Monthly Archives: January 2014

Quoth Rilke

Rilke’s words are wise; his language is beautiful.


With any quote that touches you, but especially Rilke, you must absorb the words; you must read them, open your eyes to them, open your heart to them, and feel what they mean to you.


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You Know What? Don’t Write What You Know

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times; we’ve had it fed to us for years. It’s what any creative writer who’s never written a story in his life says. Anyone who has never had an original or otherwise worthwhile thought on the art of writing has probably said it.

“Write what you know”—what idiot came up with that?

A Brief History of the Phrase

Like most aphorisms, it’s difficult to trace it to its source. Some credit it to Twain, some to Hemingway; certainly it has an established history at least that far back. One of the oldest, and best, quotes I came across was written by Howard Nemerov (1920-1991):

“Write what you know. That should leave you with a lot of free time.”

On Answerbag I came across a helpful person who posted a handy reference here citing several articles and authors on the adage.

You’ll notice that all the authors quoted there, and most if not all of the authors you’ll be able to find who have said anything about the adage, were active past the second half of the 19th century. Probably because up until that point in history, writers were generally smart enough to avoid trying to tell anyone how to write. Twain was a notable exception, which lends another shade of plausibility to the theory that he coined the phrase.

The Misunderstanding

Wherever it started, this platitude has been so long seized upon misconstrued by the laity, so long twisted and abused, that’s it’s true meaning is unrecognizable, buried deep in a confusion of idle misrepresentation and ignorant reinterpretation. It’s nothing now but a sad mockery of the truth.

I speak harshly; it’s not that I deny anyone their right to their opinion if they believe in this phrase in its modern meaning, but call it a pet peeve, I don’t like seeing a misunderstood “truism” forced down artists’ throats.

The Truth

Want the truth? The point the phrase is really trying to get across is, “Write what you feel.” It’s not a reprimand for writing what you’ve never seen, not a command to write about the places you’ve been or the things you’ve done, not a criticism or a rule, but a simple truth. That’s what writing is all about. Writing is a channeling of what you feel. It’s about the emotions. Anything you don’t know you can learn–but emotion can’t be taught. You have to feel it to write it. That’s the point.

In the common sense, that you must literally have knowledge of whatever you write about, I prefer to phrase it “Know what you write.” If you want to write about something you don’t know, because it’s a fitting representation of what you feel–then you research and you learn.

But the best advice I can offer you is this: ignore adages on the art of writing. As you can see, they hardly ever give you the whole story. It goes against the very art. Find your own understanding of the art, form your own opinions, and write your own rules.

Writing isn’t something you should let anyone teach you but yourself. Accept suggestions—advice—anything but rules. That’s the beauty of writing. There are no rules.

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Philosophia Venereum: Amant in Gelu

Amant in Gelu

A man learns to skate by staggering about and making a fool of himself. Indeed he progresses in all things by resolutely making a fool of himself.

– George Bernard Shaw


“It’s cold.”




“Half as beautiful as you, which is to pay it an astronomical compliment.”

“You flatterer.”

“There are few words within the human vocabulary that can be spoken of you, my sweet, and yet be considered mere flattery.”

She rolled her eyes but she smiled, and I didn’t think the color in her cheeks was entirely from the biting chill of the ice rink. As much as I would have liked to keep my eyes on her I had to return my attention to my unstable feet. I was inching my way into the rink, arms spread wide, probably looking like a flightless bird on legs of gelatin. Meanwhile, she skated graceful circles around me, coaching me.

“You’re doing fine,” she said. “The hard part is learning to get your balance.”

“I like to consider myself a defender of balance.”

Feeling bolder, I threw one of my feet out in front in an attempt to pick up speed. I made it about three feet on my skates and eleven more on my face. It was worth it to hear her wind-chime laughter echoing through the dome. Still trilling, she slid to my side and offered me a hand.

“Are you sure this is your first time?”

“Painfully positive.”

“You fell like a natural,” she teased.

“Why, thank you, my dear; I like to consider myself a natural, even if only a natural disaster.”

Pulling me to my feet, she offered, “Here. Hold my hand. It will help.”

“Don’t have to ask me twice.”

Another fifteen minutes went by, and on the strength of her guidance and assistance I began to get accustomed to the strange feeling of standing on butcher knives, and had successfully skated a full circle around the rink, falling only twice, bringing her down with me only once. Another fifteen minutes passed and we had gone around the rink another dozen times.

“Do you know something?” I said. “This is fun.”

“Isn’t it?”

“It’s difficult for me to admit this—but I’ll swallow my pride. This was a great idea, and a better way to have a date, even, than some of my past ideas.”

“Are you referring to the—”

“I believe we agreed not to talk about that since we paid off the broken vase.”

“Right.” She hid a smile. “I just hope this teaches you something. We can have normal dates, too, and still enjoy ourselves!”

“And I can still find something to philosophize about. Figure skating makes a beautiful metaphor.”

She mumbled, “You could philosophize about a paperclip.”

“As a matter of fact—”

“Please! Not right now.”

“Right. Let’s focus on the metaphor of figure skating.”

“Actually, I’d rather just focus on the act of skating.”

“C’mon, can’t I please? Just a little?”

She sneered her exasperation. Behind it, however, her eyes twinkled. “Fine.”

Photo Credit: ffela via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ffela via Compfight cc (altered)

I took both her hands and swept into a spiral. I tottered and nearly fell but she saved me, and using each other as counterweights we twirled together on the ice.”They say life is a dance,” I began. “Well, I’ll agree with that, so far. Love is, too. But not true love. True love is something different. It’s so close to the same thing—and yet it’s so far. But if you don’t look closely enough, you can’t even tell. It’s a subtle thing. It’s more than just moving your feet to a melody and timing each move to the rhythm. It’s not as simple as holding each other close and trying to work together at the same pace. That’s what dancing is about. But love—true love—is all that and more. True love is like figure skating in a pair.”

“I think I see where you’re going. I watch figure skating whenever I get the chance, and I especially like to see the pairs. They really have to work hard to stay together and time everything just right. Dancing is—well, I mean, it’s dancing. Professional ballroom dancers are incredible, I would never argue with that, but, well, there’s a reason it’s not an olympic event. It doesn’t take as much of the same stuff as figure skating. The thing about figure skating is that the ice will carry you much farther than your feet would. Sometimes that means rushing along at a faster pace than you could keep up with on your own, and sometimes you can just glide slowly and easily along without much effort, and sometimes you have to push to pick up speed. But when you’re skating with a partner—it’s not about keeping pace, it’s about helping each other and staying together as the paces change.” She shrugged with a trill and said, “So I can definitely see what you mean—true love is that way, too. It’s not two people trying to stay at the same pace, but two people supporting each other through all the changes of pace.”

I nodded eagerly, beaming. “What could I possibly add to that?”

A smirk crawled across her face. “You’ll think of something.”

“Well, all I can say is that you’re exactly right. Life, as in the act of living, can be like a dance. But life, the world around us—it’s like the ice in a skating rink.”

I let go of one of her hands and we slid to a halt. With one hand, I gestured over the ice.

“When you dance together, it’s just the two of you and nothing else. Throw anything more complicated into the mix, and they lose it. When you skate together, it’s the two of you together against the ice. It’s not so simple. It’s much more complicated.”

“I think the biggest difference is that dancing is fifty-fifty. Figure skating is about each of the partners giving one hundred percent.”

“You have to, to dance together against the ice.”


“True love . . . it’s all about a man and a woman, body and soul in tune; one heart, one mind, one will, united for a common goal, with a common enemy. . . . Then again . . .” I cut a slow circle around her and then came to a stop in front of her. “Is it about working against the ice, or working with it?”

“That’s a good point.”

I put my arms around her and she put her arms around me and we enjoyed that common and not altogether unpleasant show of affection called a Hug.

“Are you feeling more comfortable on the ice?”

“As long as I’m with you.”

“Good. Do you think you’re ready to try without the double-bladed training skates now?”

The End


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2013 End of Year Book Survey

The Perpetual Page-Turner hosts a questionnaire asking bloggers to review their year in books. Through the Ambage, I was forced convinced to fill it out. Here were my answers:

1. Best Book You Read In 2013? (If you have to cheat you can break it down by genre if you want or 2013 release vs. backlist)

I’ll just break this into two genres; fiction and non-fiction. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald for fiction; The Conquest of Fear by Basil King for non-fiction (but I have to mention Walking by Henry David Thoreau as runner-up).

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didnt?

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013?

The Big Four by Agatha Christie.

5. Best series you discovered in 2013?

Probably The Lord of the Rings (I said with a shamed face), although I’ve only read The Hobbit so far (said I with an even more shamed face).

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?

Mary Shelley.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

Behind My Mask by Kirn Hans.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

One of the mysteries of my reading life has always been that I have rarely found a book “unputdownable,” though I loved one ever so much; The Tale of Despereaux was 2013’s top exception.

9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

I know of a certainty that I will read both Frankenstein and The Conquest of Fear next (this!) year.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?

I don’t judge books by their covers. ButI was fond of this cover for Perelandra.

11. Most memorable character in 2013?

Easily Amory Blaine, This Side of Paradise, apparently a previous incarnation of my soul.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

You’re killing me. I’ll pick The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013?

In different ways, This Side of Paradise, The Conquest of Fear, and Frankenstein had the most dramatic impacts on me.

14. Book you cant believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read?

The Hobbit.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?

Have mercy on me! This would take days to decide. I’ll go with two lines out of a poem in The Hobbit:

Follow, follow, stars that leap
Up the Heavens cold and steep

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

Without going into the technicalities of a novel versus a novella, Heart of Darkness (approx. 70 – 100 pp.) would be the shortest book of fiction I’ve read; The Good Earth (357 pp.) would be the longest.

17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It?

Just like it’s rare that a book is “unputdownable” to me, it’s rare that I read a book I’m not dying to talk to somebody about. Prime example of the year? The Secret Garden, I guess (yes, again!).

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Aguirre and Luna of Luna Benamor broke my heart; Mike and Ellie of Endless Night twisted it and rent it and kind of tore it up into shreds.

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author Youve Read Previously

Perelandra, the best Lewis I’ve read to date (I really need to get around to That Hideous Strength!)

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

The Secret Garden . . . again. Recommended by a good friend (my respect for her opinions has gone up even more, if possible).

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?

Easily mystery, mostly (if not solely) books from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?

I’m brave enough to answer this. Sallie McBridge of Dear Enemy by Jean Webster stole my heart.

23. Best 2013 debut you read?

Behind My Mask by Kirn Hans (notwithstanding that it was the only debut I read).

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?

Perelandra again. The Hobbit, close second.

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?

The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices was pure, hilarious fun.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?

I don’t cry over books very often; but I’ll be honest, I had an emotional breakdown after finishing Endless Night.

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?

Walking by Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau had a beautiful way of looking at the world, but his thoughts and writings were sadly unappreciated during his lifetime.



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Plan on Winging It

by Karen Arnold

by Karen Arnold

Better yet, do you want to know my secret to getting things done?

It’s a simple secret, but it works for me.

Don’t make plans.

That’s my secret. Nothing profound, just a simple secret that works for me, and might work for you.

Take New Year’s. I didn’t take time aside to reflect on the passing year, and I didn’t waste it looking ahead, either, because I had too much to do in the present. So I concentrated on the moment. Like I was talking about yesterday, my goal is to take things one day at a time, and work my way forward.

Did you read what I just said there? My goal. That’s important. That’s vital to what I’m talking about here. I don’t make plans, I set goals. Because life is constantly changing and plans have to be altered; and if I spent all my time fine-tuning and adjusting my plans, I’d never have time to be doing what I had planned to do.

Set goals, have an idea where you’re headed, take a road map to guide your way; but you still have to get there step by step. You can’t foresee all the potholes and roadblocks, or the roses to stop and smell along the way.

Unless you’re one of those inhuman people (and I admit I have a lot of respect for them, but I’m not one) who rigidly stick to an organized plan and can’t live without one, don’t plan every step of the way. Don’t look ahead to what has to be done, and don’t look back on what hasn’t been done. Look around you, right now, at what you’re doing.


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Changing This Year

Another year has passed, and taken memories with it. Some good, others bad. Successes, failures . . . regrets?

What do you regret? Are there some things you did in the past year that you’re not so proud of? Are there things you didn’t do you wish you had? If you could live the year over again . . . what would you change?

by George Hodan

by George Hodan

Well, that’s a stupid question. We can’t live the year over again. So why bother asking? What can we say? We can’t go back and change things now. We can only change the future.

Wait, no, where’d that logic come from? How can we change the future? Can we see it? Can we touch it? Can we reach out and just by waving our hands, decide what will happen?

No. Sailors don’t reach the horizon just by looking at it and blinking. Go ahead, keep your eyes on the horizon, and try to ignore the fact that while you’re walking toward it you’re getting wet. Those are just tears of achievement. No, you’re not drowning, you’re just, um – are you all right? Should I call someone?

Keep Your Eyes on the Road

We need to stop watching the horizon, and watch where we’re walking instead.

I never make New Years’ Resolutions. Know why?

I learned pretty quickly what most people ignore for a long time. They’re never kept.

Honestly, where did this ridiculous tradition come from? Somehow, just because we have to buy a new calendar and get used to writing a different number when we’re dating our checks, that gives us a greater ability to make resolutions and stick to them? Admittedly, it works for some people; I guess it gives them a psychological edge. I don’t know. But you’re with me, right? It’s never worked for us, has it?

You know what’s worked for me? Making a resolution when I need to, any old dang day of the year.

I don’t wait for the end of the year. I don’t wait at all. Instead of saying “This year, I’m going to–“ or even “Tomorrow, I’m going to–” I say “Today, I’m going to—-and I’m going to get it done.”

And does it always work?


Don’t Change Then. Change Now.

I’m not perfect. Nobody is. This is something we all need to work at. It’s not something you give up on. You just don’t. You don’t put it off, you don’t let yourself lose motivation, you don’t wait for a psychological edge that fades for another 365 days.

I believe it’s as simple, and as hard, as the old adage says.

You have to live life one day at a time.

You want to make a change? Make it now. Remember when you were a stubborn child who wanted everything their way, and didn’t want to wait for it? Channel that inner child. There are things beyond our control, and things we don’t have to wait for, this is true; but sometimes, too often, there are things within our control, but we get lazy and put them off. What can I control, if I can’t control myself? I just need to do it.

Don’t put it off. Be a stubborn child with yourself. What do you want? Throw a tantrum until you get your way with yourself, and don’t wait for it.

That’s the secret. It’s not always an easy thing, and I have as much trouble with it as anyone; but I work at it.

Are you ready to change? The world’s waiting, and so are you. So change now.


Categories: Imagining a Better World | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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