December 2009 Archives

"If a story ends up just like you imagined it would, you've done something wrong. It should surprise the reader AND the writer."


Susan Orlean made this great point on Twitter the other day. It's what I've always known as a variation of the "blue book" phenomenon. During college exams while answering essay questions in those little blue books an idea would present itself and surprise me. It would be one of my best ideas. Usually it would come a little out of order so I'd have to draw big arrows to the portion I'd written before where the idea should logically sit.


This surprise is also a big barrier to writing. If I've been working on a story for a little while and the surprise hasn't happened I start to worry that it never will arrive. I put out cookies and milk. I promise to be nice. Once it does, it's this enormous gift that gets me through the rest of the process.

"I think this is the most significant moment of the past 10 years. That is because it is an event that embodies so many 21st-century events: Something is happening, somewhere, and it has no particular effect on you whatsoever. The latest details in a moment."

From The Awl
And people wonder why we spend our holidays in East Tennessee:

"When they went to investigate the smoke, they found a moonshine still in the midst of a cook as well as several containers of what appeared to be finished product. (Full article here)"
A great Howard Rheingold piece on Twitter literacy. (I wrote my own shorter version here and another piece about Twitter and journalism here.)

I had a half-thought upon reading this: (I wonder, with Twitter will people stop talking about thoughts that are half baked and talk instead about Twitter thoughts v. blog thoughts v. quill pen thoughts to distinguish the amount of thought you'd put into them. Then we'd just have to get people to start matching their expectations with the location of those thoughts. Don't scream for complexity from a Twitter post. When I say I wonder about this I recognize that it's already happening. Can you wonder rhetorically? You can, I know I was just...)

Anyway, the thought:

What are the skills we need to learn and teach kids about online life and writing. How do we teach them to tune, as Rheingod puts it, and master their attention (which is a test of biology as well as focus-- which is to say I can keep my focus much better in the morning than in the late afternoon. Knowing this, I try to work accordingly, writing in the morning and grazing in the afternoon? My point here is that parents are totally out of touch with the way their kids need to learn. I wonder how in touch their teachers are? I say all of this while also maintaining this deep desire to teach myself and my children the power of slow uninterrupted focused thought.
I wish he'd use this voice in performances. 
I love this collection of notebooks and thoughts about Julie Orringer's process. Her book How to Breathe Underwater is wonderful and shows the precision. I love that none of it is digital. I am in love with my digital things but it's a limited love. My favorite new love is sketch paper the size of a car's passenger side window (Unless you drive an Escalade and then it's the size of your glove box door and this entry may not be for you at all. )

Today I had lunch with Merlin Mann which was great enough but afterward he introduced me to this poem and poet (He also took photographs). It's the end of the day and I've now listened to it four times.

Here's how I first experienced it:

I opened this page and then I listened to this fabulous reading:

via Kung fu Grippe
Ty Greenstein of Girlyman put it that way and it immediately struck me as just exactly what some of the most powerful music can do. So, what's on that list for me right now?

Glenn Tipton, Sun Kil Moon; Dimming of the Day, Richard Thompson; 1952 Vincent Black Lightening, R.T.; Pray Enough, The Wood Brothers; Twilight Rick Danko and Garth Hudson version; Broke Down Slaid Cleaves; Here Comes the Sun Again, M. Ward;Trapeze, Patty Griffin; Motel Blues, Loudon Wainwright III; Stranger in a Strange Land, Leon Russell;9th and Hennepin, Tom Waits; Picture In a Frame and Hands on the Wheel, Willie Nelson; Lonelytown and The Californian Bob Schneider; 22 Steps, Andy Stochansky;Went to See the Gypsy, Bob Dylan (piano alternate version) The Lakes of Pontchartrain, The Be Good Tanyas,Amaze Me, Montpelier, Everything is Easy, Girlyman.