What is Worth Reading

 

Milton Visits Galileo via the Wellcome Library

Milton Visits Galileo

What is Worth Reading provides a snapshot regarding what is going on regarding culture.  While there is not substitution for reporting, sometimes the most substantive work may  go unnoticed.  Hopefully,  you will find this useful.

Podcasts

Shakespeare and the Modern World

How can Shakespeare’s work, written 400 years ago still speak to the contemporary problems society faces?  This is latest the topic in the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast .   Rebecca Sheir interviews Gail Kern Paster, former director of the Folger Shakespeare Library and Jeremy Lopez, University of Toronto professor, in an intriguing discussion regarding how scholars look for new meaning in Shakespeare’s plays.

Longform Podcast with Lewis Lapham

Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and formerly the editor of  Harper’s Magazine.  In the latest edition of Longform’s podcast, Lapham offers his take on range of subjects from his role as an editor to culture in general.

Noteworthy Pieces

The New Racism

Is the Republican Party turning back the clock on civil rights in Alabama? The New Republic’s Jason Zengerle explores this contentious issue in his piece entitled The New Racism. Zengerle explores the impact of the GOP’s political domination of Alabama politics and how its consequences left Black lawmakers and their constituents with very little political influence.

Spoken Latin: A Modern Remedy for The Nation’s Age-Old Reading Problems

Latin is slowly becoming the great equalizer in the fight against illiteracy. This is the premise  Francis Seller’s article Spoken Latin: A Modern Remedy for The Nation’s Age-Old Reading Problems.     The language associated with classical scholars and the elite may provide a remedy to our country’s reading problems.

The Emerging Controversy 

The New York Times featured an advertisement protesting Amazon’s business practices.  The advertisement features a letter by Novelist Douglass Preston and signed by 900 authors.  The letter accuses Amazon of pressuring Hachette, the nation’s fourth largest book published over the price of e-books.  Also, this protest is an effort to persuade Amazon to stop withholding books from sale when it is negotiating with publishers.

It is not right for Amazon to single out a group of authors, who are not involved in the dispute, for selective retaliation according to the letter. Moreover, by inconveniencing and misleading its own customers with unfair pricing and delayed delivery, Amazon is contradicting its own written promise to be Earth’s most customer-centric company.

Some of the most prominent authors which signed this letter include Stephen King, Elizabeth Gilbert, John Grisham, Anna Quindlen  and Ann Patchett. Readers can find the online copy of the letter here.

Confessions of a Fragmented Mind

Pharmacy School

There are some people who cannot walk, chew gum and text at the same time.   It takes skill be a pedestrian.

There are 839 days until the next presidential election. I cannot contain my enthusiasm for the perpetual campaigning.

Some cultural references I just do not understand. In time, this will change as I keep reading. However, there is one specific song that is driving me crazy.

For instance, during my childhood I did not sing You Should Never Shove Your Granny off the Bus. I picked up this little classic while reading Let The World Spin. Where did this song  come from?

I am the Rodney Dangerfield of smart phones and tablets.  I get no respect.  It comes a time in a man’s life when he has to realize his limitations.

Within the last few years, I spent time reading books as much as possible. This is after several years of benign neglect of my brain cells.   God placed a brilliant idea into my beautiful big sister’s brain. She purchased an Android tablet as a Christmas gift

Please do not get confused, I love the printed word. There is nothing like the texture of book or newspaper. However, I have to place limits how many books I can buy.  The tablet (like my sister) is a God send.

When I didn’t purchase books online, I checked novels and nonfiction at DC Public Library’s Overdrive.    As a reader, it made things so easy and convenient. Also, I found many of classics for free (and how can you compete with free?). It was fine and dandy until the charger broke.  The charger rolled out of my backpack,  hit the floor and  shattered into pieces.

After months of using universal chargers, (each having  a short life span)  I have decided to follow-up technical support.  By June 30, I mailed my Dreamax tablet to the wizards of Wally World (Wal-Mart).  As of this moment,  I am playing the waiting game.  According to the latest e-mail,  tech support will complete my order in the next 7 to 14 business day.  We will see.

How can someone so tech savvy struggle so much with technology?  One of my closes friends teased me about this.   You have absolutely no luck with electronic devices.  If this one does not work out, you should give up on them completely and read paper  publications exclusively.

My friend has a valid point. Lately, I hustle for change to buy The Washington Post each morning.  The good news is I am going through the Sunday  Post and have missed that ritual very much.  The tablet represents an effort to adapt to the times. The waiting process is an opportunity to develop patience.

 

Four Steps for Soaring Beyond Routine Into the Extraordinary

Man Frantically Signing Papers at Desk

The weekend is over and it is time to return to the grind.

And yet, the mind longs for more than the usual routine. A peaceful acceptance can be gained through step-by-step inquiry into our current state of being.

My personal journey begins with the question: Where does this all come from?

As a culture, our ambition has its origins in our competitive drive and incessant work ethic. Such relentless obsessions with achievement get many of us nowhere, and slowly.

How surprising it is that the average car commuter spends an unbelievable 38 hours a week stuck in traffic?

How can many of us function without our To Dolists and smart phones?

Who are we without all our activities?

I come from a long-line of East-Texas backwoods workhorses. My parents set the example with their unwavering discipline and determination. More than anything else, I want to make my mark in the world. And no, I do not want a throne or the keys to the kingdom.

Yet, I want to keep striving for the extraordinary. I want life filled with accomplishments and to turn my dreams into reality. Unlike most Alpha-males, I do not always have to win. Nevertheless, I do not want my family’s sacrifice for my success to be in vain. It was not easy for my family to tolerate the underachieving son struggling throughout school.

Every day I am hustling and I am not alone. Over the past few years of my life, I wanted the fortitude to fight on forever. But pushing myself usually got in the way. Some of my biggest mistakes have stemmed from rushing to finish an assignment.

Sometimes, I am doing my best to manage the exhaustion from the work week.

In order for me to change, I realized that I have to nurture my development and take time to cultivate learning without regard to outcomes. My reasons for deciding to change go beyond ambition or professional advancement.

1. Self-Awareness

As cliché as this first step may sound, it starts with identifying intentions. While growing up, my family and friends constantly challenged me by asking are you paying attention? Unfortunately, I have been struggling with my way ward attention span for all of my life and am a work-in-progress. Fortunately, I have an extraordinarily patient family and wonderful friends. I am learning so much.

Self-knowledge is not feasible when we mindlessly surrender to routines, so examining motives seems worth the time. Meanwhile, it helps to set limits on activity.

We have to cut out both physical and mental clutter in order to focus and think calmly.

We cannot move forward until we understand the reasons behind our actions. More importantly, we cannot be true to ourselves until our actions fit our intentions.

2. Preparation

For the impatient person, the planning process appears less sexy than the desirable outcome. Our culture celebrates instant gratification. However, advance preparation, set in place with patience, sets the necessary baseline of forbearance, a tool with which one can face most situations gracefully.

The most successful coaches always create a game plan ahead of time in order to defeat their opponent. Also, no one expects a construction crew to begin work without the architect’s blue prints.

3. Focus

Focus means giving total concentration, attention and awareness to what happens in the present moment and just ahead. Stress, on the other hand, tends to scatter brain cells, sending our awareness all over the map.

As a society, I notice our increasing love for multitasking. Often, I think multitasking involves making several mistakes at the same time, and it feels like I’m living life with my eyes on a rearview mirror.

By shutting down my use of social media, taking time to breath deeply, walk in nature and meditate, even the most fragmented of minds can tune in to the true self and tune out every little bit of irrelevant brain chatter.

When I feel stuck or overwhelmed, I walk away from my desk. In the past, I trained myself to plough through everything. In other words, I sucked it up and suffered.

I realize now there is wisdom in regrouping and allowing my mind to relax for a few moments. I never thought a lunch-time walk could become a mental and emotional refuge.

Decompression from a stressful situation shows just as much dexterity as forging ahead.

4. Reassessment

Doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results, simply constitutes insanity. Regardless of how carefully we proceed, we will make mistakes. When this happens, we need to take a few steps back, reflect, gain perspective and understand what happened, but only before quickly using that information to create new strategies for the future.

I’ve heard “We’ve always done it this way” used for the purpose of staying stuck, and I consider this a most dangerous phrase. Life does not always reward perfection, but it does repay resilience.

This is why yoga has been so invaluable. I do not have the flexibility to muscle my way through each posture. There must be a balance between ease and effort in working through a sequence—an important lesson which I can apply in life.

Enjoying the journey and not just the destination makes life so much more rewarding.

This attitude requires patience, though, since overnight successes rarely occur. For most of us, this evolution of consciousness may take a lifetime of commitment, practice and improvement.

Bit by bit, each step towards cultivating awareness and acceptance allows us to appreciate more of our important, valuable lives, leading us out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary.

Originally published by Elephant Journal

The Power of Self Expression

Virginia Woolf

When in doubt, always remember ladies first. When writers feel their creativity blocked or stifled, the look for inspiration. In this instance, Virginia Woolf’s Room of One’s Own provides a great example of the power of self-expression.

A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay produced by Woolf in 1929.  The title comes from Woolf’s belief that women need their own personal space and financial independence to work on their craft. The central argument she advances in this work is below.

 Give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days.

Room of One’s Own takes a creative approach in making the case for more freedom for female writers. For example, Woolf creates the character of Judith Shakespeare to illustrate the differences in opportunities for men and women. Judith wants to read, write and seek her fortunate like her brother William.

Unfortunately, her determined parents insist she marries well and cannot pursue her education. Eventually, Judith runs away to London. Regrettably, Judith’s life ends tragically when she commits suicide.  The story line involving Judith Shakespeare is an illustration of why historically there are too few female writers.

As compelling as this is, Woolf makes examines important aspect of how men and women approach writing. Arguably, the most fascinating element of Room of One’s Own focuses on the art of the shapely sentence.

From Woolf’s perspective, early female authors such as George Elliott and Charlotte Bronte lacked a literary tradition to draw upon. Some may argue that female writers can learn just as much from male novelist like Dickens.  According to the text,  The weight, pace, the stride of man’s mind are too unlike her own for her to lift anything substantial from him successfully.  

In this context, Jane Austen’s work is vital.  Austen creates her own naturally, shapely sentence that enables deeper expression.  The novel was a vehicle for creativity for female writers of this time period. Essentially, female writers need better tools to fit their mind..  Woolf is making the case for freedom.  The shapely sentence gives fullness of expression which is the essence of storytelling.

In Celebration of Shakespeare

Shakespeare's Desk by Ted and Anthony John Peters

William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564.   He was born to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden in Stratford-upon-Avon in England.  The Bard’s contributions to literature are substantial.  The Complete Works of Shakespeare is second only to King James Bible regarding its influence upon culture.

Speaking of culture, some students initially cringe when teachers cover Shakespeare’s plays. Educators are often met with significant resistance when they mentioned Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet.  Far from being a sixteenth century instrument of torture, the Bard’s work elegantly captures the scope of human nature.

We owe a lot of our own language to Shakespeare.  According to experts, he invented over 2,000 words for use in his plays.  No scribe can approach with Shakespeare in crafting phrases.  The expression Et Tu Brute in Julius Caesar comes from Shakespeare’s intellect and not history. Shakespeare’s ability as a wordsmith teaches us the importance of language. The following passage is from The Tempest.

Be not afraid; the isle is full of noises sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices, that, if I then had waked after long sleep, will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming, the clouds me thought would open, and show riches ready to drop upon me;  when I walked I cried to dream again. 

This specific segment comes from Caliban and is very memorable.   In this play, he presented as a beast (half human and the other half animal) and is a slave to the main protagonist Prospero. Prospero enslaves the Caliban because he almost rapes his daughter Miranda. Ironically, Shakespeare uses this specific character as a vessel of beautiful poetry. In the text, we see the humanity within the monster.

Shakespeare’s insight into life resonates with people. An example of Shakespeare’s deep understanding of into our nature takes places in this  brief monologue from Brutus in the first scene  in  Julius Caesar.

Be not deceived: if I have veil’d my look, I turn the trouble of my countenance. Merely upon myself. Vexed I am Of late with passions of some difference, conceptions only proper to myself, which give some soil perhaps to my behaviors; but let not therefore my good friends be grieved– Among which number, Cassius, be you one–Nor construe any further my neglect, than that poor Brutus, with himself at war, forgets the shows of love to other men.

In this scene, we witness the struggle taking place within Brutus. We understand the emotions and mindset of a very important character. Is Brutus a hero of the Rome? Or does he deserve his fate in Dante’s Inferno? Regardless of your view, Shakespeare’s captures his complexity.

The Bard has no rival among storytellers and captures the essence of life. Shakespeare’s work covers love, loss, defeat, death, jealousy and victory.  Shakespeare’s work shows the power and importance of words.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s At Stake With Online Skimming

The-First-Audience-Oliver-Goldsmith-reading-his-comedy-She

In the morning the alarm sounds and the ritual begins.  People turn on their technology as they get ready for work.  As rush hour begins, more of us are engaging in a digital symphony of sifting through content.

With the click of a mouse, individuals can obtain access to the information they want.  This is the power of high-end computing. .  However, scientists are warning us of the consequences of constant web surfing.

According a recent piece in  The Washington Post, scientists conclude that human beings are developing digital brains.  The digital mind focuses on skimming through information.

We need individuals asking probative questions and a providing context to thrive.  Unfortunately, our culture is now dominated by nonstop cable TV news that gives sound bites and snapshots.  Also, we are also spending an average of five hours per day online according to eMarketer.

The good news is the brain is adapting to the  barrage of social media, e-mails and text messages.  The bad news is that comprehension and reading are adversely affected by all of this.  Our minds are developing short cuts to process all of this information.

There is nothing wrong with finding an efficient way to manage your information.  Sometimes a quick scan regarding  the “latest and greatest” on Facebook is the only sensible way.  Television alone has reduced our collective attention spans.  Some teachers are complaining that students are struggling through the classics.  How can civilization survive when we cannot grasp Shakespeare’s verses and Austen’s sentences?

There is a difference between online and print reading.  Based on some initial studies, researches conclude that comprehension seems better with paper.  Specialists have expressed concerns regarding learning when the love for technology can hamper their retention.  At this point, experts recommend more research regarding the differences between text and screen reading.

We cannot turn back the clock.  We all love the convenience of technology and how it makes life easier.   Yet, we have to take a break for the sake our of brain cells. Life demands constant adaptation and learning.  This happens when our minds can deal with the details.

 

 

 

Random Thoughts and Observations

(c) The University of Aberdeen; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Is there a fine line between normality and the straight jacket?  The line is blurring. If life is about survival of the fittest, I am toast.  At this point, I am unsure if I can last seven seconds in the Serengeti.

We are all just finding our way in the food chain.  Lately, I feel more combustible with each commute.  After work, my brains cells are turning into peanut butter.  My knees are screaming and smoke is coming out of my ears.

We all have our ways of coping.  My approach involves eating red meat and drinking coffee.  The key is finding the right balance. The problem is I cannot help myself.  Until I can just say no to bacon, I will stay on the sidelines of life. There is nothing like having mammal in the morning. There is no better way to start the day.

On another subject, I am upset with the current state of customer service. There are some hard-working people providing excellent quality service.  However, I just cannot reach tech support or customer service over the phone.  Most of the time I am on hold (actually I am on ignore) for at least 15 minutes. Please pardon me as I blow my stack. There is no way I can escape my angst.

I never wanted the keys to the kingdom.  Oddly enough, I do not want to drift into oblivion. I want to make my mark and get out-of-the-way. Is that too much to ask? It is all in the name of original Wilson-style storytelling.