Wednesday, January 04, 2017

How Not To Write Like An Archdruid

Among the occasional amusements I get from writing these weekly essays are earnest comments from people who want to correct my writing style. I field one of them every month or so, and the latest example came in over the electronic transom in response to last week’s post. Like most of its predecessors, it insisted that there’s only one correct way to write for the internet, trotted out a set of canned rules that supposedly encapsulate this one correct way, and assumed as a matter of course that the only reason I didn’t follow those rules is that I’d somehow managed not to hear about them yet.

The latter point is the one I find most amusing, and also most curious. Maybe I’m naive, but it’s always seemed to me that if I ran across someone who was writing in a style I found unusual, the first thing I’d want to do would be to ask the author why he or she had chosen that stylistic option—because, you know, any writer who knows the first thing about his or her craft chooses the style he or she finds appropriate for any given writing project. I field such questions once in a blue moon, and I’m happy to answer them, because I do indeed have reasons for writing these essays in the style I’ve chosen for them. Yet it’s much more common to get the sort of style policing I’ve referenced above—and when that happens, you can bet your bottom dollar that what’s being pushed is the kind of stilted, choppy, dumbed-down journalistic prose that I’ve deliberately chosen not to write.

I’m going to devote a post to all this, partly because I write what I want to write about, the way I want to write about it, for the benefit of those who enjoy reading it, and those who don’t are encouraged to remember that there are thousands of other blogs out there that they’re welcome to read instead. Partly, though, the occasional thudding of what Giordano Bruno called “the battering rams of infants, the catapults of error, the bombards of the inept, and the lightning flashes, thunder, and great tempests of the ignorant”—now there was a man who could write!—raises issues that are central to the occasional series of essays on education I’ve been posting here.

Accepting other people’s advice on writing is a risky business—and yes, that applies to this blog post as well as any other source of such advice. It’s by no means always true that “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” but when we’re talking about unsolicited writing advice on the internet, that’s the way to bet.  Thus it’s not enough for some wannabe instructor to tell you “I’ve taught lots of people” (taught them what?) or “I’ve helped lots of people” (to do what?)—the question you need to ask is what the instructor himself or herself has written and where it’s been published.

The second of those matters as much as the first. It so happens, for example, that a great many of the professors who offer writing courses at American universities publish almost exclusively in the sort of little literary quarterlies that have a circulation in three figures and pay contributors in spare copies. (It’s not coincidental that these days, most of the little literary quarterlies in question are published by university English departments.) There’s nothing at all wrong with that, if you dream of writing the sort of stories, essays, and poetry that populate little literary quarterlies.

If you want to write something else, though, it’s worth knowing that these little quarterlies have their own idiosyncratic literary culture. There was a time when the little magazines were one of the standard stepping stones to a successful writing career, but that time went whistling down the wind decades ago. Nowadays, the little magazines have gone one way, the rest of the publishing world has gone another, and many of the habits the little magazines encourage (or even require) in their writers will guarantee prompt and emphatic rejection slips from most other writing venues.

Different kinds of writing, in other words, have their own literary cultures and stylistic customs. In some cases, those can be roughly systematized in the form of rules. That being the case, is there actually some set of rules that are followed by everything good on the internet?

Er, that would be no. I’m by no means a fan of the internet, all things considered—I publish my essays here because most of the older venues I’d prefer no longer exist—but it does have its virtues, and one of them is the remarkable diversity of style to be found there. If you like stilted, choppy, dumbed-down journalistic prose of the sort my commenter wanted to push on me, why, yes, you can find plenty of it online. You can also find lengthy, well-argued essays written in complex and ornate prose, stream-of-consciousness pieces that out-beat the Beat generation, experimental writing of any number of kinds, and more. Sturgeon’s Law (“95% of everything is crap”) applies here as it does to every other human creation, but there are gems to be found online that range across the spectrum of literary forms and styles. No one set of rules applies.

Thus we can dismiss the antics of the style police out of hand. Let’s go deeper, though. If there’s no one set of rules that internet writing ought to follow, are there different rules for each kind of writing? Or are rules themselves the problem? This is where things get interesting.

One of the consistent mental hiccups of American popular culture is the notion that every spectrum consists solely of its two extremes, with no middle ground permitted, and that bit of paralogic gets applied to writing at least as often as to anything else. Thus you have, on the one hand, the claim that the only way to write well is to figure out what the rules are and follow them with maniacal rigidity; on the other, the claim that the only way to write well is to throw all rules into the trash can and let your inner genius, should you happen to have one of those on hand, spew forth the contents of your consciousness all anyhow onto the page. Partisans of those two viewpoints snipe at one another from behind rhetorical sandbags, and neither one of them ever manages more than a partial victory, because neither approach is particularly useful when it comes to the actual practice of writing.

By and large, when people write according to a rigidly applied set of rules—any rigidly applied set of rules—the result is predictable, formulaic, and trite, and therefore boring. By and large, when people write without paying any attention to rules at all, the result is vague, shapeless, and maundering, and therefore boring. Is there a third option? You bet, and it starts by taking the abandoned middle ground: in this case, learning an appropriate set of rules, and using them as a starting point, but departing from them wherever doing so will improve the piece you’re writing.

The set of rules I recommend, by the way, isn’t meant to produce the sort of flat PowerPoint verbiage my commenter insists on. It’s meant to produce good readable English prose, and the source of guidance I recommend to those who are interested in such things is Strunk and White’s deservedly famous The Elements of Style. Those of my readers who haven’t worked with it, who want to improve their writing, and who’ve glanced over what I’ve published and decided that they might be able to learn something useful from me, could do worse than to read it and apply it to their prose.

A note of some importance belongs here, though. There’s a thing called writer’s block, and it happens when you try to edit while you’re writing. I’ve read, though I’ve misplaced the reference, that neurologists have found that the part of the brain that edits and the part of the brain that creates are not only different, they conflict with one another.  If you try to use both of them at once, your brain freezes up in a fairly close neurological equivalent of the Blue Screen of Death, and you stop being able to write at all. That’s writer’s block. To avoid it, NEVER EDIT WHILE YOU’RE WRITING. 

I mean that quite literally. Don’t even look at the screen if you can’t resist the temptation to second-guess the writing process. If you have to, turn the screen off, so you can’t even see what you’re writing. Eventually, with practice, you’ll learn to move smoothly back and forth between creative mode and editing mode, but if you don’t have a lot of experience writing, leave that for later. For now, just blurt it all out without a second thought, with all its misspellings and garbled grammar intact.

Then, after at least a few hours—or better yet, after a day or so—go back over the mess, cutting, pasting, adding, and deleting as needed, until you’ve turned it into nice clean text that says what you want it to say. Yes, we used to do that back before computers; the process is called “cut and paste” because it was done back then with a pair of scissors and a pot of paste, the kind with a little spatula mounted on the inside of the lid to help you spread the stuff; you’d cut out the good slices of raw prose and stick them onto a convenient sheet of paper, interspersed with handwritten or freshly typed additions. Then you sat down and typed your clean copy from the pasted-up mess thus produced. Now you know how to do it when the internet finally dries up and blows away. (You’re welcome.)

In the same way, you don’t try to write while looking up rules in Strunk & White. Write your piece, set it aside for a while, and then go over it with your well-worn copy of Strunk & White in hand, noting every place you broke one of the rules of style the book suggests you should follow. The first few times, as a learning exercise, you might consider rewriting the whole thing in accordance with those rules—but only the first few times. After that, make your own judgment call: is this a place where you should follow the rules, or is this a place where they need to be bent, broken, or trampled into the dust? Only you, dear reader-turned-writer, can decide.

A second important note deserves to be inserted at this point, though. The contemporary US public school system can be described without too much inaccuracy as a vast mechanism for convincing children that they can’t write. Rigid rules imposed for the convenience of educators rather than the good of the students, part of the industrial mass-production ethos that pervades public schools in this country, leave a great many graduates so bullied, beaten, and bewildered by bad pedagogy that the thought of writing something for anybody else to read makes them turn gray with fear. It’s almost as bad as the terror of public speaking the public schools also go out of their way to inflict, and it plays a comparable role in crippling people’s capacity to communicate outside their narrow circles of friends.

If you suffer from that sort of educational hangover, dear reader, draw a deep breath and relax. The bad grades and nasty little comments in red ink you got from Mrs. Melba McNitpick, your high school English teacher, are no reflection of your actual capacities as a writer. If you can talk, you can write—it’s the same language, after all. For that matter, even if you can’t talk, you may be able to write—there’s a fair number of people out there who are nonverbal for one reason or another, and can still make a keyboard dance.

The reason I mention this here is that the thought of making an independent judgment about when to follow the rules and when to break them fills a great many survivors of American public schools with dread. In far too many cases, students are either expected to follow the rules with mindless obedience and given bad grades if they fail to do so, or given no rules at all and then expected to conform to unstated expectations they have no way to figure out, and either of these forms of bad pedagogy leaves scars. Again, readers who are in this situation should draw a deep breath and relax; having left Mrs. McNitpick’s class, you’re not subject to her opinions any longer, and should ignore them utterly.

So how do you decide where to follow the rules and where to fold, spindle, and mutilate them? That’s where we walk through the walls and into the fire, because what guides you in your decisions regarding the rules of English prose is the factor of literary taste.

Rules can be taught, but taste can only be learned. Does that sound like a paradox? Au contraire, it simply makes the point that only you can learn, refine, and ripen your literary taste—nobody else can do it for you, or even help you to any significant extent—and your sense of taste is therefore going to be irreducibly personal. When it comes to taste, you aren’t answerable to Mrs. McNitpick, to me, to random prose trolls on the internet, or to anyone else. What’s more, you develop your taste for prose the same way you develop your taste for food: by trying lots of different things, figuring out what you like, and paying close attention to what you like, why you like it, and what differentiates it from the things you don’t like as much.

This is applicable, by the way, to every kind of writing, including those kinds at which the snobs among us turn up their well-sharpened noses. I don’t happen to be a fan of the kind of satirical gay pornography that Chuck Tingle has made famous, for example, but friends of mine who are tell me that in that genre, as in all others, there are books that are well written, books that are tolerable, and books that trip over certain overelongated portions of their anatomy and land face first in—well, let’s not go there, shall we? In the same way, if your idea of a good read is nineteenth-century French comedies of manners, you can find a similar spectrum extending from brilliance to bathos.

Every inveterate reader takes in a certain amount of what I call popcorn reading—the sort of thing that’s read once, mildly enjoyed, and then returned to the library, the paperback exchange, or whatever electronic Elysium e-books enter when you hit the delete button. That’s as inevitable as it is harmless. The texts that matter in developing your personal taste, though, are the ones you read more than once, and especially the ones you read over and over again. As you read these for the third or the thirty-third time, step back now and then from the flow of the story or the development of the argument, and notice how the writer uses language. Learn to notice the really well-turned phrases, the figures of speech that are so apt and unexpected that they seize your attention, the moments of humor, the plays on words, the  passages that match tone and pacing to the subject perfectly.

If you’ve got a particular genre in mind—no, let’s stop for a moment and talk about genre, shall we? Those of my readers who endured a normal public school education here in the US probably don’t know that this is pronounced ZHON-ruh (it’s a French word) and it simply means a category of writing. Satirical gay pornography is a genre. The comedy of manners is a genre. The serious contemporary literary novel is a genre.  So are mysteries, romance, science fiction, fantasy, and the list goes on. There are also nonfiction genres—for example, future-oriented social criticism, the genre in which nine of my books from The Long Descent to Dark Age America have their place. Each genre is an answer to the question, “I just read this and I liked it—where can I find something else more or less like it?”

Every genre has its own habits and taboos, and if you want to write for publication, you need to know what those are. That doesn’t mean you have to follow those habits and taboos with the kind of rigid obedience critiqued above—quite the contrary—but you need to know about them, so that when you break the rules you do it deliberately and skillfully, to get the results you want, rather than clumsily, because you didn’t know any better. It also helps to read the classics of the genre—the books that established those habits and taboos—and then go back and read books in the genre written before the classics, to get a sense of what possibilities got misplaced when the classics established the frame through which all later works in that genre would be read.

If you want to write epic fantasy, for example, don’t you dare stop with Tolkien—it’s because so many people stopped with Tolkien that we’ve got so many dreary rehashes of something that was brilliantly innovative in 1949, complete with carbon-copy Dark Lords cackling in chorus and the inevitable and unendearing quest to do something with the Magic McGuffin that alone can save blah blah blah. Read the stuff that influenced Tolkien—William Morris, E.R. Eddison, the Norse sagas, the Kalevala, Beowulf.  Then read something in the way of heroic epic that he probably didn’t get around to reading—the Ramayana, the Heike Monogatari, the Popol Vuh, or what have youand think through what those have to say about the broader genre of heroic wonder tale in which epic fantasy has its place.

The point of this, by the way, isn’t to copy any of these things. It’s to develop your own sense of taste so that you can shape your own prose accordingly. Your goal, if you’re at all serious about writing, isn’t to write like Mrs. McNitpick, like your favorite author of satirical gay pornography or nineteenth-century French comedies of manners, or like me, but to write like yourself.

And that, to extend the same point more broadly, is the goal of any education worth the name. The word “education” itself comes from the Latin word educatio, from ex-ducere, “to lead out or bring out;” it’s about leading or bringing out the undeveloped potentials that exist inside the student, not shoving some indigestible bolus of canned information or technique down the student’s throat. In writing as in all other things that can be learned, that process of bringing out those undeveloped potentials requires the support of rules and examples, but those are means to an end, not ends in themselves—and it’s in the space between the rules and their inevitable exceptions, between the extremes of rigid formalism and shapeless vagueness, that the work of creation takes place.

That’s also true of politics, by the way—and the conventional wisdom of our time fills the same role there that the rules for bad internet prose do for writing. Before we can explore that, though, it’s going to be necessary to take on one of the more pervasive bad habits of contemporary thinking about the relationship between the present and the past. We’ll tackle that next week.

********************
In not wholly unrelated news, I’m pleased to announce that Merigan Tales, the anthology of short stories written by Archdruid Report readers set in the world of my novel Star’s Reach, is now in print and available for purchase from Founders House. Those of my readers who enjoyed Star’s Reach and the After Oil anthologies won’t want to miss it.

222 comments:

«Oldest   ‹Older   201 – 222 of 222
Justin said...

Scotyln, point taken.

Martin Pescador Tena, Napo, Ecuador said...

Hi!

I have only just come to this blog. God knows why, one of the most profound reading experiences I ever had - another is Hundred Years of Solitude - was reading your letter to my activist friends, which I return to every now and again and which I have shared and continue to share widely. It brought so much together for me - put my activist illusions into perspective and into the context of my novice understanding of magic that I've learned from Amazonian shamans (for want of a better term) - it was the moment I finally woke up from the dogmatic slumber that the dark forces of money, schooling and advertising had put me in.

I don't suppose you fancy a trip to the Amazon? I have a friend who practices traditional healing magic and a conversation between the two of you with me as a fly on the wall is the stuff that dreams are made of.

Anyway, this is just to say hello and to express my sincere respect and gratitude for expanding my mind and showing me how to make sense of the world in a new way that has been very helpful for everything I think about.

I will now read around the blog and also dive into your books.

Thanks for feeding my imagination and keeping the dream alive that there could be another kind of reality, another way of relating to one another that doesn't entail the mindless destruction of our own habitat and all those beautiful things that we are after all capable of.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Bill,

Well done and total respect!

Cheers

Chris

Les said...

@JMG wrote: “I do a certain amount of research in advance… ...aboard the barque Miskatonic, an old square-rigged ship... ...I didn't know a vast amount about big square-rigged sailing vessels... ...so I've spent a couple of months now reading up on all those things, and I've got about 6,000 words of detailed scenes for that otherwise unwritten book”

Back in an even earlier day than referenced previously, I misspent much of my youth attaining the dizzy heights of bo’s’n on a barquentine operating out of Sydney harbour.

I look forward to seeing the results of your research :-)

Cheers,

Les

Toomas (Tom) Karmo said...

Coordinated Universal Time (= UTC = EST+5 = EDT+4): 20170109T170615Z


Dear Esn, and TADR readership generally:

Thanks, Esn, for your reply ("1/8/17, 12:31 AM"), with its potentially important references to Donbass-Crimea-themed online journalism.

Your reply puts into my mind a question on which somebody here at TADR may be able at some point to say something: how bad, as a matter of empirical, historical, fact do conflicts tend to get before all the available journalism becomes propagandistic?

Was there any non-propagandistic journalism in the American Civil War? (Did the team of the eminent editor Horace Greeley, for instance, manage to avoid propaganda, by telling (1) "nothing but the truth" (not too hard, even in a war) and (2) "the whole truth" (hard to do, in a bitter war)? I have no idea on the answer to my question about Mr Greeley's newspaper, but perhaps someone here does.)

And again, did the BBC manage to deliver non-propagandistic journalism in the Hitler war? I have no idea on the answer to this one either. In the case of the BBC, I guess an investigation would start by seeing how the BBC covered the specific things most embarrassing to His Majesty's Govt - the fall of France, the Oran assault, the Hamburg and Dresden firestorms, and Mr Churchill's detentions of British civilians.


Dear "Unknown (Deborah Bender)":


I am racing off to lunch, and after lunch am going to have to think further about my own blogging this evening at http://toomaskarmo.blogspot.com.

I will have this evening to upload something on peace, peacemaking, peace studies, and the 1953-through-1981 "Peace Pilgrim" work reported at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peace_Pilgrim.

Nevertheless, I want to thank you now for successfully isolating key Tolkien themes at "1/8/17, 4:46 PM", including (your phrasing) "the general difficulty of getting different nations and factions to recognize real evil and unite to take effective action against it".


Hastily, cheerfully,


Tom

I Janas said...

Probably off topic:
Will you continue to print the Archdruid report? I was looking to prolong my abonnement and couldn´t find where to pay. Thanks again for your (and your teams) work!

KL Cooke said...

Spending too much time on line, I skim and scan a lot of blather and teal deer. But your writing is so good, when I read your weekly essay I usually want it to go on longer because I'm enjoying it so much. Keep up the good work.

peacegarden said...

Funny you should mention Elegant Bastard beer…we are going to bottle a 5 gallon batch tomorrow! It is a beautiful dark brown ale, very simple recipe (will send a copy of it to you, Cherokee Chris, if you so desire).

Brewing beer has been one of our greatest joys. We also have been distributing our Wassail Christmas Ale to family and friends…it is a high alcohol (14 %!) dark porter with a “potion” of liquors used as the bottling sugar. Very nice spices, too.

I love the similarity of writing (reading) prose and writing (reading) music, and hearing them…learning the rules, but breaking them at times to emphasize or awaken the sensibilities of the composition. Very much noticed in J.S. Bach, and most of the baroque composers. I can feel my brain ordering itself when I listen to Chaconne Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor, BWV 1004. We have many versions; violin, of course, guitar (John Williams), piano (Busoni) and all left hand piano by Brahms. There is even a version on the double bas!
.
Hope all here have a fruitful 2017, filled with good reading, music, home brewed beverages and garden fresh food and flowers. Green Wizards rule!

Peace

Gail

Robert Mathiesen said...

PS A small coreection to the previous post on HPL's genealogy. HPL's maternal grandmother was Rhoby Alzada (Place) Philips, but one of his paternal great-grandmothers was just Rhoby (Rathburn) Philips -- no middle name is given for her in any source available to me.

Ed-M said...

JMG,

Well changing the subject to the contents of your post, I definitely have to watch how I write, because I have a tendency to edit everything as I write, as I write. My posts and comments sometimes end up looking as if a not-too-bright person wrote them. And even when they don't, the internet article "popcorn" / writing for search engines that is advocated by Madmatter is still better that what I usually put up on my sorry blogs. Especially these days when my time on the internet-connected 'puter is severely limited.

David, by the lake said...

John--

Late comment and OT, but for the group's popcorn-accompaniment activities, I stumbled across this bit of regional news (much head-shaking and inward sighing on my part):

http://www.thecollegefix.com/post/30609/

First paragraph from the story:

The Student Coalition for Progress at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently pushed a petition that alleged University of Wisconsin Madison’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter is a hate group and its members and efforts “create a hostile environment on campus.”

This will not end well, either.

Phil Knight said...

My writing tip when using a PC is to do the first draft in Notepad - there's no editing facility, it works quickly and efficiently, and the files use a tiny amount of memory.

Then, just copy and paste the completed draft into word processing software (such as Microsoft Word) for the editing and final draft.

latefall said...

@Lordberia re migrants

"There are emerging reports across the Continent of violent attacks and sexual assaults by migrants on NYE (http://www.breitbart.com/london/2017/01/03/dortmund-mob-attack-police-church-alight/) are as worrying as they are predictable."

While I agree that these things are worrying and predictable, I would also add shoddy reporting with a lack of negative consequences to that list.

Police in Dortmund is busy enough without having to correct shoddy reporting as well. Have a look what they are say & really are dealing with in their tweets:
https://twitter.com/uniwave/status/817102263751688192

See also the more detailed (police retweeted) report here:
http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=auto&tl=en&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.welt.de%2Fregionales%2Fnrw%2Farticle160915239%2FRuhige-Nacht-oder-tobender-Mob.html

Feel free (and urged) to share this in your networks at least as intensively as the link you provided.
I am not happy with the state of discussions about how to improve journalistic quality (Ministry of Truth) but I have some hopes that the discussion will improve over time.

A (not infallible) source on the topic that I suggest is:
https://twitter.com/PeterRNeumann

And if you like there is more here:
- Andrew Hussey https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R7rvd0ASnBA
- Gilles Kepel https://soundcloud.com/ecfr/ecfrs-world-in-30-minutes-fractures-in-french-society

Those are all somewhat establishment so take with appropriate grain of salt.

heather said...

My turn to argue the unpopular!

In defense of algebra:
No way is it "Everything = 0"! It's "Under what conditions (for what values of your unknown) are these two quantities (the left and right sides of the equation) in balance?" Then it's all formal logic from there, picking your way one justifiable step at a time, keeping in mind the basic rules of the (mathematical) relationships between the constituents to maintain the balance of the whole around the equals sign. I think there is a lot in common here with the habits of thought needed to produce good clear expository writing. No credentials or special authority needed, just careful thought and the willingness to explain why you get to take each incremental step you propose. (Little kids can learn to do this!) It seems to me that this focus on conditional balance, awareness of the whole and the relationships within it, and careful thought, explanation, and justification are just what our difficult future ordered.

By the way, the focus on justification is what a lot of folks hate in the approach to math in the current Common Core Standards for American schools. "Why should students have to explain _why_ they are solving the problem the way they are, or _why_ their strategy makes sense? Just memorize the steps and be done with it!" Of course, most teachers weren't taught themselves with this focus on balance and justification, so the aforementioned and much-reviled standards are often very badly executed in the classroom, and most parents weren't taught this way, so they are stymied when it comes to helping their kids with these skills in their homework assignments (which are addressed by the standards, and thus by standards-based textbooks, very early indeed, often in first and second grades). Plus, of course, the mass-produced textbooks often stink at presenting the material. (This is not even to begin to touch on the radioactive politics around the forced implementation of common standards across the nation!) So, yeah, lots of people are unhappy with modern American math instruction in schools. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the actual content, including the algebra, is bad. Clear thinking is of course hard, much harder than memorization, and truly good quality math instruction is just as hard to pull off as good writing instruction, but offers students (and their teachers!) just as much in terms of the crucial skills of learning to think. So no slagging on math, please!

--Heather in CA

Emmanuel Goldstein said...

re:"Do not edit while writing." I may have to put that one on the wall over my workstation. A recent experience bears it out. I used to tell stories at the campfire for the BSA. When my son exited scouts, some of the scouts and adults asked me to write down the stories. I couldn't do it--Until I tried telling the stories aloud (using Dragon Naturally Speaking to transcribe what I said). I was then able to edit the Dragon output (many errors but mostly right) and get a decent written version of the oral tales.

@Crow Hill re: Economic Growth vs. Biosphere-- EF Schumacher has an essay in his book 'Small is Beautiful,' entitled "Buddhist Economics." It may be possible to change the underlying assumptions of a business, or an entire economy so that the outcomes benefit Nature and the well-being of people. It may help you to read this one; Here's a link to the essay;

http://tombender.org/factor10econarticles/buddhist_economics.pdf

Shane W said...

I know it's late in the cycle, but I never miss an ADR, and have been known to impatiently refresh late on a Wednesday if the post is late in coming. It's the highlight of my Wednesday, and I savor reading every post thoroughly. It's a shame, JMG you're not nearby, as I was gifted a bottle of our super-top shelf Bourbon, and it would be nice to share it with you.

latheChuck said...

heather in CA - The concept of "preserving the balance while simplifying algebraic expressions into a useful result" is a wonderfully refreshing concept. (And I guess it's my turn to compliment your comment, after you complemented [sic] mine on the other blog. ;-) )

John Michael Greer said...

LatheChuck, thank you. Necessity is not the only thing to keep in mind!

Patricia, the Confederacy didn't have an entrenched military bureaucracy; it created its military from the ground up, and under the circumstances, incompetents got farmed out promptly, while in the Federal army the routine promotion of the clueless was an ingrained habit. I always figured that was a large part of it.

Bill, delighted to hear it.

Damaris, you may certainly do so. Thank you for asking!

Pygmycory, to what extent anything funded by George Soros is actually "dissent," rather than political manipulation by an ambitious billionaire, is an interesting question...

Cherokee, I liked Donaldson's first trilogy well enough to read it a couple of times -- but then I was pretty omnivorous in those days. After that, the best said the better. I pity the poor opportunity shops, though -- over here, where they're called thrift shops (or junk shops), they end up with multiple volumes of all the briefly fashionable literary trash (cough, cough, Fifty Grades of F, cough, cough) and end up having to recycle them.

LatheChuck, thank you for this -- I'll check it out as time permits.

Goedeck, Monk has long been one of my go-to examples for the way that wild creativity can base itself on an absolute mastery of traditional form. The guy was a world-class stride pianist of the Fats Waller sort, who then took that and ran with it into the far reaches of what jazz can do -- and yeah, I agree with his take on Ornette Coleman et al.

Robert, thank you! That's absolutely fascinating -- and it's also worth knowing for literary purposes, as the fifth volume of The Weird of Hali will be set in Providence, riffing off "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Haunter of the Dark," and "The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward." (It looks as though I'll be visiting in August for NecronomiCon; I'll keep the list posted.) Can you recommend a good book or website with more details on that end of Providence's social history? It will come in handy in figuring out family names for members of the Starry Wisdom church there... ;-)

John Michael Greer said...

Martin, you're welcome and thank you! I don't anticipate traveling to the Amazon any time in the foreseeable future, but stranger things have happened...

Les, I'll do my best. If you had to recommend a few books that can help a landlubber like me get a good clear sense of what it's like to sail on a tall ship, what would they be? (I throw this open to all my other nautical readers as well.)

I Janas, the zine producer who was doing the print edition has said he's unable to continue. I'll be looking for someone else to do it as things proceed.

KL Cooke, thank you.

Peacegarden, er, the version I drank wasn't "Elegant"... Still, a good brown ale is a good brown ale, and much to be preferred to yellow beer. ;-)

Robert, interesting. I don't imagine they could have been the same person...

Ed-M, try writing by hand in your off-computer time, without editing, and then edit as you transcribe. Some people find that very effective.

David, we've very nearly reached the point where the phrase "hate speech" is used mostly as hate speech. No, this won't end well.

Phil, by all means, if it works!

Heather, by all means. Myself, I'd much rather see geometry, taught straight out of Euclid's Elements, as the first step beyond ordinary arithmetic; that teaches the logical method better than any other form of study (which is why the ancient Greeks required it of potential philosophy students), and the experience of building one proof on top of another helps build the kind of thinking that makes constructing and analyzing an argument easy. After that, I'm very much in favor of algebra.

Emmanuel, that's state-dependent learning for you!

Shane, thank you!

Bill Pulliam said...

JMG (late in cycle) - I recall that is actually the sequence in which I learned math. And my Algebra included a lot of graphical representations of equations, which also lays the foundation for an actual intuitive understanding of calculus. Assuming of course you have a brain that works well with spatial things. Which not everyone does. Hence there really can't be a one-size-fits-all method of math instruction.

Robert Mathiesen said...

They're not the same person; that would be too easy. Rhody Alzada (Place) Philips was the niece, and also the daughter-in-law, of Rhody (Rathburn) Philips. I'm still not done working on their given names, but there are a number of absolutely weird given names current in one or another rural small town in Rhode Island. These Phillips and Place fmailies lived in the town of Foster, which was very rural back in the day.

Rural Rhode Island in the earlier 1800s is also the heartland of the well-documented belief that a person who was dead of consumption might return as a spirit from the grave and feed on the lives of his or her living relatives.. This could be prevented, it was thought, by exhuming the recently dead relatives, finding the one (or several) whose corpses seemed to have fresh blood in them, and burning the heart of the corpse, or even the entire corpse itself. Ashes from the fire were then put in water and given to the living to drink, and sometimes the entire family fumigated itself in the smoke from the burning corpse. The last documened case of this happened as late as 1892, in the rural town of Exeter, when HPL was about two years old, and was written up in the local papers. It caused quite a stir at the time. My good friend, the folklorist Michael E. Bell, published a book a while back on these cases, _Food for the Dead_ (2001); and he has a sequeel in the works now , _In the Vampire's Grasp_.

As to the local attitudes toward "race" and marriage, most of what I wrote is from the personal knowledge that comes with living here for almost fifty years and hanging with close friends far outside of the bubbles of the academic world and the WASP-y upper crust. Both my wife and I were raised blue-collar in California, and the generations before us were sometimes much lower than blue-collar on the social scale (farmers, lumberjacks and postmen on her side, crooks and con-artists on mine). So we never really felt ourselves at home in the up-scale academic circles of Providence's local Ivy-league university and its elite social strata, and we formed most of our closest friendships elsewhere. -- But no doubt soemone has written up these attitudes somewhere, and I will see what I can do to find references.

Glenn said...

John Michael Greer said...
"If you had to recommend a few books that can help a landlubber like me get a good clear sense of what it's like to sail on a tall ship, what would they be? (I throw this open to all my other nautical readers as well.)"

Ever since Masefield, people have been using the term Tall Ship without a clear definition, it can mean almost anything larger than a yacht. So, are you thinking of ocean crossing square riggers, or the sloops, schooners and barkentines of the Great Lakes? And by clear sense, to you mean a knowledge of techniques and handling or what life was like aboard?

For technical aspects, the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's "Eagle Seamanship; A Manual for Square-Rig Sailing" by Edwin H. Daniels, 4th edition, U.S. Naval Institute is a clear primer for ship-handling. Amazon has it, you may prefer a different vendor.

Alan Villiers, the Australian who documented the end of the age of sail while serving on the last steel ships wrote many books; "Falmouth for Orders" and "By Way of Cape Horn" may be most useful to you. "Sons of Sinbad" contains one of my favourite lines though. Villiers is expressing doubt about crossing the ocean in a dhow with an uncorrected 18th century dry compass as the only navigational gear; the skipper reassures him, "It is only to Zanzibar and I have been there before and know the way".

"Cruise of the Cachelot" by Frank T. Bullen, while ostensibly about whaling, is one of the best descriptions of what it's like to crew such a ship that I know of; his critiques of Yankee whaling ship's officers in the New Zealand chapter is priceless. I'd crew for Paddy on The Chance in a heartbeat!

Off hand, I can't think of anything as cogent for coastal and lake schooners. I'll see if any of my historian friends can help. Pete Culler's "Skiffs and Schooners", while oriented towards boatbuilders and small boats, has a lot of generally useful nautical and boating information in it. I can critique his designs all day, but his philosophy is hard to beat.

Glenn

in the Bramblepatch
Marowstone Island
Salish Sea
Cascadia

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