trying to get his legislation and nominees approved, and from the assault on the democratic process itself launched by Trump and many of his allies.) The speech’s tone matched the speaker, and thus the tone was right.

The second rule in political rhetoric is  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2021 at 6:37 pm

Quentin Tarantino’s movie-making at three budget levels

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This brief look at the technical work-a-day aspect of making movies I found fascinating. There’s more in the Open Culture post that brought it to my attention. Here’s the summary:

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2021 at 12:39 pm

Queen of suspense – the art of Patricia Highsmith

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The Far Away Melody (1945), Rolf Tietgens. Courtesy Keith de Lellis Gallery, New York

Matthew Sperling writes in Apollo:

Patricia Highsmith, who was born 100 years ago this month, was already known as a giant of suspense fiction at her death in 1995. Since then, while the stock of some of her literary contemporaries has gone down (think of Saul Bellow, Gore Vidal, or Norman Mailer), her reputation as a writer of serious artistic and philosophical achievement has increased. The 21st century – when imposture is at the heart of online life, when self-identification precedes authenticity – seems more and more like the age of Tom Ripley, Highsmith’s greatest creation.

Less well known, however, is that the final publication Highsmith oversaw was not about murder or secrecy or guilt, but about drawing. In perhaps the last piece of writing that she ever completed, the foreword published in German in Patricia Highsmith: Zeichnungen (Diogenes), the book of her drawings and paintings that appeared posthumously in 1995, Highsmith argued for the unity of writing and visual art:

Why should it be surprising that many writers enjoy drawing or sculpting? Perhaps some of them also have a go at composing here and there. All arts are one, and all art – ballet too – is a means of telling stories. A picture also tells a story. [author’s translation]

While Highsmith claims not to take her own art very seriously (‘I enjoy it when I succeed in a picture; and if a friend likes it, I say, “If you like, you can have it”’), she also has a keen sense of what writing and drawing shared, and how they differed:

Drawing, painting, modelling – in my case also making tables or other things out of wood – means that you live in another element for a while. For the writer, the art of the painter is something totally other, and wonderful: a picture can be seen and grasped and understood in an instant, whereas it takes much longer with a book or a short story…

Part of the value of making images and objects, then, is that it allows you to become absorbed in another element. In 1989, unwell and beset by worries, Highsmith reminded herself in her diary to ‘put more variation in my life, such as drawing & carpentering’. Throughout her life she was attracted to making as a way of imposing order on her surroundings, whether it was in her tool-shed or in her contributions to the design of ‘Casa Highsmith’, the almost windowless house in Tegna, Switzerland, that she helped to design for herself. (‘Hitler’s bunker’, a friend called it.)

But the painter also has one advantage over the writer, in the immediacy with which their creations can tell a story. For a novelist who was so dedicated to the careful elaboration of plot, it must have sometimes seemed an enviable position. As well as putting fictional painters into her novels on a number of occasions, bringing one form of storytelling into another, Highsmith produced drawings, watercolours and gouaches throughout her life. The 106 images chosen for Zeichnungen, none of which had been exhibited or published before, are taken from many hundreds, spread between dozens of sketchbooks, that now reside in her archive in Switzerland. In the best of them, Highsmith demonstrates a spontaneous facility for seeing and shaping the truth of an image, which makes her drawings something more than just a sideline to her writing life.

Throughout Highsmith’s life, she had close ties to the visual arts. Her mother, biological father and step-father were all commercial artists, and her first job in New York was writing for a comic-book publisher. She was divided between pursuing a career in writing or in art for several years. ‘I was on the fence ’till I was 23 as to whether I wanted to do drawing or painting or writing’, she recalled in 1991. Naturally left-handed but forced by schoolteachers to write with her right, she continued to draw with her left hand. Wherever she went, even after her novels and stories had become her life’s work, she turned out landscapes, window views, drawings of her pet cats and snails, and sketches of her friends and lovers of the time. In 1958, she even provided the drawings for a children’s book, in collaboration with her lover, Doris Sanders, who came up with the text. As the captions in Miranda the Panda is on the Veranda go from ‘A veil on a snail’ to ‘A monk and a skunk and some junk on an elephant’s trunk’, Highsmith’s jaunty drawings rise to the challenge each time, maintaining a poised and decisive line as the subjects grow more and more absurd.

Living in Greenwich Village throughout the 1940s brought Highsmith into contact with a varied circle of friends, acquaintances and lovers from the art world. They included the collector Peggy Guggenheim, the gallerist Betty Parsons, the critic Rosalind Constable, and painters including Buffie Johnson, Lil Picard, and Allela Cornell. Highsmith and Cornell had a brief relationship in 1943, during which Highsmith sketched her new lover as a goggle-eyed tomboy with her nose in a book, and Cornell painted the oil portrait of Highsmith which the novelist would carry with her wherever she lived for the rest of her life. In that picture, the young Highsmith already resembles the older, gloomier figure she would become; her complexion seems tinted with green, and her large, dark eyes stare intensely back at the viewer.

A different view of Highsmith emerges from the photographs by two other friends, Ruth Bernhard and Rolf Tietgens, for whom she posed in the 1940s. Both German émigrés, the two were sharing a studio when Highsmith met them. In Bernhard’s portrait from 1948, we find Highsmith clasping her arms around a knee that is drawn up in front of her in a gesture of girlish self-protection, yet the look on her face seems one of steady purpose and confidence. It is the image which most bears out Bernhard’s opinion that ‘Pat was a very attractive person, a wonderful-looking woman, and people were drawn to her’.

Tietgens, meanwhile – one of the gay men with whom Highsmith attempted what she described as a ‘not quite successful’ sexual relationship – took nude photographs of Highsmith (he saw her as ‘really a boy’), and used her as a model in several striking surrealist photocollages. In one, The Far Away Melody (1945), she is superimposed in double exposure on a deserted rural landscape, appearing wistful and ghostly as she tilts her head upwards, eyes closed. In another from 1942, her disembodied head, with eyes again closed and hair spread out above her, floats in front of a cloudy sky. And in the weirdest of them, also from 1942, the same head has been superimposed on a crumpled sheet of paper, burnt around the edges, giving Highsmith the appearance of Christ on Saint Veronica’s veil, while scraps of burnt paper, a doll’s-house chair and window frame, and a large shell stand next to her on the stage set. Since Highsmith is a writer whose own works are so good at creating the sensation of dread and the uncanny in the reader while never departing from the grammar of realism, it is striking to find her image at the centre of a work which summons its own sense of poetry through surreal juxtaposition . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, including more images.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2021 at 11:06 am

Posted in Art, Books, Daily life, Writing

A template for a good email message

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Via Reddit:

Dear Person I am Writing To,

This is an optional sentence introducing who I am and work for, included if the addressee has never corresponded with me before. The second optional sentence reminds the person where we met, if relevant. This sentence states the purpose of the email.

This optional paragraph describes in more detail what’s needed. This sentence discusses relevant information like how soon an answer is needed, what kind of answer is needed, and any information that the other person might find useful. If there’s a lot of information, it’s a good idea to separate this paragraph into two or three paragraphs to avoid having a Wall of Text.

If a description paragraph was used, close with a restatement of the initial request, in case the addressee ignored the opening paragraph.

This sentence is just a platitude (usually thanking them for their time) because people think I am standoffish, unreasonably demanding, or cold if it’s not included.

Closing salutation, Signature

The person who created this notes:

“People always ask me how I can fire off work emails so quickly. Nobody has figured out yet that it’s the same email with the details change as needed.”—Anonymous on the Internet.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 January 2021 at 11:36 am

J.G. Ballard, The Art of Fiction

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J.G. Ballard was one of the great science-fiction writers, and he also achieved excellence in other fiction. His 1984 novel Empire of the Sun is based on his childhood experiences in Shanghai during the Japanese takeover in WWII, and in 1987 that novel was made into a movie of the same name, directed by Steven Spielberg, with Christian Bale (playing the boy), John Malkovitch, and Miranda Richardson.

Thomas Frick interviewed J.G. Ballard for Paris Review in 1984. The interview will be available outside the paywall for only a short time, so read it soon if you’re interested (or clip it to Evernote or Pocket, both free). It begins:

The son of an English businessman, J. G. Ballard was born and raised in Shanghai. For the past twenty-odd years, he has lived more or less anonymously in Shepperton, a dingy, nondescript suburb of London lying under the approach to Heathrow Airport. Ballard’s writing is so often situated within the erotic, technical, postholocaust landscape, and so often concerned with the further reaches of postmodern consciousness, that it is inevitably rather droll to come upon the man himself. On first meeting, Ballard is standing somewhat shyly in the doorway of a modest two-story dwelling similar to all the others on the block; one would take him as a typical suburban lord of the manor. He is wearing a brown sweater over his shirt, protected against the faint chill of a summer afternoon.

Inside, two shiny silver palm trees, bending amiably over a reclining aluminum lawn chair, inject the only note of fantasy into an otherwise quite normal-looking household. Until a few years ago, Ballard, a widower, raised his three children here as a single parent.

We sit down in his study, which appears to have once been the living room. Ballard works at an old dining table against the wall, upon which sits his middle-aged typewriter, surrounded by fairly tidy stacks of letters, books, and papers. The bookshelves are overflowing, packed every which way with an odd collection, including a thick, illustrated anatomy text called Crash Injuries, the complete Warren Commission Report, the collected works of Shakespeare, and many books on surrealism, dadaism, futurism, and pop art.

An extremely articulate and wide-ranging conversationalist, Ballard expresses his ideas, speculations, and concerns with considerable force. A serious sense of humor is also evident, and one often has the feeling that he is continually amused, or at least bemused, by the sheer fact of existence.

At the time of this interview, Ballard had just finished the first draft of his latest novel, Empire of the Sun, which was published in October 1984 to great acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. “It’s my first good review in the States in fifteen years,” comments Ballard, referring to the generally indifferent reception his books have received here to date. This is a situation which has long been puzzling to Ballard, who consciously draws on specifically American iconography in much of his work. Yet, within just a few weeks of publication, Empire of the Sun has already become his most commercially successful work. This “nonfiction” novel—a great departure in subject matter for Ballard—details his own adolescent experiences, first in war-formed Shanghai as the son of a British merchant, then, after Pearl Harbor, as a fugitive-then-prisoner-of-war in the Lunghua Assembly Center. “I assume that it took me a long time to forget, and then a long time to remember,” Ballard recently told an interviewer who asked why he had only now attempted this reconstruction.

After an hour or so of talk, Teacher’s Scotch and sodas are served, and Ballard discourses briefly on the virtues of Shepperton water (several low-lying reservoirs are nearby). While the sun is setting in the shady green backyard, visible through French windows, a moment of suburban quiet prevails. “I don’t know why I ended up here, really . . .” Ballard comments. “Actually, the suburbs are far more sinister places than most city dwellers imagine. Their very blandness forces the imagination into new areas. I mean, one’s got to get up in the morning thinking of a deviant act, merely to make certain of one’s freedom. It needn’t be much; kicking the dog will do.”

INTERVIEWER: Are you ready to risk the fate of the centipede, who, when asked exactly how he crawled, shot himself?

J. G. BALLARD: I’ll do my best to examine my hands in the mirror.

INTERVIEWER: So, how do you write, exactly?

BALLARD: Actually, there’s no secret. One simply pulls the cork out of the bottle, waits three minutes, and two thousand or more years of Scottish craftsmanship does the rest.

INTERVIEWER: Let’s start with obsession. You seem to have an obsessive way of repeatedly playing out permutations of a certain set of emblems and concerns. Things like the winding down of time, car crashes, birds and flying, drained swimming pools, airports, abandoned buildings, Ronald Reagan . . .

BALLARD: I think you’re completely right. I would say that I quite consciously rely on my obsessions in all my work, that I deliberately set up an obsessional frame of mind. In a paradoxical way, this leaves one free of the subject of the obsession. It’s like picking up an ashtray and staring so hard at it that one becomes obsessed by its contours, angles, texture, et cetera, and forgets that it is an ashtray—a glass dish for stubbing out cigarettes.

INTERVIEWER: So you rely on the magnetism of an obsession as a way of proceeding?

BALLARD: Yes, so the unity of the enterprise is forever there. A whole universe can be bounded in a nutshell. Of course, why one chooses certain topics as the subject for one’s obsessions is a different matter. Why was I obsessed by car crashes? It’s such a peculiar idea.

INTERVIEWER: Yes, why were you?

BALLARD: Presumably all obsessions are extreme metaphors waiting to be born. That whole private mythology, in which I believe totally, is a collaboration between one’s conscious mind and those obsessions that, one by one, present themselves as stepping-stones.

INTERVIEWER: Your work does at times seem to possess a sort of prophetic quality. Are you aware of this as you write?

BALLARD: It’s true that I have very little idea what I shall be writing next, but at the same time I have a powerful premonition of everything that lies ahead of me, even ten years ahead. I don’t mean anything too portentous by this. I suppose people—certainly imaginative writers—who consciously exploit their own obsessions do so in part because those obsessions lie like stepping-stones in front of them, and their feet are drawn towards them. At any given time, I’m aware that my mind and imagination are setting towards a particular compass point, that the whole edifice is preparing itself to lean in one way, like a great ramshackle barn.

INTERVIEWER: Has this manipulation of your obsessions come to feel at all mechanical over the years?

BALLARD: I do exploit myself in a calculated way, but there again one has to remember the old joke about the laboratory rat who said, “I have this scientist trained—every time I press this lever he gives me a pellet of food.”

INTERVIEWER: Perhaps it’s a symbiotic relationship.

BALLARD: I take for granted that for the imaginative writer, the exercise of the imagination is part of the basic process of coping with reality, just as actors need to act all the time to make up for some deficiency in their sense of themselves. Years ago, sitting at the café outside the American Express building in Athens, I watched the British actor Michael Redgrave (father of Vanessa) cross the street in the lunchtime crowd, buy Time at a magazine kiosk, indulge in brief banter with the owner, sit down, order a drink, then get up and walk away—every moment of which, every gesture, was clearly acted, that is, stressed and exaggerated in a self-conscious way, although he obviously thought that no one was aware who he was, and he didn’t think that anyone was watching him. I take it that the same process works for the writer, except that the writer is assigning himself his own roles. I have a sense of certain gathering obsessions and roles, certain corners of the field where the next stage of the hunt will be carried on. I know that if I don’t write, say on holiday, I begin to feel unsettled and uneasy, as I gather people do who are not allowed to dream.

INTERVIEWER: I believe I once read—perhaps it was in connection with the Vermilion Sands collection—that you actually enjoyed the notion of cultural decadence. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2020 at 11:06 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Writing

The long history of *

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The site Shady Characters has an interesting post that begins:

The as­ter­isk is old. Really old. Gran­ted, it is not 5,000 years old, as Robert Bring­hurst claims in the oth­er­wise im­pec­cable Ele­ments of Ty­po­graphic Style1 (Bring­hurst con­fuses it with a star-like cunei­form mark that rep­res­ents “deity” or “heaven”2), but it has more than two mil­len­nia un­der its belt non­ethe­less. I go into greater de­tail in the Shady Char­ac­ters book, but the abridged ver­sion of the as­ter­isk’s ori­gin story goes something like this.


.
In the third cen­tury bce, at Al­ex­an­dria in Egypt, a lib­rar­ian named Zen­odotus was was strug­gling to edit the works of Homer into something ap­proach­ing their ori­ginal form. I say a lib­rar­ian, but really Zen­odotus was the lib­rar­ian, the first in a long line to be em­ployed at Al­ex­an­dria by the Ptole­maic pharaohs.3 Many spuri­ous ad­di­tions, de­le­tions and al­ter­a­tions had been made to the Odys­sey and Iliad since the time of their com­pos­i­tion, but Zen­odotus lacked the tools to deal with them. As such, he star­ted draw­ing a short dash (—) in the mar­gin be­side each line he con­sidered to be su­per­flu­ous, and, in do­ing so, in­aug­ur­ated the field of lit­er­ary cri­ti­cism.4 Named the ob­elos, or “roast­ing spit”, in the sev­enth cen­tury Isidore of Seville cap­tured the es­sence of Zen­odotus’s mark when he wrote that “like an ar­row, it slays the su­per­flu­ous and pierces the false”.5

The as­ter­isk, in turn, was cre­ated by one of Zen­odotus’s suc­cessors. In the second cen­tury bce, Aristarchus of Sam­o­thrace in­tro­duced an ar­ray of new crit­ical sym­bols: the diple (>) called out note­worthy fea­tures in the text; the diple per­iestig­mene (⸖) marked lines where Aristarchus dis­agreed with Zen­odotus’s ed­its; and, fi­nally, the as­ter­iskos (※), or “little star”, de­noted du­plic­ate lines.6,7 Oc­ca­sion­ally, Aristarchus paired an as­ter­isk and ob­elus to in­dic­ate lines that be­longed else­where in the poem.8

Thus the as­ter­isk was born. And right from the be­gin­ning, it came with a warn­ing: a text with an as­ter­isk at­tached to it is not the whole story.


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Hav­ing sur­vived the in­ter­ven­ing mil­len­nia with its visual form largely in­tact, by the me­di­eval period the as­ter­isk had moved into a new role as an “an­chor” for read­ers’ notes: where a reader wanted to link a note scribbled in the mar­gin to a par­tic­u­lar pas­sage in the text, a pair of as­ter­isks would do the trick. Later, in prin­ted books, au­thors used the as­ter­isk to call out their own asides.9

By the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, the as­ter­isk had be­come the de facto leader of the foot­note clan. In 1953, a lex­ico­grapher named Eric Part­ridge ex­plained that “the fol­low­ing are of­ten used”: ‘*’, ‘†’, ‘**’, ‘‡’ or ‘††’, ‘***’ or ‘⁂’ or ‘⁂’, and fi­nally ‘†††’.10 Things have calmed down a little since Part­ridge’s time, but ‘*’, ‘†’, and ‘‡’ are still re­l­at­ively com­mon and even ‘§’, ‘||’ and ‘¶’ ap­pear on oc­ca­sion. Should a writer’s pen­chant for foot­notes ex­tend past five or six per page, lettered or numbered notes may be a bet­ter op­tion and, in­deed, the fre­quency of ty­po­graphic foot­note mark­ers does seem to have waned over the past few dec­ades.


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Yet even as the as­ter­isk is used less of­ten as a foot­note marker, its im­plied mean­ing — that there is more here than meets the eye — is as strong as ever. For Amer­ican news­pa­pers, merely to use the word “as­ter­isk” is to tar­nish its sub­ject by as­so­ci­ation; for Amer­ican sports writers, doubly so.

It all goes back to 1961, and a base­ball es­tab­lish­ment un­will­ing to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 December 2020 at 7:22 am

Posted in Daily life, History, Writing

Margaret Atwood, The Art of Fiction: A Paris Review interview

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This interview from 1990 is available outside Paris Review‘s paywall for one week only, so read it quickly (or save it to Evernote or Pocket). The interview begins:

The manuscript of “Frogless,” a poem that appears in this issue, by Margaret Atwood. Ms. Atwood wrote the poem on an SAS Hotel’s bedside notepad while she was in Gothenburg, Sweden last September for the Nordic Book Fair. “I’ve written quite a lot under those circumstances. Perhaps it’s being in a hotel room or a plane with no ringing phone and no supervision. Also, there’s something about jet lag that breaks down the barriers.”

Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario in 1939. As a child, she lived in the wilderness of northern Quebec and also spent time in Ottawa, Sault Sainte Marie, and Toronto. She was eleven before she attended a full year of school. In high school Atwood began to write poetry inspired by Edgar Allen Poe, and at sixteen she committed herself to a writing career, publishing a collection of poems, Double Persephone, six years later.

Her second book of poetry, The Circle Game, earned her the Governor General’s Award—Canada’s highest literary honor—and from that time forward she has been a dominant figure in Canadian letters. In 1972 Atwood sparked a hot debate when she published a controversial critical study of Canadian literature, Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. In it she claimed that Canadian literature reflects the submissive as well as survivalist tendencies of the country, born from its being a subordinate ally to the United States, a former colony, and a country with vast stretches of untamed land. Following the publication of this volume, Atwood retreated from Toronto, where she had been working as an editor at the publishing house Anansi, to a farm in Alliston, Ontario, where she began to write full time.

Atwood has published nineteen collections of poetry—including The Circle Game (1964), The Journals of Susanna Moodie (1970), Power Politics (1971), You Are Happy (1974), True Stories (1981) and Interlunar (1984)—but she is best known for her novels, which include Surfacing (1972), Lady Oracle (1976), and Cat’s Eye (1988). Her most widely read novel is The Handmaid’s Tale (1986), a chilling account of a puritanical theocracy that won Atwood a second Governor General’s Award and was recently made into a motion picture. She is also the author of two children’s books, Up in the Tree (1978) and Anna’s Pet (1980) and two collections of short stories, Dancing Girls (1977) and Bluebeard’s Egg (1983). She has edited Oxford anthologies of Canadian verse and Canadian short stories and, with Shannon Ravenel, the 1989 volume of The Best American Short Stories.

The question of the status of women has frequently been an issue in Atwood’s work, and feminists have seized upon her writing as a product of the movement. Atwood has also made other political and philosophical issues themes in her work, such as Canada’s struggle to create an identity and, in recent years, her concern for human rights.

This interview was conducted in a house near Princeton University, where Atwood had gone to give some readings and lectures. In person, Atwood is much as one might expect from reading her work—incisive. For many hours over a period of two days, while teenage boys bounced basketballs and played music outside, people walked in and out, and football games played on the television in the next room, Atwood sat, attentive, answering each question without hesitation. She never strayed from her point, never seemed to tire, and remained, like a narrator from any one of her books, unflappable.

INTERVIEWER: Has the theme of survival always been intrinsic to your work?

MARGARET ATWOOD: I grew up in the north woods of Canada. You had to know certain things about survival. Wilderness survival courses weren’t very formalized when I was growing up, but I was taught certain things about what to do if I got lost in the woods. Things were immediate in that way and therefore quite simple. It was part of my life from the beginning.

INTERVIEWER: When did you make the leap from considering survival to be a physical battle to considering it to be an intellectual or political struggle?

ATWOOD: When I started thinking about Canada as a country it became quite evident to me that survival was a national obsession. When I came to the States in the sixties, I felt that nobody knew where Canada was. Their brother may have gone there to fish or something. When I was at Harvard, I was invited as a “foreign student” to a woman’s house for an evening for which I was asked to wear “native costume.” Unfortunately I’d left my native costume at home and had no snowshoes. So there I was, without native costume with this poor woman and all this food, sitting around waiting for the really exotic foreign students in their native costumes to turn up—which they never did because, as everybody knew, foreign students didn’t go out at night.

INTERVIEWER: You’ve written about the theme of foreignness a good deal.

ATWOOD: Foreignness is all around. Only in the heart of the heart of the country, namely the heart of the United States, can you avoid such a thing. In the center of an empire, you can think of your experience as universal. Outside the empire or on the fringes of the empire, you cannot.

INTERVIEWER: In your afterword to The Journals of Susanna Moodie you write that if the mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia. Could you say something more about that?

ATWOOD: The United States is big and powerful; Canada is divided and threatened. Maybe I shouldn’t have said “illness.” Maybe I should have said “state of mind.” Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation. Equivalently, the United States’s feeling that it is big and powerful is not a delusion. It is big and powerful. Possibly, its wish to be even bigger and more powerful is the mentally ill part. Every Canadian has a complicated relationship with the United States, whereas Americans think of Canada as the place where the weather comes from. Complication is a matter of how you perceive yourself in an unequal power relationship.

INTERVIEWER: How do you view Canada and its literature within this political relationship? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 November 2020 at 12:28 pm

Posted in Books, Writing

The peril of pursuing perfection

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I have written about the difficulty faced by adult beginners in playing piano: they are hyperconscious of the mistakes they make, and they don’t want to play until they can play without making such mistakes. But studying our mistakes is how we learn.

I just came across this story from Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

Update: Cf. Linus Pauling: “The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.”

Written by LeisureGuy

16 November 2020 at 3:42 pm

Feeling Lots Of….Feelings? Overwhelmed and/or Confused? Journaling Can Help

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Andrew Limbong and Audrey Nguyen report in NPR:

The term “journaling” encompasses a lot of different things: the list of birds you’ve seen in your neighborhood; the descriptions of sights you saw on your last vacation; the notes you jotted down about the dream you had last night. But the general, tried and true everything is a bit much in my life right now, and I have to write it down type of journaling can really help when, well, everything is a bit much.

James Pennebaker, a professor of Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, has spent decades studying “expressive writing.” Basically, Pennebaker says, if you find yourself ruminating on something, “set aside some time to write about it for anywhere from five to 20 minutes a day, for one day, two days, maybe as many as five days.”

Expressive writing is associated with improvements in physical healthimprovements in markers of mental health, and improvements in immune function. It’s also been shown to improve working memory in college students, says Pennebaker.

Don’t worry if you’re not exactly sure where to start. Journaling is actually perfect for those times when you can’t pin down what you’re feeling.

“It’s that great first step to opening up and learning who you are and what you believe in and how you feel and how you see and understand the world,” says Rashawnda James, a licensed therapist, YouTuber and a big advocate of journaling.

These four tips will help you get started: . . .

Continue reading.

And by all means let me recommend the 12-week morning pages program set out in The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. For that I found that handwriting worked best (better than a keyboard). I used this sort of notebook. At 3 pages per day, you’ll need three of them, so getting a pack of six is not a bad idea, particularly if two of you are going to take on the project. The book itself offers very good guidance.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2020 at 11:00 am

Kurt Vonnegut on The Art of Fiction: A Paris Review interview

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Paris Review is opening its archives for a few things, and this one is interesting for us Kurt Vonnegut fans. The interview begins:

This interview with Kurt Vonnegut was originally a composite of four interviews done with the author over the past decade. The composite has gone through an extensive working over by the subject himself, who looks upon his own spoken words on the page with considerable misgivings . . . indeed, what follows can be considered an interview conducted with himself, by himself.

The introduction to the first of the incorporated interviews (done in West Barnstable, Massachusetts, when Vonnegut was forty-four) reads: “He is a veteran and a family man, large-boned, loose-jointed, at ease. He camps in an armchair in a shaggy tweed jacket, Cambridge gray flannels, a blue Brooks Brothers shirt, slouched down, his hands stuffed into his pockets. He shells the interview with explosive coughs and sneezes, windages of an autumn cold and a lifetime of heavy cigarette smoking. His voice is a resonant baritone, Midwestern, wry in its inflections. From time to time he issues the open, alert smile of a man who has seen and reserved within himself almost everything: depression, war, the possibility of violent death, the inanities of corporate public relations, six children, an irregular income, long-delayed recognition.

The last of the interviews that made up the composite was conducted during the summer of 1976, years after the first. The description of him at this time reads: “ . . . he moves with the low-keyed amiability of an old family dog. In general, his appearance is tousled: the long curly hair, mustache, and sympathetic smile suggest a man at once amused and saddened by the world around him. He has rented the Gerald Murphy house for the summer. He works in the little bedroom at the end of a hall where Murphy, artist, bon vivant, and friend to the artistic great, died in 1964. From his desk Vonnegut can look out onto the front lawn through a small window; behind him is a large, white canopy bed. On the desk next to the typewriter is a copy of Andy Warhol’s Interview, Clancy Sigal’s Zone of the Interior, and several discarded cigarette packs.

“Vonnegut has chain-smoked Pall Malls since 1936 and during the course of the interview he smokes the better part of one pack. His voice is low and gravelly, and as he speaks, the incessant procedure of lighting the cigarettes and exhaling smoke is like punctuation in his conversation. Other distractions, such as the jangle of the telephone and the barking of a small, shaggy dog named Pumpkin, do not detract from Vonnegut’s good-natured disposition. Indeed, as Dan Wakefield once said of his fellow Shortridge High School alumnus, ‘He laughed a lot and was kind to everyone.’“

INTERVIEWER: You are a veteran of the Second World War?

VONNEGUT: Yes. I want a military funeral when I die—the bugler, the flag on the casket, the ceremonial firing squad, the hallowed ground.

INTERVIEWER: Why?

VONNEGUT: It will be a way of achieving what I’ve always wanted more than anything—something I could have had, if only I’d managed to get myself killed in the war.

INTERVIEWER: Which is—?

VONNEGUT: The unqualified approval of my community.

INTERVIEWER: You don’t feel that you have that now?

VONNEGUT: My relatives say that they are glad I’m rich, but that they simply cannot read me.

INTERVIEWER: You were an infantry battalion scout in the war?

VONNEGUT: Yes, but I took my basic training on the 240-millimeter howitzer.

INTERVIEWER: A rather large weapon.

VONNEGUT: The largest mobile fieldpiece in the army at that time. This weapon came in six pieces, each piece dragged wallowingly by a Caterpillar tractor. Whenever we were told to fire it, we had to build it first. We practically had to invent it. We lowered one piece on top of another, using cranes and jacks. The shell itself was about nine and a half inches in diameter and weighed three hundred pounds. We constructed a miniature railway which would allow us to deliver the shell from the ground to the breech, which was about eight feet above grade. The breechblock was like the door on the vault of a savings and loan association in Peru, Indiana, say.

INTERVIEWER: It must have been a thrill to fire such a weapon.

VONNEGUT: Not really. We would put the shell in there, and then we would throw in bags of very slow and patient explosives. They were damp dog biscuits, I think. We would close the breech, and then trip a hammer which hit a fulminate of mercury percussion cap, which spit fire at the damp dog biscuits. The main idea, I think, was to generate steam. After a while, we could hear these cooking sounds. It was a lot like cooking a turkey. In utter safety, I think, we could have opened the breechblock from time to time, and basted the shell. Eventually, though, the howitzer always got restless. And finally it would heave back on its recoil mechanism, and it would have to expectorate the shell. The shell would come floating out like the Goodyear blimp. If we had had a stepladder, we could have painted “Fuck Hitler” on the shell as it left the gun. Helicopters could have taken after it and shot it down.

INTERVIEWER: The ultimate terror weapon.

VONNEGUT: Of the Franco-Prussian War.

INTERVIEWER: But you were ultimately sent overseas not with this instrument but with the 106th Infantry Division—

VONNEGUT: “The Bag Lunch Division.” They used to feed us a lot of bag lunches. Salami sandwiches. An orange.

INTERVIEWER: In combat?

VONNEGUT: When we were still in the States.

INTERVIEWER: While they trained you for the infantry?

VONNEGUT: I was never trained for the infantry. Battalion scouts were elite troops, see. There were only six in each battalion, and nobody was very sure about what they were supposed to do. So we would march over to the rec room every morning, and play Ping-Pong and fill out applications for Officer Candidate School.

INTERVIEWER: During your basic training, though, you must have been familiarized with weapons other than the howitzer. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2020 at 6:57 am

Posted in Books, Writing

I really love L.E. Sissman’s poetry

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Two books are available: Hello, Darkness: The Collected Poems of L.E. Sissman and Night Music: Poems.

I feel that L.E. Sissman is greatly underappreciated (like George P. Elliott, also a fine writer, but of fiction).

From the Poetry Foundation’s online profile of Sissman and sampling of his verse:

Our Literary Heritage

I. Riverside Drive, 1929

“ ‘Good-by, Ralph. It should end some other way.
Not this,’ Corinna said. ‘Now go away.’
No. Rhymes. It’s ludicrous. Try ‘Dear, good-by.’
No. Repetitious. Maybe ‘Dear, farewell.’
No. Stagy. Out of character. Oh, hell.
Time for a drink.” The Smith-Corona heaves
As he retracts his knickerbockered knees
To rise. Outside, a southbound tug receives
The sun broadside, and the bold Linit sign
Pales on the Jersey shore. Fresh gin, tk-tk-
Tk-tk-tk-tk, quite clearly fills his glass
Half full from the unlabelled bottle. Now
His boyish fingers grip the siphon’s worn
Wire basketweave and press the trigger down
To utter soda water. One long sip
Subtracts a third of it for carrying.
On the way back, he pauses at the door
Beside his football picture, where a snore
Attests that all is well and promises
Him time to work. To work: before the tall,
Black, idle typewriter, before the small
Black type elitely inching on the blank
White sea of bond, he quails and takes a drink.
First, demolitions: the slant shilling mark
Defaces half a hundred characters
With killing strike-overs. Now, a new start:
“ ‘Good-by, Ralph. I don’t know why it should end
Like tihs,’ Corinna said. ‘But be my friend.’ ’’

II. Hotel Shawmut, Boston, 1946

(From a commercial travellers’ hotel,
Professor S. jumped straight down into hell,
While—jug-o’-rum-rum—engines made their way
Beneath him, one so cold December day).

While he prepares his body, cold gears mate
And chuckle in the long draught of the street.
He shaves; his silver spectacles peruse
An issue of The North American Muse.
He uses Mum; outside him in the hall,
Maids talk their language; snow begins to fall.
He puts on his old clothes. The narrow room
Has nothing, nothing to discuss with him
Except what time you should send out your suit
And shoes for cleaning. Now he stamps his foot:
Outside the window, not saying anything,
Appears a seagull, standing on one wing;
A long-awaited colleague. With glad cry,
Professor S. embraces the white sky.

While S. demolishes a taxicab,
His spectacles review the life of Crabbe.

(From a commercial travellers’ hotel,
Profesor S. descended into hell.
But once in April in New Haven he
Kissed a friend’s sister in the gloom of trees.)

III. Deus Ex Machina, Flushing, 1966

La Guardia. Knee-deep in storyboards,
I line up for the shuttle, which arrives
Outside the gate and off-loads shuffling streams
Of transferees—each in his uniform
Of sober stuff and nonsense, with a case
Of talents at his side—who pass our line
Of somber-suited shuttlers carrying
Our cases on. Then one appears, a rare
Bird in migration to New York, a bare-
Crowned singer of the stony coast of Maine,
And of Third Avenue in rain; a bard.
The way of the almost-extinct is hard.
He peers through tortoise-shelly glasses at . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2020 at 10:47 am

Posted in Art, Books, Writing

Vivian Stephens Helped Turn Romance Writing Into a Billion-Dollar Industry. Then She Got Pushed Out.

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Mimi Swartz writes in Texas Monthly:

If it hadn’t been for the pandemic and the near impossibility of visiting Vivian Stephens in person, I’m not sure I would have been so attuned to her voice. It is gay and mellifluous; she always sounded delighted to hear from me, a reaction most reporters are not accustomed to. But there was something else: she answers questions about herself not in sentences or paragraphs but in pages, and sometimes even chapters, as if she’s been keeping the whole story of her life in her head, just waiting for someone to ask about it.

That voice matches an official photograph from her earlier days, when she was a star editor of romance novels at Dell, then a division of Doubleday, in New York. She was uncontestably beautiful, with a broad, toothy smile and a sly intelligence behind her eyes, a spray of freckles over her cheeks, and an Afro that, befitting the publishing world, was neither too corporately short nor too aggressively political. She is propped up on one elbow and leaning in toward the camera. She looks game for anything.

Stephens is 87 now, under self-imposed lockdown in one of those amenity-rich mid-rise apartment complexes that have sprouted all over Houston, this one just north of Hermann Park, in the Binz area. Her one-bedroom unit is cluttered with papers and stacks of books on nearly every surface. There are many romance novels, yes, as well as more-cerebral tomes such as A Nervous Splendor, a history of Vienna in the late 1880s. Family photographs, some dating back almost to that time, populate a small table in a living room corner.

The most captivating photo, though, is the black-and-white one Stephens has pushpinned to the wall above her computer. Taken in 1964, it shows her poised on the steps of New York’s Lincoln Center wearing a sleeveless sheath dress, hands on her hips, ready to take on the world. Even now, she is vibrant and active. She spends her days talking with friends all over the country. She looks forward to her 83-year-old sister Christina’s daily phone check-in (“Yes, I’m still here”), fixes vegan meals from scratch, meditates, coaches a few long-distance writing clients, watches televangelist Joel Osteen, thinks through that memoir she still intends to produce, makes notes on novels she hopes to write, and surfs the web for information on aging and nutrition for her blog. “Aging is the next great adventure,” she told me with an almost evangelical certitude.

But I was calling about the past, not the future. Specifically, an email she had received in May from Alyssa Day, the president of the Romance Writers of America, an organization based in northwest Houston, not too far from the white and wealthy exurb of Champions. Stephens had been instrumental in founding that group back in 1980.

What is this? Stephens thought to herself when she saw the email, which asked, politely and respectfully, if it would be okay to name the RWA’s highest writing award after her because her “trailblazing efforts created a more inclusive publishing landscape and helped bring romance novels to the masses,” as the press release would later put it.

Well, this is interesting, was Stephens’s next thought.

She wouldn’t put it this way, but it was kind of like getting an email from an old boyfriend who was now trying to make amends. It wasn’t that there was bad blood between Stephens and the RWA—she’d never admit to that, anyway—but there was some hurt that dated back to when she had felt disappeared by the organization.

The timing of Day’s email wasn’t incidental. The RWA had been embroiled in a bitter, and at times very public, racism scandal for much of the previous year. A skeptic might suggest that, good intentions aside—and there were good intentions—the Vivian award could be viewed as just another way to sanitize prior bad behavior on the part of the RWA. Stephens had to decide—again—whether to let bygones be bygones after a forty-year relationship that had been, in its way, a romance, albeit a difficult one.

So Stephens was uncharacteristically ambivalent about the RWA’s offer. After some thought, however, she wrote back to say that she would be honored. And then, being Vivian Stephens, she couldn’t resist adding a metaphorical flourish to the statement they requested. She cited an astrophysicist who explained that as stars explode, they produce the magical, mystical remnant that is stardust. “Since we all live in the universe it is well worth remembering that underneath the outer dressing of ethnicity, color and gender, we are all the same,” she wrote. “Showered with the gift of stars.”

Then she hit send.

Romance writing has always been easy to laugh at, at least for the uninformed. You might imagine that these stories mostly involve a castle on the Scottish Highlands, inhabited by a restless warrior wearing nothing under his kilt. Or maybe you picture the broad and bare-chested phenom Fabio, taking time out from piloting his Viking ship on the high seas to attend to a bŭom and bound captive down below.

But if this is your vision of the romance-writing world, you might have missed its evolution into a billion-dollar-a-year business. In 2016 romance made up 23 percent of the overall U.S. fiction market, and the net worth of some of its writers exceeds that of John Grisham (see Nora Roberts and Danielle Steel). According to Christine Larson, a romance expert and journalism professor at the University of Colorado Boulder, 45 percent of the romance writers she surveyed made enough to support themselves without a day job—“that is shocking for any group of writers,” she said—and thanks mainly to their embrace of digital publishing, 17 percent make more than $100,000 a year. Not Mark Zuckerberg money, but far more than the $45,000 median income of American working women.

That legitimacy is due in many ways to the vast social changes of the past several decades. Once upon a time, many romance writers—and their readers—were . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2020 at 11:15 am

Posted in Books, Business, Writing

Stephen Pinker talk on writing

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I found this talk interesting. It was given in 2015 in the UK (and, among other things, Pinker explains well why my use of the passive in this sentence is good). Worth watching.

Toward the end of the talk, Pinker mentions how a good writer should try to become the reader over his (or her) shoulder — that is, to read the writing as someone else would read it, someone who doesn’t have already in mind that the writer is trying to say. Pinker points out that this is difficult and offers one solution: give the writing to other people and see what they make of it, picking people who are representative of the targeted readership.

That’s good, and certainly it can work well if those representative readers get a bit of training and direction in how best to provide feedback. There is in addition a way for you to become the reader over your shoulder, and that is the subject of the wonderful book by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge, The Reader Over Your Shoulder. See this post for a discussion of the book and how best to use it.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2020 at 11:02 am

Posted in Video, Writing

Three poets to help you understand ancient Chinese poetry.

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Lee Moore writes in SupChina:

This month, in which we are all locked indoors, happens to be National Poetry Month. Several people, getting tired of the same plot lines in pulpy fiction, have asked me, What should I be reading? My answer is always the same: Tang Dynasty poetry.

The Tang Dynasty (618-907) is the golden age of both China and its poetry. And not just that — there is probably no time and place in world history when poetry was more important. The imperial exam, a ticket into the social elite, required test-takers to be thoroughly familiar with poetry. Social life for elites was dominated by parties where people sat around drinking and writing poetry. To move up the social ladder, you had to be able to write poetry. And so, not surprisingly, the Tang produced an abundance of poets.

Because of the sheer number and diversity of works, Tang poetry can be intimidating if you do not know where to start. The Complete Tang Poems (全唐诗 quán tángshī), an 1705 anthology that attempted to gather all Tang poetry into a single collection, has 49,000 poems and 2,200 poets. Even that is really just a “Best Of” collection. How does one begin to break into them?

Luckily, during the Tang era and subsequent ones — the Chinese have never stopped reading Tang poetry — cream rose to the top. Three poets from that time distinguished themselves and remain celebrated to this day. They make for a fine entry point into Tang poetry — let’s take a look at who they are and a representative poem from each (all three poems translated by yours truly).

Dù Fǔ 杜甫

he first poet in the Tang Trinity is Du Fu. Textbooks and other official channels largely agree that he was the greatest of the Tang’s poets. Although it is a simplification, Du Fu represents the Confucian tradition, to the point where, during the Song Dynasty, he was sometimes called the “poet-historian.”

Like the two other poets you’ll be introduced to shortly, Du Fu lived during the Tang Dynasty’s most tragic period, and his poetry is redolent of the sadness at the breakdown in government institutions and the violence that that breakdown inflicted on the lives of the people. The Tang state was at the height of its power when a non-Han Chinese, Central Asian general named Ān Lùshān 安禄山 tried to overthrow the Tang emperor. Du Fu, along with the emperor, fled the capital and did not return until after An Lushan had sacked it.

Much of Du Fu’s best poetry focuses on  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 April 2020 at 2:09 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Writing

20 Journaling Prompts to Get You out of Your Head

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Kate Arends blogs:

here is no better way to understand the way you think and what’s going through your head than to journal. The problem I’ve found is that the act of journaling is so open-ended that when it is most beneficial for me to do it, I avoid it.

Sound familiar? If this is one of the roadblocks you face when it comes to journaling, this post is here to help. I want to take the guesswork out of how you can journal effectively, without the impending paralysis that sometimes results from an open-ended prompt.

My first tip? Start by writing “morning pages.”

Whether you are new to journaling or are just here to get some new prompts to try, consider doing a “mental download” first using the “morning pages” method (contributor Ellen Koneck wrote a helpful post about this here!). It’s a great way to get your mental gears greased and clean out any fragments of unfinished tasks, things to remember, or notes to self. It’s also really effective in priming the pump per se when it comes to getting the most out of more targeted journaling sessions.

[The prime source for morning pages is Julia Cameron’s excellent book The Artist’s Way. I have used that a few times, and it’s a good exercise. Link is to inexpensive secondhand copies. – LG]

Next, dive into journaling prompts.

Once you’ve done around ten minutes of subconscious, nonlinear writing, I suggest moving on to journaling prompts. I keep a list handy that I can refer to and take inventory of what I’m up against that day or in that moment. If I’m feeling anxious, I know which list to focus on.

Sometimes we journal to connect with ourselves; other times we journal to find perspective in moments that feel out of control. Given the bizarre times we’re living in and the spread of COVID-19, journaling is becoming an incredibly handy tool for this worrier.

When done correctly, journaling can be calming and clearing for your mind. It can help in releasing pent-up feelings and everyday stress. It can help you let go of negative thoughts while exploring your experiences with anxiety in a safe way.

The truth is, writing your thoughts down in a journal can positively impact your anxiety on a holistic level. When done correctly, journaling can be calming and clearing for your mind. It can help in releasing pent-up feelings and everyday stress. It can help you let go of negative thoughts while exploring your experiences with anxiety in a safe way.

When we get in the habit of writing about our struggles AND our successes, we begin to see enhanced self-awareness while also teaching ourselves about our triggers. Below you’ll find some of my favorite journaling prompts that have worked wonders for me.

Journaling Prompts for Self-Discovery:

  1. What do I know to be true that I didn’t know a year ago?
  2. What distractions get in the way of being my most productive?
  3. When do I feel most in tune with myself?
  4. If someone described me, what would they say?
  5. What can wait until next week?
  6. How does every part of my body feel in this moment?

Journaling Prompts for Managing Emotions:

  1. What emotions am I holding on to?
  2. How can I . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2020 at 6:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Writing

A Kickstarter project for italic handwriting

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Kate Gladstone emails:

For decades, I’ve been familiar with (and have recommended) the Getty-Dubay handwriting program from HandwritingSuccess.com … and now, they’re Kickstarter-funding an app!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/handwritingsuccess/getty-dubay-handwriting-success

and

https://www.HandwrltingSuccess.com/app

Based on the Getty-Dubay adult handwriting classic teach-yourself book (“Write Now”), the app — called GETTY-DUBAY HANDWRITING SUCCESS — is a complete handwriting program designed for adults (of every age: high school and up) who use an electronic stylus and tablet. It’s a personal handwriting trainer that can “meet” with you anywhere, any time.

This is handwriting for grownups.

For three weeks — January 23, 2020 through February 13, 2020 — HandwritingSuccess.com is introducing this app by providing the opportunity to support (and benefit from) the cause of good handwriting.

For details, see the app’s introduction/funding page at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/handwritingsuccess/getty-dubay-handwriting-success

Even though I already own a copy of the book “Write Now,” I’m intrigued because having it available on my tablet will allow my students and me to erase, correct and reuse every page, any time.

Electronics are great — and now, they just might become the greatest friends that our handwriting has ever had.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 January 2020 at 5:15 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Writing

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My new post at Medium: Fleshing out the Moral-Mirror Journal

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I wrote briefly about the Moral-Mirror Journal in the blog, and I fleshed out the idea for a short piece on Medium. In looking at the Useful Posts page on the blog, I see that this idea has been in the back of my mind for some time (e.g., cf. Groupthink of One).

Written by LeisureGuy

2 January 2020 at 6:26 pm

Posted in Daily life, Writing

Why learning a new language is like an illicit love affair

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Marianna Pogosyan, a lecturer in cultural psychology at the IES Abroad in Amsterdam and at the University of Amsterdam’s Politics, Psychology, Law and Economics (PPLE) college in The Netherlands, writes in Aeon:

Learning a new language is a lot like entering a new relationship. Some will become fast friends. Others will hook their arms with calculus formulas and final-exam-worthy historical dates, and march right out of your memory on the last day of school. And then sometimes, whether by mere chance or as a consequence of a lifelong odyssey, some languages will lead you to the brink of love.

Those are the languages that will consume you – all of you – as you do everything to make them yours. You dissect syntax structures. You recite conjugations. You fill notebooks with rivers of new letters. You run your pen over their curves and cusps again and again, like you would trace your fingers over a lover’s face. The words bloom on paper. The phonemes interlace into melodies. The sentences taste fragrant, even as they tumble awkwardly from your mouth like bricks built of foreign symbols. You memorise prose and lyrics and newspaper headlines, just to have them at your lips after the sun dips and when it dawns again.

Verbs after adverbs, nouns after pronouns, your relations deepen. Yet, the closer you get, the more aware you become of the mirage-like void between you. It’s vast, this void of knowledge, and you need a lifetime to traverse it. But you have no fear, since the path to your beloved gleams with curiosity and wonder that is almost urgent. What truths will you uncover amid the new letters and the new sounds? About the world? About yourself?

As with all relationships, the euphoria wears off eventually. With your wits regained, you keep dissecting and memorising, listening and speaking. Your accent is incorrigible. Your mistakes are inescapable. The rules are endless, as are the exceptions. The words – gracebless youonce upon a time – have lost their magic. But your devotion to them, your need for them is more earnest than ever. You have wandered too far from home to turn back now. You feel committed and vulnerable, trusting of their benevolence. On the occasion of your renewed vows, the language comes bearing gifts of inspiration and connection – not only to new others, but to a new you.

Many renowned writers have revelled in the gifts of their non-native tongues. Vladimir Nabokov, for instance, had been living in the United States for only a few years before he wrote Lolita (1955): a work that has been hailed as ‘a polyglot’s love letter to language’ and had him called a ‘master of English prose’. The Irishman Samuel Beckett wrote in French to escape the clutter of English. The Canadian Yann Martel found success writing not in his native French, but in English – a language that he says provides him with ‘a sufficient distance to write’. This distance, observes the Turkish novelist Elif Shafak of writing in her non-native English, leads her closer to home.

When Haruki Murakami sat at his kitchen table to write his first novel, he felt like his native Japanese was getting in the way. His thoughts would rush out of him like out of a ‘barn crammed with livestock’, as he put it in 2015. Then he tried writing in English, with limited vocabulary and simple syntax at his hands. As he translated (‘transplanted’, he calls it) his compact English sentences ‘stripped of all extraneous fat’ into Japanese, a distinctly unadorned style was born that decades later became synonymous with his worldwide success. When the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri started writing in Italian – a language she had been loving and learning for years – she felt like she was writing with her weaker hand. She was ‘exposed’, ‘uncertain’ and ‘poorly equipped’. Yet, she writes in 2015, she felt light and free, protected and reborn. Italian made her rediscover why she writes – ‘the joy as well as the need’.

But affairs of the heart rarely leave any witnesses untouched. Including our mother tongues. My grandmother has a collection of letters that I wrote to her after I left Armenia for Japan. Once in a while, she takes out the stack of envelopes with Japanese stamps that she keeps next to her passport, and reads through them. She knows all the words by heart, she insists with pride. One day, as we sit across each other with a screen and a continent between us, grandma shakes her head.

Something changed, she tells me ominously, skimming my sentences through her oversized glasses. With each letter, something kept changing, she says.

Of course something changed, grandma, I tell her. I moved to Japan. I hit puberty. I…

No, she laments with teacher’s remorse, your writing changed. First, it was the odd spelling mistake here and there. Then, the verbs and the nouns would pop up in wrong places.

Silence settles between us. I keep my eyes on the procession of English letters on my keyboard.

It’s nothing dramatic, she tells me, mostly to console herself, but enough for me to hold my breath every time I stumbled on errors that weren’t there before.

She opens another envelope.

Oh, and then, she exclaims, the punctuation! All of a sudden, there were too many commas. Then a single dot at the end of your sentences.

She lifts her glasses on top of her puff of white hair and begins to wrap her treasures back into my late grandfather’s handkerchief.

The last one that you sent me, she says with a defeated simper, that’s when everything changed. You wrote in our letters, you used our words, but it no longer sounded Armenian.

The truth is that entering an intimate relationship with a new language often colours everything. Our eyes expect the new words. Our ears habituate to the new sounds. Our pens memorise the new letters. While the infatuation takes over our senses, the language’s anatomy etches into our brains. Neural pathways are laid, connections are formed. Brain networks integrate. Grey matter becomes denser, white matter gets strengthened. Then, splatters of the new hues begin to show up in letters to grandma.

Linguists call this ‘second language interference’, when the new language interferes with the old language, like a new lover rearranging the furniture of your bedroom, as if to say – this is how things will be done around here from now on. Somehow, writing exposes this interference (this betrayal, as grandma saw it) more than . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 December 2019 at 8:21 pm

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