30 January 2012

Reading Genius

"The genius of our brain's construction is not that it contains 
a lot of hardwiring but that it doesn't." 
- Nicholas Carr, The Shallows, 31.

It's not bad enough that television kicked our attention spans' collective asses, but it prepared the way for an all out annihilation to it, which has come in the form of the internet.  Email, social media, IM: these all play a part in distracting our minds from whatever productive task we have on our TO DO lists.  Cory Doctorow, as quoted by Carr, writes that "leaving your IM running is like sitting down to work after hanging a giant 'DISTRACT ME' sign over your desk, one that shines brightly enough to be seen by the entire world."  When I think of the telephone ringing, the doorbell sounding, the dogs barking at something only they can hear, the thought of having another potential distraction is more than irksome.

I'm going to say that Carr, in The Shallows, makes some rather sobering points regarding the internet's changing of the human brain.  And, as he passingly mentions, the answer is obviously not to stop using the internet at all costs.  Luddites have a difficult time uniting, with their lack of technology, which is the reason their way of thinking is an exception to actual social acceptance of the  technology they fear and loathe. But I, for one, don't want my brain to be changed in such a way that I am unable to read long, difficult works of literature, and I hope you don't want that for your brain, either.

A good idea, then, is to follow the Buddha; i.e. follow the middle path.  Use the internet to skim information, to grasp the main points of knowledge and to share our own knowledge with others; but, use books and other less distraction prone media for developing depth.  Old fashioned books for depth; new fangled internet for breadth.

Otherwise subsequent generations' attention spans won't be as long as their eye-blinks.

LINKS: Cory Doctorow: Writing in the Age of Distraction

20 January 2012

Reading and Writing to Write

"If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."
- Stephen King

I agree with this very simple-seeming piece of advice; there are no magic spells, no secret buttons, no fairy dust—unless you want them in your stories; but they will not arrive serendipitously to give you the edge to write.  King, it has been belabored by many writing teachers, points out that reading provides the tools for writing.

Thinking about this in connection with Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, I believe this advice needs to be modified with the following caveats:
  • Online reading does NOT equal deep reading of actual books
  • Reading like a reader must be changed to reading like a writer
  • Both reading and writing should be done in distraction free environment, if and when possible
In following posts we’ll look at these in turn, with an eye toward distraction, the changes to our brains from online reading, and reading like a writer.

There will be many that will disagree with me on one or more of these points: that’s understandable, because everyone is different.  The area that I have received the most debate in is that of distraction free reading and writing.  Even Stephen King states in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft that he writes while listening to music (usually hard rock or heavy metal).  I will say that there are times when doing this can be helpful and I will go into that, also.
Please feel free to comment, but be nice to me and to other commenters.  This is meant to be a discussion on writing and reading and comments should reflect that.  Thanks.

11 January 2012

Evolution of the Wastebasket

  “A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason.”
~ Margaret Atwood

The wastebasket evolved into the delete key, which sometimes, unfortunately, sometimes, not unfortunately, is final. I have hit the delete key too many times, in the course of my writing in general. Once, I highlighted a folder, yes, an entire folder, held down the shift key and punched delete—sending that disgusting shit I had written and was allowing to ferment in that precious space on my hard-drive into the dark recesses of wherever shit goes when you delete it from your hard-drive. I should hit the delete key on that sentence.

Writing is difficult and it doesn’t—does NOT—get easier the longer you do it. Certain aspects of writing may become nearly effortless, or nearly automatic with persistent practice, such as grammar, spelling, organizing thoughts. You know, the mechanical shit. The great thoughts, the great syntactical fireworks that you know will blow the roof off your readers’ heads—that shit does not get easier, so stop waiting for it to attain simplicity and just keep writing. OK? OK.

Now, back to that delete key. The writers who refuse to use computers to write have an advantage: it is a great deal more difficult to throw away an actual piece of paper with words written in sweat, tears and blood, than it is to delete some magic dots on the screen. I know. I have tried this. Also, if you wake up and realize that not everything you have written is fly-covered dung, you can simply reach into the wastebasket and retrieve the virtuosity of your pen or typewriter. Or, maybe frantically begin throwing all the balled up pieces of paper (some with sunflower seed shells and gum and … what is that? covering them, causing the blood or sweat or tears to run into illegibility) and flattening them madly, in your attempt reclaim the brilliance you so blithely tossed aside. The finality of the delete key scares hell out of me, because I have many times remembered something somewhat dazzling that I had written, and when I went to hunt it down, realized with great horror that it was in that folder which was sent to digital hell by the swift unmerciful action of the delete key and my impetuous judgment of the shitty-ness of my writing contained therein.

Well, I hope that cheered all your little souls to bursting. Have a great day and use care in the presence of the devil… I mean, delete key.

04 January 2012


I have been thinking of doing something Rauschenbergian for a while.  It can’t be quite as far out as his stuff (and of course will not be as kickbutt, either), but I am leaning toward a combine.

Here is an example: one of my favorites by him:

I’m not sure of the title, but hey, I know what I like.  Here are some of his others at the MOMA site.

Salvador Dali did some similar stuff using “found objects,” I believe, but, of course, he isn’t remembered for it; he is remembered (by most people) only for his Persistence of Memory, seen here from the MOMA site:

Well, I have some planning to do ...