can’t see the forest

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.

Project -ism

Posted in knowledge, philosophy, Politics, Religion, Science, writing by Curtis on 9/23/07

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Blank Book

There’s grand shenanigans in the works here at Can’t See the Forest, see. I’ve collected my notes, dragged out about a dozen intimidatingly dense nonfiction volumes, opened at least two million Firefox tabs, made a couple of drafts, and am just about ready to begin publishing Project -ism.

What is this nonsense? First, let me lay on you the ToC:

  1. Dualism and Monism (ontology)
  2. Rationalism and Empiricism (epistemology)
  3. Theism and Atheism (cosmology) {in progress}
  4. Nationalism and Globalism (sociology) {belayed, but coming}
  5. Capitalism and Socialism (economy) {belayed, but coming}

Well, you say. There’s a perfectly fine list of false dichotomies if ever I’ve seen one. Not exactly, though—hear me out.

-Isms can be any of numerous things. A wittic -ism is a cheeky remark; nepot -ism is plugging one’s friends and family into positions of power. I’m not talking about those kinds of -isms.

The -isms I’m talking about are, essentially, types of Weltanschauung (Ger., “world view”). I am going to discuss opposing sets of viewpoints on each of five issues which can shape an individual’s or a society’s world view within the applicable domain of thought.

It’s important to realize that, inasmuch as these viewpoints can be interpreted as opposite to one another, there are also certain aspects in which they are complementary. That being said, I have a definite preference in each of these five categories (generally the latter position, as they are listed above), and I intend to make very strong arguments in each case.

This survey of human thought will be cumulative—that is, by my design, each discussion will be critical to the later ones in at least some respects. I’ll be drawing from the works and ideas of notable historical masters, from Pythagoras and Anaximander to Dewey and Chomsky, but a big part of my modus operandi in putting this thing together has been to keep the thought process as clear and as free of presuppositions and undue influences as possible.

So, in the coming weeks, you’ll find these five essays posted here—probably among miscellaneous course-of-the-day posts—and I hope you’ll be able to make time to read and discuss any of these issues which are interesting to you. They are separate quandaries, but there exist important relationships between them, and the vista we’ll be looking down upon from the top of this philosophical mountain-climb might surprise you!