Dusting off your Shakespeare for Valentine’s Day sounds like a great idea. The Bard’s famous words are tried and tested — they’ve been working for four hundred years. But are you sure you know what they mean? And are you sure that’s what you want to say? Continue Reading ›
Today is the 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birth. Check out ways to commemorate the day below, complete with cakes, quizzes, quotes and more.
Bake a Shakespeare-inspired birthday cake
Introducing Cakespeare! To celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London invited bakers to design cakes inspired by the Bard’s prose. See a few below, or check out the full gallery here.
The world lost two influential literary voices this week. Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing, best known for her novel The Golden Notebook, passed away Sunday at age 94. And Barbara Park, author of the beloved children’s books featuring her irascible character Junie B. Jones, died Friday after a long battle with ovarian cancer. Park was 66.
While it may not seem that these two very different authors have a lot in common, what Park and Lessing shared was a love of vocal women as well as sense of appreciation for life and its transient nature. Park captured what few writers for children manage to do successfully: the energy and curiosity of a girl with a questioning mind. For her part, Lessing was always adjusting the lens. As we get older, the clarity of a Junie B. Jones is harder to maintain, but Lessing asks us to remember, and to seek the authentic in an often exhausting world.
I wonder what Junie B. and Lessing might have to say to each other:
(Orson Scott Card poses at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in 2008. Wikimedia Commons/ Nihonjoe)
There is a reason I frequently shy away from reading biographies: people suck. Even the best people suck. If you want to go on admiring someone, don’t know them personally. The art, of course, speaks for itself. It need not be burdened by the shortcomings of its creator. But (at least for me) it is difficult to separate the two once you know. You cannot, as the saying goes, unsee something.
Today, a lot of people, including myself, were surprised to learn that beloved science fiction writer Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game) is an anti-gay activist, and has been for a very long time. In 2008, he wrote that “marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down.” Responding to the Supreme Court decision on the topic of gay marriage, Card told Entertainment Weekly “it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.”
Hmmmm…. interesting that someone who is against tolerance wants to see how people with tolerance respond….
Breaking News: Just announced that Nigerian author Chinua Achebe has passed away at a hospital in Boston. Achebe was eighty-two.
Achebe rose to fame in 1958 with the publication of his first novel Things Fall Apart, a work that met with both critical and popular success. Other international best-sellers include No Longer At Ease, A Man of the People, Arrow of God and Anthills of the Savannah.
For the last four years, Achebe has been the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
Here are ten memorable quotes from both his lectures and works:
1. “To me, being an intellectual doesn’t mean knowing about intellectual issues; it means taking pleasure in them.”
2. “When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool.”
3. “It is the storyteller who makes us what we are, who creates history. The storyteller creates the memory that the survivors must have – otherwise their surviving would have no meaning.”
4. “Procrastination is a lazy man’s apology.” – Anthills of the Savannah
5. “There is a moral obligation, I think, not to ally oneself with power against the powerless.” – There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra
6. “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” ― Things Fall Apart
7. “We cannot trample upon the humanity of others without devaluing our own. The Igbo, always practical, put it concretely in their proverb Onye ji onye n’ani ji onwe ya: “He who will hold another down in the mud must stay in the mud to keep him down.” ― The Education of a British-Protected Child: Essays
8. “One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised. ”
9. “Charity . . . is the opium of the privileged.”
10. “I believe in the complexity of the human story and that there’s no way you can tell that story in one way and say: This is it. Always there will be someone who can tell it differently depending on where they are standing; the same person telling the story will tell it differently. I masquerade is moving through this big arena. Dancing. If you’re rooted to a spot, you miss a lot of the grace. So you keep moving, and this is the way I think the world’s stories should be told—from many different perspectives.” Think of that masquerade in Igbo festivals that dances in the public arena. The Igbo people say, “If you want to see it well, you must not stand in one place.”
I don’t know about you, but when I go to bed at night, my brain goes into Super Worry Overdrive. I worry about my bills, my kids, my first drafts (like Anne Lamott, I am afraid someone will find my unedited work and will assume I have committed suicide when I realized my talent was gone).
One of my favorite Tumblr’s, This Isn’t Happiness, recently posted a list of things very intelligent people worry about. Spoiler Alert: Whether they can continue to continue paying for HBO is not on the list. I had to look up some of the things they worry about. Suddenly, whether my cats need therapy or not (they do) is not as pressing. Apparently, I, and you, have more troubling things to keep us on edge:
- The proliferation of Chinese eugenics. – Geoffrey Miller, evolutionary psychologist.
- Black swan events, and the fact that we continue to rely on models that have been proven fraudulent. – Nassem Nicholas Taleb
- That we will be unable to defeat viruses by learning to push them beyond the error catastrophe threshold. – William McEwan, molecular biology researcher
- That pseudoscience will gain ground. – Helena Cronin, author, philospher
- That the age of accelerating technology will overwhelm us with opportunities to be worried. – Dan Sperber, social and cognitive scientist
- Genuine apocalyptic events. The growing number of low-probability events that could lead to the total devastation of human society. – Martin Rees, former president of the Royal Society
- The decline in science coverage in newspapers. – Barbara Strauch, New York Times science editor
- Exploding stars, the eventual collapse of the Sun, and the problems with the human id that prevent us from dealing with them. — John Tooby, founder of the field of evolutionary psychology
- That the internet is ruining writing. – David Gelernter, Yale computer scientist
- That smart people—like those who contribute to Edge—won’t do politics. –Brian Eno, musician
- That there will be another supernova-like financial disaster. –Seth Lloyd, professor of Quantum Mechanical Engineering at MIT
- That search engines will become arbiters of truth. —W. Daniel Hillis,
“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” ~ Stephen King, On Writing
Pictured above is Stephen King’s own attic writing space at his home in Bangor, Maine. In contrast to his statement above, his desk does appear to be in the middle of his room, but surely he means “corner” to be taken metaphorically; that is, any place that is quiet, that is yours; the place where you sit to write your work. While there are some writers who purportedly can write in the midst of chaos, most of us require a place of retreat. I believe it was J.K. Rowling who said that she cleared out a walk-in closet, put a desk and a lamp in there, and sealed herself off from the rest of the family while she was composing her first Harry Potter novel.
Here are ten intriguing places where writer’s write, along with some advice for all who write:
1. Neil Gaiman‘s Gazebo/Cabin
- Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
- Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
- Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
- Remember: when people tell you somethings wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
- Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
- Laugh at your own jokes.
- The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But its definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.
2. Edith Wharton‘s view from “The Mount” in Lennox, Massachusetts
“Habit is necessary; it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive.”
3. Dylan Thomas‘s Boathouse at Laugharne, Wales
“Go on thinking that you don’t need to be read and you’ll find that it may become quite true: no one will feel the need to read it because it is written for yourself alone; and the public won’t feel any impulse to gate crash such a private party.”
4. Ernest Hemingway‘s Home in Key West, Florida
“Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done.”
“There’s no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”
“Ordinarily I never read anything before I write in the morning to try and bite on the old nail with no help, no influence and no one giving you a wonderful example or sitting looking over your shoulder.”
5. Rudyard Kipling: Dummerston, Vermont
“I am, by calling, a dealer in words; and words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
“I never made a mistake in my life; at least, never one that I couldn’t explain away afterwards.”
“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”
6. Ian Fleming‘s home, GoldenEye, in Jamaica
“All the greatest men are maniacs. They are possessed by a mania which drives them forward towards their goal. The great scientists, the philosophers, the religious leaders – all maniacs. What else but a blind singleness of purpose could have given focus to their genius, would have kept them in the groove of purpose. Mania … is as priceless as genius.”
7. Norman Mailer‘s Fourth Floor Apartment, Brooklyn Heights, New York
“I’ve written at times about the spooky element in writing. You go in each morning, and there’s a blank page. Maybe it takes five minutes, maybe it takes an hour. Sooner or later you start writing, and then the words begin to flow. Where does that come from? You can’t pinpoint it. You always wonder, “Will it all stop tomorrow?” In that sense it’s spooky. In other words, you’re relying on a phenomenon that’s not necessarily dependable. ” (“Norman Mailer Interview,” The Academy of Achievement, June 12, 2004)
“Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.”
8. Virginia Woolf‘s Writing Desk at “Monk’s House,” Sussex, England
“Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it. It is our business to puncture gas bags and discover the seeds of truth.”
“To write weekly, to write daily, to write shortly, to write for busy people catching trains in the morning or for tired people coming home in the evening, is a heartbreaking task for men who know good writing from bad. They do it, but instinctively draw out of harm’s way anything precious that might be damaged by contact with the public, or anything sharp that might irritate its skin.”
“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”
“The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true. “
“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen. “
“The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty.”
“In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. “
10. Roald Dahl‘s “The Gipsy House,” Buckinghamshire, England
1. You should have a lively imagination
2. You should be able to write well. By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader’s mind. Not everybody has this ability. It is a gift, and you either have it or you don’t.
3. You must have stamina. In other words, you must be able to stick to what you are doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and month after month.
4. You must be a perfectionist. That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can.
5. You must have strong self-discipline. You are working alone. No one is employing you. No one is around to fire you if you don’t turn up for work, or to tick you off is you start slacking.
6. It helps a lot if you have a keen sense of humor. This is not essential when writing for grown-ups, but for children, it’s vital.
7. You must have a degree of humility. The writer who thinks that his work is marvelous is heading for trouble.