Archive for March, 2014

Advice to Alison

Posted: March 20, 2014 by Jollymore in Uncategorized
    • Alison,

      No, I’m not ignoring your question [What advice do you give other writers], but I had to think about it for a while (two months proved  enough time): I probably put too much weight on self-reliance. A contrarian by nature, I seldom, explicitly anyway, follow advice. Then, again, we are all following someone – parents, siblings, heroes, lovers, you name it. I mean much less to you than any of those, so take my “advice” accordingly.

      What has been helpful to me has been reading about writing, specifically and in general, submitting to kind critique, keeping the company of writers, and writing.

      I’ve realized that those writers-about-writing who influence me most are dead. The deader the better, I suppose because they can’t be trying to influence me in particular and are not criticizing me personally. Wallace Stegner’s posthumous book is reviewed on my blog. I loved John Gardner’s two books on writing, THE ART OF FICTION being the better of the two. Barbara Ueland’s 100 year old IF YOU WANT TO WRITE speaks for itself as it is still in print. Others to read who are living are Umberto Eco, SIX WALKS IN THE FICTIONAL WOODS, L. Rust Hills, WRITING IN GENERAL AND THE SHORT STORY IN PARTICULAR, Stephen King’s ON WRITING, Dillard’s THE WRITING LIFE. One NOT TO BE READ is Donald Maas’s WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, unless you like abuse. There are others. People who have written themselves are the ones to read.

      Having mentioned abuse, I do recommend LEAVING any critique group that does not feel good. I was fooled into thinking initially that criticism that hurt was in all right if it meant well. I have come to know many who are kind and critical. They do not wish to hurt or build an ego on how much they know. Yes, choose folk with standards, but leave as soon as evil rears its head. I do mean evil. There is noting wrong with people who believe in you.

      I have only been to one writer’s conference and a couple of years worth of club meetings and critiques. I find both activities wonderful.

      Above all, I write. When I started, I chose to write three hours a day, five days a week. I seldom missed, maybe never. You set the tone. You set the practice. Whatever you decide is right until you prove to yourself that you need to change. [Annie Dillard like to write in a cold cabin. In my third year, I started turning on the heat.] That which I have written that is best is, in descending order of value: fictional text revision under an editor’s tutelage, fictional text revision on my own, fiction composition,notes I took at readings of my work, book reviews on the blog, log lines and summaries, queries to agents.

      My friend Michael Zak told me when I started teaching, “Choose one thing to work on each year. Improve that one thing.” He made no promises, but that worked magic. I improved. When I left teaching, I had improved 14 things and did those ever make life more enjoyable.

      Thank you for the compliment and for asking the question. I’d be pleased to hear from you again.


See my reply to Alison.

“Cosmos” trying too hard

Posted: March 10, 2014 by Jollymore in Uncategorized

“Cosmos” trying too hard. Jollymore’s reaction to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s opening segment.

Cosmos trying too hard.

It all makes me wonder who the audience is. 

Yes, Cosmos starts with a bang, a big bang—President Obama introduces the program (it makes me wish he were promoting NASA more)—and as it rushes on, the bells and whistles never cease to ring and shrill. Big bangs turn me off.

I’m not a TV watcher, but the Neil de Grasse Tyson, Phd. interview on public radio made me jump to watch the new Cosmos. On radio the astrophysicist seemed personable, well-bred and educated, but sharply critical when he needed to be (vis-à-vis his public school education). On Cosmos he resembled more a stand-offish, dumb-it-down sycophant-for-science. On the tube, he did not win me over.

The homage to his meeting at age 17 with Carl Sagan came too late in the hour to soften the initial image presented—Dr. Tyson standing alone where ever, you name it: California Coast, outer space, on top of the galaxy, or on a huge checker-board calendar of cosmic time. I understand the purpose may have been to demonstrate how alone and remote we really are in the cosmos, but his appearance on the bridge of starship-Tyson and in a seedlike, flying space capsule did not make me want to sit down and chat. He was a remote, impersonal, and over-dramatic.  The still clips of Carl Sagan—intimating with a young student, interacting in his classroom, sitting, relaxed with Johnny Carson—did more to contrast with Dr. Tyson than to tie him to that popular lineage.

The “whoo-whoo-look-at-this” tone intensified when Dr. Tyson emphasized one of his overwrought points: we are small, insignificant in this universe.  “Hey, tell me about it. We know. We know.” The emphatic deep-throated proclamations had the opposite effect of that intended. Rather than enlighten, they dumbed an interesting topic right down to earth and into the ground.  In much the same way—let me not rush to reveal my generation here—the glitz, the sizzle, and rush of special effects made Cosmos difficult to differentiate from the Fox commercials (a couple decibels louder than they need to be).  Give me a fireside chat, not a fireworks show. Too much, way too much cosmic bling.  Any student, including Dr. Tyson, who has really learned from a professor will tell you that it was the personal touch (usually outside of class), not the proclamations from the lectern,  that taught him best. The personal touch was lost in this blitz.

Dr. Tyson’s critical side came out in ways unlikely to win approval of the Vatican or creationist “thinkers” in the USA.  For his courage, we must commend him. He is a man of science. But presenting Giordano Bruno as a cartoon did not do the trick for me. The Inquisition is too serious to be animated.  Maybe that is why it was done that way, but something about the euphoric, apostate monk twirling amongst the planets and sun does not inspire the young to explore outer, rather inner, space. Still, the program presents Bruno as courageous.

 One more gripe.  After waiting thirty minutes to learn something new, things of interest were glossed over or lost in the inarticulate, drooping tone at the end of a sentence.  Dr. Tyson passed one item—the idea that the moon was once much closer to Earth and was driven back by what?, tidal forces?—I wanted to know more about. Was it a tickler for future programs? I’ll check other sources first.

I want to like the host.  I want to give Cosmos another chance. The program deserves that. It is a noble idea, but better ideas, than inspiring new generations through glitz, special effects accompanied by cartoonish and undignified overkill, is to go to Mars, establish a base on the moon, expand a space station. Cut the talk and do it. That is inspiration.



Thank God it’s over.

But wasn’t it fun.

I have to admit it was though it goes to show that political correctness and inclusivity go further than absolute merit. For an organization that has to bring forth nine contenders for Best Picture award because it keeps the audience tuned in—why not 16? Oh, college football already does that one—you can expect anything but rigorous honesty. Still, political correctness and inclusivity have a place and, for some like my brother and my girlfriend who tied for the forecaster’s prize (16/24 correct), are readable commodities. What do they tell me on the morning after?

  1. Despite the hype and promotional fortune spent pushing Gravity as a great, well-acted film, it was denied but one of the Big Six (Best picture, actor, actress, director (which it won), and supporting roles). Because of the hype and promotional fortune spent pushing Gravity as a great, well-acted film, it was granted eight “minor” awards – all earned, but who cares? Well, Gravity’s loss in Best Picture category frees me from my vow to boycott George Clooney films. And where was he last night?
  2. Best picture? 12 Years a Slave deserves the award, but the choice—over American Hustle and, especially, The Dallas Buyer’s Club—shows how P.C. and the big I work.  The voting may have easily gone to The Dallas Buyer’s Club but AIDS and sexual identity play less well (as do sexy shysters) than does the plight of Blacks in America, a condition far graver for the numbers and persistence of their difficulties. There is little argument there. So, to remain correct and open, spread the joy around: 12 Years a Slave gets Best Picture and Supporting Actress awards; The Dallas Buyer’s Club gets Best Actor—let M.McC. thank God—and Supporting Actor (a hands down favorite, earned). What about American Hustle? Go to the box office.
  3. P.C. and I., again. How can you give awards to someone whose agoraphobia and arrogance will not let him leave the Big Apple? You cannot. But how can you deny, hands down, the best performance by an actress? You cannot. Cate Blanchett had no real rivals and presented herself as the consummate actress she is.  (Applause).
  4. Now for the screen play, which Ms. Blanchett touted. No doubt Woody Allen wrote it, but am I alone to decry the so obvious, shameful, and deceitful “borrowing” from Tennessee Williams’s A Street Car Named Desire? Do so few Americans read from their literature or pay attention in high school English classes that they do not recognize this unacknowledged literary debt? Does the Academy know the difference between Original Screen Play and Adapted? This is no allusion. This is not just influence. Mr. Allen has taken, and taken liberally, without a word of credit I know of, from an original, iconic work. Now, what do we call that?  No one says a word. I hoped Ms. Blanchett at least would acknowledge her inheritance from Blanche DuBois, but nothing. Well, those who complain about the Genius of 42nd Street have to be classed with the Farrow clan, shrill detractors to the modesty and integrity of an American icon.  Please, at least, when you set San Francisco, do it, not New York. (Apple sauce).

Last word? DeGeneres: let’s have her back again.