Reasonable Words: Tierney on the Power of Positive Procrastinating

He’s late, I’m later…nice piece on why you should procrastinate in an NYTimes piece by John Tierney.

For the past 5 years, or maybe it’s more like 10, I’ve been meaning to publish a New Year’s Day column offering a bold resolution for the coming year: “The Power of Positive Procrastination.”

Lots of gems to contemplate in lieu of doing something more odious (like filling out your timesheet), including this rigorous advice on writing from Raymond Chandler.

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 1.13.41 PMChandler forced himself to write detective stories by setting aside four hours a day and following two rules:

a) You don’t have to write.

b) You can’t do anything else.

“It’s the same principle as keeping order in a school,” Chandler explained. “If you make the pupils behave, they will learn something just to keep from being bored.”

Not sure about Chandler’s take on educational psychology, but I bet his technique would work for writing.

Guilty Pleasures: Hatchet Jobs

Wuthering Heights
Time will tell, and sometimes the author (or at least the book) gets the last laugh, “Here all the faults of Jane Eyre (by Charlotte Brontë) are magnified a thousand fold, and the only consolation which we have in reflecting upon it is that it will never be generally read.” -James Lorimer, North British Review, 1847, on Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë”

In addition to bringing us the Bad Sex in Literature Award (I think John Updike won their equivalent of the Irving G. Thalberg lifetime achievement medal), the Brits have also created The Hatchet Job of the Year award, promoting “integrity and wit in literary journalism.” The eight finalists include some “laugh out loud on the subway” moments.

The Guardian has an article as well as a slideshow with choice water balloon bits:

Utter drivel

Cod philosophy

repellent arrogance

(Although, to be fair, who on earth would read AN Wilson’s Hitler book? And many poets don’t seem to be able to get it together for a novel. If your usual occupation is painting Fabergé eggs, you’re probably going to fail at painting a barn.)

Will anybody equal last year’s winner, Adam Mars-Jones take down of Michael Cunningham’s By Nightfall?, which he faults for, among other things, dangling undigested literary references like “tin cans behind a tricycle.” Mars-Jones also has a nice bit about taking on writers outside your punching class:

There are some writers you shouldn’t challenge if you can help it – as Flannery O’Connor remarked about Faulkner’s superior power, “nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down.”

Beautiful Song: Pretty Yende

Listening to the Met’s Trovatore broadcast Saturday, the thing that caught my ear most (next to the impressive Di Luna of Alexey Markov) was an interview with a young soprano from South Africa who will be making her Met debut Thursday in Rossini’s Le comte Ory Pretty Yende.

Everything about her story is remarkable. She didn’t hear a note of opera until 2001, when she heard that British Airways commercial with a bit of the duet from Lakmé. The sound of operatic singing caught her imagination and the next day she asked somebody at her school what it was and how to do it. That started a path that tapped and developed what clearly are remarkable qualities: a pure and beautifully produced soprano voice, musical talent, and determination. What seems to have emerged is a poised, polished performer, one who seems born to do this complicated, unbelievably beautiful thing, sing.

The Met called her about singing the Countess in the Rossini only a couple of weeks ago; she said yes, learned the role in a week! (Telling Margaret Juntwait graciously that learning music has always been easy for her.) There’s no YouTube video of her in Rossini, but here she is (with some miserable pick-up orchestra, sorry) doing the radiant Song to The Moon from Rusalka. If the Met wants to make a lot of opera lovers happy, I think they should ease up on their IP policing attitude just once, and let a clip of her singing En Proie À La Tristesse Thursday find its way to the Web. There are only so many debuts in one opera-going lifetime that are worth remembering. This is likely to be one.

and that music from the British Airways commercial that inspired her.

Critical Words: Brantley on Picnic

NY Times theater critic Ben Brantley has a little fun with the revival of that 1953 clunker, “Picnic,” (hunky stranger comes to town, upsets the womenfolk. A story line that was already trite at the time of The Bacchae).

The male lead seems more Greek god than bad-boy drifter. As Brantley notes:
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Presented au naturel or in a tight shirt ripped at the chest by an admirer (leaving a strategic view of a nipple), it’s a sight that arouses dangerous longings in lonely bosoms. From the moment it makes its first entrance, this is a torso named Trouble.

This play once passed for controversial. How times and mores have changed…

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Digital Newspapers and their Affordances

An interesting bit by Australian writer, Anne Summers who gives up her three a day print newspaper habit for digital subscriptions is today’s Library Link of the Day. The deciding factor: the nuisance of getting and then disposing of the papers themselves. (She doesn’t mention the environmental issue per se, but I’ve always thought that will finally be what finishes off hard copy subscriptions for me.)

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Version 1.0 of the NYTimes–the first front page from 1851. Had to wait awhile for version 2.0 enhancements, like photos.

Not quite there yet though: my NYTimes came to my door this morning. And like my parents (newspaper people and later journalism teachers), I sat with my coffee and scanned, read, page turned, enjoyed the feel of the thing in my hand and the look of it on the table.

No question that the digital format offers lots that this batch of inky atoms doesn’t. (Summers in her Sydney Sunday Morning essay describes the digital presentation as a library, true enough and doesn’t even reach the multimedia or social elements digital offers.) But as she notes, this bonanza comes with a learning curve, different enough in each of the three papers she subscribes to require a little futzing. In web/media/education speak these different formats all have their affordances. A term connected to usability, and a little pompous, I grant you. “Affordance, please bring the Benz to the door. Cyril and Daria are going for a spin!” For me, affordance mostly refers to question, “what does a format let you do?” One newspaper format affords you the chance to play video or search, another affords you the chance to clean your BBQ or pick up cat poop. (So far, no Firefox plug-ins for those activities).

The thing about the printed newspaper page is that it affords—or just offers—such a well-designed and evolved interface. The graphic display is the result of centuries of development of graphic design, and user testing. You understand hierarchy, you get how to use it, you scan, read, scribble, clip, and know what is contained in that day’s helping. I like being able to understand what the writers and editors intended, and I like the organization of content, which presents this intention pretty transparently. I say this fully realizing that for a one-year-old a print publication is just an iPad that doesn’t quite work. But for me, for a little while longer, a digital edition is just a piece of print that doesn’t quite work.

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The Globe’s epaper version. A lot of interface to find out who won the game or the Golden Globes. I think they are solving the wrong problem.

Reasonable Words: Anatomy of a YouTube IP battle

ArtsTechnica has an interesting first-person account on how a “fair use” poster child got mired in YouTube’s infringement workflow. In the various twists and turns Jonathan McIntosh relates, two struck me. First, all this “think you didn’t infringe, fill out this form” automated IP process seems disconcerting in that it hides the people behind the claims; are there people? Or just algorithms?  Secondly, if I’m following it right, part of the dispute is over whether somebody who asserts IP rights can unilaterally insert their ads, which you have to live with, or have your content blocked. Somewhat “meta” and creepy.

From the piece:

This is what a broken copyright enforcement system looks like.

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Although my interest in Buffy or Edward is “less than absent” to steal a phrase from Robert Pinsky, I think I may have to watch his mash up for context. (Just watched it, nice piece of editing.)

Reasonable Lists: Not New Books of the Year

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Ko-ko’s “I’ve got a little list” (in Jonathan Miller’s frankly rather missable production of The Mikado).

Despite my love of lists, I realize I haven’t had one here in a while. Easy remedy: here is a nice one from the Guardian, Not New Books of the Year. (Found via Tyler Cowen’s Marginal Revolution blog, which my economist friends scoff at but I quite like.)

A couple of Faulkners, Thomas Mann, (hmm, should Masterpiece ready their production facilities? maybe he’s the new Jane Austen), and my beloved William Maxwell‘s So Long, See You Tomorrow. My “new old” discovery of the year was Elizabeth Taylor (the novelist and short story writer, not the Hollywood Diva.) Droll, mordant, and veddy, veddy English.

Do you have a “new old” discovery of the year? Write a comment, if so.

Reasonable Words: Eudora Welty

Before she was a Pulitzer Prize winner and a national treasure, Eudora Welty was a 23-year-old looking for a job at the New Yorker. Letters of Note has her application letter. With this, among many other droll phrases,

“A little paragraph each morning — a little paragraph each night…”

(Blogging summed up in 10 words.)

She didn’t get a job there, but I bet everybody in the office (Katherine White, William Maxwell, and even Harold Ross) read it with a gentle smile.

March 15, 1933


Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 5.53.31 PMI suppose you’d be more interested in even a sleight-o’-hand trick than you’d be in an application for a position with your magazine, but as usual you can’t have the thing you want most.

I am 23 years old, six weeks on the loose in N.Y. However, I was a New Yorker for a whole year in 1930-31 while attending advertising classes in Columbia’s School of Business. Actually I am a southerner, from Mississippi, the nation’s most backward state. Ramifications include Walter H. Page, who, unluckily for me, is no longer connected with Doubleday-Page, which is no longer Doubleday-Page, even. I have a B.A. (’29) from the University of Wisconsin, where I majored in English without a care in the world. For the last eighteen months I was languishing in my own office in a radio station in Jackson, Miss., writing continuities, dramas, mule feed advertisements, santa claus talks, and life insurance playlets; now I have given that up.

As to what I might do for you — I have seen an untoward amount of picture galleries and 15¢ movies lately, and could review them with my old prosperous detachment, I think; in fact, I recently coined a general word for Matisse’s pictures after seeing his latest at the Marie Harriman: concubineapple. That shows you how my mind works — quick, and away from the point. I read simply voraciously, and can drum up an opinion afterwards.

Since I have bought an India print, and a large number of phonograph records from a Mr. Nussbaum who picks them up, and a Cezanne Bathers one inch long (that shows you I read e. e. cummings I hope), I am anxious to have an apartment, not to mention a small portable phonograph. How I would like to work for you! A little paragraph each morning — a little paragraph each night, if you can’t hire me from daylight to dark, although I would work like a slave. I can also draw like Mr. Thurber, in case he goes off the deep end. I have studied flower painting.

There is no telling where I may apply, if you turn me down; I realize this will not phase [sic] you, but consider my other alternative: the U of N.C. offers for $12.00 to let me dance in Vachel Lindsay’s Congo. I congo on. I rest my case, repeating that I am a hard worker.

Truly yours,

Eudora Welty

Beautiful Music: Les Troyens

Screen Shot 2013-01-05 at 9.43.09 AMHector Berlioz’s epic opera, The Trojans, all five hours of it, is live from the Met today at noon (both on old fashioned radio and in the HD broadcast in movie theaters). Berlioz fanatics will hang on every note, particularly those caressed by Susan Graham who is a wonderful Dido. But even if you are looking to spend your Saturday afternoon doing something other than blissing out on the apex of French romantic neo-classicism, I’d still recommend Acts III and IV, (starting at 2:15 or so EST according to the not always reliable Opera News.) Act IV ends with the most beautiful duet HB ever wrote, and that, mesdames, mesdemoiselles et messieurs, is saying something.

A taste below:  Verrett and Gedda in the duet (superb singers, hurried along a bit by the conductor).

and Domingo and Troyanos, stars of the Met’s previous production.

  What on earth is Placido wearing on his feet? And sorry that the clip breaks off before the end…deprives you of Berlioz’s brilliant flash that ends the act.

Reasonable Words: Interview Advice

From Brian Leiter’s Philosophy Blog, Leiter Reports, nice advice about what to do in an interview. This is for people applying for academic jobs in philosophy, but the underlying idea is more generally applicable to other kinds of interviews.

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Potential source of interview questions for would-be philosophy faculty?


One of my colleagues has a lovely phrase to describe a key virtue in a candidate:  “She accepted the question I offered.” What this means is that, if an interviewer poses a question to you, don’t dismiss it, ignore it, or try to shut the dialogue down.

At one level, this would seem pretty elementary, who would do an end-run in an interview for a desirable job? But actually listening to the question and answering it (even if it’s to say you don’t know or you don’t understand it) as opposed to bending it to what you were prepared to say can be pretty challenging. (I might add, uncharitably, that it’s perhaps especially hard for philosophy types, of which I am one.)

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