Although April is almost over, I wanted to mention National Poetry Month. I love poetry, with its catlike way of settling into your space with never a by-your-leave or may I. Poetry– if you get the right sort, that is– clings to your mind like orange cat hair on a black skirt.
Even the most determinedly posturing Philistine (“I ain’t readin’ none of that there po’try stuff. It’s for gurls.”) can be captured by the magic of just the right words in the right combination in the right place. And that’s what poetry is, neither more nor less. Just words, vividly placed, pinning wild thoughts to tame pages.
If you haven’t yet found the poetry that stirs your soul, sign up for a daily poem e-mail or RSS feed from Poets.org, get the Poetry Foundation‘s iPhone app, or put an anthology in your bathroom. If you read a poem a day, you’ll begin to find the poets that speak to you.
My beloved poets include Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, George Herbert, William Butler Yeats, and others, and I try to read at least one poem a day. Who are yours?
Like the author who apologized for writing long because he didn’t have time to make it short, I’ll apologize for choosing more than one quote for the Day 3 challenge because I just couldn’t weed out either of these.
1- We are masters of unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.
I like this quote, because I also believe the old saying that “least said, soonest mended.” Too many words can create tangles, hard feelings, excessive self-revelation (we really don’t need to tell the world what we had for breakfast– unless it’s amazing, of course). Too many words often bore others, interfere with a coherent thought process, and dissipate good ideas before they’re born. And quietness is a good thing.
2- The maker of a sentence launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old Night, and is followed by those who hear him with something of wild, creative delight.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Writing is a process of discovery for both writer and reader. I often begin writing with just a glimmer of an idea, but as I follow it, it unrolls just before me, and as it unfolds, I discover things I didn’t know I knew. Words are a magic carpet.
Words can change history. What speech or document do you believe to be most important? Why?
Since I’m writing a bit late on these prompts, I have the advantage of seeing what others have chosen. Many moving examples have been suggested, and most are or have been the “most important” speech or document of their age.
In choosing the one I believe to be most important, though, I think I will have to side with Hollee at HolleeDaze Ink who chose the Sermon on the Mount. It’s a concise outline of what Christianity looks like when practiced from the inside out, rather than from the outside in as the Pharisees had been doing.
The question: Is there a word that has changed, or could change your life? What is it, and what difference would it make?
A single word? What kind of question is that? Our lives are changed daily by words, and to choose one over the other seems nearly impossible. Therefore I’ll just share two simple, but potentially life-changing words.
“Yes.” Whether it’s a response to “Will you marry me?,” “Did you turn off the bath water?,” “Would you like to accept this position?,” “Are we expecting?,” “Will you drive the get-away car?,” or “Do you love me?,” this simple word can change life in an instant.
“No.” Generally meaning the opposite of “yes,” “no” packs an even more powerful punch to any of the questions posed above. If followed by the qualifier “but,” its power may be diluted.
There are many other potentially powerful words– love, freedom, truth, justice, and more, but taken alone, few hold the dynamite of a simple yes or no.
Remember the schoolyard taunt, “What you say is what you are!”? It usually followed a mature exchange of insults, often beginning with “cooties,” and progressing to “You’re just dumb!” Thankfully, the recess bell often intervened in time to prevent meltdown, but “what you say is what you are” was usually the beginning of the end.
There’s a slightly different and far more useful version of that phrase that you might consider posting over your desk. “What you think is what you are” can be a reminder to think of yourself as a professional, a gentle nudge to get off the pity party train, or a nag to lose the complaining spirit. It can even be the jolting realization that if what you’re thinking right now is what you are, you don’t really want to go there.
Okay, that gets us past the obvious part. What does that mean? Here’s an except from the definition provided by my desktop dictionary widget:
judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind : a classic novel | a classic car.
remarkably and instructively typical : I had all the classic symptoms of flu.
1 a work of art of recognized and established value: his books have become classics.
a thing that is memorable and a very good example of its kind : he’s hoping that tomorrow’s game will be a classic…
ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from French classique or Latin classicus ‘belonging to a class or division,’ later ‘of the highest class,’ from classis (see class ).
In a newly edited edition of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, the controversial n-word, as well as the word “injun,” has been replaced by the word “slave.” According to an article in Publisher’s Weekly, Twain scholar Alan Gribben and NewSouth Books are trying to create an edition that will encourage Twain’s work to be once again read widely in schools.
Is this censorship?
I am personally opposed to institutional or government censorship, which is defined by the same obliging widget as “the practice of officially examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts.” Huckleberry Finn has already been banned in many schools, and that’s the problem this edition seeks to address. The editor and publishers are hoping that this sanitized version will be admitted into the halls of bland and will open Twain’s world to a generation of students who may otherwise never read his works.
As long as the classic version remains available, this edition is simply another version, and is not unforgivable. After all, you can already find Huck Finn in many formats and editions including:
Retold in vocabulary considered appropriate for 9-12 year-olds
With character lessons added (!!!)
Hacked into sections of a few chapters each
Graphic novel/comic book
And more I’ve probably missed, including the musical version below.
Therefore, since Twain’s version of the book is widely available and no effort is being made to gather copies and burn them (yet), and as I’m unaware of any efforts to round up and penalize readers of the original version, I think I’ll wait a bit before I start waving the censorship banner.
The point is that people have never been able to keep their grubby hands off great art. Show me a great work, and I’ll show you something that sparks a greater-than-average emotional response, something that communicates across time, space, and worldview. That’s one reason art remains alive, vibrant, part of the culture. That’s why you’ll hear Vivaldi’s Four Seasons backing a computer commercial, or see the Mona Lisa recreated in M&Ms. (Oddly, that’s probably also why misguided educators imagine it’s a good idea to tack trivia questions onto a classic work of literature, but that’s a topic for another day.)
Why it matters
That’s also the reason that it matters when someone decides Huckleberry Finn will be better without the n-word. Remove that one word, and the book’s emotional impact is diluted. Reduce the emotional impact, and the work flattens. History is distorted, and there is less to feel, less to discuss, less to think about, less to remember.
Dilute literature, and we’re all doomed. Words — carefully chosen words, accurate for the time and place of the text — powerfully convey a sense of time and place. School curriculum is steadily being reduced to the blandest of pablum by the knee-jerk reactions of hypersensitive adults. Dry textbook summaries are unlikely to spark any discussion, and with living literature off the table, there’s little or nothing to awaken thought or emotion. It’s little wonder that many students emerge from institutional schooling inoculated against serious thought.
Twain’s entire body of work not only reveals a sensitivity toward injustice, but it also paints a vivid picture of the society and issues of his day. It’s part of the literary lens through which we can see where we’ve been, contemplate where we are, and consider where we are going. Authors are the artists whose word pictures help us decide what kind of people we want to be. Words matter. Gribben’s edition is doubtless well-intentioned and suitable for the use he intends, but I will not be recommending it for Excellence in Literature.
“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
New Year’s resolutions sometimes sound like the barking of a Marine sergeant dealing with raw recruits on a sub-zero morning. Personally, I’m a fan of warm covers on sub-zero mornings, and I tend to ignore barking of any kind (just ask my terrier). But I still like to go through the process of thinking back over the previous year, considering what went well and didn’t, and focusing on what I’d like to make happen in the new year.
I’ve discovered that simple is usually better when it comes to resolutions, so I try to boil down what I want to accomplish into one sentence. This year, it’s
“Do the next thing.”
Not very specific, is it? The secret is that I already know my long-term goals and have a strategic path marked out to help me meet them. Every day, I do three kinds of work: creation, communication, administration (the CCA cycle). I try to do them in that order, because creation requires a fresher mind than administration, while communication can eat up the entire day if I don’t postpone it until the creative work is done.
When I arrive at my desk in the morning, I look at my “Create” list. I pick the next thing and begin working. When I find my mind wandering, I move to the communication tasks. Those include everything related to speaking or marketing; preparing handouts and PowerPoint slides, blogging, social media, minor website tweaks, answering client e-mails, and more. There is creativity in much of this, but because it’s deadline-oriented and so closely tied to an immediate audience, it’s quicker and simpler than the larger long-term projects I work on in the morning.
Finally, I do the administration things I don’t enjoy. This includes anything to do with numbers– invoicing, paying bills, balancing bank statements, following up on orders or inquiries, and other routine and often tedious tasks. I do these last because I’m already at my desk and can’t make up an excuse to escape without doing them, and they really need to be done. If I tried to do them in the morning, I’d procrastinate so long that I wouldn’t get anything done, and I’d waste the most creative time of day on tedious, non-creative tasks.
The CCA cycle is a system that works for me, and I think that “do the next thing” will be a pretty achievable resolution this year. If it happens to not work, I’ll let you know!