The Free Speech Bargain

Every so often, a voice from the back row asks the plaintive question, “In today’s publishing climate, what am I, as an [insert identify marker or lack of one here], allowed to write about?”

Okay.  Here’s the deal, at least as far as the US of A goes*:

You’re allowed** to write about anything you damned well please.

And everybody else – your mom, your best friend, all the other people in your writers’ group, your editor, the New York Times Review of Books, and total random strangers on the internet – is allowed to say out loud and in public what they thought about it.

The thing about the deal, you see, is that it goes both ways.  And a writer who can’t handle the deal is probably better off pulling an Emily Dickinson and keeping their stuff locked up in their dresser drawer for posterity.


*The world is a large and varied place, and I make no claim to pontificate for all of it.

**With the usual narrow exceptions involving nonexistent fires in crowded theatres, and the like.

 

Some Useful Thoughts from Outside the Field

Eric Owyoung is a composer and musician who performs with his band as Future of Forestry.  Like many another creative type, he also does teaching gigs (hey, my co-author and I have done them; it’s a way to even out the income stream), and he blogs about a recent one here.  It’s got some good insights, not least this one:

Do you have a creative goal like making an album of ten great songs?  If so, the worst idea is to try to write ten great songs. Set a goal to write 60 or more songs… no matter how bad they are, just barrel through them.  Chances are that 10%-15% of them might turn out pretty good. Learn from your mistakes.

Handy advice, I think, for the sort of writer who tends to obsess over crafting the perfect sentence in the perfect paragraph in the perfect story, only to end up crafting all the life out of it.  (The fast-and-slapdash types have, I sometimes think, an easier row to hoe:  They only need to learn how to do second and third drafts.)

And if you’re interested in Mr. Owyoung’s music, you can listen to some of it on his web site.

Peeve of the Day

Listen up, people.

I keep reading bits of narrative lately where a character who’s walking around aimlessly or randomly is described as “milling about.”

No.

Milling about is not something one person does, or even two people.  Milling about requires at least a small crowd.  The “mill” part of the verb comes from the idea that the random circular motion of such a crowd resembles the rotary action of a mill wheel.

One person alone might pace, or might wander about, but they aren’t going to be milling, even if they’re doing it with a friend.

Sometimes It’s an Analog Problem

For the past few days, I’ve been having really bad audio playback problems on my desktop computer – sounds dropping out, sounds being fuzzy, dialogue on videos suddenly becoming harder to follow.  Because we’d just had a fairly large Windows 10 update, and because I’d just said “The hell with waiting for the bad news, I’m going to switch over to the Firefox 57 Beta now,” I went about searching for a cure for the problem in my Firefox and Windows setups, to no avail.

Then this afternoon I finally wised up, and bethought myself of the maxim that when in doubt, one should always switch in a known good piece of hardware and see if the problem persists.  So I dug out my emergency earbuds (I hate earbuds, so I never use them unless I have to; earmuff-style headphones suit me much better, and keep my ears warm in winter to boot) and unplugged my headphones – whereupon I got a good look at the headphone jack for the first time in a couple of weeks.

And lo, the jack was visibly bent several degrees off true.

I blame the cats, who are in the annoying habit of leaping from the top of my desk to the floor and catching the headphone cord with their hind legs on the way.  I will have to buy a new pair of earmuff headphones this afternoon, and I can see a pair of cordless bluetooth headphones in my future as well.  (I can cheap out on regular wired headphones, because they all break eventually and don’t really get much sturdier until you get into the $100-and-up range, but the wireless ones don’t have anything like the battery life I’d need until they’re well into not-cheap territory.  Also, my desktop computer is sufficiently elderly that I’ll also have to throw in a bluetooth adapter to make it work.)

Anyhow – I plugged in the earbuds, and gave the sound another try.

Yep.  Dead jack on the old headphones was the problem source.

So.  Immediate solution:  earbuds.  Short-term solution: new headphones.  Medium-term solution: wireless headphones+bluetooth adapter.  Long-term solution: New desktop computer.

It’s always nice to have a path mapped out.

How It Turned Out

Madhouse Manor

Some of y’all may recall the post From My Mail a while back, requesting votes to get a grant from State Farm for Camp Mariposa in Nashua, NH.

Camp Mariposa is a mentoring and addiction prevention program for youth (ages 9-12) who are impacted by the substance abuse of a family member.

Well, today’s news is that Camp Mariposa is indeed one of the recipients of a grant.  So, to those who voted, thanks.  Good job.

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Banned Books Week Has Rolled Around Again

Because the people who want to control what the rest of us read just don’t ever stop.

(Confession time here.  I’m a First Amendment purist, of the stripe which, if we were talking the Second Amendment instead of the First, would undoubtedly get me labeled a “free speech nut” and have the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms searching my house.  And I regard with a cold and fishy eye the sort of statement that begins, “Of course I’m in favor of free speech, but….”)

Judging by the American Library Association’s Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016 list, children’s and young adult books tend to get hit the hardest — unsurprising, since everybody agrees that Protecting the Children is important, as is Molding Young Minds.

This year’s top ten list is mostly full of books that were challenged by people who wanted to protect the children from LBGTQ characters and issues.  Presumably, they’re afraid that reading about such things will cause their offspring to “turn gay”, which is unlikely (as Mayor Jimmy Walker of New York observed about a censorship issue of an earlier day, “I have never yet heard of a girl being ruined by a book”) — or maybe they’re just afraid that said offspring will find validation in those books for something about themselves that they already know.

Support your local library, people.  They’re fighting the good fight to keep books on the shelves for the readers who need them.

Dotard!

Over at his site, Jim Macdonald is having fun with words:

Madhouse Manor

Dotard -- Don QuixoteThe news lately is full of the word “dotard,” and all of the news sources feel compelled to add a definition.   As if everyone didn’t already know what dotard meant.  In the small fishing village whence I come, “Dotard” is constantly on every man’s lips.

Seriously, I’ve known it since I was eight or ten, on first looking into Chapman’s Homer The Lord of the Rings.  Who can ever forget the scene where Saurman says to Theoden, “Dotard!  What is the house of Eorl but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek, and their brats roll on the floor among the dogs?”

You have to admire the wizard’s command of invective.  (I also admire his use of the word ‘but,” but that’s for another post.)

Still, Saruman should have been a bit more careful with what  he withdrew from his word-hoard since “dotard” shares with “wizard” the…

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Nostalgia Calling, However Briefly

Every once in a while, I run across something that makes me wish for a moment that I’d stayed in Academia.† Like this call for papers:

Inside Out: Dress and Identity in the Middle Ages, the 38th Annual Conference at Fordham University’s Center for Medieval Studies.

Not that I’d have anything to present — material culture was never my field — but my word, the papers should be fascinating.


Not often, though, or for very long. I got out at just about the same time as Academia started devouring its own young.