Friday, July 31, 2009

Smokey the Bear Now Eligible for Social Security

Okay, this isn't the most earth-shattering news of the week. But we found it interesting, nonetheless. Please share your thoughts, as the spirit moves you. Or not. It is, after all, the onset of a summer weekend, and summer is rapidly fleeting. Hope you all enjoy yourselves, people.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Just Try to Do
At Least One

'Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.'
--Benjamin Franklin. We've only had cause to mention the omni-talented Founding Father once before.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

How Rare the Perfectly
Healthy Sentence Is

'A perfectly healthy sentence, it is true, is extremely rare. For the most part we miss the hue and fragrance of the thought; as if we could be satisfied with the dews of the morning without their colors, or the heavens without their azure.'
--Henry David Thoreau. You can review our many earlier mentions of the whiskered bard here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Was Dick Cheney Unconstitutional?

Law professor Glenn Reynolds explores that question in
this recent law review essay. His findings: the kind of extreme delegation of presidential authority to the VP that happened in the Bush-Cheney administration was probably unconstitutional. That finding carries all the more weight given that Reynolds is a conservative, and the man behind a widely followed conservative blog, Instapundit. Naturally, we've had plenty of mentions of the nefarious one over the last six-plus years. But we'd especially point you to this uniquely impressive piece by the New Yorker's Jane Meyer (which we picked as the best magazine article of 2006), which was the first to comprehensively document how the Veep's office hijacked the presidency. The Washington Post's Barton Gellman followed up not long after that with an equally impressive and richly reported series (which ultimately won him a Pulitzer) about Cheney. It was eventually expanded into a book. As long as you're on the subject, I'd also recommend a well-done piece published in The Nation a few months ago, which explored Cheney's "dispiriting legacy." Here's hoping Obama's Attorney General, tarred by his own ethically compromised past during the Clinton Administration (he shamefully approved a pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich), will withstand the pressure from centrists and the Obama kumbaya crowd and appoint a special prosecutor to look into the question of torture and related outrages. Nothing works better than light as a disinfectant, and this dark chapter in American history should not be forgotten, but culled for lessons about how to prevent its reoccurrence.

Monday, July 27, 2009

How Agents Now Run the Show In Sports

'Many in the Lakers' organization believe that Odom (the player) wants to accept (Lakers' owner) Buss' offer -- and so do those close to Odom -- but he has failed to convince his agent.'
--from a recent article in the L.A. Times about a salary negotiation for a leading NBA free agent, Lamar Odom. As I read it, I thought "oh, I get it, the player works for the agent, not the other way around." It also made me recall this particularly illuminating New Yorker profile of super agent Scott Boras. Read it and weep for your favorite professional sport.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Not Tonight, Dear

Andrea Frazer muses openly about what it's like for a middle-aged suburban mom, wife and daughter to write a blog about sex for...Good Housekeeping Magazine. We think the blog's name is slyly appropriate: My So-Called Sex Life. Anyway, we'd be interested in hearing your thoughts about it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Okay, Writers--It's Time to Fess Up Now:
Who's This Much on Your Wavelength?

'With other writers I can share ideas, but you seem to communicate something deeper. It is as if we met on a deeper level of life on which individuals are not separate beings.'
--from a letter by the immortal Thomas Merton to the Russian writer Boris Pasternak, author of Dr. Zhivago. We hope you have just one other writer--be it a mentor, former teacher, friendly rival, whatever--who understands you and your work this well (I'm privileged to have at least a couple). Either way, we'd love to hear your thoughts about the subject. Who knows, with a little luck and lots of patience, a fellow commenter just might become that person. And if you're simply a reader, we'd be equally interested in your reactions.

Friday, July 24, 2009

No Magic Pill, No Secret Potion. Just Effort

'Don’t you wish you could wake up one morning and find your in-box flooded with assignments, your Amazon ranking a single digit, and your phone ringing with a call from Oprah to appear on her show to discuss your latest book? I know I do. But the odds on all three happening (together or singly) without some “sweat equity” on our part are slim to none. While it may look like others in our profession “hit the lottery” so to speak on a regular basis, chances are that they have put a lot of concerted effort into achieving their goals. Wanting something is great and important and necessary. But just wanting won’t make it happen.You have to work—with a capital W—if you want to see results. No magic pill, no secret potion. Just effort.'
--from a recent blog post (whose message, as you might imagine, we heartily second) by the Ohio-based writer Nancy Christie, with whom we're proud to be mildly acquainted (I once shared a panel with her at a writer's conference, and we're also fellow members of a writing society, ASJA). Anyway, we hope you'll stop back at Nancy's blog occasionally to sample from her thinking.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Forget the Muse.
I Write for a Living

'I'm not ashamed to say I write for money. Forget the muse. Like most members of ASJA, I write for a living, and have done so for more than a decade. I've penned articles on topics ranging from animal dissection alternatives to angioplasty, toddler dental traumas to bridesmaid drama. It matters not whether I'm ghosting a sales coaching book or editing a medical course for emergency room docs. Make me an offer, promise a decent amount of money, and I'm your girl.'
--from a recent article in the American Society of Journalists and Authors' monthly newsletter, by the prolific writer (and former attorney) Kelly James-Enger.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Here Are a Few Quick Suggestions
For Blasting Through Writer's Block

I've only mentioned Linkedin once before, but perhaps will be referring to it more often in coming months. I call it the Facebook for adult professionals, though I recognize that many (including many of my friends and colleagues) swear by it for social networking. But my tool of choice (along with this blog, naturally, which is the crown jewel of it all) is Linkedin, which facilitates all sorts of things, including widening my circle of friends, readers and collaborators. One of the many features I like about it is the way it empowers peer learning, which is generally the best kind. I occasionally answer questions from strangers about subjects I know a little about, and other times I read answers from those who know far more than I do about various topics. After I answered one about how to deal with writer's block (naturally a recurring topic there, as well as here), it occurred to me I ought to post it here as well.

I think writer's block is generally a result of one of two things: either having nothing to say (in which case, why bother writing? An existential question without any real answer) or (far more often) being frozen by having too much to say, only having it all scattered throughout your brain. Too many writers try to figure it all out in their brains before downloading it onto a screen or a page, which I think is generally their main problem. To get started, you just need to start writing, without worrying about what order it's all in, or how good it is in the first draft. As long as you get something down initially, it's always MUCH easier to go back and revise and improve, once you have something to revise. It's going from nothing to even the sketchiest something that's generally the problem. So simply begin somewhere, and you'll feel steadily more encouraged to keep at it once you've begun.

There are a bunch of tried and true methods of breaking through a block: beginning with an outline composed only of a few bullet points, which you can then begin putting in the right order, and from there expand upon, until you have the beginnings of a piece of writing. Others find they can tune up their brains and typing fingers by reading something else first (though plenty of writers don't want to have another writer's voice in their head when they sit down to do their own writing). Yet others swear by listening to music to get them in the mood, or (my favorite) perhaps going for a run or even a brisk walk to get oxygen flowing to the brain. Whatever works for you, find what that is and do it. Pretty soon your writing brain will become accustomed to the routine, and know it's time to write. Dedicating the same time each day to writing further helps the brain develop that muscle memory. It may take you years, but perhaps only a few months to really get mentally toned.

Lastly, just about all prolific writers have a large and ever-growing storehouse of material from which to draw when they sit down to write, which also is a big part of breaking through any block. If you're in the habit of jotting down stray ideas as they come to you, collecting interesting articles, stray pieces of dialogue you hear in conversations, on TV, in movies, etc., or making notes on a vivid statistic you read or heard on NPR, you may soon have an overstuffed writing room groaning with files and scraps of paper, but you'll also begin magically (or not so magically) finding that writer's block has become a distant memory. Good luck!

(for earlier mentions of this subject, you can go here. And if you're a reader, don't forget to connect with me on Linkedin, should the spirit move you. If you're not already using it, do give it some thought).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Writing Can Be a Bitch

'What a bitch of a thing prose is!'
--Gustave Flaubert. We figure that if even the author of the masterpiece Madame Bovary had cause to occasionally rage against the difficulties of wielding his pen, who are we to complain? You can review our lone earlier mention of the late French novelist here.

Monday, July 20, 2009

How Renaming Iconic Places
Is Much Harder Than It Looks

Did you know that Chicago's Sears Tower has just been renamed, to the Willis Tower? Sorry, but I won't be calling it that, nor will many others, apparently. The same goes for Cleveland's Terminal Tower (which has supposedly been part of Tower City for years) and Jacobs Field (officially renamed Progressive Field after the naming rights were sold). And quick, Clevelanders, what's the name of that shapely skyscraper at the east end of Public Square? It's officially known as 200 Public Square, a name which has barely pierced the public's consciousness. To me and most others it will always be the BP Building. Okay, enough about my stubborn refusal to update with the times. We'd love to hear about your favorite places with new names you refuse to recognize. Double credit for stories from those who live outside the region.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Who Among Us Could Live Up to This Ideal?

'Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.'
--humorist Will Rogers. We mentioned him earlier here. On your next trip to Oologah, Oklahoma, why not check out the museum dedicated to his life? You can learn more about that life here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Which Words Make You Wince?

'...the key to words that make you feel nauseous is not the meaning - it's easy, after all, to hate the word 'torture' – but something else entirely. Something idiosyncratic, something about the way the word feels in your mouth as you say it. The horrors of 'membrane', for instance. Or the eccentricity of 'gusset'.'
--from a recent article in The Guardian. So we ask you: which words make you wince? I'm sure I'll think of some others, but for now, my list would have to begin with robust.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Our Favorite Book Title, Part 18

So many to choose from this time. But we eventually settled on The Teeth May Smile But the Heart Does Not Forget--Murder and Memory in Uganda, an unusual mix of chilling and poetic. But we also liked Tear Down This Myth--How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future and Go Ask Your Father--One Man's Obsession With Finding His Origins Through DNA Testing. All of them accomplish what good book titles (and headlines) tend to do: make you stop and take notice. So which is your favorite? You can review earlier offerings in this series here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Magical Universe Patiently Awaits You

'The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.'
--the late English novelist & poet Eden Phillpotts.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Things We Couldn't Help Noticing
  • Our Favorite Headline of the Week. From the Chronicle of Higher Ed: Bonk if You Want to Take This Course.
  • The First Cleveland Browns. A new entry in the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, an essential reference tool for any curious & educated Clevelander, notes that the second Cleveland Negro League baseball team was named the Cleveland Browns. Formed in 1924, it predates the football team of the same name by about two decades. Add that to the long list of things I never knew.
  • Advice on Your Clunker. The new federal "cash for clunkers" law seeks to encourage Americans to trade in their faded jalopies for newer, more environmentally-friendly models. But how to know if your car qualifies? This nice tool on the car-centric Edmunds website will help you find out.
  • The First Photo Ever Taken in Canada...A haunting image of Niagra Falls, taken 170 years ago.
  • Guide to a Fun & Unusual Family Outing. Sandy Mitchell, the Cleveland guide, points to this online directory of places throughout the region where you can pick your own fruits and veggies. Not a bad idea for the dog days of summer. Three years ago, I wrote about her and here.
  • A Chick Flick that Even Men Will (Okay, May) Like. I saw the new tear-jerker movie, My Sister's Keeper, over the weekend, and it's actually surprisingly good. Guys don't generally go in for this sort of thing (it's based on a book by Jodi Picoult, whose female-centric emotional yarns haven't exactly cried out to be read in my Darwinian book pile). The Washington Post recently got off a great line about her work, referring to it as "ovarian Gothic."
  • And Finally...Is the economy leaving you bummed out? Not to worry. This piece from Mental Floss notes that even personal bankruptcy didn't stop seven high achievers. So why let slower cash flow keep you from enjoying the summer? Find some free or low-cost things to do, someone (or a few someones) you love to do them with, and get on with it. But do let us in on what those favorite things might be.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Getting to the
Nub Of It All

'Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone'
--Pablo Picasso. Thanks to the effervescent Coach Joelle for pointing us to this small gem. We've somehow never gotten around to offering up any of the wild Spaniard's thoughts until now.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Writing As a Kind of Destiny

'When I printed my first book, I didn't send it to the bookstores or to other writers--I just gave copies to my those days nobody thought in terms of failure or success in selling books. We thought of writing as a kind of destiny.'
--the immortal Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who died in 1986. His writing accomplishments were so vast that the mere fact that he was never awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature is often seen as an indictment of the prize itself.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Voice of Experience Cuts Through Complexity

'I continue to be amazed at the number of advice books listed each week in the Book Review as best sellers. I have led a long, productive life based on only two pieces of advice, both of which I learned as a preschooler some 80 years ago. First, I try to play nicely with everybody; second, if I am crabby, I take a nap. What more does anyone need to know?'
--a letter to the editor of the New York Times Book Review, submitted by Eleanor Blumenberg of Santa Monica, California, and published in today's edition.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Humblest Hour: Accounting to Oneself
For Having Fallen Short of Your Dreams

'The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.'
--the late Scottish author James M. Barrie, whose writing formed the basis for Peter Pan. The good news? You've got some time to bring those comparisons into a more favorable balance. So what are you waiting for?

Friday, July 10, 2009

It's All in the Arrangement

'I have the words already. What I am seeking is the perfect order of words in the sentence. You can see for yourself how many different ways they might be arranged.'
--James Joyce. Earlier, we mentioned Dublin's finest here and here.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

It's Video Day, Kids

We found this article and the accompanying video interview of director Spike Lee interesting, and thought you might too. Harvard's Henry Louis Gates can be a tad too fawning in his interviews, and we think Spike Lee sounds like a fool about half the times he opens his mouth (I'm especially recalling his idiotic debate with Clint Eastwood over racial diversity in movie casting, where he came out sounding really lame). But having said all that, his work does of course merit serious attention (my favorite is his epic take on father-son conflict, He Got Game). He'll just never live down that fateful decision to have Mookie throw the garbage can through the pizzeria window, evidently to his lasting frustration. Meanwhile, The Onion has only gotten better, funnier and sharper as it's moved its fake news franchise from written format to video clips. We found this one to be simply hilarious. But enough about us. We'd love to learn about a video or two that you've found noteworthy lately.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Cindy Sheehan's Swing Through Town

Peace activist and military mom Cindy Sheehan is in town today and tomorrow. She'll be at the Coventry Road library this afternoon, at the Akron main library this evening, and at St. Coleman's Church on the near west side tomorrow night. I plan on catching her at one of those places. Her final appearance is at an especially appropriate venue. St. Coleman's has long been a locus of anti-war activity and other progressive causes, and is also home to a prominent radical priest, Fr. Bob Begin. The incomparable Mike O'Malley, perhaps my favorite Plain Dealer writer, recently wrote this sparkling profile of him, highlighting his most recent accomplishment, fending off the unfathomable plan to close the parish.

We've taken note of Sheehan here a few times before. Almost four years ago, I joined my friend Bill and thousands of others, including Sheehan, for a march on Washington, opposing the Iraq war. It didn't have much effect, as you probably know by now (thought it did result in a rather less earth-shattering development, the first-ever photo we published here). We also took note of her mounting frustration with the American public's apathy over the war and her--well, arrogance--as she considered a run for Congress. It'll be interesting to see what she has to say now that this seemingly endless war continues to grind on, years after the public's attention has moved on to more crucial things, like the death of a child-molesting pop star.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Take a Moment to Relax, and Let
The Intuitive Mind Work Wonders

'During periods of relaxation after concentrated intellectual activity, the intuitive mind seems to take over and can produce the sudden clarifying insights which give so much joy and delight.'
Fritjof Capra, from his classic book The Tao of Physics, published in 1975.

Monday, July 06, 2009

At Last: Answers To One of
Life's Enduring Mysteries...

...Why America is Addicted to the Olive Garden . I have a friend, a native of Italy, who winces when the restaurant's name comes up. She disdainfully refers to it as "frozen food." Not wanting to argue with her, I refrain from telling her that I actually don't mind the place so much. But then, I'm no foodie purist. To the contrary, I've often been accused of being more concerned about quantity than quality.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Instead, We Watch Television

'Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.'
--from a recent commencement address by entrepreneur, author and environmental activist Paul Hawken, at the University of Portland. You can read the entire address here. Thanks to our new acquaintance, Executive Happiness Coach Jim Smith, for pointing us to it. This gets our nod as the best commencement address of the '09 season. In 2005, the nod went to author David Foster Wallace, and in 2004 it was comedian Jon Stewart. We've also pointed in the past to an extraordinary commencement address William Zinsser gave at Wesleyan University in 1988. But enough about us. Does anyone have any favorite commencement addresses they'd like to point out? Or perhaps memories of their own graduation speaker? We'd love to hear about it.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Thomas Paine, Whose Inspirational Writing
Helped Catalyze Our March To Independence

'Paine’s story might have belonged solely to the 18th century were it not for the importance of his ideas, the captivating nature of his writing and its dramatic appeal. Paine’s skill at producing political tracts for specific purposes was aided by his ability to write quickly when the mood took him. He was also adept at creating memorable phrases that enlivened his major works, ensuring them a wide audience...Common Sense conveys a breathless energy and appetite for change. In its first few pages Paine urges the American people to form a government from scratch, a chance almost without precedent, which the colonists should grasp with both hands since it was likely this would be their best opportunity.'
--from The Gain From Thomas Paine, in a recent issue of History Today.

Friday, July 03, 2009

How Shame Can Lead
To Good Storytelling

"What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story."
--F. Scott Fitzgerald, in Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western, an unfinished novel published after his death. We've referred to him only glancingly in the past (here and here), both times in reference to his infamous remark about how there are no second acts in American lives.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

In Recognition of Upcoming Fourth,
We Bring You Summer Loving Pix

We wish you all a good holiday weekend. To help put you in the mood, we thought these "summer lovin' " photos from Slate might help. Our favorite, by far, is #14, the remarkable shot of the Brazilian couple making goo-goo eyes right next to the ancient cannon. A reminder of how love can sometimes be explosive. We'd love to hear which ones were your favorites, what stories these pictures might have reminded you of, or just what you're doing for the Fourth. Leave us a comment, will you?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Glimpsing Our Vocation

'To glimpse our vocation, we must learn how to be sought out and found by a work as much as we strive to identify it ourselves. We must make ourselves findable by being seen; to do that we must hazard ourselves and make ourselves available to the world we want to enter. Finding and being found is like a mutual falling in love. To have a possibility of happiness we must at the beginning fall in love at least a little with our work.'
--from The Three Marriages--Reimagining Work, Self & Relationships.