Oct 31 2018

Scribblings and Droppings no. 03: the Writer as Victim and Victor

Mark Twain in Athens

Scribblings and Droppings no. 03:
the Writer as Victim and Victor

Have you ever been involved in a creative project over a long period of time?

Did you reach a point where you felt the project was kicking your ass? Maybe you had to put it aside, like Goethe did with Faust Part II and Coleridge with Christabel?

This kind of thing happened to me when I was trying to prune an essay from 10,000+ words to under 4,000.

Was there a moment after having endured strife when you finally started to feel like you were kicking the project’s ass? Was there a moment when you realize you’d reached the apex and had overcome the obstacle?

It’s like Stephen King says: writers have to kill their darlings. (In a sick sense, you’ve got to be like Frau Goebbels.) You gotta figure out how to detox your own text, purge it of its poisons.

Now that the essay is done, I feel older, exhausted, and sore. But there’s no time for self-sympathy. Gotta get up and do all again, like the Chairman says:


Oct 28 2018

Scribblings and Droppings no. 02: On Editing, Empathy, Words, and Wars

Palazzo Re Enzo, Bologna, Italia

Scribblings and Droppings no. 02:
On Editing, Empathy, Words, and Wars

Some more thoughts on editing the thoughts of others in order to understand one’s own:

Do you remember the corny, WASPy nostalgia that is Dead Poets Society (1989)?

Do you remember how its exordium and dénouement are constructed around the act of standing on classroom desks while literally invocating Whitman’s “barbaric yawp,” to gain a new perspective on things?

No, the movie hasn’t aged well. Nonetheless, that’s what editing and proofreading the works of others is: getting, imagining a new perspective on things.

All editing (and self-editing) requires empathy. Editing is empathy.

But self-editing doesn’t mean empathizing with yourself. It means the level of quality you reach in editing your own words is measured in your capacity to empathize with your potential readership.

In other words, how well can you the writer put yourself in the shoes of a would-be reader you have never met?

This discussion of empathy reminds me of its importance in a different context: Errol Morris’s The Fog of War (2003), a documentary about Robert McNamara (1916–2009), who was Secretary of Defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

In discussing the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, McNamara says (I can’t find a clip of it):

 In [former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Llewellyn E.] Thompson’s mind was this thought: Khrushchev’s gotten himself in a hell of a fix. He would then think to himself, “My God, if I can get out of this with a deal that I can say to the Russian people: ‘Kennedy was going to destroy Castro and I prevented it.'” Thompson, knowing Khrushchev as he did, thought Khrushchev will accept that. And Thompson was right. That’s what I call empathy. We must try to put ourselves inside their skin and look at us through their eyes, just to understand the thoughts that lie behind their decisions and their actions.

This clip follows up on the above quotation:

Empathy can prevent nuclear war. (If only editing could be so powerful!)

 
 
 
 
 
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Oct 25 2018

Scribblings and Droppings no. 01: Building Community by Reading and Writing (and Rereading and Rewriting)

pencil shavings

Scribblings and Droppings no. 01:
Building Community by Reading and Writing
(and Rereading and Rewriting)

I’ve been working on a major book review/philosophical essay for at least six months.

I’m done now (I think), but for a lot of those months I was stuck in a rut. 

It was more fatigue than “writer’s block.”

I think part of what dislodged me from that rut was doing some proofreading and editing for some friends and family.

One was a two-page essay for a musical appreciation undergraduate course.

The other was an eight-page essay/writing sample for a graduate school application.

There is nothing novel in the observation that composition classes in high school and college often assign students to critique each other’s work.

And when you’re stuck in the tunnel-vision of your own writing project, it’s wise to get perspectives from other readers (if you can find them).

But it’s also wise to get better, more diverse perspectives by reading what others are working on, that is, via proofreading and editing.

The results: my essay is done, submitted for publication, and now I await a reply.

The student with the two-page essay (from Austin) got a grade of 100%, and the graduate school applicant (from Lubbock) was accepted.

So my local community is now stronger, my state community is stronger, and hopefully my writing will get stronger.

Read Scribbings and Droppings no. 02 here.

 
 
 
 
 
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Oct 3 2018

To Read or Not to Read, that is the Question

To Read or Not to Read, that is the Question

From the always cheerful Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) on what one should read (and otherwise):

The art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time. When some political or ecclesiastical pamphlet, or novel, or poem is making a great commotion, you should remember that he who writes for food always finds a large public. — A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.

“On Books and Writing – no. 16” in Schopenhauer: Essays and Aphorisms, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, (New York: Penguin, 1970), p. 210.



And this is not something that was just practiced in the old days. There are people, good people like Gary here, who continue to practice today what Schopenhauer preached long ago (at least concerning this particular topic):


Sep 24 2018

Early Autumn Mushrooms

typewriter
Early Autumn Mushrooms

From Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882):

…. So also full of flowers, buds, leaves, & even tough grass & moss & mushrooms grown in a night all which I in my sauntering through unimportant country coldly botanizing for my pastime collected….

–Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks Vol. VI (1824-1836), p. 304.

And from Arnold Zweig (1887-1968)’s novel The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1927):

Adepts tell us that poisonous herbs should be gathered when the moon is up and on the increase: both gong and coming the gatherer must refrain from worldly speech, and if he meets with anyone on the road, he must devoutly murmur a Paternoster or an Ave Maria. He must also start upon his journey with the right foot, and return with his left foot foremost, being very careful not to change his step. And if he does all this, no evil spirits can meddle with his step.

–The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1927), trans. Eric Sutton, (New York: Viking, 1928) IV, v, p. 233.


Sep 19 2018

Population Stampede in Austin, Texas

typewriter

Population Stampede in Austin, Texas

Two pieces out this week on the increasing urban redevelopment of Capital City.

Report says gentrification threatens to displace Austin’s low-income residents, communities of color,” by Brandon Formby of the Texas Tribune, September 18, 2018:

“They’re young, they’re professional, they’re clearly here to work in tech,” [Fred McGhee, a historical archaeologist and community activist] said. “They’re here to make a real estate investment. They’re not interested in playing a role in the community.”

And “CodeNEXT or None, Austin has an Identity Crisis,” by Aubrey Byron of Strong Towns.org, September 17, 2018:

CodeNEXT opponent [Fred Lewis of Community Not Commodity], says he isn’t opposed to walkability, but he is skeptical that it’s what people actually want. “The idea that people are going to walk to the store is ludicrous. It’s 100 degrees here in the summer.”


Sep 11 2018

Good Writers Need Tough Readers

London - Georgian Apartments

Good Writers Need Tough Readers

Susan Sontag once observed:

Sometimes a writer will be so uneasy before the naked power of his art that he will install within the work itself—albeit with a little shyness, a touch of the good taste of irony—the clearer and explicit interpretation of it. Thomas Mann is an example of such an overcooperative author. In the case of more stubborn authors, the critic is only too happy to perform the job.

“Against Interpretation,” (1964) in Against Interpretationand Other Essays, (New York: Delta Books, 1966). p. 8.

And, more recently, from writer James Wade has confessed:

I once received a rejection that said one of my sentences was too long. This was new to me because never have I ever (drink) been criticised for long sentences– at least not since grammar class in high school. Other decent writers who employ long sentences as a literary device include Faulkner, Dickens, Hemingway, McCarthy, O’Connor, Lewis Carroll, Salinger, Tim O’Brien, Bukowski, Audrey Niffenegger, and we could go on forever. The point is, I would be a fool to let this rejection letter influence my writing style. But that doesn’t mean all criticism is without merit.

The lesson here is that good writers strive to never be too cooperative nor confrontational with their readers.


Sep 6 2018

Christian Sexual Ethics Did Not Emerge Ex Nihilo

porticos in Bologna, Italia

Christian Sexual Ethics Did Not Emerge Ex Nihilo

Delving into material (i.e., ancient ethics) that I usually don’t, I have to object to Benjamin Wilker (and subsequently Rod Dreher) when they characterize: that, in the words of the first writer:

“Christianity [and Christianity alone!] made pedophilia a moral issue.”

But I believe European history is a little more complicated than the Church-centric readings of Dreher and Wiker.

Pagan emperor Marcus Aurelius (121–180 AD), a persecutor of Christians, felt it was right to suppress pederasty as much as he possibly could ( Meditations I, xvi).

His contemporary, Apuleius of Madura (124–170), a pagan rhetorician, philosopher, and novelist, mocks the Calamites who prey on young boys as well as Christians for their monotheism in his novel The Golden Ass Chapters VIII-IX).


Sep 4 2018

Four New Pieces that Think Seriously About Reading

Four New Pieces that Think Seriously About Reading


Aug 17 2018

10 Interesting Online Items I’ve Read Since October 2017

bookshelf
10 Interesting Online Items I’ve Read Since October 2017

Here are some links to some interesting things I’ve lately read.  I’ve been saving them for myself to eventually reread and probably get some writing ideas from. All sorts of topics and subjects: