Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Category: journalism

The other day, I mentioned a positive review from Shannon Yarbrough at the LL Book Review. Today, I’m going to mention a few others, and make an announcement about something I’m rather excited about.

Today, Raych at Books I Done Read gave it high-caterpillar review. A juicy blurb:

Silly and poignant and real … totally hilarious … basic love story meets girl Tarot card battle royale

Now, Raych disclaims: if you’ve finished Meets Girl, you know that Raych gets a shout-out at the conclusion. Some people might fear some lack of objectivity.

I don’t. I started reading Raych’s blog pretty much as soon as she started it, and I love what a fool she is, and by fool, I mean the n’uncle sort, who says perhaps many nonsensical things and who maybe distracts you with the bouncy jingle balls on his hat but is, often, the wisest person in the room. The canniest. The one who knows what’s what.

I felt the same thing about Veronica’s brother Tom, in the novel. I could see his band–Foolish–doing something silly and poignant and real. Some of what I think are exactly those moments in the novel–the ones that are silly and poignant and real–belong to Tom. When Tom handed our young hero-narrator Foolish’s CD, I saw him offering one with a jaunty, silly, hand-crayoned cover because leave it to the wise-fool to leave the name of the band off.

So it fit, and when I needed a title for that album, I cribbed Raych’s blog.

She doesn’t seem to have minded. Thank goodness. I’m glad she didn’t sue my ass. For cookies. Because who’d sue a broke-ass grad student/novelist/professor/personal trainer for money?

I do wonder about objectivity. Not Raych’s. Just in general. Like, is anyone objective anymore?

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Yesterday, JA Konrath posted an interesting essay titled, simply, “You Should Self-Publish.”

I agree with him, for the most part.

I just wish he would drop that modifier.

Because forget it. You should publish.

You should publish essays on your website, tweets to Twitter, status updates on Facebook. You should use your Kindle to share quotes from books everywhere. You should join online forums filled with people who have similar interests–Konrath mentions the KindleBoards and how great they are for writers but sort of neglects how amazing they are for readers.

Which we all are. And we’re active readers. We’re better readers. We’re exciting readers.

I thought, for a long time, that what was so game-changing, what was so paradigm-shifting, was that we’re all now creators. We’re all publishing all the time. We’re all contributing new information to the cloud and the world.

I don’t think I was necessarily wrong about that. All those things mostly hold true.

But then I got to thinking, that’s not really what’s changed. That’s a by-product of more activity on our parts.

The biggest companies in the world right now are Google and Facebook. The former is, I think, the more important because it signals a new service. It’s a search engine. It took away passive Internet browsing. No longer was the Internet a place of CD-ROMs and free subscriptions to AOL and “You’ve Got Mail.” What Google changed was our ability to seek new and more information (as well as our ability to sift through it). Remember before Google? Back when we had AltaVista and Hotbot and Metacrawler?

No longer do we wait for information. That’s pretty huge.

We Google things. I have a Google search function on my phone. We go on Wikipedia, though we know the information we find there might be erroneous, but maybe we do that because we know that even if the information is erroneous, we can find more information right away. We can find better information. We can find commentary on that information.

We can contribute to that information, and we can change it, and we can create it.

And the faster all that occurs, the less likely traditional modes of media can keep up with it all.

It used to be, in ways, that media created culture. Radio and television delivered sounds and images to our living rooms, and our only control over what we received came in the form of dials and switches; we could change the channel or turn off the set, but that was about it. If we wanted books, we had to wait to see what corporate publishers had deemed worthy of our attention two years before. Movies, too: from optioning of screenplays to delivery of celluloid, at least a year would pass.

The time it takes to create something worthwhile might not have changed (and continues to vary), but the time it takes to access and manipulate it has. Do any of us merely read when we come online anymore? Or do we all go to news sites we frequent, share posts on Twitter and Facebook, contribute to commentary?

When was the last time you got news from CNN or MSNBC? How about the last time you got it from Twitter?

It seems like we’re moving into times of cultural responsibility, and we’re taking such responsibilities away from the people who traditional took control of them as we notice that many of those institutions gave up their reins. One of the biggest arguments people tend to make against so-called “self-publishing” is that it’s not vetted, there’s no quality control, etc.

And then they buy and publish A Shore Thing by Snooki.

We’re the upstart crows. We’re the Johannes Factotums. We are the creators and contributors, channels of inspiration and information. And we’re not just living in exciting times.

We’re exciting them.

Caught this on Sunday at the Bruceblog. I’m not sure who Bruce is besides an ostensibly democratic voter who supports Obama (warning: lots of McCain derision at the site. Follow at your own risk).

That post in particular, though, refers to something far greater. On Friday afternoon, during Ramadan prayers, someone sprayed a chemical irritant through a window and into a nursery in a mosque in Dayton, Ohio. Bruce got the info, apparently, from this post at the Daily Kos. If you follow their links, though, both links on both blogs seem to point to this page, which notes that the Dayton police have determined there is no evidence the gassing of the mosque was a hate crime. They don’t mention if any other buildings were gassed, though; just the mosque and a 10-year-old girl.

Here’s the problem: that article is dated just yesterday, but both blogs went up over the weekend, on Sunday. One is dated 5 p.m., the other 7 p.m.

So either Bruce and Chris Rodda at Kos are psychic, or something more fishy is going on.

(I wouldn’t be writing about this if it were the former)

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It’s on Canadian law, about which I know less than I do about American law, but if Christopher Bird says it’s important, quite frankly, I believe him.

Last week, a group of 42 organizations, spearheaded by the Canada Family Action Coalition, collectively filed a letter of complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council to complain about Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin’s participation in the committee which recommended that Dr. Henry Morgentaler receive the Order of Canada.

The Court » Blog Archive » The Complaints Against Chief Justice McLachlin Are Less Than Impressive.

BookChase is one of my very favorite literary/book review blogs; it’s proprietor, a fella named Sam, writes rather extraordinary, particularly cogent reviews about the books he reads. Just the other day, Sam linked to this Washington Post article concerning Chris Bohjalian and his feelings concerning reviews of his books, specifically on Amazon.com.

Sam uses the article as an opportunity to offer some thoughts on his own amateur status as a book reviewer:

I do sincerely try to be fair in every review that I write and I don’t make a habit of taking cheap shots, although I imagine it’s happened more times than I realize or intended. In fact, I’ve had some nice comments from some of the authors I’ve most criticized saying that they appreciate honest reviews and can see the point I was making – and then they usually tell me why they think I am wrong. Fair enough, that, and I very much appreciate their willingness to discuss their work with someone as anonymous as me.

It’s a difficult dilemma, I think. Especially concerning the Internet and the basically egalitarian voice it gives everyone. Over here, at MightyGodKing.com, one commenter noted:

I bet if you too a brief census of the artists who heard any commentary about their work while at SDCC, approximately 100% would say that on at least more than one occasion, someone took a proverbial “shit in their cornflakes” while expressing their opinions about something. Unfortunately, some people use “criticism” or “just being honest” as an excuse to be an asswipe. In that respect, if you’re going to be an artist and your going to put your stuff out there for scrutiny, best for all parties involved that you develop a healthy tolerance for all such people.

My response there was:

The Internet seems to have created more critics than academia, and most are worse if only because they generally have trouble both having a cogent thought and spelling it correctly. That said, I don’t see why wanting to share one’s work with other people includes the necessity for developing a healthy tolerance for asswipes. Fuck asswipes.

A sentiment Bookchase’s post refreshed.

I mentioned before I’m still learning how (if at all) to respond to reactions to Entrekin; there have been a couple of reactions, anonymous and otherwise, that I’ve seen and which made me want to say: “Wait, who are you? What, exactly, have you ever done?” I mean, there’s subjective stuff like someone didn’t like it, and I get that. But people who bash my grammar/style just make me want to say, “Look, I was a professional editor and have a Master’s degree in Professional Writing. I tend to not simply know grammar better than most textbooks but also understand its fluid nature.”

This isn’t to say I believe in grammatical anarchy, mind you. I generally reference Shakespeare as someone who played with language and grammar, but of course he knew what he was doing beforehand, which is the big requirement. You can bend or break the rules all you’d like, but to do so, you must know the rules you’re breaking, why they’re rules, and why you’re breaking them.

The reason I bring this up now is that I’m starting to wonder about “amateur” reviewers, if mainly because all the professional venues are pretty much going the way of the dodo. Newspapers left and right are decreasing their coverage of books, and well they should, but really I’m surprised they exist in the first place, anymore. I can’t even remember the last time I actually touched a newspaper, and most of the magazines I read anymore are available in full online. Why buy Rolling Stone when I can read all the stories via the Internet?

And if so much reading is occurring online anyway, why go to those publications? One of the biggest revolutions the Internet has brought on is the removal of middlemen between creators and consumers of content. I don’t yet think this works for novels, which is why I’m not yet considering Lulu to self-publish my own, but most publications have Internet presences, anyway. I’ve been working on some short stories lately, and my thought is, when I finish them, I can either submit them for publication and rely on someone else who may or may not be as qualified as I am to edit, or I can just post them here (or in et cetera). Some people think that publishing in big ole’ publications confers some sort of authority, but I’m more of the mind that quality of content, and not method of distribution, should confer authority.

Which means I’m of the mind that yes, everyone has a voice, but very few actually deserve to be listened to.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Christopher Hitchens, but it’s mostly a divergence of thought and (perceived) personality. I’ve heard myriad stories that he’s not the most gracious of individuals, but then again, they’re just stories, and I’ve only heard them. I’d be interested to meet him. I think I’d have a lot to talk about that because of that divergence of thought; while I agree that there are few worse developments in all of history than organized religion, I just can’t make the leap of faith to atheism.

But that’s beside the point. Because one of the things I like about Hitchens is that he seems to truly believe in and stand behind what he says and writes and thinks. He seems a deeply principled man, certainly more deeply than many of the so-called quote-unquote Christians I’ve encountered.

Like here:

“Believe Me, It’s Torture,” in which Christopher Hitchens answers the for-some-odd-reason controversial question about whether waterboarding is torture by being waterboarded himself.

Brilliant. Well done, Mr. Hitchens.

(I’ve often said that anyone who says they’re not sure whether waterboarding is torture [or, worse, denies it is] should be themselves waterboarded. You know. Since they’re not sure and so they can figure it out. Only fair, I’ve always thought)

Well worth reading. Both powerful and extraordinarily well written.

(via)

I’m not quite sure why you actually have to be aware of this story to be able to find it, but it seems to be the case. I was told of it the other day by someone browsing the BBC news site, but on perusing it myself, I can’t find it. I checked all my major news sites, too: the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post and MSNBC.com. Heck, you’d hope one would find it through the New York Times, but no luck there, either. Just to confirm, I ran a search on it yesterday, and this is all I found:

I had to go all the way to Google, in fact, and when I did, I found an Associated Press story the associated press seems to have summarily completely ignored: apparently, whoever owns the World Trade Center proposed completely scrapping plans and deadlines for the construction of the new Freedom Tower because “nearly every project is delayed and over budget and that previous estimates are unrealistic.”

Sad, that. The first project scheduled to be completed–in time for the tenth anniversary of the attacks–was the memorial. Freedom Tower itself, along with the other buildings, weren’t expected to open themselves until 2013.

Shame, this.

Larry Silverstein is in charge of building three of the five towers (seems he’s the owner). He’s also the person to whom will be made payments of $300,000 per day for every day the construction of the towers goes beyond deadline. In fairness to him, though the article is not clearly worded, I think he’s also the one proposing scrapping the deadlines in the first place.

It puts me in mind of a paragraph from “What I Saw That Day (September 11th, 2001),” my essay (in my collection) concerning that day those years ago, and how I feel about it now:

I can’t seem to shake this feeling that it’s a bad dream. I can’t help looking at the plans and design for the new Freedom Tower and wonder why we can’t just build the World Trade Center back. Why we can’t recreate those buildings so that, one day, when we talk to our children and tell them about that day, they can look up at us and say, “What’re you talking about, Daddy? You mean those buildings? Right there? They falled down?”

There are days I miss New York, especially lately, but sometimes I wonder if I don’t miss Manhattan during the summer of 2000. It’s different when I go back, and then again, so am I.

(if you want to read my September 11th essay and haven’t yet, you can find it here.)

Over the weekend, I caught an article at The New York Times.com concerning Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard neuroscientist who claims to have experienced nirvana when she had a stroke. She’s written a memoir called My Stroke of Insight, which was just published by Viking, about the experience.

Basically, according to the article, which means, I assume, according to Taylor, after a blood vessel in her brain burst, her left hemisphere began to fail her. Doctors who operated found a golf-ball sized clot in her head and removed it. After surgery and eight years of recovery, apparently, Taylor is basically fully recovered, continues to study neuoroanatomy at Harvard, and wrote her book.

She had been a neuroscientist prior to her stroke, her work concentrating on the different functions the left and the right brain perform. Scientists attribute logic, ego, and perception of time to the left brain (or, at least, Taylor does), with the right brain taking care of creativity and empathy. Taylor believes that cutting her off from her left brain forced her to accept the consciousness of her right brain, which created that heightened sense of empathy, cultivated a sense of blissful nirvana, and, even, allowed her to:

see that the atoms and molecules making up her body blended with the space around her; the whole world and the creatures in it were all part of the same magnificent field of shimmering energy.

Which is fascinating. I’ve always been fascinated by it, anyway. A friend of mine, Richard Cox, even wrote a novel called The God Particle, which includes a sort of shimmering energy field as a plot point (it’s a good novel, too, although I’ve always liked his first, Rift, better.

I’m a little . . . well, confused isn’t quite the word for the science mentioned in the article, but I think I understood the brain and how it worked differently. For example, I knew the left brain and the right brain generally control different functions, but I thought scientists had proven that people don’t use one or the other but rather both in tandem years ago. It reminds me of what I had thought was an old wives’ tale about how we human beings only use 10% of our brains; while it may be technically accurate at any one time, the 10% we use changes according to the activities we are performing. I’ve always though I suck at math mainly because I write so much; I can feel that doing math requires thinking differently than I’m used to.

Then again, I tend to be a mostly happy person, and I wonder if that’s because I spend more time thinking using the areas of the brain that contribute to this “nirvana” Bolte Taylor is writing about. Who says:

Today, she says, she is a new person, one who “can step into the consciousness of my right hemisphere” on command and be “one with all that is.”

And she certainly looks happy.

But something else in the article caught my attention, first in the way it was treated and second in what it means for Bolte Taylor; Bolte Taylor’s brother was diagnosed with brain disorder schizophrenia (according to her Amazon.com page; I’ll link at the end of this post). According to the article’s second page:

Originally, Dr. Taylor became a brain scientist — she has a Ph.D. in life sciences with a specialty in neuroanatomy — because she has a mentally ill brother who suffers from delusions that he is in direct contact with Jesus. And for her old research lab at Harvard, she continues to speak on behalf of the mentally ill.

So, apparently, if a blood vessel bursts in your brain, causing a golf ball-sized clot that cuts you off from your left hemisphere, you get to experience nirvana and the unity of the universe, as well as perceive the shimmering energy field that includes all the atoms and molecules in your body, before you sell a book about the experience to Viking, go on speaking tours, and receive fan mail from all the people who believe in what you’re saying, but if you’re in direct contact with Jesus, you have delusional, brain disorder-based schizophrenia and are mentally ill.

There’s a huge disconnect there, I think.

Now provided, I don’t know about Bolte Taylor’s brother one way or the other. I don’t know what direct contact with Jesus means, nor what Jesus is telling him through said direct contact.

But I will note that, from my three years working as an editor of a clinical psychiatric nursing journal, I could swear I’ve read theories that mental illness can be genetic and run in families.

I know I’m backhandedly implying Bolte Taylor has a mental illness here, but really I’m being disengenuous, for a very specific reason: I tend to believe there might be something to her experience and her perceptions, and what bothers me is the disconnect between the way the media (and perhaps the scientific community) and certainly that article treats her experience versus her brother’s. The article is full of careful explanation and detail describing both her symptomatology and the physiological, neurological, and psychological effects thereof, but when it comes to her brother, he is “mentally ill” and “suffers from delusions.” I get that further mention of his illness or its symptoms are probably both beyond the point and scope of the article, or perhaps even that Bolte Taylor didn’t want to talk too much about it, but you’d think it would have been at least a little more sensitive.

Really, though, it reminds me of this comic by Lore Sjoberg:
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(you can find others by clicking on the comic, and find more by Sjoberg here)

Here’s that link to Bolte Taylor’s book I promised. It certainly looks interesting.

What do you think? Of Bolte Taylor’s experience, the science behind it, or the article? I’m really curious to know what other people think of questions regarding science and faith. Is contact with Jesus really less believable than nirvana via a burst brain vessel?

The New York Times today with an article on Americans’ indifference to the war.

Because, apparently, the way to make more Americans aware of what’s going on over in a land most people who support the war probably couldn’t point to on a map is to publish an article about how little people care about it:

Even as we celebrate generations of American soldiers past, the women and men who are making that sacrifice today in Iraq and Afghanistan receive less attention every day. There’s plenty of blame to go around: battle fatigue at home, failing media resolve and a government intent on controlling information from the battlefield.

Except, of course, we’re not celebrating generations of American soldiers past, nor the women and men who are making that sacrifice today . . . today stands in memory of those who have made that sacrifice–those whose lives have been lost.

So far:
Since the war began on March 19, 2003–10,770

With, apparently, between 23,000 and 100,000 wounded, although I don’t quite get that disparity; that’s a difference of 75,000 people. I wonder how they’re measuring.

And though Memorial Day is supposed to be for American service personnel who have lost their lives, I thought I’d expand it to include the 91,703 Iraqi civilians who’ve died as a result of US occupation.

(nb–I realize those websites have names that don’t really lend themselves to citation [antiwar.com, for one, seems to wear its raison d’etre on its sleeve], but their information gathering methods seemed mostly sound)

At the beginning of each semester teaching writing so far, I’ve faced two obstacles. The first is unlearning 5-paragraph essay format, which most high schoolers learn as rote as any Gospel.

The other is elevated diction. Somewhere along the way, most students have discovered that their high school teachers are impressed by their use of the vocabulary contained in the SAT, no matter how inappropriate a word choice. My instruction is simplicity: I tell my student I am a writer and have read widely enough that they’ll never impress me with their words, only their ideas.

I recently caught this video, with Keith Olbermann’s comments on the Geraldine Ferraro racist-remarks fiasco:

Apparently, someone needs to tell Keith to scale it down a bit.

“In your tepid response to this Ferraro disaster, you may sincerely think you are disenthralling an enchanted media–”

I mean, seriously.

Now I admit, I’ve liked Olbermann. His comments on the end of habeus corpus were terrific.

And maybe it’s because he’s a commentator that he goes beyond journalism and into judgment (“disaster”?).

But seriously, this buttoned-up guy with his mile-wide pinstripes is the same dude who gave SportsCenter the “en fuego” catchphrase, is he not?

When Jon Stewart was on Crossfire, he mentioned the theater of political comentary. Olbermann seems to prove pretty well that theater is not restricted to Tucker Carlson’s bow tie.

After the Nader debacle, I changed my startpage from MSNBC to CNN. It’s not much better. Are there any good news venues any more? Right now I’m set on the New York Times, but even that doesn’t feel like exactly what I’m looking for.

Also: isn’t Clinton’s lack of response precisely what she attacked Obama for, when he didn’t outright reject Farakhan’s endorsement?

And finally: Geraldine Ferraro? Seriously? I respected her, once upon a time. But I don’t respect racists.