Write Daily

On Being a Modern Gentleman:

Guideline 23: Write Daily

Ironically, today’s A to Z Challenge posting is a little late. “W” was supposed to be posted on Saturday, but amidst wedding showers and family get-togethers, I was unable to get to the computer.

So, do as I say, not as a I do, right?

The modern gentleman, a person of letters and books, who journals daily, is obviously a writer. Hone that skill. I had a college professor who proclaimed that writing was most like physical activity and exercise. Without exercise, you wouldn’t expect a great time on the 400m or large pectorals. Without exercise, you shouldn’t expect your writing to be worthwhile.

Your challenge, as a modern gentleman, is to write daily. It doesn’t matter what form it takes, but make sure to write approximately 300 words a day. If you can’t manage 300 words a day, perhaps you should reevaluate your desire to be a writer… Don’t worry about editing. You’re only exercising right now, not participating in a triathlon.

Go flex those writing muscles.

Write Letters

On Being a Modern Gentleman:

Guideline 12: Write Letters

I maintain various social media accounts, correspond with friends and acquaintances via email, text, or private message, and talk to family using telephone or Skype, but there is something to be said for the power and imbued message in a handwritten letter. Saul Bellow said it best:

 I send you a mere booklet, and you answer with a personal letter, a really valuable communication in the old style.  I sometimes think I write books in lieu of letters and that real letters have more kindness in them, addressed as they are to one friend.

A handwritten letter is good for the sender and the receiver. As Bellow said, letters have more kindness in them; they are more genuine, more personal. A letter held in one’s hand is much more intimate than the same words received in an email or text message. And, the art of writing a letter is much different than the art of writing a novel or blog or editorial. Twain is believed to have attributed his writing style to a history of letter writing, and (in a letter of course) he wrote:

 I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English – it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice. 

While his skill with plain language may not be born completely from letter writing, it is hard to argue that writing letters might contribute to such a style. Letters exercise different skills than a novel; in fact, letters are most like short stories. There is little room for verbosity when it all must fit in an envelope.

Aside from teaching diction, letters teach penmanship, a skill abandoned in this world of texting and email–I’m appalled at the handwriting of my students and many colleagues. Letters also contribute to values and attitudes previously mentioned in this month’s theme: amiability, chivalry, and empathy.

Lastly, and on more, well, nerdy note. Can you imagine studying an author without poring through his or her collected letters? There would be no way to stumble upon a chest full of letters betwixt your grandparents. I agree with Martin Amis who wrote, “no, we won’t be seeing, and we won’t be wanting to see, the selected faxes and e-mails, the selected texts and tweets of their successors.”

An Image Captured in Words

I took a nap today and woke up with an image frozen in my mind: A storm-tossed ship, dangerously close to capsizing. I couldn’t shake it. So, I wrote it down.

◊◊◊

The timber creaked and moaned. Years of travel on the high seas had robbed the wood of its vitality and strength. The salt had leeched all of the rich, natural hues and had left the great vessel a dull, tired gray. But she still had character. The ship was a giant three-masted frigate. She had once belonged to pirates. Before that, it was said she was a king’s flagship.  Old and faded, she was still noble, a careworn and effete monarch of the sea.

Frayed ensigns and banderoles, aged and ill-treated by the storm, whipped about. Their colors masked by driving torrents and blackened sky. The ship was cacophonous. The crack of the ensigns, piercing, was met with a roar, as a rogue wave crashed over the side onto the deck. A great groan resounded throughout the hull with the wave’s impact. From the belly of the ship it echoed, the sound making its way upwards. She couldn’t take much more of this, but she must. It was imperative that they reach their goal.

Up in the riggings swung men, like apes in the jungle, rope to rope as branch to branch. Several had died on this journey. The men gave their lives willingly, knowing that all was lost if they failed. Wind buffeted the ship. Sails were taut. Stretched to the limit. If the storm became any worse, then all was lost, for the masts would snap. They already leaned perilously to the left. If the masts didn’t snap, then the ship would roll. It would be difficult to continue with everyone leagues under the sea.

The monotonous chorus of wave, ship, and storm was suddenly accompanied by a sharp, new strain. A scream– and shortly thereafter a thud. The wind had claimed another of the crew. Up above, the calls of the riggers ceased momentarily as each made silent prayers: one to sendoff their lost compatriot to the afterlife, and another to thank the gods that it hadn’t been them.

Like all objects not tied down, the body was soon tossed off the deck into the roiling sea. Sky and sea effaced; no bloodstains remained to mark the fellow’s demise. One death was inconsequential. A few deaths meant nothing compared to what might happen otherwise. Nothing.

◊◊◊

That’s all. It’s rough, but that seems like a poignant beginning to something. If only I knew what they were sailing to–or, perhaps, from.

Mind Dump

Don’t expect anything life-altering or particularly stunning out of this blog. It’s just a mind dump, of sorts.

This is the face of ennui.

This is the face of ennui.

1} Currently, I’m in a constant state of ennui. Cripplingly so, I might add. Few things stir me, and as of yet, nothing has been able to draw me out of this psychological bog. It’s taking a toll on production. While I’ve read several excellent books recently, I can’t continue to claim I’m reading in the name of “developing my craft.” I’m just unable to give a damn right now, and books are the perfect escape.

2} I finished Brandon Sanderson’s hefty tome “Words of Radiance” this morning and adored it. Sanderson has created a unique fantasy world that somehow encapsulates and yet escapes from the tropes of the epic fantasy genre. It also answered several questions I had concerning “The Way of Kings,” and yet managed to end with an appropriate number of questions left unanswered. Unfortunately, it will most likely be years before the third installment as Sanderson seems incapable of working on a single project. In other news, I picked up Nick Cutter’s “The Troop” this afternoon for a change of tone and genre. It’s a lovely and chilling tale, and I’ve gasped, trembled, and quaked in my Acorn slipper socks multiple times.

3} I recently discovered an excellent, distraction-free word processing software called Quabel. It’s simple, clean, and offers a unique feature that I–a living anachronism–love, typewriter sounds. Perfect for those times when a real typewriter just won’t do. While I haven’t been writing as much as I would like recently, I’ve found that using Quabel, typewriter sounds engaged, of course, keeps me at my desk longer, helps to dissuade me from constantly checking my email or twitter, and results in higher quality writing. Yes, it may be the placebo effect, I know.

4} In a little over two weeks, the annual Blogging from A to Z Challenge begins. I signed up for it, being a little more engaged in blogging this year. The goal is to post a blog for each day in April, excluding Sundays. I have a few theme ideas and one I really like, but it seems a little contrived. Contrived or not, I’ll most likely stick with it. The plan is to begin working on posts this week and have them set to auto-post on designated days. I’ll be spending the last weekend on March in D.C. and won’t have access to my laptop, so I need to do it ahead of time. Unfortunately, my well-honed sense of anti-procrastination has faded in the years since college…

5} Spring is here! I mean, I love winter as much as the next introverted, bookish guy. I enjoy the cold and like to be able to layer, since it offers more variety stylistically; however, I’m tired of gray skies, hiemal faces and dank, chilly classrooms. I’m ready for a well-manicured lawn, blue skies, leafy trees, bright colors, and warmer weather.

6} If you haven’t watched Neil deGrasse Tyson’s panegyric to Carl Sagan and to science, please do so. “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” is every bit as wonderful and evocative as Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos.” May it inspire a generation of new scientists and stargazers.

7} And, I’m sure there are countless other things I could say, but instead, I’ll leave you with this:

“We are all refugees from our childhoods. And so we turn, among other things, to stories. To write a story, to read a story, is to be a refugee from the state of refugees. Writers and readers seek a solution to the problem that time passes, that those who have gone are gone and those who will go, which is to say every one of us, will go. For there was a moment when anything was possible. And there will be a moment when nothing is possible. But in between we can create.” – Mohsin Hamid

Good night, and good reading, folks

Infected with Academia-philia

I miss academia. Surrounded by intellectuals (mostly) with similar interests, I flourished. I was, arguably, at my peak, an alpha male English major. Is that a paradox? I didn’t think life could get any stranger or more difficult, at the time. I was wrong. Everything gets much harder and far less stimulating once you leave college. There’s something to be said for a large, interconnected group of folks who all love Chaucer, Blake, Milton, and Derrida sitting about arguing for weeks on end about whether or not there’s religious symbolism in one small, albeit important stanza.

Recently, I’ve been in a funk. (You regular readers have probably noticed that my postings are more maudlin than funny.) Teaching just isn’t the same as being a student. Studying literature or history alone isn’t as effective or as enjoyable, and taking online classes through EdX and similar organizations is hit or miss. And teaching 5th grade Mathematics and verb tenses just doesn’t get me going like in-depth analyses of “Henry IV, Part 1” or Saussure.

I’m going back. I don’t know quite when or how, but I’m going back. Several opportunities have presented themselves, but now I can’t decide what to do. Indecisiveness has struck again. Folklore in Scotland? The History of the Novel in Norway? A commercial fiction degree in Vermont or Pennsylvania? All are equally appealing. None of them are practical. I couldn’t be more excited about it.

That’s all. I don’t really have any revelations or jokes this time, nor am I on a self-help bend. I’m just ready to reboot.

Tempted by Tomes: A Writer Led Astray

What’s a writer to do when he or she just wants to curl up by the fireplace and read? I can’t get anything done. I haven’t met word count in weeks because everywhere I turn there’s a novel, batting its pages seductively, begging me to come rip off its dust jacket and caress every inch of its lovely spine. To continue with my metaphor, the novels are imploring me to explore, to taste of their secrets and to know their darkest, innermost parts. To learn–in essence–what happens next.

Neil Gaiman once wrote that “the best stories pull readers in and keep them turning the pages, eager to find the answer to the next question, ‘and then what happened?'” I’m in love with stories, of all shapes and sizes. Terse texts, verbose volumes, hell, even a nice picture book. If the story enthralls me, if it makes me ask the question, I’m in. No story, no matter how well written, can cajole me in to continuing if I’m not interested in what happens next.

Here’s the rub: I know my story. I’ve outlined it. Exposition, rising action, climax, dénouement, it’s all there. The cast is chosen and their backstories written. I’ve even general outlines for potential sequels. I don’t need to ask, “and then what happened?” With that question answered, I’m finding it hard to keep going.

As a writer, it’s my duty to continue. I’ve got word counts to meet, deadlines. I owe it to my protagonist and to his cadre of merry idiots. As a reader, I feel tortured because there are so many worlds left to explore, questions to ask, secrets to uncover. Each time I walk by an unopened book in my home, I feel the child’s heart inside me break because I know that the eleven-year old nerd I used to be wouldn’t have let a day pass without reading.

Who will win in this titanic struggle between writer and reader? Damned if I know.

Challenge Accepted

As a teacher, it didn’t take me very long to grow sick and tired of accountability. The US, and NC in particular, have made “Stuff it, Teacher–Get Back to Paperwork” their creed in recent years. Hounded by paperwork, observations, guidelines, rigorous assessment of student ability and teacher adherence to prescribed paths, teachers are leaving the field in droves, choosing instead to work where they are valued as individuals and as thinkers, not as assembly line workers in a “21st Century Learner” child manufacturing plant.

Anyway, rant aside, though knee deep in accountability elsewhere, I decided that blogging like I wished just would not be possible without someone or something looking over my shoulder. Thankfully, WordPress now offers scheduled reminders. And… I’ve returned to the Blogosphere in time to prepare for the 2014 Blogging from A to Z Challenge! Not only will the challenge require me to post a blog a day for 26 days, I’ll be expected to write a themed blog–hence the “A to Z”–each time.

One of the goals of the challenge is to connect with other bloggers and create a friendly, linked community. After being gone from WordPress for so long, a lot of my blogger friends have gone on to bigger and better things, or like me, have disappeared. Currently, there are over 600 bloggers signed up for the challenge, and I hope to get to know a good number of them before we’re through.

Here’s to writing, and for you, reader, here’s to reading!

“. . .And then what happened?” The Prodigal Blogger Returns

Guess who’s back? Back again? Shepherd’s back. Tell a friend.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten the all but required Eminem reference out of the way, I would like to announce the return of “Writing, Life, and an Itch to Explore.” I know, I know. This is the second “return” in the past two years, and the previous one barely lasted a month, but I’ve got a plan. It’ll work. Trust me, I’m a professional.

How have you all survived? I can only imagine how barren life must have seemed without everyone’s favorite mustachioed, be-sweatered, frequently tweeded smartass regularly posting doses of literary mana/drivel. 

For the curious, there are several reasons as to why I’ve been on hiatus for so long–some good and quite a few bad. I’m still practicing my craft, wordsmithing, forging language over a hot and thankless set of keys; however, in order to better develop a particular voice and style, I chose to practice privately. It may or may not have been beneficial. I’m still teaching special education, and it has been one of the most demanding and rewarding experiences of my life. I go to bed exhausted each day, but can’t help but feel as though, perhaps, I’ve made a small difference in someone’s life. And, admittedly, I’ve been somewhat lazy and hermit-like this past year. Withdrawing from most social experiences, digital or analog, I retreated into fiction and spent this year reading, writing, and dreaming. 

I decided to highlight the above-paragraph in a moody shade of blue. Even though it’s true, it seems maudlin. Maudlin and the color blue go well together, like Mexican food and Dos Equis. 

It’s been some time since I’ve looked over previous blog postings, and, man, some of this stuff is shit. I had forgotten how hackneyed I used to sound. There’s some real gold here, but a lot of this is about as interesting as a thirteen year-old’s diary. I still adore the idea behind a “30 Before 30 List,” but come on. . . How many places do I need to visit, and is that the only measure of a good life? And why the hell would I want to do a Polar Bear Plunge?

Here’s the plan: I’m going to be doing my damnedest to post at least once a week. Some previous posts may disappear and static pages may be revised. I’ll also be writing whatever strikes my fancy, so you might find a book review, commentary on current events, humorous stories from my day, or maybe, just maybe, I’ll try to revive the short-lived but well-conceived “Tweeded Ten“–’cause everyone loves tweed and almost everyone loves lists. The more engaged you all are, the better these posts will be.

It’s good to be back, folks. Here’s to good reading.

Introducing the Tweeded Ten!

Today, Friday, March 22 marks the first entry in a new blog series, The Tweeded Ten, a variety show of sorts. Each Friday, expect a themed top ten list. Mark it on your calendar. This is historic.

The subject of this week’s Tweeded Ten is. . . Vexations. Everyone loves to complain; it’s true. I’ve decided to unleash my inner crotchety old man in the hopes that it provides some chuckles.

  1. I’m baffled at the number of people seeking validation through social media. I’ve nearly given up on Facebook and Twitter because of it: “Look at me! Look at me! I spend all my afternoon looking at cat pictures, and I want to share them with you! Aren’t I cool?!”  It’s ridiculous. All the posturing reminds me of junior high. I really don’t need you to post a play by play of the basketball game, how many miles you ran (we all know you walked them), or sappy quotes related to your recent breakup. Quit it.
  2. Television, if a reflection of the average American’s intellect, is very depressing. First, we had a crop of adventure-based reality shows like Survivor and Amazing Race for all the armchair explorers. Shortly after, the airwaves were bombarded with talent shows for all those amazing shower troubadours. Now, I can’t turn on the TV without seeing some get-rich-quick reality show: “Can’t pay your bills?! Come mine for gold in the freezing north! Snow not your thing? Dive into the tropical depths for lost treasure! If you prefer safer ways to bankroll your habits, hunt through antique stores for that rare million-dollar bedpan. Guaranteed!”
  3. I adore bookstores. Well, all except for the teen sections. Imagine all the vanity of high school or Facebook (see above), add shallow language and numerous clichés, and throw in a vampire or other supernatural creature. Multiply that by a hundred or even a thousand and you’ve got the teen section of any bookstore.
  4. Instagram—I considered throwing this in with Facebook and social media but felt it deserved its own spot.  Instagram user, you are not a photographer. You are a sad, sad person who believes that sepia tones and boxed photographs make you interesting. Also, stop taking pictures of what you cooked for dinner!
  5. Nothing is more infuriating than writer’s block, made more so, in my case, by the ease with which I can generate ideas and speak them orally. Like a wizened skald, I can speak for hours and tell a pleasing tale. Give me a computer, and it takes 8 hours per paltry 1,000 words (requiring numerous revisions along the way).
  6. If you haven’t been to the movies lately, I don’t blame you. Cinema today just doesn’t have the punch or the appeal of the 80s or 90s. It seems like Hollywood has only three ideas: terrible acting with big explosions, romantic comedy, or the dreaded 3 R’s—reboot, remake, redo. Yeah, I get it, if you look back, “Robocop” sucked, as well as “Footloose” and “Conan,” but they helped to create a generation. Oh, and Jackie Chan is great, but he will never be Mr. Miyagi.
  7. Hipsters. ‘Nuff said.
  8. Flip flops. I know, I know, they’re comfortable in the summertime. Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of wearing them in the past. Even so, I’ve moved past my younger, lazier days. There are many alternatives to flip flops that are more comfortable, equally appropriate for the heat, and far more refined. Men: your feet are disgusting. Ladies: No matter how elfin your appearance, feet are still feet. Cover them up.
  9. Slovenliness has recently become my biggest peeve. I simply cannot understand what drives people to go into public dressed poorly. I’m not asking that everyone begin shopping at  the grocery store in a suit or evening gown (I wouldn’t complain, though), but have a little respect for yourself and put some thought into your appearance. Unless you are mowing the yard or are at the gym, ditch the sweatpants, hoodies, athletic shorts, graphic tees, and all other items associated with unkempt college students.  These items say nothing good about you or your habits.
  10. Continuing with the theme of clothing, if you don’t enjoy the outdoors and aren’t sporty, then please don’t wear sporting and outdoor apparel. If you happen to be riding a bike or are on a trail, then by all means wear Patagonia or Sierra or Burton; otherwise, leave it to the people that need it. 

Well, that’s all readers, the very first entry in the soon to be famous Tweeded Ten. It was stupendous, right? Right?! Feel free to keep up the complaining below in the comments. I’d be interested in seeing more peeves and vexations. And, admit it, it feels so nice to complain now and again.