Rules For Writers

It is generally good for a laugh to say that a professional writer has no rules. It’s not true, of course, and a number of great writers have made lists of rules which they follow with varying degrees of faithfulness. The lists might be summed up by saying that the One Great Rule of Writing is to communicate clearly. Therein lies the rub, for communication involves much more than conveying data from one brain to another; a laundry list can do that. Writers, especially fiction writers, have a host of associations connected to those data, ranging from subtle or not so subtle implications to the deepest emotions, and conveying those is a real challenge.

Available tools for that deeper and broader communication vary with the language, which partially accounts for the difficulty of translation. English has an especially wide vocabulary and variety of idioms to aid in the task (and to confuse the foreign learner). This is reflected in differences in style and usage from one English speaking country to another, American versus British for instance, and in changes over time; the writing of Hawthorne is strikingly different from Hemingway, or even Twain, though all worked in American English. Quite different products, each well communicated.

Orwell

I recently ran across an excellent discussion of the uses and abuses of language, specifically referencing political writing, authored by none other than George Orwell, one of the best writers of the 20th century. He includes some egregious examples which may evoke great groans of laughter. A link to his essay is below, but first, his list of rules:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Good rules. Let us pledge to follow them more fully. And here’s that link:

http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit/

 

Best Wishes!

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Cirque du Soleil’s “O”

Cirque du Soleil’s “O”

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We had occasion recently to see Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas. They have several shows at different venues; we went to “O” at the Bellagio. I had expected to see acrobats and dancers, not realizing that this show is water-based. Not only were the performers excellent acrobats and dancers, contortionists and mimes, gymnasts and actors,  they were world class divers, swimmers, and water-dancers as well. What a show!

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No doubt there was a greater feeling of mystery for those seated below us; we were in the balcony, but in the front so there was nothing but a large amount of air between us and the performance. When an acrobat descended from the ceiling on a chandelier at the beginning of the show, she was right in front of us. Wow!

The minor disadvantage of being high enough for spotlights to sometimes shine in our eyes was balanced by the ability to look down into the pool and see scuba divers directing traffic and supplying oxygen beneath the surface.

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Which brings me to another topic–engineering. This is a remarkable stage which one minute is deep enough to accommodate very high divers and the next is a solid surface for dancers and gymnasts to glide, twirl, or roll across. It is one thing to have a mobile stage which goes up and down, with portions that move this way and that, but quite another to move thousands of gallons of water at the same time. Bravo to the engineers, builders, and stage managers.

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Ticket prices were expensive for a little farm boy like me, though very much in line with other Vegas shows. Our balcony tickets were over $100 apiece. Nevertheless, it was well worth it to see this incredible show, a once in a lifetime experience. “O” is supposed to have a plot, by the way, all about the cycle of life and human history or something like that. Feel free to try to figure it out–the souvenir program may help. The story is very continental European, that is to say, French, hence subtle. It doesn’t really matter. The show is fantastic whatever the plot may be.

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How is that even possible? Really?

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The Lantern Light Festival

 

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We decided to celebrate the New Year by attending the Lantern Light Festival at the Puyallup State Fair Grounds on the evening of January first. It was a gorgeous display, mixing Chinese and Western themes in a beautiful blend of color and light.

The only problem was the temperature. It is an outdoor program and we were freezing the whole time, literally, except for a brief reprieve from the weather indoors at the Fair Scone stand. (Yes, yes, I know our 31 degrees is nothing compared to what is happening in the Midwest and East Coast, but still . . . ) We only caught a few minutes of the acrobat/dance performances; we simply could not stay outside that long. Our hearts go out to the performers.

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The Lantern Light Festival was scheduled to run from 24 November 2017 through 7 January 2018, but has been extended through 14 January. All in all, a most memorable evening and well worth the time to see it. Be sure to bundle up. Maybe next time they could do this in summer.

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For more details, click here.

 

Spanaway Fantasy Lights

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Among the many events and activities in the south Puget Sound area which are conducive to building the Christmas spirit is a wonderful drive-through light display at Spanaway Park. Now in its 24th year, this beautiful exhibit includes over 300 displays and thousands of lights.

We have lived in this area many years and had heard of a light display, but only last night actually went to the park to see it; it was delightful, well worth the $14 per car entrance fee (we accidentally arrived on the last night of half price admission).

For more information, call 253-798-3330 or visit www.piercecountywa.org/parks. Hours are 5:30 pm to 9:00 pm and will continue through January 1st.

 

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fantasy lights

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Utah Shakespeare

The summer season of the wonderful Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City is well underway, but there is plenty of time to add it to your vacation itinerary. This year’s selection includes Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, all perennial favorites. You may also enjoy Shakespeare in Love, an adaptation of the movie and a regional premier. Other regional premiers are Treasure Island and William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged).

On the musical side of the house is the great Guys and Dolls, subtitled A Musical Fable of Broadway. Finally, there are two world premieres, The Tavern, a comedy by George M. Cohan adapted and directed by Joseph Hanreddy, and How to Fight Loneliness by Neil LaBute, characterized as “for mature audiences”. Two of our favorites return as directors, Brian Vaughn with Shakespeare in Love and David Ivers with How to Fight Loneliness.

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The Utah festival produces consistently excellent theater. You cannot go wrong in this beautiful mountain setting, about a 50 minute drive from St. George or three and half hours from Salt Lake City. The summer season goes through September 9th, with a shorter fall season running from September 13th through October 21st.

For schedule details and to reserve tickets, go to:

https://www.bard.org/

 

Also an enticing peek at next year:

2018 will see performances of The Merry Wives of Windsor and Othello, as well as Big River, a musical adaptation of Huckleberry Finn with music by Roger Miller, bound to be a delight.

 

Best Wishes.

Education vs. Schooling

 

Years ago I published a quarterly newsletter called The Kithara. An article there pointed out the great damage done by Dewey and others when they changed education (satisfying the need of the individual for knowledge and understanding, thus creating useful and productive members of society who could think for themselves) into schooling (indoctrinating children in the current “progressive” dogma, thus creating obedient citizens who let their leaders think for them). The difference is profound.

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An Ideal Home Library

From time immemorial, education has been the responsibility of the family and basics were taught by parents, including reading as well as principles of successful living, moral uprightness, and work.  This was supplemented with tutors and schools as opportunity and resources permitted. Reading and writing were recognized as necessary for communication and to have access to the scriptures, newspapers, and literature. An educated American in the 18th and 19th centuries was expected to be familiar with The Bible, Plutarch’s Lives, and Shakespeare. This system worked well enough that literacy rates at the time of the American Revolution are estimated at over 90%, and nearly 100% in Boston.

Education was a necessary precursor for the success of the American experiment in self-government. Recognizing this fact and the need to create good citizens, local governments instituted schools to better provide for children of families without the means to hire tutors or private schools; these were the public schools. They also functioned quite well for a long time, eventually becoming nearly universal, taking over many of the educational functions of families, and displacing private teachers. Despite the best efforts of generations of devoted public school teachers to aid and protect their pupils, politicians and ideologues recognized almost from the beginning that public schools with their naïve, captive audiences could be effective tools for indoctrination and social experimentation. In the process they necessarily devoted less and less time and resources to the actual acquiring of basic knowledge and useful skills. Alas!

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Elementary School About 1924

Chester Finn, a tireless champion of school reform for many years, recently wrote a fine article about the failure of one of those social experiments that started in the late 1980s and which even now corrupts discourse on the subject. It is well worth looking at:

https://edexcellence.net/articles/schools-are-still-peddling-the-self-esteem-hoax

 

Best Wishes!

 

 

Words, words, words

Language is not only a key instrument of memory (in addition to visual, auditory, muscular, and other forms of memory), it is essential to the characterization and comprehension of the world around us. In a very real sense, we come to understand a subject only when we have learned the vocabulary, the language that describes it. This is true not only with mundane subjects like math, mechanics, or physics, but also complex matters of the heart and spirit. Understanding then leads to application. Right words have great power to help us focus our thinking, our minds, our lives, even our faith. The following recent talk is inspiring and well worth reading:

https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/mckay-christensen_lay-hold-upon-word/

 

Best Wishes.