Category Archives: Links

Link: Marvel movies avoid character growth

This piece by Sady Doyle describes a problem she sees in too many Marvel films: a willingness to nearly forego characters in service of fights and set-pieces.

Character arcs aren’t negotiable. They’re not highbrow or pretentious or complicated. Character arcs are essential to the success of any story in any genre. To understand why all this matters, look at the Hulk’s arc in the first Avengers, which many people consider to be the most successful part of that movie. I would argue that it’s actually the most successful element of any Marvel movie to date. In the first Avengers, the Hulk (1) hates being the Hulk, (2) encounters a situation that can only be resolved by becoming the Hulk, and (3) embraces being the Hulk. Simple, right? Stupid simple. Yet it landed like a ton of bricks in the theater, because that’s what stories are. Stories use cause and effect to dramatize a process whereby a person is forced to change.

Hulk’s arc, simple as it might be, was a cause-and-effect process that dramatized a universal human problem: You might not always like yourself, so you can identify with someone who doesn’t like himself, and therefore,you will experience catharsis when a story gives the both of you permission to love yourselves. When he goes on that final rampage and slams Loki into the floor, that’s not just a cartoon causing some corporate-mandated violence: That’s you, loving your body despite being the “wrong” size, or making feminist points in a conversation without worrying that someone will call you a buzzkill, or being proud of your art despite the fact that it’s been rejected, or deciding that you can leave your abusive relationship because you are worthy of respect. Hulk smash inner self-loathing, and thereby becomes the most powerful force in the universe.

So finally, our hero, a suicidal man who has spent the whole movie telling himself he’s worthless and intrinsically inferior to other people, encounters Loki, an arrogant, sneering, hyper-critical, hyper-verbal character — a character who mysteriously chooses that very moment to begin a monologue about how worthless the Avengers are, and how inferior they are to him — and suddenly, Loki hits the floor. Hard. And every time Loki hits that floor, all over the world, the theater erupts with screams of joy. There is a release that goes beyond the rational or the personal, here: The noise of hundreds of strangers united for just one second in the realization that deep down, despite all the pain, despite all the shit they put themselves through, despite the endless cruelty that inner critical voice subjects them to, they don’t have to let it keep talking. Deep down, they are not ugly or stupid or unlovable or bad or worthless. Deep down, they are strong. They are heroes.

Speaking of heroes, here’s Joseph Campbell: “Atonement consists in no more than the abandonment of that self-generated double monster — the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id).” When the superego’s judgment is no longer powerful enough to annihilate us (puny God) and the id is accepted by the ego without fear (I’m always angry), our wholeness is restored, our place in the cosmos is found, and we are free. It hits us so hard, all we can do is scream.

Don’t let anyone tell you that silly popcorn movies don’t matter, or that they can’t be smart or beautiful or profound. A silly popcorn movie can change your life. All it has to do is create characters with identifiable, human problems, and let them work out those problems over the course of the story. Stories are about change, and about people, because ultimately, they are about you, the person sitting in a dark theater, working out your baggage by projecting it onto CGI cartoons of overly handsome actors.

Here’s another way to put it: The extent to which a movie invests in character-based, character-driven storytelling is the extent to which it recognizes, appreciates, and honors the humanity of its audience.

So when Age of Ultron doesn’t invest — when it goes by the assumption that the formula, and the formula alone, is enough to appease the popcorn-eaters — it says something pretty bad.

And Doyle describes how short-cutting a story means the story relies on cliches and stereotypes:

But when the character-based screenwriting breaks down, so does the feminism. Black Widow is just as ill-served as every other character in that story, but because she’s a woman, it’s politically offensive as well as aesthetically offensive.

Let’s take a moment to recognize that, given the paucity of time for character work in Age of Ultron, nearly all of the character development is done with shortcuts. I’m talking real hack stuff, like “each character has a hallucination establishing his inner conflicts and backstory,” or “we know this character is old-fashioned because he doesn’t like swearing” (brought up so many times that I get the sense it was meant to pay off, in the same way the constant questions about Banner’s “secret” paid off last time — was there a climactic F-bomb from Steve that got cut for the rating?) or even “the circle of life is established by naming a baby after the dead guy.” (This, aside from giving me flashbacks to the infamously terrible ending of Harry Potter, is especially egregious because the baby’s mother never met the dead guy — and, if she ever knew that the dead guy existed, which is highly debatable, she knew him as “that guy who’s trying to murder my husband.” She names her baby after someone she never met, on the premise that her husband once slightly got along with him for about two hours. Stirring!) Jokes get underlined by characters explaining them and noting that they were humorous. Some characters just walk into a room, announce their backstory, and leave. (“How are you, Sam?” “I AM HAPPY PURSUING OUR MISSING PERSONS CASE IN DC.”) Nothing ever really gets written, or earned, just vaguely outlined. It’s a whole script made of placeholders.

But when you’re doing all your character work with shortcuts, and you have to write a shortcut for your female character, what do you come up with?She’s that one dude’s girlfriend, obviously, is a time-honored shortcut, used or teased by every Marvel writer who’s put Black Widow in a movie — as a woman, she’s an Other, and a sexual object, and therefore must be deployed as a potential or actual sexual reward for a male viewpoint character, rather than being a viewpoint herself. But that’s the same problem you find with every woman in every Marvel movie (Gamora, Agent Carter, Pepper, whatever Natalie Portman’s name is supposed to be) except for Maria Hill, who is clearly saving herself for her one true love, Exposition. If you want to deepen your female character past being a sexual object, in a movie that has no time or patience for anything resembling “depth,” what conflicts do you give her? Well, women have babies, right? Women want babies. Okay. She can’t have babies. She’s sad because she can’t have babies. There you go! Depth established!

I mean, it’s disgusting. Defining your female character’s motivation solely around the Betty Crocker axis of “wants boyfriend” and “wants babies” is 100% disgusting. But if you look around, all of this is disgusting, because all of the characters are exactly this vapid, because [“Avengers: Age of Ultron” writer and director Joss] Whedon can’t get more than five or ten minutes to establish or complicate their motivations, because Marvel is mandating that he not waste screen time on things like the characters’ motivations when he could be shooting ads for their other movies, because Marvel doesn’t care about men, women, or anything except getting you to show up in a few years for the next installment of Avengers.

I never thought I’d be the kind of person who believed that a crime against feminism was less important than a crime against storytelling, but in this case, they’re so interconnected that it’s hard to tell the difference. When you can’t write, you can’t write women.

And Doyle is concerned that maybe there’s a more depressing reason for the poor character development:

There’s an alternate interpretation for that Hulk-slams-Loki scene in the first Avengers. I try, very hard, to believe it’s not the correct one. Because it’s an evil message, which cynics will tell you is at the heart of every comic book movie. It is: Punching is better than talking.

It happens in a lot of big, commercial movies, right? There’s a guy who talks a lot, thinks, plans, tries to get somewhere by thinking. In the end, that guy is evil, because thinking is bad. He has to be subdued by the heroic brute: The guy who’s just “normal,” who’s more like you, more pure, because instead of thinking and analyzing, he just feels and does. Loki thinks he can get somewhere with a monologue, but surprise! Giant biceps trump clever monologue, every time.

So there’s your other interpretation, the thing I think is at the core of Marvel’s contempt for people: Punching is better than talking. Doing is better than thinking. Instinct is better than intellect; big is better than smart. We don’t need to understand the Stormtroopers; we don’t need to talk to them. That’s thinking, which is boring. We just need to kill: They don’t have names or histories or families or feelings, and by slaughtering them, thousands of them, we prove that we can do.

The audience doesn’t need dialogue or character or psychological growth. The audience needs explosions, because they’re animals, and all they want is blood on the floor. The audience doesn’t need to be surprised or challenged with a new story. The audience wants the old story, because they’ve bought it ten times already, and at the end of the day, we just convinced these f*cking yahoos to wait three years and pay us twenty dollars so we could tell them to come back in four years and pay us $40. Now you think they want personal growth? Give me a break. They’re barely even people.

I mean: You pump this message out into the atmosphere, and then you’resurprised when the biggest fans are ready to send death threats to a director to save the Almighty Brand? Punching is better than talking, rage is better than understanding, conflicts are resolved by annihilating the other person without feeling bad about it: You just told them that. Over and over, and made them pay for the privilege of hearing it. You can’t possibly be surprised that they believe it’s true.

It kills me that I am so bothered by this. I understand that these movies are power fantasies for nine-year-olds: At the end of the day, accepting that they’re stupid is probably smarter than wishing for them to be smart. But this is the epicenter of pop culture. Everyone is expected to share power fantasies with nine-year-olds now, and worse than that, to take them seriously; to make them into a lifestyle. The Marvel virus has already overtaken movies; now, it’s infiltrated a new host, TV, and is hollowing it out from within.

The aim is not one or two bad movies a year, it’s a total lifestyle regimen of bad pop culture: In order to keep up with the Avengers, you need to keep up with Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor, and in order to keep up with those, you should probably be watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which will really help you keep up with Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, andGuardians of the Galaxy, and in order to make sure you’re on top of these nine essential movie franchises and able to make sense of their plots, you’ll need to keep a constant stream of Marvel product in your life, so make sure to tune in for Agent Carter, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and, of course, the forthcoming Hulu triumphs, Ant-Man’s One Weird Friend Gary and Guy Running Away From Explosion In Panel 17.

The problems with Marvel’s storytelling will be the problems of narrative storytelling for the foreseeable future. Once this is over, we’ll be dealing with a generation raised on this stuff, who believes it’s how storytelling ought to work: Harry Potter came out when I was in high school. I’m in my thirties, and I still haven’t seen the end of the “serialized YA fantasy” onslaught. Something this big sticks around.

I love stupid popcorn movies. I do. I believe they can be emotionally resonant, mythic, that they can do the same thing all stories are meant to do — speak to the soul; challenge us to be more and better than we were — and can use big, fantastic elements to tell big, human truths. I also believe that Marvel has no investment in doing so; that, even if they manage to grab a director who is capable of doing those things, the prioritization of the brand and the formula over individual creators will ultimately sabotage the attempt.

Avengers: Age of Ultron wasn’t just bad. It was, to me, proof that Marvel movies, even at their best, can only be bad. And that they are going to get worse. The human mission has been lost: these are faceless Stormtrooper movies, unleashed in waves upon the presumed-to-be-faceless Stormtrooper audience. Stories are an affirmation of our human value; they teach us what life means, make and keep us human. Marvel, by removing the human from its storytelling, may be bringing about the end of story altogether. F*ck Ultron: Marvel Comics has built the army of machines that might really end the world.

Links: Nell Zink, A Wedding Bust, Kathy Acker

1. A profile of intriguing writer Nell Zink by Kathryn Schulz in the New Yorker. Some extracts:

For the next four years, Zink worked as a bricklayer in the Tidewater region of Virginia. “That job was more valuable for my intellectual life than my entire college career,” she says. “In college, they allow you to be entertained and let your mind wander, which is not good training to do anything difficult.” Bricklaying, by contrast, cultivated discipline. When she started, she was teaching herself French by reading Sartre’s memoirs, “Les Mots,” with a dictionary in hand. The longer she worked in construction, she found, the longer she could stick with Sartre.

And

In 1997, not long after Zink moved to Israel, Eitan took her to Haifa to introduce her to a friend of his, a writer named Avner Shats. By the end of the evening, Shats and Zink had launched an extraordinary friendship. The two lived some sixty miles apart and did not see each other often, but they began corresponding nearly every day. Zink also set about trying to read his first book, “Sailing Toward the Sunset,” but Shats regarded that as “an impossible task”: it was a difficult postmodern novel written in Hebrew, a language that Zink had barely begun learning. Either in defiance or in accord, Zink gave up trying to read it and started rewriting it in English instead.

Zink wrote “Sailing Toward the Sunset by Avner Shats” in three weeks. The novel has, Shats clarifies, “absolutely no similarities to my story”—or, for that matter, to any other story ever written. In addition to the seal-woman (a figure from Celtic mythology called a silkie) and the Mossad agent with the preposterous mission, the book features Zink herself, Eitan, and a mysterious submarine powered by a slip of paper on which is written the name of Moshe Dayan. Toward the end of the novel, that paper is transferred to and animates, with arresting results, the agent’s childhood Teddy bear.

Plenty weird, and plenty plenty, but that is not the sixteenth of it. “Sailing Toward the Sunset” also contains, among other things, an inquiry into the nature of translation; a translation proper, by Zink, of Robert Walser’s “The Job Application”; a lovely, controlled short story based on a diary entry by Kafka; a lot of incisive, off-the-cuff literary criticism (of Proust, Richardson, Faulkner, Eliot, Melville, Sterne, Solzhenitsyn); and a short work of science fiction, set in Long Island City, in a future where the global population has shrunk radically and those who remain in the planet’s skeletal, sky-high cities are “doomed, like the great whales: so few were left, in so large a space.” Avner Shats, the first and for many years the only reader of “Sailing Toward the Sunset by Avner Shats,” was, he says, “overwhelmed by her ability to write such excellent stuff so fast.” He liked it so much that he translated it into Hebrew.

“Sailing Toward the Sunset” is representative: until last year, all of Zink’s work was written for a tiny audience—generally as tiny as one or zero. While working as a bricklayer, she wrote a series of stories about a construction worker, then threw them all away. In Germany, she made friends with a Russian composer, and wrote, for his amusement only, a libretto for an operetta—in rhymed couplets, in German. In 2005, she wrote another novel for Shats, “European Story.” Set at an artists’ retreat in Florence, it is slightly less madcap than “Sunset,” but no less funny and smart. I know that only because Shats held onto his copy; Zink deleted hers. Later, she wrote another novel, “The Baron of Orschel-Hagen,” about a patron of the arts obsessed with commissioning a very particular work. Afterward, Zink decided she didn’t like it, and erased the original and all the backups.

2. A really funny story of a Michigan drug bust in the form of a wedding.

3. A brief introduction to experimental writer Kathy Acker.

4. Why not more poetry audiobooks?

5. An essay suggesting that those who welcome and those who fear the effects of Artificial Intelligence in the near future may both be exaggerating the power of A.I.

6. Advice from Colin Mochrie in an interview with the AVClub:

CM: … my very first Whose Line appearance. I psyched myself out, and I was very tentative, very nervous, and I’d go back now, just not caring and, you know, I‘d just do it. The older you get, you just don’t care anymore.

AVC: Is that the key to success? Not caring?

CM: Oh, absolutely. When you really care, stuff doesn’t come to you. When you don’t care, that’s when you start getting free coffees and people thinking you’re Colin Farrell.

John Oliver on standardized testing

For anybody who’s not already familiar with how the increased emphasis on standardized testing is hampering education, John Oliver has a pretty terrific synoposis:

Education: A process rather than a product

My colleague David Perrin has published an op-ed in EdWeek where he points out the value of thinking of education as a process, rather than thinking of education as the creation of a product.

Process is what education fundamentally (and etymologically) is, an “educing” or drawing forth of intellectual potential through the cultivation of habits of mind. Habits of mind can be fostered in a variety of ways, such as writing, researching, using project-based learning and cooperative learning, connecting new learning to personal interests, generating multiple solutions to problems, playing devil’s advocate, finding joy in discovery, and recognizing the integral roles of metacognition, and even failure, in the learning process. This list is nowhere near exhaustive, as all of these processes, and many others, are vital to education. Yet few of them register well, if at all, on a standardized multiple-choice test.

The processes of teaching and learning can be messy and nebulous—if not impossible—to quantify. They are also unglamorous; they will never grab headlines the way that national sports championships, or even educational test results, do. As long as politicians and society insist on reducing “success” in education to the product of test scores, dedicated teachers, like Coach John Wooden, will have to block out the noise of “winning,” so that they can focus on the quiet yet vital processes of teaching and learning, regardless of what the scoreboard reads.

 

Inglish speling iz ridikyulus and herts lerners

According to this article, “written English is great for puns but terrible for learning to read or write,” and

Adults who have already mastered written English tend to forget about its many quirks. But consider this: English has 205 ways to spell 44 sounds. And not only can the same sounds be represented in different ways, but the same letter or letter combinations can also correspond to different sounds. For example, “cat,” “kangaroo,” “chrome,” and “queue” all start with the same sound, and “eight” and “ate” sound identical. Meanwhile, “it” doesn’t sound like the first syllable of “item,” for instance, and “cough” doesn’t rhyme with either “enough,” “through,” “furlough” or “bough.” Even some identically spelled words, such as “tear,” can be pronounced differently and mean different things.

Masha Bell, the vice chair of the English Spelling Society and author of the book Understanding English Spelling, analyzed the 7,000 most common English words and found that 60 percent of them had one or more unpredictably used letters. No one knows for sure, but the Spelling Society speculates that English may just be the world’s most irregularly spelled language.

As a high school English teacher, I find it difficult to explain (particularly to students who are still learning the language) the weirdness of why “lead” sometimes rhymes with “led” but also rhymes with “leed,” and why “read” is spelled the same but pronounced differently in present and past tenses, and why it’s impossible to know how to pronounce “wind” unless it’s being used in a context.

Now, I’ve been a pretty good speller since grade school, and I’ve even trained and worked as a copy editor and proofreader, so I feel pretty comfortable with the usages myself, even if I can’t remember certain esoterica, such as whether the “L” in “cancelled” should be doubled or not. And, of course, it doesn’t matter to pronunciation or meaning whether the “L” is doubled or not.

But I feel bad for my students who struggle with these needlessly complex spellings, and also, as I’ve said before, the more I teach poetry-writing and paying attention to the sounds of words, the worse my own spelling gets.

And to show my solidarity with the bad-spellers, or, let’s say, creative spellers, I write the date on my classroom whiteboard with various spellings of the name of the current month: Febrewairi, Ffebrooairy, Phebrooaree, Ghebruairie (when the “gh” is as it is at the end of “enough” — which reminds me of the classic joke about how to pronounce “ghoti” as “fish,” when the “gh” is from “tough,” the “o” is from “women,” and the “ti is from “nation”).

But even where words have been imported from other languages, such as the name “Julius Ceasar,” we for some reason haven’t kept the original Latin pronunciation (YOO-lee-us KYE-sahr). And when Classical Greek works like “The Odyssey” was translated, why did the translators spell “Circe” and “Cyclops” with “C”s instead of the “K” sounds that may have been closer to the original Greek pronunciations?

Some people have tried to simplify or reform English spelling. It hasn’t gone very far, clearly. Perhaps that’s because those of us who got used to the weird spellings resisted change because we got used to recognizing “although” and would be slowed down when reading “altho” — or maybe those who seek to establish rules for formal English usage like to keep these complexities because, well, having learned them shows that one is educated, and those who don’t use the needlessly complex rules reveal that they haven’t submitted to learning the needlessly complex rules.

Another thing I’ve learned from teaching is that, most of the time, I can figure out what my students mean even when they don’t follow the grammar and spelling rules. In other words, regular language users can make sense of variations that would render a computer program meaningless to a computer.

I’ve actually seen some student misspellings that point out aspects of language that I hadn’t noticed before. For instance, I recently read a student’s work where he had spelled “seriously” as “seariously” — and I’d never before noticed that there was the sound of burning (well, searing) at the start of the word “serious”– which struck me as a poetically rich misspelling.

This Atlantic article also points out how arbitrary are the source of some odd spellings:

Written English has also evolved—but mostly in ways unrelated to the changes in the spoken language, thanks in part to shenanigans and human error. The first English printing press, in the 15th century, was operated by Belgians who didn’t know the language and made numerous spelling errors (such as “busy” in place of “bisy”). And because they were paid by the line, they sometimes padded words with extra letters; “frend,” for example, became “friend.” In the next century, other non-English speakers in continental Europe printed the first English Bibles, introducing yet more errors. Worse, those Bibles were then copied, and the writing became increasingly corrupted with each subsequent rendition. English spelling became a chaotic mess, and successful attempts to simplify the spelling after that were offset by events that made the language harder to learn, such as the inclusion of many alternate spellings in Samuel Johnson’s influential English dictionary. Unlike many other languages, English spelling was never reformed to eliminate the incongruities. In a sense, English speakers now talk in one language but write a different one.

And this article also shows that the complexities of English can make real difficulties for even those native speakers learning to write formal English, as compared to the speakers and writers of some other languages.

As a result, there’s no systematic way to learn to read or write modern English—people have to memorize the spelling of thousands of individual words, file them away in their mental databases, and retrieve them when needed. A small percentage of people excel at this skill, but for most children in English-speaking countries, learning to read and write their native language is a laborious and time-consuming exercise.

Moreover, English-speaking children then spend years progressing through different reading levels and mastering the spelling of more and more words. That means it typically takes English-speaking children at least 10 years to become moderately proficient spellers—memorizing about 400 new words per year—and because they forget and have to revise many of the spellings they’ve previously learned, “learning to spell is a never-ending chore,” Bell says.

On the other hand, the American concept of “reading level” doesn’t even exist in countries with more regular spelling systems. In those countries, children become faster readers as they recognize more and more words by sight, Bell says, but they don’t need to have an idea of how a word sounds before they can read. The same goes for writing: In countries like Finland, children “continue to improve their vocabulary and use of language, but because they spell by rules rather than imprinting the right look of words on their brains, they can spell any word, regardless of whether they have met it before or not,” she says. The speakers of slightly more irregular languages such as Spanish, for instance, still need a small fraction of the time to memorize the exceptions in those languages compared to English.

That’s bad news for English-speaking societies, which represent about 6 percent of the world’s population. First of all, the amount of time and energy devoted to learning to read and write could have been spent learning other things. Then there’s the failure rate—the number of people who never become fully literate in the language. “One predictable consequence of any difficult-to-master system is a higher failure rate,” Bell writes on her website. “Skills that require a special aptitude are learned well by only a few. With perseverance, many others can become quite good at them, too, but a substantial number never get beyond the basics, no matter how hard they try.” (People with certain learning disabilities struggle even more: A 2001 study found that people with dyslexia have greater problems with English than with languages with more regular orthographies.)

That wouldn’t matter so much if we were talking about something recreational, such as juggling. But literacy is integral to modern societies. Schools have consequently endeavored to teach children how to read and write at younger and younger ages, but Bell says that’s problematic because children mature and learn at very different rates. It also steals time away from more developmentally appropriate activities for young children.

I Write for Me: A Manifesto Of My Self-Importance

I write a lot, but not for other people.

I write mostly to and for myself: journals, poems, notes, etc. I enjoy being engaged in the writing process, and I want to write about what I want to write about, and these aren’t always things that I think other people would care about.

I write these blog posts to be read by others, whoever you are. I mostly write these for myself as well, but I want to let you know, Readers, that at least I’m thinking of you. The thought is what counts.

For years, I’ve wanted to turn the things I wrote into things that others would want to read. But that hasn’t been going so well. I mean, unless I’m writing to a specific person, I don’t know who I’m writing to. I suspect that I’m writing to others like myself, which could suggest that what I’m already doing is pretty great! I needn’t change a word! But do others who are like me need to hear what I’m saying, or do they already know it?

So, I’m considering changing my approach and just embracing whatever the hell it is that I do. I mean, if there are no standards — and in creative work, why would there be? — then I can do whatever I like.

I have, over recent days, been reading some emails I wrote 5 and 6 years ago to a friend, and while I was conscious of writing to him, I was also just writing to air my own thoughts, explore my own ideas. And I remarked, in an email, upon that tendency of mine. And as I read that remark today, I thought, hell, why not?

Why not come out and embrace what I have been doing, but not acknowledging to myself, all these years? For years, I’ve been thinking that I had to be something other than what I was: I still expected myself to one day write things that would be for other people, wonderful, witty texts that would impress, entertain, and instruct my readers, and that would establish my reputation as a Writer Worth Reading.

But I’m not sure I need that kind of validation anymore. Or, let’s say, I’m not sure that I want to work for that validation (but I’d take it if it came!). I’m coming to terms with who I am: a self-centered writer. I love to write about my own ideas and experiences. I want to write whatever I want to write and not worry (as I so often have) about whether a text is good enough or not to share.

Some of this worrying has prompted me to write merely charming or clever texts, and some of this worrying has prompted me to overedit the texts that I share. I’m not sure these are what I want to be doing.

I will accept that I may never sell a book, or even write one, and that such a lifestyle is gonna be OK with me. I don’t have to achieve Authorhood. I am already a writer. I don’t gotta sell nothin’. I’m willing to be subversive, as described in a recent New Yorker article by Andrew Marantz: “In our data-obsessed moment, it is subversive to assert that the value of a product is not reducible to its salability.”

My books won’t be salable, because I won’t sell them — or, let’s say, I’m not sure why I myself would care about sales, since publishing is not a creative act but is a business act, an ego-act, and it’s also a business that seems terrible for a lot of writers now. I’ll give away on this blog whatever I feel like giving away. If I feel like it, I’ll make single copies of books.

I don’t need to sell products to strangers in order to feel good about myself (or so I’m still trying to convince myself — maybe I’m not quite there yet, and maybe this mini-manifesto is pushing me to get there). How wonderful that we live in a time where we do have this Internet available for instant, world-wide distribution! I’m not gonna fret about getting paid — I’m an Artist, dammit!

15 links on creativity, writing, art: Recorded poets, audience, storytelling, etc.

1. “75 at 75″: Recordings from the 92nd Street Y’s series of writers reading their work. Here’s an NPR story about this as well.

2. The persistence of a writer’s voice: Tom Stoppard’s quote that “all my people speak the same way, with the same cadences and sentence structures. They speak as I do.”

3. Regarding the audience for one’s art: Frederick Wiseman says, “the only safe assumption I make about an audience is that the people who are going to see the film are as smart or as dumb as I am. I think anything else is condescending.”

4. “The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling” in The Atlantic

5. “Steven Pinker’s Bad Grammar.” Related: “Style Wars

6. How one pastor writes his sermons.

7. How cartoonist Tom Toles finds ideas.

8. “There’s a tiny handful of musical-cultural conversations Americans have decided they want to be a part of, and then there’s everything else.

9. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s nonfiction book.

10. Several links about Sesame Street from the AVClub: “What do you remember learning from Sesame Street?” and “Sesame Street is the perfect TV show” and Adam Savage’s dad’s animation for Sesame Street and The Ladybug Picnic and other counting songs and pop culture allusions in Sesame Street.

11. Jazz non-improvisation: A re-creation of Kind of Blue.

12. “The Uncanny Power of Weird Fiction

13. “Introducing the Reality Novel”: Writers don’t need to go fictional to discuss their own problems and issues in a permissive society. Related: Tim Parks’ article “Trapped Inside the Novel

14. Story-writing and -sharing site Wattpad.

15. A documentary about a marble quarry.