Alexander to Aristotle, greeting. You have not done well to publish your books of oral doctrine; for what is there now that we excel others in, if those things which we have been particularly instructed in be laid open to all? For my part, I assure you, I had rather excel others in the knowledge of what is excellent, than in the extent of my power and dominion. Farewell.
There’s a helluva distance between wise-cracking and wit. Wit has truth in it; wise-cracking is simply calisthenics with words.
New York scarcely safe from buffaloes. I can’t handle it.
I will argue until convinced otherwise that the greatest television show of all time is a children’s show, one that is also perhaps the greatest act of American storytelling in any medium of the last twenty years, and is also one that, I freely admit, I’ve watched to completion no less than three times. Avatar: The Last Airbender isn’t just close to perfect. It is perfect. I can think of only two novels that I consider superior acts of storytelling, and I’ve never met anyone who’s actually watched the show that disagrees. It includes a character arc that puts Jaime Lannister to shame, plots out madness in a way that makes Daenerys Targaryen look silly, has terrifyingly exquisite animation, has no less than six show-stealingly powerful female characters (balancing three poignantly complex male wannabe heroes), and has been known to make grown men and women cry on occasion. It also has a sky bison.
Avatar: The Last Airbender. Trust me.
Good guys lose the Battle of Winterfell. Nearly everyone dies. Jon, Dany, Arya, Sansa, Jaime, Tyrion, and Bran live (Bran only to later reveal that Night King was a victim whose people were slaughtered and whose humanity was stolen and who has suffered immortal human exile and madness for thousands of years and seeks vengeance and death, in that order). Good guys flee to Iron Islands as The Dead move south. At last, Tyrion and Cersei collaborate to destroy (most of) The Dead with wildfire. Cersei finally does one good, noble, human thing in agreeing to work together. Jon faces Night King in single combat amid wildfire and dragon flames. He’s mortally wounded. At the last moment, just as he’s about to die, Jaime Kingslayer kills Night King with a stab from behind. Good guys win. Arya kills Cersei anyway, because: her list. Jaime and Tyrion have mixed feelings. Heartbroken Dany establishes the Two Kingdoms (and eventually Republics), the North, in honor of Jon, to be Queened by Sansa, and the South, also known as the Dragonlands (including Essos/Slaver’s Bay). Dany retreats to Dragonstone where she dies giving birth to Jon’s son, name of Aegon, who will be raised by Regent Tyrion and Varys. Her last dragon, Drogon, grows weak and dies. And like The Bear and The Maiden Fair and the Dance of Dragons, the Song of Ice and Fire is the myth ballad told for thousands of years of how magic disappeared from the world and Westeros transitioned into modernity. Maester Sam writes the book.
See guys, good storytelling isn’t that hard.
Kylo says “We can end this, you and I. We can bring balance to the galaxy.”
Ray hesitates, then takes Kylo’s hand, finding her “place in all of this.”
Finn witnesses from off in the distance, and cries, and kills Phasma in rage.
Holdo pulls off her smash job.
Debris falls and injures Rey.
Lovestruck Kylo is incensed and unhinged when the [Empire] attacks the [Rebels] on Crait.
Luke, “the last Jedi,” sacrifices himself.
The [Rebels] escape, amid many tears.
Supreme Leader Kylo kneels at the bedside of unconscious Supreme Queen Rey.
Have the good guys lost?
Rey still has the books. Her bedclothes are gray.
She actually has a teacher to train her.
The tension between light and dark is preserved.
You leave the cinema bewildered, hopeful, having finally watched a worthy successor to The Empire Strikes Back, instead of a Disney movie.
Hurley’s population is estimated a bit above 3,000. On game nights, it can feel as if all of them are at The Cliff, a one-of-a-kind stadium where Smiley Ratliff Field is blasted out of rock. Behind one end zone, and behind most of one sideline, is sheer stone. You can get a stiff neck peering up to the tree-topped summit.
This is a good article. A good, accurate, respectful, aware and thoughtful piece of journalism. It involves Appalachia, coal miners, blacks with confederate flag tattoos and high schools with the same painted on their doors, and it’s decent. Not click-bait. Just right and accurate and true. It doesn’t point fingers, doesn’t moralize, doesn’t try to polarize the world or poke fun or turn anyone into a villain.
Amazing. I’m utterly shocked.
The Internet blew up this week. We learned that 8,000 Chinese students withdrew from US colleges in 2013-2014, for (cough cough whisper….) bad grades, or, perhaps, in some cases… (clear throat) CHEATING! Dun dun dunnnn! Cue all of America collectively seething in righteous fury.
Yet none of the thousand articles written made light of the fact that there were 275,000 Chinese students in America that year. That means a 2.9% withdrawal rate. The same year, DOMESTIC American college students couldn’t turn in a 6-year graduation rate above 60%, and our educators rejoiced that our HIGH SCHOOL drop-out rate dropped from 20% to 19%!
In case math bullied you on the playground, let’s look again. 2.9% of Chinese students in America leave college. 20% of American students leave high school. 40% of American students need 6 years to complete a 4-year degree, and accrue, on average, $35,000+ in debt while doing so.
I don’t even know why I read newspapers.
“Looking at Appalachia Anew,” says the New York Times, before immediately posting pictures of kids swimming in a river and herding goats. Unbelievable. That’s like saying “The new face of black America!” then posting pictures of Neon and Butch McRae.
Thoughtful and honest journalism from America’s most stalwart news source, folks.
In 1922, New York Evening Post columnist Ray Torrey wrote an article under a headline “A Great Trail from Maine to Georgia.” In August 1937, the longest hiking-only footpath in the world stretching from Katahdin, Maine to Springer Mountain, Georgia was completed. This is where the modern mispronunciation of the word originated. “App-a-latch-an” worked its way south and emerged as “App-a-lay-shan” -a linguistic note that would soon become symbolic to America.
In 1964, Appalachia was thrown on the world stage when President Lyndon Johnson stood on a front porch in Inez, Kentucky and declared a war on poverty in the region. Johnson’s war was to stem the outward migration to urban areas and create economic opportunity. The reporters traveling with him on the campaign trail unloaded on the southern mountains depicting them as the most impoverished place in the nation. “App-a-lay-sha” suddenly became a whirlwind of photographs of coal mining, cultural ignorance and backwoods misery that shocked America.
Appalachia is the fourth oldest European place name in America, and I reserve the right to punch anyone who refuses to say it correctly.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a huge, huge fan of Avatar, which isn’t just the single best kids’ show of all time, but (according to Vanity Fair) one of the best shows on television period, which kind of annoys me a little bit because using words like “subversive” to describe this show politicizes it, which is a criminal thing to do to a children’s story, a brilliant one, a riveting one, one that’s really not a children’s story at all but just a story and everything a story should be.
Photography, like all art, is generally a bunch of nonsense. This National Geographic article, however, which was tailor-made for Internet clicks, shows the kind of photography I can get behind: Ten Nat Geo photographers give thanks for the photos that changed them.
There are blind people more effective with a camera than I am. However. If I could go back and do it all over again, my dream careers, in order: fashion photographer, war photographer, nature photographer, Major League Baseball backup relief pitcher. Because pretty things and scary things and baseball are, truly, what it’s all about.
Somehow or other, they don’t play ball nowadays as they used to some eight or ten years ago. I don’t mean to say they don’t play it as well. … But I mean that they don’t play with the same kind of feelings or for the same objects they used to. … It appears to me that ball matches have come to be controlled by different parties and for different purposes …
Perhaps the main reason students struggle to write conversationally is they’ve been told since kindergarten that it’s not acceptable—even though it’s perfectly appropriate for the vast majority of the writing they’ll be doing throughout their lives.
In contemplating this piece by Mr. Jenkins, I place my emphasis on “nice article.” A great place to begin a much-needed dialogue about how we teach writing. Personally, however, I would take the argument much, much further. Let me see if I can articulate my own thoughts, because this is after all a classic rant I tend to unleash without provocation.
Whenever we discuss how we teach writing in Western education, the argument tends to lean toward a navel-gazing justification of “academic writing.” It’s often as if those who work in academia are unwilling to contemplate that other forms of writing exist, or at least, matter. Which is fine – we’re all allegedly entitled to our own perspective on the world as we experience it. This observation largely pertains to academics working in the humanities and sciences, excludes those in the fine arts, and wholeheartedly includes literary academics (or anyone who can name more than one school of criticism). An issue arises here, however – the standards for taught writing are devised in an environment patterned for (almost purely) academic achievement. Writing equals academic writing. [Read more…]
…is only worthwhile when you’re actually writing about a writer writing, and not writing that which isn’t actually writing, such as tweets, internet-filler, and blog posts exactly like this one.
…I’ve sat in classrooms beside young men and women who want to be writers. They can’t stand being alone with the sound of their own voices.
When, in America, I wonder, will we finally declare a moratorium on media attention given to the perpetrators of mass murder?
Malcom Gladwell taught us why our uniquely American brand of public violence occurs. Not for retribution or gain, but for self-actualization, declaration of existence, perpetuation of legend, as if all these sad young men seek only to say, I was, through the mighty voice of mass media, with a gun as the pen which gleans their “teeming brain[s].” Society has taught us this: kill, spectacularly, and be remembered. Kill, and have your manifesto read. By all.
When will we withdraw this opportunity? When will we, as a media-driven society, say kill and be forgotten forever? We can do this. We have. To protect journalists and princes in war. For the noble likes of Donald Trump and Paris Hilton. When will our principled editors say kill, and have your name stricken from all records, your manifesto burned, and the memory of your victims honored with powerful silence?
John Keats feared death because of what he might never have accomplished in life. He wrote to be remembered. Yet if he knew that his poems would be burned, would he have written at all?
Remember Columbine, they say. Remember Sandy Hook and Santa Barbara. Yes, let’s. In silence.
WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
…”When I have fears that I may cease to be,” by John Keats
I’ll take grade school dropout writing passionately in his prison cell over some empty, superior Yale MFA any day.
Write all the time, they’ll tell you. Write for your college newspaper. Get an MFA. Go to writer’s groups. Send query letters to agents.
What do they never say? Go do interesting things.
What many undergraduates do not know — and what so many of their professors have been unable to tell them — is how valuable the most fundamental gift of the humanities will turn out to be. That gift is clear thinking, clear writing and a lifelong engagement with literature.
…from the New York Times, “The Decline and Fall of the English Major”
When I was guest lecturing for UVA’s MS Commerce Program last week, a number of students seemed mildly offended when I described how few Ivy-caliber university graduates I’ve met in my life that I didn’t think of as complete morons. Real sneers, one or two of them. The looks on their faces made sense, though. That’s a lot of money to spend on a piece of paper to have someone tell you that you might be a dumbass. But as my older brother always said: “if the truth hurts, say ouch.”
So why did I say this?
Because I read what people write. And I’ve met very few people who can write. And the only thing that bad writing connotes is “I don’t think.” And if my first impression of someone is “he doesn’t think,” well then…
It’s that simple. If you don’t know how to write, you don’t know how to think.
Even worse. If you don’t know how to write, you’ll never be able to perceive how others react to your thoughts, and that makes you the guy at the party everybody hates.
So what’s the solution? Study literature. Acquire that fundamental gift of the humanities that no one can put a price on. After all, nobody wants to go through life as an idiot. Or an accountant. Ugh.
Late last summer, I had the opportunity to make my first visit to a tiny, chilly little place on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau called the Seng Girls Home. The Seng Girls are one of many amazing projects supported by Captivating International, a small organization of incredible, amazing, supremely dedicated people I’m incredibly fortunate to know, and they did me the honor of allowing me to write a short essay about the experience on their blog.
I hope you’ll take five minutes to read the essay (reprinted below), check out Captivating and the Seng Girls, and consider sponsoring one of these awesome little ladies for a minuscule bit of money. They’re incredible people, and they’d love you for it.
Qinghai is a strange place, an unsettling place. If anything it’s an ecstatic place, yet not in the diluted, everyday form of the word that makes you think wildly happy (though that’s entirely true as well). It’s ecstatic in a literary sense – a place where ten thousand times a day you find yourself beyond the confines of your own body, watching yourself, unable to quite comprehend that you are where you are, that you’re doing what you’re doing, that you’re seeing what you’re seeing.
Epiphanies snowball on top of each other there, until you’re filled to bursting with some grand sense of adventure and importance. Or, perhaps, the exact opposite. At least that’s what I’d imagine the Seng girls would tell you. Amongst so much wind and snow and time that feels slower and thicker than mud, what’s so important? It’s only people like you and I who feel beyond themselves when looking up at such a sky, huge, vast, and bluer than blue, with clouds rolling across it like great wooly sheep. It’s only us, regular people, who feel awed by the strands of prayer flags mingling with the wind. It’s us who feel compelled to take pictures of the chilly, terrifically unamused yak.
Yet you don’t realize this at first. At first you feel, very superficially, the sense of time beyond time that can only exist at such altitudes, the nobility of those hairy yak. But you will. You’ll realize the silliness of your epiphanies, of your grand, poetic realizations, and it will most likely come the first time you look around at dozens of smiling, girlish, tomato-red faces and realize: they’re not even cold. Much like the yak, the Seng Girls aren’t amused by the storybook landscape. They aren’t impressed by bullets of hail or the Milky Way frosted in stark relief beyond their bedroom windows. No, they don’t really care. While you’re shivering in the wind, you watch them and realize they too are shaking, but for a very different reason, as if there’s something inside them fighting to get out. It’s that moment when you fall completely in love with these girls, when you realize that they can carry and tolerate an incomprehensible voltage of life, and that, really, this vibration inside them comes from a singular place: they just want to dance.
Truthfully – they just want to dance. And they do. As often as possible. Inside, outside, in the rain or sun or snow, they dance. No matter how dirty their shoes are or how infected the windburn on their faces, they dance, and when you walk into a room and one hundred and twenty of them stand up until you sit, or when they drape three dozen silk scarves around your neck, or when you stumble out of the frozen mist of your sleeping bag and find twenty of them sitting at desks in the snow, reciting vocabulary words in three languages, and again they all stand up until you’ve passed, smiling and smiling and smiling, you can tell that really, they’re all thinking about lunchtime, when they get the chance to dance again. That’s when Qinghai stops being impressive. That’s when you climb back into your own body, when you start to focus, when you feel a sense of conviction balling up in you like twine and forcing you to act. In that moment, you’ll extend your hand, you’ll offer to help. You’ll realize that the stories you wanted to tell your family, the pictures you wanted to post on Facebook, were as fleeting as the weather. You’ll want so very desperately to help these girls, to give them an even greater voltage of life to tolerate, to make a difference.
Yet…that too will pass. It can’t help but pass, because still, these girls aren’t impressed. Yes, you’ll help. Yes, you’ll help them find more medicine, better plumbing, new door hinges…but they won’t be worried. You’ll realize that where they are, together, with friends and teachers who adore them…they smile. Constantly, desperately, as if doing so will tame the weather and split the skies, they smile. And then you’ll look around and realize how very big a very small person can be, how small you might actually be yourself, and how you will always be, perhaps, some sort of cliche, no matter what you do, unless maybe, maybe, you can figure out how to dance.
Then, the Seng girls will be impressed. And they’ll smile. And in that moment, you’ll have made all the difference in the world.
Y can’t make up its mind if it’s a vowel or a consonant, can it?
…David Mitchell, my third favorite author, who may one day vie against my second, though who will need to write something seriously sexy before upjumping my first, but who has already hurdled my fourth, yet is perhaps the only person in the world who loves a word, not any word, mind you, but “a” word, as much as said fourth, in this LA Times interview, which isn’t nearly as “good” as, though is probably more honest than, this interview in that magazine for people who, you know, love to love words more than they actually love words themselves, but who likely don’t, unlike my third and fourth favorite authors, know the sound of your tongue rounding a corner.
This article makes me happy.
But the most amazing part of the story is how open these teachers were to change. Because their jobs were on the line? Likely. Either way, this article highlights what I think is the biggest problem with education in America: our teachers are idiots. We’d be better off with robot teachers, stacks of books, and weekly visits from Proctors of Common Sense.
when Night/ Darkens the Streets, then wander forth the Sons/ Of Belial, flown with insolence and wine…
Could there be a more boring book about such an intriguing topic? How society came to stay awake all night. Interesting enough, yeah? Oh, the answer is lamps. Really. Fascinating.
Here’s a contemporary revision: it’s not last call yet, ESPN Classic, nicotine, a song just flew in the window, and you, yeah you, keep stealing the damn covers.
…overheard in China:
Of course Russia cold as shit but long time developed country! In Africa they say ‘oh, I am hungry, I eat this banana.’ In Russia we say ‘shit, I am hungry, now have to build atomic power station!”