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I’ve moved!

I know, I know. I haven’t blogged in forever!! This is in part because I’ve changed locations and been working on some really great projects. You can visit my new site at brandinielsen.com! I now have a lot more opportunity to branch out and create a bigger web presence for myself. You can access my short stories, poetry, and academic work on my new site. It’s still a work in progress, but should be finished soon. Hope to see you there!

Wisdom from Unexpected Places

Ever have that moment where you are captivated by a popular book or magazine but you just can’t pinpoint why it’s awesome? Yeah, me too. One of the best ways to become a good writer is of course, as any English teacher will tell you, to read. I agree, but I think there is a little more to it than that. Simply reading stacks and stacks of books is not only time consuming, but exhausting. Time is better spent looking deep into works that you absolutely love. Ask yourself questions and answer them. Find out what it is that makes that book or even sentence so interesting and enthralling!

I found myself asking such questions earlier today when I began browsing through the many pages of a Cosmo magazine. I came upon an article that I found to be very entertaining. The subject of the article was not especially eye-catching and was old news to me, which got me thinking about what exactly made the article so interesting. Later, I realized it was all thanks to a very simple trick: the writer knew her audience. She wrote as if she was speaking to a best friend, using all kinds of age-appropriate lingo and relaxed language. Just by tweaking the way she wrote, she brought a flat subject to life.

I often find that I get inspirations and ideas about how to improve my work from the most unexpected places (such as a racy magazine like Cosmo). Even writing I don’t like has a lot to offer; I can recognize what doesnt work (which is at times even more important). Dissecting a broad spectrum of writing samples can do more for a writer than he or she ever imagines. Sometimes, waiting for inspiration works, but most of the time you have to work for it, or at least make yourself perceptive to it. Jean Cocteau said “The poet doesn’t invent.  He listens.” Understanding how writing works is the same way.

What will you discover in an ordinary thing today?

Don’t Judge A Poem By Its Poet

A few days ago, I was browsing through the book section of a local thrift store and found a very “loved” copy of the Norton Anthology of Poetry. That night, I cracked it open and started reading in the middle of a long and boring-looking poem, but I gave it a chance and fell in love with it. I turned back a few pages to read it from the beginning, and realized that had I known the author of the poem, I probably wouldn’t have started reading it.

This got me thinking. Do I really judge poems by their author? I think everyone does at least once in their life. Many high school students would probably much rather read Shel Silverstein than Keats, for example. How many things do people miss because of bias and attitude? Far too many.

Poetry is a treasure chest waiting to be delved into, and it’s precious contents are often cast aside because of incorrect judgments and the tendency to rip poetry viciously apart in the pursuit of answers. This reminds me of a poem written by one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins.

Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

There is so much that poetry has to offer if one simply sits back and enjoys it. You’ll be surprised what your taste in poetry is if you read it with an open mind and an empty cup.

So what are you waiting for? Open that dusty collection of poetry and see what treasures are waiting to inspire you!

Book Movies and Movie Books

Book Movies

I often hear, “That movie sucked! The book was so much better!” or “The actors were terrible, I imagined the characters to be more like _____.” Usually, I just roll my eyes and sigh internally. Of course one’s imagination differs from what one director or another feels appropriate! That’s one of the many beauties of reading an actual book; the writer leaves a certain amount to the reader’s imagination. Readers often fall prey to the idea that more people agree with them than actually do (just because you, your grandma, and your next-door neighbor think that the new Dumbledore sucks doesn’t mean that everyone thinks so.)

Another reason that readers are so dissatisfied with their favorite books’ silver screen portrayals is that they fail to realize that the recipe for books and movies are much different. Movies have many physical advantages that books don’t, such as music and tangible imagery. Books, on the other hand, can contain mass amounts of information that movies can’t quite match. There is no possible way that movies can contain the same information in the same order that books do. I often ask myself, “Would I have cared that this particular detail was left out had I not read the book first?” The answer is generally no.

Movie Books

Many authors attempt to create literary works that have the same effect that world famous film makers achieve in films. This goal is actually impossible. Film and literature are of different universes. They have different components and different purposes. Readers aiming to kick back, relax, and read a masterfully written piece may be disappointed with a novel modeled after an action packed, instantly gratifying blockbuster. Books like this can often be confusing. This reminds me of an article that Limebird Writers wrote, called “Keeping Secrets From Your Readers.” Random flashes of story and information at odd times do not always please the reader by coming together at the end. It’s about what’s best for the story, not about how much whiplash you can possibly give a reader in one sitting.

The point is, both books and films need to be judged at their own level, not by comparison of each other. People that do this will never be satisfied with a book or a movie as it stands on its own. Books and movies will always be different and always should be. Just as two positively or two negatively charged magnets cannot be attracted to each other, the world of literature and film can never perfectly mesh.

And Sometimes “Y”

I remember learning as a child the song that goes something like “a-e-i-o-u-and sometimes y.” I’d taken my elementary teacher’s word for it that every single one of those were a vowel, and had never really thought about the difference between vowels and consonants. I figured, as long as I can spell words correctly, who cares? For years, I’ve taken great interest in the English language, but neglected to examine some of its finer points until a writer friend of mine asked the question, “Why is it only sometimes Y?” I tried to answer, but found that even though I felt I knew why deep down, I could not piece together a complete response.

I embarked on a journey to get some answers, and made a surprising discovery along the way. Before we get down and dirty with the consonant that is even more mind boggling than “sometimes y,” let’s take a look at why the 25th letter of the alphabet swings both ways.

First off, the difference between consonants and and vowels is worth knowing, especially if you are a poet or a singer. According to Oxford, a vowel is “a speech sound which is produced by comparatively open configuration of the vocal tract, with vibration of the vocal cords but without audible friction…”, while a consonant is “a basic speech sound in which the breath is at least partly obstructed.”

That being said, Y is easy to recognize in consonant form, such as in the word “yellow” or “barnyard.” Sometimes, however, the letter becomes part of this super creepy thing called a dipthong. A dipthong is is a pair of vowels that, when combined, create a new sound. Some good examples of these kinds of pairs are “ai” and “au.” When Y is next to another vowel, it can actually adopt vowel qualities. This concept is a lot easier to imagine if you play around with the pronunciation of each letter enough.

As it turns out, language has a sort of mathematical quality that can make another consonant a vowel by the same logic. The letter W (yep, you read correctly) can also become a “semi-vowel” when part of a dipthong. The concept of this one is a little bit harder to grasp than Y, but it is technically possible. Grammar Girl tells us that in words such as “claw” and “few,” the letter W becomes a vowel. She even goes on to say that W can stand alone as a vowel, such as in the word “cwm.”

Whether you believe this or not, it’s logically sound. Though I’ll admit, trying to accept “W” as a vowel feels like a cheese grater is moving across my brain. Most of my friends and family seem to feel the same way. However, my grandfather said he was taught this concept as a child and it was no surprise to him. It seems odd that elementary school teachers would leave “W” out of the picture. But really, how do you describe a dipthong to first-grader?

Personally, I think I’ll just have to keep making do with “a-e-i-o-u-and sometimes y.”

The Art of Language

Ever since language came to be, it has undergone a barrage of transformations brought on by countless factors. One cannot deny that the difference between a young adult novel and a paperback classic is enormous. The beauty and genius of sentences penned by early authors such as Dickens, Hugo, Shelley, and Tolkien throw into sharp relief the deficit of creative language in modern literature. Take a look at these two contrasting passages, paying special attention to the vocabulary and content of each and how they affect the reader:

“He was small in stature, with a furrowed visage, which, as yet, could hardly be termed aged. There was a remarkable intelligence in his features, as of a person who had so cultivated his mental part that it could not fail to mould the physical to itself, and become manifest by unmistakable tokens.”

– The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

“After dinner, I folded clothes and moved another load through the dryer.
Unfortunately it was the kind of job that only keeps hands busy. My mind
definitely had too much free time, and it was getting out of control.”

-Twilight, Stephanie Meyer

We can see from these two passages that classical and modern literature are of separate worlds. One of the biggest attractions of classical literature is its display of creative and elevated language. The passages are often so elevated that readers cannot keep up with what is going on in the story. Readers with a small vocabulary become bored or confused when trying to translate classical imagery into layman’s terms, which can be a feat for even the most experienced reader. Stories written in earlier times were typically based around specific themes and frameworks, which can sometimes be less interesting than the fantastic free-range ideas of authors today. That being said, probably the most impressive feature of a classic would be mind-blowing vocabulary and style.

Modern literature, on the other hand, tends to focus on the story itself, rather than the use of interesting writing styles. Readers these days, upon finishing a book, tend to reflect on the plotline of the story versus how the story was written. Although beautifully written passages are certainly a plus, the heart of popular literature today lies in the allure of the plot and its characters. The readability of a book also includes the relationship that the reader can share with the characters. In essence, the reader can become the main character much easier than a character from a classic. For example, the “job that only keeps hands busy,” in Meyer’s passage above, is an easy concept for anyone to relate to.

Because readers are usually more sensitive to non-classical styles of writing, a great deal of vocabulary has been lost and has seen a decrease in contextual opportunity. Many authors create blockbuster stories with hardly any literary value. These stories tend to captivate young people, who were born in an age of technological amusements and instant gratifications. It seems that many readers fail to appreciate poetry in its fullness for the same reason; it’s simply too much work.

So this leads us to the question, is it detrimental to our language to write so lazily? The answer is both yes and no. Readers are used to reading simple and straightforward language. This gets more people to read, and usually means more to the reader on a personal level. However, they miss out on enjoying the genius and beauty of more complex language. The thing is, people choose to read things that interest them, according to their wants and needs at the time. Perhaps the best thing for people of this era is writing that is free and unencumbered by embellishments, as well as stories that break free of traditional themes and structures. With the rise of the internet, free thought and expression have become more important for everyday people. Regardless of which style is better or more relevant for readers today, both styles are necessary to become well-rounded readers and write effectively.

Politics in Action

Politics can often be very frustrating and boring, especially when the conversation seems to be going nowhere. Although our governmental system is superior in many ways, it is often inferior for the same reasons. The US government is best known for its checks and balances system, which, as well as keeping people safe, can make things really hard to get done. For instance, it takes so much legal processing and procedure for a guilty murderer to be convicted that he/she can roam free for years before being put in prison.

Serious public issues sometimes get continually worse while politicians sit around discussing how to fix them. It often seems like more would get done if there was less regard for political etiquette and party based opinion. This clip is of Dylan Ratigan “losing it” during a political debate. Although he probably could have handled it better, this seems to be the only way to get his point across.

 

The points that Mr. Ratigan had made are correct. We as Americans have little control over what happens in the country. As much as you would like to believe that your vote counts, it doesn’t. America runs on a system called electoral college. Here’s a very condensed version of how it works: from the selection of people that are running for your state government, you pick the candidate that represents your views best (the keyword here is best). When presidential election time rolls around, you vote for who you want to be president in the popular vote (which can sometimes include a whole bunch of people you may not realize you were also voting for, since most states use a short ballot). Your state government takes a look at who the public wants to be president, and then they cast votes as representation of the public. Those votes are then counted and the new president is chosen.

Here’s the kicker, your state representation may not agree with the way you voted, and it’s their vote that counts. Your individual vote itself is statistically irrelevant, and is only as good as the state representation you have to choose from. Lets face it, not just anyone can run for office . You have to have the funds and the political skill to campaign, something that few citizens have. It is virtually impossible for the average Joe, whether he has awesome political ideas or not, to run for office. Theoretically, all citizens are eligible to run for office, but few make it simply on wit and charm.

This is the issue that Mr. Ratigan seems to be so angry about, and rightly so. The control of the country is out of the hands of the citizens who live in it. There seems to be more concern about which party is right than what will actually solve our biggest problems. It is worth considering that BOTH parties may be wrong, or right about some issues and wrong about others. No matter what your political view is, what is currently being done is obviously not working. We must consider the facts, or mathematics as Ratigan put it, instead of the opinions of one party or another.

Perhaps the solution is to “lose it” politically. Getting to the point seems to be the most effective way to get things done in this clip, instead of politely discussing viewpoints over tea. If something is not done, a second civil war may be on its way. One thing is clear: the individual citizens of America must stand up and take the government back from politicians.