new year’s poem 1-1-2010

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Franzen’s Rules for Fiction Writers

By Jonathan Franzen, for The Guardian

1 The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

2 Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.

3 Never use the word “then” as a ­conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.

4 Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.

5 When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.

6 The most purely autobiographical ­fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto­biographical story than “The Meta­morphosis”.

7 You see more sitting still than chasing after.

8 It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.

10 You have to love before you can be relentless.

Some Golden Rules for Traveling in India

A few lessons I took away from three months in India . . . 

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1. Be humble and full of light, and everything will be O.K.

2. Let yourself become “Indianized”–wear appropriate clothing and adornments, learn to eat with your right hand and bob your head when you listen or agree to something.

3. Don’t hold too tightly to plans, whether short-term (the day) or long-term (your trip itinerary); listen to your heart at all times.

4. Don’t let the soles of your feet face anything holy or reverent.

5. Understand that you as an outsider are naive about the caste system and the general order of things, so let people guide you and don’t judge situations because the morality is not as apparent as it may seem to you.

6. Be generous–when appropriate, provide food or change to beggars and sadhus; it will come back to you.

7. Be scrupulous about hygiene: bathe daily, wash your clothes regularly, and wash your hands often with soap.

8. Carry many shawls–they are handy for blocking sun, doubling as bedsheets, wiping sweat from your face, covering your mouth when you pass a pile of burning trash.

9. Beware of monkeys–stay away and guard your belongings.

10. Don’t do too much. Just be. That’s when the magic happens.

(Optional #11: Read something by or about the Mahatma Gandhi, and the Bhagavad Gita, before or during your trip; these background stories will provide context to what you are experiencing or at least provoke some curiosity, or both.)

2012: Year of Positive Thinking

Yes, we did! For the record, I convinced approximately three Ohioans to vote for Obama over the phone last weekend, so I am clearly responsible for the tables turning in his favor.

John Cassidy in The New Yorker on Obama’s re-election:

“Who knows what the future holds? For now, let’s take the measure of what has happened, which is historic enough. For the fifth time in the past six Presidential elections, the Democrats have won the popular vote. For the second time in succession, Americans have elected a black man, the same black man, as President. Throughout the country, Republican extremists like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock have been repudiated. Residents of Maryland and Maine (and probably Washington state, too) have voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. The United States of 2012 hasn’t turned into Scandinavia, but it isn’t the United States of 2010 and the Tea Party either. To the extent that the election was about anything more than negative advertising and relentless micro-targeting, it was a triumph of moderation over extremism, tolerance over intolerance, and the polyglot future over the monochrome past.”

“On the Ground in Bamako”: My Interview With An Anthropologist

I spoke with anthropologist Bruce Whitehouse about being in Mali during the military coup that occurred this spring, and what it was like to become a correspondent for the media.

For Construction magazine:

“On his blog, Bridges From Bamako, Whitehouse documented not only snippets of his research findings, but also observations of daily life in Bamako during the pandemonium and thoughts about how Bamakois were responding to the coup. The blog began attracting the attention of journalists who were covering the turmoil in Bamako from afar. Soon, Whitehouse was giving interviews to Time magazine, the New York Times, the blog Africa Is A Country, and other media outlets.”

 

Amor Fati

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: to want nothing to be other than as it is, neither in the future, nor in the past, nor in all eternity. Not merely to endure what happens of necessity, still less to hide it from oneself–all idealism is untruthfulness in the face of necessity–but to love it…”

-Neitzsche, Ecce Homo

“It is here and now that we must learn to separate forms of life that are failed–mediocre, reactive, weakened–from forms of life that are intense, grandiose, courageous and rich in diversity.”

-Luc Ferry on Nietzsche in A Brief History of Thought