Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Chesterton on literature and education

G.K. Chesterton distinguished prose from poetry:
"The aim of good prose words is to mean what they say. The aim of good poetical words is to mean what they do not say."

Chesterton dashed the snobbish notion that truly great art or literature cannot be also popular:
"By a curious confusion, many modern critics have passed from the proposition that a masterpiece may be unpopular to the other proposition that unless it is unpopular it cannot be a masterpiece."

Chesterton was a keen observer of society and a biting critic of public institutions. He said of public education: "The purpose of compulsory education is to deprive the common people of their common sense."
And these words from 1935 England fit 2009 America:
"Though the academic authorities are actually proud of conducting everything by means of examinations, they seldom indulge in what religious people used to describe as self-examination. The consequence is that the modern state has educated its citizens in a series of ephemeral fads."

Indeed, the unending succession of educational reforms demonstrates not only that every previous attempt to reform failed, but that every new generation must stumble upon this revelation anew.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Michener on writing

James Michener on writing:

"I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions."

That one might surprise readers of Michener's lengthy novels. He packed so much historical information in each novel that the reader might assume that he wasted no time trying to find the right word or worrying about the "swirl and swing."
He accomplished it in two steps. He explains:

“I have never thought of myself as a good writer. Anyone who wants reassurance of that should read one of my first drafts. But I'm one of the world's great rewriters.”

My son and I watched an old Waltons episode, "The Literary Man," about a middle-aged drifter in search of the great story he was meant to write. He convinced John-Boy, the aspiring writer, that the secret to becoming a successful writer was to leave everything behind and set out on a personal journey. In the end, of course, the drifter realized he was deceiving himself; success as a writer does not depend on embarking on great adventures (Twain, Hemingway) but writing honestly about what you know.

Or, as Michener said:
"The really great writers are people like Emily Bronte who sit in a room and write out of their limited experience and unlimited imagination."

The same was true of C.S. Lewis and Beatrix Potter and J.K. Rowling and countless successful writers who were also loners. The adventure might be more fun, but it is more likely to distract you from writing than inspire you to write.
Writing is work. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. But you must sit and do it.

“I am always interested in why young people become writers, and from talking with many I have concluded that most do not want to be writers working eight and ten hours a day and accomplishing little; they want to have been writers, garnering the rewards of having completed a best-seller. They aspire to the rewards of writing but not to the travail.”

Do you aspire to write — or to be a writer? If the former, you have a stronger chance.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Coaches' wisdom

Some coaches dispense wisdom.

"Coaching is not a natural way of life. Your victories and losses are too clear cut."
Tommy Prothro

"Make sure that team members know they are working with you, not for you."
John Wooden

"Every game is an opportunity to measure yourself against your own potential."
Bud Wilkinson

And some coaches, not so much.

"The road to easy street goes through the sewer."
John Madden

“The playbook that Kent has, we have. When they walk out the door, they can take everything else with them. When you have a copy of it, you have a copy of it."
Charlie Weis

“Hey, the offensive linemen are the biggest guys on the field, they're bigger than everybody else, and that's what makes them the biggest guys on the field.”
John Madden

The latter are more fun.

Friday, November 6, 2009

More poetry definitions

From reader Jack, more on poetry:

"Here is a quote for your son to ponder,
'Seldom seen on restroom wall
are words that do not rhyme at all.'

"or perhaps this, from 'The Journal of My Other Self' (R.M.Rilke)
'he was a poet and hated the approximate'"

Thanks, Jack.

And here's a scholarly, and most unpoetic, attempt to define poetry from
"Poetry is an imaginative awareness of experience expressed through meaning, sound, and rhythmic language choices so as to evoke an emotional response. Poetry has been known to employ meter and rhyme, but this is by no means necessary. Poetry is an ancient form that has gone through numerous and drastic reinvention over time. The very nature of poetry as an authentic and individual mode of expression makes it nearly impossible to define."

Snore. All you need are the last three words: "impossible to define."