Monday, 26 January 2009

What's This About Administering the Oath?

Hey there, xkcd, I think you guys maybe misplaced the blame here. It was Obama who screwed up the oath, not the other guy.

I mean, Obama's cool and all, but let's not put the blame on other people so we can pretend like he's perfect or something.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Personality Test

At Navs tonight I took a personality test. Usually I see a personality test and think, "I put in information; it gives a label; I look at what the label means and discover it means that I put in this information. Sum information gain=0." What surprised me was most tonight was that the answer surprised me.

The quiz concerned how we most frequently/effectively connect with God. I was expected "Comtemplative" or "Intellectual" to be up there. I didn't actually know what the labels were until I finished the quiz--Dan had us not look at the tally sheet, and wouldn't even give us the label key until we were done--but I had a fairly good idea that at least one of them would be on there when I was answering the questions. But get this: they were both among my lowest categories. No, what I scored highest in were "Serving" and "Creation." This means I feel most attached to God when I am serving others and when I am creating something or admiring Creation. The last one I could have guessed; the second I should have guessed, but hadn't.

It made sense, though. I read the description for Serving and everything it said was true. Now, I'm fully aware of the Horoscope Illusion: each prediction or description is tailored to apply almost universally, and yet appear too specific for that to be true. I suspect personality tests do the same; at least, very few categories in personality tests appear totally unrelated to me. So I read the other categories, and, lo and behold... they didn't describe me. I could not 'resonate' with them (I don't like using that word, but I can't come up with a suitable alternative at the moment). I don't worship with people so well; I mean, I like being in a crowd of people who are utterly invested in worship, as in Praise and Power here at school, but interaction with people hasn't ever struck me as particularly holy. I suppose it can be, but I haven't felt the energy, though. Unless, of course, I'm serving...

It said of me, "You feel uncomfortable if you don't have a role to play." That's true. I've known it to be true, as well; I have to contribute somehow. I get antsy if I don't. It also warned that I have to recall that serving is an act of worship. True, that. Once I get started I serve easily, but somehow I forget sometimes.

Now, why was I surprised? I've been aware lately of how much I get from helping people. If you ever want me to do something, appeal to my altruism. Don't try to make something sound good for me; that never works. Make it sound like the right thing to do, and I'm yours. The thing is, I'm terribly concerned I'm not serving enough. Do you know how many opportunities to serve I see, and how comparatively few I take? The gap is huge. I am so far from being a servant of God that it's overwhelming.

And yet I realize, as I look around me, that I am serving more than your average Joe is. I volunteer two hours at Run&Read (3 hours in walking there and back); I have an English buddy, a first year student I'm helping learn the ropes of the English department; I edit people's papers pretty much pro bono; I hold open every door I can, and offer to carry things for people whenever I remember to; I give pretty near all of my pocket change to beggars when I walk down Princess Street; I give to almost every charity that asks, buying from bakesales when I'm not hungry or giving whatever's in my pocket to the deaf-mute people who come door to door. (And I wonder why I'm short on money?) This isn't even the complete litany, either. I'm not including my work facilitating Navs or the one-off volunteering I do through them sometimes, or my work on colloquium (though CV-padding is part of my motive on that one, let's be honest).

This isn't to make myself look better. This is to illustrate that, yes, maybe I do have derive worship from volunteering and didn't notice. It also illustrates what I need to be doing more often; I have to find somewhere to volunteer over the summers. I really do. It's soothing to me.

Related to the distance between what I'm doing and where I want to be: it seems to me that each time you advance along a certain path towards building the character you want to be, you find that your ultimate goal is further off than you had wanted. Say you're an average person, so far as politeness goes. Say you want to be more polite than you are. So you do those obvious things: you say "please" and "thank-you" when you ought and you try to be more diplomatic. But as you start to do these things, you see more gestures you could perform that you hadn't thought of. Once you've completed this, you see more manners you ought to keep; these manners, however, are a little harder to do. Maybe holding that door open isn't convenient right now, as you're late for class, but good manners indicates you ought to nonetheless. Maybe you forgot you had that assignment and you could really use the evening to work on it so it wouldn't be all crammed into your weeked, but you said you'd go to your friend's poetry reading. Sure, everyone else is going, so she doesn't need your support in particular--but you did say you'd go. Each time you become more polite, you realize how woefully far you are from being truly, perfectly polite. Each step you take, the longer you see the journey is. That is maybe why I see that I am not serving very much at all, while others think I am serving a lot. I am further down the road, and from this vantage I have a better sense of how little of the path I've traveled.

The "creation" part I wasn't surprised about. I already knew that making things is a passion of mine--absurdly so; I make maps in computer game editors even if I doubt anyone will ever play them--and I've dabbled in devotional poetry. You can dig in my archives to find some not-very-skilled results. I swear I'm better now. I ought to do more of that. The flip side is that I also enjoy veiwing creation, and this too is true. I love learning about the technical aspects of art. How does one animate (my brother fills me in on that)? How does one practice photography? What are the theoretical implications of sculpture? What defines musical genres? How does one act, or design a set? Also, how can one harness these to worship God, process the Revelation, spread the Gospel? Also, being outside, walking in the world--natural is prefered, but urban will suffice in a pinch--is a deeply calming and meditative process for me. I process through walking. Walking is key. Also, animals of all stipes (and spots and bumps and phosphorescent wrinkles) focus me. This isn't artistic creation of course, so much as capital-c Creation. I don't know how much these two elements should be connected; it seems like a play on words more than a logical connection, metaphor over metonymy. But look at the Romantics, look at Aristotle, look at Indigenous peoples, look at Taoist paintings. They fuse art and nature all the time. It seems one cannot exist without the other, for them. Creation and creation; both things I love.

Perhaps I'll post the quiz on here tomorrow, when I shouldn't be getting ready for bed. Perhaps you'd like to take it, if you're at all interested in learning how you connect with God.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

The Anthology: V

Last night I sent away my work to the editor/compiler for last-minute changes and formatting, and then it goes to the publisher.

I had until midnight, but did not use it. After enough of the insane, full-speed dash that characterized much of the last weeks, I finally decided I had had enough and would send it off. I cannot each literary perfection, and so I must live with what I've got.

There were two issues (other than grammatical and minorly stylistic) which I had needed to deal with.

The first was the presence of particular lines; the concluding lines of 'Heretic' and 'fort mcmurray weather report' were the source of much disagreement between editors. Some people said these were necessary or strong lines, while others thought they either undermined what I had previously written, or forced the readers to draw unfair conclusions. In the end, I included neither line. I'd rather end ambiguously and suddenly than campily or didactically.

The second was what others conceived as the lack of an overarching theme or direction to 'At the Schoolhouse.' They say, very pretty, very enjoyable, but what is the point? What are you trying to do with this? It seems that it ends suddenly, or could have its parts all rearranged to no effect.

So I paced a lot, away from the computer and the words themselves, fretting and stewing and mulling. What were my objectives with this piece? They wanted development, growth, or even some sort of trajectory. They liked one section, and seemed more critical of another. Why? What did this have which that didn't? More conflict? New characters? Less plot? How could I inject development, growth? Did I want to?

Eventually I stumbled upon what might have been an answer. Not a cure-all, but a start. One person liked a certain section more and asked me to develop the ideas of protection and safe/unsafe space more. Another person had asked to more clearly indicate the passage of time in the last section, to indicate how much time has elapsed since the first. Others wanted development of some sort; what were the characters getting out of all this? Well, I changed one line--a phrase, even--to emphasize that these characters were not just "leaving for school," but "returning to their campuses." I underlined that they were now going to a post-secondary institution, which makes them older than before. I also underlined that they were returning to these institutions, but were not currently there. They were instead emerged into the space of their childhood; while the text says they are returning to school soon, this indicates that they are currently returning to their old home from their new lives. So we see the more explicit creation of a space (safe or unsafe I'm not sure, but you could work with it), but we also see the effect of the experiences on these characters' lives once they've left the environment. We also get a clearer indication of time having passed. Obviously this is not a huge solution, and makes only a quiet difference, but it does make a slight one.

After making this change, and a few other minor ones, I used some coupons at McDonald's. Walking there, I mentally revisited my objectives in this piece, and came up with different things than most people had been looking for. I had wanted to construct a mythology of my childhood's landscape; this I had completed. I had wanted to indicate ways you could interact with that landscape, and I think I succeeded at that. I wanted to deny by counter-example the claims scholars make today that deride the pastoral, locating art and sophistication in urban environments alone. Development, growth, or what have you weren't my intentions in the first place. I decided that it was fine as it stood. As editors, sometimes we look at a text and ask how we could make it better. Once it's published though, etched onto the page, then perhaps people will read it as permenant and complete, and then find the themes they missed when trying to improve it. I can hope, right?

Now my tales of editing are over. I will keep you up-to-date on other things (preparing for the launch, etc.), but lessons in practical literary theory are over. Class dismissed!

A Quotation from G. K. Chesterson

"The real argument against aristocracy is that it always means the rule of the ignorant. For the most dangerous of all forms of ignorance is ignorance of work." - NY Sun 11-3-18

Wednesday, 21 January 2009


I was going to pick my favourite from here, but they're all so bizarre that you should really see the whole thing.

Link to pictures.


Monday, 19 January 2009

The Anthology: IV

I just want to get this down before I go to bed.

After writing the last post, I checked my e-mail and I saw that I had received another edit. In it, the editor offered an interpretation of one of my pieces. When I first read his interpretation, I was horrified. That wasn't what I wanted at all! This wasn't about conforming my religious beliefs to unassailable 'facts' or about religion's subservience to academia; those parts which deal with academia whatsoever are critical, protesting the university's attempts to enforce its materialism upon me. It certainly doesn't indicate that the word 'heretic' has no power; instead, it indicates that the same stigma, though differently labeled, is applied just as harshly to those who oppose the orthodoxy of the school and the marketplace as well as or instead of the church.

I combed through the poem again and tried to read it as the editor did, seeing where these alien readings came from. I located what I hope are some of the passages, and changed around some prepositions, line breaks, and short phrases, hoping to clarify my stance. There are still a few places where it may be possible to interpret differently than I intend, but I'll need to let it sit for now.

And then I went through other people's critiques and see if I can divine whether they had the same understanding as the previous editor. From what I can tell, some may have and some certainly did not, but none certainly did.

After a bit I returned to this editor's critique to re-evaluate what was said. It turns out I had misread some of the interpretation. Religion is not subservient to academia after all, but instead the speaker of my poem (according to this editor) insists academia should not be repressed by religion either. Well, that's better. I don't know that I'm so committed to that--I do not think academia should be simply allowed to run amok--but I won't be mortified if someone reads it that way. OK. I'm still not sure about the unassailability of things like theoretical physics, but I can stand behind religion needing to be capable of change while still remaining rooted in the past. I have stood behind that one before. A Protestant can hardly object to religion changing. So, alright. I don't agree with the lightness of the term heretic, however; can I live with this?

I returned to my piece and really tried to look at it as though I didn't know what it was already about. My conclusion is that I really can't see how you could mistake me for anything but a Christian while reading this. A somewhat less than orthodox one, sure, but located squarely in the Nicene Creed nonetheless. With my little changes, I think my attack on academic hegemony is clearer, too. (Wait, I just thought of a line...I'll maybe add something to make it even clearer, and prettier, too. Anyway, to the matter at hand...) This leads me to two questions.

1) Can I be satisfied if my poem may allow readings that, while not outright opposing my intended meaning, emphasize entirely different aspects of my belief than what I was trying to convey? I wanted among other things to express what it felt like to be a heretic to academia, and I do not think this editor picked that up at all. At least, he did not mention that in his interpretation.
2) How concerned should I be about people misreading my poem? This is the flip side of the above question. Is it possible that my poem does not, if fully and informedly read (I don't think that's a word), allow for this editor's reading? And if that is the case, how responsible am I for making it even harder to misread? I have sometimes thought that if people misread what you've written, you need to be find out why and fix it. Could it just be, though, that readers sometimes bring in enough of their own ideology and are sloppy enough in readings because of some little ambivalence early on in the poem (that will be cleared up sufficiently in the end) that they will misread it no longer how clear I am? Or that I will have to be so mind-numbingly explicit that I oughtn't worry about their misreadings? This is not to suggest that the editor was stupid, but just ideologically driven, or tired, or assumed something from my demeaner that is false, or some combination of the three. (I've discussed before how people sometimes assume I'm an atheist.)

I just wanted to think out loud here. I've been trying to show you the intellectual process of the anthology, and these questions are part of the editing entailed.


The Anthology: III

Editing other people's submissions has finally come to a close.

Yesterday at 5:30 I sent my last critiques and edits out before heading to Navs. Today in class we determined which pieces we were including and which pieces were sent elsewhere. For the most part this was done by vote, though in one case the professor vetoed a piece and in another case one of the authors flatly said she was including something, even though it was lower in the votes. In both cases I agreed with the content of the decision, since these reflected my preferences. Some people (I suppose--no one complained of it in my earshot) might disagree with the way these decisions were made, much as someone can insist on the legitimacy of the electoral process while believing that the candidate elected was not the best one. However, I note that this work is not a constitutional monarchy and the two people most invested in which pieces go in are the author and the professor, who will be listed as editor and compiler.

As everyone in the class likely feels, I do not agree with all of the decisions we made about selection. In some cases, my least favourite piece was chosen--in one such case, that piece was long enough that it was the only piece of that author's to be included. In other cases, a piece I had really thought was one of the best was almost unanimously ommitted. As could also be predicted, some pieces which I thought were ideologically--how shall I put this?--unsound were included despite my concerns that the opinions they offered were somewhat simplistic. Those pieces I ranked nearest the bottom I did not always edit, and so I had to do some last-minute editing today in order for my work to be any use to them. For those I disagreed with on ideological grounds, I tried to best to examine the text closely and see whether simple changes could be made to nuance the view. I saw that they could; in fact, the author may have intended one of two more nuanced views but lost the subtlety in the wording. I pointed to these possibilities and indicated that they would make the worldview described more complex and mature. Hopefully I do not come off as an ideologue. I am one, obviously, but it usually works best if you keep that fact hidden. Seriously though, I don't think I ought to be objecting to pieces on grounds of belief frameworks, so I'm simply hoping my comments will give the author the head's up that his prose might offend someone or represent him in a simplistic way.

Now the effort is in self-editing. I have to take all of the critiques everyone else wrote and apply them to my own work. I've read all those that I've received (I have yet to get some), but haven't implemented any comments. Actually, I strongly resisted most of them. I need to break down the aversion to thinking I'm right about everything. That works well when you're giving advice, but not so much when you're receiving it. That's something I'll need to work on. Certain comments I can tell you already that I do not intend to follow. I know these ones because I actually said, "No," out loud, with surprising force, when I read them. I probably ought to look at where they're coming from, but these ones are obviously wrong enough to my mind that I can dismiss the suggestions immediately. Other comments I have already conceded at least mentally.

Also, there is the problem of different commenters unwittingly disagreeing with each other. I need to go through and see what each has to say and what that says about how they viewed my piece; the problem in their disagreement might be that one read the piece far differently from another. I look to see who read it 'correctly' and follow their advice, but I also look to see why the other person might have misread it and try to remedy that earlier in the work.

Alright, so the pieces selected for my section...

I had included in the package a total of two short stories and four poems. I suppose I can give a brief description of each that will allow you to get a sense of what I've written while in no way revealing anything important before the anthology is launched. The are listed roughly by length.

"Runaway": a boy runs away from home on a lark and has a terrifying otherworldly experience
"At the Schoolhouse": a series of short sections concerning a rural family
"Heretic": a poetic rant about living in conflicting paradigms--church, academia, consumer economy
"fort mcmurray weather report": the title describes it perfectly, and yet it isn't what anyone expects
"the long vesper": a three-stanza poem ostensibly about insomnia
"Frontier": a three-stanza poem ostensibly about the Wild West, but maybe about somewhere else, too

Based on length restriction, I could either publish "Runaway" and one or two of the shorter poems, or everything but "Runaway." We went with the latter, largely because quite a few people felt that "Runaway" needed more work than the others. They might be right. I know the professor was disappointed, since I think that was her favourite of everything I have written. She says it's scary and had hoped to see it in the anthology. However, she did not intervene, which means she must think the rest of my stuff is serviceable, or good enough to be published. I do plan to publish that piece eventually but I could use the time to work on it some more. Maybe the writer-in-residence here at Queen's could help me with it. I should make an appointment.

I need to get a bit more work done before bed, so I should wrap this post up now. I suppose I'll just add that my editing will conflict with the work I need to do on a group presentation due this Friday. I need around fifteen minutes of spoken content on the War of the Roses, which will not be a problem; what might be more problematic is the powerpoint slides, some visuals, and the four page report that need to accompany those fifteen minutes. I meet with my group on Thursday. I will spend Wednesday doing most of the prep for that meeting. We'll need to figure out where I'll slot in the editing--somewhere between commitments tomorrow, some on Wednesday if I finish my research in time, some after the meeting on Thursday, and some between classes, meetings, and presentation on Friday, submitted that evening? We'll see how it goes.


English Clergyman


As a form of study break, I sometimes explore the Oxford English Dictionary On-Line for interesting words. I have delved into the great tome today and retreived these specimens, showcased here for your viewing pleasure.

momentaneousness: n. the nature of being momentaneous; instantaneousness, transitoriness EC's note: what a monster of a word!

molybdomancy: n. divination by observing the behaviour of molten lead EC's note: I can imagine some over-the-top MMO allowing you to dabble in molybdomancy, sending jets of molten lead at your opponents, and lots of gamer nerds scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to say this word. Except, come to think of it, MMOers have to wrap their tongues around all sorts of Tolkein-perverts anyway, so this'n would likely be taken in stride.

gnomometry: n. measurement or organization by gnome EC's note: a "gnome" here means a "short, pithy statement," mabe from gnosis, meaning knowledge. I have read that "gnome" meaning "short fairy spirit protecting natural resources" has a different etymology. Anyway, gnomometry was historically used to talk about how one should divide up a book: by subject, or by pithy statements.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Thoughts on the Day

Before we go any further, I would encourage you to navigate two posts back and click on the sepia picture of the cat nursing her kittens. Clicking it will enlarge it, and you can enjoy their fuzziness even more. This is extraordinarily important to your existence. Please do so now.

[Kitten-related interlude.]

OK, now that you should be in a fuzzy frame of mind, we can continue. I feel like my editing skills are slipping. For some pieces I do not say enough. Granted, these are polished pieces, and their styles harmonize with my expectations. For others, I feel I say a lot, picking at things that are really subjective. I don't like something, and I say so, and give whatever reasons I have. I wrote to one of my cohorts that I was sorry if I came across as a harsh and cruel bastard (I don't usually swear, but this word seemed to really be the most accurate description of how I might have seemed). I came across as one largely because I was one for the time being. I was simply too tired to make my comments sound nice. It was all I could do to remove the dripping sarcasm from some comments. And I say some, because the others were sent off still wet. Anyway, he wrote back saying that he wasn't "in the course to hear nice things about my writing. Nice is a waste of my time." This pleased me; as hardened as that makes him seem, it does mean he could take anything I gave him, and his writing would improve as a result. Similarly, I try not to take any edits of my work personally either. I expect to be challenged, even if it does privately hurt. I can callous (that's a verb, here, meaning to develop a callous). My work will improve as a result. (That's always the phrase: "improve as a result." I wonder if we can come up with something else.) For this reason I feel antsy if I receive what I call a 'soft edit.'

The work load is becoming incredible. This is the second night in a row that I've had to decline social activities in favour of slaving away at this editing. And that's not a thing of responsibility; it was acutal necessity. Yesterday, I recalled a meeting I had had, and was trying to figure out if it was earlier in the same week, or if it was the week previous. Then I deduced that it must have happened--wait, this Friday? As in, yesterday? That's... let's just say that Friday was a loooooong day. Two classes, two hour+ meetings for two seperate organizations, and lots of editing/time wasting.

Friday night I ran out of ink, so yesterday I went to buy a new cartridge. I had a sly suspicion on the way to the store that they were phasing out the ink, and, lo and behold, I was right. They could order a black in for Tuesday, but no cyan cartridges were likely to be available ever again. They had some off-brand compatible cartridges, but I know better; I haven't been able to print blue for a year because I bought a "compatible" cartridge. They don't work, at least not on my printer. So I asked if I should be thinking about getting a new printer, and the representative said that wouldn't be a bad idea. Ten minutes later, I'm walking out of the store with a slick black little printer, only $41. It has no scanner, but I can use the scanner on my old printer, which still works fine, just has no ink. Creative solutions; cheap solutions. I like.

And now I must wash my lunch dishes, pour myself some Coca-cola, restrain myself with the honey graham bears, and get back to mad editing. I have a Navs Sunday supper tonight, and must arrive at 6:00 this week. So I have roughly 5 and a half hours to finish all of my editing for my peers. Away I go!

If my post got you down, please refer to the kittens again. Fellow blogger Jon (see "the inevitable" to your right) has said something about finding the little things that make life OK, and call upon them when you're having a hard time. If my kittens can do that for you, I suggest you bookmark the post. If not, then ignore them, I suppose.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Observation on Tea


I was in the library the other day, editing stuff. I was struggling with wakefulness, so I went to get something caffienated (sp?) at the Library Cafe. I was in line and at the last minute I decided that I would get a tea instead of a London Fog. I've grown to really like London Fogs after some friends recommended them and I was trying to find new sources of caffeine than Diet Coke. I like the smell of them, but also the taste, and the Library Cafe makes excellent ones. However, a regular tea is cheaper, so I order that. I've never had Earl Grey tea before. I had this mint tea meant to make me sleep better, and I thought it was so boring. I had a Chai tea once at a friend's place, and I thought it was pretty boring--not as numbingly dull as the mint stuff, but still not fun. But I love the smell of Earl Grey, so I thought, this is the tea for me. I also let it steep a really long time in there.

I was so bored. It's just like faintly-flavoured hot water! And not faintly flavoured, like flavoured water. Flavoured water is like pop next to tea. Maybe I need to dump even more cream and sugar to give it body. I don't know. It was better when I got to the bottom, but that might be because I did some serious tea-bag squeezing down there. It had dregs, perhaps, and was therefore stronger. Whatever the reason, I was bored. From now on, London Fog.

Or I could try more experiments with coffee beverages again. Someone told me I need to get a lighter roast; a friend of mine worked in a coffee shop and she explained to me the ins and outs of different roasts. Apparently, what they don't tell clientelle is that the longer they roast the bean, the less caffeine there is. A lighter roast technically has more caffeine in it, but it doesn't possess as strong a taste; the strong taste of an espresso, for instance, jolts people, and drinkers erroneously associate a strong flavour with more caffeine, creating a placebo effect that wakes them up. However, if I don't like the bitterness of a dark roast, I ought to try a light roast blend, armed with the knowledge that it, in fact, contains more caffeine...and so hopefully I'll get the full chemical and placebo combo. Or I could stick with my overpriced tea drink.

Anthology II

Apparently I am to deal with some of the anthology business with confidentiality, so I will not be able to tell you many details about the publishing. Instead, I will maybe talk to you some more about editing others' work.


My peers have told me that sometimes they are afraid to receive essays I have edited for them, because of the intimidating amount of red ink. It has become common practice for me to draw pictures on these essays to lighten the mood and give them something to look forward to. You'll recall, maybe, a polar bear. Perhaps it is odd, or perhaps it isn't, but I'm often myself nervous when giving someone their edited paper. I am afraid they will be angry with me for something I have written. Perhaps they will take my criticism of their feminist argument as chauvinism; perhaps they will be upset that I did not like their word choices; perhaps my indication that their work did nothing for me will hurt them. One way or another, I worry that they will be wounded by what I say and react with ire. The thing is, I try to say things as nicely as possible, but sometimes the truth will be hurtful regardless of how you phrase it. Sometimes, too, an error they make is so offensive that I cannot but be stern with them; some of the feminist papers I have edited in the past have contained greivous attacks on all men, usually implying that men necessarily and irrepairably act in specific, stereotyped, sexist ways. This itself is evidentally a sexist argument, and I would be a poor editor if I did not point out how this undermines non-essentialist theses and alienates many readers. There have in the past been similar issues, not pertaining to sexism, as well.

Thus I have been afraid, sometimes, when editing work for the anthology. Not only am I being thorough, and thus more ruthless, but I am picking apart work that is much closer to people's hearts than essays usually are. I am combing through poetry and fiction that often contain large amounts of autobiography. A religious studies professor I had last semester said that we ought to be careful when critiquing people's religions, since a person's religion is part of their self-identity, and a critique on a religion will probably and quite reasonably be interpreted as an attack on the person. Similarly, a critique of the work of a poet may be felt by the poet as a personal attack. Say a person devoted to a particular dialect writes a poem sometimes employing that language; if I say, "I'd avoid this language, if I were you, as it undermines your authority and appears to be antagonist in this context," I could hurt them. Now, I'd not likely say something like that because I understand how dialect can relate to identity. But I don't always know what any given writer's identity consists of, and so I may inadvertently attack that self-identity through my critique of a personally meaningful piece.

I also know that my ability to be diplomatic in my criticism is hampered when I'm tired, which is inevitably the state I'm in when I write the critiques up for my peers. It always happens at the end of a long day.

So that's the bulk of the anxiety I feel about editing; I have been told that I'm a good editor, and that people appreciate my directness. This is good, but I still don't like to hurt people.

So, that covers my concerns about reception. What, though, is my philosophy of editing? How do I go about it? What methods do I bring to the table? I have recently begun to consider these questions, and have gathered the following 'answer':

Any given text includes the engagement of two different people or sets of people. The first is the author, and the second and final is the reader. The author assembles the words on the page, consciously choosing them to elicit meaning in the mind of a hypothetical reader. Scholars and artists argue about whether you can write something without a reader in mind, but I won't worry about that. The reader comes along afterwards, sees the words, formulates thoughts, and recovers meaning from the words. Perhaps the reader actually creates meaning out of the words. It doesn't matter. What does matter is that meaning results from a negotiation between the author and the reader, with the text as the medium.

[Theoretical aside, which you may skip if you aren't interested: This understanding of a text is preoccupied with meaning. I confess that this is how I automatically think of texts, as vehicles of meanings. There are other concerns, including aesthetic and affective considerations. I will clarify, then, that I understand 'meaning' to also refer to emotions and other mental, non-cognitive states. Words are meant to provoke brain-stuff. Just as 'text' is academese for 'words,' 'meaning' is just academese for 'brain-stuff.']
So we have writers, and we have readers. Do we also have editors? In some cases yes, but really not. An editor is someone who helps a writer understand how to influence a reader. An editor is like a textual shaman, negotiating the worlds of creation and reception.

I am an English major, which means practice literary analysis in school. A literary critic (and not the kind in newspapers who tells you whether a book is any good, but the kind who writes essays to explore what a text says on a less-than-surface level) is just a super-reader. A literary critic is a reader who understands how words make you think certain things, or more accurately, a reader who understands this better than most other readers. So I go to class, I read a text, I say, "This texts makes me think such-and-such about politics," and then I look at the words and figure out how. I also look at the words and see if there's anything in there that I wouldn't have noticed I'd read the first time. Sometimes we read meanings, internalize them, and not notice that we've done so. Many many people have been thinking and reading things about Aboriginal people without knowing it, and they start to believe this things without realizing it. For instance, I doubt anyone ever came out and said to you, "Native society has stayed basically the same way ever since they came over on the land bridge." No one says this, but I bet a lot of people believe it. That's because it's hidden in the things we read about Native people. Everything written about their culture talks about it as though it has gone on that way for all time. Natives are universals; they are like water and fire. This is completely untrue, of course. But so long as it's hidden in the text, assumed and taken in without anyone noticing, it's harder to articulate, harder to notice, and harder to disprove. A literary critic is someone trained to find these things and make them explicit, so we can decide whether it's something we want to believe or not. A literary critic is someone who knows how to read, and hopefully knows what to do with that skill.

I am also a writer. I write essays, rants, fiction, and sometimes poetry. I try to say assorted things to my readers. I have felt what it takes to create sentences, string words together, articulate signifieds through signifiers. I have experience in and investment in the poetic process. Word selection and ideology packaging are things I engage in.

As an editor, I try to employ the skills and perspectives afforded me by each skillset. I read a person's work and try to investigate it as I would a literary text. What does this say to me? Why does it say that? What in the structure, the word choice, etc. makes me uncover meaning the way I do? That's the reader part. Then, do I suspect that the writer wants this effect? If not, how would I, as a writer, avoid this meaning? What would I do to direct the reader toward the meaning I want (or, the meaning that I suspect the writer wants)? I report these findings and suggestions to the writer. I say, "This is what I got from your piece. This is why. If you are happy with this interpretation being possible, yay! If you are not, this is what I would do to remove that meaning from your text."

For instance, I read one piece in which a figure of speech existed as a set of similes and metaphors throughout the last stanza until the final two lines, where the conceit was revealed to have been literal, only in an unexpected way. I don't want to give away the actual piece, so for an example let's say a character frequently described as being "on fire" or "aflame," and there's an actual fire in the room. The poet is connecting the imagery of the fire with the character. And then, in the last two stanzas, we discover that the character is "flaming," slang for homosexual. This is not made apparent throughout. Alright. What this revision does is it forces the reader to rethink her previous understanding of the piece. This feels actually forcible on the reader's part. It is also powerful, and memorable. The impression the reader has is one of disruption. If you want to indicate that there is something disruptive going on in the character's situation, this technique would do it. However, if you're trying to demonstrate that there's something peaceful or calm about the character's situation, this revision will ruin the effect. Simultaneously, the moment of revision, the lines immediately surrounding the piece of information which necessitates that re-understanding, will stick in the reader's mind. The reader will remember that part quite well. So this would be the ideal place to put whatever you want the reader to get out of the story. Hit them with social justice issues, or with a particularly swashbuckling part, or a particularly raunchy part, or a particularly funny part (actual, this could create humour in itself), or a particularly scary part (again, this revision could create horror), or a particularly pretty part. Whatever you want your reader to walk away with, this would be a good place to do it, because it's memorable.

See how I did that? I took it as a reader takes it. I say, how does this make me feel? I then use my super-reader powers to determine why it does that. I then say, as a writer, would I want this in this piece? How could I use this to my advantage? How could I use this to communicate with my reader, either on a conscious or an unconscious level? That's what I do as an editor.

Wow, that's long winded. Sorry about that. Should I include pictures to make it less intimidating? Maybe I will.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Running and Reading

So yesterday I was at Running and Reading. It was fairly good; we had quite a few new coaches, but I still had the same group of kids. I'm happy about this, since I've been trying to develop relationships with them. However, we also have two new coaches helping our team, and this is a great boon. One of the girls in the group has established a gregarious-competetive relationship with me, where she seeks my attention near constantly by being difficult and disruptive. She doesn't like dealing with anyone other than me; unfortunately, she likes being contrary and selfish when she is dealing with, and this is disruptive to the group as a whole. This week she asked me if she was still in my group. She was greatly relieved when I said she was, which was flattering until she said it was because 'All the other guy coaches are weird.' Frankly, I worry about her. She has already started being troublesome among the boys her age, and I'm worried that she might try to follow similar patterns with me. Not only would that be hugely uncomfortable on my part, but the legalities of it would be terrifying. Thankfully, one of the new coaches dealt with her directly and made her read with her for the entire reading period. This meant that this girl got much more done than I could have gotten out of her. It also meant that I could engage with some of the other students without worrying about her consuming my time. While this week it wasn't as necessary, it will be a good thing once the three absent students return, as two of the absentees also require a deal of discipline/attention.

The grade ones have now entered the program, so we have two new children in our group. One, a little boy, took to following me around a little bit. He's a sweet kid, if a little preoccupied with his transformer. I think it's incredible how quickly smaller children develop attachments to people.

Overall, I'm very happy with the way this week turned out. Let's hope it keeps up.

The walk home was something else entirely. Within minutes I couldn't see through my glasses, so I had to keep my head down so I could peek over the rims of the lenses. This only helped marginally, since I'm myopic and I was walking through what sometimes were white-out conditions. The traffic was slow-moving, but I couldn't gauge how slow because the vehicles appeared to me only as headlights looming out of the flurry. Everything is fuzzy enough when I'm not looking through my glasses, and here there was no point of reference. Crossing roads was a bit of a hazard. Also, I wasn't headed straight home but rather to my small group leader's house, to pick up a book. This isn't on the way home, so I was treading new territory. It wasn't hard to find, but I did have trouble keeping track of where I was, since the street signs are often placed inconveniently if you're walking (many of the city's streets are one-way, so there are no street signs visible from certain angles). It also took me a long time. I did get home, however.

A funny thing. Three times on the way to the friend's house, a light flashed above me and to my left. At none of these times could it have been one of Kingston's haunted street lights, which turn off or on as you walk under them. All three times it could have come from a tree, Christmas lights, or the hydro poles. The light was blue-white, like lightning, and always above me and to my leff. I doubt it was either the Christmas lights or the trees, but I am not sure I'm comfortable with the thought of it being the power lines. I don't know. It was weird.

That's all of my serious news. I'm busily editing and doing course readings.

Have a good day,


Saturday, 10 January 2009

The Anthology: I

Today is my first day of intensive anthology work. I spent an hour or so here and there in the past week, but today I spent a significant amount of time with the work I have up until now received.

Alright, I'm doing that thing where I don't start at the start. In media res is a recognized epic convention, and this is an epic of a process, but I'll make it easier for you and give you the structure.

Right now we're in the preliminary stages. We have each sent to all of the other contributors a package of work from which we'd like to fill our ten pages in the anthology. Upon receiving the other contributors' packages, we are to read through what each classmate has written and rank the pieces according to how much we'd like to see them published. We send our ranking to a class facilitator, who will tally these and do assorted calculation upon them. We also edit those ten pages we have decided should go in, and send those edits to the person who wrote it. Later there will be other work, such as responding to the edits and further review of the work, plus assorted publication-type stuff which I am not yet aware of. Right now my concerns are ranking and editing.

All process is cc'd to the course coordinator.

I have read through and ranked everything I was sent as of 2 o'clock this afternoon. I also held my red pen while reading, but these pieces were polished enough that I didn't hit anything obvious. Editing will be more than just surface stuff here; we'll be combing, digging, questioning, debating options, considering order or placement. It will not only be, is everything technically correct?, but, is everything the best of all possible alternatives? My eyes already hurt.

I will not reveal very much about the content here, because I have other people's senses of privacy and anticipation to worry about. What I will say is that I am concerned the anthology will be too moody as a whole, that we are all clambering on little soap boxes and yelling things, not too concerned that we will be all yelling over top of each other, our unique furies jumbling and piling so that the overall impression is raw and unhelpful indigination. I have kept this in mind when ranking. Things get points simply for being happy, pretty, not emo, or not outraged-social-activist. That's not to say that everything outraged-social-activist gets shut down--I try to bring these to the fore--but I consider what amount of awareness or change can be enacted by the pieces, and if all I see is foam, it loses it points. Now, nothing I've read is all foam, don't get me wrong. I mean this only comparatively.

I have also begun to discover the possibility of friction between literary styles/theories of art. Friction over punctuation controversy might also arise (all hail the serial comma!), but that could really only lead to inconsistencies from one author to another, which is harldy uncommon. What might be more problematic is the fundamental issue of whether the reader needs to understand a piece of literature. One of the two longer prose pieces I included in my package revolved around a boy who has what is essentially a mystical experience. The boy doesn't understand this experience. Neither has any reader so far. Not even the author fully understands it. Someone suggested that this may be a problem. Why, I was asked, are particular visions/revelations included? They seem off the plot. Another piece met similar, though actually different, criticism. This poem (a rant with line breaks, really) is ladden with religious, philosophical, commercial, and scientific language, and makes use of such disparate sources as Catholic theology, the law of parsimony, and commercial advertising. Hardly anyone I know will understand each piece of jargon, or follow each turn of phrase to its originating artifact. Is it necessary that the reader follow each and every reference, or does a comprehension of the mood and direction of the piece suffice? On the other hand, I have pieces which anyone who knows what a skunk is will understand, or anyone who can believe the craziness of Fort McMurray will follow easily. So do I not include the pieces which have bits you won't immediately or ever understand?

This changes, of course, with some of the pieces other people sent me. In mine, at least it is usually only particular parts or words that aren't understood, and in the one the fact that it cannot be understood is relevant to the story as a whole. That is, the visions themselves may not be wholly intelligible, but the rest of the narrative hopefully is--and there are fewer visionary passages than non-visionary passages. Some of the work other people have sent me seems somehow more generally opaque. I understand each bit, but I don't understand how or why the bits are gathered as they are. This is not to say it wasn't well written and observant, but simply that I could not determine why it was I was reading this, or what I was to take from it. For some people, this is perfectly acceptable in art. Comprehension, to them, is not a requirement for appreciation. To others, if you cannot understand it in one reading--and by understand I mean at least grasp the gist of it, and have no need to read it again to discuss it intelligently--then art has failed its purpose. I tend to think that you should be able to draw at least enough to be satisfied with one reading, but there should also be stuff in there to dig out if you care to. However, those who wrote things that offered me no unified sense of meaning after three readings would likely disagree. To certain people, a clump of words (or paint, or clay) is art if it makes you think about it, and that is all. (Well, I'd agree with that. I just wouldn't think it's good art if that's all it did.)

And then there's the question of how much implicit information should be available, etc. But that's more technical and less based on fundamental definitions of the value of art.

Another thing I've noticed is how jaded I am about child abuse in literature. I see a character who either grew up in a threatening environment or is growing up in a threatening environment, and my immediate reaction is, "That's cliché." Child abuse is cliché, or at least child abuse in art is. How awful is that?

Other than the fact that all of those parts of me which are required in reading, scribbling, and typing (eyes, fingers, brain) hurt right now, I must say that I am enjoying this progress somewhat. It is exciting, and my cohorts are skilled with words, so there is truly excellent writing ahead of me. I still have some editing before I go out to a club tonight (I know!).

Later, you lot,

English Clergyman

Friday, 9 January 2009


Adapted from an xkcd comic:

Imagine you heard from someone that Snopes was organizing a massive conspiracy operating through the spread of misinformation. How would you prove it wrong?

Thursday, 8 January 2009


I... I'm finished Questionable Content. I don't know...

I'll have to write a post this weekend about it.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

In Other News

The course blog started up. Technically it's all under English Clergyman aka Christian H, but that could change. I think it's still possible to be part of the course blog under a different account than the one with which I manage this blog. I'll talk to the prof, perhaps, and see if that's advisory.

I need to see if I can break into Watson and retreive courseware. It would be nice if I could do readings tomorrow morning.

With each passing month my dependence on computers becomes more and more entrenched in me. It's becoming depressing. Hopefully a real life kicks in again. I've been away from a social life for too long...

Could I Have Some Havarta?

I hear it goes well with whine...

1) I spent 3+ hours reading QC today. Seriously. I have lost control of my life to a webcomic. What is wrong with me?
2) I now want my life to be like a QC strip. I was mildly sarcastic on a fellow blogger's wall (tip my hat to Sam), which is par for the course if this were real life, but I'm really trying to make sure I'm not a jerk on the Internet. Someone has to, and it might as well be me.
3) I'm also pretty sure I have a massive crush on Hanners, the disadvantages to which being that she's not real, being a QC character, and phobic of physical contact anyway.
4) I'm whining on the Internet, which makes part of me want to break all of my own fingers so I can't type any more.
5) Which means I'm spiralling into a pit of negativity.

So! Constructive happiness exercise! No more unhappy!

1) As soon as a friend has come and then gone with a housie to Psych (tip my hat to Cait), I will go to the public library and read gay male erotica.
2) I am actually only reading gay male erotica as part of my homework. Long story. I'll tell you some time. But it's funnier if you don't tell people that at first.
3) I will go do that, which counts as homework, which will make me feel better.
4) I will buy a Coke, which will do nothing for my belt size or acne, but it will also make me feel better.
5) I will make sure I read some Stardust before I go to bed.
6) I will also try to spend time finishing Questionable Content so that I will have that distraction pared down to 5 comics a week. When I have thousands of comics to read on the archives (I've been reading them in order), I don't run out of material quickly.
7) So all is good! Yay! Whine-time is over!

I feel like I should say something amusing and great for my readers (except, let's be honest, I wrote the above to be amusing, not to confide on-line or something (except maybe the Hanners part. That needed confessing)).

Hmmm. Amusing and great. Let's see...

Yeah. Got nothing right now. Sorry, studio audience.


Tuesday, 6 January 2009


1: Anonymity The first bit of news is that my anonymity has been stripped almost away, now that I've changed my name on Blogger. A course in which I am enrolled will shortly have a class blog on which we are expected to communicate. I had the choice of giving my school e-mail address as my blogger account, or to give an existing account address. After some thought I chose to give my existing address, in the name of Internet persona continuity and with the hopes of luring classmates to my blog. Reasons I might not included the delicate balance between the professionalism of the classroom and the far less formal approach I take here, and the requirement of exposing my identity here. I will grant that this blog seems less informal than some, but it's also not exactly university-level academia, either.

2: Publication The second bit of news is something I withheld in the name of anonymity. There is now no point in keeping it secret. I will be published in an anthology of short work this coming April. In the next month I have a considerable amount of work preparing material for this anthology and editing my co-authors' material. After this I will have responsibilities in preparing for the book launch, but these next few weeks will be the most hectic. By and large nothing that I will have in the anthology will be posted here, as I've been keeping it secret and safe from public eyes for this auspicious moment. Perhaps you will hear more about that process as time goes on. Just so you know, the anthology will be entitled Lake Effect 4, and published by the Artful Codger Press. Carolyn Smart will be listed and compiler and editor. Before you get too excited, it's limited printing and not-for-profit (which means no royalties whatsoever).

3: Absence The above posts, primarily the publication one, may mean I will be going through a posting hiatus for a little while. My apologies. I will still post for time to time, but these posts may not be quite as interesting, either. Between the insane amount of work I have on my plate and the fact that I must to some extent contribute to another blog will take a lot out of me, particularly my creativity.

4: Webcomic My new-found addiction to reading webcomic archives may also contribute to my absence here. I have become extraordinarily hooked on reading Questionable Content. The artwork isn't superb, but I'm amused by the style of humour and attached, very much, to the characters. I understand that QC operates on some level as wish-fulfilment for any shy nerd, but I also find that the female characters are just as intriguing and engaging. This webcomic deserves a proper review from me at some point, but that point is not now. As a parting note, though, I find I have lately become attracted to specialized, also snobby or esoteric webcomics: xkcd and their emphasis on programming, physics, and advanced mathematics; Penny-Arcade and their inhabitation of the video game industry; Questionable Content and their music snobbery, literary and philosophical allusions, and general Pop Nerd references. My only desire is that I were to be funny enough and good enough an artist that I could produce my own wildly-popular-yet-esoteric webcomic, as these successfully have.

5: Readings It is after 4:30 and I still have several pages to read for tomorrow, so I should end this post now and hop on that. Hope to hear from you!

P.S. 6: Comments I am impressed/confused about the commenting popularity for the Wall-E post. People've been quiet lately, and then 2/3 of my commenters said something about Wall-E. Even Kay, who's spoken here only once before, commented. Cuh-raziness.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Movie Review: Wall-E

Pixar's Wall-E, as I understand it the last of the great films conceived in the Toy Story, Finding Nemo, etc. night, is certainly a wonder in execution and personality. It is, as expected, perfectly delightful. It contains everything you'd expect of a kid's flick these days, with love, companionship, adventure, misfits, environmental ruin (and redemption), and silliness.

It also carries a bit of commentary with it that was perhaps surprising. There is a fair amount of sting against rampant consumerism; the attack, though, is not on the corporations so much as the consumers. The megacorporation Buy & Large seems responsible for the destruction of the Earth, but the effects we see of it are the idiotic, selfish, unobservant, and bloated human population of the space cruise, served by the mechanized robot crew. While the movie is enjoyable, the picture it paints of humanity's future is bleak, and happily it does not posit technology as the answer.

Overall, though, these messages are only evident to someone trying to pick up the ideology. It is subservient to the brilliant, creative, and precise visuals, the whimsical plot, and Wall-E's little puppy-dog eyes. I can see how some jaded critic would find this movie too cute, but I didn't. What I found most fascinating is that Wall-E and Eve came with complete characters while maintaining robot-natures, determined by switches and protocols. They were both empathizable and machine; that is not an easy trick to perform.

Of course, as always with Pixar, the real show was in the visuals. The gargabe world of Earth is old, massive, and well-rusted, very believably an abandoned planetary landfill. The spacescapes were beautiful, and the inner workings of the spaceship were fascinating, if less obviously time-consuming than Earth.

This one was well-worth the hype, in my opinion.

Book Review: American Gods

[Warning: contains general descriptions, but hopefully no spoilers. Feel free to read.] As perhaps required in an urban fantasy, Neil Gaiman's American Gods is simultaneuously engaging and humourous, blending elements of epic fantasy and comedy in what is a self-consciously American novel. It is in many cases a road novel, as Gaiman claimed it would be in interviews, and as the genre of 'American novel' almost necessitates. However, it is far more than that, containing almost philosophical reminisces about life and love; the threat of epic battle and dispicable, surprising villians; hidden Harry Potter-esque magic in the modern world; enough sexy spirits and goddesses to amuse the imagination; and funny inside jokes and Munchausen references to keep it lively. Overall, I found it really enjoyable and engaging, though I was never sure what to expect.
The story revolves around a character named Shadow, who has recently been released from prison. All he wants to do is get back to his wife and live as quietly as possible from here on in, until he hears of her recent demise. On the plane to her funeral, he meets Mr. Wednesday, who seems to know far more about Shadow then is possible, and who offers Shadow employment. This begins a journey across the United States and human belief, as Shadow meets leprechauns, kobolds, dwarves, and the many gods and goddesses of old, and is drawn into the coming storm, into the war for the American heart.
There are, of course, drawbacks. As a friend of mine warned me before I read the book, there are some "what the f--- just happened?" sex scenes. The worst of them occurs right at the beginning of the book, but there are one or two odd ones following. There is also, for those of you who are concerned about this sort of thing, the obvious religious questions following the premises in this book. Put it another way, claiming that Jesus is real doesn't really placate the anti-Harry Potter/Da Vinci Code crowd too much when you also claim Odin is real and gods are created from human belief. As a religious studies major, I'm interested in the sorts of mechanisms Gaiman posits for the development of human religious belief, but that may not appeal too much to a less academically Christian (or Muslim, or Judaic) crowd. As I said, there are drawbacks. But if those two are the worst of them, it's not so bad.

My verdict: read it, if you have a taste for urban fantasy. It's funny but engaging, and if you're at all interested in mythology and religion, there's tons to keep you occupied. One of the best parts is trying to guess which characters are which mythological figures before the text makes it explicit.
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