on writing

She’s a poet and don’t know it

So I’m listening to Car Talk on NPR, hosted by Tom and Ray, AKA Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, and this woman calls in, and she says this:

Well hello, Click and Clack,
My name’s Mary Mack,
And I’m from Portland, Oregon.

And I thought, my God, but that scans really well. Try it — her meter really flows well. Very impressive.

Ben Jones sands his floors

From Ben Jones’ Benblog, February 2003:

Prepare. Sand down the roughest parts. Vacuum. Gaze. Gaze again. Sand a level finer, starting to expose more of the grain, slowly in parts, lightly. Stopping frequently, when the machine is strained. Changing the pad. Vacuum. Clean. Assess. Gaze. Gaze again.

This time is the first touch.

There are some rough spots. Some you know you can’t get out. But it’s beautiful still, all the same. More so even, with character I didn’t know was there before.

And then another round. This time is not so rough, not so much dust. On some spots, the sander seems to polish more than cut. Wait for what dust there is to settle again. The pads don’t need to be changed so much now. I know where the sander will catch.

I’ve made some gouges here and there, impatient with rough spots, stains. I’m more careful, more accepting now of the others I find. They will come out with a finer hand, or they will stay, part of the wood’s character, that I’m growing to love even more.

Vacuum. Clean. Assess. Gaze. Gaze again.

This time I stroke, grasping the wood as fully as I can. Knowing the rough spots especially.

And then once again, now the 100 grit. Smooth now, with enough teeth to hold a polishing coat. To last a while. Shining through. With a touch up here and there.

One powerful metaphor!

From "Unwanted at Any Speed", a review of Richard Porter’s Crap Cars in The New York Times Book Review:

The DeLorean DMC-12 of 1981-83, he writes, had an engine “so weak it would struggle to pull a hobo off your sister.” Not since Raymond Chandler have I met a metaphor so much more powerful than would do.

French policians and French writers

From "The Habit of Democracy" by Adam Gopnik in the 15 October 2001 issue of The New Yorker, a review of two books about Alexis de Tocqueville:

[Tocqueville] decided to devote himself to politics in France, and, like all French literary men, made a mess of it. (French writers are emporers of conceits; French politicians must be umpires of the conceited.) 

Lowbow vs. highbrow

From "Culture Club" by Louis Menand in the 15 October 2001 issue of The New Yorker:

Things take their identities from what they are not … The concept of a highbrow culture, the culture of great books and the like, depends on the concept of a lowbrow, or popular, culture, whose characteristics highbrow culture defines iself against. Of course, there have always been good books, and bad books, serious music and easy listening, coterie art and poster art. Making these distinctions is easy if you just put everything on a continuum, and rank things from worst to best. The mid-century notion of highbrow culture required something different – it required a rupture between the high and the low, an absolute difference, not a relative one. …

[Dwight] Macdonald’s contribution to the criticism of popular culture was [that] he supplied a third category – middlebrow culture, or what he called Midcult. Midcult was kitsch for educated people. Rockwell Kent, Walter Lippmann, Ingrid Bergman, Archibald MacLeish, and Dorothy L. Sayers were among the practitioners of Midcult …

How to sell your book … 200 yrs ago

From “John Dalton – The Father of Chemistry“, on The Science Show:

In an age when science was often the hobby of the wealthy, Dalton made his living by private tutoring and lecture tours. Two famous French scientists came to visit him and were astonished to find him humbly teaching a small boy to read. It has been suggested he was one of the first professional scientists. To one questioner, after a lecture, he is reported to have answered, “I have written a book on that subject, and if thou wishest to inform thyself about the matter, thou canst buy my book for 3/6”.

Brian Eno on the MSFT Windows 95 sound

Brian Eno composed the famous sound that plays when you start up Windows 95 (Don’t remember it? You can download it here.). Here’s what he had to say about composing it:

The idea came up at the time when I was completely bereft of ideas. I’d been working on my own music for a while and was quite lost, actually. And I really appreciated someone coming along and saying, ‘Here’s a specific problem — solve it.’ The thing from the agency said, ‘We want a piece of music that is inspiring, universal, blah-blah, da-da-da, optimistic, futuristic, sentimental, emotional,’ this whole list of adjectives, and then at the bottom it said ‘and it must be 3¼ seconds long.’ I thought this was so funny and an amazing thought to actually try to make a little piece of music. It’s like making a tiny little jewel. In fact, I made 84 pieces. I got completely into this world of tiny, tiny little pieces of music. I was so sensitive to microseconds at the end of this that it really broke a logjam in my own work. Then when I’d finished that and I went back to working with pieces that were like three minutes long, it seemed like oceans of time.

Do you like sentences?

Annie Dillard on writing:

A well-known writer got collared by a university student who asked, “Do you think I could be a writer?”

“Well,” the writer said, “I don’t know. . . . Do you like sentences?”

The writer could see the student’s amazement. Sentences? Do I like sentences? I am 20 years old and do I like sentences? If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, “I liked the smell of the paint.”