Free-For-All Friday

The world is a little less funky today. RIP Prince.  Let’s party like it’s 1999, just one more time.  (Oh, the hair!)

 

 

Bye, Andrew Jackson. Hello, Harriet Tubman. Harriet Tubman will grace the front of the US $20.

This Modern Love podcast moved me to tears: “My First Lesson in Motherhood” about a woman’s almost immediate challenges with a daughter adopted from China. Listen to it here.

I’ve been catching up on Maria Shriver’s Architects of Change series. Maria Shriver shares interesting conversations with some interesting people: Debbie Allen, Seth Rogen, and Russell Simmons to name a few.  And, her site is looking for contributors. I know a few of you have work that would be a perfect fit. Share your story here.

We’re always on the lookout for inspirational stories (approximately 800-1,000 words) and you are invited to share yours. Have you had a transformative life experience that has led to compelling life lessons or a powerful life mission?

 

This week, Reggie and I spent a beautiful spring day on our roof deck.  He ate the plants and I enjoyed the view of the Manhattan skyline.

Reggie

 

Hope you’re enjoying fine spring days wherever you are.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

Nature Calls: Sea Turtles

A few days ago I was caught in the Internet Vortex of Strange And Useless Stuff (familiar with this place?) when I stumbled across a charming sea-turtle’s-eye-view clip. I realized that everything I knew about sea turtles was gleaned from Crush in Finding Nemo. I figured most of them don’t speak like surfer dudes, so I wanted learn more about these venerable reptiles that have been around for 150 million years.

Sea turtles inhabit all salt water areas of the world, traveling thousands of miles between foraging areas and nesting sites. One female logged a 12,000-mile roundtrip from Papua New Guinea to the Northwestern US. How they migrate is still a mystery. One theory suggests they use the earth’s magnetic fields.

 

Green Sea Turtle

A green sea turtle at the New England Aquarium. © Lorianne DiSabato

There are seven species of sea turtles: green, hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback, olive ridley, Australian flatback, and Kemp’s ridley. All are endangered or threatened. More on this in a moment.

Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea), the largest of all sea turtles, can weigh nearly 1,000 pounds and measure more than 60 inches, but most are in the 100-pound range.

They eat mainly jellyfish and seaweed, but also feast on squid, barnacles, and sea anemones. Adult green turtles (Chelonia mydas) are solely herbivores, eating seagrass and algae.

 

Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Hawksbill Sea Turtle. © Caroline Rogers for US Fish & Wildlife Service

 

Non-exclusive arrangements

Sea turtles live anywhere from 50-80 years, but don’t become mature until 20 or 30 years old. Males never leave the ocean, while females come ashore only to lay eggs on beaches. (Except green sea turtles. Occasionally they can be seen sunbathing near albatross nesting sites.)

As nesting season begins, females often mate with several males. She stores the sperm for several months, meaning the eggs will be fertilized by many different males. In one season, she may lay between 65-180 eggs. This sounds like a lot of eggs, but many of the tiny hatchlings won’t survive the short but treacherous journey from sandy nest to the sea. Predators, from gulls to crabs to humans, lie in wait.

Leatherback hatchlings

Leatherback hatchlings at the Mabibi Beach, South Africa. © Jeroen Looyé

Endangered

The recent past has not been kind to sea turtles. Humans have built condos on their nesting sites, then installed glaring lights, disturbing their rhythms. (Beach lights are disorienting to hatchlings, causing them to stray inland instead of going to the sea.)  Fishing nets continue to ensnare them. Sea turtles face a unique kind of threat from climate change. It alters sand temperatures at turtle nesting sites, which affects the sex of hatchlings. The warmer it is, the more females in that clutch of eggs.

But…a small victory!  On April 4, the status of green sea turtles in Florida and Mexico was downgraded from endangered to threatened. I know this isn’t much, but it’s a step in the right direction. The population has rebounded from a handful to just over 2,200. This increase took nearly 40 years, so they’re not out of the woods. Efforts are being made to protect nesting grounds and reduce the use of fishing nets along coastlines worldwide. In the Mediterranean, South Pacific, and West Pacific, green sea turtles are still endangered.

Now for the clip that inspired this post…this female green sea turtle will take you on a quick tour of the Great Barrier Reef.

To learn more about sea turtles, visit the Sea Turtle Conservancy.

Authorial Intrusion: He Admonished Gravely

How do you choose your next book to read? It’s a difficult question to answer, right? Some mysterious mixture of serendipity, subconscious awareness, and mood comes together to make me pull a specific book off the shelf and say, “Yes, this one.”

A few weeks ago, I knew I’d be entering a busy period between work and teaching, and I wanted to read something that wasn’t too demanding. Something that would envelope me like a hot cup of tea or make me smile like an old episode of Happy Days.

My eye landed on Anne of Green Gables.  The perfect choice! I hadn’t read it since I was a girl. Now I’ve been whisked away to Prince Edward Island and the Lake of Shining Waters with chatty, imaginative Anne. (That’s Anne with an “e” thank you very much.) It’s every bit as charming as I remembered.

You may be familiar with the story: the Cuthberts have decided to adopt a boy from the local orphanage to help out around their farm. When the orphanage sends Anne instead, the Cuthberts nearly return her. She’s not at all what they were looking for. Anne grows on them, staying true to herself, despite many innocent mix-ups.

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Boy, how times have changed, and I don’t only mean in terms of social norms. The craft of fiction (and nonfiction for that matter) isn’t static. It’s a living, breathing art that’s evolving. Just as the Renaissance gave way to Baroque and Celine Dion led to Idina Menzel, so too do styles in literature. We read with a 21st century mindset. I can appreciate Dickens, but my modern sensibilities balk at pages (literally) of description of fog. (Note: if you find fog intriguing, Dickens is your guy.)

I noticed this as I was reading Anne of Green Gables. The way Montgomery told the story of a young orphan girl is different from the way John Green or Rainbow Rowell would tell the same story today. Some are subtle and some are glaring. One that stood out immediately was dialogue. While these dialogue tags were commonplace in early modern stories, they are discouraged now, and for good reason.

  • “It’s so nice to be appreciated,” sighed Anne rapturously.
  • “I’ll try to be a model pupil,” agreed Anne dolefully.
  • “I don’t think there’s much chance of you dying of grief as long as you can talk, Anne,” said Marilla unsympathetically.
  • “I must go home,” repeated Diana, stupidly but determinedly.
  • “Now please help yourself, Diana,” she said politely.
  • “It was dreadful of me to forget,” said Anne apologetically.

I could go on. About half of the dialogue used tags other than “said” or added an adverb to describe how the dialogue was spoken. It was all I could do not to get a red pen and mark up the book.

As author Elmore Leonard said (only partially tongue in cheek), “Never use an adverb to modify the verb said… he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.”

So why bother reading classics? We may not want to emulate the omniscient POV or the abundance of adverbs, but classics are classics for a reason. They provide a snapshot of a time and place and writing style.We learn what was important to people in the Jazz Age or what life was like in mid-19th century Russia because someone put ink to paper. They are a conversation between author and reader, who may have lived thousands of miles and hundreds of years apart. We can still find value in the conversation.

And styles have a habit of coming back around. That’s why I’m still holding onto my circa-1983 Madonna lace gloves. You never know.

What was the last classic novel or essay you read?

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Why We Read: To Be Convinced

About a dozen years ago, Anthony Doerr went to Rome on a prestigious fellowship to the American Academy. He and his wife packed their six-month-old twin boys to spend a year in the Eternal City. (He received news of the fellowship the day they got home from the hospital!) He had been given the gift every writer dreams of: time. He would be able to devote himself to writing whatever he wanted, no strings attached. His main project was an epic WWII novel with alternating characters: a blind Parisian girl fleeing the Nazi occupation and a German boy whose knack for radio electronics brought him the attention of the Hitler Youth.

Doerr would eventually finish that novel and win the Pulitzer Prize. But that lay years into the future. For now, he was in Italy and recording his thoughts into a memoir called Four Seasons in RomeNote: if you loved the descriptions in All the Light We Cannot See, this book will delight you. I mean, it’s ROME!

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But…it’s also Rome. It’s difficult to convince me that there is something new to uncover. People have been writing about Rome since the Etruscans. How will I not be pummeled with meaningless adjectives and cliches I’ve read a thousand times? How will I not drown in melodrama?

The answer, I’ve come to realize, is that the writer has to change my relationship to the subject in a surprising and convincing way. To do this, she first has to develop a unique relationship to the subject herself. I think Doerr often does a terrific job with this. Rome is, he writes, “an iceberg floating beneath our terrace, all its ballast hidden beneath the surface.”

The next step is to select the right details and put them into the right places in the story. Easier said than done, I know. Later in Four Seasons in Rome, Doerr writes:

Every story seeks, in Emerson’s words, the invisible and imponderable: faith, loss, emotional contact. But to get there, oddly enough, the storyteller must use the visible, the physical, the eminently tangible. The reader, first and foremost, must be convinced.

And details, the right details in the right places are what do the convincing…These details are carefully chosen. They are there to reinforce majesty, divinity, to ensure us that what is said to be happening actually is happening.

[The writer] hunts down the most vivid details and links them in sequences that will let her reader see, smell, and hear a world that seems complete in itself. She builds a stage set and painstakingly hides the struts and wires and nail holes. Then she stands back and hopes that whoever might come to see it will believe.

I come to a novel, short story, memoir or essay because I want to be surprised and convinced. I’m ready to give the writer every benefit of the doubt, so I’m willing to suspend my disbelief. In other words, I’m hoping to make a new discovery, even about a place, a time, an event I know. And, let’s face it, in this Internet age, knowing is a few mouse clicks away. Every story has been told. How can the writer make something commonplace new again? That’s the promise of what lies beneath the cover of every book.

As a reader, what surprises and convinces you?

Have a great weekend, everyone!   

 

Free-for-all Friday

Let’s try an experiment. I’m going to give $100 to you, a loyal reader of this blog. But there’s a catch. (Isn’t there always?) You have to share it with another blog reader. He or she will decide how to split the money. If you accept the deal, you both get to keep the money. If you refuse, neither of you gets to keep the money.

Do you accept 50/50? Or do you insist on the larger share? (I am giving the money to you, after all.) Will you take 80/20? 99/1?

I’ve been reading Richard Thaler’s Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics — a very interesting read, despite the title. This thought experiment has a lot to say about human nature. (Writers: think characterization!)

What do you decide? Let us know in comments.

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