Dorothy Parker: Superfluous Advice

Ian James presented a lovely recording tool, Vocaroo, on his blog, and I’ll be using it in online courses. But here on this blog, dear reader, it’s an easy way to record yourself and to practice your pronunciation. Listen to my recording to help with the more difficult words. Then record yourself (you might have to press “record” twice to make it work on the second go!)

Superfluous Advicedorothy-parker

By Dorothy Parker

Should they whisper false of you,
Never trouble to deny;
Should the words they say be true,
Weep and storm and swear they lie.

Powered by Vocaroo

Recipe For Happiness

Recipe For Happiness
Khaborovsk Or Anyplace
by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

One grand boulevard with trees
with one grand cafe in sun
with strong black coffee in very small cups.

One not necessarily very beautiful
man or woman who loves you.

One fine day.

I wonder about the meaning of the last line. What do you think: Is today a very fine day indeed? Or is Ferlinghetti talking about one fine day in the future when he might experience this idyllic café scene? Is he remembering a day when he was truly happy? Or is he being just slightly sarcastic about this “quick and easy” recipe for happiness? I think it’s completely up to you.

I hadn’t quite made up my mind about what the line meant when I read it for this recording, and you can tell, can’t you? Change the meaning of the line and poem, and your intonation will change, too. So come on, you can do better: First decide what the line means to you, and then read the poem out loud. If you have the means of recording it, please do, and send me the link, ok?

Ogden Nash: To My Valentine

To My Valentine
by Ogden Nash

More than a catbird hates a cat,
Or a criminal hates a clue,
Or the Axis hates the United States,
That’s how much I love you.

I love you more than a duck can swim,
And more than a grapefruit squirts,
I love you more than gin rummy is a bore,
And more than a toothache hurts.

As a shipwrecked sailor hates the sea,
Or a juggler hates a shove,
As a hostess detests unexpected guests,
That’s how much you I love.

I love you more than a wasp can sting,
And more than the subway jerks,
I love you as much as a beggar needs a crutch,
And more than a hangnail irks.

I swear to you by the stars above,
And below, if such there be,
As the High Court loathes perjurious oaths,
That’s how much you’re loved by me.


Ogden Nash (1902-1971) started work writing advertising copy for Doubleday, Page Publishing, New York, in 1925.
He went on to publish his first book for children, The Cricket of Caradon, in 1925, and his first poem, Spring Comes to Murray Hill, in New Yorker magazine in 1930. Joining the New Yorker in 1932, he was briefly the great Dorothy Parker’s editor. I’ll bet that cost him some sleep. In all, he published 19 books of poetry. Light verse though it was, he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1950.

Question: When does remixing become second-hand living?

Germany has been rocked by scandal this past week, as Helene Hegemann, the 17-year old writer of an astonishing novel called Axolotl Roadkill, has been shown up by Munich blogger Deef Pirmasens (Gefühlskonserve) to have lifted whole passages of her book from the writings of one Airen, a blogger in Berlin. Her publisher had asked her whether she’d quoted anything, and she’d said “no”. So she made a stupid mistake, and she’s being called a liar and a thief and all sorts of other nice things. The book is hot, sold out, second printing in the works. I only read the first 20 pages at my sister-in-law’s. It’s fast and savvy, a head trip full of adult experiences you’d sleep better knowing a 16 or 17 year old hasn’t had yet. So you really can’t help but be relieved that she actually did copy some of the episodes from an urbane blogger. Anyhow, she’s saying that her whole book is a remix anyway, and a totally legitimate new literary art form at that. Of course she’s right about remixing being a movement and an art form, and she can talk the talk, so she’ll be in the literary supplements for a while to come. Once the copyright issue  is settled in the second edition, a minor issue, and she shares the limelight with Airen, she’ll survive just fine as a writer.

But let’s just go back one step. So her book is pieced together almost completely from second-hand experiences. In music, remixing can create something sophisticated that reflects the artist’s skill and vision. But words are by their very nature unoriginal. Putting them together in a way that makes them your own is a helluva job. Remixing writing to make a novel? Why write one at all if you’re producing a product that just reproduces what other people have written? What’s the point?

This also makes me think of my own work as a teacher. In essay writing I preach: Put yourself into your writing. Make it real. Live, and live to talk about it. That’s especially hard to do in “English as a foreign language”, which is basically a large collection of the handiest, most frequently used phrases, so it’s full of linguistic clichés. It can drive a language lover to drink. So it’s hard enough to help language learners find their own voice. Do they plagiarize? All the time. And I give them hell for it.

Here’s what I think: Plagiarizing is not the same thing as remixing. Plagiarizing isn’t “borrowing” from others.  All it is, is stealing from yourself.

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Question: Inspired by a fault?

Django Reinhardt was born 100 years ago yesterday. He lost the use of the third and fourth finger on his left hand when the family caravan caught fire, and as a result developed his own unique style of guitar playing.

Seriously inspirational, that is. Can you remember any other artists in any genre who became who they were because of some physical or mental disability? I can think of two artists who were visually impaired, and created iconic works of art as a consequence: Alberto Giacometti, with his strange and lovely “drippy” sculptures, and the great El Greco, the Spanish Renaissance painter whose paintings appear modern because of the way he stretches his figures. (PS: See corrective note in the comments!) Can you add any of your own?

a fault:

  1. the fact of being responsible for a bad or unpleasant situation
    It’s not my fault!
  2. a feature of something that makes it less good
    There’s a fault in the system.

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Question: Can you disengage from social networks?

Late last summer Chris invited me to get on the luddite bandwaggon and drop Twitter and Facebook. Chris is a blogger and makes videos, so “luddite” is somewhat relative. But here am I, having a massive change of heart after promoting the use of online social networks to my local community of teachers.

Some time ago Karenne Sylvester created a thought-provoking survey on how much time her readers were spending online. Thinking through my own habits I was frankly shamed by how much time I was investing in reading other people’s blogs and comments. I really wanted to do the right thing by this new world of professional networking, but it left me with far too little time for the world around me. So I’ve decided to reduce my time online drastically in 2010, and see my friends more, read more, and get back to making music. That means a lot less time for engagement. I have alotted exactly one hour a day to online networking.

So, at the risk of alienating the lovely colleagues I have met or reconnected with online through social networks, I confess: Social networking is beginning to annoy me. Like anything you don’t have time for, it’s there, whining, tugging at my sleeves. I find myself reconfiguring my email settings to make smart mailboxes that collect all notifications from my various e-lists and drop them in a deep black hole, deleting them from my in-box range of vision. The mailboxes could let me catch up later, but I find that in the past month I haven’t, because it’s simply too time-consuming to be truly convenient. Should I skim through those emails one day, the discussions would be long over. And who wants yesterday’s papers? And these days, last week feels like last year.

Online smalltalk, if you are not engaging with your contacts, is just other people giving each other strokes, noisily. And not engaging means using the networks mainly for self-promotion, to post new articles, which is frowned upon. As I disengage on Twitter, people are starting to unfollow me. Unfriending on Facebook is sure to follow.

Social networking has given this blog a far more real and 3D community. Without my Twitter and Blog friends I’d be talking to myself here. So I’m fully aware that this networking fatigue is very ungrateful, and that I should be ashamed of myself. But I’ve got my priorities. Am I destroying something of great value by disengaging? Or am I rightsizing?

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Question: What role do elderly parents play in your life?

My mother died last week,Muff near Eastern Market, 20 July 2004 and I’m mourning and thinking back. When I decided to stay here in Germany, an ocean away, I automatically decided against sharing her day-to-day life and being there to help her with her big and small needs. Not being there has felt morally wrong, always. After all, you simply can’t “delegate” tender loving care, no matter how involved you get in your parents’ living arrangements from a distance. Two of my brothers cared for her in Washington, which is very comforting, and I spent time with her recently. But still, she wasn’t a part of my daily life. I’ve always dreamt of a utopia where all of the generations of my family and my and our friends are nearby, but reality is very different.

Can you imagine having, or are you planning to have, your parents live with you and your family? There will certainly be more of that in the next years, as retirement homes will again become a great luxury. As for me, I’d like to find group living arrangements myself, with a small group of like-minded people sharing a house, and kind-hearted professionals to take care of our physical needs. Yet another utopia?

What about you? Are you struggling with arrangements for your elderly parents? Or are you already thinking about how you will handle your own last years?

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