Friday, September 28, 2007

Just the Facts

blog prompt (make-up):
One of my favorite NON-fiction books

I would talk about the varieties of non-fiction books I like, starting with dictionaries that have etymologies. It's wonderful to know where words come from. I had a professor once, Cynthia Hallen, who shared the idea that words are fossilized poems. There is an element of magic in words that has to do with their origins. I also like books that share usage information. Another favorite non-fiction book would be a vegetarian cookbook that isn't political and doesn't call for expensive ingredients. I like scripture books, too, because they are so variable in their meanings--literally every person who reads can come upon a valid, personal meaning (in some ways a good book is equally about its reader as it is about its topic.)


PROMPT for Blog: plagiarism is like ___________ because _______________.


Today I don't feel like moralizing or analogizing, so this won't be an easy topic for me to write about. In fact, the most I've typed today was repeated letters that came as my hand was down on a key while asleep.

But I'll humor myself. Plagiarism is like theft because we rob the world of our own ideas by using those of others instead. That has to be the worst crime. I hate to say I am unhappy when I receive FW: e-mails of "great ideas" and touching thoughts. They may be great ideas and touching thoughts, but I crave the authentic interaction, the personal perceptions of the other. I think the word plagiarism is related to the idea of kidnapping. Ironically then, to plagiarize is to get carried away with one’s self, too; a kidnapper goes off in hiding with his/her victim.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Good or Bad

I think it valuable to distinguish between bad writing and writing that deals with bad things. That's content. Bad writing is also presentation: a lack of care for words, for rules, for the readers.

Or bad writing can be beautiful and technically good but push for a bad thing. My example of this last type of bad writing is Javert's song "Stars" in Les Miserables--it is beautiful and sounds inspiring, but it is built around pride and a hateful vision of others.

I think there has to be some level of bad intentions in writing for it to be called bad--just making mistakes doesn't make one a bad writer. Perhaps I need to re-vision what I call "bad" (is "poor" just a synonym?) and reserve it for extreme cases, even as good seems to have a specialized meaning. At last there is Hamlet, with whom I don't quite agree, but find useful: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Good Enough?

Zinsser claims "The only important distinction is between good writing and bad writing" (page 99). What are the qualities of GOOD writing?

Good writing comes from a good heart, or one that is trying to be good. Good writing cares about grammar, punctuation, proofreading and appearances as much as it cares about content and organization. I must be too set upon these ideas, for I can't say much else about "good writing" at present.

For the sake of 125 words though, I must write. The idea of "good" is curious when one considers the surprising use of "good" in the Bible: "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God." By this standard, goodness is much more than we suppose, making "excellent" an exaggeration. So maybe good writing is God writing--and I think of God as a creator, a sustainer, the compassionate and merciful. Good writing would be all of these things.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mixed Motives

Zinsser writes "Motivation is at the heart of writing" (page 99). What does that mean to you?

Isn't motivation the heart of everything? Doesn't everything begin and end with desire? What does motivate me to write? Well…uh….a sense of obligation, truthfully. But what drives that? This is a trickier prompt than I thought. Perhaps the drive behind the writing is a sense of talent development, the thought that I can increase or lose it--there being no other option. Perhaps it is a desire for recognition. Maybe it's my poor attempt at competitiveness, since I never tried the sports thing. Maybe it's a sublimation desire. I'm afraid (or should I be?) it is nothing akin to the philosopher who held the boy's head under water and said as soon as you desire something as much as you desire air, you will be ready for it. Perhaps I should speak from ideal: I should be motivated to write as part of an ethical obligation to the other--I should create writing that serves rather than self-serves.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Margaret and Angela

Blog Prompt:
the best writing teacher I ever had

I have had many good writing teachers; I want to resist the superlatives. I think though I must give credit to two teachers: Margaret Young and Angela Ball. Margaret maddened me at first because being around her made me feel that my theses weren't as good as I thought they were. This was, of course, for the good--a writing class that rewards students for doing what they already do well without inviting them to improve is not a learning situation.

Angela Ball taught me how to teach others to write. Angela was the soft-spoken one who used parentheses rather than cross-off lines. She would only work on a poem at the word and line level if the poem was going to fly. She gave the most wonderful advice: try the opposite--ah, how that quickens, for sometimes we pull up words that fit, but they are the blank side of the puzzle and must be turned right.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Happy Reserach Memories

Blog prompt: research memories

My first memorable research experience was writing a report on the Virgin Islands in fifth grade. I copied it out of a Funk & Wagnall's encyclopedia set my parents owned. In sixth grade my teacher introduced me to the concept of plagiarism, and drew on the metaphor of a bird of prey that found a (dead?) animal and flew away with it--but the dead animal froze to its talons, resulting in a crash landing and the death of the bird. I think the warning was that if we got a hold of the idea of plagiarism, it would catch hold of us and destroy us. That aside, I wrote (much more ethically this time) a report on Louis Pasteur. I misspelled the word "temperature" in my final draft.
In seventh grade I wrote a report on geothermal energy (not the drill-a-well type, but the type that harnesses naturally occurring steam and heat from the earth). As a high school freshman I wrote a report on the crusades. As a high school senior I wrote a paper on Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, and copied it on light pink paper (her nickname was "Pinkie" (sp?)) just as I read she had copied her master's thesis on pink paper.

I believe I enjoyed writing each of the papers except the first one. Well, for one thing, I didn't write the first one. Research becomes refreshing as it becomes our own.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

One Way Writing

the writer I would like to be

Compare the front side of a restaurant to the back. If we came in the back way by the dumpster where the cooks are smoking on the stoop, would we want to dine at that restaurant? Or if we waited outside the bathroom door, would the sink run at least twenty seconds after a food server flushed the toilet? Even then, we would want to check if there were hot water and soap available.

The writing I serve to the world, I hope, would be prepared in consistency. I would be the cook and the server, the plate cleaner and table washer, and do all well. I would rather hold these ideals and fail at them than have no ideals at all.

Angela Ball, my best poetry tutor, said writers are "the angels of themselves when they write." So what would I hope for myself? Angel tongue and angel wings.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Words as serpents, harmless as doves

Blog Prompt:
the best thing I ever wrote

Write along with me; the best is yet to be. I have to believe that. I don't think I have yet to write my best. I will tell you, though, that when I do, my writing will DO things:

It will build a house with only household words.
People will prefer it to chocolate in an existential crisis.
It will help people love their oldest sons and mothers-in-law.
It will sound like me the way Mozart sounds like Mozart.
It will repel cliches and curses.
It will be crafted without being crafty.
It will have come at no one's expense but my own.
It will be the uttered life.
It will listen more than it speaks.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Stacks of Memories

PROMPT: library memories

How do I remember libraries? I will write about a few. The Renton (Washington) Public Library, my growing up library, was built over the Cedar River on cement pillars. Was this to symbolize the bridge over troubled waters? The Cook Library at the University of Southern Mississippi was small when I first moved to Hattiesburg, but then was built huge brick beautiful. When it was small and I was and expecting my first child, I stacked up bound journals on a table to rest my head on so I could nap without having to slump over my own abdomen. Another library memory was from the Purvis (Mississippi) Public Library. I tried to take my son there on Confederate Memorial Day, but it was closed--he put his body to the ground and cried.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Bon Accident


An accident


I really don't want to remember any accidents I was involved with; accidents are either associated with vehicles (true to American automobile obsessions) or potty training (true to that obsession, too). Beyond these traumatic and melodramatic axes there is the sense of "a mistake" (my credit to Liz K. for reminding me of this), but it is used in phrases such as "I accidentally" or "I did it on accident." I want to talk about one of those accidental things, because it's more fun.

Once I was given "creamed honey" as a gift and put it on the table for guests (and myself). At some point in the meal I realized that it wasn’t creamed honey, but solidified drippings--bacon or hamburger grease probably; I don't remember which. Phew--food trash put out for a delicacy. Bon apetit.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Insatiable Cure

Blog prompt:

words to live by: a saying that shapes my way of seeing the world


It is also hard to share words that inspire me, for fear people will judge me: Oh? You believe that? Then why do act as if you didn't?

But here's a phrase that I remember a boy in college sharing at a church meeting: "You can't get enough of what you don't need because what you don't need won't satisfy you." Gluttony is on the big seven list for a reason. The strongest choices for me have been, when faced with a crisis or angst, seeking what I know I really DO need, even if it is less palpable, even if it takes more work, than letting loose the locusts that live in my brain and stomach and descending upon the fridge and pantry. Self-control is the beginning of satisfaction.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Nicest Things

Prompt: the nicest thing someone ever said to me

Response: It feels odd to share with others the nicest thing someone ever said to me because it seems private, and also like boasting. Why? Because the three things that come to mind were all affirmations of me as a person, or the person I would like to be.

But a fourth thing comes to mind, also very helpful--that I will share. Once when I was in existential free-fall, someone told me--if not precisely in these words--"It will be all right." Now, that's a ready-made phrase. But it became powerful to me later when, finding myself (as I often do) facing someone else's crisis, thinking back on the exchange someone had with me and saying "It will be all right."

Now, I don't know how much good it did the person, but I know it did NOT hurt him/her, which was gracious, because my usual response at that time would have been irritation and probably cross words. "It will be all right" was the perfect phrase, and one of the nicest phrases someone told me, because it made me nicer.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Day Is Not Over

Prompt: 9/11/01: Why remember?


Six years ago today I woke up on the wrong side of my soul--the palpable darkness of the morning hung about my front door and within me as I left the single-wide to feed horses.

In the barn it was grey boards and dust, old hay, shadows and the glare of the light at the end of the hall. I felt oppressed, but for no particular reason. Driving home I listened to an NPR radio essay critiquing George W. Bush's lingual blunders. That was the last memory until Bridgette Arroyo was on the phone with me later, lighter on in my kitchen: a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

All else belongs to us all; my memories of 9/11 and yours are all part of the dust and ashes of glass, beams, bodies, and office equipment that the camera person wiped off the lens so we could witness collapse.

My oldest son was seven then. After school he brought out a battery-powered fighter plane to play with. He must have intuited what responding to militant criminality would involve.

A problem is that leaders, both inept and corrupt, both courageous and circumspect, will always do things that irritate and enrage; they may defend their choices, or they may only listen and hold their course.

Remembering 9/11/01 is like remembering 9/11/07; it's the same day, six years later.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bea and Port


Yesterday was grandparent's day. What do you like/remember about your grandparents?


I knew both sets of grandparents, but will only write about the paternal. When I think of grandparents, most of memories are concrete; it wasn't concepts that they taught me that most remain; it was the things they made. My Grandparents Richardson were very production-oriented people. (My father's birth certificate lists the occupations of his parents: housewife and laborer. )

Grandma's cooking was what I liked best: sausage circles, toast with grape jelly, apricot nectar. Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and walnut halves. Citrus sponge cake and lemon/pineapple/banana jello with a frosted top.

Grandpa was the woodshop man who made us toys: a table, a range, a cupboard and counter, a cradle, and a toy box in the shape of a train.

The things Grandma and Grandpa made form my argument from design: they are real, and I believe, even in their ornery ways, they loved us.