Monday, September 29, 2014

Reading the Classics

The following are my comments on a facebook discussion about creative writing students, smart kids at an East Coast college, who find the old classics -- Shakespeare and Milton -- difficult, who can't get through the language and the unfamiliar culture. I wrote:
A friend of mine teaches creative writing at a state college in the Midwest. Her kids are almost certainly not as smart as the kids described here. She says her students don't read. They want to write, but they seem to have no real interest in books. So, my question is, do the kids you teach read? How much? And what do they read? -- I find it hard to imagine being a writer without across-the-board voracious reading of almost anything.

I grew up on fairy tales, myths, legends, fantasy and science fiction. I wonder if that makes older literature easier and more appealing. Realistic fiction is a late comer. Most of the early work has at least some fantastic elements. Look at Shakespeare. Ghosts, witches, fairies. Look at Beowulf. A monster. A dragon. What more could one want? But this doesn't explain students today who read fantasy but don't like the older works.

Science fiction teaches you to decode stories -- to figure out words you don't know, to understand unfamiliar settings and characters with strange motivations. So decoding a folk tale or Shakespeare doesn't seem so difficult.

Most of the kinds of fiction I have listed I read on my own, and the teachers of the time would probably have disapproved of science fiction and fantasy and Mad Magazine and comic books. But I suspect the reading helped me later.
I'm not putting in the other, interesting comments, because I don't want the hassle of getting permission. It was a discussion with many people, many of them teachers.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Light and Mood

Yesterday was overcast, gray and gloomy, with a little rain, but not enough. If it's going to be dark outside, I want rain or snow. Right now rain would be better. Anyway, the outer darkness influenced my mood, and I spent the day in a slough of despond. I've been told the slough is pronounced 'slew.' I pronounce it 'slow,' which seems to fit better. That long 'ohhhhhh' at the end is like a sigh or moan. So, I spent much time on the couch playing computer solitaire and thinking dark thoughts. Nothing was achieved except a load of wash and a grocery run and thinking about a brief essay I am due to write. Today is sunny, and my mood has amazingly lifted. In case you are wondering, I do have a light box and use it. It helps.

I am trying to figure out the evolutionary benefit of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Maybe none. It's possible people did not have it before modern less-than-full-spectrum lighting. It's also possible that SAD encouraged people to slow down in the winter, when they were stuck in a tiny sod hut with six other people and a peat fire. In that case, the SAD would encourage you to sit in a heap in a corner unmoving and maybe drink brennuvin, if you were rich enough to have a bottle. If you were not rich enough, you could always write a saga. This meant you did not bother other people. Imagine being stuck in a tiny hut for six months with a loud extrovert making Italian gestures. Obviously there would be a murder before spring.

Footnote: In order to determine if SAD has an evolutionary benefit, we would have to find out if it's genetic. Do people of Northern European descent have it, if they live on the Equator? Do people from equatorial countries have it, if they live in the north? I read somewhere that SAD does not exist in places like San Diego. Then we would have to find the gene, and we would have to run tests. Put people without the SAD gene in a small hut with low lighting for six months...

Thursday, September 18, 2014


No volcano news this morning, to the relief of everyone. I am drinking coffee and bracing myself for exercise at the gym. After that comes all the work I didn't do yesterday. Mostly sunny today, with a high of 71. A good chance of rain Friday and Saturday, then slightly cooler temps. I am repeating the St. Paul forecast. Talk about boring. Maybe I need to do something insanely exciting, so I can report it. But I need to get the hwarhath collection done. Writing so often gets in the way of life.

If I got really energetic I could finish all my writing projects in about a year, then devote myself to something else. But I have ideas for new stories. So much for hang gliding.

As I have mentioned before, I don't like doing the final work on stories -- revising and proofing and producing a clean file. I do like the first draft, when the story is new and I'm not entirely sure what will happen next. Once I clear out the to-do list, I can get back to the fun part of writing.

I was reading Diana Wynne Jones and listening to a broadcast of Manon Lescaut last night. Which makes me start thinking I would like to write a YA fantasy. Something rich and melodic, like a Puccini opera. I'm going to see Puccini's Girl of the Golden West in a week or two. That opera has a happy ending. Girl of the Golden West done as a YA fantasy...

Well, that is all daydreaming. I have to finish three collections and a novel first -- and proof three more novels, so they can be reprinted as ebooks. Maybe I will write a story about an artist who spends her life daydreaming of the great work she could do...

Friday, September 12, 2014

Volcano News

I have spent the past couple of weeks focusing on the Icelandic volcano. The main crater of Bardarbunga is subsiding, and this is not good news. This can be a sign that the crater itself is going to blow.
Rifts to the north of the crater, which are not under glacial ice, continue to erupt. This is producing gas which is getting blown into inhabited areas in the East Fjords. Icelandic Civil Defense has warned vulnerable people -- children, the elderly, people with respiratory problems -- to stay inside with the windows closed.

That is where things stand now. There are three alternatives, according to the Icelandic Meteorological Service. (1) The activity could gradually slow down and end. (2) There could be an eruption under the glacial ice, but not in the Bardarbunga crater. This most likely would produce ash and flooding. (3) There could be an eruption in the crater itself, which would be likely to produce a lot of ash and flooding. This last could threaten hydroelectric dams which produce a lot of the country's power -- and maybe people as well.

If you look at the previous post, you will see that the alternatives are the same ones listed there. The situation has gotten worse -- grave, per the Icelandic National News Service -- because of the subsidence within the Bardarbunga crater. Other than that, we wait and see.

I am obviously concerned about Iceland. In addition, I am avoiding thinking about the American government's latest move into the Middle East and the behavior of the Republicans at home. I feel I am living in a collapsing empire, run by idiots, in a world at the edge of ruin. It's a science fictional plot, and I don't like it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Eruption

The most recent report from the Icelandic Meteorological website, which covers weather, avalanches, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions:
It remains unclear how the situation will develop. Four scenarios are still considered most likely:

The migration of magma could stop, resulting in a gradual reduction in seismic activity and no further eruptions.

The dike could reach the Earth's surface causing another eruption, possibly on a new fissure. Lava flow and (or) explosive activity cannot be excluded.

The intrusion reaches the surface and another eruption occurs where either the fissure is partly or entirely beneath Dyngjujökull. This would most likely produce a flood in Jökulsá á Fjöllum and perhaps explosive, ash-producing activity.

An eruption in Bárðarbunga. The eruption could cause an outburst flood and possibly an explosive, ash-producing activity. In the event of a subglacial eruption, it is most likely that flooding would affect Jökulsá á Fjöllum. However it is not possible to exclude the following flood paths: Skjálfandafljót, Kaldakvísl, Skaftá and Grímsvötn.

Other scenarios cannot be excluded.

Labor Day (A Day Late)

A poster by the wonderful Ricardo Levins Morales for Labor Day. (I know I am a day late.) Here is a link to his website. His work is well worth having.

Another Photo of the Eruption

This is happening in a wasteland in the middle of nowhere and not under a glacier. Eruptions under ice produce ash and flooding, both of which worry the Icelanders. So far so good on this eruption. But the Icelandic Meteorological Service remains cautious.

Bartharbunga Eruption in Iceland

The current eruption in Iceland. Bartharbunga is a serious volcano and under a glacier, which makes it more dangerous. However, the magma has been migrating north. When it surfaced in this eruption, it was not under ice.


Wild sunflowers are blooming along the freeway. A few leaves are starting to turn. There are apples and brussels sprouts in the Farmers Market. Yesterday was the last day of the State Fair.