Archive for the 'Thinking and Theories' Category

“Stop When You are Going Good”

Monday, January 10th, 2011

Scott Gavin has a great excerpt from an interview with Roald Dahl in which he talks about his writing process:

But if you stop when you are going good, as Hemingway said…then you know what you are going to say next. You make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next and that’s lovely and you have to try and do that. Every time, every day all the way through the year. If you stop when you are stuck, the you are in trouble!

I found it synchronous with my own thoughts on both writing and being online, and my attempt to limit bouts to 20 minutes. If I stop at 20 minutes, rather than trying to finish up, I don’t end up going to a next thing, and a next thing, and looking up and hours have passed without doing much at all.

Having the confidence to “stop when you are going good”, coupled with the ability to crank it up again the next day, feels like a more mature place to be in terms of one’s personal creative process.


No Apologies

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Every day at 4pm, Mary Lucia of the Current plays a “No Apologies” track. One day, it was Meatloaf’s “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad” which I sang to my bewildered kids at the top of my lungs. I hadn’t even known I knew all the lyrics.

I was reminded of this idea of no apologies when I read a piece on failure by Elizabeth (Eat Pray Love) Gilbert in the 10th anniversary edition of O magazine, which I borrowed from the library. Yes, I sometimes read O. Turns out I’m their demographic. Guess what? Not gonna apologize for it.

Anyway, the piece isn’t groundbreaking or revelatory.

Can we lighten up a little?

As we head into this next decade, can we draft a joint resolution to drop the crazy-making expectation that we must all be perfect[?]

But I liked what I was left with when I finished, which was the sense that not only should be expect to fail and forgive ourselves for it, but we should laugh at our ridiculous expectations of universal success, and maybe even actively embrace failure. In that spirit, then here is a short list of things I’m currently failing at:

1. cutting back on caffeine and sugar
2. keeping my house minimally clean (e.g., ungross bathrooms)
3. blogging regularly
4. managing money
5. weeding the yard (not only did our thistles spread, then flower, but they went to SEED)
6. being even tempered with my kids and not calling them idiots on occasion (deserving occasions, IMO, but still)
7. keeping up with my online feed reading
8. managing my inbox (1300 in my home box, dunno how many in the blog box)

I’m sure there’s more. I’m far from perfect. I don’t get it all done, or done well. And I’m not going to apologize. So there.

Height of Summer

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

A farming friend once shared a theory with me that humans get busy and perhaps a bit anxious at the height of summer, as we’re in tune with the earth, which is telling us to tend, weed and harvest our gardens while the sun shines.

I like that idea, and certainly find summer to be full rather than lazy. My gardens are metaphorical (except for the ones of bellflower and thistles in my back yard, but I don’t think weeds count) but there’s still a lot of tending, wedding and harvesting to be done even though not literal.

The Occult in “Andromeda Klein”

Friday, September 25th, 2009

Frank Portman, author of Andromeda Klein (which I reviewed here) in an interview at Gothamist:

I just found out today that one of my school visits here (in Portland) was canceled because of parental worries about the occult elements in Andromeda Klein. It’s the first time I’ve ever been banned, and they’re worried about the occult.

I knew as I read Andromeda Klein that the centrality of the occult tradition to the book and its importance to the main character would be a problem for a lot of parents. Andromeda reads tarot cards, studies mysticism, tattoos herself with symbols, and performs rituals for privacy and other things. Andromeda’s interest and knowledge of the occult are thorough, and the depiction is presented realistically; some of the rituals produce results, and Andromeda has conversations in her head and in her dreams that are too relevant to be random. I’m not surprised this has ruffled some parental feathers. On the surface, at least, it comes across as pretty subversive.

I’d argue otherwise, though. Andromeda is an outsider–a skinny, clumsy girl with bad hair and worse hearing. It’s natural she’d gravitate to something off the beaten track, and something she could immerse herself in the study and practice of while on her own. While there are mentions of demons and Satan in the book, these are details of the historical tradition. Andromeda doesn’t worship or pursue demons or Satan. Instead, she uses the occult tradition to try to figure out and make sense of the world, especially because her outcast status means it’s senseless and cruel a lot of the time: she’s trying to come to terms with a friend’s death and an ex-boyfriend, while trying to deal with a crazy friend, a boy who admires her occult acumen, a clueless depressed dad and an intrusive insensitive mom. For Andromeda, the occult is a tradition of knowledge and ritual. She studies and practices to learn and grow. Other kids do the same with more mainstream things, like religion, sports, or academia. If Andromeda were interested in one of those, I doubt the book would set off any alarms.

I’m likely preaching to the converted and singing to the choir, here, but just in case: Andromeda’s interest in the occult might put off some readers, but I’d encourage them to actually READ the book, and consider how the occult tradition, as it’s practiced and studied by Andromeda, compares and contrasts to other traditions. Andromeda tattoos herself? I saw more than one teen swim teacher at the pool this summer sporting a Christian tattoo. Andromeda burns incense and asks questions, then “hears” advice in her head or in her dreams. Religious practitioners call this prayer and meditation. Andromeda reads a variety of books, many of which she disagrees with and all of which she tries to learn from. All traditions have some sort of sanctioned and recommended reading, as well as heretical texts that can help one “know thine enemy.”

Andromeda Klein is an interesting, thoughtful book with a wonderful, complex main character. It would be a shame if it were banned and people missed it based on prejudice. Tolerance of difference is a theme of the book, but it can also be applied TO the book.

“Dollhouse” update

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

I agree with many viewers that Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse is getting better as it goes, and hope Fox has the sense to renew both it and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I think they make a great Friday double feature, especially now that Battlestar Galactica is over (sniff) and when they’re on, they’re on.

In general, I think the best Dollhouse eps have been the ones that focus on the mythology, and not just Echo.

I have some questions about last night’s episode “Briar Rose”, and since Sepinwall hasn’t posted yet, I’m squirming with impatience to wonder online about them. Don’t read on if you haven’t yet seen it, though I’ll try to be vague.

  • Wow, how about that reveal? Nice one.
  • I thought the “Victor” actor did a great job channeling the other character he was imprinted with.
  • Good fight scene with Ballard. Penikett practice Muay Thai and does his own fighting. I didn’t notice if the other actor was doing his own fighting.
  • Did you notice that “Whiskey” was an address to someone in the room, not a request for a drink? (Whiskey is W in the NATO’s phonetic alphabet word, the naming device for the dolls.) Which of those present is a doll? Topher, Adele, Boyd, Dr. Saunders? I think they strongly hinted in the “Spy in the House of Love” ep that Adele could be a doll. Are they all dolls?
  • And the final scene in the elevator. As they say on 30 Rock
  • Film’s New, New Reality

    Friday, April 10th, 2009

    In “Neo-Neo Realism“, from a recent New York Times Magazine, film critic A.O. Scott resists the easy answer of escapism, for what audiences want in films:

    what if, at least some of the time, we feel an urge to escape from escapism? For most of the past decade, magical thinking has been elevated from a diversion to an ideological principle. The benign faith that dreams will come true can be hard to distinguish from the more sinister seduction of believing in lies. To counter the tyranny of fantasy entrenched on Wall Street and in Washington as well as in Hollywood, it seems possible that engagement with the world as it is might reassert itself as an aesthetic strategy. Perhaps it would be worth considering that what we need from movies, in the face of a dismaying and confusing real world, is realism.

    He notes that the ancestor of this new new wave of realism is The Bicycle Thief, so anti-escapism isn’t really new. But he offers a number of films in example–Wendy and Lucy, Sugar, Chop Shop, and more–that honor the audience by offering up real characters and not dumbing things down. Meanwhile, they manage the surprising, true-to-life feat of ending on notes of quiet hope, even in the face of tragedy and difficulty.

    Scott’s analysis is intelligent and stirring. Suddenly, and as if I needed it, I’ve got a lot more movies I’d like to see. And a lot more little ones that I’m going to have to hunt for in theaters, as these little quiet movies don’t get a lot of screens.

    I’m just wondering what comes after the new-new realism? The Grateful Dead song, “New Minglewood Blues”, became “New New Minglewood Blues” then “All New Minglewood Blues”. Will we see an all new realism sometime in the future?

    Ambivalence over the Yucky Bits

    Saturday, February 7th, 2009

    At Salon, Rebecca Traister examines some recent women’s confessional articles in “Girlie Gross Out”, and wonders if it’s liberating or too much information:

    Oversharing is in. And for a lot of people who are doing the sharing, or experiencing it, it’s not so much “too much information” as it is the next, necessary step in personal-is-political, enlightened honesty about the female body.

    Traister doesn’t draw a conclusion, and I’m not sure there is one. I had an experience very similar to one of the several described in the article. I talked about it at the time, but rarely do anymore. It scared people, and that didn’t seem kind to do.

    I’m reminded of the hubbub over breastfeeding photos on Facebook. I breastfed both my kids until they were at least a year old, often in public. But I always tried to be in a quiet place, and be discreet. It was something between my kid and me; I didn’t and don’t think it’s anyone else’s business. Yes, I fully support and encourage women to breastfeed in general, and their right to do so in public. Yet while I see how photographs of this support that right, they also bug me–they _are_ too much information. Mommy friends of mine breastfeed their kids around me all the time; that’s great. But they don’t deliberately solicit my attention to it, as do public photos, and the type of articles described at Salon.

    My own conclusion then, if there is one, can be only about me. I try not to overshare about the messy bits, except to my OB/GYN. If somebody else does it, I appreciate that there are positive aspects, but part of me would also be fine if I didn’t know that. I support someone else’s desire and right to do it, but also my own right to be ambivalent, bothered by it, or avoid it.

    Link from The Morning News.

    Elizabeth Bennet v. the Undead

    Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

    Is it me, or does all the internet hubbub over Pride and prejudice and Zombies (a few of the many links: Galleycat, The Times, and The Guardian, ) reminiscent of Snakes on a Plane–something that people thought was hilarious in theory, but avoided in real life?

    Good Problems to Have

    Monday, December 29th, 2008

    I’m behind. In blogging, especially about books and movies. In responding to email, especially the comments on this blog, though I read and appreciate them all. (OK, not the mean or crazy ones. Or the Russian spam.) In cleaning my house. Doing my laundry, especially the new clothing from Christmas.

    But since I’m having a moment of perspective, I think these are good problems to have. I’m seeing more movies and books than I can write about. I’m receiving more email than I’m able to respond to. I have a house, albeit a drafty one, that I can neglect for a bit. I have warm new clothes for me and my boys.

    I’m working my way back out of the holiday hole. More posts and replies to comments to come, I hope. May all your problems have positive flip sides.

    “Macbeth, Arden 2nd series, ed. Kenneth Muir

    Saturday, November 8th, 2008

    In preparation for seeing the Torch Theater production, I re-read Shakespeare’s Macbeth. As with Hamlet, I was struck by how many lines continue to be quoted (sometimes incorrectly) hundreds of years later. The plot is familiar to most, even those who have never read the play. The particulars, though, drew me through the story. I noted Macbeth’s vacillation, so like Hamlet’s in that earlier, and IMO better, tragedy. I appreciated the crowd-pleasing breather of the drunken porter scene, and was annoyed by my edition; it debates the provenance of almost every passage in “Macbeth”, but doesn’t bother to speculate on “nose painting.” Overall, though, I appreciated the notes detailing the centuries-long debate over what parts of the play Shakespeare wrote, what he didn’t, etc.

    As for the story as a whole, I contrast Macbeth’s change over the play, from hero to doubter to outward embracer of his role as villain, with that of Lady Macbeth, who is constant from first learning of the prophecy, yet shatters on the interior from the stress of her misdeeds in the service of her ambition. Macbeth and his lady balance one another, even as they plunge down a slippery slope of morality to their demises.

    Macbeth and Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I’ve noted some similarities of the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Shakespeare before, in my reading of Titus Andronicus. G. Grod and I were watching BtVS Season 2* on DVD while I read Macbeth. Creator Joss Whedon, in his commentary on the season’s (and perhaps the series’) pivotal two episodes, “Surprise” and “Innocence,” states his preference for psychology in the service of a tale. He wants to add realistic touches to supernatural elements to create a fantastic yet believable story. He offered as examples the star-crossed lovers Angel, the vampire with a soul, and Buffy, the slayer who’s in love with a vampire.

    I find an echo in Whedon’s comments to those of Kenneth Muir in the Macbeth Introduction:

    Shakespeare was not so much concerned with the creation of real human beings, but with theatrical or poetical effect. He was fascinated by the very difficulty of making the psychologically improbable, by sheer virtuosity, appear possible. Shakespeare made ‘the bold experiment of a character with a strongly marked mixture of qualities of which the one seems almost to preclude the other’–a brave warrior who is a moral coward, a brutal murderer who is racked by feelings of guilt, and so on. (Intro, xlvii)

    Macbeth, Torch Theater, 1 November 2008
    : The irony of seeing Macbeth on All Saints Day amused me. This production was on a small scale, but with two locally renowned actors, Stacia Rice and Sean Haberle, in the lead roles. The supporting roles were filled with actors of varying skill. Macduff was effective, I found, while Malcolm was not. Still, the power of the story combined with its strong actors made for an stirring show.** Star Tribune review here, City Pages review here.

    For a geeky variation on “Macbeth”, see Theresa and Patrick Nielson-Hayden’s excellent blog Making Light.

    *Query: is Buffy Season 2 one of the best seasons of TV ever? Discuss.

    **My favorable impression of the play may have been enhanced by the kind usher who told me my outfit was really working for me (I wore these shoes), and because I was basking in the aftermath of a fabulous meal from Nick and Eddie’s.

    Shakespeare and Austen, on Mars and Venus

    Saturday, October 25th, 2008

    From Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (Arden 1995, ed. Lothian and Craik):


    There is no woman’s sides
    Can bide the beating of so strong a passion
    As love doth give my heart; no woman’s heart
    So big, to hold so much: they lack retention. (ll. 94-97)


    We men may say more, swear more, but indeed
    Our shows are more than will: for still we prove
    Much in our vows, but little in our love. (ll. 117-19)

    From Austen’s Persuasion:

    Captain Harville:

    I will not allow it to be more man’s nature than woman’s to be inconstant and forget those they do love, or have loved. I believe the reverse. I believe in a true analogy between our bodily frames and our mental; and that as our bodies are the strongest, so are our feelings; capable of bering most rough usage, and riding out the heaviest weather.

    Anne Elliott:

    Your feelings may be the strongest, but the same spirit of analogy will authorise me to assert that ours are the most tender. Man is more robust than woman, but he is not longer lived; which exactly explains my view of the nature of their attachments.

    In Twelfth Night, Viola is a woman dressed as a man, in love with the Duke, who is in love with Olivia, who in turn is in love with Viola’s male persona. Viola’s point is proved later, when the Duke learns that she’s a woman, and immediately appears to forget his “love” for Olivia, and instead declares for Viola.

    In Persuasion, however, the love of woman (Anne Elliott) and man (Captain Wentworth) are portrayed as equally enduring. Interestingly, Captain Harville’s sea metaphor can refer both to his and Captain Wentworth’s naval experience, as well as to Twelfth Night’s shipwreck that separated Viola from her twin, Sebastian.

    Was Raskolnikov Bipolar?

    Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

    Crime and Punishment is often described as one of the earliest psychological novels. I found the descriptions of Raskolnikov’s state of body and mind interesting in light of recent increased awareness of depression disorders.

    Symptoms are from the Mayo Clinic site, on Bipolar Disorder. Quotations from Crime and Punishment are from the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation; I’ve included a few examples from the text. There are many more.

    Signs and symptoms of the manic phase of bipolar disorder may include:

    * Euphoria
    * Extreme optimism
    * Inflated self-esteem
    * Poor judgment
    * Rapid speech
    * Racing thoughts
    * Aggressive behavior
    * Agitation
    * Increased physical activity
    * Risky behavior
    * Spending sprees
    * Increased drive to perform or achieve goals
    * Increased sexual drive
    * Decreased need for sleep
    * Tendency to be easily distracted
    * Inability to concentrate
    * Drug abuse

    He had been walking for about six hours (p. 115)

    It was as if he were not himself. He was unable to stay still even for a minute, unable to focus his attention on any one subjet; his thoughts leaped over each other; his speech wandered; his hands were trembling slightly. (p. 522)

    Signs and symptoms of the depressive phase of bipolar disorder may include:

    * Sadness
    * Hopelessness
    * Suicidal thoughts or behavior
    * Anxiety
    * Guilt
    * Sleep problems
    * Appetite problems
    * Fatigue
    * Loss of interest in daily activities
    * Problems concentrating
    * Irritability
    * Chronic pain without a known cause

    A strange time came for Raskolnikov: it was as if fog suddenly fell around him and confined hm in a hopeless and heavy solitude. Recalling this time later, long afterwards, he suspected that his consciousness had sometimes grown dim. (p. 439)

    Severe episodes of either mania or depression may result in psychosis, or a detachment from reality. Symptoms of psychosis may include hearing or seeing things that aren’t there (hallucinations) and false but strongly held beliefs (delusions).

    In the dark of evening he was jolted back to consciousness by terrible shouting. God, what shouting it was! Never before had he seen or heard such unnatural noises, such howling, screaming, snarling, tears, blows and curses…And then, to his great amazement, he suddenly made out his landlady’s voice…

    “No one was beating the landlady,” [Natasya later] said…”No one was here.” (pp. 115-7)

    “Citizen Kane”, “Magnificent Ambersons”, and Notes to Self #502 and 503

    Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

    I attended the Orson Welles double feature at the Heights of Citizen Kane and Magnificent Ambersons. Kane impressed, again, on so many levels–the back and forth storytelling, the aging of the characters, the sets, the transitions between scenes. It _is_ a masterpiece, and one that’s also enjoyable to watch.

    But that brings me to the second film of the double feature, and Note to Self #502: I don’t like Magnificent Ambersons. I find it boring. Perhaps this makes me an unappreciative cretin; so be it. The sets I found stunning in Kane felt precious and overwrought in Ambersons. The characters, save Agnes Moorhead, felt thin and didn’t interest me. (Moorhead did give a delicious cackle at one point that foreshadowed her later work on Bewitched.) I was fighting to stay awake for the saccharine ending. Yes, as the second in a double feature, my attention and energy are going to be compromised. But nothing in Ambersons, which I think I’ve seen once before, made me want to rally.

    And that brings me to Note to Self #503: A Pumpkin Pie Blizzard for the first movie, and buttered popcorn for the second were, indeed, overkill, even though I bought each in size small. As I’ve said before, I thought it wasn’t a good idea, and I did it anyway.

    College: Little Bang for the Buck

    Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

    At the Chronicle of Higher Ed, another dis of higher ed, “America’s Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor’s Degree” by Marty Nemco, who argues that for many people, college is a waste of time and money. Further, he says that universities have little accountability to their customers, and should be held to higher standards:

    Colleges should be held at least as accountable as tire companies are. When some Firestone tires were believed to be defective, government investigations, combined with news-media scrutiny, led to higher tire-safety standards. Yet year after year, colleges and universities turn out millions of defective products: students who drop out or graduate with far too little benefit for the time and money spent. Not only do colleges escape punishment, but they are rewarded with taxpayer-financed student grants and loans, which allow them to raise their tuitions even more.

    Link from Arts & Letters Daily.

    The Science of Philosophy?

    Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

    At the Chronicle of Higher Education, Christopher Shea looks into the rise of Experimental Philosophy:

    At the heart of experimental philosophy lies a suspicion of so-called “intuitions.” An intuition in philosophy is something far more potent than it is in ordinary discourse….The trustworthiness of intuitions (whose roots can be traced back to Plato and Socrates, who thought they represented glimpses of the true, ideal world usually hidden from us) hardly goes undebated by traditional philosophers – quite the opposite – but the experimental philosophers apply a new kind of pressure. They think that by studying human minds, using empirical techniques, and drawing on the insights of modern psychological science, they can get a better sense of where intuitions come from, and whether or when they should be granted credence.

    Link from Arts & Letters Daily.

    Flawed but Powerful: Friedan’s “Feminist Mystique”

    Sunday, September 28th, 2008

    Christina Hoff Sommers reconsiders Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique:

    But in building her case, Friedan made a fatal mistake that undermined her book’s appeal at the time and permanently weakened the movement it helped create. She not only attacked a postwar culture that aggressively consigned women to the domestic sphere, but she attacked the sphere itself – along with all the women who chose to live there.

    (Link from Arts & Letters Daily) The debate continues, forty-five years later, with the media darling Mommy Wars, a supposed conflict between stay-at-home and on-the-job mothers. I think the flaw in Friedan’s argument continues–all women are not the same. But they’re not all different, either. The best analyses find the balance point in this seeming contradiction.

    Stupid Is as Stupid Does

    Monday, September 8th, 2008

    There’s been a lot of noise lately about whether the information is making us, people in general and students in particular, stupid. Helpfully, the Chronicle of Higher Ed collected links to many recent articles and followed it with another article suggesting the solution is to support teachers, not vilify the digital age. (Links from Arts & Letters Daily)

    As with many (most?) internet kerfuffles, I think the problem is blown out of proportion by the bloviation, and the answer’s pretty simple. Is Google/internet/lack of liberal arts/overemphasis on liberal arts/etc. making us stupid?

    Only if we let it.

    Google, blogs and feeds are part of my reading, writing and research life. Since graduate school, I’ve become an autodidact, learning on my own about subjects that interest and are relevant to me. The internet and its increased presence has been, and continues to be, an important part of this learning process. Even more important, though, is and always has been, reading full texts. Reading things about the texts. Thinking about them. And then finding out what others think about them. For the latter, the internet is an invaluable resource, as a supplement to, not a substitute for, real-time, in-person interaction.a v

    As in many aspects of life, variety contributes to a balanced experience. The internet and Google are tools, not the toolbox.

    To borrow a phrase from Mental Multivitamin: Read. Think. Learn.

    I’d add, “in all the ways we can.”

    Kicking Catcher out of the Canon?

    Monday, September 8th, 2008

    Last month, Anne Trubek’s article at Good Magazine questioned Catcher in the Rye’s place in the canon, and wondered whether other, more recent fare might suit students as well or better. (Link from ALoTT5MA, among others.) Most commenters were outraged that she even suggest such a thing, and further ridiculed several of her choices. My question is why not complement, not replace, Catcher with something else, so as to compare and contrast? I commented at the article to this effect, and more.

    I reread Catcher within the last few years, and found it a mixed bag. I did not empathize with Holden. MFS, who blogs at Mental Multivitamin, one of my favorite learning blogs, is an unabashed defender of Holden. I think he’s worthy of questioning. I also enjoyed Frank Portman’s irreverant homage/critique of Catcher, King Dork.

    How We Ended the Long Weekend

    Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

    There was much crying and screaming at bedtime last night. I wonder, is the “price” of a good day a difficult bedtime? We met friends at the pool, then met them again later for burgers, hot dogs and great french fries at the Bulldog NE, picked by Minnesota Monthly as having the best burger in the state. After that, bedtime was challenging. But once Drake and Guppy were _in_ bed, they stayed there and fell asleep quickly, so G. Grod could watch a bit more of Branagh’s Hamlet. I’m not sure how I made it through all four hours in the theater when it came out. I can’t make it through an entire hour without nodding off. Then again, I was unmarried, without kids and twelve years younger in ‘96.

    Antics, Before and After “Hamlet”

    Friday, August 29th, 2008

    One of the source materials for Shakespeare’s Hamlet was a legend recorded by Saxo in Historiae Danicae, published in 1514. The brother of the king killed Prince Amleth’s father, then married the queen. A friend of the uncle planned to hide in the queen’s chamber so he could overhear a conversation between her and Amleth, like Polonius does in Shakespeare’s play. Amleth “in his mad antics (crowing, flapping his arms, and jumping up and down on the bedding) discovered him and killed him.”

    The description of Amleth’s mad antics reminded me at least as much of Tom Cruise’s infamous appearance on Oprah as it did of the version of the scene from Shakespeare’s play.

    Tom Cruise on Oprah