The internet is a wide, rolling river of information. It can be treacherous and dangerous to wade into if you’re not careful. If you’re looking for a cool drink of truth, the muddy brown of this mighty Mississippi of data often has a harsh stench of bias bubbling along with the waves. What can a reader thirsty for knowledge do?
The answer is to seek the source – the cool, clear stream that feeds into the torment at the headwaters. I call it the “Urquelle”, a German word meaning “original source” favored in the mountains and rolling hills that are the source of so many great rivers in Bavaria and Bohemia. This process of seeking out primary sources is valuable not just for writers, for whom primary sources have long been a staple of good, useful prose. As surely as reading is writing, today’s discerning reader should also seek the Urquelle.
(The Sage) knows he makes no fine display,
and wears rough clothes, not finery.
It is not in his expectancy of men
that they should understand his ways,
for he carries his jade within his heart.
– Tao Te Ching 70 (Rosenthal)
The short, hunched figure appeared in front of me loaded with purpose. The weather bent us both down, compelled our gaze towards cautious feet and the treacherous lack of grip underneath them. It was only a casual glance that saw the short red coat and hood approaching as I wondered who else might be out making their own time down the sidewalk. A child? A friend? Anyone I knew?
When we approached a few plodding paces apart a quick glance up saw her as an old woman. I could not make out many details about her presence rendered trivial as we both concentrated on our chilling task, the path from here to there. I smiled a quick “Hello!” and she said as much back as we passed, still a stranger though also a comrade in purpose. We were both anonymous in our shields against the cold that might catch up if we had stopped for any more than a word. The weather itself had rendered us equal, distant, and humble.
If you are a fan of the BBC Series Doctor Who, you are probably enjoying the eighth season since the reboot, now starring Peter Capaldi as The Doctor. If you aren’t, I’d rather you didn’t read this piece, since you may want to alert the authorities about my mental stability.
This is a work of fandom. I’ve been a fan of the show since 1978 and have passed this affliction, er, passion, on to my kids now.
Long ago in a High School far away, we were all taught how to write a formal business letter. It included the date, return address, and all the pertinent information needed to either file it away or write a reply. It also had a standard format, not terribly different from the standard five paragraph theme.
Today, everything is done in email. Everything. The sorting and replying are automatic, the formality is limited, and the attention span of the reader is probably short. What is the right format for a formal email to a client or prospective employer?
There is no right answer. I have been asked this by many clients over the years, and I have my own format that seems to work. If you have your own, please share with us and let’s see what we all come up with.
In Junior High I had a class on typing. We meandered to a windowless room full of the clickety-crunch churn of IBM Selectric typewriters, set out in rows on tables. Each had the solid ca-CHUNK keys that let you know that you hit one, even when you became proficient and fast on the things.
It seems like it was the era of the dinosaurs describing it to kids today. They’ve never even seen such a device.
But as antique as it seems, the training was important. I was ready to pick up a computer keyboard and move ahead when they became standard. Like the use of cc: to mean “carbon copy” on an email, the old system trained me well for what was to come next. Old ways often form a bedrock for learning in a world that is redefining itself all the time.
Here is a short list of items I think that we should continue to teach in schools, antique as they may seem. Many simply became lost in the desire to goose standardized test scores, which is pathetic. These are not only still relevant, they may become moreso in surprising ways in the years ahead. And that may point to new ways to teach them, too.
Traditionally, actors with an established rep as serious performers can go into comedy, but not the other way ‘round. That’s been smashed lately by The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert, among many others who riff off of CNN and let the jokes write themselves. It’s revolutionary comedy, yet deeply indebted to the topical humor of Richard Pryor and George Carlin in the 70s.
What’s more important than how it will change comedy is how it might change how we talk about current events. One central element of comedy is timing, and a sense of timing is working its way into the patter of political talk. But how do you render that in writing?
That’s the secret. It’s what I work on all the time. Let me explain …
Everyone has the experience at some time. You’ve read a book or seen a movie that you absolutely loved, and you want to tell the world about your new obsession. You might even know someone that you’d love to share this new world with. So you start telling them about the intricate details of the plot and characters and after rambling on and on … and then you see their eyes slowly glaze over. What went wrong? Often it’s that you had suspended your disbelief in something that sounds too absurd to tell easily. It makes sense to you, but the retelling leaves you sounding a bit crazy.
This doesn’t just happen with fiction. A disconnected world requires a lot of suspension of disbelief.