Unreasonable Words: Literature, no damn good for you anyway.

From a new blog I’ve discovered: A Piece of Monologue. (Great blog, could use a better name.)

Kafka on what to read:

“I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? So that it will make us happy, as you write? Good Lord, we would be happy precisely if we had no books, and the kind of books that make us happy are the kind we could write ourselves if we had to. But we need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us. That is my belief.”

Novelists hard at work taking an axe to the frozen sea within their readers.

Only those books? Really, Franz? No room for P.G. Wodehouse? No Terry Prachett or Simenon? Perhaps some reading has “banished me into a forest far from everyone…” but taking an axe to my personal “frozen sea” is a tough sell. A friend couldn’t sleep for days after reading Lear for the first time. I had a hard time getting through it. Bartelby did do me in, still does. As does the moment in Götterdämmerung when Waltraute tries to guilt Brunhilde into giving up the ring. (Weird choice, I realize given the many more cosmic, and far more beautiful, moments in Wagner.) But cleaving me in twain, a la Kafka, not so much.

Funny Words: Poetry

A clever poem about the Bloomsbury group; kind of makes Virginia & Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, and rest sound like the cast of a sitcom.

Virginia Woolf’s writing desk.

Bloomsbury Snapshot

By Connie Bensley

Virginia’s writing her diary,
Vanessa is shelling the peas,
And Carrington’s there, hiding under her hair,
And squinting, and painting the trees.

Well Maynard is smiling at Duncan,
A little to Lytton’s distress,
But Ralph’s lying down with a terrible frown
For he’d rather be back in the mess.

There’s Ottoline, planning a party–
But Leonard’s impassive as stone:
He knows that they’ll all sit around in deck chairs,
Discussing their own and each others’ affaires,
And forming, perhaps, into new sets of pairs:
And oh, how the bookshelves will groan!

St. Mary’s English Prof. Robin Bates has a key if your Bloomsbury dramatis personæ is, like mine, rusty.

Astonishing Places: Crater Lake

I’m at the stage in my life that I am interested in places and experiences, not things or achievements. So when I meet people I often ask what place they have traveled to that has been most rewarding and memorable. High on the list: New Zealand, Botswana and Tanzania, and Angkor Wat, all of which I wonder if I ever will get to.

One spot that I definitely hope to see within a year or two is Crater Lake. People who have visited it don’t forget it and this image from this year’s Nat Geo photo contest reveals why.

The photo, found via The Boston Globe’s Big Picture, is a little unbelievable, but then, by all accounts, so is the place.

Unreasonable Punctuation: “Quotes”

One of my favorite time-wasters, The “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotes linked to the graphic artist Stephen Heller’s blog, for this use of snarkily ironic use of superfluous quotes.

Heller’s blog has a bunch of these vintage “Successories.” I like them all, and even thought I’m self-employed and work at home I think I’ll put up the HERE COMES “OLD MAN TWENTY MINUTES LATE,” a legit use of “quotation marks.”

Reasonable Words: Joyce

Reading Dublinesque, which I adored, got me back on the Joyce beam and we rented The Dead. Still moving 25 years later, its ‘stage play’ quality now seeming pitch perfect for the story.

A reminder of the famous closing; Gabriel and Gretta have returned to a hotel after attending a family Christmas season party, and she has just told him for the first time about her long-ago suitor Michael Furey, and has collapsed on the bed into a sad sleep:

She was fast asleep.

Gabriel, leaning on his elbow, looked for a few moments unresentfully on her tangled hair and half-open mouth, listening to her deep-drawn breath. So she had had that romance in her life: a man had died for her sake. It hardly pained him now to think how poor a part he, her husband, had played in her life. He watched her while she slept, as though he and she had never lived together as man and wife. His curious eyes rested long upon her face and on her hair: and, as he thought of what she must have been then, in that time of her first girlish beauty, a strange, friendly pity for her entered his soul. He did not like to say even to himself that her face was no longer beautiful, but he knew that it was no longer the face for which Michael Furey had braved death.

Perhaps she had not told him all the story. His eyes moved to the chair over which she had thrown some of her clothes. A petticoat string dangled to the floor. One boot stood upright, its limp upper fallen down: the fellow of it lay upon its side. He wondered at his riot of emotions of an hour before. From what had it proceeded? From his aunt’s supper, from his own foolish speech, from the wine and dancing, the merry-making when saying good-night in the hall, the pleasure of the walk along the river in the snow. Poor Aunt Julia! She, too, would soon be a shade with the shade of Patrick Morkan and his horse. He had caught that haggard look upon her face for a moment when she was singing Arrayed for the Bridal. Soon, perhaps, he would be sitting in that same drawing-room, dressed in black, his silk hat on his knees. The blinds would be drawn down and Aunt Kate would be sitting beside him, crying and blowing her nose and telling him how Julia had died. He would cast about in his mind for some words that might console her, and would find only lame and useless ones. Yes, yes: that would happen very soon.

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

From The Dubliners.

Mobile Photography Gets A Site of Its Own

Connect: a smart idea from the people who run Digital Photography Review: a new site all about mobile photography.

From their welcome:

Let me start by extending you a warm welcome to Connect, a new website dedicated to the technology, community and culture of ‘mobile photography’, including smart phones, tablets, apps, connected cameras and the creativity and community, brought to you by the team behind Digital Photography Review.

One of the first features is about the Instagram “Pilgramers”

Cool idea.

Digital Job Hunting: Getting Through HR Screening Software and Other Tips

As a relatively recently minted freelancer and job hunter, I have had to come to grips with some fairly radical changes in the whole job-hunting song and dance. I’m not talking about the effect of economy per se, but rather how the networked nature of information and communication has changed what the job hunter has to do.

So herewith, offered for the benefit of other job hunters, a list of nine tips I’ve learned. Some of these I can personally vouch for; others are reasonable hearsay, and a few are hunches. If you have tips (or corrections) of your own please share.

Tip #1: Optimize your résumé for assessment by a computer program.
Human Resources departments often use software products to screen the first round of applications for a position. Leaving aside the debate about whether this is good or bad, it’s here to stay and there are things you should know about and can do that may improve your chance of making the cut. These programs “read” your application, and score it. Only those receiving a certain score are forwarded on for additional consideration. (An HR director I know told me that she is happy about these programs given the reality of hundreds of applicants for positions at her firm at the same time that cutbacks have meant that there simply aren’t enough humans in the HR office to do this work anymore.)

Given this, it’s useful to revise and focus your résumé so that it is tailored to the specific job description of the position you are applying for in a way that a computer will recognize. (I, perhaps like many, have been making the cover letter do this work. Bad idea, the cover letter may not even be screened by the software.) Your résumé should reflect the keywords and language of the job posting exactly. No fancy writing, and no holding your nose about terms like “change management.” Use the posting’s terms in your submission, and use them frequently. This means revising your résumé for every job you apply for, otherwise you risk not getting through the initial computerized screening.

That’s just how it is.

My guess is that the algorithms that the HR software uses aren’t radically different from those used in search engines, so “thinking like a search engine” is one way to approach this, and may help your chances. In fact, you can use the web to help give you a leg up. Paste the descriptive copy from the job posting that you are applying for into a web site that calculates word frequency. Here’s one, http://www.wordcounter.com/, but I’m sure there are others. (There may be one specifically for this task, but I haven’t found one yet. It would probably be a successful product.)

Check the frequency results, and use them to focus your résumé. This list will show you the words that should be prominent (meaning in your first few lines) and also repeated in descriptions below. If the most frequent terms are, for example, “program management,” or “FileMaker,” or “PMP Certification” use them, not synonyms, or generic terms. Don’t vary the applicable descriptions or paraphrase in order to make the writing lively. The computer isn’t reading for style, just for “a score.” (Yes, this is true even for editorial jobs, which boils my blood a bit as a writer and editor, but our computer overlords don’t really care about Strunk and White.)

Tip #2: Your Linked in photo really matters. Use an image that reflects you at your best, and is appropriate for the type of position you are seeking. But don’t wait for the perfect picture, either, as leaving it blank is a real negative: it may make the difference between you and another person with roughly equal qualifications.

Tip #3: Be as specific as possible about your skills on your Linked in page.
Coming up in Linked in search results is key to job leads. Specific terms may improve your chances of coming up in searches by recruiters.

Tip #4: Join professional forums and groups on Linked in and participate in the dialogue.  
Although some people do get “cold calls” via Linked in that result in interviews, many, perhaps most, do not. Simply putting your résumé up and linking is generally not enough. Go on the site regularly, participate in forums, post updates, become part of the community. This increases the chance that an opportunity will turn up for you.

Tip #5: Cultivate “weak links” on the edge of your network. It’s natural for your first connections on Linked in to be close colleagues; in network theory these are termed “strong links.” These are great, but close colleagues often know the people you already know, and are less likely to be connected to new leads. Some research suggests that opportunities often come via “weak links,” that is, not direct colleagues or classmates, but the people at three degrees of separation (or more), the “edge” of your network. One approach to bringing these into your network is to look at the bottom of your “people you may know” list, people with only one or two shared connections with you, and to link to them when appropriate. They in turn may open up other connections, employers, and positions you would otherwise not encounter. Yes, it sounds like the “tax tip from a taxi driver” thing, but it might work.

Tip #6: Don’t ignore social media for job hunting. Probably needless to say given everything above, but HR professionals start with Linked in now. If you are not on it and using it regularly, you will be invisible.

Tip #7: Don’t apply for jobs via Monster. Monster and other such sites are a great resource for researching positions, but HR departments do not like applications that come through Monster. (I’m not sure why this would be, but I’ve heard it from multiple people.) If you find a job you want to apply for on Monster, go search for it on the relevant company’s site and apply through that site.

Tip #8: Write your Linked in profile to reflect the kind of job you are seeking and would be most likely to succeed in. As somebody with a varied career (libraries, journalism, media company, digital production, arts, editorial, technology), for me, Linked in is kind of a straight jacket. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, as people typically do move jobs through their career, learning new skills, and perhaps entering new industries. One approach is to put everything in, but this results in a profile that is unfocused, and not specific enough to work well for recruiters. It’s potentially better to focus your profile on the sweet spot combining the job you want with skill areas where you have the most to offer a potential employer. If there is something you can do, but no longer particularly want to do, don’t automatically put it in your profile for the sake of completeness. (Although don’t leave out your most marketable skills or the bulk of your experience either, even if you have thoughts of doing something entirely new.)

Tip #9: Don’t take it personally when you don’t hear. For better or worse, limited (as in automated emails) or no response to applications seems to be the norm now for candidates who are not selected for interview. Of the many explanations, I favor the most innocuous that it’s just a numbers problem, too many applicants to contact directly. (That’s easier to live with that the callous HR dept. explanation, or worse.) Granted, this is super frustrating, as you don’t know on what basis you were rejected, whether perhaps it was just a technical glitch and your application didn’t even get through. But a certain amount of stoicism in this market probably will serve you well, and with any luck the tips above might help get you a face-to-face interview, with a live person.

Commonplace Book: Churchill or Not, etc.

Catching up on book reviews, and found some fun tidbits. First From a TLS column on a new book called Churchill in His Own Words: the disclosure that some of his best bits might be false attributions.

To wit, his famous riposte to the loony “never end a sentence with preposition” canard:

“This is the kind of nonsense up with which I will not put.”

And even better, considered criticism of his fellow British politicians:

Clement Atlee, “A sheep in sheep’s clothing” or, of Arthur Balfour, “If you wanted nothing done, Balfour was the man for the task.”

This one is too good to be false, an exchange with Nancy Astor during dinner at Blenheim.

Nancy Astor:(appalled by something Churchill had said): “Sir, if I were married to you, I’d put poison in your coffee.”

Winston Churchill: “Madam, if I were married to you, I’d drink it.”

In the same issue, a reference to the Frost essay on poetry with these lines that keep circling back in my life as some of the only consistently reliable advice on writing I’ve encountered:

“No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”

and on poetry:

“It should be of the pleasure of a poem itself to tell how it can. The figure a poem makes. It begins in delight and ends in wisdom. The figure is the same as for love. No one can really hold that the ecstasy should be static and stand still in one place. It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification of life-not necessarily a great clarification, such as sects and cults are founded on, but in a momentary stay against confusion.”

Finally, from a review of a book called “Swimming Studies,” a reflective memoir by a serious competitive swimmer who did not realize her Olympic dreams (didn’t even make the team). The writer, Leanne Shapton, makes a distinction of “swimming” with “bathing.”

“And yet all this control and self-denial are what (in this book at least) define swimming, as opposed to bathing. “Swimming” is what people who want to be the fastest, the best, do. It involves never letting your feet touch the bottom, never resting, both literally and metaphorically. “Bathing,” on the other hand, “implies having some contact with the ground while in the water–propulsion and speed are secondary.” Bathing is what the rest of us do. Shapton’s husband, a poor swimmer who seems from Shapton’s account to be a grounded person in both senses of the word, is a bather. “Watching him in the waves, I realize he doesn’t see life as rigor and deprivation. To him it’s something to enjoy, where the focus is not on how to win, but how to flourish.” Full review by Elizabeth Lowry.

Link Mania: Election Resources

Neverending search, a library blog, has a nice round-up of election resources all over the web:


NY Times’ nifty Electoral Map is included of course.

There’s also a service from Topsy, which describes itself as “Topsy, the realtime social analytics provider,” tracking the Twitterverse on the election. Maybe they know how to tell the bots from the pundits and other carbon-based life forms?