Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth has this scene at the start of the Chapter 4 that develops primarily through dialogue. In fact, bulk of that chapter is dialogue. The dialogue is between two characters: Franny, a cocktail waitress, and Leon Posen, a customer at the bar and occupationally a writer. The setting is Chicago’s iconic Palmer House Hotel. It’s near closing time for the bar so it’s almost empty. Franny is a huge fan of Leon Posen and she has read all his works quite faithfully. So when she finds out that Leon Posen is at the bar, Franny takes the opportunity to be his bartender to impress her idol. Leon, for his part, has had a few drinks already and he’s smitten by Franny’s beauty. He relishes at the idea of being served by Franny so that she could linger around him.
There’s this line toward the very end of Colson Whitehead’s book, The Underground Railroad: “She trusted the slave’s choice to guide her—anywhere, anywhere but where you are escaping from.” This is a realization that comes to Cora, the protagonist and a runaway slave who is seeking lasting deliverance. Cora’s realization is a reminder to the self, a lesson in survival. She’s been on the run from Georgia to South Carolina, then to North Carolina, Tennessee, and Indiana. Yet, she’s still fleeing: to go anywhere, any other place that’s an escape from the present condition. But that “anywhere” is only a transient state before it reminds a runaway slave that he/she is on the hunt again. And he/she has to seek a new refuge, a new “anywhere.” The unifying thought that holds together Whitehead’s novel is this question: where does, if at all, that “anywhere” exist for an enslaved person?
Three AFP photographers went out on a mission to capture US-Mexico border in pictures. Their curiosity was what does the border physically look like? What would the proposed wall (as promised by Trump administration) do? The photo-essay “Cut in two: travels along the US-Mexico border – a photo essay” is the result of their 2000-mile long journey.
I often remind my students before research writing projects of what counts as credible source and what not. There’s more debate to be had on this issue these days since students are more dependent on the world wide web for their research than ever before. It’s often difficult to delineate which websites can be more trustworthy than other and more so, which can be quoted in a research paper in a composition class. So what about Wikipedia? Many students get that Wikipedia is not a source to cite in academic papers unless there’s a point to be made about the encyclopedia itself. But very few students though remember and apply to use Wikipedia as a tool for deepening their research. Maybe this quote from Katherine Maher, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, will help to emphasize that idea. This is from an interview she gave to The Guardian:
If you are going to do original research, especially if you are going to write a paper or do a piece for publication, it should go into more detail, talk to primary and secondary sources and the like. Wikipedia fills a different role [that of being a jumping-off point].
Carrot Quinn volunteered with No More Deaths, an organization devoted to those who risk dehydration entering the US where the wilderness is a 'weapon' e're walking in the Growler Valley near Ajo, Arizona, sidestepping around bristling cholla cactuses and traversing the deep, sandy washes that cut the land when we find the skull.
This essay by Carrot Quinn is a good example of blending of personal writing and journalism. When you cover an issue that is so difficult and emotionally eviscerating and you’re an eye-witness to numerous speechless victims whose stories will go untold and you have the burden of relaying that condition of omission and then there are these difficult questions like “what for? why? how could we?”, it is hard to check your outrage and balance the needs of a perfect narrative.
Quinn writes: “It wasn’t always this way; for decades, the route into the US was less hazardous to human life, and yearly deaths hovered in the single digits. Then, in the mid 1990s, the Border Patrol adopted a strategy called “prevention through deterrence”: urban areas were walled off and checkpoints were placed in such a way that people attempting to cross were funneled into the driest, most remote and brutal parts of the desert, far from roads, resources or possible rescue. In other words, the US Border Patrol used the desert wilderness as a weapon.”
I was reading Barack Obama’s interview with Michiko Kakutani on NY Times today. Obama speaks of his love for books, especially novels. His opinion on literature is as astute as a literary critic’s. He thinks that literature is necessary for everyone to read and even more so for a president. According to him, literature teaches you empathy and the ability to quiet your brain to think. The fact that a lawyer/politician/powerful leader chooses literature as a means to build these two qualities is the important point here.
Before I entered into the discipline of writing and literature, I was trained as an engineer. I know that I learned what empathy is and how to row past my own prejudices through novels. I feel like literature is for everyone. It’s an essential survival means for all of us. Secondly, Obama’s point on focus makes an even stronger case about why the books are the remedy to our ADHD minds. I worry about myself, my generation, and the generation after us about the influence of technology on human minds, on our ability to quiet our brains, to embrace boredom, and to not split into atoms of zillion distraction before finishing a book.
Here are few quotes from Obama’s interview:
- “And so I think that I found myself better able to imagine what’s going on in the lives of people throughout my presidency because of not just a specific novel but the act of reading fiction. It exercises those muscles, and I think that has been helpful.”
- “And that’s why seeing my daughters now picking up books that I read 30 years ago or 40 years ago is gratifying, because I want them to have perspective — not for purposes of complacency, but rather to give them confidence that people with a sense of determination and courage and pluck can reshape things. It’s empowering for them.”
- “But one of the things I’m confident about is that, out of this moment, there are a whole bunch of writers, a lot of them young, who are probably writing the book I need to read. [Laughter] They’re ahead of me right now. And so in my post-presidency, in addition to training the next generation of leaders to work on issues like climate change or gun violence or criminal justice reform, my hope is to link them up with their peers who see fiction or nonfiction as an important part of that process.
“When so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize — is more important than ever.
“There’s something particular about quieting yourself and having a sustained stretch of time that is different from music or television or even the greatest movies.
“And part of what we’re all having to deal with right now is just a lot of information overload and a lack of time to process things. So we make quick judgments and assign stereotypes to things, block certain things out, because our brain is just trying to get through the day.”
I start 2017 with this TedTalks video that I often share with my writing students. I try to convince them that constraint isn’t always detrimental to creativity. Rather, right type of constraints can inspire a person and propel him/her to find a creative solution. The speaker of this TedTalk, Tim Harford, shares several examples where constraints (“mess” as per him) led to creative solutions despite reservations from the persons struggling with constraints. If you’re a teacher struggling to convince your students of the ambitious writing projects, share this video.
To take the notion of “mess” further (from abstract to a concrete level), Harford in this article talks about how a messy desk is not necessarily a sign of sloppiness and inefficiency. Being superorganised and an obsessive planner can suck up too much time and, in fact, can heighten stress. Pay attention to the “filer” and “piler” categories that this article talks about. It’s not always the case that organized people are more productive or that they stay on top of their workload. Being messy and disorganized have their own advantages.
Yes, the determiner “the” seems to be disappearing from our writing and speech at an accelerated rate than anticipated. Who or what to blame? Well, it’s not clear yet. Easy suspects are texting, instant messaging, etc. But that sort of hypothesis will be simplistic, as this Language Log article suggests. As for me, if you point out that I have skipped a determiner in this post, my response: ‘Tis the trend, dude.
This year’s top articles from Faculty Focus is here.
My favorite in the list are Maryellen Weimer’s “Nine Ways to Improve Class Discussions” and Susan Spangler’s “Flipping Assessment.”
An article from Edutopia that talks of using humor to teach students mechanics of writing. The article gives examples of poorly written headlines that create faux pas or gaffes. It can get students’ attention right away about the grammatical and semantic aspect of the sentence. And when trying to fix the sentence students can learn hands-on the abstract concepts of grammar.