Monday, October 15, 2007

Naturally Difficult

blog: Zinsser claims "The only way to learn to write is to force yourself to produce a certain number of words on a regular basis" (49). Why do you think he says this?

Randall Jarrell, the American poet, likens creative inspiration to being struck by lightning—one has to stand out in many storms in order to get hit. My inclination is to agree with both Jarrell and Zinsser. If one is regularly at the business of doing something, one is showing a willingness to let good things happen. Of course notice that Zinsser uses the words “force” and “certain number” and “regular basis,” suggesting discipline—and discipline includes a good heart. One can go through plenty of motions and get few results. Bad attitudes perpetuate bad attitudes and create bad products. I like Zinsser’s word “force” because it suggests that this routine, this discipline, is not a matter of natural inclination. If things don’t come easy, that doesn’t mean they aren’t natural to us—natural childbirth being a key example.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Critically Important

Blog: What are skillful, earnest critics good for?

Helping. Criticism is always a problem; constructive criticism is an oxymoron. I had a professor once who, repeating his father I believe, said "I have never seen a monument to a critic." But let's get a bit fundamental here: a critic is someone who evaluates things and makes a judgment. Don't we all do that, more or less well, more or less frequently, as human beings? (Of course on the MBTI test I am on the judging axis, so this colors my perceptions.) But where we take it from there is the mark of what we are as a person and suggests the mark we will leave in the human record.

I firmly believe that if one points out a problem, one must be actively, compassionately willing to help resolve the problem if possible. IF one sees something wonderful, one must not only admire it; one must emulate or act in one's own sphere with motivated, equal excellence.

Those who see well and respond well, both to problems and excellencies, are critics--but we call them leaders.

It Is Finished

blog: When I finish writing a paper I feel . . .

Relieved. Being the production-oriented person that I am, I probably have more pleasure--and always more security-- in having done something than in doing it. For me, writing an essay is like mopping a floor--it feels so good to know I've done it; it feels good to have smoothness under my feet rather than tackiness or crumbs; it smells nice, too. The actual mopping doesn’t do much for me.

It could be a let down to finish something well; Ellison's "King of the Bingo Game" underscores the idea that as long as there is possibility, there is hope-- but the thing completed may turn out badly, leading us to not want to finish. Mostly, though, my papers turn out in a way that I can live with or that even surprise me with their power (such are gifts).

But like the floor that will need mopping again, there will be another paper that needs to be written. The repeatability of and the necessity to repeat tasks--how we respond to these things--are a mark of what we are as a doer of those tasks.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Singing Praise

blog: Zinsser says it's hard to praise things (194) well. Why do you think that could be true?

It's hard to do anything well--praise or criticize. I think it's especially hard to praise well because people are less inclined (or people like me, anyhow) to believe good things than bad things; irony and negativity are easy defaults. Also, when praising, it's easy to fall to the cliches and superlatives that tell the readers but little. And praising is hard because our reasons for liking things can be so personal that to adequately explain our pleasures becomes difficult, either because we're holding back or because we're not. I think what can be truly said is that criticism and praise are somewhat alike as far as what makes them effective and what does not. Of course it's easier to make something bad than good, so it's easier to point out faults than point out excellencies. In the end, though, I always care more about what people like than what they don’t like.

The Breakfast of Self-Control; the Breakfast of Binging

Blog prompt: The Best Breakfast Cereal

For sturdy repetitions, I would say cooked oatmeal--old fashioned cut--with milk, no salt, nothing else but maybe some walnuts. One could live on this simply because there would be no impulse to binge on it! The breakfast cereal of pleasure, however, would have to be granola. It has, however, overindulgence as a built in feature--how not when 1/4 cup makes one carbohydrate exchange? I think to eat it well one needs to save it for dinner and eat 3/4 cup with milk. Almonds, raisins, dried apples, dates, whatever fruit--sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, oats, sweetener, coconut, cinnamon and vanilla . . .that's pleasure. However, just thinking of eating even 3/4 cup of it makes me feel anxiously deprived. I have heard that sometimes abstinence is easier than moderation. Maybe I should keep a safe theoretical distance from granola.

Monday, October 8, 2007

What Day Is It?

blog prompt: Columbus Day, Native American Day, or both?

Today is Columbus Day (observed) and also Native American Day. If it really was a Viking who discovered America, I have a South-Dakota insight into why he didn't get the credit.

When I read in Writer's Almanac today about how small Columbus's ships were, I was amazed. It's almost like he was sent off to do something with inadequate support--sort of a gag gift or condemnation. Then again, I don't know how big other ships were at the time without doing some research. It's good to have it be Native American Day, too. My daughter wants to have a Columbus Day party (anything for a celebration, anything for some cake?) I was wondering if I couldn't make some Native American food and also something Spanish/Italian to recognize both events. It seems like I’m more looking for a celebration excuse than pushing myself for ethical and philosophical reflections. One thing I do question is why Peter Pan (a la Disney) didn't get recalled or edited for its embarrassing song "What Makes the Red Man Red?"

Friday, October 5, 2007

Sinless Omission

blog: Zinsser says, speaking of writing, "Be grateful for everything you can throw away" (16). Why?


It's easier to get rid of trash than to organize it. It's even easier to whole-sale throw away things than to sort and evaluate. How much tinkering could be avoided by trashing…I have heard a great saying: anything not worth doing is not worth doing well. To discard is to free oneself from pointless agonies. My best friend has maddeningly liberated me on multiple occasions by telling me simply NOT to do something rather than helping me work through the details of how to do it. I am speaking very broadly of life, but the writing is the same. Suffering syntax and insidious ideas are sometimes best resolved by omission.