Wednesday, December 26, 2012

At the End of the Day

Struggling to determine which is more inspiring: a pleasant and quiet Christmas surrounded by friends and family or a gory and depressing three hours of Les Miserables. Both were entertaining and, admittedly, predictable. But only one involved murder, betrayal and revolution. So I guess Les Mis was better. Then again, Russell Crowe's singing voice (or lack thereof) nearly ruined the movie.   So… Christmas wins.

Have had some time to think and read since classes ended last week, and have decided that to write better - or more creatively, meaningfully, [insert another adverb here] - I should broaden my reading horizons. So instead of reverting to 19th century English literature when I can't think of any other delicious novels to feast on, I'll try modern American lit or a magazine that isn't the New Yorker. Will read more non-fiction (though only while reading fiction simultaneously. How can anyone go on without some tragic hero to worry about?) or something Russian or post-colonialist or whatever. If nothing else, maybe I'll find a new favorite author. Have just started reading A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers. So far, so good.

Speaking of favorite authors… a few photos below from the Dickens exhibit at the NY Public Library.

Chinese edition of David Copperfield. When CD's works began to be translated abroad, he was criticized internationally for some of his politically incorrect and racially and religiously offensive characters (such as "Fagin the Jew.") A highly sensitive author, Dickens ensured that in subsequent novels he corrected for any offenses he might have caused. Hence "the gentle Jew" of Our Mutual Friend. 

An illustration for a later edition of David Copperfield (published 1849). Dickens was highly influenced by the artist Hogarth, who depicted scenes of the working class where the details of the background (settings that spoke volumes about societal norms and hypocrisies) were as important as the characters in the foreground. However, by the middle of Dickens's career, the impropriety of Hogarth's drawings were no longer considered appropriate and more proper and innocuous illustrations (such as this one) became fashionable. 

Doesn't every kid want a Charles Dickens action figure? The pen is mightier than the sword, eh?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012

On Writing (or, more accurately, On Not Really Writing).

Time to put pen to paper. And I mean business. I'm even sitting on my reading couch - the couch I only venture over to when I'm committed to doing my most importantest reading and writing (though lately it's the couch I've idly gazed at from across the room with a vague sense of repressed guilt and anxiety). Have stumbled through a few speed-writing attempts over recent weeks and now know that practice makes perfect. I've discovered this by conducting an experiment that I affectionately refer to as Being Lazy and Also Afraid to Write (side note: when you spell "write" as "rite" and only catch the error because of the red squiggly line, it's time to worry).

I'll have to ease into this until I've remembered how to string words together in a manner that is eloquent enough to hold someone's attention for longer than five seconds (including my own). So, will cheat and kick off with a witty quote from a new favorite literary magazine, McSweeney's Internet Tendency:

Don’t spend your career lost in a sea of copycats when you can establish your own set of rules. If everyone’s putting periods at the end of their sentences, put yours in the middle of words. Will it be incredibly difficult to read? Yes it will. Will it set you on the path to becoming a literary pioneer? Tough to say, but you’re kind of out of options at this point.

Perhaps I'll experiment with grammar. 
 Bang; zoom! or s.yntax said she. hi! ku?

And out of options I am. The issue I'm grappling with is overexposure to expendable writing. Cheap, bland writing simply meant  to convey some tactical, tangible message, or maybe without any real intention at all. Words that will be rendered meaningless in a day or are already meaningless because today's news article is just a modified iteration of yesterday's.  Prose whose only metaphors are dead ones and in which "corp speak"is more prevalent than imagery. We're surrounded by it when we consume our daily news and magazines. We hail it as efficient and clear when we send emails at work. And it serves a purpose in its own right. Sometimes we just need to know the facts. But when we spend our days reading news articles written for an 8th grade reading level (as is standard for nearly all major news publications) and typing concise bullets to ensure others read at least some of what we write, are we training our minds to forego the beauty of language in favor of convenience?

Language has for centuries been regarded as among the highest forms of art. In today's world, can we appreciate the flavor that an extra adjective adds to a description? Or relish with pleasure in a non-native English speaker's imperfectly written note, even if it's not as concise as we were hoping for? Most importantly, how can we ensure the beauty and richness of language and words continue to color our lives despite the writing we see and write every day - the prose that is stripped of art and flair? It's time to embark on a new experiment, or an effort at least: to re-train my mind to write artfully. Not practically or logically. Maybe not grammatically. But honestly and creatively, to appreciate and respect the essence of language. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What Do I Desire?

"What if Money Was No Object" by Eastern philosopher and author Alan Watts.