Monday, August 31, 2009

The Real Reason Palin Stepped Down

I got a good chuckle out of all the feverish speculation a little while back about why right wing poster girl Sarah Palin decided to resign as governor of Alaska. It seemed pretty straightforward to me. All of her reasons--1,070 at latest count, and no doubt rising daily--can be found here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Our Favorite Book Title, Part 19

This month, the honor goes to Building a Home With My Husband--A Journey Through the Renovation of Love. We loved the double meaning, and the lovely cover illustration sure didn't hurt any. Runner-up honors goes to Normal at Any Cost--Tall Girls, Short Boys, and the Medical Industry's Quest to Manipulate Height. You can review earlier fav book titles here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Save This Date: Why Not Join Me
For a Feature-Writing Workshop?

I was recently invited to join an advisory board of an interesting citizen journalism venture, the Heights Observer, a monthly paper distributed both in print and online. On September 26th, I'll be facilitating a feature-writing workshop hosted by the group. While it will be particularly focused on citizen journalists, it still applies to anyone who's interested in writing newspaper or magazine feature stories. I hope you'll consider joining us if this subject interests you in any way, either as a writer or a reader.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Softening of the Heart

'Meditation is a means of cultivating insight through being mindful of what is arising and passing...the aligning and softening of the heart to be reconciled with this moment just as it is.'
--author Phillip Moffitt.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Here's the Real Reason We're In No Rush
To Add Our Feverish Updates Via Twitter

'All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.’
—Blaise Pascal. He may have been a 17th century French mathematician and philosopher, but we think he understood plenty about that which has remained largely unchanged since his time: the human condition. We'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Humbling Thought,
But Also a True One

'Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.'
--the late poet T.S. Eliot. You can read his brief acceptance address upon being awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948, and listen to the poet reading one of his most famous poems, The Waste Land. And then, we'd like to hear your thoughts on the man, his work, or that notion of his about all those failed writers. Should the spirit perhaps move you to also register a complaint about editors (those frustrated former scribblers), by all means, do share that as well. It's always open season around here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

'You Have to Learn the Beat'

'I would argue that the paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic unit of writing--the place where coherence begins and words stand a chance of becoming more than mere words. If the moment of quickening is to come, it comes at the level of the paragraph. It is a marvelous and flexible instrument that can be a single word long or run on for pages (one paragraph in Don Robertson's historical novel Paradise Falls is sixteen pages long; there are paragraphs in Ross Lockridge's Raintree Country which are nearly that). You must learn to use it well if you are to write well. What this means is lots of practice; you have to learn the beat.'
--from On Writing--A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King. For many years, King championed Cleveland author Don Robertson. In 1987, King's Philtrum Press published Robertson's novel, The Ideal, Genuine Man. Before launching his fiction career, Robertson worked at all three major Cleveland papers, the News, Press and Plain Dealer. He died in 1999.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Why Cleveland is Not Cool

'Along with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which Cleveland landed by stuffing the ballot box in a USA Today survey, the West side is supposed to represent Cleveland's new-found hipness. This is all wrong. Cleveland is not cool. Cleveland can never be cool. Think of Cleveland's greatest entertainers: Drew Carey wears thick horn-rimmed glasses and a Marine buzz cut. Fred Willard has played so many cluelessly gregarious suburban dads that you can't film a tasteless summer comedy without writing him a cameo. Fellow Clevelander Martin Mull put Willard's talent to use in The History of White People in America. Cartoonist Harvey Pekar--record collector, file clerk, irritable bachelor schlump--knew "From off the streets of Cleveland" would clash perfectly with American Splendor, the title of his comic book. Their uncoolness is so much a part of Cleveland's character that the city is cooler when it's uncool than when it tries to be Brooklyn or San Francisco. This might be Cleveland's moment, too. In America's hippest urban neighborhoods there's nothing cooler than looking uncool. From coast to coast, alienated, countercultural twenty-three-year-olds have raided Cleveland's closet for Penguin sports shirts, Jack Nicklaus golf slacks, chunky glasses, and granny skirts (preferably worn with sneakers). They think bowling and Pabst Blue Ribbon beer make a great night out. Cleveland's thrift stores and alleys could become major tourist attractions. But Cleveland isn't cool enough to pick up on that. Instead, it flogs the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rock and roll isn't even cool anymore. Rock and roll is the music of baby boomer dads. It's the soundtrack to investment ads. Memphis was the logical winner of that USA Today poll, but I've come to agree that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame belongs in Cleveland. Only Cleveland would think putting rock music in a museum is cool. that's why you should go to the polka hall of fame instead. It's up front about being uncool. Which makes it so much cooler.'
--from The Third Coast--Sailors, Strippers, Fishermen, Folksingers, Long-Haired Ojibway Painters, and God-Save-the-Queen Monarchists of the Great Lakes, by Chicago-based writer Ted McClelland.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Three Good Reads

Here's some great long-form reading for your last dying days of summer. Ace magazine writer William Langewiesche uses the knowledge he accumulated as a former pilot himself to tell the story in Vanity Fair of the miraculous water landing of the U.S. Airways plane in the Hudson River. We think it's a magisterial read, and look forward to the book due to be published soon. Meanwhile, author Sam Tanenhaus has a long exploration in The New Republic on the challenges facing the American conservative movement, which he pronounces dead (we think that's a tad premature). Elsewhere, Smithsonian Magazine uses the 50th anniversary of architect Frank Lloyd Wright's master work, the Guggenheim Museum, to take yet another look at his larger legacy. As a bonus, we go back a few months in the archives to bring you this interesting study of the reticent football legend, former Steelers coach Chuck Noll. A Cleveland native, he's a class act to the end. You can review earlier TGRs here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Only the Latest Gleaming Little Gem
From Our Favorite Cleveland Writer

'If you want to truly know the heart of a city, try writing about it. For a handful of years, I worked for a local alternative newspaper as a feature writer, trusted to write about lives I thought had meaning. An editor wondered if it would be difficult to find enough Clevelanders with tales worth telling. I said it would be harder to find somebody without one.'
--from the latest remarkable piece of writing by John Hyduk. He goes on to say in this piece that "there is a genius to listening." Last year, I outlined why he's perhaps my favorite Cleveland writer, even as he remains better known among fellow writers--among whom he inspires something bordering on awe in many--than among average readers.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Do You Have it All Backwards?

'You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.'
--novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. We happen to think this is the real source of much so-called writer's block: people enthralled with the idea of writing, but without anything urgent to say. In any case, you can review earlier mentions of the reigning sage of the Jazz Age here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

How Lack of Professional Proofreading
Can Lead to Disastrous Consequences

You probably know that the sharp increase of writing prompted by the ubiquity of email, along with the ever-lowering standards of careful writing has led to an explosion in basic errors in grammar, spelling and simple word usage, errors that can have bad consequences in business and professional settings (errors are even on the rise at major newspapers, as the ranks of copy editors continues to grow ever smaller). But mistakes aren't even confined to those areas, abundant though they are.

The other day, the Wall Street Journal noted a potentially disastrous error that a federal regulatory agency made in announcing the failure of a Savings & Loan. The agency's PR folks sent a press release that contained editorial changes from an earlier version of the document, still showing information crossed out in track changes (an editing feature in the Microsoft Word program) about a future regulatory action that was supposed to remain secret. They quickly sent another email to the media, asking that the earlier version be ignored, which as you might imagine was itself ignored. So what to do in guarding against these kinds of things? That's easy, actually. Never send any important email announcement without first emailing it to yourself, and then printing it out to read carefully. If you're not too sharp-eyed about language errors, share the printout with someone who is. And if you run a PR or marketing department, hire only people who have these skills. Voila!--like magic, the problem will be solved.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Uniquely Updikean
Take on Nostalgia

'What is nostalgia but love for that part of ourselves which is in heaven, forever removed from change and corruption?'
--the late John Updike, whom we would like to think now resides in writerly heaven. We recently noted his passing here.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Privileged Job Indeed

'Some writers like to make a show of their struggle, thereby demonstrating just how great their own grit is. Perhaps the most famous among them was Gustave Flaubert, who wrote letter after letter to his mistress Louise Colet, groaning about the difficulties he encountered in composition: struggling all day over a paragraph, achieving no more than a single page after a full week at his desk...I have never liked to suggest that writing is grinding, let alone brave work. H. L. Mencken used to say that any scribbler who found writing too arduous ought to take a week off to work on an assembly line, where he will discover what work is really like. The old boy, as they say, got that right. To be able to sit home and put words together in what one hopes are charming or otherwise striking sentences is, no matter how much tussle may be involved, lucky work, a privileged job. The only true grit connected with it ought to arrive when, thinking to complain about how hard it is to write, one is smart enough to shut up and silently grit one’s teeth.'
--from the latest small masterpiece by Joseph Epstein, one of the finest essayist you'll find writing anywhere in the English language. You can review several earlier mentions of him here. We played a small role in resolving an Epstein-related mystery recently. A reader working on a doctoral dissertation wrote to ask us the source of an earlier Epstein quote we had posted, and we could only point him to a secondary source. Needing to trace it back to its original source, the doctoral candidate was stumped. Why not email the author himself and just ask him, we suggested, sending along Epstein's bio page from Northwestern University (from which he retired not long ago, though he retains an emeritus status). Sure enough, he did just that, and Epstein promptly emailed back, settling the issue.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hope Begins in the Dark

'Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.'
--Anne Lamott. We've pointed to her often, for what I hope are obvious reasons. She's just damn brilliant.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Ungiven Gift

'Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a gift and not giving it.'
--the late writer William A. Ward, author of Fountains of Faith.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Big Green Bus Stops for a Visit

We got a treat this week, playing host to 15 college students who are touring the country in a mobile educational vehicle. My wife's niece, Anna Wearn, was among the Dartmouth students who are touring America in the Big Green Bus, and they camped out at our house for a couple nights, and got to enjoy Cedar Point before taking off for their next stop, Columbus. The Plain Dealer's environmental beat reporter Michael Scott posted this video interview with Anna, and the accompanying story ran in the print edition yesterday. You can learn more about their cross-country sojourn at the bus' website. If you like, you can even track their progress through the Big Green Bus blog.

Friday, August 14, 2009

It's That Time of the Year Again, Part Two

This is the weekend of the Feast in Little Italy. I won't bore longtime readers with the story again, which I wrote about last year, and in even greater depth three years ago. Hope to see a few of you down there sometime between now and the end of the weekend. One nice additional element this year is the videos of the band, taken and posted on You Tube by my old pal Dan Hanson, a.k.a. the Great Lakes Geek, whom we've mentioned often over the years. These two videos alone (and there are others) received about 10,000 views between them since Dan first posted them last summer. Ah, the power of the web...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Just Connect

'Creativity is connecting the unconnected.'
--author & leadership guru John Maxwell

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How Shorter Attention Spans for Reading
Even Affect Those Who Are Paid To Do It

'When I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13, my grandmother used to get mad at me for attending family functions with a book. Back then, if I'd had the language for it, I might have argued that the world within the pages was more compelling than the world without; I was reading both to escape and to be engaged. All these years later, I find myself in a not-dissimilar position, in which reading has become an act of meditation, with all of meditation's attendant difficulty and grace. I sit down. I try to make a place for silence. It's harder than it used to be, but still, I read.'
--from The Lost Art of Reading, an eye-opening piece by L.A. Times book editor David Ulin, who admits that even he has trouble focusing long enough to read books anymore. We recently had a small conversation here about Twitter, attention spans and A.D.D., but this extraordinarily honest piece should grab the attention of all serious readers. Do you think it's more a sign of advancing age on his part (we don't know his age, but we'll try to find out; one would assume he's not young) or part of a larger rewiring of our brains by a faster, image-addicted culture? We'd love to hear your thoughts. And please note the LAT's new website design, just launched in the last 24 hours. We're saddened that the trend toward plainer, (what we consider) uglier web designs with less color continue to make their inroads all over the web. For me, it makes for a slightly less interesting experience. Finally, you can review earlier entries about the joys of reading here, here, here, here, here and here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Never Let 'Em See You Sweat

'A good style should show no sign of effort. What is written should seem like a happy accident.'
--the late British novelist W. Somerset Maugham. He lives on through his masterpiece, Razor's Edge. If you've never seen the 1984 movie version with Bill Murray, do yourself a favor and rent it now. And if that ultimately induces you to read the novel, so much the better.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Just Make Sure You Bring Them All Together

'Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.'
--Vincent Van Gogh. We'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on how this idea does or does not resonate for you. And if it does, perhaps you can provide an example of how it's worked in your life.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Path to Real Inner Peace
Is to Leave Bad Jobs Behind

'Never continue in a job you don't enjoy. If you're happy in what you're doing, you'll like yourself, you'll have inner peace. And if you have that, along with physical health, you will have had more success than you could possibly have imagined.'
--the immortal comedian Johnny Carson, who helped launch scores of comedy careers simply by his thumbs up, the coveted invitation to come sit awhile for an interview on his Tonight Show couch.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Why e.e. cummings Would Have
Hated Microsoft's Word Program

I got a kick out of this, from the Cleveland Poetics blog. Perhaps you will too.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Deluge of Money into Politics, Or
Washington's Lobbying Culture, Part V

We've written often, though not recently, about the ill effects of too much money and high-powered lobbying on our national politics. We've also pointed out (here and here) the heroic job the Center for Responsive Politics has done in attempting to track it all. More recently, it's been joined by the Sunlight Foundation, which does equally fine work (which we noted last year). Sunlight recently added this uniquely helpful tracking device. The subject of money and lobbying is even due for Hollywood treatment soon, with actor Kevin Spacey playing the now-imprisoned sleazeball lobbyist Jack Abramoff in an upcoming movie. But sometimes, the mere act of compiling statistics speaks louder than even any narrative treatment could. I think that's true with this table of the top organizational donors to politicians and political parties over the last decade. It just kind of left me shaking my head. How about you?

Thursday, August 06, 2009

More Understanding
Leads to Less Fear

'Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.'
--Marie Curie. What was true in her day is even truer today. May all my friends, acquaintances and readers who are suffering through the agony of career transitions find some small solace in this wisdom.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Here's What I Didn't Do on My
(Non-Existent) Summer Vacation

For the sake of efficiency, I've decided that rather than take part in the time-consuming task of individually answering the oft-recurring question about my summer vacation plans, I'd simply respond by sending this article from the Wall Street Journal. It nicely outlines the conundrum of being self-employed, and how one tends to not want to wander off too far, for too long, lest you miss a project or two. And in an iffy economy, that dynamic looms ever-larger. Of course, millions of Americans aren't taking a vacation this summer for other reasons, such as being laid off and without income. So I remind myself about that whenever I'm on the verge of feeling sorry for myself. In any event, don't let that stop you from telling us about your summer vacation plans, or the trip you've already taken, or the cool places you've seen, even if on staycation, a newly coined term that you may have been hearing a lot lately, for all the obvious reasons. After all, perhaps we'll get some vicarious thrills that way.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Who Was the Real Raymond Carver?

The London Times looks at the late, legendary short story writer Raymond Carver's storied career. It's pretty well documented now that his editor, Gordon Lish, was much more than a mere editor for him, acting more like a co-writer. Have you ever worked with someone like that, who wanted to tear up all your work and redo it themselves? Or perhaps you were that editor. If so, we'd love to hear your thoughts, on this example, on yours, or any other you care to share.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Virtual Gathering Spot For
Uneccessary Quotation Marks

Writers (and careful readers) tend to be forever rolling their eyes in mild disgust at all the absurd language errors they find all around them. When you're younger, you might point out to the restaurant manager the egregious typo in his menu or note the syntax error in the sign at your local gas station. Ah, the optimism of youth. But after awhile, you probably become resigned to it. But you still notice all this stuff--how could you not?--and perhaps silently muse to yourself about what a casually illiterate culture we've become. One of the more subtle (but also most common) forms of errors you'll see all around you are the bizarre examples of words and phrases placed in quotation marks for no apparent reason. These mistakes tend to make me laugh more than anything. You can have a little fun trying to figure out what was going through the mind of the person who decided to place these quotation marks there. Sure enough, someone started a blog devoted to gathering examples of these dubious mistakes. We'd love to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Role of Luck in
Good English Usage

'English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education--sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street.'
--E.B. White. You can review earlier mentions of the immortal essayist and widely acknowledged writer's writer here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

How Beautiful Women Can Induce Male Trances

Dear Carolyn,
My husband and I have been married for 35 years and get along well. He is very affectionate and complimentary to me, but practically goes into a trance if he sees an attractive woman -- even stopping in mid-conversation. I've told him it bothers me, but he continues.
--from a recent letter to Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax. We think she oversees the best advice column anywhere. You can sample more of her columns here.