Re: When I'm in my forties, the real magic will start.

1

What do you have against 'Til Tuesday?


Posted by: beamish | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 2:35 PM
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Till Tuesday, plant Wednesday.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 2:38 PM
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Yeah, beamish! I have a near-complete collection of solo Aimee Mann, although I'm not fond of Lost In Space or The Forgotten Arm.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 2:38 PM
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A few years ago, I started listening to Aimee Mann. It took me forever to figure out why she sounded familiar.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 2:39 PM
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5

Hush hush!


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 2:44 PM
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Wait a minute: you were six or eight years old and already consciously aspiring to stay out all night partying? Can you recall what you envisioned such a party to entail?


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 2:47 PM
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6: a lot of fashion, probably.


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 2:49 PM
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I'm Heebie, the rockin' dog!

Did this surfboarding dog have sunglasses and a guitar?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 2:50 PM
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6: because mine are around that age, and the most I can imagine them fantasizing about is getting to stay up past 9pm and eat a second frosted cupcake or something.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 2:52 PM
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My parents once told me that if I could stay up until midnight, I could get out of bed. I did, by sheer force of will, despite treachery and abandonment by my weaker younger sister.

At midnight-oh-one, I woke her and we went to find the party. Dad was still up reading, and he let us stay on his lap for a while (five minutes?) before putting us back to bed. It was not the thrill I'd been hoping for as I forced myself awake for hours.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:02 PM
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I've been digitizing these old home videos, and there's some great stuff along these lines. I was constantly coming up with various projects when I was a little kid, and my dad was patient enough to indulge me in them. There's one "claymation" movie I made that's basically several amorphous lumps of gray clay that I move laboriously between takes while also doing the "dialogue" using several ridiculous voices. My sister helped too. I don't seem to have had a very firm grasp of how claymation worked.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:03 PM
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There's also an earlier movie I made earlier which I remember being equally ridiculous, but I haven't gotten to that one yet.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:04 PM
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Oh wow, I wrote so many poems and stories between ages 6 and 8. Without exception, they are fucking grim. Like "call this child's parents in for a conference right now" grim.

I stopped writing much in the way of poetry and fiction around the time I started grad school and finally managed to envision joy without guilt.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:11 PM
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BTW, I love that stanza, HG. You would have been a good influence on me.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:14 PM
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I wrote stuff too. I don't know what happened to any of it, though.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:19 PM
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despite treachery and abandonment by my weaker younger sister.
"And I haven't spoken to her since."


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:22 PM
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Here is on gem that I composed when I was a wee one. It should be sung to the tune of "Twinkle, twinkle little star."

Tinkle, tinkle, goes my pee
Why does it come out of me?
Down below my butt so round
Slowly seeping in the ground
Tinkle, tinkle, goes my pee
Why does it come out of me?

Yes, I felt the need to delurk for this.


Posted by: Forza | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:25 PM
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"My parents say I should forgive her, but I say, 'Why should I? She abandoned me in my hour of need, like Peter. That weasel.'"


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:26 PM
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Like "call this child's parents in for a conference right now" grim.

These days we just send that sort of kid directly to Guantanamo.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:27 PM
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It's funny -- growing up, I always thought of people who wrote fiction as, essentially, gods, and that it's the only thing anyone could possibly want to do if they could. Never wrote any myself. A very very few laborious poems, but no significant 'creative writing' of any sort ever -- it always seemed impossible.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:29 PM
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There's an audio-tape recording of my sister, at 3 or 4, singing a long song that she had made up on the theme of "I wish I were an only child" and all the things that would be great about not having an older sister.

Meanwhile, there is homework from me at about that time (I was 6ish) in which I aspire to be a Lunch Lady, so I can end the misery and despotism of the elementary school at midday. We would never have steamed broccoli.


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:32 PM
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I started grad school and finally managed to envision joy without guilt. I believe that is the exact opposite effect than grad school is intended to have.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:34 PM
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23

I did a lot of flipbooks at around 8 or 9; I wish I still had those. I also did some claymation but (while it was part of an animation class, and thus somewhat more technically correct than teo's) I imagine it would mostly look like lumps of clay jerking around incoherently.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:35 PM
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Also, I drew a LOT of horses. I wonder if my parents kept all that crap, and when they die and my brother and I have to go through their house, I'll find a whole room full of little-girl-perv horse drawings.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:37 PM
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I imagine it would mostly look like lumps of clay jerking around incoherently

IOW the pre-internet Unfogged.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:38 PM
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20: I always felt this way about being a really good musician. Especially the improvisational kind.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:38 PM
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Flipbooks! I did some of those too. I think most of the writing/drawing I did as a kid is gone, either in my mom's periodic attempts to clean up my room or in my own occasional sprees of discarding anything too embarrassing from my younger days. The videos remain, though.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:47 PM
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re: 26

I sort of see where thatt's coming from, as I read biographies of musicians I like and with some of them, it does literally just seem like they were inspired [in the breathed into by the Gods sense].*

* Of course, behind Oz's curtain, apart from a few freaky exceptions, it's all about just incredibly hard work ...


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:49 PM
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Like everything else. This is why I've never done anything with my life.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:50 PM
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I wrote an illustrated summary of LoTR when I was in primary 3, which I think my mum still has somewhere.

I also wrote a few of those 'adventure books' [the Steve Jackson type things]. I typed them out laboriously on my Dad's typewriter.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:51 PM
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One thing that really comes across strongly in these videos is what a happy, confident, talkative kid I was. As I got older most of that disappeared, at least in public contexts (at home I always retained quite a bit of that demeanor). I don't know how much of the change was other innate personality traits emerging and how much was due to changing circumstances. This seems like a negative change on the surface, but I've increasingly been thinking it was probably for the best, at least now that I'm coming out of it and rediscovering a lot of those earlier qualities in me.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:55 PM
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The confidence never really went away, though. The feeling described in 20 is completely alien to me.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:56 PM
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Huh. It's not really lack of confidence, although I've got that too in other contexts. The not-writing-fiction bit seems more like not flying -- not something you feel bad about, although it would be nice to be the sort of thing that could do that.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 3:58 PM
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34

I sort of felt that way about competitive gymnasts and ice-skaters, that they were some other superior species from mine.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:00 PM
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the Steve Jackson type things

A little known example of a phrase in which the UK and US meanings differ.

He is often mistaken for a different Steve Jackson, a British gamebook and video game writer who co-founded Games Workshop. The confusion is exacerbated by the fact that while the UK Jackson was co-creator of the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series, the US Jackson also wrote three books in this series (Scorpion Swamp, Demons of the Deep, and Robot Commando), and the books did not even acknowledge that this was a different Steve Jackson.

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:02 PM
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36

Huh. I've never really felt that way about anything. Over time I've come to realize that some people just have enormous amounts of natural talent at certain things, but for the most part I've always thought of being good at things as coming mostly from practice.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:02 PM
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37

35 is... really weird. I guess with a name that common things like this happen from time to time, but still. Weird.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:05 PM
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re: 36

Yes, although (unfortunately) it has to be the right sort of practice. I've played guitar off and on for more than 20 years, and I still can't play the vast bulk of the stuff I'd really like to be able to play. It turns out that aimless noodling doesn't do much!


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:08 PM
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39

Kills time?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:09 PM
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Yeah, for most things I was never willing to commit to the amount and type of practice necessary to actually become good, so I've mostly been a dilettante.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:09 PM
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35 is... really weird.

I admit, I never thought that particular bit of knowledge would end up being relevant in an unfogged thread.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:10 PM
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42

And of course 36 is correct and the attitude I'm attempting to inculcate in my children. But it doesn't come naturally at all to me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:10 PM
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43

40.last is the most unnecessary thing ever said here.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:11 PM
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44

I'm good at enough things that it took me a long time to realize that, frex, I have no discernible musical ability. 6 years of youth baseball made it pretty clear to me that I was not especially athletically talented (although I got much better at puberty, just when I stopped playing, as it happened), but music is just a black hole for me. Indeed, I actually can't really understand musical discussions - thanks to crappy movie ballads, I've come to understand what a "key change" is, but I never got it from any of the musical education I got as a kid (and we had music all through elementary school, including sight reading and stuff). But even the slightest amount of sophisticated discussion of music, even songs that I know in my bones, leaves me utterly baffled.

IOW, teo is either omnitalented or delusional.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:12 PM
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45

43 is true.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:13 PM
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46

9 - yeah, but heebie is the baby of the family, remember. My 7 year old definitely has wilder party plans than staying up past 9.

We were talking about this wedding we're off to tomorrow, and my 13 yo said something about needing to do her hair and her make-up (this is a very recent thing), then shrieked (this isn't), "OMG! I'm turning into a teenage girl!"


Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:13 PM
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teo is either omnitalented or delusional.

Can't I be both?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:14 PM
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48

It's funny -- growing up, I always thought of people who wrote fiction as, essentially, gods, and that it's the only thing anyone could possibly want to do if they could. Never wrote any myself.

Huh. I wrote fiction from roughly as early as I could write at all, until sometime in high school when I started getting better taste in literature and decided everything I had ever written was worthless and I would never write anything worthwhile.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:15 PM
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49

Our friend and neighbor is a music teacher, and she's told us that, with early childhood exposure (and massive amounts of practice), something like 80% of all people can actually be good enough to play music professionally (as in, symphony orchestra, albeit not necessarily one of the good ones). Which is amazing, but also makes me feel sure that I'm in the unelite 20%.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:16 PM
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re: 39

Gives you a certain 'comfort' with your instrument, I suppose. You might not really learn much, but you might develop a certain relaxation/smoothness.

[As the actress said to the bishop, etc...]

False modesty aside, I'm a reasonably competent player, and can fake it in a variety of styles, but I also know enough to know that I'm really not good at all for someone who has been playing a long time [and I'm also woefully bad compared to my more talented and/or hard-working friends].


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:17 PM
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47: If you work at it really hard.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:17 PM
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52

re: 49

But 80% of people really aren't the sort of person prepared to and able to undertake massive amount of practice. It's like saying anyone can be a rugby player if they just grow really big, fast and aggressive.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:18 PM
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Sports is a good example, actually, since it's the sort of endeavor in which natural talent helps a lot. I was never any good at sports, so while I tried it a couple times (soccer in elementary school, football in high school), I never stuck with it. I always had a sense, though, that I could have improved a lot if I had been willing to put in the necessary effort, which of course I was not because I didn't really care. This was probably not very realistic in these specific instances, but it was typical of my approach to everything.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:19 PM
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54

I do think that a huge part of 'talent' is liking doing whatever it is enough to enjoy working at it even before you're good. Both Sally and Newt take piano lessons, and neither works terribly hard at it, but Newt plays for fun -- when some friends were over at Christmas the kids started singing Jingle Bells, and he dove for the piano because he knows that one and could play along. I doubt either of them is going much of anywhere with it, but I bet Newt goes a lot further than Sally.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:20 PM
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I never properly learned the value of hard work.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:21 PM
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17: nice one Forza!

My first lyrical experiment involved "Beat It." I was too young for the more obvious comic possibilities to occur to me:

"Better stop running, better do what you can,
Your mommy's gonna hit you with a frying pan."

Then I went straight to the chorus.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:22 PM
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And look at you now. All that potential wasted. (You're one of the physicists, right? I have you filed with tologosh.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:22 PM
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And look at you now.

Commenting on the web all day. Woohoo!

You're one of the physicists, right? I have you filed with tologosh.

Yes. Very different corners of physics, though.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:26 PM
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re: 54

Yes. I suspect my niece is probably going to be the only member of the family apart from me to go to college, and it'll be for a similar reason. While other members of the family aren't dumb, she's the only one who seems really interested in books and reading for pleasure.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:27 PM
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Yeah, I can't imagine writing fiction, or basically anything that wasn't a pretty slight variation on myself. If I did write fiction, I'm sure it would be pretty pure wish-fulfillment (he wants me SO BAD, but he is a vampire. I smell good, and he glitters. And a werewolf wants me too.). Nope. I can riff on silly themes, but only as myself.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:27 PM
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54 is interesting, and it reminds me of my own experience with music lessons. My sister and I both took piano lessons for three years or so in elementary school. I liked it much more than she did, but neither of us liked it enough to practice anything close to enough to become really good. Then in middle school, when we were no longer doing the piano lessons, we both joined the school orchestra. I played the cello, which I didn't like very much and didn't practice nearly enough, and I quit as soon as more attractive electives became available. She played the violin and loved it, much more than she had liked the piano. She not only practiced for school but also played on her own, and later took up the viola as well. She became pretty good at both and stayed in the orchestra through high school, and only stopped playing when she went to college. She hasn't played much in a few years now, so I'm sure her skills have atrophied a bit, but I'm also sure she's still much better at the violin than I ever was at any instrument.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:28 PM
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Music is difficult. Like so many other things, when I first started learning the violin in school I could do a lot better than the other students, out of some combination of having fun playing around with things we hadn't been taught yet and general mental whateverness, but I don't think I have much actual musical talent. And as soon as I got to a place where I couldn't effortlessly do better than everyone else, I lost interest and wasn't willing to put in the effort to become actually good at it. Similarly for art. It didn't occur to child-me that some part of talent involved actually working really hard.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:29 PM
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he wants me SO BAD, but he is a vampire. I smell good, and he glitters. And a werewolf wants me too.

I think you can make quite a lot of money with these ideas, Megan.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:31 PM
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And as soon as I got to a place where I couldn't effortlessly do better than everyone else, I lost interest and wasn't willing to put in the effort to become actually good at it.

This is me with every language I've ever studied.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:31 PM
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And that's a lot of languages.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:32 PM
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53: I always had a sense, though, that I could have improved a lot if I had been willing to put in the necessary effort, which of course I was not because I didn't really care.

Huh. I was also never any good at sports, but reached the exact opposite conclusion. After a few years of first hitting the tee instead of the ball in T-ball, and then being a net negative on soccer and softball teams, I'm pretty sure I internalized the lesson that I was just fated to fail at that stuff. You people with your self-confidence are weird.


Posted by: Otto von Bisquick | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:32 PM
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Playing music is something that gives me a lot of pleasure, so I probably pick up my guitar most days and play, even if just for a few minutes, and I'll fairly regularly sit and play for a few hours. I do that despite not really having much desire to perform for other people, although I do do it now and again. If at some point I could get good enough to sit in with the occasional jazz jam, that'd be great, but I'd probably still play even if I never played in public again.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:33 PM
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re: 66

Team sports are particularly shit for that.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:39 PM
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Aside from sports and other athletic endeavors (where until recently I've always know I suck), I've retained enough confidence that if I noodle around a little bit in a given subject (cooking, or HTML, or drawing, or gardening, or whatever), I'll at least be able to fake it without embarrassing myself too badly. And I'm almost always right. The base level skillset in most subject matters is almost all anyone ever gets to, barring experts. As long as you don't try to claim more than passing expertise and pay attention to the lingo, people get way more impressed than they need to.

This has been the secret to whatever success I've had in life, but it does get a bit depressing when I realize that this particular mental laziness means that I'm never going to be truly expert in anything. On the other hand, sometime next week I'm going to know more about blacksmithing than 99.99% of all people on the planet. (My new book just came in today!) So that's kinda cool.


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:46 PM
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re: 69

Yes, I'd probably go along with that and share that basic feeling. Being a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none isn't that hard if you pay attention, work at stuff a bit (but are too lazy to work at it a lot which would end in expertise), and aren't totally thick.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 4:49 PM
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68: Team sports taught Young Flippanter that he was not a team player. Good to get that one out of the way early.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 5:06 PM
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Solo sports taught Young Megan that she was not a team player. Then she did team sports as an adult and they were totally fun and my team was awesome and supportive and had cute boys everywhere.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 5:14 PM
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24: Also, I drew a LOT of horses. I wonder if my parents kept all that crap, and when they die and my brother and I have to go through their house, I'll find a whole room full of little-girl-perv horse drawings.

It's weird, I can say that. Not that I was into horses myself.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 5:15 PM
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Then she did team sports as an adult and they were totally fun and my team was awesome and supportive and had cute boys everywhere.

Didn't you make the teams?


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 5:17 PM
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72: Older Flippanter is rather more team-averse than Young Flippanter, having been exposed to more "be a team player" rhetoric.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 5:19 PM
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Heh. Some of them, and I never even pretended I wasn't rigging them with my favorite boys. I don't think Steve played on a team I wasn't on until I stopped being league director.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 5:25 PM
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Boy, this thread is my niche. I was really into writing stories, playing on team sports, and writing compositions for the piano. I didn't love piano lessons or practicing, which we had to do daily, but I loved composition and improvising. There was even an "improvisation" category at the local competition we got signed up for every year that my teacher tracked down and signed me up for, as motivation.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 5:34 PM
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Also asilon is right in 46.1 about why I would talk about partying all night as a seven year old. Older siblings are kind of like rock stars when you're little.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 5:35 PM
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Reminiscing about what one was, wanted, and aspired to at age 7, 10 or 14 seems to be less and less appealing, or at least more and more fraught, as time goes on. I'm not sure what to make of this.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 5:40 PM
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Reminiscing about what one was, wanted, and aspired to

One? or you?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 5:41 PM
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At 11 or so, I wrote a story about a girl who felt so alienated she didn't understand why her sister used the Anglicized spelling of their Gaelic name. Apparently I was destined to be an unfogged commenter and just resisted it for years.

I was kind of proud of myself at 9 or 10 for figuring out the pattern that structured all Baby-Sitters Club books (in chapter 17 the misunderstandings have gotten so intense that one member considers leaving the club, but by 22 things are partially resolved and in 24 they're all relieved to be friends or whatever) and despite not liking them I found this very soothing.

As an adult drinking wine and being mopey tonight, I hope these don't sound too self-congratulatory or ridiculous. I can hardly trust myself; I'm someone who was all into Hermeneutics of Middle School "Lit."


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 5:59 PM
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80: One, apparently. But sure, I.

I don't mean to be mean to the thread, but it does remind me of the age discrepancy between the majority of commenters here and myself and a few others. "When I'm in my forties" is now. Real magic here and now.

Somewhere along the line, not very long ago, I sorted through some of things I've always come back to, and agreed with myself that it was okay that I have an attraction -- sometimes lost for periods of time -- to ... well, now I invoke privacy.

So nevermind, actually. When I was a teenager I early on gathered copies of those quarto-sized illustrated Fairies and Gnomes books, and was kind of interested in Roger Dean album covers. This has nothing to do with what sports I liked (tennis, no group sports, gymnastics medium okay) or my musical ability (piano pretty good if pressed to practice practice practice). The latter things I haven't really taken with me thirty years later. The former, about what fired my imagination, I have.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 6:01 PM
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God, that was a downer, in tone if nothing else.

Sorry, guys. Carry on. I'm just in a mood. The split-pea soup over yonder will help in a bit when it's done.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 6:07 PM
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Also, I must say: it appears that Cecily has hosed in on a breakthrough in the other shirt-rending, hair-tearing thread, to which I say: Thank fucking god. Cecily.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 6:14 PM
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When I was a kid I used to get in on threads on BBSs (there was no internet in those days) and complain about other threads. I was a kid, though, man. What can I tell you?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 6:20 PM
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52-54: I don't, actually, buy that for a moment. No amount of effort on my part could have turned me into either a professional (at any level) athlete or a tolerable (to listen to) musician. I have dabbled enough with music to know that I have, literally, no aptitude for it, and I have played enough sports (both variety and intensity) to know that no amount of training could have brought me to an elite level (it's possible that, in just the right sport, I could achieve weekend warrior status).

IOW, it's simply not a matter of effort - there needs to be underlying talent. In the case of music, the premise is that it's a language, such that sufficient/appropriate exposure at a young age will enable synapses to develop and provide the basis for hard work to develop something.

I don't know whether this applies across the board - if every field of endeavor features these three categories - but I look at it this way: for given talent X (music, sport, drawing, writing, whatever), some chunk of people simply don't have it - no amount of effort will get them beyond the level that even an average person can achieve with a bit of study. The vast middle chunk of people, with enough training, can reach a certain level of accomplishment - say, playing drums with a weekend blues band - but no more. And then there's the upper echelon (I don't mean the tiny percent of geniuses or whatever) who match the middle group with a modicum of effort and can achieve excellence - if not transcendence - with sufficient effort.

It's the bell curve, I guess, but my point is that it's absurd to pretend that the low end of the curve doesn't go down to people with zero aptitude. What's surprising about the claim by my music teacher neighbor is that, in the specific case of music, very early exposure/training can help even the vast middle reach surprising levels of accomplishment.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 6:21 PM
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58: you could do what I did, abandon physics and work for The Man.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 6:22 PM
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70 describes me - with aforementioned holes - but I think that you & Chopper are overestimating how common is the ability to pick up the basics and fake it effectively. It requires a certain mental agility to pick up the actual material, as well as (of course) willingness to bullshit a bit. There are a lot of people out there who are barely competent at their most beloved activity, much less a broad range of dilettantish interests.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 6:28 PM
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I should add that there's definitely some value in finding one's specialty - while the athletically talented can pick up nearly any event and do tolerably well, we weaker sorts have definite holes - while I'm one of the better players on a casual grad school softball team, I can't even play tennis* well enough to stay amused for 15 minutes; it's all balls over the fence and flaring rage. And, again, on the music, I once thought that I might be able to drum (since it doesn't require perfect pitch or anything), but I now realize that, with vast effort, the best I could have achieved was "very bad drummer."

* and tennis was one of my regular childhood activities; not lessons or anything, but it's not like I never picked up a racket before adulthood. Yet I play as if I'm unfamiliar with any ball sport


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 6:36 PM
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compositions for the piano

Which reminds me, heebster: Didn't you? And then we were gonna? And then? And then? And then?

Nah, never mind. That must have never happened.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 6:38 PM
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I missed 69 and 70 earlier. Yes, that's the ticket. It's a little depressing, but wouldn't you rather have a notion of many things than be so dedicated to one thing that you can't function any other wise?

I don't know. I'm not sure it's worth stressing over.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 6:51 PM
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it does get a bit depressing when I realize that this particular mental laziness means that I'm never going to be truly expert in anything

Well, I am truly an expert on post-war German drama. When you consider that I'll probably put it to use, that's a bit depressing too.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 6:59 PM
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Never! That second sentence should have a 'never' before 'put it to use.'


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 7:00 PM
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re: 91

I suppose it's nice to know one can pick up new skills easily. I think being interested is a big part of it. Like a lot of people, I imagine, I have brief fads where things interest me and I acquire some rudimentary skill/ability and then lose interest, and it's fun to do that.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 7:00 PM
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Further to 91, and it's also nice to have a couple of things that one really sticks with and genuinely gets good at. Even if general laziness means that aren't as many of them.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 7:02 PM
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acquire some rudimentary skill

Like the person this past weekend who was shocked (SHOCKED!) that I can solder with some basic success. "I dunno; just picked it up; it's fun to melt toxic metals and wire shit together to do stuff".


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 7:04 PM
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and it's fun to do that.

Indeed.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 7:05 PM
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What goes hand in hand with this general interest in things is an utter frustration when one doesn't have the skills at hand. Goddammit! I don't know how to go about doing X thing that I wish to do!

The thing-that-I-wish-to-do element is important: there are a lot of things I don't have much interest in, so it doesn't bother much that I don't know how to do them.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 7:09 PM
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I don't mean to be mean to the thread

Oh, of course you do. It's okay.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 7:09 PM
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re: 98

Yeah, exactly. There are also some sad people who seem to have no 'things-that-they-wish-to-do'.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 7:11 PM
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There are also some sad people who seem to have no 'things-that-they-wish-to-do'.

I don't even have time for the things I already know how to do.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 7:17 PM
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99: I don't hate the thread or its participants, how's that? Anyway, it was a mood.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 7:21 PM
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heebie, consider ambien: do the things for which you have no time (or possibly conscious desire) when you are sleeping!


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 7:22 PM
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102: I feel compelled to tease you when you say stuff like that. But not in a mean way.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 7:22 PM
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100:I'm not that sad.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 7:25 PM
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104: Okay.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 7:26 PM
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Since I don't want to interfere in the sports thread or the vocabulary war linguistic pedantry geek fight thread, I'll post this here.

According to this NY Times article, the South has become the first region in the country where more than half of public school students are poor and more than half are members of minorities. This is bad, suggests the the article, because Southern schools are already struggling to produce educated workers, and black, Hispanic, and/or poor students already face an achievement gap.

Maybe I'm just reading with a jaundiced eye, but the article seems full of wishful thinking. One advocate is quoted as saying, "When we realize that the majority of graduates of our schools in the long run are going to come from backgrounds with educational deprivation, it makes it imperative that schools be improved."

But of course, that's a hopeful use of "imperative." It's not actually imperative; many people have been ignoring poor kids in bad schools for a long time and they can quite easily go on doing so.

Then there's the author of the study, who says: "The people in the South have to be concerned about all children, not just their own grandchildren." Again, a hopeful thought, and something to be worked toward, but would more accurately be stated as a should, as in: I think the people in the South *should* be concerned about all children.

I dunno. Maybe I'm just tired and frustrated about education and poor kids in general. Goodness knows my own city is not covering itself in glory in this department.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 9:20 PM
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Our schools are on a two-hour delay tomorrow. This time I'll remember.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 9:23 PM
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Our friend and neighbor is a music teacher, and she's told us that, with early childhood exposure (and massive amounts of practice), something like 80% of all people can actually be good enough to play music professionally

Sure, with autotune and an uneducated public listening in (conditions which are, sadly, true today).

I was a music major. Not even 80% of those self-selected people were good enough to play professionally. The "practice partner" forced on me in my sight singing classes was a violin player and composition major who was, for all intents and purposes, tone deaf. Meeting with him every week for interval training, etc, was excruciating. There wasn't anything I could do to help him get any better, either. He simply lacked the ability to hear the difference between two pitches.

Other people -- still music majors, mind you -- had no rhythm, and couldn't convert the dots on a staff into anything resembling what was supposed to be performed. And unlike pitch, rhythm is all math -- if you can count and divide, you should be able to tap out a pattern given to you. Most of them had some ability to learn rhythms by rote, but there were a few who never even quite got that far.

I don't think the "everybody gets a gold star" thing should apply at all to individual performance, whether in music or athletics. If you're not any good at it, you're not any good at it. This isn't meant to discourage anybody from trying or participating, but nobody did my tone-deaf practice partner the favor of telling him he'd picked the wrong major, and for a couple years he kept doing well enough to keep paying the university money for classes he shouldn't have been in (I think after three years he changed majors, but he'd concluded I was an asshole and didn't have anything to do with me by that point, so I never heard that first-hand).

Anyway. As you were.


Posted by: fedward | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 10:46 PM
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if you can count and divide, you should be able to tap out a pattern given to you

FALSE


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 10:52 PM
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i tried a few times to write songs. they always turned out very emo, so i decided never to do it again. i'm only amusing in moment to moment conversation. i only approach art through its ibastard child, Craft.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 11:05 PM
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and i am constantly tapping my hands/feet, leading people to say "YOU SHOULD JUST GET A DAMN DURM SET ALREADY!!! MPOTHERFUCKER!!!" but its actually all in weird 7/10 or something time and i hate math rock.


Posted by: yoyo | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 11:07 PM
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109: I heard similar complaints from my music-major roommate. She was an excellent cellist and pianist, but inured enough to small-town praise of the "you should be a star!" variety that she rolled her eyes when anyone suggested a career as a performer. She went into ed. But every night she'd come home and bitch about the motherfucking talentless drones studying performance.

It was a lesson I learned early myself. When you perform for people who don't know what they're listening to and they tell you they burst into tears, what can you say? "If you knew anything at all about music, you'd realize how wrong you are, and how cruel it is to lead a young innocent into a life of misery"? I tried similar lines a few times after singing in church, but they didn't take. Do some people actually think it's true?


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 11:31 PM
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OTOH, several of the students I knew at the conservatory were brilliant musicians who wanted nothing more than to do something else for a living. One of my exes was so incredible at his uncommon instrument that he commissioned several (truly bizarre) pieces to take advantage of his abilities. But all he really wanted in life was to become an electrician and never touch that thing again.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 11:34 PM
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There's playing professionally to some renown at some large scale, and then there's playing professionally in some place where professional means it's a living (or part of a living).


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01- 7-10 11:47 PM
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It also varies a lot by instrument. Many/most guitar players, say, in well known bands that you've heard of*, are probably not actually especially good players. Some of them are bloody awful. Success isn't a function of facility on the instrument but all the other ineffable stuff.

On the other hand, you don't need all the other ineffable stuff to make a living teaching an instrument.

* unless you primarily listen to jazz, heavy metal or country music.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:17 AM
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109: Having read your story, I have to say that you were being an asshole is the most parsimonious explanation. People who are being assholes do not recognize that they are being assholes outside of Dennis Leary songs.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:58 AM
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I love Heebie's story in the OP.


Posted by: robert halford | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:41 AM
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I think that is true that almost all people could, if they had spent 10,000 hours (or whatever) on, say, painting, have become a good painter.

Most people don't want to spend decades working at something, especially when the outcome's likely to be: well done, you're better than 99% of the population, but yeah, you're not quite good enough.

People who don't know a great deal about a particular artform can be easily impressed; they can also not see good things as being good.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:41 AM
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Since there seems to have been some confusion about what I was saying upthread, and on rereading my 36 it seems pretty clear where that confusion came from, I think I should emphasize that the feeling that being good at things comes mostly from practice is just that, a feeling, experienced by me, a flawed human being, and I never meant to imply that it's actually true. I meant for the first clause in the second sentence of 36 to indicate that I don't now believe the second clause is always already true, but I see that there's some ambiguity in the phrasing. I definitely don't believe, for example, that I could have been an NFL player if I had just practiced enough. Some things really do depend on innate talent. On the other hand, I do think I could have been an architect if I had ever learned to draw.

What I was mostly reacting to was LB's 20, which I still find kind of amazing. Arguments about things like sports and music aside, surely writing is something that doesn't take superhuman talent. Writing well is very hard, of course, and for most people requires at minimum an enormous amount of experience and practice. But maybe I just think that because writing happens to be one of my innate talents. Not that I really think it is, but I suppose it could be.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:41 AM
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I should also note that one of the main reasons 20 surprised me so much was that LB is one of the people here I can most often identify with, so seeing her express a perception so at odds with my own was strange in a way that seeing something similar by someone else might not be.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 2:10 AM
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People who don't know a great deal about a particular artform can be easily impressed; they can also not see good things as being good.

One of my goals, after being to quick to dismiss things I didn't like as "objectively" bad when I was younger, has been trying to understand why people see good things as being good regardless of what I think of them. Then I can say things like, that was very well-played, but I hated it, like a well-cooked meal consisting of foods I hate. I usually don't say that, and I'm not always able to say that, but I like to be able to.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 2:47 AM
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Now that I've caught up with this thread, I can say that I apparently learned to read music as quickly as they could teach me but I had no aptitude for the violin. (I think my parents should have put me on the piano, with my sister, but oh well. I didn't become interested in the piano as a listener until long after I had no interest in playing music.) I was ok with the recorder, but had no interest in moving on to a less elementary school instrument. Somewhere along the way it became and was made clear to me that I wasn't good at singer. I enjoyed the school choir when I was really young, but didn't miss it or music classes once they were over.

Similar, I spent hours swimming until just before I finished junior high and probably could have become reasonably good at breaststroke and possibly the IM had I been willing to supplement normal practice with weight training. I had legitimately good technique with breaststroke - I'd done well, but not great regionally - and supposedly good technique with butterfly, but too little strength to really make it work. Instead, I quit swimming partway through eighth grade.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 3:00 AM
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I'm with Teo in baffling at 20. Anyone can writ competently -- all you have to do is follow basic rules of grammar and style, and BAM! you have competent writing. Certainly, being really great is much harder, more subjective, more dependent on something of an intuitive feel for when and how to bend the basic rules. Even that is largely learnable if you are open to "workshopping" your writing with readers who will give intelligent feedback on what effect your stylistic choices had.

But this is probably me being fedward and thinking "anyone can tap out a rhythm" when, no, really, not true. I do think there's a big parallel between music and writing. Learning to read early makes a big difference in how easily you will develop fluency. I've been so jealous of Rory's music education and how naturally things come to her (compared to me -- I have no clue if she's truly "good" by musical standards).

I was also thinking of swimming as my personal example for "anyone can learn to [do X] well with a little practice. (I joined my high school team as a freshman to spite my mother, who was pushing me to do something else. My coach later confessed that she spent that entire season terrified that I was going to drown. Literally. I made Varsity by junior year, though.) But I'm also guessing fake accent and I are defining "good" quite differently. I doubt my technique was ever legitimately good in any stroke. I survived as a freestyle sprinter purely by having a good enough kick to compensate for my merely decorative arm movements, and a lung capacity sufficient to compensate for never figuring out how to incorporate breathing into my stroke.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 7:01 AM
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Breathe when your hand enters the water.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 7:24 AM
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I understood 20 to be about storytelling, in which I join LB in some awe. I can hold my own -- not drown anyway -- with non-fiction, and even some embellishment. But a complete creation? Independent of either my own story or any I've read? Nope.

I've never really had any talent. Nor any illusion of it. All I've ever had is a strong sense of empathy and a pretty good memory (for narrative, anyway), which together put me a click or two above the mean in figuring out what other people are likely to do. Maybe better than the ability to play the banjo, since I can, apparently, make a living at this.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 7:26 AM
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125: Okay, that is truly radical. I will try that next time I get to the pool!


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 7:29 AM
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I don't have a good enough memory to swim 3 strokes together. Or play anything more complicated than Mary had a Little Lamb on the piano. I can ski, however, because every turn is a completely new experience.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 7:29 AM
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124: I think 20 is something idiosyncratic that I'm not communicating well. It's not insecurity about competence as a writer, so much -- there's a sense in which I write for a living, and while I'm always blocked and annoyed by my process, I'm not bad at it.

Writing fiction, OTOH -- reading fiction is something that's very important to me, and I'm very impressed by and grateful to the people who generate the stuff that I'm dependent on. Writing it myself, on the other hand, is something that I feel as if, how to put it, I can't imagine wanting to do. I'd like to be the sort of person who does want to do it, but the idea of doing it myself seems completely implausible. If I could want to, I'm sure I could write perfectly competent amateur-level fiction if I put some work into it, but I can't see wanting to.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 7:30 AM
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I'm with Teo in baffling at 20. Anyone can writ competently -- all you have to do is follow basic rules of grammar and style, and BAM! you have competent writing.

Hahahhahahahahahahhahahahaha. Oh, how I wish DE was here. Any other former editors around?

Seriously. Most people can't write their way out of a paper bag. What JRoth said above about not realizing how rare the ability to just pick stuff up is? Nothing like the ability to write competently, much less compellingly.

The people at Unfogged are so far into the long tail of things that I think it's probably useful to remember that the people who make comments on Youtube videos are most likely college graduates, students, or children on their way to college.


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 7:44 AM
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Any other former editors around?

Current editor present!


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 7:52 AM
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And as for 88, you're absolutely right. I have an exceptional ability to jump in and be competent at most things fairly quickly (he says, modestly). Or rather, I have an exceptional ability to do so compared to the general population. But I don't judge myself by the general population--it's an analogue of the snobbery LB has and is trying to keep her children from acquiring, I suppose--in that my personal expectation is that I should be peers with the folks 2-3 standard deviations to the right of the mean. (Yadda yadda, test scores, family expectations, snotty private college, whatevs.)


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:00 AM
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131: Then you know. Doctors, scientists, mathematicians, accountants, and so on. Can't write. With obvious exceptions, of course, but in the main.


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:02 AM
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130: Oh, believe me. I am well aware that plenty of well-educated people are terrible writers. See, e.g. the legal profession. It just baffles me, because basic good writing only requires following pretty basic, simple rules. But, I guess if other people felt that way, I'd have no real usefulness professionally.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:03 AM
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My experience is mainly with statisticians, but man does my experience line up with yours. In my current position, though, I'm mostly editing behind very talented medical writers, so it's more checking that all content is correct and formatting is consistent than it is turning gibberish into English.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:05 AM
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It just baffles me, because basic good writing only requires following pretty basic, simple rules.

Huh. While you wouldn't know it from reading the way I spell and punctuate around here, my professional writing is pretty clean. But I'm not actually following the rules in any conscious way, I'm writing by ear, and only thinking about rules if something clangs on rereading.

I think consciously following grammatical rules would be really laborious if I didn't have an ear for what's right. And while it's hard to empathize with someone who doesn't have that ear, I think it comes from reading millions and millions of words of mostly grammatical prose (I'm not talking great literature, just anything professionally written that got copyedited) over decades, and someone who didn't do that is in a position where writing correctly is going to be a real strain.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:08 AM
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My experience is mainly with statisticians, but man does my experience line up with yours.

Are you the guy who won't let me put "ass-wipery" into the article on osteoarthritis?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:09 AM
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Of course, I'm ashamed now of all the comma and proofreading issues in my comments about how *easy* it is to write well.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:09 AM
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See my disclaimer in 136. Reticent reticent reticent reticent reticent.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:10 AM
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136.last is clear right. Plus, for me anyway, I have a tendency to write somewhat like the last thing I've been reading. Which is why I no longer comment on Facebook after reading Unfogged.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:15 AM
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"clearly right"


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:15 AM
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The idea that following grammatical rules will get you to good writing is deeply, hilariously flawed.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:16 AM
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136: Yeah, which is where I think it's like music -- internalizing the few "basic" rules is much easier if you learn them early on and are exposed to them regularly.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:16 AM
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have an ear for what's right

That really is key. If you speak using proper grammar, then all you have to do is write the same way you speak, keeping a few extra guidelines in mind (e.g., avoid starting sentences with "it is" or "there are"). Having a schoolteacher for a parent undoubtedly helps.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:17 AM
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136: This is actually an ability that some people have, and others don't. Like LB and most of the rest of us on Unfogged, I've read "millions and millions of words of mostly grammatical prose", but for me writing (even a stupid comment like this) is always a struggle.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:17 AM
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142: Necessary, but not sufficient. I'm referring to scientific writing specifically.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:19 AM
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Indeed, "having an ear" is an increidbly complex, poorly understood cognitive phenomenon, which has been studied for decades by thousands of extremely smart academics with an eye to unraveling it, thus far with distinctly limited success. It stands to reason that somebody who did have this facility would regard it as puzzling that other people did not have the facility, but to assume that it is "easy" per se (even given the right circumstances of birth and education) is perhaps a failure of the introspective method.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:21 AM
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147: What's so easy about thousands of hours of reading?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:23 AM
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increidbly! What is it about writing about writing that makes writing so easy to fuck up?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:26 AM
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148: from the point of view of physical exertion?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:27 AM
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145: OTOH, you don't screw up. I've never noticed your writing as anything other than a transparent rendition of what you mean to say (like most people on Unfogged), which means you're at the grossly grammatical level the rest of us are at (not worrying about typos, stray apostrophes, and other minor glitches). So it may feel more laborious, but unless it's really taking you an absurd amount of time to draft your comments, I'd bet that you do 'have an ear' in the sense I'm using it, but also have an uncomfortable feeling about your process.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:28 AM
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150: I suppose. What I'm getting at is that most people with 'an ear' are introspective enough to know that it was developed with fairly considerable effort. If they were lucky, their parents and teachers got them to do the ground-work without realizing effort was involved, but they can still see the work need in retrospect.

Also, your shirt looks like you stole your clothes from the wardrobe for Hollywood Squares in 1982.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:34 AM
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152.1: I imagine that's true for most people, but not for the straw man I so ably demolished.

152.2: your club foot's so bad you can't play Rugby.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:37 AM
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e.g., avoid starting sentences with "it is" or "there are"

It isn't clear to me why this rule makes sense.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:39 AM
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144: See, now I think there's a difference between writing and speaking voice. If you ever converse with me in person, you will likely think to yourself, "But she seemed generally lucid and coherent in her comments!". A high school English teacher once "accused" me of talking dumb because of low self-esteem -- "You shouldn't have to hide your intelligence!" No, really, dude. This is just how I talk. When I referred to a distinguished panel of appellate judges as "you guys" not long ago, it wasn't to make them like me better.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:40 AM
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There are many reasons. It is difficult to tell why those were picked as an example.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:40 AM
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151: You're right -- with some effort I can write fairly clear, mostly grammatical prose -- it just isn't easy for me. I had a friend (also well-read) that really couldn't -- my wife at the time was going to grad school with him, and he would bring over papers for us to proofread, and it was really painful-- he knew a lot about the topic, had good ideas, but his writing was just horrible, and the worst thing was that he really couldn't see what was wrong with it.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:41 AM
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156 to 154.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:41 AM
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What I'm getting at is that most people with 'an ear' are introspective enough to know that it was developed with fairly considerable effort.

Really? I would have thought most people with 'an ear' have been reading a lot of things ever since they were children because they enjoy reading things, not because they were making a conscious effort.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:42 AM
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153.last: It's just untreated athlete's foot.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:42 AM
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157: "Really!!!! I guess I wanted to emphasize that this story was real.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:43 AM
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159: My point is that not everyone that reads a lot develops an "ear".

Just like not everyone that reads a lot learns to spell -- a former blogger for the Atlantic and one of the current bloggers are good examples of that.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:46 AM
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159: Well I did follow that with: If they were lucky, their parents and teachers got them to do the ground-work without realizing effort was involved, but they can still see the work need in retrospect.

But, yes, I think to get a good 'ear' you eventually have to put forth some effort to read books that don't really appeal to you at the start and things like that. It is much less conscious effort if you like to read, but I don't see how you can do without some internal push.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:47 AM
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163 was me.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:48 AM
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Spelling's weird. My dad is Matt Y., essentially. Voracious reader, fluent writer, good ear for grammar and style, spells so badly that it looks like he's kidding. Whatever it is to have 'an ear', I think spelling is a separate skill that most people pick up easily, but some just don't.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:48 AM
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I remain utterly puzzled that people can read a lot -- enough to develop an easy, naturalistic writing stye -- and not intuitively know how to spell. This, obviously, is another failure of the introspective method.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:50 AM
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I think Chopper and apo overstate how bad scientific writing is. Aside from easily overlooked things like trouble with the use of articles from people who aren't native English speakers, I rarely encounter papers where the authors don't get across what they mean to say fairly clearly. I encounter papers that are stupid from a scientific point of view more often than papers that are grammatically or stylistically incoherent. (There are papers that are written to be mind-numbingly dull, but that's a different issue from being bad at the mechanics of writing.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:51 AM
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I've read a lot of scientific writing -- including popular scientific writing -- where the prose is absolutely dire. They often manage to communicate approximately what they mean (especially if you thoroughly follow the equations) but to describe it as "good" writing cheapens the term unforgivably. I've always been incredibly impressed, for this reason, by genuinely good science writing. The ability to present complex concepts (especially those involving complex, multi-dimensional shapes and interactions) clearly, without over-reliance on figures or equations or hand-waving, seems to me a mark of truly impressive virtuosity.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:55 AM
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I read constantly as a kid (no friends for a few years). My freshman year of high school I came home and there was a copy of The New Republic on my bed. When my Dad got home he told me that I should be reading TNR; that was how well he'd like me to write. He'd subscribed just for me. So I read TNR after that, with a partial eye on the writing style.

I gave it up during the Sullivan years, when even through the paper, he struck me as fucking crazy. (I didn't have a coherent political assessment of it until years later, 'til I started reading blogs, really.)


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:57 AM
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Impressive impressivity impresses impressable Sifu.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:59 AM
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166: It seems very odd to me too.

I used to assume that Saiselgy and Na-Tehisi just wrote fast and didn't care -- but I've realized that often that they just don't see it -- a spelling error that would scream at me, just doesn't register to them at all.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:59 AM
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What kills me are my co-workers, who would turn perfectly ordinary prose into mind-numbing government-ese, just because the last report we put out was mind-numbing. They all are, so this one should be too!


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:59 AM
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I certainly encounter quite a bit of writing in the humanities which is really quite bad. Even leaving aside the fact that particular disciplines and sub-disciplines sometimes have stylistic quirks that are irritating or opaque to outsiders, there is still an awful lot of very poorly written stuff out there. Poor in the sense that it's genuinely difficult to work out what the writer intended to say. I had a former Professor who was, when speaking, perfectly clear (although a little stuffy and old-fashioned) but whose writing I found infuriating.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 8:59 AM
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166: There's a whole-language/phonics thing going on, I think. I'm a better speller than Yggles or my Dad, but I have blind spots like reticent. Reticent reticent reticent. But my spelling started out pretty bad and improved through grade school and high school.

On introspection, I think part of it is that I learned to read almost as if words were unitary characters -- not sounding out at all, just recognizing the whole word as a visual unit. This is the same kind of process that led me into those comic mispronunciations little-kid heavy readers get into. And it's not much help with spelling -- you can spot that something looks funny, maybe, but it's hard to get from there to spelling it right if connecting the letters to the sounds isn't natural for you.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:02 AM
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This is the same kind of process that led me into those comic mispronunciations little-kid heavy readers get into.

Ah yes, the French Revolution, when many thousands were sent to the Gull-o-ton.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:05 AM
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167: I don't know about the situation in your specialty, but in mine the level of communication proficiency in talks is appalling. Simply putting raw equations on the screen and just standing there would be better. Presenting a talk is quite different from writing a paper (we have uniquely fucked up issues on that point due to the history of the discipline, though it's improved quite a lot lately), but it's a similar issue of ear for the medium.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:06 AM
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A lot of legal writing makes me feel stupid -- I get so bored that I literally have trouble figuring out what's going. I'm never quite sure whether to blame myself or the writer.

(Conversely, and this is going to sound self-congratulatory but I'm really kind of insecure about it, my own professional writing strikes me as weirdly simple-seeming, as if I'm writing on a kindergarten level compared to more typical briefs. I'm often not sure if I'm really unusually lucid, or whether I'm not addressing subtleties that I should be.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:06 AM
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(Or, of course, my writing isn't all that different from the average of legal writing, it just seems unusually clear to me because I wrote it and so I know what I meant. Which is probably the explanation.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:09 AM
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I seldom know exactly what I mean when I write something.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:10 AM
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Now that I think about it a bit more, I might be misjudging the writing of papers I read, because I don't always read them. There are some very clear writers whose papers I read carefully. And then there are the people whose writing bores or confuses me, so I skim the paper and figure out roughly what they did from the equations and figures instead of actually reading the text. For all I know they're full of grammatical absurdities, and I just don't notice. I've occasionally been surprised when talking to someone whose paper I've "read", when they mention something that was in their paper that I didn't notice, and later I return to the paper and see that I never really read it at all, just skimmed the introduction and assumed I understood the whole thing.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:10 AM
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180: Yup. That's me and legal writing. A lot of briefs it's a real strain to read carefully enough to make sure I've answered everything.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:12 AM
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179: That sounds like something a poet would say.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:13 AM
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180: and again, they could be 100% grammatically correct and still terrible writing. Not the same milieu, but Dan Brown is not, as far as I know, prone to gross grammatical missteps.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:13 AM
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This quality referred to above as 'having an ear' is pretty much the same thing as diction, right? (The choice and use of words and phrases in speech or writing.) Good diction has always struck me as something impossible to teach to people who don't already know it.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:14 AM
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182: I'm a poet and yet was oblivious to that fact!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:14 AM
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Yes, I think my writing comes across as weirdly simple, and my co-workers want me to use bigger words just because they think reports should sound harder or they must not be good.

I hate when they touch my writing.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:18 AM
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185: These days poets avoid the obvious rhymes.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:19 AM
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re: 179 and 182

And also, true. I presume most people use speaking out loud or writing as a way of actually forming their thoughts anyway? *

Often I'll be in a seminar, get a vague feeling that I know where something is mistaken or iffy in the paper being presented and open my mouth to speak before having anything other than a vague idea what I plan to say. Nevertheless, the sentences that come out are usually both well-formed and apposite. I imagine that's pretty typical?

* leaving aside philosophical/neurological/psychological questions about which comes first, etc.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:21 AM
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188: oh aye, I wasn't kidding, exactly. I tend to be a pretty strong believer in the post-hoc nature of narrative self-consciousness.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:23 AM
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re: 189

I tend to be a pretty strong believer in the post-hoc nature of narrative self-consciousness.

Yeah. Ditto.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:25 AM
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Often I'll be in a seminar, get a vague feeling that I know where something is mistaken or iffy in the paper being presented and open my mouth to speak before having anything other than a vague idea what I plan to say. Nevertheless, the sentences that come out are usually both well-formed and apposite. I imagine that's pretty typical?

Actually, that sounds pretty amazing to me.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:26 AM
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Often I'll be in a seminar, get a vague feeling that I know where something is mistaken or iffy in the paper being presented and open my mouth to speak before having anything other than a vague idea what I plan to say. Nevertheless, the sentences that come out are usually both well-formed and apposite. I imagine that's pretty typical?

This is kind of terrifying in court. If I'm well prepped, which I always am, whatever comes out of my mouth is generally a pretty solid, reasonable, and compelling response to what's going on. But as you say, I don't know exactly what it's going to be until it's sitting out there in front of God, the judge, and everyone.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:28 AM
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re: 191

Really?

What about writing? Do you often feel like you are simply transcribing an inner monologue? Which just flows freely? Or is it something you have to work at? Because when I am working well, it doesn't even really feel like I am writing, I am just transcribing what's being said by the voice in my head.

With the caveat that when I don't really understand something, or am struggling to get the various conceptual positions clear it's torture, because that inner-voice doesn't flow at all. It sometimes takes a lot of preparatory work to get to the point where the writing can flow, but when it does, it's like automatic writing.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:30 AM
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Often I'll be in a seminar, get a vague feeling that I know where something is mistaken or iffy in the paper being presented and open my mouth to speak before having anything other than a vague idea what I plan to say.

I think this is more impressive than you realize. There are times when I go with this strategy, and sometimes I make perfect sense, and sometimes I come out with something that overlooks an obvious fact and I get people gaping at me like I'm a moron. These days I tend to think things over more before speaking up.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:33 AM
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If I'm well prepped, which I always am, whatever comes out of my mouth is generally a pretty solid, reasonable, and compelling response to what's going on. But as you say, I don't know exactly what it's going to be until it's sitting out there in front of God, the judge, and everyone.

Yes, exactly this.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:33 AM
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With the caveat that when I don't really understand something, or am struggling to get the various conceptual positions clear it's torture, because that inner-voice doesn't flow at all. It sometimes takes a lot of preparatory work to get to the point where the writing can flow, but when it does, it's like automatic writing.

This is why I bitch about writing. I have a hell of a time getting to that state, but it's also the only way I can turn out any substantial quantity of prose (like, more than a paragraph or two.) I've wondered if this is why a lot of writers drink -- one thing that works for me well but unpleasantly is making myself work very late, until I'm exhausted enough to be disinhibited. It seems as if a couple of shots might start the process in the same way, but that's always seemed a little to dysfunctional to try seriously.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:34 AM
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What about writing?

That's funny -- I answered that question earlier in this thread. The answer is no -- writing never flows freely for me.

I'll have that inner monologue about what I'm going to write, and that flows nicely, but when I actually start to write....ack! obstructions!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:35 AM
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Too. Too. Not 'to'.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:35 AM
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66: I have crappy depth perception, though I've worked on it a bit. I'm pretty convinced that if I'd been seen by the right sort of optometrist as a child, I might have been better at ball sports, no physical genius, but better.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:37 AM
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When I started commenting here a lot, I did it partially because I thought it would help me get unblocked. I do type faster now, but it hasn't really helped at all -- commenting is, for some reason, 'talking' rather than 'writing' for me, and hasn't increased my 'writing' fluency in the slightest.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:37 AM
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Not only can I not write unless it pretty much flows, I can almost never bring myself to reread my own writing in order to revise it. The majority of my papers in school I wrote in one go and then turned in without re-reading. Whenever I do manage to convince myself to reread something I've written, I'm surprised by how easy it is to improve it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:38 AM
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At my best I write in a sort of daze, barely aware of what I am doing and completely oblivious to the actual words, just sort of squirting ideas through my fingers onto the screen. When I read what I write in that state it's always really good, at least to my eye. Sadly, I enter that state rarely, and it tends to require several days of painfully throwing myself at the material before some combination of mental saturation and caffeine snaps me into the right zone. I can only stay there for maybe three or four hours at a time, but I'm damn productive during that period. Almost makes up for the time wasted on cock jokes.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:39 AM
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I'm definitely transcribing a monologue in my head. It is extraordinary work writing if the monologue isn't there. If the monologue is there, it will start repeating itself and shouting at me until I write it down. The monologue is bossy.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:41 AM
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I find it best to just make the tables and then write from there. This advice probably won't work for fiction or legal writing.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:44 AM
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re: 196

Yes, I do the tiredness thing, too. I'm terrible with deadlines, as I'm really an awful procrastinator.* But when the combination of mad stress and tiredness gets me into the 'zone' I can write enormous amounts of good prose in a very short space of time. The fact that I know I can do this has sometimes led to me relying on it overmuch, which has bitten me on the arse quite badly a couple of times. Saying that, it's always the best writing I do, when it's done that way.

It's why I always liked undergraduate style sit-down examinations. I could walk into an exam hall and write three perfect essays, stream-of-consciousness style, at substantial length in a . Once I started getting assessed over longer periods [graduate school] it got much harder.

* I'm not actually lazy, I do do lots of preparatory work before I write, I'm just terrible at writing the actual finished prose until it's bordering on too late.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:45 AM
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One of those sentences got cut off.

" ... at substantial length in an hour and a half."


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:46 AM
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205, 206: yeah, I really enjoyed the GRE essay portion for that reason. Really, just write a well-constructed essay on some random topic in 45 minutes? Way to put it in my wheelhouse, ETS!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:48 AM
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I bet I used "really" several times, though.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:49 AM
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The majority of my papers in school I wrote in one go and then turned in without re-reading.

I wrote pretty much all my papers in high school and college that way. I would always put off writing them until the last possible moment (or past that) and then I would force myself to write something -- there was no "flow"-- it felt like trudging through mud. And once I was done, I couldn't bear to look back at it -- I just wanted to turn it in as soon as possible, and do my best to forget about it.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:49 AM
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This thread is doing a very good job of reminding me that I should be trying to get some writing done today.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:55 AM
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Heh. I'm actually in the midst of 'procrastinating until I'm in real trouble' right now!


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:56 AM
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my co-workers want me to use bigger words just because they think reports should sound harder or they must not be good. I hate when they touch my writing.

They need a thorough re-education in plain English.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 9:57 AM
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I am so much better at giving talks than I am at writing. Since I have no desire to be a salesman, and a lot of my professional interests are quasi-intellectual, this is a problem.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:00 AM
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"The majority of my papers in school I wrote in one go and then turned in without re-reading.''

Did that until I got a paper back with a red circle around the words, 'she tied it around her waste'


Posted by: Jamaican me | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:01 AM
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214: What's wrong with that phrase. Garbage mobiles for everyone.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:03 AM
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Do you often feel like you are simply transcribing an inner monologue?

Yes. Absolutely. This is one of the reasons I find it so easy to write blog comments and so difficult to create written work product in my job. For most purposes, I am professionally obliged to write in a form and style for which my internal monologue would be inappropriate.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:04 AM
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214: My big paper in law school -- sort of a baby thesis -- took me forever to write, and I swear I proofread. But down in one footnote, in ten point type, that I must have written while talking with Buck about the recently acquired DogBreath, was 'the sole puppies of this amendment'. The professor missed it when marking it -- caught some other stuff, but let that pass.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:06 AM
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192: Oh, Christ does this happen to me. The worst is when I'm busy thinking about what the next component of my larger answer is going to be and have set my mouth loose on the earlier part. I'll wrap up with the second half and be unsure if the halves (or thirds, fourths, etc.) hang together.


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:08 AM
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205: Damn you, ttaM. Mad stress just paralyses me. And I just crash when I'm very tired. Finding the right level of anxiety to be motivated for long stretches at a time, but to be calm enough to produce is a depressingly elusive thing.

And right now, I am stressed because I can not find some prescriptions and the monthly bill from my psychiatrist. I'm pretty sure that I remember the amount though. It was a little complicated for him to write them down, because they were for the mail order pharmacy and were for the entire year. I wrote everything out for him, and he still got it wrong the first time. And I'm stressed about trying to find them, so I'm commenting on unfogged instead.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:10 AM
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216: yep, until I get tired enough, or immersed enough in the material that my internal monologue actually cares about the comparative advantage of supra-annular versus inter-annular heart valves.


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:11 AM
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re: 217

I found some fairly bad punctuation errors in my doctoral thesis -- and they didn't slip past the examiners, unfortunately -- when I read it after the first submission. Annoyingly, they were in sections I'd proof-read several times. I was clearly blind to the problem.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:12 AM
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I once watched as a colleague, just absent-mindedly glancing at a stack of letters she had no involvement with, noticed what several stages of checking had missed. She stopped the mailing of 1,000 letters that mentioned 'pubic schools.' That was a pretty fun afternoon spent mocking various people and playing keep-away with a secretary determined that no copies would remain.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:12 AM
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'the sole puppies of this amendment'

Did you mean to write "the sole puppy of this amendment" or "the many puppies of this amendment"?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:13 AM
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Because when I am working well, it doesn't even really feel like I am writing, I am just transcribing what's being said by the voice in my head.

This is not my experience, and I am envious of all of the commenters for whom this is true.

That said, having a stretch of time when I was commenting here frequently did help my writing. My experience of writing my own blog more or less fits peep's description, I'll have that inner monologue about what I'm going to write, and that flows nicely, but when I actually start to write....ack! obstructions!
and yet, I am improving over time.

I'm not sure what, if anything, that demonstrates.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:14 AM
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224: Ah, the Great Unblocking. That happened to me for a while, between 2004-2005. In retrospect, I could have made better use of it than the few hundred analyst reports I wrote in that time.

Now the writing's fucked, and the other thing? That's twice a week.


Posted by: Jamaican me | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:28 AM
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Doctors, scientists, mathematicians, accountants, and so on. Can't write.

Even some professional writers can't. I was astonished recently to see on the Huffington Post a piece by someone I used to edit. Every week she would turn in an absolute train wreck of a film review, and I'd spend a couple of hours essentially rewriting it (it didn't help that she was always late and would always disappear after submitting her work, so she was never available to answer editorial queries). She got away with it because she was knowledgeable, funny and quirkily insightful, and because there were real brain chemistry issues behind her word spasms; and thanks to the indulgence of editors like me, she seems to be getting away with it still. It's not without precedent, I suppose, but it's amazing nonetheless that, especially when there are legions of good prose stylists desperate for work, a person can make it as a writer without fundamental writing ability.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:44 AM
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To tie this to that other thread, I remember producing clear writing by transcribing my inner monologue up to my late teen years (and enjoying writing (in retrospect, horrible) fiction). Now, however, it's all fits and starts.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:54 AM
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there are legions of good prose stylists desperate for work

Decent prose stylists are probably more common than people who can reliably show up with interesting/salvageable content. I'm a decent prose stylist, but I'd starve as a freelance writer because I simply wouldn't come up with enough stuff. If she could be relied on to appear with some mangled lump of weirdness that a competent editor could turn into an interesting article, and the competent editor couldn't have done the same without starting from her mangled lump of weirdness, I'd guess that's what made her worthwhile.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:55 AM
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226: I heard a similar story from a friend who was in the employ of TNR at the time of the Stephen Glass fabrication scandal. You heard a lot of comments at the time to the effect of "He was such a talented writer. If only he had the sense not to try such a stunt..."

My friend had had the unenviable task of editing Glass's first drafts, and described them as "word vomit". Glass's sensational reporting was his *only* qualification for the job (that, and the fact that his contrarian storylines flattered the prejudices of Marty Peretz and Michael Kelly).


Posted by: James Madison | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:57 AM
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Or rather, this thread.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:57 AM
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121

I should also note that one of the main reasons 20 surprised me so much was that LB is one of the people here I can most often identify with, so seeing her express a perception so at odds with my own was strange in a way that seeing something similar by someone else might not be.

I agree with this. To me writing is one of those things that look easy. I know perfectly well I couldn't for example play professional football but writing a novel, how hard could it be? Especially since many published books have obvious flaws.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 10:59 AM
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Wait, HuffPo has editors?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:00 AM
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Just like not everyone that reads a lot learns to spell -- a former blogger for the Atlantic and one of the current bloggers are good examples of that.

Hey!

The really funny thing is that in the rest of my life, I'm considered a good speller, who people can turn to for help.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:00 AM
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Often I'll be in a seminar, get a vague feeling that I know where something is mistaken or iffy in the paper being presented and open my mouth to speak before having anything other than a vague idea what I plan to say. Nevertheless, the sentences that come out are usually both well-formed and apposite. I imagine that's pretty typical?

I used to think I could do this. Then I started posting here.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:05 AM
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233 - I figured that was referring to current Atlantic blogger Ta-nehisi, not a current blogger here.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:08 AM
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188

Often I'll be in a seminar, get a vague feeling that I know where something is mistaken or iffy in the paper being presented and open my mouth to speak before having anything other than a vague idea what I plan to say. Nevertheless, the sentences that come out are usually both well-formed and apposite. I imagine that's pretty typical?

Not for me. When writing I tend to repeatedly revise which doesn't work so well when talking. I have a tendency to keep thinking of better ways of saying whatever I want to say and ending up tongue-tied. Per LB in 192 it does help a bit if I am very well prepared.


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:09 AM
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The one thing I can say about my writing is that I'm goddamn prolific.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:09 AM
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235: Oh. Doesn't everybody mean me?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:10 AM
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237: Only one thing?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:12 AM
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Only one thing, but often.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:19 AM
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228: That's true in many cases, but she was a film critic, so the challenge of coming up with interesting stuff wasn't an issue in the same way it is with other freelancers. See movie, write about it. Decent film critics who don't need hand-holding through the editorial process are a dime a dozen. Literally.

Sort of on-topic: People Who Give Lectures, what's a rough word count for a 40-minute lecture? As in, a lecture that doesn't stop regularly for demonstrations and such?


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:24 AM
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235 is correct.

And to 238-- I'm always meaning you, heebie, when I list positive attributes.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:26 AM
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I spoke for ca. 30 minutes with ca. 3000 words.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:26 AM
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"Failure of the introspective process" is such a great phrase.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:32 AM
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Funny -- I don't notice Ta-nehisi's spelling. Sasielgy is bad enough that it jars me, but Coates flies beneath my radar.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:34 AM
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I'm a very good writer for an architect, and I was a good paper-writer in school, but I never took a proper "writing" course, and occasionally I sort of get smacked into realizing just how readily I slip into cliches* and repetition and other bad prose habits. When I was writing proposals and reports for a firm, I mostly self-edited, and I think I generally caught that stuff, but co-writing with AB - who always wanted to write and was an English major - makes clear to me how weak my first passes are relative to the work of an actual good, trained writer.

It definitely matters what I'm writing - the proposal that I did in November for a bike planning job was (according to AB, who's unafraid to criticize my review prose) excellent, well thought out and clearly and effectively expressed. But I think that stuff that's one notch down in seriousness - like a review or a business letter - falls quickly into various bad habits. Some of it is lack of models - architects are as a rule bad writers, so I've been on my own when writing for work - and some of it is a tendency towards the casual and even flip, which was fine for a weekly paper in a lit class but really doesn't cut it for a paid gig.

One thing I've noticed is that I'm not critical of adequate-but-unpolished prose. I think I tend to read for information, and so the prose has to be actively clunky before it raises a red flag for me. AB will be rolling her eyes at an article that I read without even noticing was flawed.

* generally not full-on, well-worn cliches, but overused phrases, like "inextricably intertwined."


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:37 AM
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The majority of my papers in school I wrote in one go and then turned in without re-reading. Whenever I do manage to convince myself to reread something I've written, I'm surprised by how easy it is to improve it.

Yes, this, almost exactly. I'm not so reluctant to edit, largely because I'm generally the only one looking at something (except for content) and it's a professional matter, but every paper I ever turned in for HS or college that wasn't a major research effort was a first draft.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:40 AM
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3000 words

Fuck. That's kind of a lot. Thanks, anyway.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:41 AM
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I don't give lectures, but I generally shoot for a page of double-spaced copy for every minute of public speaking. I speak moderately quickly, but try to build in deliberate pauses for reaction.


Posted by: Chopper | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:41 AM
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Sasielgy

Saiselgy.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:41 AM
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245: Well, unlike Saiselgy, he will correct, once someone points it out to him.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:42 AM
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Oh, right. I should allow for sustained applause every couple of sentences, maybe.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:43 AM
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Mathematical prose is usually pretty awful, so awful that generally I look at the equations and just work out what it must be about.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:44 AM
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Naturally, after you draft your lecture, you should read it aloud at approximately the pace you want to read it when you give it, and see how long it takes.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:45 AM
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And remember that it's easy to start talking too fast, so watch for that.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:46 AM
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I would be more than willing to give your talk a once-over. Just mail it to me along with a bottle of your finest vintage.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:49 AM
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I resent that the writing discussion is happening on a day when I am busy writing. Bah!

(I do want to note that when I can't write something, I've noticed it's usually because I'm furious about how I have to say it. Writing a good angry version is a wonderful way to thunderstorm it out, and then with the air clear I can just type up the now-calmer inner monologue.)


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:50 AM
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Needless to say, 246 was me.

I should note that I can definitely distinguish between workmanlike prose and really well-crafted stuff; it's more the distinction between workmanlike and scarcely adequate that I don't really see.

When I edit* the writing of others, my base tendency is to fiddle with the edges - a bit of grammar, word choice. It takes a lot of prompting to get me to start addressing the serious deficiencies. Frankly, I have kind of the same issue with design - I'm much more likely to push and pull a few walls than to radically reconsider the entire concept.

* I'm talking situations where I have freedom to change - joint work product or, back in school, when someone was asking me to help them overhaul a draft


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:50 AM
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Remember to develop a verbal tic that you can use so that people will remember you. "Guy who gave some statistics on arthritis" is not as memorable as "Guy who said 'ya know' between every clause."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:51 AM
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every paper I ever turned in for HS or college that wasn't a major research effort was a first draft.

This is true of me as well, and I generally dislike revising my own work. But I did have a pleasant experience, revising a year-old paper to use as a writing sample for grad-school applications, of reading a paragraph, thinking, "Oh, I have a neat idea that would make a good side-note here," and then continuing reading and finding that I had included that idea in the original paper.

It was a (very) rare experience of reading my own writing and thinking that I appreciated the thought process of the person who wrote it.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:51 AM
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It was only in the past year that I found out that "giving a paper" means, in many disciplines, reading out loud from a paper.

This is mind-boggling to me! Why on earth would such a boring convention arise and have any staying power?

The only justification I heard was to keep people on schedule, but that is ridiculous. We do probably equally well keeping people on schedule in math & sciences without reading out loud.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:52 AM
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245: Racist


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:52 AM
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I write my best when drunk. It means the next morning when I realize that I sent a bunch of emails the night before that while I have no idea what they say, I can be confident they're well-written.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:53 AM
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261: Did you find it out here? We discussed it here at length. I had the exact same reaction. I'd rather watch a DoD Powerpoint presentation than listen to a paper read out loud.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:56 AM
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262: What can I say? Cubans make me tense.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:56 AM
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We've discussed this before, but, yeah, we will read a paper. I hate it when English people whip out the PowerPoint, which is basically never useful. I don't even like handouts.

The thing about a discipline in which you write papers and people listen to you read them is that it develops interesting skills in the direction of making that situation tolerable. Audience members have to learn how to listen and pay attention in a concentrated way. Paper givers have to learn to write a specific kind of prose that delivers well out loud, and to perform their reading in a way that is engaging but not silly.

Of course, plenty of audience members are bad at listening, and plenty of paper-givers are bad at writing or delivering. But when they're good, it's fucking riveting.

I host a group where the speakers are expected to deliver orally for 45 minutes to an hour and then entertain half an hour or so of questions. I know it sounds intolerable, but when it's good, it's a beautiful thing.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:57 AM
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when I can't write something, I've noticed it's usually because I'm furious about how I have to say it.

Witt, this is a wonderful insight. Thanks.

This must be why blogging comes easy, but reports get hard. Why won't my work let me call people goat-blowers when everyone knows that they are?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:58 AM
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Remember to develop a verbal tic

You betcha [wink]

I'm reminded of the joke about the prisoners telling jokes by number ( "127" "why didn't anyone laugh?" "You just can't tell a joke right"). So much of what passes for speaking and writing these days seems like simply an invocation of commonly accepted truisms (the CRA and ACORN caused the financial mess!!11). It's all so fraught with priors, with what universe of discourse you're speaking from, and which aliens you're speaking to, that it's hard to know what's bad writing and what's simply a foreign language; what's bad writing and what's bad thinking expressed well.


Posted by: Michael H Schneider | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:58 AM
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I host a group where the speakers are expected to deliver orally for 45 minutes to an hour … I know it sounds intolerable,

On the contrary!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:59 AM
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I am biased toward talks because that is the only prose I'm really good at. My non-oral stuff is often a bit pained, but my talks are very good, and I never use handouts or visual aids. So of course I think this is an important and useful skill.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 11:59 AM
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261: Yeah, I don't remember when I found that out, but I was stunned.

And I'm pretty sure I've never sent anything in my entire life, up to and including e-mails and blog-comments, without re-reading it first. It doesn't stop me from making mistakes, but it's a habit so deeply ingrained that the idea of submitting a full-out paper without re-reading it is about as foreign to me as eating food with the plastic wrapping still on it.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:00 PM
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It was only in the past year that I found out that "giving a paper" means, in many disciplines, reading out loud from a paper.

There was a discussion at CT, at some point, about disciplinary difference in the style of processional presentations. But it also reminds me how much I liked eric's old post on PowerPoint.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:00 PM
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256: The, um, fraud I may have had to commit when sending the stuff previously makes me uneasy. Rest assured that a bottle awaits you whenever you decide to come to Portland.

Anyway, the lecture thing (a pre-concert talk for the orchestra for whom I write program notes) isn't really worth anyone else's time; I'm not getting paid for it, so it's barely worth any of my own. The thought has crossed my mind that I could just get massively stoned and wing it.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:01 PM
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270: Are you actually reading something you wrote or improvising based on notes?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:04 PM
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I saw a talk with really lovely slides recently -- it was on an interesting computational phonology/auditory processing project, and someone had really digested their Tufte, in a good way.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:05 PM
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I will interject comments off the cuff if the audience seems cool, but yeah, most of it is read, specifically from prose written especially for delivery. I like reading aloud, though, which is a skill in itself. When I was 13, I even won a state-wide high school contest in reading aloud.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:07 PM
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RFTS brings the discussion back to the pleasures of the viscera.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:08 PM
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My lectures in class are not from notes, though. Those are just talk.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:09 PM
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The thought has crossed my mind that I could just get massively stoned and wing it.

Concerto for bluestockings and lecturer. A return to the practice of improvising the cadenza.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:09 PM
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||

Colleague S said to colleague R, "I saw your twin on my travels, over break!"
Colleague R said, "Oh yeah? Where were you?" and then leaned over and whispered discreetly to me, "There is a kid somewhere out there."

It was really hard not to laugh.

|>


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:10 PM
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261 gets it exactly right.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:11 PM
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269 s/b "oh, that old chestnut".


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:12 PM
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I don't understand 280 at all.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:12 PM
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And I'm pretty sure I've never sent anything in my entire life, up to and including e-mails and blog-comments, without re-reading it first. It doesn't stop me from making mistakes, but it's a habit so deeply ingrained that the idea of submitting a full-out paper without re-reading it is about as foreign to me as eating food with the plastic wrapping still on it.

If I write a 3-sentence email, I will re-read it five times before sending it. If I write a 30-page paper, I have a hard time re-reading it once.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:13 PM
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275: one of my professors and several classmates have gone to Tufte seminars and then given lunch-hour presentations on the subject. We have a secret cabal in which we talk lots of shit about the poor saps who don't know how to make a good, multi-dimensional diagram. And/or read papers. Presentation is an ART, you poor saps! No one wants to look at YOUR boring slides!


Posted by: E. Mess. | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:13 PM
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I hate when people read from papers, because they read them super fast and don't pay attention to the interpreters at all. And anyway I might as well just read the paper myself, if you're not going to do anything differently, right?

This is probably not the same experience as hearing audience members. Everyone in all disciplines should cater to my particular preferences.


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:16 PM
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huh, weird name thing happened there.


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:17 PM
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I don't understand 280 at all.

Me either.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:17 PM
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283: Colleague R is a perma-bachelor.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:18 PM
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The ostensible twin might be a secret bastard child instead?


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:18 PM
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Yes.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:19 PM
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Twins are almost always the same age.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:20 PM
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Amusingly, Colleague S's travels included Denmark.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:20 PM
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(is that an acceptable use of 'ostensible'?)


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:20 PM
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It's all so fraught with priors, with what universe of discourse you're speaking from,

Fuck you, clown.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:20 PM
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I don't think it is.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:20 PM
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296, sadly, to 294.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:21 PM
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because of grammar or because of meaning?


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:21 PM
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When I give a history lecture for 50 minutes my notes are generally 6-7 single-spaced pages; I outline, but I also write in full sentences. I find that if my lecture for the day is story heavy, it tends to take me longer to deliver, as I embellish on the fly. And depending on your audience, you're going to end up - and indeed, want to - repeating some of your main points here and there. (There are slides and I do get questions, but those are fairly minimal interruptions.)

I also find that even though I write out everything beforehand, once I'm lecturing the notes are just there as a prop in case I get lost or panic a little. I don't really look at them much.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:22 PM
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I still don't get it. What's the connection between being a perma-bachelor and having a twin?


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:23 PM
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Now I get it, heebie! Thanks for the clarification.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:23 PM
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because of grammar or because of meaning?

I think the meaning is a little off. Like, it's not plausible that they are actually twins.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:24 PM
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you're going to end up - and indeed, want to - repeating some of your main points here and there

Note to self: include points in lecture.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:25 PM
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supposed? purported? soi-disant?

those all seem worse to me and I feel like there's a word I can't remember that would be better.

"the guy that the other guy thought was the twin, but wasn't really."


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:26 PM
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300: "Twin" isn't a twin or somebody who looks the same. "Twin" is a previously unknown child. Raised in Denmark.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:26 PM
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"and nobody really thought he was but for the purpose of small talk they all accepted the proposition"


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:27 PM
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Wait, so S saw someone who could be R's twin, and R intimated that the supposed twin could be R's own child?


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:28 PM
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307: Yes. And then Hebbie found five dollars.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:28 PM
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307: this is my understanding.


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:29 PM
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It seems like a perfectly reasonable use of "ostensible" to me. "Ostensible" often means "duplicitously apparent", but I don't think the duplicity is necessary.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:29 PM
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308: and used it to buy an E


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:29 PM
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The whole thing sounds implausible. I think heebie was set up.


Posted by: Jesus McQueen | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:30 PM
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Naturally, after you draft your lecture, you should read it aloud at approximately the pace you want to read it when you give it, and see how long it takes.

I can't do this. I just can't. If I don't have an audience, I stop after every flubbed line, I end up repeating the first 5 minutes over and over, and so on. The first few times I had to lecture I was convinced that I needed to practice giving it first, and the practices were so stressful that I was convinced that I had chosen the wrong profession. I was very pleasantly surprised to find out it actually isn't so bad to give a lecture if you have an audience. In fact, I even enjoy it! (And while I don't practice reading it aloud, I do read over my notes many times. Just silently.)


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:30 PM
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311: But she sold the 'b' and got $3.50.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:30 PM
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Heebie were any Danish advertisers filming this meeting?


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:31 PM
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I was quite convinced, apparently.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:31 PM
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I can't do this. I just can't. If I don't have an audience, I stop after every flubbed line, I end up repeating the first 5 minutes over and over, and so on.

Keep doing it until you flub no lines. One potential disadvantage is that practice will result in simply ingraining the mistakes. You can also recruit peers and acquaintances as a mock audience.

I find that—as with so many things—it's easier once you're really doing it than it was when you were practicing for it. But I still think read-throughs are worthwhile, especially if you've got pacing concerns.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:34 PM
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I find it useful to make someone outside my field listen to the talk the night before. I draft aloud, so I'm pretty sure the sentences work, but I often need someone to listen and say, "It sounds like your argument is..." so I know whether it's balanced correctly.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:36 PM
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One potential disadvantage is that practice will result in simply ingraining the mistakes.

This is my problem, yes.

I do still practice talks that are not for classes that I am teaching, and I recruit peers. But the amount of time necessary for me to rehearse a 50 minute lecture three times a week - or in summer school, a 90 + minute lecture three times a week - is simply not available, and, as I discovered, counter-productive. I'm pretty good with pacing naturally and I usually set up the end of my lecture so that if I find out that I'm going to go over I can cut it off early but still naturally. I'm actually quite proud of myself that in my first class I only had one day where I didn't get through the material on time.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:39 PM
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I sometimes film myself with a webcam to watch for smoothness etc. Plus then I can tell if I'm making weird faces or something.

Relatedly- one of my classes last semester was set to automatically film every lecture (the premise being that hearing students can bring audio recorders to their classes so this is the equivalent). I don't think any students ever used the resource, but it is pretty interesting to be able to go back and watch myself to see what all I'm doing wrong. Or what all I'm doing an awesome job at.


Posted by: Cecily | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:40 PM
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Also, when you're teaching, it can be hard to predict what will create discussion and questions from your students, so your timing gets thrown off quite easily.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:41 PM
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I am surprised that you are expected to lecture for 90 minutes solid.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:44 PM
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I thought the child somewhere was R's illegitimate half-sibling.


Posted by: Bave Dee | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:44 PM
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Oh, I didn't lecture for that long (the students would all be asleep), but the classes are an hour and forty minutes in the summer (three days in a row, which is just lovely for the students). I generally planned 45 minutes of lecture, break, discussion, and then another 15-30 minutes of lecture or so, depending on how long discussion went (and generally with the second half having more stops for student involvement). And that sort of thing is inordinately hard to practice for since it really depends on your students.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:48 PM
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PowerPoint presentations are all the rage in indie standup comedy these days.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 12:56 PM
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A lot of legal writing makes me feel stupid -- I get so bored that I literally have trouble figuring out what's going. I'm never quite sure whether to blame myself or the writer.

The writer. If a reasonably intelligent reader has a hard time following, the writing is bad. Surely written by people like Megan's colleagues who believe that big words make them sound smarter.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:09 PM
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While that seems like a good general rule, I have to correct for the fact that I have the attention span and work ethic of a stoned fruit-fly.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:12 PM
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325: PowerPoint? The ones I go to use overhead projectors.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:14 PM
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It is a good general rule, but remember the corollary: if you wrote it, it's the reader's fault.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:15 PM
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Surely written by people like Megan's colleagues who believe that big words make them sound smarter.

The worst offenders in this regard: announcements by airline personnel. If ever there were an occasion where plain English is called for, it would be the on-board saftey announcement, but nooooh, it's got to be "utilize" this and "proceed" that.

And the superfluous use of the emphatic voice! "We do ask that you utilize the lavatories in your ticketed cabin only." Yes, I can see that you're doing that! Try making a simple declarative statement for once, you cow-faced flying waitress! (No offense to LB's sainted mother intended.)


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:17 PM
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PowerPoint presentations are all the rage in indie standup comedy these days.

I can't tell if this is serious or not.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:21 PM
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I'm ordinarily not a fan of Paul Fussell's class snobbery, but his takedown of high-falutin' language by airline personnel in BAD, or The Dumbing of America" is spot on.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:25 PM
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While that seems like a good general rule, I have to correct for the fact that I have the attention span and work ethic of a stoned fruit-fly.

Today I decided I really should optimize my work habits to deal with my short attention span and tendency to put aside projects for weeks and then spend forever re-doing parts of them or digging through piles of notebooks trying to figure out what I was up to. I've started a private work blog with entries tagged by project and other useful keywords, where I'm documenting what I do in tedious detail so that it's easily searchable later, in the hopes of no longer having to duplicate quadruplicate my own efforts all the time. I'm not sure I have the work ethic to carry this plan through properly, though.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:27 PM
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work ethic of a stoned fruit-fly

Stoned fruit-flies work hard enough to get papers into Cell, so really, that's not so bad.

Upon exposure to ethanol, Drosophila display behaviors that are similar to ethanol intoxication in rodents and humans. Using an inebriometer to measure ethanol-induced loss of postural control, we identified cheapdate, a mutant with enhanced sensitivity to ethanol. Genetic and molecular analyses revealed that cheapdate is an allele of the memory mutant amnesiac... [W]e find that enhanced ethanol sensitivity of cheapdate can be reversed by treatment with agents that increase cAMP levels or PKA activity. [Moore MS, DeZazzo J, Luk AY, Tully T, Singh CM, Heberlein U. Cell. 1998 Jun 12;93(6):997-1007.]

Posted by: Gabardine Bathyscaphe | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:28 PM
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The ones I go to use overhead projectors.

Moby Hick is commenting from a previous decade!


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:28 PM
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I don't mean to insult you, KR, but you're kind of a dick.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:29 PM
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If ever there were an occasion where plain English is called for, it would be the on-board saftey announcement, but nooooh, it's got to be "utilize" this and "proceed" that.

Please make sure that your seat back is in the full, upright and locked position. Was that "fully upright"? No, it wasn't.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:30 PM
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334: I love it!


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:33 PM
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331: my comment or the comedy? The comedy is not serious sort of by definition. My comment I stand by 100%. It's the new thing!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:33 PM
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POWERPOINT COMEDY ROUTINES ARE NO LAUGHING MATTER


Posted by: OPINIONATED STS-107 CREW | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:36 PM
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I sometimes film myself with a webcam to watch for smoothness etc. Plus then I can tell if I'm making weird faces or something.

Cecily is a Camgirl! I hear you ladies make good money.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:38 PM
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Speaking of powerpoint, I bought an Edward Tufte's book after reading Megan's praise. I really enjoyed it.


Posted by: Will | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:40 PM
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Home/hone update:

Was just having a conversation with AB and a friend. Friend says "hone in on," I confirm that that's what she said, AB agrees that hone is fine, I briefly recapitulate the thread, they both laugh at me.

LB and I are an oppressed, but correct, minority. Moby and Cyrus too, iirc.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:53 PM
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a mock audience.

You guys seem like an amply mocking audience.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:54 PM
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Surely 336 is news to no one.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 1:58 PM
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336, 345 - Not so long as he keeps sweet-talking me about industrial processes, he's not.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 2:03 PM
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343: Moby Cyrus? What are her hit songs?


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 2:04 PM
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KR, it's even better when you realize how the inebriometer works:

Briefly, the inebriometer is an approximately 4 ft long glass column containing multiple oblique mesh baffles through which ethanol vapor is circulated. To begin a "run," about 100 flies are introduced into the top of the inebriometer. With time, flies lose their ability to stand on the baffles and gradually tumble downward. As they fall out of the bottom of the inebriometer, a fraction collector is used to gather them at 3 min intervals, at which point they are counted.

The colloquium where I saw this work presented was actually one of the best talks of grad school. The method was obviously going to get some laughs, but he managed the comedy to keep us engaged without trivializing his quite interesting work.


Posted by: Gabardine Bathyscaphe | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 2:04 PM
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The inebriometer! What a great invention!

Are they working on one for humans yet?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 2:06 PM
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327 describes me too.

Like AWB, I am also genuinely good at reading aloud.


Posted by: Bostoniangirl | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 2:15 PM
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With time, flies lose their ability to stand on the baffles and gradually tumble downward.

I'm pretty sure they used something similar at apo's fraternity rush.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 2:16 PM
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Please make sure that your seat back is in the full, upright and locked position. Was that "fully upright"? No, it wasn't.

I do have sympathy for people in customer-service positions who have to structure their language to preempt obnoxious objections. The fifteenth or sixteenth time some smartaleck wants to pick a fight with you about why his seat should count as upright even though it isn't, I can see why you default to the extra verbiage.

Maybe this just comes from patrons always, always trying to find a way around the Internet policy. NO INAPPROPRIATE MATERIAL MEANS NO PORN, people. Boy do I hate policing.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 3:03 PM
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As an undergrad, I regularly had Tuesday-Thursday classes with 80 minute lectures. Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes had 50 minute lectures. Professors didn't always use the full, upright 80 minutes - some planned for a question a period at the end - but usually they came very close to it.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 3:09 PM
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The fifteenth or sixteenth time some smartaleck wants to pick a fight with you about why his seat should count as upright even though it isn't, I can see why you default to the extra verbiage.

Yes, but why not "fully upright," instead? There's some interesting semantic bleaching in effect there.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 3:09 PM
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customer-service positions who have to structure their language to preempt obnoxious objections.

The recorded "no smoking" announcement at the Atlanta airport is a classic of the genre, specifying that one must not only not smoke, but also "refrain from carrying lighted cigarettes, pipes, or cigars". I'm sure there was a smart-aleck defense lawyer and a dismissed charge somewhere in the prehistory of that announcement.


Posted by: KR | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 3:19 PM
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There's an old comedy sketch that begins when a flight attendant informs a passenger smoking a cigarette that smoking carries a fine and the passenger immediately says "I'll pay it."


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 3:33 PM
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I regularly had Tuesday-Thursday classes with 80 minute lectures. Monday-Wednesday-Friday classes had 50 minute lectures

At my school, MWF were 80 minute classes and TTH were 120 minute. Does extra class time translate into more information? I have no idea.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 4:32 PM
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We had 50 minute discussions twice a week or 110 minute discussions (or seminars) once a week, but never a 2 hour lecture. I don't mind long discussion classes, but I find lecture that classes or classes with minimal discussion that aren't consciously presented as lecture classes that last more than 90 minutes (such as most of the 3 hour classes I have here) are really hard to sit through.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 4:38 PM
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lecture that <-> that lecture


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 4:39 PM
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Relying on my probably faulty memory, I think my school did primarily lecture courses MWF (for example, all my science classes were MWF, with then a lab on T/TH that was 3 hours long - oh joy) and those classes that mixed up discussion and lecture as the 2 hour courses (for example, since we had no discussion sections, history courses were generally a mix of discussion and lecture and might be on a MWF or TTH set up).

I happen to adore sitting and listening to people lecture while I take notes (well, so long as the lecturer is interesting) and somewhat dislike discussion, so this system worked pretty well for me. But I was an atypical student.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 4:51 PM
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There are some lecturers I could probably listen to for a long time. But I haven't heard any of them for a long time.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 4:54 PM
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I have the luxury of getting paid to go hear good lecturers all the time. It's kind of nice.

(Also, I know no one cares, but I realized that upper-division science classes were often on the T/TH schedule too. I loved listening my Irish paleontology professor essentially rant for two hours about the state of the field or this or that fellow scientist. Then he'd ask if we wanted a Guinness.)


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 01- 8-10 4:58 PM
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PowerPoint? The ones I go to use overhead projectors.

Demetri Martin uses a large pad.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 01- 9-10 4:16 PM
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