can’t see the forest

What on Earth has been going on?

Posted in Blogging, Life, Personal by Curtis on 12/4/08

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Now, this blog has never been a “Here’s how my day was; how in the hell was yours?” kind of affair. I’m a little more journalistic than that, if only marginally so.

But I’ve been gone from the site for quite nearly a year, so I figured a few words as to what I’ve been up to might be in order.

The big picture hasn’t changed much. I’m progressing nicely in college, earning good marks, soaking up as much as I can and making some wonderful new friends in the process. One of the biggest changes is that I am now spending much more time studying and working in music than I have in a number of years. I view this as an overwhelmingly positive development purely by virtue of the wonders it has done for my general mood and outlook. It’s been an adjustment, and I’m learning to balance being a full-time musician with my studies in philosophy and other subjects. That, in case you were wondering, is code for “I no longer have a life. Haaaaalp.” Okay, not really.

The largest project I’ve been stuck headfirst in lately is a new musical composition, Selections from Chamber Music, which consists of five poems from the eponymous collection by James Joyce set for soprano and chamber orchestra. If all goes well, the work will be debuted in March at the inaugural New Music Festival at UAHuntsville, my university. The festival is going to be an exciting event, especially for a small school like ours, with lots of new music by composers from within and without. I’ll keep you abreast and will try to post the performances afterwards.

Earlier this evening (sometime before it turned into morning) I was gazing expectantly into the five lines and four spaces of the English horn part , thinking to myself, “Yeah, that’s a great little piece of counterpoint you got there, English horn part, but what in the bejeezus is missing from my life?”

The whole rest at the end of the phrase I’d just completed stared back at me, blankly, for about four beats. Since there was obviously something missing from his bar of music, I thought he might have some insight for me.

“You’re RIGHT!” I exclaimed. “My BLOG! Eureka!

I will freely admit, I actually waxed very sentimental there for a minute, thinking about how–despite the past twelve months of abject neglect–this blog has followed me literally from one side of the continent to the other; has seen me go from lonely, frustrated office worker to purposeful, slightly hoity-toity collegiate with a boyfriend. Did I just come out on my website? I think I may have. No matter. It’s cool.

I thought about the wonderful friends I’ve made through blogging, people like Ann at PG, BlueBear, and raincoaster, to name just a few of my favorites, about what their posts and their antics have taught me about the world, the human spirit, and myself.

Most of all, I merely arrived at the conclusion that, as much as things are going right in my life, I’m just not myself if I’m not on here, reading and writing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is why I believe in the Internet. Sorry, guys; there was a lot ’twas happening, and I totally spaced. For, like, a year.

I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be writing about in the coming posts. Only time will tell. Expected the unexpected–that way, if the unexpected expected is what you get, I’ll expect you to get a good chuckle out of it.

Before long I’ll be going through old comments trying to give them the attention they deserve; I also want to do a little pruning here and there in the archives, depending on how it goes.

I hope your winter holidays, however you choose to celebrate them, are looking bright. I’ve got a lot to think about and a world literature final exam to take in the morning; and since it is the morning, I’d best let you go for now.

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Out of hibernation I creep

Posted in Blogging, Life, Personal by Curtis on 12/4/08

Good grief. I notice now that the first line of the last post says “Happy New Year,” and here we are close to another new year already.

My return to this site is long overdue. I can only say that it’s been a super-duper-hyper-eventful year; that early in the year I decided to slow down on this project a bit; and that, before I knew it, I was on semi-permanent vacation from my blog.

Well, I figure that a lot has been going on lately the microcosm of my life and in the world at large. A month-long winter break from college is as good a time as any to crack my knuckles and get the posts rolling again. I’m curious to see how the site will change according to how my noggin has been jostled around over the past year, and I’m more than ready to find out how my fellow friends and bloggers are doing.

Give me a minute. I’m currently wrapping up one of the largest-scale musical compositions I’ve yet attempted, which I hope will be performed at my college’s inaugural new music festival in the coming spring. It’s a suite of poems from James Joyce’s Chamber Music that I set for soprano and small orchestra. I’ll tell you more about it later.

Being out of touch is bad. I don’t know exactly what the coming weeks will bring, but I miss my writing and I miss my readers . . . and heaven knows, there’s a lot that needs to be said, if only for the sake of saying it.

Thanks and warmest wishes,


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Why I Detest “Writing in Class”

Posted in college, Education, English, language, Life, Literature, Personal, writing by Curtis on 10/2/07

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Within the English department of my college, there is a general policy whereby students are expected to do the majority of their creative and expository writing—if not all of it—in class.

So, given a topic upon which to expound, one has, at most, two and a half hours over the course of a couple of class sessions in which to come up with a finished essay. The topic is not disclosed until the beginning of the first class session. Even for experienced writers, building an A essay from the ground up under such conditions is not a pleasant or particularly fruitful task, especially when the professor is stringent and demanding in scoring (as, I believe, he should be).

The reasons given for this asinine quirk of procedure typically include the elimination of plagiarism and the prevention of student collaboration. Collaboration: we wouldn’t want that, now, would we? People working together? How 1960s. And, I’m sorry, but no English professor of any repute is going to be concerned about problems in identifying plagiarism. It is painfully easy to spot, particularly in 100-level coursework.

Currently my class is working on an essay concerning the theme of Graham Greene’s excellent short story “The Destructors.” The narrative is rich in symbolism and double meanings, so producing a worthwhile catalog of its potential is not something that can be done in broad strokes.

The point is this: no one does his or her best writing under buzzing fluorescent lights and with such stringent limitations of time and space, and consulting reference works and the opinions of other students should not be considered “cheating” in the world of composition. If the point isn’t to draw from the students their best possible work, then, what is it?

One Year Out – 10 Things I’ve Learned about Blogging

Posted in advice, Blogging, how-to, Internet, Personal, Web, writing, WWW by Curtis on 9/23/07

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Continuing my recent Lettermanian trend of this and that, I was able to survive introspection long enough to come up with ten things I’ve learned about blogging since I began this quest about one year ago. Maybe you’ll have something to add?

  1. Read more. Write less. You’ve probably heard me invoke this anecdote ten too many times already, but I like it—Isaac Asimov, when once asked to give his best advice to young writers, said “Read more.” Stephen King gave the same advice in his On Writing. But it’s not just about developing style and technique. One gains insight by writing, but quantity and quality of input can only help to increase quality of output, as I see it. When you find yourself far more focused on writing than reading, it might be time for a quality check.
  2. Don’t get too ambitious on a per-post basis. I am as guilty of this as anyone else I’ve encountered in the blogosphere. As raincoaster once pointed out to me, the medium of blogging is just not as well suited to long posts as to shorter ones. Splitting posts with —more— can help. It’s your blog—write as much or as little as you please. It’s wise to remember, though, that your blog post is a tangible product in that it shows up on a screen and will be, perhaps unconsciously, sized up as a whole before any of the parts are explored. For that reason, short and squat is more attractive for most people, no matter how many awesome things you might have to say. If the topic is too large for a single post, make a serial of it. That’s how most large works have historically been first published, anyway.
  3. Avoid hotlinking media. Not only is it discourteous (except maybe in the case of gigantic hosts), but it’s unreliable. Numerous older posts where I hotlinked images, etc. are now missing that media because the link has been killed or the target has moved.
  4. Remember your audience. This is one of those things that goes for writing in general, of course, but it’s particularly important if you’re trying to attract repeat visitors. Try not to write as if you’re talking to yourself, try not to overuse technical jargon and astronomical vocabulary; but, at the same time, don’t talk down to your readers, either.
  5. Avoid weak language. Another very general rule. It’s a good habit to avoid words/phrases like seem(s), maybe, I think, in my opinion, is being, was done—and try not to get too adverb-happy, also. Clean, straightforward language does wonders to hold interest. Weak, overly subjunctive writing is invariably too wordy and can get tiresome pretty fast. Remember: Subject, Verb, Object. It works. Variety is the spice of life, but not the meat-and-potatoes of life.
  6. Take your time. Hurry up. The choice is yours. Don’t be late. Tee-hee. What I mean is not to get too comfortable with the ‘Publish’ button. You can always edit later, but if you come across posts in your blog that cause you to wonder “When did I do that?” or “Why did I do that?” then you’re probably taking things too quickly. Or, maybe, you’re just a coffee addict like me. Or both.
  7. People and relationships are important in the blogosphere. Everyone’s style is different, but in some sense, each blog is an open book, a reflection of the person to whom it belongs. Be prepared to feel a kind of attachment to those bloggers with whom you identify. And while, yes, there are a lot of opportunistic f***s out there, one should always be open to the development of working relationships on the Web—while remembering, of course, that they are on the Web.
  8. Regular posting means regular traffic. Admittedly, some of my biggest days in terms of page loads have occurred while I’ve been away. As a general rule, though, regular traffic is created by regular posting and by regularly frequenting the sites of others. It’s easy to think that the posts you care the most about should naturally receive the widest viewing audience, but, in reality, that’s seldom the case.
  9. Categories and social bookmarking require thought and planning. Categorizing and bookmarking sometimes become chores I execute in a perfunctory manner. But using these tools wisely and with a little forethought can make all the difference in how visible and accessible your material is to others.
  10. If you care more about stats than comments, something is awry. Enough said. Seriously.