Thursday Three #37

  1. This article nicely condenses a lot of what I’ve been thinking in the past few weeks into a small package. The theory is that killers such as Adam Lanza, the Columbine shooters, and now Devin Kelley, did what they did primarily because of our culture, which is becoming more and more devoid of genuine human connection. We have lost genuine human connection because of automation and technology. We can do tasks such as check out at a grocery store and check in at a hotel without any human connection whatsoever. This can lead to feeling isolated, which can lead to irrational resentment and hatred, which, combined with guns, untreated/undiagnosed mental illness, a toxic upbringing, or any other number of factors, can lead to mass murders.
  2. Here’s another good article about why reading literature matters. The article is geared toward college students, but it’s an excellent reminder to not let your reading habit fall by the wayside. Read widely, and you will grow in knowledge and wisdom.
  3. Sorry for the shameless self-promotion, but I wrote a blog post for the American Medical Writers’ Association. The purpose of it was to advertise an open session my colleague and I presented at a conference a couple weeks ago. I believe it’s the first time I’ve written a blog post for something that isn’t this blog, so that’s a kind of milestone. 🙂 If you’re into writing grant submissions and proposals or that’s something you do regularly, you may find it interesting.

How is your week going?

The Morning Brain Dump

My NaNoWriMo “novel” isn’t much of anything. It’s about a bazillion words too short, and I doubt I catch up, but what I have so far is making me happy. It’s more or less a massive brain dump, in which bits of fiction and nonfiction are interspersed with no organization whatsoever. In other words, if I thought it, I wrote it. If I suddenly thought of something entirely different from what I was writing previously, I made a new paragraph and wrote that, too.

There aren’t any rules, so the “novel” is filled up with stuff like this:

He once smoked. When he blew the ring of smoke out of his mouth, I could see through it and into your eyes. You were probably smoking the same cigarette, breathing the same air, just halfway across town and standing in a different Walmart, a different strip mall, beside a different pickup truck.

I’m hoping that one of these odd snippets can be the basis for a story, or get me back on track with the story I was writing, but most of them are attempts to figure something out. (Although I don’t know what that something is.) If I don’t think while I write, there’s a good chance the writing and the feelings behind it are genuine because they are coming directly from my subconscious mind.

It’s liberating to write that way, without consciously thinking about it. You sometimes find things that surprise you. One technique for writers is called the Morning Pages, in which you write three pages a day in a stream of consciousness. It’s supposed to get your brain started, and from what I’ve experienced, it works. So I’m treating this NaNo like the Morning Pages.

How’s your NaNoWriMo going?

Snippets of “History”

Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke is an interesting take on the beginnings of World War II. The nonfiction book is written in short paragraphs, each detailing a minor event that led up to January 1, 1942 (right after the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into the war). Because the book was written in such a fragmentary way, it was easy to read and absorb. The little pieces stood alone, but they eventually coalesced and formed a whole that explained the author/compiler’s* thesis: Pacifism is the way to go. World War II could easily have been prevented. World leaders like Churchill and Roosevelt were just as corrupt and prejudiced as Stalin and Hitler.

I didn’t agree with that viewpoint, and I didn’t like the portrayal of Roosevelt as a racist who loved funding the creation of weapons as he sat around playing with his stamp collection and Churchill as a fat lazy wordsmith who did nothing more than plot innocent people’s demise and smoke cigars. The book had several perspectives from pacifists such as Mahatma Gandhi, but the pacifists seemed as though they were clearly in the minority. I don’t think passive, nonviolent resistance would have a stopped a demon like Hitler, who was so fixated on his ill-conceived ideology that outside perspectives would never have deterred him.

As much as the content of the book bothered me, the style in which it was written was well done and dramatic. Most of the little sections had an exact date in them, like, “It was June 15, 1941,” and the small details added a lot to the overall story and brought humanity to the characters. For instance:

A couple, Hans Hirschfeld and Inge Korach, were to be married in Berlin. It was fall 1941. They picked up their mothers early in order to get to the marriage office on time. The small room reserved for Jewish weddings was open only from eight to nine o’clock in the morning. The civil servant moved some flowers from the Aryan room to the Jewish room to make things look more festive.

I was a little disappointed that the book didn’t go all the way through the end of the war. I thought that there might be a sequel, but based on the author’s premise of pacifism, a sequel wouldn’t be needed. Once America entered the war, there was no turning back.

I would recommend this book if you’re tired of the “traditional” history books and want a different perspective on World War II, but if you admire Roosevelt and Churchill and don’t want to read anything about them that might piss you off, I wouldn’t read this book.

*Most of the small paragraphs and snippets came from the New York Times, so some might consider the book more a compilation than true “writing.” Some other readers said that they felt that the quotes might have been taken out of context as well.