Friday, February 26, 2010

A Willa Cather Winter

It seems like winter will never end, doesn't it? It's been by far the coldest, snowiest, windiest winter I can remember. (And I'm from Colorado!)

So far, Lincoln has broken its record for most consecutive days with at least a foot of snow on the ground. We also broke the record for fewest days that reach above 40 degrees between December and February. If you click through to the articles, you can see that there are several more records we're on the verge of breaking.

All of this winter business puts me in mind of Willa Cather, who wrote quite a bit about terrible Nebraska winters. One of my professors told us that the years Willa Cather lived in Nebraska were unusually cold and snowy, like this year, so maybe that's why. She wrote in My Antonia:"Winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen." Oh, Willa Cather, I really know how you feel.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rules for Writing Fiction

I love advice, particularly advice that pertains to writing. Here, inspired by Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing, the Guardian compiled a list of fiction-writing rules from a bunch of different authors, including Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman.

My favorite advice is from Anne Enright, of whom I've never heard.
2 The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.

3 Only bad writers think that their work is really good.

4 Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.

5 Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn't matter how "real" your story is, or how "made up": what matters is its necessity.

6 Try to be accurate about stuff.

Worst advice? I think Will Self's advice is pretty bad. He advises writers to stop reading fiction and to write about characters watching television. I want to do neither of those things. What's your favorite writing advice?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Cover Archive

I know they say not to judge a book by its cover, but book covers have come a long way since that axiom was introduced! Okay, maybe a good cover won't necessarily mean that there's a good book inside. However, a good book cover can really complement and enhance a good book.

The Book Cover Archive is an Internet compendium of book design and book covers. You can search by author, publisher, designer, and even typeface. Some of the covers really are amazing. (By the way, I'm pretty sure that you're all going to be super-amazed by PSR XII's cover).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Are you sure you're a procrastinator?

There's an article in CNN that argues that some people who think that they're procrastinators, are actually something much better, called "incubators." Basically, the distinction is that procrastinators put off work because they're not interested in it or motivated to do it. Incubators, on the other hand, put off work because they're busy subconsciously working on it while doing other things. When an incubator finally does write that paper, it will be wonderful, because they've been actually been working on it the whole time without knowing it.

Are you an incubator or procrastinator? (I'm leaving out the possibility that you are in fact neither, and that you do all of your work on schedule. Does anyone really do that?) I feel like "incubator" mostly functions as a term to describe procrastinators who are good at it. Also, it's a great comeback for when someone reminds you of the homework you should be doing instead of socializing ("But I'm incubating while I'm dancing!")

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Birds of a Feather Symposium

There's a fun event going on next week at the Dudley Bailey Library in Andrews Hall at University of Nebraska-Lincoln! It's called: “BIRDS OF A FEATHER (or: A FOWL UNDERTAKING?)” It's basically a colloquium that's all about birds, place-based, and eco-critical exploration. (I once wrote a paper about birds in The Crane Wife by The Decemberists. I am all over this scholarly approach to birds thing.)

The symposium will take place at the Bailey Library, February 26, 2010, 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Some speakers, (from the email they sent out):

Dr. Jeffrey Karnicky, Assistant Professor of English at Drake University and author of Contemporary Fiction and the Ethics of Modern Culture, will present from his work-in-progress, “Scarlet Experiment: Human-Bird Interactions in America,” which makes a wide swath from Audubon, Thoreau, and Dickinson to Roger Tory Peterson and Ken Kaufmann. His talk explores the limits of a system of ethical thought that seeks to engage birds as cognitive beings.

Dr. Thomas Gannon, Associate Professor of English and Ethnic Studies at UNL, will read from his recently published book, Skylark Meets Meadowlark: Reimagining the Bird in British Romantic and Contemporary Native American Literature, in which he perceives a recent egalitarian, even familial, re-connection with other species that transcends the oh-so-human poetic projections of centuries, as evidenced in the work of recent Native American poets.

Andrea Comiskey Lawse, 3rd-year Ph.D. candidate in English at UNL, brings an interest in dietary theory and criticisms of taste to the table, exploring, for instance, whether the discourse of a Western “Culture of Taste” has helped establish an informal ornithological taxonomy of songbird versus fowl, of noble bird of prey versus despised carrion-eater.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What Chickens Can Teach Us About People

So, ever since I found out that one can legally keep chickens in Lincoln, I've been a little bit fixated by the idea. Peter Lennox keeps chickens, and he writes that they taught him a lot about human nature! His essay connects chicken behavior to human behavior.

An excerpt:
Sometimes, if there's no cockerel, a bossier hen will assume the role, even being the first to leap to the defence of the brood at great personal risk. If a cockerel is subsequently introduced, a period of adjustment to the pecking order follows. A good cockerel enjoys droit de seigneur (frequently) but is a fierce and brave protector of the flock, putting himself between the threat and the hens, defending to the death if necessary. When tasty food is served he waits courteously for the hens to have their fill. A diffident cockerel is cold-shouldered by the hens.

It would be so fun (and clearly enlightening) to have chickens in the city! They remind me tiny T-Rexes!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Explore Lincoln of the Gilded Age

Do you ever find yourself walking around downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, wondering what it would have been like to live here in the late 1800s? Well, you can, no time machine required!

The Gilded Age Plains City is a digital project headed by the CGPS's Plains Humanities Alliance. The project "explores the development of towns and cities on the Great Plains through the lens of a murder case in the 1890s that evolved into a fascinating story that drew the attention of nearly everyone in town and people from across the region and country."

What's neat about this site is that it has both an interactive map and a searchable archive of images and documents that show you what Lincoln was like back in the Gilded Age. This picture is only a block away from CGPS!

(Word of advice: the interactive map does not appear to work in Firefox. Painful though it may be, you must use Internet Explorer.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Should English Get Rid of "To Be?"

In his latest column, Oliver Burkeman takes a look at David Bourland's controversial idea to get rid of the verb "to be." Apparently, some forty-five years ago, Bourland proposed a language called "E-Prime," which would eliminate "to be" in all its incarnations. This would eliminate, Bourland claimed, the inexact way in which we use "to be." For example, when we say "he is stupid," we are implying objectivity, which our statement may not justify. Burkeman cites the potential benefits of making these distinctions:
All this might seem maniacally pointless pedantry. But as cognitive therapists note, thoughts trigger emotions, and "finalistic, absolutistic" thoughts trigger stressful emotions. "I am a failure" feels permanent, all-encompassing, hopeless. Restating it in E-Prime – "I feel like a failure" or "I have failed at this task" – makes it limited, temporary, addressable.
I'm guessing this won't catch on any time soon. However, it reminds me a lot of the French subjunctive, where you have to use a special "mood" just to show that you are speaking subjectively. I never did understand why the French insisted on using the subjunctive, but I guess after reading this article I can kind of get it!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Scenery as Natural Resource

On Friday, February 12th at 2:00 PM, Professor Richard Sutton will be giving a talk on Scenery as a Natural Resource. The talk will be held in room 228 of Hardin Hall on UNL's East Campus. I think it sounds quite interesting! Exploiting scenery as a natural resource can be both economical and eco-friendly. I mean, think of Alaska, or Norway.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Punctuation is fun--part two!

As a follow-up to Wednesday's post, here's a comic that effectively demonstrates the importance and appropriate use of commas.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Punctuation is fun!

A lot of people seem to have difficulty with punctuation. (Hint: "you're" and "your" are not interchangeable!) I guess it was too hard to pay attention during those boring high school classes where they taught such things. Anyway, if you want to make up for all those daydreaming hours, you can now learn punctuation in a fun way: comics!
How to use an apostrophe

And for a bonus, here is a comic about the neglected semicolon (my favorite punctuation mark!).
How to use a semicolon

Monday, February 1, 2010

Is There an Ecological Unconscious?

NYTimes has a pretty fascinating article about the relationship between our environments and our mental well-being. I don't know if "ecotherapy" is going to catch on any time soon, but I definitely think environment has an impact on one's mind. And it explains why Wal-Mart is so terribly depressing. I was particularly interested in the notion of "solastalgia."
In a 2004 essay, [Albrecht] coined a term to describe it: “solastalgia,” a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain), which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home.’ ”

I think that "solastalgia" is one of those things everyone has experienced, but for which we just didn't have a word, until now. The rest of the article is just as interesting; I've been thinking about how it might apply to the Great Plains. Any ideas?