Tokyo’s Manuscript Writing Cafe

Only allows writers on a deadline, and won’t let them leave until finished.

Quite the niche. What’s next, a tax filing cafe, where you can’t leave until your taxes are filed? They would do the bulk of their annual business in late March/early April.

Tangental thought. What about not letting our 535 legislators leave the Capitol Building until they GREATLY simplify our tax code?

We’re All Fools

If I was stuck on a deserted island, and could only have one person’s writing to keep me company, Richard Russo would get serious consideration.

Russo introduces his beautiful essay, “My Father, The Fool” by writing, “I’d run out of sympathy for COVID skeptics. Then I remembered my father’s stiff neck.”

Highly recommended.

Sentences To Ponder

Jonathan Freaking Franzen in Crossroads. Here, on page 126 of 580 we begin to get know Marion, a character some critics argue is one of Franzen’s all-time greatest.

“Disgusted with herself, the overweight person who was Marion fled the parsonage. For breakfast she’d eaten one hard-boiled egg and one piece of toast very slowly, in tiny bites, per the advice of a writer for Redbook who claimed to have shed forty pounds in ten months, and whom Redbook had photographed in a Barbarella sort of jumpsuit, showing off her futuristically insectile waistline, and who had also advised pouring oneself a can of a nationally advertised weight-loss drink in lieu of lunch, engaging in three hours of vigorous exercise each week, repeating mantras such as A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the on the hips, and buying and wrapping a small present for oneself to open whenever one succeeded in losing x number of pounds.”

We Deserve Medals

Me for blogging longevity. You for motivating me to keep on keeping on.

Most blogs are like shooting stars, short-lived flashes of varying brilliance. In contrast, despite its utter lack of “brilliance”, the Humble Blog continues year after year. TBH, I think of pulling the plug on occasion, but that is the extent of it, sporadic periods of flagging enthusiasm.

Most of the time I still dig it for two reasons. Firstly, because many of the people whom I care the most about—family, close friends, and fave former students—STILL read it regularly. And also because many people from abroad read it. Take today as an example, despite the still small readership, there have been readers from India, the U.K., Azerbiajan, Ireland, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Kenya.

I’ve been very fortunate to have either visited or worked/lived in Mexico, East/West/and Southern Africa, Europe, Scandinavia, and East Asia. And much closer to home, I love me some Canada. Which is to say, I am a global citizen who embraces cultural diversity.

Sometimes when writing a (dis)United States specific post, I think about my international readers, hoping they aren’t too bored. But maybe that’s what they’re most interested in, one (dis)United States citizen’s perspective on things that their press may not cover well or at all.

I wish I knew more about the “Internationals”. What percentage are expatriates? What does or doesn’t keep them coming back? Do they pick up on my sarcasm? How can I connect even better with more readers like them?

I never write for them specifically, but maybe I should on occasion. I think I’ll experiment with my next post which I’ll write with them front and center in my mind.

Anyways, all that’s to say thank you for reading. I haven’t said that for a long time. Send me your address and then look for your medal in the mail.

A Writer Threads The Needle

As a writer, there are some impossible assignments. Where the degree of difficulty is just too great to put pen to paper.

You can’t write anything sympathetic to Republicanism in The New York Times, just as you can’t write anything sympathetic to the Left in The Washington Times.

If you identify as male, you can’t write about the “female experience”. If you are rich, you can’t write about the poor. If you’ve never had kids, you can’t write about parenting.

I mean, you can, there’s a First Amendment after all, but good luck to you.

And if you’re on “the tenure track”, or a tenured professor, you can’t complain about anything higher education-related without understandably unleashing the growing army of adjuncts who struggle to feed themselves and make rent. They. Aren’t. Having. It.

Unless you were an adjunct before you landed your tenure-track position? And you acknowledge your good fortune. More than once. Then, just maybe, you can pull off the rarest of feats.*

Cue Sarah Emanuel’s essay, “The Deflating Reality Of Life On The Tenure Track” with the provocative subtitle—”Walking dogs helps me make rent.”

Props to Emanuel for her hustle and her risk taking as a writer. And her good humor.

Historical footnote. The Good Wife and I started our journey in a one-bedroom Venice apartment.

*I haven’t read the comments yet. Kinda afraid to.

Sometimes I Can Only Muster The Strength To . . .

. . . read headlines. Recently, I’ve been diagnosed with “CEFS” or Current Events Fatigue Syndrome.

Some recent headlines are funny enough that I don’t even have to read the article. My spirit is already lifted.

I Became Extremely Hot In The Pandemic. My Husband Did Not.

Okay, so maybe I didn’t read it because I was afraid the Good Wife wrote it.

Some recent headlines are so cringe-worthy I can’t bring myself to read the article. This is CEFS in action. In increasing order of cringe:

Misinformation Is A Pandemic That Doesn’t Have A Headline

Tie for First. . .

Election Offices And School Board Meetings Could Become Weapons-free Zones In Washington

Report: World’s 10 Richest Men Doubled Their Wealth During COVID Pandemic

And sometimes since I know how the story is going to turn out, it’s unnecessary to read on.

Help! My Husband Throws Away My Things Without Asking In The Name of “Minimalism.”

Dude’s wife divorces him. He moves into an apartment a few steps below the one he lived in during college. Can’t afford any real furniture to speak of, any art, anything. Shortly thereafter, dies from loneliness in his minimalist “paradise”.

Okay, so maybe I didn’t read that because I was afraid the Gal Pal may have authored it as well.

Thinking In My Sleep

When his friends rip him for what they perceive to be an unusually lax job, an egghead professor friend of mine likes to joke that “The life of the mind is 24/7.”

A very successful writing friend of mine once told me that “if you don’t think about your current writing project when you first wake up, something’s wrong.” I’m fascinated by the subconscious which I think of as the nearly continuous internal dialogue I have with myself. 

Sometimes I can write a medium-long, (hopefully) substantive blog post in 20 minutes only because subconsciously, I’ve been sporadically working on it for days in my mind. Sometimes even, while asleep. 

In one first year writing conference a student of mine described her pre-writing process on one paper this way, “I talked about the prompt a lot while driving around with my friends and then my dad and I really got into it.” For which she received historic levels of extra credit. 

Of what does your internal dialogue consist? Are there patterns or themes? What shapes your subconscious? For me, it’s a combination of things I read, watch, and listen to; reflections on interactions with people past and present; and then staring at the Cooper Point coastline of the Salish Sea while nursing my morning latte. 

If your subconscious has atrophied as a result of not exercising it enough, maybe you should give this a go.   

Source: @AwesomeLibrarians

Part Of The Circle

One-on-one conferences with my first year writers are a wrap. At the end of our convos I asked what most contributed to their learning and what if anything I should tweak going forward.

We ended up liking each other, so the feedback was almost universally positive. One recurring theme was, “We sat in a circle and you were part of the circle.”

When the classroom architecture makes it possible, it’s pretty simple isn’t it? Ditch rows. Ditch hierarchy. Ask challenging questions. Listen. And whenever possible, laugh.

Tell Someone They’re Amazing

In preparation for tomorrow’s writing seminars, I’m rereading old final papers to select a few to share with my current students who are writing their fifth and final ones of the semester. In short, the final paper is a self-assessment of the progress they’ve made throughout the semester.

One former student wrote:

“This course has had a profound impact on the way I think about writing and life. I have become a stronger conversational writer with more confidence in my abilities, and I have been encouraged to continue writing outside of an academic setting. Now I really enjoy informal writing: I am planning on writing an op-ed in the Mooring Mast (the school newspaper) and am even applying to work at the Writing Center at Professor Ron’s suggestion. Without his support, I would not have had the confidence to make that decision.”

Thanks to their elementary, middle, and high school teachers; and parents I presume; about a third of my first year students have really high ceilings as writers. And over the years, I’ve gotten better and better at helping them realize their writing potential. I do it by telling them they’re amazing. While they’ve earned good grades throughout their lives, they’ve received very little or no meaningful and specific praise. The good grades don’t add up to much over time and many of them lack confidence.

I make a boatload of electronic comments on every paper. Some are suggested revisions, but many others are smiley faces, comments like “really excellent paragraph” and “nice insight”. At first their insights are sentence-long, now they come in waves of paragraphs. I always end with a long comment where I highlight their clearest strengths and next steps and often conclude by telling them how much I enjoy reading them. Upon returning papers, I follow up in class with praise for their last writing effort and positive examples of their improving work.

Those are some of my ways of telling them not that they’re “A” students, but that they’re amazing young adults. Pete Carroll, of the 3-8 Seahawks LOL, refers to it as “relentless optimism”.

Like my students, we lack confidence that there’s anything amazing about us. We could change that if we started telling family and friends what we most appreciate about them.

The Good Wife is grieving the loss of her mom and dad. Last night, in an attempt to cheer her up a wee bit, I told her she had been an amazing daughter to them for the last five years. She replied, “I have?”

I couldn’t believe that she was too close to it and too hard on herself not to see how amazing she had been. Flying to see them in Central California repeatedly, moving them to Washington State, and then putting her life on hold for the last year as their needs grew exponentially. Lovingly and completely selflessly caring for them to the end almost by herself.

It wasn’t her fault that she wasn’t sure she had done enough. Because no one had told her she was amazing.

Empire of Pain

Good grief it took me a long time to finish this book. Had to renew it at the local library three times. My students are to blame for that. Yesterday, finally, I eschewed football and dusted off the last 90 pages. 

Truly excellent. Radden Keefe pulls off an amazing feat. He takes complicated topics including pharmacology, corporate maleficence, the law, and philanthropy among others and makes all of them imminently understandable for someone of my intellect. Deserves a Pulitzer.

As a writer, he reminds me of a savvy, veteran quarterback who “takes what the defense gives him”. When it comes to word choice, he always checks down, always choosing the simpler word and phrase in the interest of clarity. I found myself rereading some sentences twice not to better understand them, but to marvel at the cogent prose. 

In terms of the content, I find the “Sackler family-Mexican drug cartel” analogy convincing. Spoiler alert that you already know if you read the news, the Sacklers largely get away with their crimes against humanity. Well worth the read anyways. Just don’t dawdle like me. 

Next in the queue.