SOPA/PIPA and John Milton’s Areopagitica

After much research, I decided to join yesterday’s Internet-wide protest of SOPA/PIPA.

On the surface, SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP) are anti-piracy bills. Antipiracy is a good thing; it’s necessary, and when administered properly it protects artists, writers, musicians, etc. The problem with these bills is that they are so broadly written they go too far and allow for abusive control and censorship — not good things.

SOPA was shelved before yesterday’s protest, but it’s not dead yet. PIPA goes to vote on Tuesday, but support is fading fast. We do need antipiracy laws in place. We most certainly do, but not at the expense of free speech.

As I researched SOPA/PIPA, I remembered a post I did back in June 2010 on Areopagitica, John Milton’s passionate essay on the right to freedom of speech and expression.  I thought it was worth repeating:

Enjoy Freedom of Speech? Thank John Milton

For more details on SOPA or PIPA, this video from Fight for the Future does a great job explaining it.

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“The Count” Confirms Publishing’s Gender Bias

What would you think if I told you that in 2010 magazines like Harper’s, The New Republic, Poetry Magazine, Granta, The New Yorker, and most of the other big names, published more work written by men than by women?

Would it shock you?  Surprise you?  Raise an eyebrow?

What if I told you that those magazines didn’t publish just three or four more articles by men than by women, they published three or four times more.  It calculates like this:

  • The Atlantic published 154 pieces written by men, 53 by women.
  • The New Yorker: 449 by men, 163 by women.
  • The New York Review of Books: 462 by men, 79 by women.

That raises more than eyebrows, it raises questions and VIDA is doing the asking.

VIDA, a literary group formed last year in response to gender inequality in print, has just published The Count.  I might have called it “The Countess,” but that’s probably too cutesy.  The Count is literally that, a count of male to female writers in the country’s most prestigious magazines, and it is proof positive of just how skewed the ratio is.

As a woman writer, the survey could be depressing.  I could throw up my hands and say, “Why bother, there’s no breaking into the old-boy’s club.”  If it was just a survey, it would be depressing, but it’s not just a survey, it’s the beginning of a conversation and VIDA is leading the way.

“Our count is by no means a blame-game,” says Cate Marvin, VIDA co-founder. “It was time to stop speculating that things didn’t seem entirely fair and find out if we did in fact have reason to be concerned.  The conversation only begins with the numbers.”

More data on submissions and books published by gender is needed for a true picture, but what is included in “The Count” makes it clear that there is a startling imbalance and something needs to be done.  Yes, the conversation has started.  As a woman who writes, it’s now my responsibility to be a part of it.

For more details, read the study by VIDA: “Numbers don’t lie. What counts is the bottom line.”

For an analysis of the numbers, read A new tally by VIDA shows how few female writers appear in magazines from slate.com.

Resources: VIDA, The Daily Post

New Hope Comes in a Literary Package

There’s something very exciting about the debut of a literary journal.

All the tension and turmoil bubbling around the publishing world these days can leave those of us who are in love with words feeling sad, worried, and a little bit hopeless.  Enter a new lit mag and our hope is renewed … The word lives.  The word thrives.  Hooray for the word!

And three cheers for the debut of The Literarian, an online journal from The Center for Fiction.

We’re here to celebrate and support the extraordinary breadth of literary fiction in the U.S. and around the world,” writes editor Dawn Raffel in the welcome letter.

The first issue includes six short stories, interviews with Cynthia Ozick, Yiyun Li, a video of Sam Lipsyte reading from his novel “The Ask,” and an essay by Martha McPhee about her five favorite novels with women behaving badly.  Each issue takes a world view, too, by publishing highlights from international literary magazines.  This issue showcases Wet Ink from Australia and the St. Petersburg Review. Future issues promise a venue for emerging writers.

It’s not all storm and stress in the world of words.  At least I don’t think so, and neither does The Center for Fiction.  That’s good news for writers, readers, and everyone else in love with words.

PS:  I would be remiss in my devotion to Philip Roth if I missed this opportunity to mention his upcoming visit to The Center for Fiction on February 24 at 7 pm. Oh, to live in New York again!!

Resources: The Center for Fiction, The Daily Post

Get Your Über On, and Other Irritating Idioms

I got an e-mail yesterday from a company that sells craft supplies.  The subject line read:

“Get Your Craft On.”

I deleted the e-mail with quick contempt because it reminded me of how very much I dislike the overused call to action to “get my (fill-in-the-blank) on.”   Part of the problem is that there are so many activities one can “get on.”

I'm all about* earth-friendly, it's the expression I can do without.

Get your groove on
Get your freak on
Get your game on
Get your geek on
Get your praise on
Get your blaze on
Get your funk on
Get your green on

It’s everywhere, and I’m sure you could add to the list.  Hey, I could ask you to “Get your list on,” or “Get your get on … on.”  Hmm, maybe not.

At first I didn’t mind the expression.  It was cute and a little bit funky, but driving past a store-front church one day, the message-bearing roadside marquee read, “Come in and Get your God on.”  Without passing judgment, I can say that one ruined it for me.

It’s not just the getting on of things that bothers me.  Über bothers me, too.  In fact, it über bothers me.  I stopped subscribing to Entertainment Weekly because they über-use it at least once in every issue.  I grind my teeth when I hear it, but I’m not gonna go there, which is another idiom to add to the list.

My friend Keith hates the expression, “It is what it is,”  and I agree with him on that.  That’s the thing about Keith, he’s good people.  Oh! I don’t like that one either.  How can one person be good people?  It just doesn’t make sense!

Seriously, though, it’s all good.  Ouch, that’s another stinker.

The more I think about it, the more I come up with:

  • Good to go
  • Git r done
  • Have a good one
  • Not so much (Loved that when I first heard it, but now … not so much)

I’m giving myself a headache with all these cliches, and there’s only one thing that takes care of headaches: Retail therapy, (yep, that’s one), so, I’m going to go get my shop on, but first, I’m going to go get my shoes on.

Grammar Watch is an occasional series about grammar peeves, abuses, giggles, and rants.  Email me with any topics you’d like to see included here.

Resources:  The Daily Post.

* That’s another one

Writing Prompt for Tonight’s Silent Writers’ Retreat

William Faulkner's Underwood Universal Portabl...
Image via Wikipedia

Tonight at 9 EST and PST, the Silent Writers Collective holds its weekly online writing retreat.  All writers are welcome to join in and be quiet.

You can work on your own project or use the writing exercise provided below.  For those participating in the WordPress.com Post A Day challenge, it’s a great time to stockpile a post or two.  For those who aren’t sure what they want to work on, here is an interesting exercise from Poets & Writers’ new series, “The Time is Now.”

This exercise may be more writing than you can fit into one hour, but if you’re inspired to keep writing, that’s the whole idea!

As J-Lo would say, I’m “Waiting for Tonight!”

Resources: Post A Day, Silent Writers Collective, PW.org

Nouns Get Verbed and Language Evolves

About a year ago, a co-worker I hadn’t seen in more than a decade friended me on Facebook.  When she first messaged me, her note was a  bit sheepish.  Not because we hadn’t stayed in touch, but because we had worked together as newspaper copy editors, and she wasn’t completely comfortable reintroducing herself by using “friend” as a verb.

“I’m a little embarrassed to get back in touch by verbing you with a noun,” she wrote. “But C’est la Facebook.”

She’s so clever!

I hadn’t realized until reading her note how often I use friend and other nouns as verbs.   Verbing is not a new trend, but it seems more common than ever.  I sometimes find it irritating, but mostly when it’s used in business-speak.  For example, a former manager never said we would talk about something, he said we’d dialogue it. That’s a little irritating, no?

For some interesting insight on verbing, read  YOU’VE BEEN VERBED by Anthony Gardner from More Intelligent Life.

Grammar Watch is an occasional series about grammar peeves, abuses, giggles, and rants.  Email me with any topics you’d like to see included here.

Resources:  Intelligent Life Magazine, Anthony Gardner, Facebook, The Daily Post.

(Where are the) Great Fathers in Literature

Gregory Peck and Mary Badham as Atticus and Scout Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

For Father’s Day, I want to write about great fathers in literature.

The first one who comes to mind is Atticus Finch, from “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Great dad. He is honest, ethical, compassionate, and he teaches his children these qualities by example, by his actions and decisions, rather than by rote.

After Atticus Finch, there’s … ummm.  There’s, uh…  Hmm.

Okay, let’s talk about bad dads. There are plenty of those.

  • Bull Meecham from “The Great Santini” by Pat Conroy, is a tyrannical and dangerous father, whose abuse severely damages his family and nearly destroys them all.
  • In Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” the King’s pompous ego and his favoritism of Cordelia over her sisters, leads to her murder and his.
  • Willy Loman from “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, misleads his sons on lessons of life and love.  He is so deluded about his own success and his life, that his death is not a tragedy so much as it is an epic failure.
  • Disney Dads, like those of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Ariel, and Jasmine, are either absent or too hapless to do anything for their daughters.

All right, this isn’t the optimistic sunshiny Father’s Day tribute I had envisioned, and I’m finding it a little depressing that fathers are not very well represented in books.  So, I’m going to wrap this up and go make myself a Father’s Day margarita in honor and in memory of a true classic, Manny Tejeda, my Dad, who was not absent, hapless, deluded, egotistical, or tyrannical.

He taught me by example; he was honest, ethical, kind, generous, and funny-funny-funny.  He was tough, too.  Some of his expectations were more than I could achieve, or so I thought back then, but everything … all of it, was wrapped in knowing, absolutely, that he loved me.  Like all good classics, his influence lives on.

Happy Father’s Day!

Can you help a daughter out?  I’d love to list more good literary fathers, but I can’t think of any and would love some input.  He doesn’t have to be from the classics or popular fiction.  I’ll take anything at this point.  Dads deserve it!

What the Wild Things Started

Max, the king of all wild things
Max, the king of all wild things

My life-long love affair with books began with Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are.” As I look back now, I realize it wasn’t just the book that drew me in, but the experience that surrounded discovering it.

I was eight years old and attending a new school, a public school, and for the first time ever, I would be attending a school where I wasn’t related to anyone.

Kindergarten through second grade were spent at the heavily Catholic, heavily Italian, Sacred Heart School, which was populated in my class alone by two cousins, and outside my class by one brother, nine other cousins, three aunts who were related and at least four “aunts” who weren’t. My mom was a class mother and even Sister Catherine Michael, my first and second grade teacher, seemed like family since she came to Sunday dinner most weeks.

In that cloistered world, I thought I was related to everyone, and I never imagined that there might be a world away from those many eyes that watched everything I did.

On my own in a new school I was nervous at first, afraid of the strange surroundings. After a day or two, my nervousness settled down, and I started having the tiniest feelings of independence and the freedom that came along with it. As a compliant little Catholic girl whose every move had been monitored, I had no idea what to do with those feelings, and I wondered what Sister Catherine Michael would say.

That’s when I had the chance to explore the school library for the first time. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do there; my old school didn’t have a library, so I just followed the other kids. I walked in and out of aisles and almost over a shelf to “Where the Wild Things Are.”

I saw a classmate leafing through the pages and it looked fascinating to me. I asked God to make her put it down so I could look at it. God answered my prayer that day, even before I started a novena. I said my silent thank you and picked up the book for myself.

The art on the cover drew me in (and still does), and I couldn’t wait to turn each page to see what happened next. Maurice Sendak’s drawings amazed me, they were rich, moody and dark, and they perfectly illustrated the story of Max, the wildly, mischievous boy, who jumps off the pages and shouts, “Let the wild rumpus start.”

Max was exactly what I needed. I was a passive, obedient, timid child, but Max sailed treacherous seas, he swung from high branches and tamed wild beasts. From him, I learned that I didn’t have to be afraid of the world outside my door. I learned that sometimes I could do what I wanted, instead of what someone told me, and that I didn’t have to pray for forgiveness every time I misbehaved.

Throughout my life, I’ve had my Max moments of wild adventure and reckless abandon, but I never quite reached his level of daring. I didn’t need to. What I needed was the lesson Max taught me in the pages of that book, and the thousands of other lessons I’ve learned in the pages of thousands of other books that have pulled, pushed, tugged, roared, and forced me through my own rumpus.

Nearly forty years later, books are still my passion, and I’m still not sated. I’m a reader, a writer and a book-maker, and it all started when Max reached out from that library book and pulled me into his wild world.

Thank you for reading! I’m getting ready to submit this as part of a collection of creative non-fiction. It’s different from the other pieces, and I worry that it might be too sappy or come off as insincere. I’d love some input!

David Bowie, Pleonasms, and Stating the Obvious


You would think that a rock star being married to a super-model would be one of the greatest things in the world.  It is.

— David Bowie

.

This quote made me laugh.  When I read the first sentence, I expected a “woe is me” revelation, but Mr. Bowie tricked it up and said something obvious, at least to some.  To others being married to a super model would be hell.

The quote got me thinking about stating the obvious in writing.

For example:  Rebecca twirled her hair with her finger as she looked out the window.

That sentence immediately stops me.  Of course she’s twirling her hair with her finger, what else would she use?  A fork?  Her tongue?  If she’s using something else to twirl her hair that should be stated, otherwise with her finger can be deleted and it does not change the meaning of the sentence.

Those extra words, with her finger, are called a pleonasm.

A whaaat?

Pleonasm.  It’s a form of redundancy.  Merriam-Webster Online defines it as, (noun) The use of more words than those necessary to denote mere sense. (1)

It might be an unfamiliar word, but it’s a familiar writing mistake.  Other pleonasms are:

  • exactly the same
  • consensus of opinion
  • bald headed
  • shrugged his/her shoulders
  • 12 noon (and 12 midnight)

Individually, these examples may seem nit-picky, but if left to build on each other, they can ruin a writer’s credibility.  It’s normal, even expected, to find pleonasms in a first and second draft, but beyond that, the clutter should be cleared for concise and powerful writing.

Sometimes after cleaning up my writing, I end up with a series of short, dull, lifeless sentences.  To state the obvious again, that’s not the goal.  The goal is to make every word count, regardless of the length of the sentence.

Here are some examples where the authors do just that.  These aren’t short sentences, but every word has a purpose.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway:
“He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great occurrences, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife. He only dreamed of places now and the lions on the beach. They played like young cats in the dusk and he loved them as he loved the boy. He never dreamed about the boy. He simply woke, looked out the open door at the moon and unrolled his trousers and put them on.”

From Little Women by Louisa May Alcott:
“There are many Beths in the world, shy and quiet, sitting in corners till needed, and living for others so cheerfully that no one sees the sacrifices till the little cricket on the hearth stops chirping, and the sweet, sunshiny presence vanishes, leaving silence and shadow behind.”

This kind of sharp, clear writing takes effort, editing, and a strong attention to detail.  It can be frustrating to work a sentence, and work it, and work it again, but as writers that’s what we’re called to do.  We’ll leave the pleonasms to the rock stars.

◊ ◊ ◊

My pet peeve pleonasm is listed above: exactly the same.  It drives me crazy and I use it all the time!  Luckily, it’s the red flag in my writing that screams EDIT, so it is useful in its way. What’s your (least) favorite pleonasm?  For an exhaustive list, visit Pleonasms.com.  Of course they have their own website.

The Silent Writers Collective meets every Tuesdays at 9 PM Eastern and/or 9 PM Pacific (US). Join this online community of writers for an hour of quiet writing.  You’ll be amazed at how productive one hour can be.

Enjoy Freedom of Speech? Thank John Milton

 

A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.
……………………….—  John Milton

On June 14, 1643, the Parliament of England passed a Licensing Order that put publishing under government control.  The Order forced authors to submit their work to official censors for approval before publishing.

The Order was intended to preserve the publishing monopoly held by The Stationers’ Company, but in effect and in practice, it gave the government authority to control free thought via rigid censorship.

John Milton, who later wrote the epic poem Paradise Lost was called to action when he felt the strong arm of government enforcement after publishing his writings in favor of divorce.  In response he wrote Areopagitica, a passionate and enduring essay on the right to freedom of speech and expression.  Civil liberty, Milton reasoned, is attained through the open discussion of ideas and grievances.

Areopagitica, though widely acknowledged, had little influence on Parliament’s Order, but its importance was never forgotten.  The essay has endured as one of the most important and influential essays of free speech ever written, and it was crucial in the development of the First Amendment of the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

United States Constitution – Amendment 1

In its eloquence, Areopagitica says that truth, all truth, need only to be heard, openly and fairly, to assure its victory over ignorance.

That is a timeless truth.

If you’re as uncertain about the pronunciation of Areopagitica as I was, this YouTube video can help.