Monthly Archives: February 2015

No Boys Allowed: School visits as a woman writer

28 February 2015

From author Shannon Hale:

I’ve been doing school visits as part of my tour for PRINCESS ACADEMY: The Forgotten Sisters. All have been terrific–great kids, great librarians. But something happened at one I want to talk about. I’m not going to name the school or location because I don’t think it’s a problem with just one school; it’s just one example of a much wider problem.

This was a small-ish school, and I spoke to the 3-8 grades. It wasn’t until I was partway into my presentation that I realized that the back rows of the older grades were all girls.

Later a teacher told me, “The administration only gave permission to the middle school girls to leave class for your assembly. I have a boy student who is a huge fan of SPIRIT ANIMALS. I got special permission for him to come, but he was too embarrassed.”

“Because the administration had already shown that they believed my presentation would only be for girls?”

“Yes,” she said.

I tried not to explode in front of the children.

. . . .

I think most people reading this will agree that leaving the boys behind is wrong. And yet–when giving books to boys, how often do we offer ones that have girls as protagonists? (Princesses even!) And if we do, do we qualify it: “Even though it’s about a girl, I think you’ll like it.” Even though. We’re telling them subtly, if not explicitly, that books about girls aren’t for them. Even if a boy would never, ever like any book about any girl (highly unlikely) if we don’t at least offer some, we’re reinforcing the ideology.

I heard it a hundred times with Hunger Games: “Boys, even though this is about a girl, you’ll like it!” Even though. I never heard a single time, “Girls, even though Harry Potter is about a boy, you’ll like it!”

. . . .

At this recent school visit, near the end I left time for questions. Not one student had a question. In 12 years and 200-300 presentations, I’ve never had that happen. So I filled in the last 5 minutes reading them the first few chapters of The Princess in Black, showing them slides of the illustrations. BTW I’ve never met a boy who didn’t like this book.

After the presentation, I signed books for the students who had pre-ordered my books (all girls), but one 3rd grade boy hung around.

“Did you want to ask her a question?” a teacher asked.

“Yes,” he said nervously, “but not now. I’ll wait till everyone is gone.”

Once the other students were gone, three adults still remained. He was still clearly uncomfortable that we weren’t alone but his question was also clearly important to him. So he leaned forward and whispered in my ear, “Do you have a copy of the black princess book?”

It broke my heart that he felt he had to whisper the question.

Link to the rest at squeetusblog

Here’s a link to The Princess in Black

Stories of the Past and Future

28 February 2015

From xkcd:

a1

Link to this image plus much more at xkcd and thanks to Dave for the tip.

The Rhythm of Great Performance

28 February 2015

From The New York Times:

For nearly 15 years, I’ve been making the case — in my writing and with corporate clients — that employees can be more productive by working fewer hours and taking more time for rest and renewal during the work day.

At my company, the Energy Project, we’ve tested this assumption over the years by progressively reducing the number of hours we ask employees to work.

Our hours are truly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and we encourage all employees to take an hour off for lunch, away from their desks.

. . . .

So how do we get anything done?

Each time we’ve opted to give our employees more time for rest and renewal, I’ve wondered anxiously if we’ve finally gone too far. But every year since 2009, our revenue and profitability have significantly increased. So, too, I believe, has the quality of the work we do and the value we provide to our clients.

I believe our approach is effective for the same reason that interval training is an efficient way to work out. You get more accomplished by working intensely for short periods and then refueling than you do by working continuously over a long period of time. None of us can operate continuously at peak levels for very long.

. . . .

[Psychologist Daniel] Kahneman set out to study “diurnal rhythms” — those that occur at predictable times every day — among 909 working women. The goal was to assess whether the way people felt was correlated with the time of day.

The most compelling evidence turned out to be around fatigue. Among a dozen feelings including “happy,” “competent,” “hassled” and “worried,” “fatigued” was far and away the one most strongly correlated to specific times of day.

Interestingly, most respondents in the study experienced the highest level of negative emotions in the mornings, but also the most energy and the greatest feelings of competence. Energy and competence peaked around noon, and then both declined steadily until bedtime.

In short, the longer subjects were awake, the more fatigued they became and the more incompetent they felt.

. . . .

[T]op violinists practice in intense, relatively short intervals, first thing in the morning, for no longer than 90 minutes, followed by a break. They almost never practice more than 4½ hours a day. They also report that practicing is the least enjoyable part of their day.

In short, the best violinists do all of their hardest work in the mornings when they have the most energy and the fewest distractions. In the afternoons, the best violinists regularly take a nap, averaging 20 to 30 minutes. They also report that naps — and sleep — are among the most important things they do to improve as violinists.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Lee for the tip.

Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One

28 February 2015

From The Stranger:

I recently left a teaching position in a master of fine arts creative-writing program. I had a handful of students whose work changed my life. The vast majority of my students were hardworking, thoughtful people devoted to improving their craft despite having nothing interesting to express and no interesting way to express it. My hope for them was that they would become better readers. And then there were students whose work was so awful that it literally put me to sleep. Here are some things I learned from these experiences.

Writers are born with talent.

Either you have a propensity for creative expression or you don’t. Some people have more talent than others. That’s not to say that someone with minimal talent can’t work her ass off and maximize it and write something great, or that a writer born with great talent can’t squander it. It’s simply that writers are not all born equal. The MFA student who is the Real Deal is exceedingly rare, and nothing excites a faculty adviser more than discovering one. I can count my Real Deal students on one hand, with fingers to spare.

If you didn’t decide to take writing seriously by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.

There are notable exceptions to this rule, Haruki Murakami being one. But for most people, deciding to begin pursuing creative writing in one’s 30s or 40s is probably too late. Being a writer means developing a lifelong intimacy with language. You have to be crazy about books as a kid to establish the neural architecture required to write one.

. . . .

If you aren’t a serious reader, don’t expect anyone to read what you write.

Without exception, my best students were the ones who read the hardest books I could assign and asked for more. One student, having finished his assigned books early, asked me to assign him three big novels for the period between semesters.Infinite Jest, 2666, and Gravity’s Rainbow, I told him, almost as a joke. He read all three and submitted an extra-credit essay, too. That guy was the Real Deal.

Conversely, I’ve had students ask if I could assign shorter books, or—without a trace of embarrassment—say they weren’t into “the classics” as if “the classics” was some single, aesthetically consistent genre. Students who claimed to enjoy “all sorts” of books were invariably the ones with the most limited taste. One student, upon reading The Great Gatsby (for the first time! Yes, a graduatestudent!), told me she preferred to read books “that don’t make me work so hard to understand the words.” I almost quit my job on the spot.

Link to the rest at The Stranger and thanks to Karen for the tip.

5 Traits Creative People Have That Most People Will Never Understand

28 February 2015

From Elite Daily:

Creative people are troublemakers. They’re druggies. They’re slightly bonkers. And they usually dress funny… or so many of us would like to think.

Creative people are, by definition, different. Of course, everyone in the world is a little different from the next person, even though most of us are trying our best to blend in.

For creative individuals, “blending in” sounds like the exact opposite of being creative. Most creative individuals aren’t crazy; they’re simply misunderstood.

. . . .

At the same time, creative people are willing to share what they see and how they interpret it with the rest of the world. To them, the world has more meaning, more intricacies, more complexity and more possibility than it does for the average person.

Creative people believe in the possibility of the impossible because they understand you never really know anything for sure.

. . . .

Creative types don’t dislike all people; they just usually spend more time on their own because it allows them to focus on thinking and imagining — even drawing, planning and creating.

Creative individuals have to act on their creativity. Otherwise, they’re left with an itch they can’t scratch. While they do enjoy the company of their friends, they’re also very passionate about their ideas and creations — sometimes to the point of obsession.

Link to the rest at Elite Daily and thanks to James for the tip.

Dyslexia Can Deliver Benefits – With reading difficulties can come other cognitive strengths

27 February 2015

From Scientific American:

Many of the etchings by artist M. C. Escher appeal because they depict scenes that defy logic. His famous “Waterfall” shows a waterwheel powered by a cascade pouring down from a brick flume. Water turns the wheel and is redirected uphill back to the mouth of the flume, where it can once again pour over the wheel in an endless cycle. The drawing shows us an impossible situation that violates nearly every law of physics.

In 2003 a team of psychologists led by Catya von Károlyi of the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire made a discovery using such images. When the researchers asked people to pick out impossible figures from similarly drawn illustrations, they found that participants with dyslexia were among the fastest at this task.

Dyslexia is often called a learning disability. And it can indeed present learning challenges. Although its effects vary widely, some children with dyslexia read so slowly that it would typically take them months to read the same number of words that their peers read in a day. Therefore, the fact that people with this difficulty were so adept at rapidly picking out the impossible figures puzzled von Károlyi.

The researchers had stumbled on a potential upside to dyslexia, one that investigators have just begun to understand. Scientists had long suspected dyslexia might be linked to creativity, but laboratory evidence for this was rare.

. . . .

The research hints that people with dyslexia exhibit strengths for seeing the big picture (both literally and figuratively) that others tend to miss. And if this is true, the work reinforces the larger idea that differences that people might perceive as a source of difficulty in some domains can become a source of strength in other contexts.

. . . .

Biochemist Christopher Tonkin of the biotechnical company Biogen Idec, for example, has long noticed a sensitivity to “things out of place,” which he ascribes to his dyslexia. Tonkin is easily bothered by the weeds among the flowers in his garden, and his awareness of visual anomalies has aided his research.

Our studies hint that dyslexia may be an asset to many scientists. For example, in 2012 we asked 15 college students to search for specific objects in busy photographs of natural scenes. Some of these scenes appeared repeatedly, which allowed us to measure how well students could learn the layout of such images. Dyslexic individuals needed fewer repetitions to master these searches than their nondyslexic peers, but only for blurred images. Such skills could translate well in medicine, for example, where physicians compare multiple diagnostic x-rays over time to identify tumors or growths.

. . . .

Although we do not know precisely what would cause these advantages, we do have an understanding of how literacy changes the brain. An avid reader might read for an hour or more daily, for years on end. This specialized repetitive training, requiring split-second control over eye movements and perception, can shape the visual system to make some pathways more efficient than others.

Collège de France cognitive neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene and his colleagues have identified some of these changes. In a study published in 2014 they asked 63 adults with varying degrees of literacy to rapidly identify whether pairs of letters and pictures oriented in various ways were the same or different. Curiously, when the pairings depicted mirror reversals of one another, people with greater literacy struggled to recognize the similarity more than their less literate counterparts.

. . . .

Strong readers are necessarily skilled at focusing visual attention. But a trade-off is involved: when focusing on detail, the brain suppresses awareness of its surroundings. Poor readers may be unable to focus attention in this way. They would therefore be more globally aware, which could lead to advantages for performing tasks, such as discriminating impossible figures.

Link to the rest at Scientific American and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

The great joy of writing

27 February 2015
Comments Off on The great joy of writing

To me, the great joy of writing is discovering. Most writers are told to write about what they know, but I still love the adventure of going out and reporting on things I don’t know about.

Tom Wolfe

You Bought the Rights to that Music, Didn’t You?

27 February 2015

From author Jacquelyn Lynn via Tuscawilla Creative Services:

We have written before about how important it is to either own or acquire the rights to use the material on your website. The same applies to anything you post online, including videos on YouTube.  It’s the ethical and legal thing to do and it’s the standard by which we operate for ourselves and our clients.

So you can imagine how we reacted when we were accused of using copyrighted music without permission. Here’s the story:

Earlier this year, we produced a short video that was designed to promote our video production capabilities and generate some residual income. To set the right tone for the video, we needed some music that was peppy but didn’t overpower the visual image.

I looked through the royalty-free music in our files and found the perfect clip. It was “Lawn Barbecue,” a short, upbeat Bluegrass tune. I had purchased the rights to use it last year from Sony Creative Software’s Sony Sound Series/Production Music. With the music track added, I uploaded the final product to our YouTube channel.

Immediately after the upload was complete, we received a notification from YouTube that there was a copyright claim on the music clip.

. . . .

Filing a copyright claim on media uploaded to YouTube allows the claimant to do one of three things:

(1) they can take down the entire video;

(2) they can strip out the entire soundtrack (or just the portion in question); or

(3) they can leave the video intact, place ads on it and have the entire proceeds from those ads directed to themselves.

The entity uploading the video (in this case, Tuscawilla Creative Services) is prevented from deriving any income from it even though the element in question represents a small part of the total.

. . . .

I searched the Organic Music Library website for the piece of music they were calling “Jubilation.” To my surprise, I found it listed among hundreds of other tunes. The contributor was listed as David Lawrence.

To my even greater surprise, when I listened to the “Jubilation” clip, it was (to my ear) identical to the clip I had purchased called “Lawn Barbecue” – not just the same melody, but the same recording.

Armed with this information, I disputed Audiam’s copyright claim with YouTube. I provided all the information my research revealed along with the confirmation number for my purchase of the rights to “Lawn Barbecue” from Sony.

After about ten days, I received an email from YouTube with this terse statement: “After reviewing your dispute, Audiam (Label) has decided that their copyright claim is still valid.” Interesting. And frustrating. I felt like I was trying to walk through a room full of baited mousetraps.

Link to the rest at Tuscawilla Creative Services

Here’s a link to Jacquelyn Lynn’s books

PG can’t comment on Jacquelyn’s particular situation, but generally speaking, if the owner of a copyright sees an infringing use posted to an online service provider like YouTube by a third party, in the US pursuant to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the copyright owner can file a takedown notice.

If the service provider promptly takes down the offending material, the service provider won’t be liable for copyright infringement.

Upon receiving a copy of the takedown notice from the service provider, if the party that posted the alleged infringing material provides a counter-notice under 17 U.S. Code § 512 (g), the service provider is required to repost the alleged infringing material within 10 days.

For much more information on takedown notices in (relatively) plain English, see the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Joyce Carol Oates On Writing About Differences Among People

27 February 2015

From KPBS:

[Joyce Carol] Oates latest novel, “The Sacrifice,” is based on the 1988 Tawana Brawley rape case in New York. Brawley, an African-American teenager at the time, said six white men abducted and raped her. The claims turned out to not be true.

The book received some criticism, including from one New York Times reviewer who described Oates as a white writer trying to ascribe motives and mind-sets to an array of African-American characters as a “creative experiment.”

. . . .

Question: Considering the racial atmosphere now as this book is being published and the outrage over racial bias in law enforcement that has swept the country — isn’t it realistic to assume a book like this would be controversial?

Oates: I suppose so but it is very much about white racism. It’s basically a very sympathetic portrait of a community basically under siege with white police officers who are very difficult. It doesn’t make a lot of sense for writing this novel unless somebody feels that it’s her territory and that white writers should not venture into her territory.

I think the idea is that we should be writing about people different from ourselves. We should be sympathetic about people who don’t have complete advantages that we have. We should bear witness for people who can’t speak their own stories. If we were not allowed to write about people different from ourselves, we would only be writing about such a narrow subset of human life it would not be of much interest.

. . . .

Question: You’re also very disciplined about writing.

Oates: I’m not sure that I even need to be disciplined. It’s like saying that you need to be disciplined to have your dreams at night. Basically, it’s very pleasurable. Writing is a challenge, and I think it exerts a kind of neurological exercise in the brain so one is solving problems of structure and choosing words and rearranging sentences and rewriting. There’s a lot of thinking about it and meditating and calculating. So a writer does a lot more than you know sitting and writing actual words. You spend a lot of time thinking and daydreaming and planning.

Link to the rest at KPBS and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

A Field Guide To The World’s Most Distinctive English Regionalisms

27 February 2015

From i09:

Why will asking for directions to a time machine get you sent to an ATM in Wisconsin, a request for a sarsaparilla spider gets you a root beer float in Australia, and someone wondering if you’ve seen their bunnyhug in Saskatchewan is actually searching for their favorite hoodie? Read on to find out.

In response to this call for the most distinctive regionalisms in your area we got responses from all over the English-speaking world. Here’s a field guide to just some of our favorites:

. . . .

Having grown up & lived in Wisconsin most of my life, here are my favorites:

1) Let me stop at this bubbler. (drinking fountain)

2) I got to hit up a time machine. (ATM – TYME was a local/regional brand name of ATM)

3) I’m heading upnort for the weekend. (“up north”) – regardless of which direction you need to travel, if you have a plot of hunting land/cottage/cabin/lake house, you go “upnort”

. . . .

Kinda surprised not to see New Orleans represented yet, so

neutral ground = median

gutter cans/gutter pipes = gutters

poboy = sub sandwich

go cup = a plastic cup to take your drink with you when you leave the bar

inkpen = pen

lagniappe = little extra thing tossed in with your order

. . . .

Alberta-isms:

Change of clothes you wear at the gym: gym strip

Coloured markers: felts

Lunch bags (basically any non-paper bag lunch container, especially kiddy themed ones): Lunch kits

. . . .

I’m from the west of Ireland and the local language gets strange enough to warrant subtitles on national TV. Although admittedly when written down without the accent they look a lot less weird. How it is said can also change the meaning.

Bertie/Berty = Very good. Wiery = Bad. Sound = Good/OK/Yes. Just to name a few.

. . . .

In the same way the Inuit “famously” have several words for Snow, the people of Glasgow, Scotland have a selection of words for (a) bleak weather and (b) lunatics.

(a) Bleak Weather:

Dreich, minging, drookit, haar, sump, perishin, smirry, etc.

Link to the rest at i09

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