Monday, October 15, 2018

More Noodling about Email-- and Dispatch Boxes

screenshot of a few antique dispatch boxes for sale

I stand by my 10-point protocol for email, but the past few months, after my mother's passing, have brought a tsunami of correspondence. Much of this, from friends and family, has been very welcome, actually; it's just been challenging to keep up with it and everything else. All of which is to say, if I owe you an email, dear reader, please know that I have not vanished into some befogged plane of hyperspace. I am working on it, and with good cheer!

On the ever-gnarly subject of email management, I note that my favorite guru of Attentional Focus Theory, Cal Newport, has recently posted "The Average User Checks Email 5.6 Hours a Day. This is Not Good." It's bit thin that gruel; Newport is simply pointing out some recent report that, by Jove, that's the number (and I believe it). I mention it here because I would like to add the thought that, for many professions, the need to manage large volumes of correspondence is nothing new. (Check out the antique dispatch boxes here.) In my case, as a writer, translator, and workshop leader with several books published, and family and friends, it is to be expected-- and this would be true were I somehow to be transported to 1918 or, say, 1818.

You know, I'll bet Jane Austen complained about the hours she spent on her correspondence.

The seachange of course is that our smartphones have brought us all into potentially instant contact. It used to be the case-- I am old enough to remember-- that really good friends and doting relatives might write, oh, say, every few weeks or so. And I have decided, in my case, that's about reasonably right. In other words, I do not use FB or Whatsapp; I use an old-fashioned telephone, send occasional snail mail and, above all, email. This is consternating to some, a shrug of so what to others. When I write an email I write a thoughtful one, and-- further evidence of thoughtfulness-- with proper punctuation. Some people appreciate this. Some don't. And... the world keeps on turning.

Today I received a charming letter from poet Kim Roberts-- a real letter, placed by the postman in the mailbox, which box I opened with a key, and in an envelope I slit open with an letter opener. After I read the letter, I walked my dogs in autumn sunshine. Then I made a batch of split pea soup.

Life on earth.

And now, dogs snoring, having finished this Monday's post, I will work on my correspondence, I mean, email.

I am thinking of my laptop as, among many things, an early 21st century dispatch box. It's kind of magic, how letters just appear inside it. It has the image of a white apple on its lid.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Poetic Listing

As of this year, the second Monday of the month is dedicated to my writing workshop students and anyone else interested in creative writing.


A much-celebrated poem that amounts to a list-- a luminous list-- is Robert Pinsky's "The Shirt."

How to make a list into something poetic? It helps to be attentive to and creative with diction drops and spikes, repetition, scansion, and alliteration. I've already posted on diction and on repetition; in future months look for posts on scansion and alliteration.

Herewith, taken from a few favorite works, are some examples of poetic listing-- and to get the most of this, to really hear the poetry, I would suggest that you read these aloud:

"During the first days she kept busy thinking about changes in the house. She took the shades off the candlesticks, had new wall-paper put up, the staircase repainted, and seats made in the garden round the sundial; she even inquired how she could get a basin with a jet fountain and fishes." Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary 
"We eat our supper (cold biscuits, bacon, blackberry jam) and discuss tomorrow. Tomorrow the kind of work I like best begins: buying. Cherries and citron, ginger and vanilla and canned Hawaiian pineapple, rinds and raisins and walnuts and whiskey and oh, so much flour, butter so many eggs, spices, flavorings: why, we'll need a pony to pull the buggy home." Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory
"Tonight he wished for little things, the chance to take a hot bath, a reasonable suit of clothing, a gift to bring, at the very least some flowers, but then the room tilted slightly in the other direction and he opened up his hands and all of that fell away from him and he wanted nothing." Ann Patchett, Bel Canto
"The carriage was crammed: waves of silk, ribs of three crinolines, billowed, clashed, entwined almost to the heights of their heads; beneath was a tight press of stockings, girls silken slippers, the Princess's bronze-colored shoes, the Prince's patent-leather pumps; each suffered from the others feet and could find nowhere to put his own." Guiseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard
And an example I also used in the post on repetition (money, money, money):
"Tancredi, he considered, had a great future; he would be the standard-bearer of a counter-attack which the nobility, under new trappings, could launch against the social State. To do this he lacked only one thing: money; this Tancredi did not have; none at all. And to get on in politics, now that a name counted less, would require a lot of money: money to buy votes, money to do the electors favors, money for a dazzling style of living..."  Guiseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard

To take this further, as you are reading whatever you happen to be reading, note in your notebook whenever you find, in your view, any especially apt use of poetic listing. (More on reading as a writer here.)

P.S. More resources for writers on my workshop page.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Cyberflanerie: B. Jay Antrim's 1848 Journey Across Mexico; Paxman on Jenkins; Kunstler Talks to Strand about Electric Light; Do the Math; Wolfe on McLuhan

This finds me catching up on email, mainly, doggedly, heartfully, and working on the Far West Texas book and related podcasts which I hope to announce shortly. Meanwhile, for you my dear adventurously curious readers, herewith some fascinating items that have popped up on my screen in recent weeks:

Over at Mexico News Daily John Pint covers Steve Wilson's discovery of a most extraordinary collection of watercolors and memoir by B. Jay Antrim about his 1848 journey to California by way of Mexico. (Why not by way of Texas? Back then a chunk of that was Comancheria.)

Historian Andrew Paxman talks about his biography of William O. Jenkins, Jenkins of Mexico: How a Southern Farm Boy Became a Mexican Magnate, at PEN San Miguel. A splendid biography, and a must-read for anyone with any interest in Mexico.

Abidingly fascinating: James Howard Kunstler talks to Clark Strande about electric light.

Ye olde wet towel (wet as in wet cement) Chris Martenson interviews Tom Murphy about Doing the Math (and whether you're freaked out or you totally don't care, here's Murphy's intriguing theory about your reaction).

Tom Wolfe on "Why is Marshall McLuhan Important?"
Long, but it's ceaselessly interesting.

> Your comments are always welcome. Write to me here.