Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Just Three Things

'Happiness is somebody to love
Something to do
And something to hope for.
--Chinese proverb

Monday, June 29, 2009

A Couple of WWW Must-Reads

The newly shrunk New York Times Magazine takes a close look at how the shrinking U.S. auto industry is affecting the black American middle class. And our pal Mike Roberts, former editor of Boston Magazine and Cleveland Magazine recalls his early days in public housing. Mike has written some emotionally powerful stuff over the years, but this just might be his best ever. We'd love to hear your reactions to either or both pieces.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

How Small Things
Really Do Matter

'If you think small things don't matter, try spending the night in a room with a mosquito.'
--Tenzin Gyatso, a.k.a. the Dalai Lama. You can learn more about him at his official website. And you can review our earlier mentions of him here and here.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Using a Blog to Reinvent Yourself

A career columnist for the Wall Street Journal asks: is blogging a good way to professionally reinvent yourself? Her answer: "I think blogging forces reinventers to clarify their ideas, build a body of knowledge in a new area and carefully consider their long-term career goals. It's also a valuable way to measure success." Not a bad way to go, we'd say. And god knows, with this economy, there are plenty of people trying to reinvent themselves. We'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Help Dick Cheney Begin His Book, Or
From Leading the Cheers to the Jeers

The Washington Post, which once sadly helped lead the cheers for the Dick Cheney administration's disastrous Iraq war, now wants to lead the jeers about his memoirs. It asks readers to propose an opening paragraph, and plans to publish the best. We liked the Post better when it was less focused on such fluff and more focused on traditional stuff, like keeping governments honest. So what would your paragraph be?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Keep At It

'There is no such thing as failure. There is only giving up too soon.'
--the late Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine. You can learn more about him here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Self Curriculum

'It is not so much their subjects the great teachers teach as it is themselves.'
--Frederick Buechner, from Listening to Your Life. If this thought makes you think of your favorite teacher, someone who really inspired you in a lasting way, we'd sure love to hear about it. Later in the week, we'll let you know why we think this is an especially timely quote, with the publication of a splendid new book by our favorite teacher.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

With All Due Respect
To the Common Folk
And to Garbo, We'd
Always Choose Food

Greta Garbo: "Bring me something simple. I never think about food."
Waiter: "What do you think about?"
Garbo: "The future of the common people."
--a particularly memorable bit of dialogue from the classic 1939 film Ninotchka. We must admit that this whole notion of never thinking about food seems utterly foreign to us.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Few Things We Couldn't Help Noticing

The Today Show's Ann Curry is at it Again. A couple years ago we noted that the Today Show's Ann Curry was improbably rallying people to be warriors for truth. Now, she's supposedly "pissed off" about how hard it is to get her network or the American public to care about serious foreign news. We have a suggestion, Ann: if you want to be known as a serious news person, work in a real news environment, not the televised equivalent of a perfume counter.

These Animal Activists Have Officially Lost Their Minds. The world economy is nearing a melt-down, if global warming doesn't literally beat it to the punch. But the boneheads at PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, are all bent out of shape about how Obama killed a mosquito rather than trapping it and releasing it to the wilds. We suggest you get a life, folks.

And Speaking of the Huffington Post...Washington D.C.'s alternative weekly, City Paper, recently produced a pretty good spoof of the online pub.

We Couldn't Make This Up if We Tried. The New York Daily News looks at what the stars of a memorable movie, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, have been up to since. It turns out that Ferris' arch-nemesis, the creepy principal, is now a registered sex offender.

Web-Friendly TV. Wired Magazine takes a look at how the new Jimmy Fallon show is among TV's most web-friendly programs.

Finally, We rather liked the name of this new blog, Peace Through Fiction (the companion website is here). It doesn't hurt that we know this Cleveland-based writer, Nicole Hunter, a little. Good luck with it, and with your MFA studies, Nicole.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day, Dads

May you all rest in peace for hours out on the back hammock today. And if you don't happen to have a hammock, may you get one soon. Nothing better than a few hours of weekend reading on a hammock. In keeping with the day's celebration, here's a column I wrote about my own old man a few years ago. You'll find the rest of those "Dad About Town" columns archived here.
UPDATE: My friend and occasional lunch partner Mansfield Frazier reprises his annual tribute to his remarkable father. Five years ago, I had this to say about Mansfield.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Best Lead of the Month

'Death is the great equalizer. Even multi-millionaires have to participate.'
--from Roldo Bartimole's recent piece about the death of developer and former Cleveland Indians owner Dick Jacobs. Our runner-up this month is the lead paragraph from a Washington Post report about sleep research: "Sleeping used to be one of my favorite activities--until I got lousy at it.' These two stirringly concise openings serve as a reminder that less is often more. They both wonderfully accomplish the crucial work of any first paragraph, no matter its length: to make it nearly impossible to stop reading. You can review earlier best leads here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

His Unique Wisdom Still Echoes Through the Ages

'I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.'
--Abraham Lincoln. A tip of the cap for this from my friend Diane Ferri, the moving force behind the sublime Coexist blog.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Anita Hill on the New Supreme Court Nominee

Anita Hill will be forever linked to the Supreme Court because of her courageous truth-telling 17 years ago during the three-ring circus that was the Clarence Thomas Senate confirmation hearings. The Senate, to its lasting shame, confirmed him anyway, and the country has been paying for it ever since. Now, Hill tells Essence Magazine that Sonia Sotomayor, who was a year ahead of her at Yale Law School, is a good choice for the court. About her own unique place in history, she had this to say: "People ask, 'Does it bother you that your name will always be associated with sexual harassment?' It will only bother me if my name isn't associated with bringing it to an end, or moving the end forward."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Vicarious Travel Journal, Part 3:
Cindy's Field Notes on Italian Men

'Men: Until a taller single female member of our group pointed it out to me, I hadn’t noticed that they were on the shorter side. What I did notice is that they were clean-shaven. Perhaps it is because it is hot in the summer. Whatever the reason, I liked it. Enough already with the little beard and mustache look in the States. And they had nice haircuts. One of the older Aussie gents got a haircut in Florence and he indeed looked more handsome. At least I thought so and I suspect his lovely wife did too. The men were thin. In fact, only the tourists were at all overweight. If you aren’t fit, you can’t do all of the walking required in this sort of travel. The men wore clothing that fit. In other words they didn’t wear baggy clothes or horrible, long, wrinkled shorts, basketball, football or baseball jerseys. The only men in shorts were bicyclists in tight bike shorts. And the men looked at the women in a very appreciative way. Another woman on the tour commented that “they look right through you.” Whatever they were doing, I liked it. They were polite, friendly, helpful, sometimes flirtatious (the waiters were, for sure) and they treated women like women. They talked to you while looking straight at your face, not at your breasts or any other part of your anatomy. Not that they didn’t notice. They did, but it wasn’t in an obvious way. An older man helped me off the gondola and didn’t call me “ma’am.” He called me “amore mio.” Yeah. I liked that.'
--From my friend Cindy P's notes about her recent trip to Italy. You can read more of her impressions here. You can also review earlier vicarious travel journal entries here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It All Depends on How You Look At It

'I think all great innovations are built on rejections.'
--the late abstract expressionist, Louise Nevelson

Monday, June 15, 2009

Should We Be Promoting Bookaholism?

The Guardian asks the question. What's your answer?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Are You a Good Husband?

A popular columnist in the Twin Cities, Jim Lileks, unearths a questionnaire from 1933. Is it still relevant today? Wives, girlfriends and boyfriends: by all means, go ahead and take the quiz too.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

We Hereby Approve This Upcoming Event

Fifth Annual Daniel Thompsonathon

What: Fifth Annual Daniel Thompsonathon
When: Tuesday, June 16th Potluck at 5:30 p.m. Poetry at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Horseshoe Lake Park Pavilion in Shaker Heights, on Park Drive east of Lee Rd. between South Park and North Park Blvds.
Why: To celebrate the work of the late, great Cuyahoga County poet laureate Daniel Thompson Featured poets: Katie Daley, Chris Franke, Jim Lang, Peter Leon, Ray McNiece, Maj Ragain, Brian Taylor, Barry Zucker, Kathy Ireland Smith, Steven B. Smith.

Friday, June 12, 2009

If You Seek to Persuade, First You Must
Understand the Heart of Your Subject(s)

'The secret of effective persuasion comes in knowing the heart of the person you wish to persuade and ordering your words to fit.'
--Han Fei Tzu, a Chinese philosopher from the 3rd century BC.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Poet Who Seemed to Speak Directly to Her Every Reader

'Emily Dickinson’s legendary silence has produced a discordant chorus of speculation and mythmaking. As Alfred Habegger, her best biographer, has written, Dickinson’s “reclusiveness, originality of mind, and unwillingness to print her work [have] left just the sort of informational gaps that legend thrives on.” Readers and scholars alike have endlessly revised this legend, struck by the conviction that Dickinson speaks directly to them.'
--from a recent item in Book Forum. We think every good piece of writing in any genre has this same sublime and mysterious quality: the magic of one mind talking directly to another. We were startled to find that we've never before mentioned this uniquely wonderful poet. Here's hoping the immortal Emily will somehow forgive us.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Biographer's (and friend's) Challenge

'To understand just one life, you have to swallow the world.'
--Author Salman Rushdie

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Three Guesses Why This Essay of Mine Keeps
Coming Back to My Mind in Wake Of Cavs Loss

Hometown’s Gravitational Pull
By John Ettorre

Hometowns are tricky things.

They begin as warm, nurturing environments, familiar places you proudly call home. Eventually, that very familiarity can feel stifling, driving you away at a certain stage of life, in search of some mythical better place where you’re certain you’ll be happier. And yet, for most people, one’s hometown exercises a kind of silent gravitational pull whose force one can’t always resist. Like quicksand, it tugs on you harder the harder you resist.

What’s true for civilians is doubly true for writers.

If we’re any good, our writing—poetry or prose—is steeped in a sense of place. The more tied you are to an area’s history, people and landscape (both physical and psychic), the easier it becomes to weave that place through the fabric of your language. Not long ago, novelist Phillip Roth observed that his native Newark, New Jersey has been one of the chief recurring characters in his fiction.

On the other hand, there’s a long tradition of writers noisily dissing their places of origin. In his thinly veiled Winesburg, Ohio, the novelist Sherwood Anderson mocked his native Clyde, Ohio as a provincial backwater. Harper’s editor Willie Morris, like many Southern writers, was similarly embarrassed by the gothic backwardness of his hometown of Yazoo City, Mississippi, and thus headed to Manhattan, where he wrote a memorable coming-of-age novel, North Toward Home.

Perhaps most famously of all, James Joyce hated what he called the “center of paralysis,” his native Dublin. “How sick, sick, sick I am of Dublin!” he once exclaimed in a letter. “It is the city of failure, of rancor and of unhappiness. I long to be out of it.” He was good to his word: he never set foot in the city after 1912, living in self-imposed exile until his death in 1941. And yet, the city never left his imagination. His masterpiece, Ulysses, lovingly recreates Dublin in all its early 20th century sights, sounds, smells and texture. Some fans of the book think he renders it more precisely than an actual visit ever could. The late Willie Morris, meanwhile, spent his later years back in Yazoo City, happier the second time around.

Like many writers, I tried to escape my hometown, moving away from Cleveland in my 20s for larger, flashier places, cities which I thought would be far better venues in which to practice my craft. For a time, they were.

But then the steady drone of that gravitational pull set in, and I found myself back where I started. I was ambivalent about it for years, feeling as Joyce did that I was in a geography marked by failure, and worried that it might somehow rub off on me. Eventually, with maturity, you come to understand that what you sought to escape is not so much an actual place, but the straightjacket of earlier expectations you’ve come to associate with that place. Grasping that, you can change those expectations. All it takes is some revisions.

Now, I see this place with writerly eyes, as a place gorgeously haunted by its once-sequined past, bent over from the accumulated weight of its might-have-beens and almost-wases. But it also has great sedimentary layers of depth and beauty, the kind that can come only from epic pain and loss. It’s a place that rewards emotional and civic archaeology.

And so I keep digging.

--(published last year in Muse magazine, which is not online).

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Testing Point of Virtue

'Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point.'
--C.S. Lewis. You can review earlier mentions of the late & much-loved British master writer here.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

She Wasn't the Only One
Who Wondered About This

'Sometimes I wonder if men and women really suit each other. Perhaps they should live next door and just visit now and then.'
--Katherine Hepburn

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Can Writing Be Taught? Part 2

In this week's New Yorker double issue, the veteran writer Louis Menand (who also teaches at Harvard) makes a valuable addition to the endless debate about whether writing can be taught. Given that this is the fiction issue, he focuses his inquiry on "creative writing," which is generally another way of saying fiction, short stories and poetry. While he and the book he's discussing make several nuanced arguments, Menand's piece generally comes down on the side of what we would consider to be sensible territory: the idea that while no one can really teach the inspirational side of writing, the craft of writing certainly can be taught. Anyway, we'd love to hear what you think about this subject and/or this article. Meanwhile, you can review Part 1 of this subject, which we brought you last year, here.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Freedom From the Effects
Of Communal Persuasion

'The Buddhist scripture tells us, 'look within; thou art the Buddha.' The Christian tradition says, 'the kingdom of heaven is within you.' The only thing we really need, to get in touch with the mystery, is ourselves. For the writer, this type of profound self-reliance and self-trust are indispensible. But we can only achieve them when we are away from the opinion of friends, teachers and editors, the manipulation of advertising and shop windows, the influence of conversational wisdom. The only way we can get away from those things is through solitude. Freedom from the effects of communal persuasion is only found when we remove ourselves from community. But even when we are alone, the attitudes and expectations of others shadow us. It takes work to shed the years of relying on other people to validate us.'
--from Writing as a Sacred Path--A Practical Guide to Writing With Passion and Purpose.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Our 2nd Favorite Take on Conan's Debut

'When Conan O’Brien takes the Tonight Show stage this month, he will be only the fifth host of the NBC staple. But for the clownish six-feet-four redhead, the move from Late Night means more than trading coasts. O’Brien’s Ivy League-meets-lowbrow humor—fueled by years in the Simpsons writers’ room and a hefty dose of self-deprecation—is a drastic switch from that of Leno and Carson (you’d never catch Carnac the Magnificent doing the “String Dance”). How will a foulmouthed pup or a masturbating bear fly in the late-night time slot? Well, a younger generation loyal to O’Brien has been choosing South Park over Leno for a decade. Now you don’t need cable for a good poop joke before midnight.'
--from L.A. Magazine. But we liked the Washington Post's resident grumpy aesthete Tom Shales's viewpoint even a tad better. "By now "The Tonight Show" is like the White House; it belongs not to its occupant of the moment but to the American people. So it was not encouraging to see Conan O'Brien devoting the entire first half of his first "Tonight Show" on Monday to himself," he wrote the morning after the debut.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Touching Souls Is What It's All About

'Give people a fact or an idea and you enlighten their minds; tell them a story and you touch their souls.'
--Hasidic proverb. Thanks to a new friend, uber-coach Diane Helbig, for bringing this lovely thought to my attention.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Working With Words: Now Out In Paperback

We were charmed to learn recently that a newly published comprehensive guidebook to Cleveland mentioned this blog as a valuable resource of information about the town. We knew the guidebook's author, veteran Cleveland writer Douglas Trattner, only by his familiar byline, which has appeared over a wide assortment of fine articles around town for a number of years. Thus, we were doubly charmed to stumble over his brief description of WWW: "This sharply written blog by Cleveland-based journalist John Ettorre casts a wide, humorous net around topics as varied as local politics, business, fiction, sports and current events." We also liked the company we found ourselves in: the other two Cleveland-centric blogs he mentioned, Brewedfreshdaily and Writes Like She Talks, are operated by longtime friends of this establishment, George Nemeth and Jill Miller Zimon. In a bit of exquisite timing, given the Cavs' collapse this weekend, the book includes a brief section on "Cleveland Sports: Hope, Heartache, and Wait Till Next Year." Anyway, for those who are interested, the new book is available on Amazon.com. I happened to find a copy in the local Border's.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Giving Luck a Helping Hand

'What helps luck is a habit of watching for opportunities, of having a patient, but restless mind...and of passing through hard times bravely and cheerfully.'
--Charles Victor Cherbuliez, a 19th century French author