As a child you learn, (1) Play is fun, and, (2) Someday you’ll grow up and work, and that’s no fun. To prepare for this dark future they send you to school. School can be dull and tedious, but that’s good, because school is a preparation for work. It’s sort of mini-job to get you used to sitting quietly at a desk and working on pointless tasks.
This is the scenario with which Paul Graham opens his brilliant essay, “How To Do What You Love.” Graham is a programmer, writer, and investor, and though his essay seems to be directed toward young people, it’s good reading at any age. He presents a way of thinking about what you do and how to do more of what you love. (An excellent summary, along with excerpts from other writers, is at Brain Pickings.)
Here are a few quotes to entice you to read the whole thing. Graham talks about career day presentations in which adults come and tell kids how much they love their jobs — but do they really? Graham says of kids: Continue reading →
My favorite part of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” is where he promises the reader the origin of all poems and that you’ll no longer take things at second hand. “You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, / You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.” He’s not going to impart information so much as show us a new way of looking at the world, and then turn us loose to look for ourselves.
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self. Continue reading →
Last time I looked at how children are often better poets than teens or adults because they haven’t yet mastered the usual, clichéd ways of expressing oneself. Today I want to look (briefly) at how language shapes thought. George Orwell considers this in “Politics and the English Language,” which is mostly about language as propaganda, but which also offers provocative advice for writers: Continue reading →
I remember the girl next door who was a few years younger than me. One day she wanted to play and I found that I knew a word she didn’t: pretend.
“Let’s be-say,” she said.
I don’t remember how old she was. Just old enough to understand pretending, but not old enough to know the word. And I was just old enough to know that “be-say” was clever, but wrong. For some reason it has stuck with me all these years. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I had witnessed how language evolves: we build with the tools at hand, combining and adapting them to new purposes and meanings. And, at least at first, before an expression is either rejected as incorrect (”No, you mean ‘pretend.’”) or it becomes a cliché — the result is poetry. Continue reading →
Just for fun. This has been out for several years, but a colleague just sent me the link. As an editor I’ve warned writers and students before about the dangers of failing to proofreading, or of trusting spell check… but never as memorably as this guy. Continue reading →
“To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature” (1836).
Nearly half of this blog’s readers live in countries other than the United States. Maybe you’re one of those and you’ve heard of the recent self-inflicted shutdown and near-default of the US federal government (as an attempt by Republicans to block a new law that expands health care coverage among this country’s fifty million uninsured). You may be wondering, “Are Americans out of their minds?” or, “How did the United States become the world’s most powerful country when so much of what it does seems so… dumb?”
As an American, I’ll try to sort things out for you (a very American thing to do). I mostly avoid politics on this blog, but since I deal a lot with curiosity and learning, I want to say something about the large number of my fellow citizens who seem to lack curiosity and avoid learning. I’m going to make some sweeping generalizations below — bear in mind that they don’t apply to all Americans all the time, but these things are common enough to get us in trouble: Continue reading →