Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Torture on the Cuyahoga, Part 2

Last week, we told you about a long-suffering Cleveland sports fan's cry for help. This week, after the Browns managed to be even worse in week three than in the first two weeks of the season, some fans have begun circulating a petition inviting the team's owner to sell the franchise. Sure enough, others are circulating a counter-petition, asking owner Randy Lerner to ignore those other fans. If you happen to be among those who believe petition drives have any effect in the real world (I'm not, alas) perhaps this gives you a glimmer of hope for your team. The rest of us will just quietly lick our wounds and go about our business, as usual. Perhaps our favorite Argentinian reader, Mariana, can give us a more hopeful update about her favorite soccer team.
UPDATE: A new Sports Illustrated columnist (and Cleveland-area native) wonders aloud: is new Browns coach Eric Mangini the worst hire ever?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Take Your Semicolon to Lunch

In the crunch of events, we somehow missed the crucial news that last week was National Punctuation Day! Thank goodness our friend Mike Quinn was more on the ball, and took note of it, thus tipping us off. We'd love to hear your thoughts about your favorite form of punctuation and/or top punctuation memories. If you'd like to send along some photos as well, by all means, please do so. We know how emotional people can be about their punctuation.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Useless People and Death Panels

'Lady, if we were getting rid of useless people, you'd be the first to know.'
--comedian Bill Maher on the Jay Leno show this week, addressing the idea propagated by Sarah Palin that the Obama healthcare reform proposal includes the formation of "death panels" overseeing decisions on which patients will live or die. If you're dying to read her new book, word is it'll be out in about six weeks. And Politico reports that she's just as popular as ever with the right wing. Finally, you can review our earlier mention of Maher here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Primordial Hankering to be an Editor

'No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft.'
--H.G. Wells

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Decline of Humanities Majors

This interesting piece in the American Scholar breaks some news of which I was only dimly aware: the number of humanities majors has declined steadily over the last generation. The headline is a little misleading--even though it focuses on the decline of English majors, the piece goes on to note the drop is just as apparent in other areas of the humanities, such as foreign languages and history. No surprise about what's filled the vaccum, of course: from the '70-'71 to '03-'04 school years, the ratio of business majors in American higher education went from 13.7 to 21.9%. The author, a former president of a couple of leading private colleges, suggests one main reason for the change is the country's slow shift in emphasis away from private colleges and universities, which have historically nurtured the humanities, to public institutions, which mostly have not. Three years ago, we noted with interest a book about the many ways in which English majors remain in demand. We were equally interested in a comment our friend
Ron Copfer made in that string: how, as a longtime employer, he had come to appreciate the contributions of English majors.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Recipe for a Contented Life

'Nine requisites for contented living: health enough to make work a pleasure. Wealth enough to support your needs. Strength to battle with difficulties and overcome them. Grace enough to confess your sins and forsake them. Patience enough to toil until some good is accomplished. Charity enough to see some good in your neighbor. Love enough to move you to be useful and helpful to others. Faith enough to make real the things of god. Hope enough to move all anxious fears concerning the future.'
--Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Last Call for Citizen Journalism Workshop
On Feature-Writing at the Heights Library

I'll be facilitating a workshop on feature writing this Saturday morning at the Lee Road Library in Cleveland Heights. While it's sponsored by the Heights Observer, a community owned paper, and thus targetted at citizen journalists, we'll no doubt have a wide cross section of folks on hand for a lively discussion. I expect everything from curious beginners to pros intent on brushing up their skills (including at least a couple of WWW readers whom I've already heard from), traditional-age students (we should all be lifelong students, right?) to those who are just curious about reading. Even some folks who simply want to be better citizens. If reading, writing or citizenship hits your buttons, we'd love to have you there too.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Torture on the Cuyahoga, Or the Latest On
What It's Like to Be a Cleveland Sports Fan

'Frankly, I'm not even sure the Cleveland Browns are in the NFL anymore. Brady Quinn appears to have the arm strength of Marcia Brady or maybe, at best, Sally Quinn. Eric Mangini stood on the sidelines yesterday with his hat turned askew as if he were a five-year-old boy who just got kicked off the swings by the mean bully in Denver. The Browns defense is more generous than the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation and the overall strategy couldn't win a game of Chutes and Ladders. The owner is involved in some British soccer team and the team traded the rights to a quarterback who just beat the New England Patriots for the rights to draft a center who doesn't know how to snap in the shotgun. The Browns play Quinn instead of the unpopular Pro Bowl quarterback who sits on the bench. Meanwhile the twin brother of the brash New York Jets coach and the son of an even brasher father is on staff but under the supervision of a guy who thinks the NFL is the CIA. Here's what it's like to be a Cleveland fan: Lebron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers is probably going to New York. In the last year, the Cleveland Indians have traded away two Cy Young Award winners and the second best hitting catcher in baseball. The Browns are more disappointing.'
--Brian Tarcy, co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Football, and a Browns' fan, tells the Washington Post what it's really like to be a long-suffering sports fan in this region. It's beginning to feel like a chapter from the Old Testament, folks. You know, the Book of Job, about epic loss and frustration that never ends. We've dealt with this topic earlier, though always in the context of the basketball Cavs, most recently when they were unceremoniously ousted from the playoffs this spring. We also talked about the longer history of Cleveland sports frustrations in this piece three years ago. May we never feel the need to return to this subject again. Fat chance of that.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

How Writing is a Lot Like Sex

'Writing is a lot like sex. You won't have any fun unless you're willing to switch positions.'
--at least according to this Latina poet. We'd love to hear about how you may or may not be stuck in a rut with your writing, and what might constitute switching positions. Or as our friend Art would say, how you manage your creative crop rotation. As it happens, we were privileged to finally meet our longtime commenter Art Durkee earlier today, as he traveled through town. We'll save that report for another day. Suffice it to say for now that the in-person conversation was even more sublime than the virtual one we've been having for a couple years.

Friday, September 18, 2009

First, Throw the Whole
Thing Down on Paper

'Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down.'
--novelist John Steinbeck, whose classic Great Depression-era novel The Grapes of Wrath is garnering renewed interest during this current Great Recession. This is Steinbeck's inaugural mention here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Stout-Hearted Cleveland Teacher
Writes Trenchantly From the Inside

'Even for those of us who have lasted long enough in the education trenches to bear the moniker of 'Seasoned Veteran', the first day back to school is still anticipated with a bit of trepidation, along with the excitement of a fresh start. Driving along the Shoreway early Thursday morning I wondered, "Who will I meet this year?" Over the past 28 years of 'first days', I have met thousands of young men and women. As I taught them new concepts, they enriched my life. So many made me laugh, some tested my patience, a few even broke my heart. Most eventually graduated to go on to jobs or college. They became hard workers, good parents, and successful business people. A good number became artists, and an admirable number became teachers. I've sent quite a few of my students off to the armed forces. Some made careers in the military, others have returned from war physically and/or emotionally scarred. I see my former pupils' names in the newspaper, or on the internet, in the business or society pages, occasionally in the obituaries, and more often than I care to admit, in the police blotter. I've seen their faces on the walls of the post office featured on the FBI's most wanted posters, found them listed in the sheriff's sex offenders updates, and on prison web pages. I've taught killers, gangsters, rapists, bank robbers and con-artists. And I've also taught the victims.'
--from my friend Mary Beth Matthews' incredible blog. If there's a better example of a teacher writing with vivid honesty about how urban public education really works in America, I've yet to come across it. Here's hoping this heroic woman continues to touch young lives with her almost freakish dedication. I also hope she'll one day write a book full of all she knows about what takes place in school classrooms. It would be an unforgettable book. I couldn't help noticing how she evidently follows the progress of her former students over a lifetime with the same kind of perpetual interest that I have about anyone I've written about in the past.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Recipe for An
Indomitable Spirit

'If you're going through hell, keep going.'
--Winston Churchill. You can review an earlier mention of the late British leader here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

When Infoman Speaks, We Always Listen

If you're of a certain vintage, perhaps you remember the famous series of commercials for the now-defunct brokerage house E.F. Hutton. It was so well done and so vivid that it's often remembered today in conversations, years--hell, decades--after it stopped running. It went like this (or at least one of them did): two older guys of means were sitting at a table talking about the stock market, and one of them begins to say '...and E.F. Hutton says...' and the entire roomful of people stopped talking and craned their necks, hoping to listen in on the advice (you can see another variation of the TV ad here). It was one of those rare ads that managed to break through the incessant clutter of advertising and into the larger cultural conversation.

Anyway, we're blessed to know a few people such as that, folks so sharp and discerning that you tend to sit up and take notice when they say something. One of them is Doug Mazanec, a.k.a. Infoman. We noticed the other day that he spoke highly of a new word-obsessed website, Worknik, and we decided to give it a look. Remember, it's labeled "beta," a software term that means it's a work in progress. But please give it a look and let us know what you think. As for you, Infoman, thanks for the tip.
UPDATE: Our old friend Kate Oatis, a dear classmate from college and one of the smartest, sweetest women in America (you can look it up!), who's a fellow writer and Russian history buff, sent along this site for my inspection. I figured as long as you're already checking out Doug's Wordnik, you might also render your opinion on the Motivated Grammar blog. And don't forget to check out Kate's blog as well.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tinkering Toward That Elusive Perfection

'I have rewritten--often several times--every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.'
--the late Russian-born novelist Vladimir Nabokov.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Let's Remember That Nurses Provide
The Backbone of Healthcare Support

Nowhere amid all the bloviating coverage of "healthcare reform" can I recall ever, even once, hearing or reading anything about nurses and the crucial role they play in the entire healthcare system. That's as unbelievable as it is depressing, because anyone who has ever been in a hospital or even visited a friend or loved one there can't miss noticing that nurses are the real backbone of everything. I was reminded of that truism when I sent this Washington Post article to a friend named Kim, a nurse and a writer (her as-yet-unpublished novel is a gleaming jewel). She responded with a note whose gentleness and loving regard for her patients blew me away. I read it several times since, and teared up each time. I share it with you all with her kind permission:

After reading this I was immediately transported to my nights as a nurse on the oncology floor. I've been blessed to have those connecting moments with patients. As a new nurse I was terrified to take the dying patients. I didn't know what to say, felt awkward, and just downright sorry for everyone. The longer I worked there the fonder I became of this type of nursing. I started to request the dying patients and didn't mind if I had three or four at a time. It was a gift to be able to care for them during that sacred time. People are so vulnerable and afraid. I found that the night-time was the hardest for them because there were no distractions. Most families were gone and the only person to give them any comfort was the nurse assigned to them. Sometimes you would meet the patient for the first time and a few hours later you would be helping them through a crisis or even their death. I once had a patient assigned to me that I was told was having end of life issues. She was afraid to die because she was unsure if she believed in heaven. She had been struggling with this for a few days and had been visited by the hospital chaplin, various family members, etc. She was one of eight patients I was assigned to that night, several of which had a lot going on that would need my direct attention. I felt led to go see her first, even though I could have easily started with another task. I walked into her room and found the seventy year old sitting up quietly in her bed. I pulled a chair close and introduced myself as her night nurse. I then reached for her hand and gently talked about what I had been told from the other nurse concerning her possible death. I shared some of my thoughts about death, asked if there were any questions she had, and if I could help her in anyway. She gave me the most peaceful knowing smile and said, "No sweetie, I'm fine now." I asked her if there was anything she needed and she declined. I left her and went on to check on my other patients. It took me an hour and a half to see them all before I could go back to check on that first patient. When I did I found she had quietly died. It is in those moments that I feel God reassuring me that I chose the right profession. I could go on and on about the many people I have cared for. This particular one is high on my list. Thank you for sharing. I am going to email my mom the article. She's a nurse as well.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Trust the Reader

'No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader's intelligence or whose attitude is patronizing.'
--E.B. White. You can find earlier mentions of the immortal one here. Looking for a good writerly biography? Scott Eledge's book on White's life is perhaps the best biography of a writer that I have ever read.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Plenty From Which To
Choose This Weekend

Northeast Ohioans know there's always a lot to do around these parts on weekends, perhaps doubly so in the autumn. But there are some particularly interesting events from which to choose this weekend. Though it's been happening annually for 20 years, I never knew the Cleveland Museum of Art hosted a chalk festival to highlight the sidewalk chalk arts. It's happening this Saturday and Sunday, and looks awfully interesting. I'm hoping to poke my head in for at least a brief look on Sunday. A bit to the south, NPR's Michael Feldman brings his Whad' Ya Know? show to Wooster on Saturday, which I would have loved to attend after listening to and enjoying the show for many years. But tickets no doubt were snapped up instantly as soon as they became available (though the website says some tickets will still be available at the door, however improbable that seems, given the deep reverence of so many for this show). And in any event, I was already obligated to serve as a volunteer for yet another interesting and important event this weekend, a bike ride to celebrate the life of professor Miles Coburn, tragically killed in a crash last year, but a man whose life really made an impact (more about which later). Here's hoping you enjoy your glorious early fall weekend. We'd love to hear how you plan to spend it. And if you happen to make it to any of these events, we'll especially hope for a report on how it went.
UPDATE: A new writer friend, Audrey McCrone, whom I met only the other day at an SPJ event, noticed this subject, and sent me the photo you see above, which she snapped of a past Chalk Festival. Audrey's an impressive lady with boundless energy, passion and enthusiasm for journalism, as one of her college administrators noted here. You can sample from some of her essays here. We feel blessed to know her.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Craftsmanship Counts

'Word carpentry is like any other kind of carpentry. You must join your sentences smoothly.'
--Anatole France, a French poet and writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1921.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Few Things We Couldn't Help Noticing
  • Proud to Proclaim Our Ignorance. A Cleveland company we've never heard of is among Fortune Mag's 100 fastest-growing companies.
  • Yet Another Health Myth? Canada's leading newsweekly thinks so.
  • World's Weirdest Hotels. Which one is your favorite?
  • Ten Oddest Places to Work or Live. Our favorite is #7.
  • That Other 40th Anniversary (Sort Of). You can help write a history of the internet.
  • Another Kind of History. We're guessing this headline might have drawn more than the usual amount of interest.
  • Same Old Crap. This development reminded me of journalist Michael Kinsley's infamous principle about Washington outrages: the real scandal is not what people are doing illegally, but what's actually legal.
  • And Finally...This is not a fake news item from The Onion, all appearances to the contrary. I'm just trying to imagine the experience of being coached by this disturbed cretin.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Wisdom Consists of
Selective Disregard

'The art of being wise is knowing what to overlook.'
--the immortal Henry James, possibly the best novelist America has ever produced. If you've never read his masterpiece, Portrait of a Lady, you really ought to. When I read it in my mid-20s, not long before I got married, it continued to marinate in my brain for years. If you've somehow been led to believe that he was merely a writer of late-Victorian/early-Edwardian novel of manners that doesn't relate to your life, don't believe it. You can review our lone previous mention of James here.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Happy to Be at Odds
With Rest of Society

'You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.'
--the late writer Flannery O'Connor. We think this is perhaps the best explanation we've ever come across of why intellectuals and other ravenous-minded folks are sometimes so out of step with the larger culture around them. You can learn about a foundation dedicated to keeping her memory alive and a short fiction award named in her honor.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

How Words Free Our Ideas
From General Formlessness

'Words do not label things already there. Words are like the knife of the carver. They free the idea, the thing, from the general formlessness of the outside. As a man speaks, not only is his language in a state of birth, so is the very thing he is talking about.'
--Eskimo saying

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Best Lead of the Month

'At midnight on Monday, when Labor Day ends, the summer of 2009 will officially pass into the annals of history. Good riddance. If there is a less scintillating summer on record, it's hard to remember it. By any standards—cultural, horticultural, political, cinematic, jurisprudential, meteorological—this is the least eventful summer since 1491. It started raining in June and never stopped. Health-care reform didn't get anywhere. The tomatoes were uneatable. Congress accomplished nothing. All the movies stunk. There were no good summer reads. The Jonas Brothers maliciously tried to pass themselves off as entertainers. Kate and Jon ruled the roost. As the summer slogged toward its sad, ignominious conclusion—just when the nation needed some bucking up, some leadership, perhaps even a few good chuckles—the president retreated to Martha's Vineyard, where he made a point of getting himself photographed acting really, really cool for a change. That left Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to provide all the last laughs. If it hadn't been for the exploits of the peregrinatory Lothario Mark Sanford and that prickly cop up in Cambridge, there would have been no fun at all this summer.'
--from literary bad boy Joe Queenan's rollicking good read in the weekend Wall Street Journal, his uniquely gimlet-eyed take on the "hegemony of dreariness" that has marked the summer just now coming to a close. You can review earlier best leads here.

Friday, September 04, 2009

The Most Irritating Phrases in the English Language

The Canadian newspaper the National Post raises the question what are some of the most irritating phrases in the English language? I think they nicely cover most of mine. Think of this as a companion of our earlier post about words that make you wince. So don't be shy: step right up and add your most irritating phrases.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

More Poetic Take on the Notion
About How No Man is an Island

'We are, each of us, angels with only one wing, and we can only fly embracing each other.'
--the Italian writer, director and actor Luciano DeCrescenzo. We'd love to hear your stories about flying alone or together.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Here's A Possible, Albeit Partial, Antidote
To Worries About Journalism's Meltdown

If you're bummed out, worried, alarmed (take your pick) by the continuing meltdown in traditional journalism (about which we'll have an awful lot more to say in coming days and weeks), please consider doing this first. Take some time, though only when you have it, to click around and read some of this amazing work produced by the new batch of finalists for the Online News Association's annual awards. We can't say we've looked at all of it yet, and of course there are some things that will be familiar to just about any casual web reader, let alone those who are more devoted. But what we've reviewed thus far gives us renewed hope for the future. Naturally, we could use a whole lot more material like this. Anyway, enough about what we think. We'd love to hear your thoughts, including specifics about what you particularly liked here, and why. We won't settle any arguments, but merely hope to prompt a few.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Here's A Pregnant Thought
As We Begin a New Month

'True contentment is a thing as active as agriculture. It is the power of getting out of any situation all that there is in it. It is arduous and it is rare.'
--the immortal British man of letters, moral philosopher and proud Catholic, G.K. Chesterton. An impressive portion of his vast papers are archived at John Carroll University, and local Chesterton societies exist in dozens, if not hundreds, of locations around the world. Despite his low name recognition in many quarters, some have called him the greatest writer of the 20th century (we think that mantle actually belongs to his contemporary, George Orwell). In any case, thanks to a longtime friend, WWW reader and soon-to-be grandma for sharing this quote. Today also happens to be the 70th anniversary of the commencement of World War II. He had died three years earlier.