Monthly Archives: December 2013

Why perfectionism kills creativity… and one small way to avoid it

At Brain Pickings, one of my favorite blogs, Maria Popova has an excellent post about Anne Lamott’s advice from her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

Popova, summarizing Lamott, says that in writing,

“there is no room for perfectionism. (Neil Gaiman famously advised, ‘Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.’, and David Foster Wallace admonished, ‘If your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.’) Lamott cautions: ‘Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft… Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.’” Continue reading

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Why suspending “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Robertson was a bad move

Much as I disagree with Phil Robertson’s views on sexuality and race, I oppose A&E’s decision to kick him off “Duck Dynasty” for comments made in an off-air interview. Attempting to stifle speech in this way – even speech we find offensive – is not a good practice. Establish such a precedent and it can be used against anyone who expresses minority opinions, or anything that their employer perceives as a threat to the bottom line.

It’s better for all of us if Robertson can make his case openly. Let him explain his reasoning in detail and defend it against criticism. Let him be the public face of social conservatism. Ban him and he becomes a principled martyr. Let him speak and he becomes your crazy uncle – you know he’s probably a decent guy at heart, but sometimes you’re just embarrassed for him.

Which is better, “Asturias (Leyenda)” on guitar or piano?

John Williams plays “Asturias (Leyenda)” by Isaac Albeniz

It’s fun to take something you think you know, change it up a little, and hear what happens.

Like “Asturias (Leyenda)” by Isaac Albeniz. I’ve heard it a number of times before and thought I knew it fairly well (for a non-musician). More about that below. First, the video above. What I like about it (aside from the music itself and the virtuoso performance of it) is that you can watch Williams’s hands and fingers – you see up close the music being made. A rock concert, even a symphony, is larger than life. Nothing wrong with that. But this is intimate, music that invites you to come close, music at your fingertips. Continue reading

Ditch the college essay?

Rebecca  Shuman, an adjunct professor at University of Missouri-St. Louis, has a provocative essay at Slate, in which she calls for an end to college papers in required courses. In “The End of the College Essay” she writes:

Everybody in college hates papers. Students hate writing them so much that they buy, borrow, or steal them instead. Plagiarism is now so commonplace that if we flunked every kid who did it, we’d have a worse attrition rate than a MOOC. And on those rare occasions undergrads do deign to compose their own essays, said exegetic masterpieces usually take them all of half an hour at 4 a.m. to write, and consist accordingly of “arguments” that are at best tangentially related to the coursework, font-manipulated to meet the minimum required page-count. Oh, “attitudes about cultures have changed over time”? I’m so glad you let me know.

* * *

Mom, friends, educators, students: We don’t have to assign papers, and we should stop. We need to admit that the required-course college essay is a failure. The baccalaureate is the new high-school diploma: abjectly necessary for any decent job in the cosmos. As such, students (and their parents) view college as professional training, an unpleasant necessity en route to that all-important “piece of paper.” Today’s vocationally minded students view World Lit 101 as forced labor, an utter waste of their time that deserves neither engagement nor effort. So you know what else is a waste of time? Grading these students’ effing papers. It’s time to declare unconditional defeat. Continue reading

Lynda Barry’s strange and wonderful book, “Picture This”

Picture This coverPicture This by artist/cartoonist/teacher Lynda Barry (2010) is among the strangest and most intriguing books I’ve ever read. And in this case, by “read,” I mean “looked at the pictures and read the words,” because in this case the images are more important than the words, though each provides the perfect complement to the other.

Loosely structured, many of the book’s pictures are done on throwaway paper — a yellowed dictionary page, phone book pages, old magazines. Recurring story lines include the dysfunctional romance of Mr. Beak and Mr. Trunk, cousins Marlys and Arna and their adventures in art, ads for “Don’t – the imaginary cigarette with controllable smoke,” and especially the Near-Sighted Monkey, a sort of bespectacled trickster figure who is partly the alter ego of Barry herself. Continue reading

How to do what you love — don’t be fooled by prestige

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