Working With Words
A weblog devoted to spurring a conversation among those who use words to varying degrees in their daily work. Hosted by John Ettorre, a Cleveland-based writer and editor. Please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. "There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real." --James Salter
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Keeping You Apprised Of All Things
Awkward in the World of Punctuation
A few months ago, we brought you news about the plague of unnecessary quotation marks, which prompted a lively conversation. Now, we feel duty bound to note its kissing cousin, the missplaced apostrophe. The always-attentive Columbia Journalism Review has the whole sad story. We heartily welcome your thoughts on the matter.
Monday, December 28, 2009
Our Favorite Book
Title, Part 21
Our winner this month: First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process. The nod for runner-up goes to Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It, a collection of stories. You can review earlier favorite book titles here, and as always, we invite you to share your favorites.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
Truth is Tough
Saturday, December 26, 2009
This Wins Our Nod for Most Imaginative
Alternative Street Festival of the Decade
'In Argentina over the weekend, Buenos Aires held its annual Noches de las Liberias--Bookstore Night. The city closes a main avenue, and places sofas and chairs where cars and trucks normally idle. People with books from the many bookstores lining the avenue lounge in the seating, and a festival atmosphere replaces traffic.' NPR has the full story, which you can either read or listen to.
Friday, December 25, 2009
The History of Christmas
Ever wonder how December 25th came to the date on which we celebrate Christmas? I know I have. Luckily, Biblical Archaelogy Review has what seems to me to be perhaps the most authoritative answer I've yet come across.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
A Few Things to Think About at Christmas
Are you looking for ways to cut out gift-giving in this season? Here's an economic case for doing so. Or, like Frank Costanza, you can simply start your own alternate holiday, involving feats of strength and aluminum poles replacing Christmas trees. Perhaps the best idea of all: be like my friend Dick Clough, and start your own nice annual tradition to mark the holidays. That's what he did 25 years ago, rather than wallowing in misery and loneliness over his divorce, and it's steadily become a larger event, bringing smiles to many. Christmas is of course a time for several layers of memories, so before it's too late, don't forget to gather family stories while you have your family elders close at hand. And in what may be the most charming Christmas story we've yet come across, this touching little tale reminds us not to spoil the magic for those who are determined to hold onto it. Anyway, we'd love to hear your Christmas stories--favorite memories, plans for this year, or whatever else you feel like sharing. Meanwhile, Merry Christmas, everyone.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Best Lead of the Month
'In choosing our teachers,” Garry Wills once observed, “we do not have to depend on lucky accidents—on finding the one person among our contemporaries who has the time and will to enlighten us: the great Academy of the Past is open to all who would use it.” And use it Wills has. There may not be a historian or critic in America of greater breadth—his subjects range from George Washington to Jack Ruby, from Saint Paul and John Wayne to Pius IX and Ronald Reagan—or greater acuity. A former Jesuit seminarian (and still a Catholic), Wills reads Latin and Greek and moves easily across the millennia. Religion, politics, ideology—these are his staples. He was trained as a classicist, but a book about the 37th president (Nixon Agonistes) landed him on the infamous “enemies list.” For Wills, even romance has a scholarly tinge. He met his wife of 50 years, Natalie Cavallo, a flight attendant, on the New York–Washington shuttle in 1957. She had noticed Henri Bergson’s The Two Sources of Morality and Religion in his lap, and asked, “Aren’t you a little too young to be reading that?”'
--from a brief piece on the impressively prolific writer Gary Wills, in the current Vanity Fair. We thought this better captures the man, in but a single paragraph, than most writers could accomplish in thousands of words. You can review earlier best leads here.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Another Writing Avenue to Explore
In this Great Recession, which has hit writers at least as hard as other industries, I've had the opportunity to coach more than a few writers who find themselves in transition, as they consider the next phase of their career. I've pointed some to a segment of the industry that's easily overlooked--technical writing. That involves writing such things as user manuals, training videos, software guides and all kinds of other useful materials we take for granted, all of which are written by professionals. It helps that there's a vibrant community of these folks in my region--the Northeast Ohio Society of Technical Communication. I simply point folks in that direction, and that lively, welcoming group sometimes does the rest. But there's another easily overlooked writing subculture: grantwriting. There again, Northeast Ohio happens to have a vibrant community. You can go here, to the Foundation Library, which is associated with the Cleveland Foundation, to learn more about various grantwriting classes. I hope some readers will look into that, and report back on what they find.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Set You Free
'Work is the true elixir of life. The busiest man is the happiest man. Excellence in any art or profession is attained only by hard and persistent work.'
--George Orwell. You can review our many earlier mentions of the oracular one here.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Torture on the Cuyahoga, Part 3
Okay, so my football team, the Cleveland Browns, finally won its second game last week. Forgive me if I'm not doing cartwheels in the street. The team's record, after all, is still 2-11. Epic futility such as that tends to draw attention (as it did earlier here). The Onion had a little fun recently at the Browns' expense. As long as you're checking out that Onion spoof dispatch, you might as well also review this one as well. And maybe this one too. And just to be safe, this one also. Finally, just for the hell of it, take a moment to watch this video. Then, let us know what you think.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Monday, December 14, 2009
In a World So Full of Divorce, It's Nice
To Read About So Many Intact Couples
'Thirty-six members of our class married a fellow classmate. Three matches ended in divorce; one with the death of the wife. But 14 of the marriages are still thriving. When you include the union that ended in death, that's a marital success rate of 83 percent, significantly higher than the oft-quoted 50 percent national average. Our high school years marked the heyday of marriage between high school sweethearts. The routine from courtship to the altar was set in stone and could involve as many as four pieces of jewelry, all hers: You dated, then went steady and wore a friendship ring on a chain around your neck; then you were possibly pinned with his fraternity emblem (though this practice was falling off a bit); then engaged; then married. And all by age 22.'
--What a nice countercultural touch: couples who have stayed together for a half century. This story charmed me. I hope you'll enjoy it also, and perhaps share your reactions.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
'Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.'
--Ben Franklin. You'll find earlier mentions of the electrifying founding father here.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Understanding Comes Before Writing
Marc Morganstern is a legendary deal-making attorney and investor. He was once a Clevelander, but now spends much of his time out west. Not long ago, I happened to come upon his company website, which has a page of his maxims. I especially admired the elegant concision of one of them: "If you can't write it, then you don't really understand it." You'd be surprised how many otherwise bright people never seem to grasp that simple idea.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
The Journey of Grace
--Simone Weil. The late French activist & Christian mystic is too little-known, we think. I was also struck by this passage from perhaps her best-known essay, Human Personality: "At the bottom of the heart of every human being, from earliest infancy until the tomb, there is something that goes on indomitably expecting, in the teeth of all experience of crimes committed, suffered, and witnessed, that good and not evil will be done to him. It is this above all that is sacred in every human being." Now there's a perfect thought to frame the weekend.
Wednesday, December 09, 2009
Just a Few of Our Favorite Things
Here's our favorite provocative headline of the week (do you think this could prompt a fistfight at a meeting of Zionists? I do). Here's our favorite haunting image, from a blog published by a treasured WWW reader and frequent commenter, the divine Ms. Kass. And here's our favorite new blog of the month, published by our old friend and mentor, Bill Gunlocke, who also publishes a limited-circulation print companion in Manhattan. Good luck with it, Billy G. You can review earlier mentions of Bill here.
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
Go With the Seasons of Life
'To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.'
--George Santayana. As we noted earlier here, the philosopher is perhaps best known for his maxim "those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it," which has itself been repeated ad nauseum. As this bio notes, "he thought of philosophy as literature," and of course in the hands of such a supple and original thinker as he, it indeed is.
Monday, December 07, 2009
Sunday, December 06, 2009
Saturday, December 05, 2009
On Successive Mornings, A Pair of Articles
That Gave Me Watery Eyes Over Breakfast
Every morning begins with a leisurely stroll through the paper version of the New York Times. Yesterday, I paid special attention to this article, and this morning to this one. Though the subject of each is nominally football, the real themes are family, loyalty, dedication and sublimely inspirational people. Reading each one changed how I went about my day. I hope they might have a similar effect on you. If so, we'd naturally love to hear about it.
Friday, December 04, 2009
The Upshot: Be Forever Mindful
Of Your Additions & Subtractions
'To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.'
--Lao Tzu. You might think of this as a companion to this earlier notion. So we have to ask: how do you manage the difficult balance between knowledge and wisdom?
Thursday, December 03, 2009
Cougars, Prepare to Pounce
'NYC, HANDSOME WHITE MAN, 45, seeking attractive older woman, age 50s to 70s with a sense of humor, for a wonderful relationship. Send photo. NYR Box 52905.'
--from a recent personal ad in the New York Review of Books. Our most recent mention of the uniquely wonderful NYRB, back in October, sparked a lively and interesting conversational string. As for that term cougars, if you're not familiar with it--as I wasn't until not too long ago (but now I seem to see mentions of it everywhere), here's a good working definition.
UPDATE: We decided to try to answer our own question about the roots of this coinage. Turns out it's an idea virus from, of all places, Canada. From Wikipedia: "Cougar: a woman over 40 who sexually pursues younger men, typically more than eight years her junior. The term is Canadian, appearing first in print on the Canadian dating website Cougardate.com and has been used in TV series, advertising and film. The 2007 film Cougar Club was dedicated to the subject and in spring 2009 TV Land aired a reality show called The Cougar."
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
It's All About Focus
'I tell my clients, 'you can do anything you want, you just can't do everything you want.'"
--overheard from a speaker at a recent Cleveland Coach Federation gathering. Isn't that the problem with so many smart people--that they try to do too much, thus spreading themselves too thin? Okay, enough about what we think. What think you?
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Bringing Your Own
Light to the Darkness
'I decided to love my way through the darkness of the world.'
--Cornel West, from his new memoir, Brother West: Living & Loving Out Loud.