10x14s @KenSmith http://10x14s.smallpict.com/ Where the 140s are assembled. Tue, 15 Aug 2017 12:59:24 GMT Tue, 15 Aug 2017 12:59:25 GMT en-us Fargo v1.71 http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/rss/rss.html ksmith3123@gmail.com kensmith akakensmith Scanning the approaches http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2017/08/15/#a1502800455 <p>At a vigil in South Bend, Indiana, last night, I noticed the alertness of the police officers, which seemed different from other times I've attended political rallies here downtown. Three officers were near the edge of the crowd of maybe 400, in a square with a fountain out front of the Morris Theater, the fancy old venue where the big traveling acts like <i>Phantom of the Opera</i> play.</p> <p>I suppose the officers had already given a good look at the crowd itself. Every time I looked over, pretty much, they were scanning the approaches to the site, implying that danger would come, if it did, from the outside. That the vigil group would be approached by others intending to challenge them.</p> <p>Suggesting that our local police department considered this evening a more dangerous evening than most others here. </p> <p>Based on what, I wondered? On a tip? On a website posting from a fringe group? On a general concern about the state of society this week? I don't know.</p> <p>But they scanned the sidewalks and streets approaching the vigil site steadily, while most of us looked away from them toward the speakers at the other end of the crowd.</p> Tue, 15 Aug 2017 12:34:15 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2017/08/15/#a1502800455 Over our shoulders http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2017/07/02/#a1499012537 <p>Big company far away says things are going to go this way now, not that way. We get used to this sort of thing and do the best we can.</p> <p>Then they forget their promise, or their threat, and for the time being we don't have to change what we're doing. We just have to keep looking over our shoulders, just in case.</p> Sun, 02 Jul 2017 16:22:17 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2017/07/02/#a1499012537 Fargo, yes http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2016/03/04/#a1457108525 <p>I haven't been using the outliner lately but I'd like to write a book, chapter by chapter, using the outliner as the basic composing space.</p> Fri, 04 Mar 2016 16:22:05 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2016/03/04/#a1457108525 Alta Chrapliwy and women's rights in the workplace http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/12/16/#a1450269715 <p>From the <a href="http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/southbendtribune/obituary.aspx?n=alta-chrapliwy&pid=176893910&fhid=7077">Legacy.com obituary</a> today:</p> <p><i>Alta made Indiana a better place for women to work and live. But, one should say, not only for the women of Indiana, but for all women throughout this great country. <b>She fought to eliminate barriers by filing a class-action sex discrimination suit against a corporate giant and a local union more than 40 years ago.</b> And her effort has not been forgotten. A statewide council of judges from the Indiana Commission for Women has acknowledged her commitment to battling discrimination by presenting her its Torchbearer Award for labor advocacy. She was nominated by the Indiana Women's History Association. The state honored women torchbearers at the second annual “Salute to Women” held in November, 2005 in Indianapolis. There were 42 finalists in 23 categories. Just to be a finalist is an honor. All were recognized for their accomplishments and they received certificates. Alta was also the recipient of the “2005” Women at Work Award” presented by the Indiana Women's Commission in October. She made history during <b>a 10-year legal battle with Uniroyal and United Rubber Workers Local 65.</b> On Jan. 13, 1970, Alta and seven other laid-off female co-workers traveled to Chicago to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's office to file a lawsuit. Her objective as <b>the lead plaintiff in the sex discrimination suit</b> filed against the corporate giant and the union was clear. Alta wholeheartedly believed that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was meant to protect workers from discrimination on the basis of sex or race. Her story is as dramatic as that of the story of “Norma Rae” and how she unionized workers into the Textile Workers Union of America. Alta's struggle was every bit as difficult. <b>“We had to go through so many lawsuits to achieve our goal,” she said.</b> In 1959, she was hired at Uniroyal in Mishawaka. More than 1,100 local women worked on footwear lines. However, in 1969, Uniroyal began closing down manufacturing lines. Alta was laid off in August 1969. “I was self-supporting,” she said. “And I didn't realize how hard it would be financially.” When her supplemental unemployment benefits were cut -- along with those of female co-workers -- she prepared to file charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. May Alta's legacy live on.</i></p> Wed, 16 Dec 2015 12:41:55 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/12/16/#a1450269715 Missing Fargo http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/10/19/#a1445306040 <p>I got distracted somewhere along the way and stopped blogging, sad to say.</p> Tue, 20 Oct 2015 01:54:00 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/10/19/#a1445306040 The first sentence of your first blog post http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/06/13/#a1434203882 <p>What was the first sentence of your first blog post, all those years ago (or last Tuesday)? Here's mine:</p> <p><i>By giving a fellowship to blogging innovator Dave Winer, Harvard University points higher education in the direction of the on-the-run web collaboration and publishing known as blogging. </i>(March 7, 2003)</p> <p>The blog is no longer online. It was a pMachine site that eventually held nearly 1400 posts.</p> Sat, 13 Jun 2015 13:58:02 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/06/13/#a1434203882 Essays and blogs http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/05/19/#a1432044421 <p>Some of the things writers say about essays remind me of the traits of blogs; some of the things writers say about blogs remind me of the traits of essays. I'll gather some quotations here to start to explore that. Maybe others will come to your mind, too?</p> <p><b>Edward Hoagland</b>, from his introduction to the 1999 edition of <i>The Best American Essays</i>:</p> <p><i>Like you, an essayist struggles with the here and now, the world we have, with sore and smelly feet and humiliation, a freethinker but not especially rich or pretty, and quite earthbound, though at his post. (xix)</i></p> <p><i>And the form of composition Montaigne gave a name to would not have lasted so long if it were not succinct, diverse, and supple, able to welcome ideas that are ahead of or behind the blurring spokes of their own time....[The essaysist] is an advocate for civilization.... Working in the present tense, with common sense as his currency, "This is what I think," he tells the rest of us. (xiv-xv)</i></p> <p><i>[Essayists] are not nihilists as a rule. They look for context. They feel out traction. They have a stake in society's survival, breaking into the plot line of an anecdote to register a reservation about somebody's behavior, for instance, in a manner most fiction writers would eschew, because an essayist's opinions are central, part of the very protein that he gives us.... He has the job of finding coherence in the world. (xvii)</i></p> <p><b>Theodor Adorno</b>, from "The Essay as Form," in Volume 1 of <i>Notes to Literature</i>:</p> <p><i>[The] essay's innermost formal law is heresy. Through violations of the orthodoxy of thought, something in the object becomes visible which it is orthodoxy's secret and objective aim to keep invisible. (23)</i></p> <p>Here is another translation of that:</p> <p><i>The law of the innermost form of the essay is heresy. By transgressing the orthodoxy of thought, something becomes visible in the object which it is orthodoxy's secret purpose to keep invisible. (171)</i></p> <p>On the other hand, there are the feeble imitations of the real thing. Austrian writer <b>Karl Kraus</b> said that certain would-be essayists were merely "baking bread from bread crumbs." I like Kraus's provocation there. No doubt there's more to think and say about the weaknesses of both genres.</p> <p>And we'll have to talk about gender someday, too.</p> <p>[From an old posting at my original blog, which lived on trusty pMachine software. The blog is no longer easily found on the web.]</p> Tue, 19 May 2015 14:07:01 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/05/19/#a1432044421 The Shepherd's Life -- reading notes, #1 http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/05/06/#a1430966614 <p>What about the title? It's <i>The Shepherd's Life</i> instead of <i>A Shepherd's Life</i>. My hunch is that we're not meant to overlook the centrality of tradition, right from the start, right from the cover. This is not the story of a particular shepherd, but the story of a way of life that particular people inhabit. We're meant to think about the broad patterns, the long patterns over time, not just the me-centered stories that are the more familiar currency of our society. The author is pushing back, then, quietly, insistently, right from the first here on the cover.</p> <p>As pertinent as the book's subtitle and the jacket copy are, these are elements of marketing. Even though the author probably had a hand in both of them, I feel like stepping past them, at least for now, and opening the book itself. The dedication to the author's father and grandfather makes it all personal and old-fashioned in a way that the author respects and hopes we will respect, too, without undoing the work that has commenced in the title, the work of a meaningful tradition.</p> <p>The table of contents: two notes. First, "hefted" is new to me and I'll need to read on to know why it has been given the place of honor here at the start. Second, the cycle of the seasons that organized Thoreau's <i>Walden</i> is set out here too. It's an ambitious plan that a writer should not carry out lightly--it promises real knowledge of the natural world. Once again, it's not a me-centered story here, not the story we tend so much of the time to hear. There's a different touchstone of experience and meaning being promised here, and it's refreshing to think that an alternative of this kind still exists. Many of us probably assume that this other world has been lost, or that it is made up of the customs of another place and time. Its patterns, by our modern standards, may seem quaint or arbitrary. But this table of contents hints that the patterns are anything but arbitrary, and not yet lost either. </p> <p>I remember camping in 1980 or so in the Lake District, in a field owned by a farmer who was listed as being willing to have tent campers there. You were to knock on the door, pay the fee, and then set up your tent out away from the house. I did so. After a time, some curious sheep came by. I was ignorant of their ways, didn't know if they'd nibble on the tent ropes, didn't know if I might accidentally annoy them there. I had no idea that they were the meaningful center of a way of life, an economy, an ecology. I had no clue how much they could mean, and when time came to pack up I was glad to be away from them because I didn't know what I was dealing with. The layers of ignorance there.... I am persuaded that the book will help with that ignorance.</p> Thu, 07 May 2015 02:43:34 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/05/06/#a1430966614 The veneer of authority http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/04/12/#a1428863405 <p>How does authority work? Sometimes it is a style of performance rather than a matter of substance, isn’t it? Sometimes it’s just what we’re used to rather than a considered judgment about what counts in the world. Ira Glass tells how he sees it in his field:</p> <p><i>“I think it comes down to, like, What do you think authority comes from? And back when we were kids authority came from enunciation, precision, [Baldwin: ‘Right, delivery.’] and a kind of gravitas that you are bringing to the character you are playing, and I think that, you know, not just me but a whole generation of people feel like, well, that character’s obviously a phony pretending to be this, like, cartoon, sort of, like the newscaster on The Simpsons, with a deep voice, having gravitas. And so I think a lot of us just went in the other direction, and for me, I felt like, you know, any story hits you harder if the person delivering it doesn’t sound like some news robot but in fact sounds like a real person having the reactions a real person would have and be surprised and amazed and amused and all of those things.” </i></p> <p>To get past the beautiful veneer of the professional broadcaster, Glass spent time unlearning that style and trying for a style much more like everyday speech. This means that authority can sometimes find its roots in the heart and mind of a person rather than in an institution or a person trained and accredited by an institution. This gets us to the territory of the essayist, the blogger, perhaps the active citizen, certain kinds of stand-up comics—people who locate meaning in their own experiences and shape a public voice from that source and, as James Baldwin wrote, “renew themselves at the fountain of their lives.” (<i>The Fire Next Time</i>)</p> <p>Source: Ira Glass in a conversation with Alec Baldwin on the <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/ira-glass-interview/">Here’s the Thing podcast's 11/24/14 episode</a>, starting at 2:05 or so. http://www.wnyc.org/story/ira-glass-interview/</p> Sun, 12 Apr 2015 18:30:05 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/04/12/#a1428863405 Update from the Statehouse http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/04/02/#a1427976115 <p>It appears that yesterday's behind-closed-doors meetings of Statehouse GOP leaders, business leaders, and people from the governor's staff has lead to language for a revised RFRA law that the GOP legislators will accept and vote for. This language is supposed to be announced at 9:00 am today. It sounds like the Indy Star was told about the language late in the evening after the deal was set, but they have not printed the text as far as I know. It sounds like Democrats were not made part of the conversation--no need since there is a gerrymandered GOP supermajority in place. Reporters paced the halls of the Statehouse tweeting about who went in and out of closed doors and passed them without comment during much of the process. Since that's what the press has been able to gather, that's what voters are left with for now. The GOP supermajority is accustomed to having conversations behind closed doors so that people can't see the process work of the democracy.</p> Thu, 02 Apr 2015 12:01:55 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/04/02/#a1427976115 How activism works, really (episode 437) http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/03/27/#a1427455309 <p>“Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.” --Lewis Powell, via Bob Herbert's 2/28/2011 "<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/opinion/01herbert.html">Unintended, but Sound Advice</a>" column</p> Fri, 27 Mar 2015 11:21:49 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/03/27/#a1427455309 Reshaping the book market one book sale at a time http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/03/21/#a1426958039 <p>Every time I buy a book, I make a choice that helps shape the landscape of American publishing, right?</p> <p>Any of the country's great independent bookstores would be happy to sell me the book I seek--<a href="http://www.prairielightsbooks.com/">Prairie Lights Bookstore</a> in Iowa City, say. On social media, any of us can help diversify the American book market by linking to one of our great independent bookstores. No need for Amazon.</p> <p>We can help keep independent bookstores strong across the country if we spend our book dollars strategically.</p> Sat, 21 Mar 2015 17:13:59 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/03/21/#a1426958039 Putting words into a journalist's mouth (how to) http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/02/28/#a1425161416 <p>Hi, (name of journalist-friend). Something has started bugging me. You know, of course, how both parties use slanted or even propaganda names for bills up for consideration, like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Then journalists have a choice, I guess: to use the bill # or the slanted name or to apply a neutral description when they write about it.</p> <p>So for example, this headline:</p> <p><i>Indiana Senate Passes Religious Freedom Restoration Act</i> (headline from a news website)</p> <p>That's the slanted name of the bill there. So, what do you think--is that a political party (both sides do it) slipping its slanted or even propaganda language into the mouth of the journalist calls it by that name on the air or in print? Is this a manipulation, a small victory over the independence of the journalist?</p> <p>Even though both parties do it, it feels to me like a propaganda victory of a political party over the journalist. But I am curious to know what you think about this sort of thing. Yours truly, etc.</p> Sat, 28 Feb 2015 22:10:16 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/02/28/#a1425161416 The stories we tell, the truth we try for http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/02/28/#a1425134636 <p>There's a quotation from Joan Didion that always sounds very hip and I run across it fairly often. It's the opening sentence of her powerful nonfiction collection, <i><a href="http://www.prairielightsbooks.com/book/9780374532079">The White Album</a></i>, and it goes like this:</p> <p><i>We tell ourselves stories in order to live.</i></p> <p>It's a wonderful book, and disturbing, not just because it is about America in turmoil or Joan Didion in turmoil. It's also got this thread of attraction to the dark side--a clumsy way to put it, I know. I help myself think about that with a contrasting essay by Adrienne Rich from <a href="http://www.prairielightsbooks.com/book/9780393312850">On Lies, Secrets, and Silence</a>. It's called "<a href="https://docs.google.com/file/d/1NzeeY6rkFbq1izBz-nK924jdvohXW6V8oKeC7xu-cRAgvWYyBArl2FKVjT5j/edit">Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying</a>." The essay has some dazzling sentences, but not one that stands in simple clarifying opposition to the Didion sentence. If you will allow me to use ellipses, however, we get something like this:</p> <p><i>An honorable human relationship--that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word "love"--is a process . . . of refining the truths they can tell each other.</i></p> <p>In the Didion sentence, stories make it possible to go on; they provide the structure for a person's life and a community's as well. In her essay, the circumstances are dire and the stories are falling apart and there doesn't seem to be anything the individual or the community can do about it. To my ear, there's a fatalism there, or a temptation to it. In Rich's essay, working on the understandings between people is essential, a given, an ordinary process of health and the hope for health. To my ear, it's the opposite of fatalism. It's not a dreamy optimism--real things are at stake in our lives and it doesn't always work out, as Rich tells it, but it's not fatalism. The order of our lives is something we create together. Her essay ends this way:</p> <p><i>. . . we both know we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us. The possibility of life between us.</i></p> Sat, 28 Feb 2015 14:43:56 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/02/28/#a1425134636 Good fences, good neighbors http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/02/23/#a1424711682 <p>Scroll down a bit past the English professor shop talk to <a href="https://poemshape.wordpress.com/2009/02/22/robert-frost-iambic-pentameter-mending-wall/">hear Robert Frost read his poem</a>. The poem is a problem because the "I" in the poem is something approaching as ass, but he is the one who gets to tell the story. The first time Frost, reading the poem aloud, says "Good fences make good neighbors," he emphasizes 'good' both times. To me that's a hint of this: if we take the time together to build the good, necessary boundaries and protections with our neighbors, if we do that work together, we will in the process become good neighbors, which is a seriously worthwhile thing to be and to become.</p> Mon, 23 Feb 2015 17:14:42 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/02/23/#a1424711682 The morning after Valentine's Day http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/02/15/#a1424045201 <p>An anti-romantic teen I know reminded me that St. Valentine's martyrdom involved plucking out the poor fellow's heart. This is fitting because a ripped-out heart is exactly what Valentine's Day feels like some years. Other times the holiday goes down fairly easy once you get started, kind of like a fresh oyster. And then there are those few golden springtimes of your life when the Fates have smiled upon you and you are in love. In those years, Valentine's Day is a Hallmark fantasy of pressed doilies and big red hearts bulging with chocolates and Cupids fluttering by. It's enough to make all your friends sick.</p> <p>And they have every right to be. Pollsters report that 17% of people in love mistakenly believe that saying pet names like Babycakes or Ca-cute-ums in public is uplifting to others. Even youngsters having their first crush can be pretty alarming – an informant tells me that 26% of eighth grade boys think a knuckle to the ribs makes a good opening move. Of course some people abstain from the whole holiday spectacle. It has been found that 14% of adults planned to skip V-Day this year because, and I quote, "I am just so grateful to be free of that clown." Another 21% say they messed up their last romance but they're more than ready to try again. A happy 6% have recently figured out that you can keep weaving and slowly and imperfectly weaving that special someone deeper and irretrievably deeper into your heart, years after the first blush of romance has passed. Watch out for those folks – they have trouble with decorum in elevators and at dusk on summer evenings in their own back yard. Now these statistics may not add up to 100% due to rounding of decimal points, but you get the picture. Valentine's Day is one heck of a mixed blessing for many of us.</p> <p>And of course there is someone listening right now whose beloved one passed away in the last year, and to this person perhaps V-Day brings an unconquerable surge of memory and loss. The stakes are high for anyone who takes a chance on love. One couple I know married in the 1950s never guessing, I'm sure, that thirty-five years later the wife would have to visit him in the hospital every day for eleven months before she could bring him back home at last. There were those weeks in the fall that year when she would lean close to his hospital bed and hold her finger over the breathing tube in his throat for a few seconds so he could speak. Imagine!</p> <p>And here we are, the morning after Valentine's Day. Maybe a few of us have a little headache from the wine; maybe some are a little tired from having made a special night of it. Maybe the little gold-foil-wrapped box of chocolates is nearly empty, the special dinner just a memory, the flowers in the vase not yet decided which way to lean when they begin to wilt. Maybe there's an inch of champagne flattening in the bottom of a glass. We're back at work this morning. Yesterday was Valentine's Day, and today is like any other day, where we hope to nurture the spark and keep the love alive.</p> <p>And how in the world do you do that? I have an image from a particular wedding that makes up my answer. The ceremony was proceeding nicely, the couple faced each other and their friend the minister was moving things along very sweetly, and then one of the two leaned a little close to the other. Nobody can remember any more who leaned, and there was no video made that day, but one of them leaned in, and between the two of them they crossed a line beyond which they could not go without a kiss. So even though this was not the place in the ceremony for the kiss, they kissed. The audience took no note of the mistake and applauded wildly, as they are supposed to do. The minister got things back on track, and a few minutes later, when it was time for the kiss, they did it all again.</p> <p>So, whether you're with a friend or a new beau or you're the longest of couples, lean in. Talk, listen, lean in to listen closer, lean in to say something important, lean in to take care when care needs to be taken. That's what we promise to do in weddings and what we know we should do for our friends. Lean in. Take my advice, I should know, because during my wedding I got a second kiss.</p> <p>Lean in like a person working on a quilt; lean in to weave the pattern in. Up close, you see exactly who you're with. Lean in; know and be known; you'll feel alive.</p> <p><i>Originally broadcast on 88.1 WVPE's <a href="http://wvpe.org/topic/wvpes-michiana-chronicles">Michiana Chronicles</a> series on February 15, 2008.</i></p> Mon, 16 Feb 2015 00:06:41 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/02/15/#a1424045201 A short story by Penelope Fitzgerald http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/02/07/#a1423365131 <p>Penelope Fitzgerald has an intriguing story called "Not Shown" in which a mild, somehow incompetent ne'er-do-well older man is threatened by a bullying woman who could reveal his secret past. In the story's final paragraph, a third character notices the man reacting oddly to something, misjudges it as a marker of his blandness and general insecurity, but we the readers know that the third character has quite inadvertently dropped a hint to the fellow that he could arrange the death of the bully. The story ends there. We aren't meant by the author to know whether he carries off the deed, or tries and fails, or rejects the idea in a moment: only that this is how a thought to murder might enter the mind of a desperate person. How interestingly quiet the story is, and how interesting that it ends just where Fitzgerald wants it to, not where we suspense-starved readers want it to. That changes what the story is about, yes? From the collection called <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Means-Escape-Penelope-Fitzgerald-ebook/dp/B00DAJ4YEG">The Means of Escape</a>.</p> Sun, 08 Feb 2015 03:12:11 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/02/07/#a1423365131 A citizen's toolkit (notes toward...) http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/02/05/#a1423146044 <p>Eternal vigilance, a watchdog press, citizens with the skills necessary for civic life and the backbone to use them, people who understand that groups are stronger than single voices and groups of groups are even stronger, people who know how make groups and groups of groups, people who know how to publish. Networks in place already prepared, like semaphore, for when a message must be sent. Mistrust of the ease of a merely private life.</p> Thu, 05 Feb 2015 14:20:44 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/02/05/#a1423146044 How writers improve (my two cents worth on the subject) http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/29/#a1422545487 <p>From a Facebook thread: I think the more people read well-written things (of any kind) the more they see things that they could do and do better in their own writing. It has to do with reading as a writer--looking for techniques in other people's best writing, saying "What can I add to my writer's toolkit from this excellent piece I'm reading?" Also, getting past the stage of relying on what comes easily as a writer and getting out into new territory, deeper water. Taking on more complex writing projects that you give yourself or that school or a job asks of you. I'm convinced that a person can grow as a writer for decades, if that's what the writer commits to do.</p> <p>The thread was sparked by this quotation:</p> <p><i>Put down everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.</i> --Colette</p> <p>See also <a href="https://twitter.com/KenSmith/status/560407912594804736">John McPhee</a> <a href="http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/28/#a1422446462">McPhee</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/KenSmith/status/559065030105518080">Ira Glass</a> on the same subject.</p> Thu, 29 Jan 2015 15:31:27 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/29/#a1422545487 John McPhee on writing nonfiction http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/28/#a1422446462 <p>From the <a href="http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5997/the-art-of-nonfiction-no-3-john-mcphee">Paris Review interview</a>, his thoughts on the apprenticeship of a young writer:</p> <p><i> The thing about writers is that, with very few exceptions, they grow slowly—very slowly. A John Updike comes along, he’s an anomaly. That’s no model, that’s a phenomenon. I sent stuff to The New Yorker when I was in college and then for ten years thereafter before they accepted something. I used to paper my wall with their rejection slips. And they were not making a mistake. Writers develop slowly. That’s what I want to say to you: don’t look at my career through the wrong end of a telescope. This is terribly important to me as a teacher of writers, of kids who want to write.</i></p> Wed, 28 Jan 2015 12:01:02 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/28/#a1422446462 Structural problems http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/25/#a1422223107 <p>We were in the middle of a book on tape, Margaret Atwood's dystopian story, <i><a href="http://www.prairielightsbooks.com/book/9780385490818">A Handmaid's Tale</a></i>, and I found a few sentences sticking out and reminding me of the need to understand the passivity or disengagement or fatalism of so much of the electorate. At one point the narrator explains a self-defeating attitude of one of the society's victims this way: "But people will do anything rather than admit that their lives have no meaning. No use, that is. No plot." At another moment, this bit: "There's hardly any point in my thinking, is there? I say. What I think doesn't matter. Which is the only reason he can tell me things." Also, this structural element in the voice of a different character: "Better never means better for everyone, he says. It always means worse, for some." We don't go in for structural analysis in this society, for the most part, though.</p> <p>I tried for some structural analysis at the end of <a href="http://wvpe.org/post/days-remembrance">this piece about veterans</a>.</p> Sun, 25 Jan 2015 21:58:27 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/25/#a1422223107 A white privilege thought experiment http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/25/#a1422221316 <p>Here is a thought experiment based on <a href="https://www.facebook.com/WSBTNews/photos/a.203455650170.259336.34875345170/10155190379455171">a true area news story</a>. The other day the police turned up in big numbers when they had a report that a man was on a city street corner with a rifle. They found a white man was standing there in public with a rifle and a sign. The news report said that the police satisfied themselves that he was protesting peacefully and legally, and they left him there to hold his protest. That's the news story, and here's the thought experiment part: based on what we know of American life today, do we think there is a fair chance that things would have gone differently if the man had been black instead of white. If the answer is yes, that would be one good reason to say that there should be college classes on a thing called white privilege.</p> Sun, 25 Jan 2015 21:28:36 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/25/#a1422221316 Did blogging grow boring? http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/12/#a1421106027 <p>I bought pMachine and Radio Userland blogging tools more than a decade ago, signed up for some other free tools, and I dove in. There was lots to see and do in the blogosphere among people who were interested in the things I cared about. After a while--not right away, certainly--I was trading posts and comments with people from all over North America and sometimes even the world, on my particular topics. The herself-quite-distinguished spouse of a male presidential candidate commented on my site once. A few of the most notable bloggers on my topic area did too. It was exciting and interesting to tune in every day. I learned a lot, and maybe I gave back some value to others sometimes too--hope so.</p> <p>It was time-consuming some days, and occasionally life intruded, but I wrote many hundreds of posts. I also did a huge amount of work writing on an experimental blog site about politics run out of our university. Eventually I ran out of steam there, but the site went on for a few years. We even got some of our posts broadcast on the regional NPR station.</p> <p>I still write fairly often, but usually in streaks. I have enough experience as a blogger to be ready with an opinion. One person's opinion. <b>What interests me today is the question of boredom.</b> From <a href="http://scripting.com/2014/02/20/whyArePeopleBoredWithBlogging.html">time</a> to <a href="http://billrice.com/bored-with-blogging/">time</a> writers have asked whether blogging simply became boring. Interesting conversations follow in the comments when they do. Oddly, even though people say thoughtful things in those responses, it's the question itself that I stay with. Was I bored?</p> <p>My gut reaction is: No. </p> <p>Continuing to ignore other people's thoughts for a bit, I monitor my own reaction to the question. I have sometimes stopped blogging--why? If it's not boredom, what is it?</p> <p><b>Part of it</b> has to do with something everybody noticed about blogging way back when. If you cared about what you were doing, then part of the time you wrote good stuff, and it might stir up a conversation for a few days, but then it disappeared down the timeline. It fell off the screen into the archive, perhaps never to be read or linked to again.</p> <p>That's not good enough, sometimes. If some of the writing is worthwhile, it needs to remain visible in one form or another. Maybe a bit of code can hook the most talked about pieces and keep them in view. Maybe the writer needs to pulls things out by hand and revise posts into pieces or pieces into chapters or something. But most software doesn't and most writers don't manage it, and the good thinking and writing essentially vanishes. Neither the machine nor the individual has got the chops for keeping the good stuff visible on the site or anywhere or for shaping it into something else. <i>That's not good enough.</i></p> <p><b>Another part of it</b> (still just paying attention to my gut reactions) is that when good ideas bubble up in posts and stir up a conversation, and a little freewill community emerges, well, the talk about the idea can't be sustained. When people join in, they usually manage it only for a few days, and then they disperse, and so ideas don't have staying power, usually. They seem to propagate out into the world, but they evaporate almost immediately in most cases, and we don't know what to do about it. We webby lovers of temporary affiliation don't have the skills to work on ideas together over the long haul. <i>That's not good enough.</i></p> <p><b>Another part of it</b> (still according to my narrow experience and my personal concerns) is that a lot of what makes a difference in the world is shaped or held close by institutions that bloggers only gaze at from afar. These institutions--like city government, like school boards, like the state legislature--have their routines down and they don't need to pay much attention to streams of electrons slipping down the wire from my house. They respond to other kinds of webs--groups of people, stacks of dollars, sustained series of public events. We electron-pushers don't usually have these sustaining social-web world-event skills in place either. <i>That's not good enough.</i></p> <p>So we write good stuff sometimes and it evaporates even from our personal publishing page. We spark a conversation sometimes about an idea but it still evaporates after a few days across the electron field. We might even get people to sign a petition or show up for a protest or call the mayor but the idea that sparked a little action doesn't spark the building of a social group with skills and attitude and staying power. <i>That's not good enough.</i></p> <p>So these blogging tools are one of the most beautiful breakthroughs in publishing we could hope for, and some of them keep getting better. Is blogging boring now? No, not at all, not as I see it. The problem with blogging is that it's not good enough yet. <i>We're</i> not good enough yet either. The tools, the practices, the social expressions that should follow. What we have is astonishing. What we need must be more astonishing. We really need it. Joyful creativity and sharing needs it. Democracy needs it. Starving people without resources need it. Old half-caved-in rust-belt towns like South Bend need it.</p> <p>Well, that's one blogger's reaction to the question, anyway. (<a href="https://twitter.com/KenSmith">@KenSmith</a>)</p> Mon, 12 Jan 2015 23:40:27 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/12/#a1421106027 Brainstorming about listicle.io http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/10/#a1420902012 <p>(Setting aside the worthy <a href="http://cluetrain.com/newclues/">Cluetrain</a> content for now) @DaveWiner's <a href="http://listicle.io/cluetrain/">listicle web presentation software</a> is intriguing. Backed with a cool image, each card carries a bit of text and some web-smart header links. I bet the body text can include links too, which would compound the value of a presentation.</p> <p>Because the software probably builds on Dave Winer's ever-growing outliner toolkit, I'd also bet that a card might display a section of outline: headline and subheads, capable of unfolding. If that turns out to be true, then you could post a hyperlink-rich web presentation that with revision grows over time into, essentially, <i>all the chapters of a book</i>.</p> Sat, 10 Jan 2015 15:00:12 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/10/#a1420902012 A way of paying attention http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/01/#a1420140539 <p>Annie Proulx, author of "Brokeback Mountain" and other notable fiction, <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/29/annie-proulx-regrets-writing-brokeback-mountain">often receives messages from fans</a> suggesting alternate endings to the story of Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist. According to Proulx, these readers don't get the point of the story when they suggest happy endings for the ill-fated pair. The writer implies that fiction is a way of paying attention to something--and the writer is the one who gets to choose what that something is. In a carefully shaped story, the writer asks us to attend to something pretty much from start to finish. </p> <p>[See, for example, in <a href="http://nbu.bg/webs/amb/american/6/carver/cathedral.htm">"Cathedral" by Raymond Carver</a>, how even in the first few lines we are asked to think about what is at stake for a person who is closed off from people who seem different from himself. That question remains the question of the story all the way to the final lines.]</p> <p>Proulx says that her story is not about Jack and Ennis, but instead it is about a culture of homophobia. If it were meant to be a love story, then the alternate endings sent in by fans might be good alternatives to the ending <a href="http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1997/10/13/brokeback-mountain">as published in the New Yorker</a>. But if the story is about the repression and violence of homophobia, well, then it probably won't end like an episode of "The Love Boat."</p> <p>If short fiction is a way of paying attention to something in particular, writers can shape their work accordingly and readers can read with increasing insight.</p> Thu, 01 Jan 2015 19:28:59 GMT http://10x14s.smallpict.com/2015/01/01/#a1420140539