Who be me and mean

Satire is underrated. Also hard to do. And often misunderstood. So, who’s the great satirist now?

The trouble with satire is that half the people aren’t smart enough to get it (Huck Finn, anyone?), a quarter of the people will get it and be pissed off, and a quarter of the people will get it and chuckle and nod and not do anything about it.

Has satire moved away from its real purpose–to shame people into changing–and erred on the side of humor instead? Is it because humor is easier? Safer? Politically less volatile? Is Stephen Colbert really just a clown? A very good comedian?

Isn’t there a line between satire and parody? Isn’t one more complex and intelligent than the other?

Is The Onion as close as we have to genuine satire? It would have been very easy for them to go down the comedic road of cheap laughs and never look back, but for the most part haven’t they done a pretty swell job, even if it is getting old?

Can you do satire on a daily basis? What isn’t proper fodder for such treatment?

Jonathan Swift, sure. Chaucer. What about Garry Trudeau? And by extension South Park? And then Jonathan Coulton and John Hodgman? Everyone named John?

Must it be more than one’s tongue embedded in cheek?

Should Animal Farm be classified as satire? 1984? Is satire easier to do in science fiction? Is it even technically possible? Can you satirize something that doesn’t actually exist yet? Or is the human condition what’s always really being satirized, regardless of the setting? Is that too simple?

Who is taking the easy way out? Who isn’t? Who is the real live eminent satirist of our time?

It’s not Tom Wolfe, is it? Tell me it’s not Tom Wolfe. No offense to his work. But the white suit.

And why are there no women mentioned in this post? Mary Roach could be the greatest satirist of our time if she wanted to.

Modesty’s Okay but Modesty?

Jeremy Tells It Best

I’ve had it with modesty. While having a moderate estimation of one’s abilities, value, and talent is cool, the part about being reserved and proper in speech, behavior, and dress–that is the part that gets me.

I want to know about the successes of those around me. I want you all to shed reserve and propriety and share the news because: 

1) It makes me happy to know that people I love are feeling some love.

2) It is inspiring to know that, despite all the vapid things being produced, published, and praised, there is also good work that is getting produced, published, and praised.

3) When my people, most of whom are not particularly well connected, get attention it shows that some systems work, that one doesn’t necessarily have to cocktail-party-her-way to the top.

In one of my reading groups, (this one is comprised of female employees at the Colorado School of Mines) we are reading Women Don’t Ask. The book, written by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, an economist and journalist duo, aims to uncover the reasons why women are in less powerful positions and earn less money than men. One of the problems is mentioned in the title. One reason women don’t ask for as much as men do is because we don’t generally feel entitled to as much. Unfortunately, I can relate to many of the points made in the book, especially this one:

[W]omen are much more likely than men to think that simply working hard and doing a good job will earn them success and advancement Read more »

Too serious or not serious enough?

I’ve been thinking lately about Shira’s discussion of blogging and introducing high school students to a world of Internet communication wider than Facebook, wondering if they (or I) even really have Facebook nailed yet. Two weeks back I posted a link to an infographic on my Facebook that, due to the content that had been analyzed and designed, riled a few feathers (to put it lightly). The comment left on my post was sent to my email and came through while I was at work, which meant that I had all day to think about what to respond but couldn’t actually go on and craft a response until I got home. And I admit, I stressed more than a little bit about it.

On the one hand, it seemed so silly to me to be worrying about it. I mean, it’s Facebook, for heaven’s sake! People write articles about how to handle Facebook breakups and whether or not you should friend your ex. And here I was wondering how to respond in a way that people visiting my profile would (1) see me standing up for myself and my views and (2) doing that in a respectful and logical manner. Judging by the articles across the web, not the concern of your average Facebook user.

Read more »

The Fat Lady Keeps on Singing

A couple of Tuesdays ago, I saw my first opera (if you don’t include cartoon spoofs).  I’ve seen rock operas before, and plenty of musical theater, but this was my first experience with full-on, Italian-language, full-orchestra opera.  Except I didn’t see it in an opera house.  I saw it in a movie theater, but it wasn’t technically a movie.  The version I saw wasn’t live, but it was a replay of a live performance that had been broadcast to the movie theater on Saturday night.  It was a performance of Madama Butterfly by the San Francisco Opera. Read more »

Old Interview with David Foster Wallace

Tom Scocca, blogger for Slate, is trapped for a week on a cruise ship where internet costs 35 an hour.  He’s posted in two parts a phone interview from 1998 with David Foster Wallace.  The whole thing is great.

Scocca asks about any differences in his process or approach to non-fiction v.s. fiction.  After rambling a bit, Wallace says,

I think of myself as a fiction writer. I’m real interested in fiction, and all elements of fiction. Fiction’s more important to me. So I’m also I think more scared and tense about fiction, more worried about my stuff, more worried about whether I’m any good or not, or I’m on the wrong track or not…I guess the nonfiction seems a lot more like play. For me.

I much prefer DFW’s non-fiction to his fiction.  Every essay I’ve read, no matter the topic, has been accessible, deft, moving, and has displayed a brilliant mind at work on the page.  So perhaps it’s no surprise he uses the word “play” to describe writing non-fiction.  How often does writing feel like play?

Lest you think great writing only comes when the writer is playing, DFW continues:

The weird thing is that when a couple of the nonfiction pieces got attention and then other magazines started to call, then of course I start thinking of myself as doing that, too, and begin-Mr. Ego gets in there, and then I begin worrying and sweating over that stuff, too, so.

Later DFW complains about page limits and cuts from magazine editors:

But my big problem with magazines is that I tend, um, they tend to have word lengths. That I try really hard to hew to and then sort of get into it and exceed. And then begins this hideous cutting process.

I can’t help but wonder how big a role all the cutting played in making his essays more reader-friendly.  The cruise ship one apparently weighed in at 110 pages, before getting cut to fit in Harper’s.

Look at my kids! Look at them!

LoLa Lorenze, my youngest.

Recently, I had a poem accepted at Literary Mama, “reading for the maternally inclined.”  I learned about this site at last year’s AWP in Denver, when I attended a Mommy Poet panel.   Literary Mama rocks.  The mommy writers there inspire me, plus they have some really great writing prompts, and not just for moms.   

I consider myself a creative nonfiction writer, but since starting the MFA program, I’ve realized that I can write poetry!  That is to say, decent poetry.  I wrote bad poetry all through high school and most of undergrad.  I had a few published in obscure, cheap journals.  I had a submissions system and everything, with little index cards.  These poems were bad, people.  Can I share one with you, just for a giggle?  Read more »

How To Tell Prose Poetry Apart from Flash Fiction

Prose poetry and flash fiction are conjoined twins; they share so much in common in terms of structure and internal organs that they are inseparable. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean they are indistinguishable.

Generally speaking, the base component of a poem is the line (and line break), which culminates in an image, whereas the base component of a short story is the sentence and its big brother, the paragraph, which convey character(s) and character development. Since prose poems don’t have line breaks and both the prose poem and flash fiction are predicated on the paragraph, this leads to some awkward first encounters.

At a bookstore, a young patron mistakes Prose Poetry for Flash Fiction, and tells him how much he loves Kim Chinquee’s work. Prose Poetry smiles sheepishly and Flash Fiction looks away before clearing her throat and informing the ill-informed fan that while Chinquee’s work is indeed top-rate, it’s probably best to classify it as flash fiction, not prose poetry.

Read more »

the ubiquitous lens

photo by Damon Winter

A few years ago, lomography became so hip that even Urban Outfitters sold the 120 medium format cameras. The story was cool: the Soviets had produced a cheap, plastic camera so affordable that the government wouldn’t have to spy on the people–people would photograph their lives, spy on each other.

And while analog versus digital was fun and lofi ruled over hidef, it was really hard to find someplace that would process medium format film. And expensive. It’s still hip; but digital has won. We’re even recreating the Soviet experience, documenting our lives with iPhones and displaying our secrets on Facebook.

Which can be really cool: The New York Times LENS blog had a cool post about Damon Winter using his iPhone to capture war images of the 87th Infantry of the 10th Mountain Division in northern Afghanistan.

palin & oxford american gang rafe the english language

and now for a traditional after dinner sport:

(and you always thought you were the biggest Harry Potter fan ever)

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