Don Quixote

Another In Our Time newsletter, this one on Don Quixote (a book I’ve tried reading a couple of times and just can’t get through):

Well, James Naughtie has put his foot among the pigeons. How do you pronounce Don Quixote? I pronounced it in the English fashion and had there been any objections from the academics who so sturdily spoke about the knight errant this morning, I would have asked them whether any other pronunciation would have made the word ‘quixotic’ redundant.

For your information, we spoke to Edwin Williamson prior to the programme (who was tremendous in encapsulating the biography of Don Quixote), on the pronunciation of Don Quixote. He pointed out that Don Quixote is an archaic Spanish spelling that has now fallen out of use. The Spanish now spell and pronounce it as ‘Don Quijote’ ie. don-key-hoe-tee.

However, Don Quixote has always been a highly international piece of literature. The Italians have always pronounced it ‘don-key-show-tay’; the French have always pronounced it as ‘don-key-sho-ta’; and the English have always traditionally pronounced it as ‘don–quix-ot’.

The adoption of the Spanish pronunciation in the English language has only appeared with the wide inclusion of the book onto the undergraduate curriculum in many American Universities over the last 20 to 30 years. The vast majority of English academics still refer to the book in the old English pronunciation ‘don-quix-ot’ out of habit and in recognition of the book’s status as an international classic.

So there we are on that one.

There was much commendation of Cervantes’ masterpiece on this morning’s programme, but in one of Barry Ife’s articles about the book, he included a review by Martin Amis. I think this may entertain you. “In March 1986, Amis reviewed a reprint of Tobias Smollett’s translation of Don Quijote for the Atlantic Monthly, and he characteristically took the opportunity to get one or two things off his chest. ‘While clearly an impregnable masterpiece,’ he wrote, ‘Don Quixote suffers from one fairly serious flaw – that of outright unreadability.’ For long stretches (approaching about 75 per cent of the whole) it is ‘inhumanly dull’. This epic is epic in length only, he argues; ‘it has no pace, no drive…it simply accrues. The question “what happens next?” has no meaning because there is no “next” in Don Quixote’s world: there is only “more”.

Warming to his task, Amis goes on to describe the first 20 chapters or so as ‘squalid, savage and attritional’ as the knight, impelled by ‘madness and high ambition’, and the squire, by ‘stupidity and greed’, beat up sundry innocent carriers and other passers-by in the pursuit of wrongs to right. Unprovoked except by chivalric paranoia, Don Quixote tries to murder a Biscayan traveller, gets involved in a brawl in an inn, chops up ‘about seven’ little lambs during an attack on a flock of sheep, and ‘continuing on his sociopathic way’ assails some defenceless mourners, robs a barber, pummels an itinerant prison guard, and frees a band of convicts. At this point, says Amis, it dawns on the reader that there are still 700 pages to go.”

So Don Quixote not only still stirs the blood, but it stirs the mind of writers.

One of the things I most appreciated was the life he had led. Not wholly unlike that of Chaucer. It is something that we may return to – the connection between the life of a writer (and other artists too, I’m sure) and the work. Nowadays we seem to be consumed with the idea of the lone or specialist writer, setting up tower on his or her own from the very beginning. Here with Cervantes we have a man who would probably have described himself, until late in life, as a professional soldier who finally turned to writing to scrape a living.

Best wishes

Melvyn Bragg

Charlemagne and writing

Some of the scholarly chat programs on BBC4 radio have their own newsletters, as most media do nowadays. I enjoy downloading the latest In Our Time program each week and subscribe to host Melvyn Bragg’s newsletter, where he adds his own thoughts on that week’s topic and provides little scholarly nuggets that didn’t make it into the show.

It seems a shame not to share some of them, so here’s what his newsletter contained on the Charlemagne program.


Nevertheless, I was fascinated to read about handwriting and classical manuscripts. In her notes made for the programme, Mary Garrison told us that when Charlemagne started, the level of Latin learning was so low that he needed the English and Irish, who were not native speakers of Latin, to help with Latin texts and learning. They were the ones who said “this is how you spell it; this is how you pronounce it”. So there was a huge change in the literary record and the pronunciation. In terms of literacy (the schoolmasterly type) Charlemagne and Alcuin said you must put spaces between the words, you must use neat handwriting, you must spell things correctly. A new form of handwriting was introduced, and a new way of pronouncing Latin, which hastened the split between Latin and the vernacular – some people hate Alcuin for that reason. It was much as if you or I went to France and said any word that ends in ‘er’ where you would pronounce ‘a’ you now have to pronounce ‘ayr’. But this change in pronunciation is a big thing – it has to do with getting it right.

I was delighted to re-encounter Alcuin whom I first met 47 years ago at university and became reacquainted with when I wrote a novel set in the less & less called “Dark Ages”. The power of the few men who worked in Lindisfarne and Jarrow in the time of what could be called the Northumbrian Renaissance – the Lindisfarne Gospels, the works of Bede and then the passing on of learning to Boniface who became an advisor to Charlemagne’s grandfather and then to the great Alcuin himself. Again and again you find that if a cultural force is strong enough, it does not have to be particularly big to have a most tremendous influence. I always think there’s something romantic and even noble about these men, usually Celts, always monks, who took their learning and their Christianity deep into Europe after having developed it on islands around Britain.

This is some more information about Alcuin that I want to put your way. In fact, I think we should come back to him in a year or so and do a full programme on him. Julia Smith told us that Alcuin (735-804) was at the centre of theological debates at Charlemagne’s court about revising and editing new versions of the Bible. Alcuin had a vision that Classical learning composed the pillars that held up the temple of wisdom, it was a means to achieving higher ends. To this extent, he was especially passionate in advocating a return to Classical standards of Latin grammar and did much to train the successive generation of scholars in writing good Latin. Alcuin’s achievement in asserting a correct Latin was an impressive one, given that vast areas of the southern Carolingian empire (the North was German speaking) still spoke a romance Latin and considered themselves perfectly proficient (although of course theirs was a corrupt version). Alcuin succeeded in teaching Latin to these people as a foreign language, a language which many felt that they had been speaking since infancy.

His was not the most original of minds at court, but he had a beautiful skill for condensing complex patristic texts and summarising them in accessible form. He was adept at repackaging the thought of men like Augustine (theologian, 354-430), Jerome (theologian, 347-420), Ambrose (Bishop of Milan, 340-397) and Gregory the Great (Pope who lived 540-604); in mediating between the patristic thought of the late antique period and the less learned readers of his own day. Alcuin wrote digests, rather than commentaries, for it was generally assumed that most members of the church would not want to read the original works or be capable of doing so.

One discussion in the Green Room was what would have happened had Bede had assistance and, as it were, research scholars to work with him. Mary Garrison suggested that his work on tides, for instance, could have been developed to the advancement of science almost a thousand years before Newton! Some claim, but housed on Lindisfarne, he was well-positioned to watch and calculate the tides which sweep across the causeway and swirl dramatically around Holy Island.

Linksalot

Damn Interesting » Tin Foil Hats Proven Ineffective

Shakespearean Insult Generator

Creating Feeds from Feedless Web Pages
My notes from a demo I gave to a local STC SIG

Grand Illustions - Toy Collection - Dragon Illusion
“This little dragon is made out of paper - you simply cut it out and stick it together, and stand it on a table or window ledge. But when you move around, the dragon’s head seems to follow you around the room. Have a look at the video, to see what we mean. The effect is really uncanny.”

A Unique Gift! Your Own Optical Illusion! - Turn Your Head
“Your profile captured forever in an object of art. “

Fight the Corporate Bull with Bullfighter - Lifehacker
“It will scan your documents for over-utilization use of jargon synergy while at the same time increasing your ROI suggesting alternatives that cut the corporate business BS from your documents:”

PowerSquid roomy power strip - Lifehacker

William Shatner DVD Club
Yet another great offer I’ll have to pass up.

Creating Feeds from Feedless Web Pages

Here’s my first Backpack page that I created for a SIG meeting today. It describes how to create a feed from feedless web pages. It’s a nice all-in-one page.

Backpack is great for presenting this kind of information and I was quite amazed at how quickly I could produce some nice-looking text modules, reorganize them, and so on.

For speed of page creation though, I like my PBWiki a little better.

"A common destination with room for all"

Scott’s friend Chrystal has a nicearticle on religious choices.

My family is a perfect example of American religious diversity. Two parents had five daughters and, as of this writing, none share a common religion. We have a Catholic, a goddess-worshipping Wiccan, one three-quarters of the way to Buddhist nunhood (complete with shaved head!), one Mormon, and one Unitarian. The final member attends a Baptist church, but once they formed gay unions, other Baptists quarreled about the church’s designation. So far we have no Muslims or Jews, but the week is young—who knows what the future holds?

Modest Change 3: Exercise

For the past decade or more, I’ve fumbled around for an exercise program I could stick with. Given my size (6’3” and about 215 lbs, as of this writing), I’ll need to be strong and flexible as I get older. Otherwise, the nurses helping me out of my elderly bed will have to be pretty strong or have a pulley and gurney handy.

Exercise clubs have not worked for me. I like yoga but feel I need more resistance and cardio training. I’ve cobbled together workouts from Joyce Vedral, Body for Life, Men’s Health, and many other books and websites.

Two books came my way recently that changed my attitude to exercising and have provided me a very good workoout that energizes but doesn’t fatigue.

The first, which I saw at the library, was Five Factor Fitness by Harley Pasternak. It promises a lot and mostly delivers, despite its rather gimmicky “5” theme: a 25-minute daily workout, done 5 days/week, 5 meals a day, and a set of recipes with meals containing only 5 ingredients.

What attracted me was the book’s modest size (the recipes take up about half of the book) and the modest time requirements; although he advertises 25 minutes, it’s really more like 35, but that’s OK, that’s doable. I also like the balance in the workouts. He recommends only 2 weight-lifting exercises per workout using dumbells, which are my tool of choice and all I’ve used the last several years. His routine emphasizes low-intensity lifting, with low weights but more sets and reps. The workout requires at least 5 minutes on the treadmill at the beginning and end of the routine, getting your heart rate up to its optimal workout zone for at least 5 minutes the second time, and an abdominal (“core”) exercise, which is also high rep and multiple sets.

What I like about the workout is that the goal is not to push yourself to exhaustion, as seems to be the case with all the other routines that promise a quick 6- or 12-week turnaround. At the end of my previous hour-long workouts, I’d be fatigued and sore and would really have to drag myself to the next workout. By contrast, the 5-Factor workout leaves my arms and legs pleasantly buzzing with energy. When I was doing my workouts in the morning, I felt energized for the rest of the day. My earlier wake-up time has pushed my exercising to the afternoon, but it’s short enough that it’s done and I’m showered before supper.

But while perusing the Amazon comments for the book, I ran across Cal Dougherty’s review (and his other fitness book reviews) where he cites a book called Joe X by Avery Hunnicutt.

Joe X is one of those books that couches its lessons in the form of a novel and dialogue between a mentor and a novice. It’s a form I find tedious in the extreme. Although many Amazon reviewers liked the novel, I skimmed through it to get to the nuggets of fitness philosophy I was interested in. (And the good stuff is all recapitulated at the end of the book in an appendix.)

Hunnicutt advocates going light on resistance, paying attention to your body, raise the weight for one exercise only and then only minimally, and look at this as a 30-year or even 40-year fitness plan instead of as a 12-week full-body turnaround.

So, I’ve adapted aspects of both of these books. I follow the 5 Factor plan because I’ve learned my body likes to be exercised regularly and the routines offer enough variety and challenge that I haven’t tired of it so far. From Joe X, I’ve taken on the idea of low-resistance weights and keeping my eye on the long haul.

For the past 4 or 5 weeks, I’ve been using only 5-lb. weights, which I would have laughed at before. I bought 25- and 30-lb weights a few years ago because I felt my chest and back needed more resistance. I don’t believe that anymore. It’s more important to me now to establish the habit and routine of regular exercise rather than taking my muscles to failure.

The blend of these two approaches is, for me, a modest change in my exercising that’s yielded enormous benefit. I feel good physically, my sleep patterns have become more regular, and my moods have evened out–the latter is another reason that regular exercise is good for me, as I tend to be sedentary.


Modest Change 2: Keeping time

I was, for some reason, totally taken by Thomas Limoncelli’s book Time Management for System Administrators. (TM4SA, for short).

I read the sample chapter he had online here, and bought the book to see what the rest was about.

I’ve picked up and put down many a time management system over the years, starting with Day-Timers and finishing most successfully with David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology. Limoncelli’s system doesn’t quite displace GTD, but he has for the first time really helped me gain some traction on my task management.

I won’t detail here what his system is, as the link above describes the main system pretty well. The book is written for someone who’s really never used a time management system before and probably can’t understand office life or office politics all that well.

I bought an At-a-Glance 2006 Daily Planning diary to implement the scheme and this has worked pretty well so far. I find myself not really noting much in the Notes or To-Dos sections; I have other home and office systems to log those things. But I do note in the planner book what I hope to accomplish each day or night of the week, and when I review my lists of Active Projects, I make sure each one has a next action written down for a specific day. (It was all to easy for tasks to stay on my GTD context lists and never move; by physically writing them down, I’m forced to confront them and make them move.)

One of TM4SA’s key recommendations is that you write down what you want to accomplish each day and transfer undone tasks to the next day or some day in the future. This rankles lots of GTD purists and I understand it. On a bad day, you’ll have to transfer most everything forward. But on a good day, you’ll get most everything done and there’s relatively few tasks to move forward.

TM4SA also recommends estimating about how long each task will take. This has really helped me figure out what I can realistically get to in an evening and so not overbook myself with ridiculously fabuloso projects or commitments when really all I have time to do is write my 1000 words and read. I’ve found that I really can’t do all that I want when I have an evening free–instead, I have to prioritize and choose and do. Which is what time and task management is all about.

Modest Change 1: Early to Rise

Earlier this year, Merlin suggested that, instead of resolutions and big efforts, people implement fresh starts and modest changes. Here’s the first of three posts about some modest changes I’ve made that have yielded some good benefits.

I’ve long known that about 70% of my problems would disappear if I just got up a little earlier. I went through a period last month where I was waking earlier than I wanted. Someone in the office suggested I just come in early like a few others of my officemates do and start logging my time. The very next day, I awoke at about 4 a.m. So I got up and made it into the office by 6:30.

My God, the quiet. I sat and focused on my project and got a good chunk done before lunchtime. And I got another good chunk done before I left for the day. I was quietly shocked at how well this weird new behavior worked.

Because we’re cursed to work 9-hour days, I previously was getting in at 9 a.m. and leaving about 6 or 6:30 p.m., thus beating the rush-hour traffic both ways. Now, getting in at 7:30 a.m., there’s still some rush-rush on the highways, but there’s enough time at the end of the day to do my workout and have an evening of relative leisure, instead of cramming a gallon of stuff into a pint pot.

Accepting this behavior means letting go of treasured descriptions of myself as a night owl, as someone who’d rather stay up late than go to bed early. Well, that’s still the case. I still prefer staying up late. But the reality of my working life dictates that early-rising more than repays the effort.

I’ve been able to stick with this schedule rather easily and will continue to do so. If I need to work late, it’s fairly painless to stay another hour or two and log some extra time. And, I should note, I’ve not been troubled by early rising since sticking to my new schedule.

Wikipedia:Unusual articles

This page has been making the rounds of the blogosphere. I like the made-up Simpsons words and many of the other links.

But one of my favorite entries not listed here is on Florence Foster Jenkins, which features a sound sample of the woman “who became famous for her complete lack of singing ability.” If you have the Rhapsody music service, you can hear the entire album of this very painful warbling. (Like rain slurping down a rusty gutter, as I remembering reading somewhere.)

But one of the fun things about traversing Wikipedia and the web is finding that Jenkins’ page links to a bigger page on Outsider Music, which links to this fabulous collection of 365 MP3 files of “outsider music.”

Best Desktop Pictures Ever

In my humble opinion, of course. These are from Zeldman’s old site, courtesy the Wayback Machine.

His new ones are great, too, and are certainly more uniform in size and polished in quality. But that demonic clown and the electric blue trapeze artists just send me.

Addendum
The Beauteous Liz reminded me of another set of desktop pictures that appeals to my sensibilities: the Daze of Our Lives archives of Victorian etchings wallpaper. Note that there are archives for different years and there are varied sizes. My personal favorites are the Fornasetti Girl (2002), the Snowy Trees (2002), the Cowboy Band (2001), and Hand Kisser (2001),

Panhandling

Walking along Ninth Street in Durham, or Queen Street in Toronto, or anywhere, we’ve been approached by vagrants, panhandlers, the lot. They’ve even knocked on my door and asked for money to help them pay their rent.

I’m conflicted. I know I’m a soft touch, and my heart goes out to people who, through bad luck or bad choices, ended up in a place they never expected. There but for the grace of God, etc. Yet, I know I’ve been taken advantage of more than once by people exploiting my generosity and it galls me.

Searching the web yields a few approaches. At Christmastime, Jeanette Winterson puts a few fivers in her pocket and has them at the ready:

I also have the £5 principle in the month of December. If anyone on the street asks me for money - they get one of the endless fivers stuffed about my person. We are told not to give to beggars - stupid advice - we should always give if someone asks us. Street donations don’t solve the problem - we need to support homeless charities - but I think it is wrong to walk past a person who has nothing. We could all be that person.

So give what you can, according to your means, however small.


A typically strong Winterson opinion, unequivocal. I like it.

On Ninth Street, the merchants advise not to give money to individuals and instead to make a donation to the Durham Rescue Mission or other similar organization. The Regulator Bookshop, in its online email newsletter, recently offered a write-in contest for “true stories of especially considerate or especially rude behavior that they had encountered, sparked by the publication of Lynne Truss’s new book, Talk to the Hand: The Utter, Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door.”

The runner-up was this piece, by Bobbie Collins-Perry (and the prompt for this blog posting):

After dark. A man approaches me in a parking lot. He asks me for a dollar for the city bus. Normally, I don’t give money to strangers, remembering the counsel I’ve been given that panhandlers will just spend the money on drugs or alcohol and the cautions about opening myself up to crime. I call out, “I’m not sure I have any change.” “You’re going to see if you have the change?” He approaches closer. I’ve got myself in it now, and I’m feeling uncomfortable and pressured. I begin to run through scenarios and questions. Is he homeless? Or is he just having a bad day? Well, he doesn’t look like a typical street person, and I’m close enough to the side door of the restaurant to feel more secure. I fish for my wallet and come up with a dollar bill-this will at least get me out of the situation. I hand it to him. He thanks me and says I’m very kind. I hurry my hands to get the wallet back in my purse and turn towards the entrance.

“Wow, pretty too. You married?” An affront has transformed into an intrusion, and I have allowed this rudeness by not being indifferent to him. “Very,” I replied and beat a hasty retreat. I berate myself–he was just a freeloader. And he thinks I’m willing to give him much more than money. I know better, and vow to never let a vagrant take advantage of me again. Yet, I’m still conflicted-feeling disrespected, but still wondering how I can help.

Okay, give to a homeless shelter. I’ve done this before, but it’s in the past; it doesn’t help alleviate the feelings of immediacy each time I’m approached on the street. Ruminating while I drive, knowing full well I have a dollar to spare and a vehicle to transport me home, I come up with a solution: “I’ll start a jar-each time I am panhandled, I’ll politely say “no,” and put money in it.” I’ll feel good about not supporting substance abuse, not being violated, and being able to respond right away. I should be able to make a healthy contribution and help people who want to be helped on my terms in the light of day.


Another good, sensible tack.

What are the economics of begging? Robert Klein has a funny routine on one of his albums about a panhandler whose heart-rending screams of PLEEEEASE!!! in downtown Manhattan bring in contributions. Klein follows the beggar at the end of the day to a side street, where the beggar puts his stuff into the trunk of a shiny Cadillac. Klein said he yelled to the guy, “Hey, PLEASE!” And there’s a Sherlock Holmes story, “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” about a middle-class man who finds begging more lucrative than being a reporter (I can verify that fact).

Marginal Revolution, a libertarian economics blog that more than occasionally drives me up the wall and across the ceiling, usually provides intellectual cud for me to chew on or spit out. In this post, Tyler Cowen directly confronts the economic situation of all the beggars he sees in Calcutta. Using his typically cool-blooded economic reasoning, he concludes that giving to beggars who ask for money encourages more beggars to enter the market, thus increasing the number of beggars and more aggressive behavior from the beggars because their actions are rewarded with money. Better, he says, to give money to the poor person who is not begging and so is expecting it least.

In the comments to Cowen’s posting was this reference to a Tom Stoppard quote from his play “Indian Ink.” Stoppard blends economics with self-satisfaction:
Dilip: You have to understand that begging is a profession. Like dentistry. Like shining shoes. It’s a service. Every so often, you need to get a tooth filled, or your shoes shined, or to give alms. So when a beggar presents himself to you, you have to ask yourself– do I need a beggar today? If you do, give him alms. If you don’t, don’t.”


So, where does this leave me? I already make regular donations to the Durham Rescue Mission. If, on a particular day, I’m feeling generous, I’ll make sure I have some singles folded up in my pocket. How much harm can a person do with $1? But I won’t give anything to the beggar who gets in my face.

Yet a further reason to join the ACLU

This has convinced me it’s time to join the ACLU. The security paranoia has to stop.

via

Update 2005-01-06

Some good news, according to the papersplease.org site:
Not only will Deborah Davis not be prosecuted on charges related to her refusal to show ID on a public bus, but she is now able to travel on the route 100 RTD bus without showing her ‘papers.’

Deb’s lawyer, ACLU volunteer attorney Gail Johnson, was informed shortly before noon on December 7th by the office of the US attorney in Denver of their decision not to prosecute.


Score one for the good guys and against the security state.

Back in the Nanowrimo game

Well, sort of. I wrote earlier about retiring from the field when I found the story I was working on uncongenial. But I couldn’t get some of the images out of my mind, and I had certain key moments in the long life of the main character appear in front of me as I went about my other chores.

I had also promised myself the New Yorker DVD set if I successfully completed nanowrimo. While I always intended to buy the set anyway, I can’t forget that carrot I dangled in front of myself. I felt I needed to put in at least a good-faith effort in order to justify buying the DVDs.

So I went back to my file and basically started the story over again for at least the third time. It’s interesting to me how the story started as a sprawling, dozens-of-characters murder mystery, to a more constrained, cozier setting, starting with two characters but in the last few writing sessions, settling on the main character, a 96-year-old woman on her deathbed remembering key events of her life.

I don’t believe I’ll make the 50K word count by Nov. 30, though. I’m at about 23,700 right now and can’t do much more than 2000 words in a sitting. The week I took off left me way behind, and I went to bed early last night. So I’d need to push out about 3000+ words a day to make the goal. Hm. Well, maybe if I intersperse writing sessions with leaf-raking on my days off Friday and Saturday, maybe I’ll get up to the mid-30s by the 28th.

Retiring from the Nanowrimo field

I was looking forward to it this year, but hit the sand early and never recovered. I started out as I had done last year, with an image, a situation, and then started to run with it. But the material didn’t form under my fingers as naturally as last year. I finally switched from a male, first-person narrator to a female, third-person narrator, and that helped a bit. I got several days of writing out of that.

I also adopted the Jeanette Winterson/Diana Gabaldon method of composing scenes out of sequence, thinking that if I could get the juicy scenes out first, then that would give my mind time to generate the connective tissue.

Well, it’s a good idea, and I should try it sometime. But tonight I sat at the keyboard and the ideas just didn’t come. I think the past that one of the main characters, a 96-year-old rural woman, on her deathbed, has lots of sadness and compromise in store for her, and I plain don’t want to go there. I don’t want to put her through it. There’s also the niggling feeling that I’ve read this kind of story before, that I’m just going through the plotting motions, and the sense of discovery I had last year isn’t there.

There have been pleasant surprises along the way, and I’ve rediscovered the truth that 50% of the material I generate will come out of the writing and I don’t need to do much in the way of planning. I did hit on some interesting connections in some of my daily writing, and some haunting (I think) images that I will want to come back to.

But as for making the 50,000-word count by Nov. 30 – nope. I’m bowing out. Nanowrimo should be fun, for me, and I don’t need the extra pressure of generating plot and words for a story that I am resisting. I reserve the right to continue to play with the story through the rest of the month (and beyond), however, and may break through whatever I’m resisting. But not today.

The Revenge of the Novelist

From the NY Times obit of John Fowles.

As much as it frustrated some of his readers, Mr. Fowles always believed he had done the right thing by leaving the endings of his most celebrated novels open-ended. But he was not above bending his own rules when the occasion called for it.

He once told an interviewer that he had received a sweet letter from a cancer patient in New York who wanted very much to believe that Nicholas, the protagonist of “The Magus,” was reunited with his girlfriend at the end of the book - a point Mr. Fowles had deliberately left ambiguous. “Yes, of course they were,” Mr. Fowles replied.

By chance, he had received a letter the same day from an irate reader taking issue with the ending of “The Magus.” “Why can’t you say what you mean, and for God’s sake, what happened in the end?” the reader asked. Mr. Fowles said he found the letter “horrid” but had the last laugh, supplying an alternative ending to punish the correspondent: “They never saw each other again.”

"Due to..."

From Melvyn Bragg’s latest In Our Time newsletter:

Monica Grady’s other mission seems to be to stop her students saying “due to” when they ought to say “owing to” or “because of”. She pointed out that in the case of libraries, babies and rent you can use “due to”, everything else is “owing to” or “because of”.

NaNoWriMo: The Adventure Begins

Yes, I’m one of the hairpins doing the NaNoWriMo challenge, though I will only use lowercase letters from here on out because those intercapitalizations drive me nuts.

Last year, I signed up on October 31st, just for a lark. I wasn’t working, nothing was going on, and I thought it would help me pass the time. I emailed my friend Sue in California, also a writer, and said this looked like fun, I may try out. Well, she signed up too. I got the No Plot, No Problem book, read through it, and plucked out a situation I’d written down in my notebook years ago but had never done anything with. I didn’t know where it might go, but thought I’d give it a try.

It had a magical, fantasy type atmosphere, and I read a couple of Lon Milo DuQuette’s books that helped feed my imagination during the process.

I wound up creating enough situations and piling up enough detail that I eventually “won” with about 51,000 words. Sue actually crossed the finish line first and called to tell me. This inspired me to sit down, finish mine, and upload it to the site (which I did before her). We were both abuzz for the rest of the year, comparing notes on the experience, and patting each other (and ourselves) on the back for taking on a crazy project (crazier in her case, as she’s a freelancer and mother of two little girls) and actually succeeding at it.

The lessons I learned and things I noticed:

  • I’d been rather glum and mopey for most of the year, with good reason. I didn’t feel that way during Nanowrimo month. (Sue noticed the same thing.)

  • I started out with only a situation–no plot, no characters, no themes. As I wrote, plots, characters, and themes emerged.

  • When I had a strong situation, the scene almost wrote itself.

  • When I could see the images in my head very strongly, the scene worked out pretty well.

  • When I had nothing, it was work to squeeze out the word quota.

This year, I also pulled a situation out of my notebook, what I had long thought of as a murder-mystery idea, even though I have no idea how to write a mystery story. The situation stands on its own as very melodramatic and maybe ludicrous, but it’s stayed with me for some reason, so I’m using it as my prompt to get the story started.

As it happens, tonight’s writing went OK (but I found myself checking the word count every 5 minutes towards the end–was it this hard last year?). I’m already finding that it’s going to contain lots of personal history and thoughts about my family, and the place of the outsider in the family. I didn’t actually get to the prompt scene. I started the novel after the funeral service; the narrator will be flashbacking to the prompt scene, and I’ll see then how plausible it feels.

But even if it doesn’t, who cares. It’s Nanowrimo month! I have license to be creative! I can splat things down just to see what happens! I don’t have to go back and edit or delete! God Bless Us Every One!!

10+ year old files

During the New PC Blues upgrade process, I ran across a 5.25” floppy disk Liz had used to store files related to a musicology paper she wrote back in 1989 – well before I came on the scene.

Why we hadn’t done anything with this diskette before, I don’t know. But what to do with it now? Our last two PCs had only 3.5” drives, and the current one has no floppy drives at all. Who needs the things, with USB flash drives?

Unfortunately, Liz didn’t have any other copies of this paper and wanted to keep them. What to do?

Few friends or co-workers had a 5.25” drive, even in a closet, let alone installed in a working system. Fortunately, Michelle’s boyfriend was visiting his father in Fayetteville who, amazingly enough, had a 5.25” drive on one of his computers. Michelle assured me that 5.25” diskettes were tougher than the 3.5” disks and that the files were probably still readable.

Her boyfriend copied off the files, zipped them, and emailed them to me. Easy as pie.

Next: Let’s try opening them in Word, surely there’s a converter … Ah, but no. Most of the text comes in, but the formatting codes interfere with too much of it to make the file easily readable. Then Liz remembered that maybe it was Wordstar for DOS instead of WordPerfect that she’d used for the paper.

I fiddled with downloading Word 2000 converters but instead invoked the Google oracle. Up popped several Wordstar sites, including several utilities to convert old WS files. The one I picked converts Wordstar files to formatted HTML. It runs from a DOS window and uses the command-line to specify the source and destination filenames.

Voila – it worked. The HTML files come up with the original formatting preserved and all the text in place. The text can now be easily copied into Word files or wherever they will sit for the next 10+ years.

Links: Writing tips for academic papers


I compiled the following quickie list of paper-writing tips for a co-worker who is taking online classes and has been away from paper-writing for a while. The whole process seemed difficult for her, so these links cover a broad range of items. Some of the links to academic papers at the end of this list may have good clues, especially with selecting thesis statements. I’ve not vetted all these, but they’re a start. The little comments for each are reproduced from my original email to her that contained these links.



A good book I recommend is this:
Amazon.com: Books: Thinking on Paper

–Just read the first half (the second half is all about the Latin names for types of logical arguments). it sets forth a very good simple process for building a piece of writing from the ground up so that it isn’t as painful as you think.

Writing tips compiled by Mike Shea
–Here’s the PDF version

Poynter Online - The Writing Tools
–Just scan the list and read whatever article is of interest. His focus is on journalism so his approach might conflict with academic writing. but the writing tips are good and solid. You’ll be able to devise some simple rules to help you in your actual writing.

43 Folders: Hack your way out of writer’s block
–Entertaining list of bullet points and good comments. but lookit the next link too.

Google Groups : 43 Folders
–Advice on paper writing from a grad student

TOC About Writing
–I’m also interested in fiction writing and this page has mainly tips for that side of the house.

50 Strategies for Making Yourself Work
–A great page of tips to bust procrastination.

Study Guides and Strategies
–Scroll down to the writing sections, but good general advice to students.

Google Search: tips academic writing papers
–The search i used to dig up some of the links in this mail.

Timed Essays: Planning and Organizing in a Crunch
–This is for when you’re writing for an in-class test, but some good advice.

Thesis Statements: What are They?
-This might be more practical for your needs right now. BE SURE to click on the Related Links in the right sidebar. You might get good ideas there.

Academic Writing Handouts – Dennis G. Jerz
–The top page from which the previous two links were drawn.

Sally Slacker Writes a Paper (Dennis G. Jerz, Seton Hill University)
–I haven’t read all this but I like the title!

Tips for Writing Academic Essays and Term Papers in Philosophy at Erratic Impact
–Good numbered tips after the intro.

Writing Help
–Ton o’ links. Don’t know how many of them are still good.

Academic Center :: Writing Tips
–More basic tips on academic writing. After you’ve read about 10 of these kinds of pages, you’ll notice they start repeating themselves.

Checklist
–A pretty good checklist to use after you’ve written a draft.

True Work

I had this on my office wall many many years ago, and can’t find the source again. But I think I remember it word-for-word:

True Work is that which occupies the mind and the heart, as well as the hands. It has a beginning and an ending. It is the overcoming of difficulties one thinks important for the sake of results one thinks valuable.

Jacques Barzun

Phrases and misspellings to expunge forever

Mike Shea has a nice list of phrases to be avoided (as well as writing rules from Orwell and Struck & White) here. Among my pet peeves on his list are “on steriods,” “think outside the box,” and “talk offline.” (But I have no idea what “goat rope” refers to.)

Herewith, a few of my additions, culled from everyday readings of stuff on the Web:

  • (anything) from hell Even Matt Groening is tired of this one

  • may or may not Just say may!

  • impact as a verb

  • loose for lose Why is this the most common misspelling I see nowadays? Lazy typing?

  • alot for a lot But this lamentable misspelling has been around for years

  • peak or peek when the writer means pique

  • pour when the writer means pore As in “I poured over the pages” – what did you pour – milk?

  • “ping so-and-so,” when the speaker means “contact” or “call”

  • “Well,…” at the beginning of a sentence Way overused by journalists and columnists for the last several years