Thursday 27 March
Enterprising New Idea for Music Types

Filed under music

This morning, I realized that what I needed was an app or Web engine that could recommend new music to me based on old music I liked back when it was of use to the music industry for me to like it. Because it’s rare that I hear guitars in new pop/rock music today, distorted ones at least. And I like distorted guitars. Surely someone’s using fuzzboxes?

I imagine it’d go like this. The app or site would prompt you to fill in the blank:

When I was young enough to be marketed to, I loved…

And then it would use algorithms or something to figure out what the closest present-day analogue is:

Now that you’re older, the album the kids are listening to that you might also love is…

But then you have to trust the algorithm, and what little I know about tech people and big data tells me I might not want to, that I might go When I was young enough to be marketed to, I loved…

Modest Mouse - The Lonesome Crowded West

And it would then go Now that you’re older, the album the kids are listening to that you might also love is…

Imagine Dragons

So be careful, enterprising tech people. Don’t recommend that I listen to Imagine Dragons. And get on it. Why not? Yesterday I was followed on Twitter by an app I can download to help schedule my office hours and other student meetings. Why waste time on voice mail or email trying to arrange a meeting? Why try to diminish my interactions with students which can’t be mined for data?

The saddest part of it is that I couldn’t even sign up if I wanted to. They’re currently “overloaded with requests.”

 ::  Discuss  ::  2014-03-27  ::  dave

Thursday 30 January
Old Goals

Filed under Announcements

Long-time readers (!) of this blog might recall that back in 2011 I tried to work on memorizing some prose passages. I meant to start with Cheever’s opening paragraph in “The Death of Justina”. Today is the first day I’ve been able to recite it in full from memory. Here, to practice, though you’ll have to trust I’m neither peeking nor copying and pasting:

So help me God it gets more and more preposterous, it corresponds less and less to what I remember and what I expect, as if the force of life were centrifugal and threw one further and further away from one’s purest memories and ambitions, and I can barely recall the old house where I was raised, where in midwinter Parma violets bloomed in a cold frame near the kitchen door, and down the long corridor, past the seven views of Rome—up two steps and down three—one entered the library, where all the books were in order, the lamps were bright, where there was a fire and a dozen bottles of good bourbon locked in a cabinet with a veneer like tortoise shell whose silver key my father wore on his watch chain. Fiction is art and art is the triumph over chaos (no less) and we can accomplish this only by the most vigilant exercise of choice, but in a world that changes more swiftly than we can perceive there is always the danger that our powers of selection will be mistaken and that the vision we serve will come to nothing. We admire decency and we despise death, but even the mountains seem to shift in the space of a night, and perhaps the exhibitionist at the corner of Chestnut and Elm streets is more significant than the lovely woman with a bar of sunlight in her hair, putting a fresh piece of cuttlebone in the nightingale’s cage. Just let me give you one example of chaos and if you disbelieve me look honestly into your own past and see if you can’t find a comparable experience.

The idea, I guess, is to know certain writing by heart, in all that this idiom connotes. I’m in love with the way this paragraph moves. I love its leaps and grounding returns. Maybe I’ll glean something from it subconsciously, but mostly I just like having it close when I need it.

Next up for memorization is this gem from Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”:

Of course the activists—not those whose thinking had become rigid, but those whose approach to revolution was imaginatively anarchic—had long ago grasped the reality which still eluded the press: we were seeing something important. We were seeing the desperate attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vacuum. Once we had seen these children, we could no longer overlook the vacuum, no longer pretend that the society’s atomization could be reversed. This was not a traditional generational rebellion. At some point between 1945 and 1967 we had somehow neglected to tell these children the rules of the game we happened to be playing. Maybe we had stopped believing in the rules ourselves, maybe we were having a failure of nerve about the game. Maybe there were just too few people around to do the telling. These were children who grew up cut loose from the web of cousins and great-aunts and family doctors and lifelong neighbors who had traditionally suggested and enforced the society’s values. They are children who have moved around a lot, San Jose, Chula Vista, here. They are less in rebellion against the society than ignorant of it, able only to feed back certain of its most publicized self-doubts, Vietnam, Saran-Wrap, diet pills, the Bomb.

They feed back exactly what is given them. Because they do not believe in words—words are for “typeheads,” Chester Anderson tells them, and a thought which needs words is just one more of those ego trips—their only proficient vocabulary is in the society’s platitudes. As it happens I am still committed to the idea that the ability to think for one’s self depends upon one’s mastery of the language, and I am not optimistic about children who will settle for saying, to indicate that their mother and father do not live together, that they come from “a broken home.” They are sixteen, fifteen, fourteen years old, younger all the time, an army of children waiting to be given the words.

339 words to Cheever’s 280. See you in 2018.

 ::  Discuss  ::  2014-01-30  ::  dave

Tuesday 21 January
Very Good Paragraphs

Filed under NF + Very Good Paragraphs

From “The State of Nonfiction Today”, the opening chapter in Phillip Lopate’s To Show and To Tell, a piece whose insight has saved me from having to write at least two different essays so far. This graf comes right after a lengthy one summing up George Steiner’s “Ten (Possible) Reasons for the Sadness of Thought”:

I’m not trying to be more demoralizing than necessary. My point is simply to suggest that in the larger culture, as well as in the specific subculture of nonfiction, we may be moving away from the complexities of thought or consciousness for understandable if ignoble reasons. If thinking on the page makes us sad, why do it? If all those semicolons, ideas, and oppositional clauses slow us down and keep us from the more tactile pleasure of sense details, speedy dialogue, and cinematically imaginable scenes, get rid of them!

 ::  Discuss  ::  2014-01-21  ::  dave

Tuesday 21 January
On @midnight

Filed under Comedy

@midnight is a show on Comedy Central that combines the worst characteristics of two things I enjoy—standup comics and Twitter—in a way that with repeated exposure I’d be forced to swear off both. I watched one half of one episode, featuring the great Rory Scovel and, one of my favorite comics, Jon Dore, and I couldn’t finish. This post will briefly get at why.

1 comment  ::  Discuss  ::  2014-01-21  ::  dave

Monday 20 January
“The Snowdon Song” — Tony, Caro & John

Filed under tabulature

Old British folk song. Apparently Beach House covered this song and called it “Lovelier Girl” because of the U.S. being what it is among young folks in the post-millennium, and when I found chords for that cover online I was excited and then played them and they’re wrong. Not just different-key wrong but like, there are from what I can tell no minor-seventh chords anywhere in the song. But who knows what else Beach House did with this unassailable great.

So the recording I have is off on the tuning, and there’s all kinds of melodic lines being plucked that are beyond my capabilities, but here’s the basis for the song in the hopes a better player than I am can build off it.

Forgive misheard lyrics, though I stand by that weird line in the chorus.

 ::  Discuss  ::  2014-01-20  ::  dave

Friday 17 January
Was Dave Madden Gay?

Filed under queers

No. He was married to a woman named Sandra Martin up until his death yesterday.

Sorry to disappoint. R.I.P., Dave.


Comments Off  ::  Discuss  ::  2014-01-17  ::  dave

Thursday 16 January
Why I Don’t Teach Revision

Filed under teaching

13641974Short answer: I never learned how to.

Long answer: I never learned how to teach anything, really. Most collegiate teaching begins as stabs in the dark by people who believe they can do but don’t yet know how to get others to do. But while I eventually picked up how to teach, say, scene or voice or character or structure, any assignments, texts, or exercises to get students to think about revision have escaped me.

Also, there’s no time. Requiring students to conceive, write, and revise a full-length essay within the 15 weeks of a semester is yet another instance of the academy doing its best/worst to fit the messy idiosyncrasies of writing processes within its arbitrary timeframes and practices. It’s practice that will be unuseful not only in their other classes[*]
but also in their careers, should they go on to be writers.

Within 15 weeks, amid other assignments and work to focus on, the messy, idiosyncratic process of revision defaults to what Carol Bly calls “literary fixing”, i.e., showing in that scene more than you told in the first draft, or keeping the point of view consistently close to the central character, or making sure you don’t leap into the present tense without warrant.

Here’s the thing about teaching this kind of “revision” in the academy: it’s really good at getting students to practice technique. What it’s not good at is articulated well in Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd’s Good Prose, one of the better books on writing I’ve read in years:

I remember in college reading [Fitzgerald's] The Last Tycoon and studying a note that he left in the manuscript: “Rewrite from mood. Has become stilted with rewriting. Don’t look—rewrite from mood.” I reread those lines so often, trying to understand them, that they stuck in my memory. Fitzgerald knew that there are at least two kinds of rewriting. The first is trying to fix what you’ve already written, but doing this can keep you from facing up to the second kind, from figuring out the essential thing you’re trying to do and looking for better ways to tell your story. If Fitzgerald had been advising a young writer and not himself, he might have said, “Rewrite from principle,” or “Don’t just push the same old stuff around. Throw it away and start over.” In any case, a lot of learning how to be edited was for me learning the necessity of this second kind of rewriting [...].

My emphasis. Revision as it’s taught in the academy—often meant to be performed over a number of weeks based on whatever consensus one’s peers came to in workshop—isn’t just unuseful practice, it’s detrimental to the most important part of the process: figuring out the essential thing you are trying to do. This is markedly different from figuring out how to improve what you’ve done.

Sometimes, what you’ve done isn’t worth the trouble. Throw it away and start over. If you insist on keeping it, knowing this distinction between the kinds of rewriting is your best bet. Also: make your own schedule.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. This is something composition teachers refuse to stop insisting. The idea behind teaching revision is that it teaches students that writing is a process not a product, and while this is true for writers who get to set their own deadlines it’s not true for those who don’t, and it’s very much untrue for students who have, say, 4 major papers to write over the course of the term in one class alone, each of which papers has to be scheduled amid assignments for three or four other classes. And given the nature of writing assignments in classes that aren’t Comp 101, this kind of careful revision process won’t, I’m convinced, result in a better grade. Better to teach students how to think critically and write clearly, which is hard enough of an endeavor to waste their time on “radical revision” practices that are presented as universally applicable but—if we believe anything about the writing process—can’t possibly be so.

 ::  Discuss  ::  2014-01-16  ::  dave

Tuesday 31 December
Out with a Bang

Filed under NF

diagram136Woke up this morning to find that the latest issue of DIAGRAM went live, putting my essay, “A Rapi I Wroteii, out into the world. It’s not the first piece I’ve published online, but it’s the best one. The essay’s about a real-life rap I really wrote back in college. I was especially glad DIAGRAM took the piece, not only because it’s maybe the best online magazine out there, but also due to the attention editor Ander Monson pays to diagrams, coding, and the physical form of digital texts.

You’ll see that the essay uses footnotes. I annotate the rap text and therein lies the essay’s bulk. Pale Fire on a smaller scale, but more importantly less narratively progressive. I’ve never been sure about this piece. When I’d read it through it felt paltry at the end. It doesn’t work very well as a piece to read through start to finish. I think it works best to read the rap as a whole, and then read it again, following to each footnote when it comes. Then back to text and back to footnote and on and on.

Endnotes would be the only way to get it to work on the page, in, say, an anthology. But endnotes that got their own page. Ideally, some whiz would code up a Flash-based thing wherein the footnotes would perform as pop-up windows, only one of which could appear at a time.

I can’t say that J. Nicholas Geist’s Infinity Blade review was an influence, but I will say I wish I’d've thought of its form, and that I’d like once again to write an essay that works better on the screen than on the page, that taps into the Internet’s absorptive powers, and not just its distractive ones.

1 comment  ::  Discuss  ::  2013-12-31  ::  dave

Monday 30 December
MacBook Pro Superdrive Won’t Load Disc — Weird Solution

Filed under Announcements

A service post; maybe Googlers will find it. I had this problem a while back on my late-2010 MacBook Pro. I’d insert a disc and it wouldn’t recognize there was anything to load. None of the fixes I found in online forums did the trick. One day it suddenly fixed itself on its own. Or, more specifically, something I did made the Superdrive function again.

Well it’s been malfunctioning for a couple months now and I couldn’t figure out why. Then I did this:

  1. I wanted to make sure a Firefox Add-on was working properly, so I did Tools > Add-ons and they opened in a new tab.
  2. I noticed a number of my add-ons were waiting for a Firefox restart.
  3. I clicked “Restart Firefox”.
  4. I heard my Superdrive make a little whir, as though it had just ejected a disc.
  5. Excited but incredulous, I put in a DVD and it played immediately.

So maybe try restarting Firefox through your Add-ons tab and see if it helps? For what it’s worth, here are the Add-ons I use:

  • Adblock Plus
  • BarTab Lite
  • Coupons at Checkout
  • DoNotTrackMe
  • Download Status Bar
  • DuckDuckGo Plus
  • feedly
  • Flash Video Downloader
  • Flashblock
  • Greasemonkey
  • Xmarks

Why do I feel as though I’ve just shown you my underwear drawer?

 ::  Discuss  ::  2013-12-30  ::  dave

Friday 13 December
On Selling Out

Filed under Comedy

blackman-selloutMaybe you noticed the opening sentence of my last blog post? It’s an ad. I got paid to write that sentence and link it to a Web-based proofreading service. Word-for-word, it’s the most money I’ve ever made as a writer in my entire life. I need money these days. My and N’s flights to Virginia for Xmas came to more than $1000, and then there’s presents, and so I dithered on whether to accept the invitation to sponsor one of my blog posts only because the teen I once was told me to. I never listened to him seriously.[1]

I wouldn’t trust a Web site to proof my copy the way a doctor wouldn’t run to WebMD for advice. Proofing copy’s maybe the one thing I feel trained to do. I can’t recommend the service, having never used it. When I pasted into the window of its homepage the opening paragraph of a forthcoming article of mine, which graf already got OK’d by my editor, it found 3 spelling issues, 1 issue of commonly confused words, 1 issue of wordiness, 1 use of the passive voice, 2 issues of punctuation within a sentence, and 3 issues with the writing style. I need to sign up for a trial to see precisely what these issues of style and wordiness are, but I’m not about to.

Look, I recognize that this online proofreader and other such sites are where we are in the world: individual outsourcing. The city I live in is the global center for people making sites and apps that other people can use to take care of such time-consuming tasks as finding a parking spot to learning driving directions. It’s maybe the opposite of a DIY culture. Rather than build your own Web site, you can have a blog. Rather than put together your own photo albums, you can use any Photo-sharing service. Rather than self-publish and distro a zine, you can post on social-media apps and rack up followers. No wonder knitting and pickling got so big around the time Facebook and Twitter did: our phones do everything for us now. Ours is a DNY culture.

More than my framed longbox of the Reality Bites soundtrack, this post is branding me as a child of the Nineties. Growing up, the worst thing I could imagine anyone being was a sellout, which while historically as slippery to define as ironic I understood as performing inauthentically for monetary gain. Abandoning one’s principles when it’s personally advantageous to do so.

What I want to do to end this post before it gets tedious and preachy is to ask a question. I don’t have enough readers to warrant a response, so I’ll go ahead and let it be leading. Has the participatory Internet (a.k.a. Web 2.0) turned us all into sellouts?

Or has reality television? Has anyone made famous via viral DIY videos ever turned down a book or TV offer in order to stay true to his or her vision? No. Because I don’t think there’s any cultural pressure to do so.

The final question is what’s the new selling out? What’s the new worst thing a person can do these days? My money’s on Not Be Funny. If there’s any cultural pressure I feel here, where we are in the world, it’s to be clever, to make jokes, to entertain.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Apologies to friend and correspondent Michael Martone for beginning a post about his great self-titled book with an ad.

1 comment  ::  Discuss  ::  2013-12-13  ::  dave

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