Ten Writers….Errrr…Toast… the Future: Thoughts for New Years’ 2013

new_years

Looking for some words to guide revelers into the future? Here are some sentiments from writers who have pondered the unknown.

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1.  Looking for Alaska by John Green 

Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia…You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present.

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2.  Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.

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3.  The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir 

Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.

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4.  Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson 

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

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5.  The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

“The key question to keep asking is, Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all you have. ”

(Bonus, because I love this book so much)

“Look, I’m going to find a way to be happy, and I’d really love to be happy with you, but if I can’t be happy with you, then I’ll find a way to be happy without you.”

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6.  Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

“Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. . . . With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have to sit in no bar room blowin’ in our jack jus’ because we got no place else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all anybody gives a damn. But not us.”

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7.  Tik-Tok by John Sladek

The future, according to some scientists, will be exactly like the past, only far more expensive.

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8.  The Theban Plays by Sophocles

Whoever neglects the arts when he is young has lost the past and is dead to the future.

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9.  Stephen Wright, Comedian

I was a peripheral visionary. I could see the future, but only way off to the side.

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10.  Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott 

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”


Top Ten Self-Deprecating Quotes from Authors

The literary world is a pretentious place, right? You wouldn’t think so judging by these ten quotes from authors playfully poking fun at their success. Who knew the Paris Review was such a popular venue in which to be self-deprecating?

Know of any others? Tell us in a comment below.

1. Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita is famous, not I. I am an obscure, doubly obscure, novelist with an unpronounceable name.” — in The Paris Review, 1967

2. Mark Twain

“I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week sometimes to make it up.” – The Innocents Abroad

3. Ray Bradbury

“A conglomerate heap of trash, that’s what I am. But it burns with a high flame.” — in The Paris Review, 2010

4. Kurt Vonnegut

Slapstick may be a very bad book. I am perfectly willing to believe that. Everybody else writes lousy books, so why shouldn’t I? What was unusual about the reviews was that they wanted people to admit now that I had never been any good. The reviewer for the Sunday Times actually asked critics who had praised me in the past to now admit in public how wrong they’d been. My publisher, Sam Lawrence, tried to comfort me by saying that authors were invariably attacked when they became fabulously well-to-do… I had suffered, all right — but as a badly educated person in vulgar company and in a vulgar trade. It was dishonorable enough that I perverted art for money. I then topped that felony by becoming, as I say, fabulously well-to-do. Well, that’s just too damn bad for me and for everybody. I’m completely in print, so we’re all stuck with me and stuck with my books.” — in The Paris Review, 1977

5. Stephen King

“I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries.”

6. David Sedaris

“At the end of a miserable day, instead of grieving my virtual nothing, I can always look at my loaded wastepaper basket and tell myself that if I failed, at least I took a few trees down with me.” — Me Talk Pretty One Day

7. Jonathan Lethem

“Listen, you can’t imagine what a freak I was. I worked in used bookstores as a teenager. I grew up with hippie parents. I lived in a ten-year cultural lag. At all times. I had not the faintest idea what was contemporary. When I got to Bennington, and I found that Richard Brautigan and Thomas Berger and Kurt Vonnegut and Donald Barthelme were not ‘the contemporary,’ but were in fact awkward and embarrassing and had been overthrown by something else, I was as disconcerted as a time traveler. The world I’d dwelled in was now apocryphal. No one read Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell, the Beats were regarded with embarrassment. When all that was swept away, I stopped knowing what contemporary literature was. I didn’t replace it; I just stopped knowing.” — in The Paris Review, 2003

8. John Grisham

“I can’t change overnight into a serious literary author. You can’t compare apples to oranges. William Faulkner was a great literary genius. I am not.”

9. Dorothy Parker

“I fell into writing, I suppose, being one of those awful children who wrote verses. I went to a convent in New York—the Blessed Sacrament… I was fired from there, finally, for a lot of things, among them my insistence that the Immaculate Conception was spontaneous combustion.” — in The Paris Review, 1956

10. And the self-deprecating author who took it to the highest extreme? That’d have to be Gary Shteyngart, who created a five minute parody of himself to promote his book Super Sad True Love Story:

“He really wants to cash in on this whole Hollywood vampire thing, but with werewolves… But they’re not wolves, they’re bears. Werebears.”

Images and quotes courtesy of Flavorwire.


The David Foster Wallace Dictionary

When David Foster Wallace died in 2008, he left behind a legacy of three excellent novels, several short story collections, and numerous essays. But what many of his fans may not be familiar with is Wallace’s secret preparations for (perhaps?) another project, a dictionary.

Thanks to The Telegraph, some of those notes are now available online. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find comfort in the author’s shared frustration with words like “utlization” (Kill it! Kiiiill it!) and curiosity at the paradoxical nature of adjectives like “colloquialism.” I only wish someone else would take up the flame and create a very biased dictionary, complete with personal commentaries in the manner of DFW’s. Sure, some quirky collections are out there (Foyle’s Philavery is one I particularly enjoy) but I crave that Wallace zing found below. Any takers?

Read on for some excerpts of David Foster Wallace’s amusing views on parts of the English language.

Utilize

A noxious puff-word. Since it does nothing that good old use doesn’t do, its extra letters and syllables don’t make a writer seem smarter; rather, using utilize makes you seem either like a pompous twit or like someone so insecure that she’ll use pointlessly big words in an attempt to look sophisticated. The same is true for the noun utilization, for vehicle as used for car, for residence as used for house, for presentlyat presentat this time, and at the present time as used for now, and so on. What’s worth remembering about puff-words is something that good writing teachers spend a lot of time drumming into undergrads: “formal writing” does not mean gratuitously fancy writing; it means clean, clear, maximally considerate writing.

Pulchritude

A paradoxical noun because it refers to a kind of beauty but is itself one of the ugliest words in the language. Same goes for the adj. form pulchritudinous. They’re part of a tiny elite cadre of words that possess the opposite of the qualities they denote. Diminutivebig,  foreign, fancy (adj.), classycolloquialism, and monosyllabic are some others; there are at least a dozen more. Inviting your school-age kids to list as many paradoxical words as they can is a neat way to deepen their relationship to English and help them see that words are both symbols for real things and real things themselves.

Mucous

An adjective, not synonymous with the noun mucus. It’s worth noting this not only because the two words are fun but because so many people don’t know the difference. Mucus means the unmentionable stuff itself.Mucous refers to (1) something that makes or secretes mucus, as in “The next morning, his mucous membranes were in rocky shape indeed,” or (2) something that consists of or resembles mucus, as in “The mucous consistency of its eggs kept the diner’s breakfast trade minimal.”

Myriad

As an adj., myriad means (1) an indefinitely large number of something (“The Local Group comprises myriad galaxies”) or (2) made up of a great many diverse elements (“the myriad plant life of Amazonia”). As a noun, it’s used with an article and of to mean a large number (“The new CFO faced a myriad of cash-flow problems”). What’s odd is that some authorities consider only the adjective usage correct — there’s about a 50-50 chance that a given copy editor will query a myriad of — even though the noun usage has a much longer history. It was only in 19th-century poetry that myriad started being used as an adj. So it’s a bit of a stumper. It’s tempting to recommend avoiding the noun usage so that no readers will be bugged, but at the same time it’s true that any reader who’s bugged by a myriad of is both persnickety and wrong — and you can usually rebut snooty teachers, copy editors, et al. by directing them to Coleridge’s “Myriad myriads of lives teemed forth.”

Unique

This is one of a class of adjectives, sometimes called “uncomparables”, that can be a little tricky. Among other uncomparables are precise,exactcorrectentireaccuratepreferableinevitablepossiblefalse; there are probably two dozen in all. These adjectives all describe absolute, non-negotiable states: something is either false or it’s not; something is either inevitable or it’s not. Many writers get careless and try to modify uncomparables with comparatives like more and less or intensives like very. But if you really think about them, the core assertions in sentences like “War is becoming increasingly inevitable as Middle East tensions rise”; “Their cost estimate was more accurate than the other firms’”; and “As a mortician, he has a very unique attitude” are nonsense. If something is inevitable, it is bound to happen; it cannot be bound to happen and then somehow even more bound to happen.Unique already means one-of-a-kind, so the adj. phrase very unique is at best redundant and at worst stupid, like “audible to the ear” or “rectangular in shape”. You can blame the culture of marketing for some of this difficulty. As the number and rhetorical volume of US ads increase, we become inured to hyperbolic language, which then forces marketers to load superlatives and uncomparables with high-octane modifiers (special – very special – Super-special! – Mega-Special!!), and so on. A deeper issue implicit in the problem of uncomparables is the dissimilarities between Standard Written English and the language of advertising. Advertising English, which probably deserves to be studied as its own dialect, operates under different syntactic rules than SWE, mainly because AE’s goals and assumptions are different. Sentences like “We offer a totally unique dining experience”; “Come on down and receive your free gift”; and “Save up to 50 per cent… and more!” are perfectly OK in Advertising English — but this is because Advertising English is aimed at people who are not paying close attention. If your audience is by definition involuntary, distracted and numbed, then free gift and totally unique stand a better chance of penetrating — and simple penetration is what AE is all about. One axiom of Standard Written English is that your reader is paying close attention and expects you to have done the same.

Focus

Focus is now the noun of choice for expressing what people used to mean by concentration (“Sampras’s on-court focus was phenomenal”) and priority (“Our focus is on serving the needs of our customers”). As an adj., it seems often to serve as an approving synonym for driven ormonomaniacal: “He’s the most focused warehouse manager we’ve ever had.” As a verb, it seems isomorphic with the older to concentrate: “Focus, people!”; “The Democrats hope that the campaign will focus on the economy”; “We need to focus on finding solutions instead of blaming each other”. Given the speed with which to focus has supplanted to concentrate, it’s a little surprising that nobody objects to its somewhat jargony New Age feel — but nobody seems to. Maybe it’s because the word is only one of many film and drama terms that have entered mainstream usage in the last decade, e.g., to foreground (= to feature, to give top priority to); to background (= to downplay, to relegate to the back burner); scenario (= an outline of some hypothetical sequence of events), and so on.

Fervent

A beautiful and expressive word that combines the phonological charms of verve and fever. Lots of writers, though, think fervent is synonymous with fervid, and most dictionary defs. don’t do much to disabuse them. The truth is that there’s a hierarchical trio of zeal-type adjectives, all with roots in the Latin verb fervere (= to boil). Even though fervent can also mean extremely hot, glowing (as in “Fingering his ascot, Aubrey gazed abstractedly at the brazier’s fervent coals”), it’s actually just the baseline term; fervent is basically synonymous with ardent. Fervid is the next level up; it connotes even more passion/devotion/eagerness than fervent. At the top is perfervid, which means extravagantly, rabidly, uncontrollably zealous or impassioned. Perfervid deserves to be used more, not only for its internal alliteration and metrical pizzazz but because its deployment usually shows that the writer knows the differences between the three fervere words.

Feckless

A totally great adjective. Feckless primarily means deficient in efficacy, i.e., lacking vigor or determination, feeble; but it can also mean careless, profligate, irresponsible. It appears most often now in connection with wastoid youths, bloated bureaucracies — anyone who’s culpable for his own haplessness. The great thing about using feckless is that it lets you be extremely dismissive and mean without sounding mean; you just sound witty and classy. The word’s also fun to read because of the soft eassonance and the sound — the triply assonant noun form is even more fun.

Noma

This medical noun signifies an especially icky ulcerous infection of the mouth or genitals. Because the condition most commonly strikes children living in abject poverty/squalor, it’s a bit like scrofula. And just as the adj. scrofulous has gradually extended its sense to mean “corrupt, degenerate, gnarly”, so nomal seems ripe for similar extension; it could serve as a slightly obscure or erudite synonym for “scrofulous, repulsive, pathetically gross, grossly pathetic”… you get the idea.

Hairy

There are maybe more descriptors for various kinds of hair and hairiness than any other word-set in English, and some of them are extremely strange and fun. The more pedestrian terms like shaggyunshornbushycoiffed, and so on we’ll figure you already know. The adj. barbigerous is an extremely uptown synonym for beardedCirrose and cirrous, from the Latin cirrus meaning “curl” or “fringe” (as in cirrus clouds), can both be used to refer to somebody’s curly or tufty or wispy/feathery hair — Nicolas Cage’s hair in Adaptation is cirrose. Crinite means “hairy or possessed of a hair-like appendage”, though it’s mainly a botanical term and would be a bit eccentric applied to a person. Crinose, though, is a people-adj. that means “having a lot of hair”, especially in the sense of one’s hair being really long. The related nouncrinosity is antiquated but not obsolete and can be used to refer to somebody’s hair in an amusingly donnish way, as in Madonna’s normally platinum crinosity is now a maternal brownGlabrous, which is the loveliest of all hair-related adjectives, means having no hair (on a given part) at all. Please note that glabrous means more baby’s-bottom-hairless than bald or shaved, though if you wanted to describe a bald person in an ironically fancy way you could talk about his glabrous domeor something. Hirsute is probably the most familiar upmarket synonym for hairy, totally at home in any kind of formal writing. Like that of many hair-related adjectives, hirsute’s original use was in botany (where it means “covered with coarse or bristly hairs”), but in regular usage its definition is much more general. Hispid means “covered with stiff or rough little hairs” and could apply to a military pate or unshaved jaw.Hispidulous is mainly just a puffed-up form of hispid and should be avoided. Lanate and lanated mean “having or being composed of woolly hairs”. A prettier and slightly more familiar way to describe woolly hair is with the adjective flocculent. (There’s also floccose, but this is used mainly of odd little hairy fruits like kiwi and quince.) Then there are thepil-based words, all derived from the Latin pilus (= hair). Pilose, another fairly common adj., means “covered with fine soft hair”. Last but not least is the noun pilimiction, which names a hopefully very rare medical disorder “in which piliform or hair-like bodies are passed in the urine”. Outside of maybe describing some kind of terribly excruciated facial expression as pilimictive, however, it’s hard to imagine a mainstream use for pilimictionTomentose means “covered with dense little matted hairs” — baby chimps, hobbits’ feet and Robin Williams are alltomentoseUlotrichous, which is properly classed with lannate andflocculent, is an old term for “crisply woolly hair”. Be advised that it is also, if not exactly a racist adj., certainly a racial one — AC Haddon’sRaces of Man, from the early 1900s, classified races according to three basic hair types: leiotrichous (straight), cymotrichous (wavy) andulotrichous.


Shakespeare and Fry and Bly, Oh My! : Literary Quotes On Storms

At eNotes, we want all of our followers and customers to know we are thinking about you in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and wish everyone a speedy and safe recovery. Hopefully, you have power and can read this… but if your battery is running low, I hear there is a Starbucks on Broadway where you can charge up AND whose wifi is still working… See??

To cheer you up, we thought you might enjoy reading some insights from literature and writers about stormy weather. So here ya go.

1.  Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drenched our steeples, drowned the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!
Crack nature’s molds, all germens spill at once
That make ingrateful man!

King Lear, Act 3.2 by William Shakespeare

2.  Stephen Fry

Here are some obvious things about weather

It’s real.
You can’t change it by wishing it away.
If it’s dark and rainy it really is dark and rainy, you can’t alter it.
It might be dark and rainy for two weeks in a row.

BUT

It will be sunny one day.
It isn’t under one’s control as to when the sun comes out but it will.
One day.

3.  The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

4.  “Why the Egyptian, Arabic, Abyssinian, Choctaw? Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What color is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies?” Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

5.  “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” ― Mark Twain

6.  “Tut, Tut, looks like rain.” Winne-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne 

7.  “A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.” ~ Carl Reiner

8.  “After three days men grow weary, of a wench, a guest, and weather rainy.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

9.  In Rainy September by Robert Bly 

In rainy September when leaves grow down to the dark
I put my forehead down to the damp seaweed-smelling sand.
What can we do but choose? The only way for human beings
is to choose. The fern has no choice but to live;
for this crime it receives earth water and night.

And finally, at Number 10, a word from the coming year’s Farmer’s  Almanac 

“Flurries early, pristine and pearly. Winter’s come calling! Can we endure so premature a falling? Some may find this trend distressing- others bend to say a blessing over sage and onion dressing.”


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