May 29, 2016 · 12:20 pm
For your reading list
If you’re prone to binge reading, close this tab right now.
Think you can handle it? Here it comes: Check out the Toast’s If X Were Your Y. This section caught my eye with If LaVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma Were Your Dads by Nicole Chung and Karissa Chen. Then I read another piece. And another. You could say it’s my latest obsession.
The premise is as simple as one phrase: “If ___ were your ___.” Writers fill out that phrase, and then take it to its logical – and then far beyond logical – conclusions. With that Chung-Chen piece, the idea led to passages like:
If LeVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma were your dads, when you were a kid, every time you had a question about anything (“How do you spell ‘loquacious’?” “Do sharks sleep with their eyes closed?”), LeVar Burton would tell you to take a look, it’s in a book. And when you complained about how annoying Dad was being, Yo-Yo Ma would play a slow, sad song on the cello, and they’d laugh at you (never unkindly) as you stomped away.
Logical enough. But did you know “if LeVar Burton and Yo-Yo Ma were your dads, your orchids would never die, no matter how much you overwatered them”? That one waves to logical as it passes, keeps going, and ends up three galaxies away. Another great one: If Justin Bieber Were My Terrible, Golden Son. Continue reading →
September 5, 2013 · 6:27 pm
Okay, it’s a public library panel, not a national stage. But you get the idea. And note the DC State Fair t-shirt. Photo by Stuart Levy.
Pundits have used a lot more red ink lately, marking Xes on the days when President Obama doesn’t hold a press conference. One hundred and fourteen days here, 101 there. Only a Russian-protected leaker and a red line in Syria could staunch the scribbles, bringing Obama officially before the press an astonishing two times in August. Otherwise, it’s X, X, and X.
What Obama does instead is push out constant social media blips and almost daily White House videos.
So think of this as my trendy White House video-type announcement about a matter of great interest to the public:
The DC State Fair contests are now open.
The media haven’t caught wind of it yet, as far as I know. Yet news of favorites like the Pie Contest, Honey Contest and Homebrew Contest has zipped around D.C.
Now that you’re in the know, go ahead and check them out.
And to everyone celebrating Rosh Hashanah today, shana tova! May your year be filled not only with luscious desserts and homemade beer but also the sweetness of peace and inspiration.
April 15, 2013 · 6:40 pm
I recently met up for dinner with a few friends, including one who had just graduated from an ASL interpreter training program. As we gazed at a kaleidoscope of pictures outside an East Village restaurant, someone asked if the menu looked good to me. “I think so, but I’ve never experienced Japanese tapas,” I said. Suddenly, the interpreter friend declared that I had code switched.
Code switching is a linguistic term for moving between languages. And Code Switch happens to be the name of a new National Public Radio blog about race, culture, and ethnicity. Hearing a piece about it this morning brought me back to that night. Learning that NPR had chosen that title also warmed my wordy heart. Continue reading →
November 27, 2012 · 8:53 am
Like most college instructors, I use the Blackboard online learning system. And like some of those (possibly misguided) instructors, I believe I can keep students’ attention by adding color to the software’s dour design.
It’s easy to do. You just go into an assignment, click “Edit,” and in a few seconds you can make the title of the assignment a pretty color.
Oh boy! Color! Can you feel the excitement?
For a few semesters now, I have been noticing two things about the color choices for such titles. First: Each option on the color wheel that pops up has a formal name. Second: Those names, without exception, make me want to slit my wrists.
Want to turn that project title a grassy green? You’ll have to slime it with Obscure Dull Spring.
Would you like to soften the headline for the test by applying an “It’s a Boy!” azure? It’s Medium Faded Blue for you. (Thank goodness Evite doesn’t use the same color system as Blackboard. Planning your little fellow’s baby shower could get depressing real quick). Continue reading →
October 29, 2012 · 8:52 pm
I may not be wearing myself out reporting on storms, but as a new university instructor, I still feel the cold slap of wind and rain. And there is more at stake than a few ruined elbow patches and disrupted night cap schedules. When my school shut down, I put my research skills to work, resulting in five tips to help you survive the rest of Hurricane Sandy — with your emerging reputation and sanity intact.
1. Survey fellow faculty members to determine best practices in the case of school shutdowns. A simple Facebook inquiry last night brought a long list of valuable suggestions for keeping your academic energy up. This was especially helpful for me as a rookie eager to keep momentum rolling. For example, I learned that with just an Internet connection and a copy of your syllabus, you can both stream horror movies and protect your desk from the condensation on your Side Car.
Continue reading →
May 9, 2012 · 10:38 am
Best. Kitchen gadget. Ever. Rivaled only by the box it came in, which asks, “In a pickle about how to preserve your pinot? Well, get this gherkin workin’ and all of your problems are solved!”
It turns out pickles are quite the it thing right now. What’s the dill?
Pickle wine stopper by Fred, available at Trohv. Photo by Rhea.
February 11, 2012 · 10:10 pm
Sometimes you need to cover the truth to best expose it. This is what I decided as I sat in the parking lot behind my apartment building, a hammer in my hand and a crackling paper bag sitting on the cold pavement. The truth, in this case, was black walnuts. Notoriously tough to crack, this bitter, perfumed species native to 15 states does not succumb to nutcrackers. They do, however, help me think about how I conceptualize good writing and what a metaphor fanatic I am.
A little background: I ordered a case of these things for a locally-sourced meal not realizing it would take a research mission just to taste them. The most common advice I found for the home cook is to use a vise. Yes, a vise. Because of course you have one in the drawer right by the lemon zester.
I didn’t have the equipment for that, so I developed a technique involving soaking the nuts, placing them in a paper bag, and then whacking the heck out of them. Stay with me here. The writing/metaphor part is coming.
This nut-busting technique was not easy. I couldn’t see what I was doing and had to feel blindly for where to bring down the hammer, then painstakingly loosen each bit of nutmeat with a fork. But I had to admit this was the best way to go. Continue reading →
January 4, 2012 · 3:44 am
Imagine an artist who wants to paint a landscape. She does not sit right down and start smearing colors across a canvas. Before the easel is even unfolded, she might take in her subject from a hillside and then work studies of trees and ponds and boaters in a sketchpad. Later, she could play with a spectrum of brush sizes and shapes to produce various textures on scraps of canvas, and peruse other artists’ takes on a similar scene. Or, if she’s anything like me, she’ll develop an urge to spackle a hole in the wall or scrub the grout in her bathtub, and get right down to it. After all of that, she can sit down to her piece.
A writer can do the same thing.
For the final installment of this miniseries on prewriting that started strangely and bounced back in time, I offer some straightforward advice, including examples of prewriting. You’ll even find it clearly laid out in two numbered lists: How to Prewrite and How Not to Prewrite. You’re welcome! Continue reading →
December 30, 2011 · 6:18 pm
For this next part, I would like to return to the first person and then take you back to the fall of 2007. If you’re still with me after the odd beginning to this series, let me set the scene. Your fearless writer guide is in her first graduate-level writing course, “Nonfiction Techniques.” Like each of the other students in the class, I have signed up to provide a writing tip during one of the classes. Mine falls on Halloween.
I dug up that tip and would like to present it to you now. Here goes. And don’t worry – even though this debuted on Halloween, I did not wear (and never have worn) Hammer pants.
(Keep reading for a fun bonus at the end!) Continue reading →
December 27, 2011 · 9:19 pm
Let’s say that last semester, you taught with an art professor who goes by this mantra:
Art is 80 percent thinking, 20 percent doing.
In writing, you’ve always believed in a similar concept, but could never articulate it very well. Then suddenly the prof delivers this sentence and you want to print posters about it, broadcast it on Facebook and Twitter, and check in when you pass this professor guy on campus – just to be the mayor of By the Genius’s Side.
So you know that in theory, this sounds good. Considering your next story idea or fleshing out your main points in your head must be brilliant. Until you start thinking about how much time that will take.
How can I afford the decadence of mulling ideas all over the place while my allotted writing time ticks away? You think. You realize that your blog readers – one, or even both of them, being fellow writers – may be thinking the same thing. Continue reading →