Why Writers and Readers Should Vote

why writers readers vote
Today I’ll start with the bottom line: every eligible voter should exercise that right, duty, and privilege! In a democracy, voting is the strongest way for political representatives to know the will of the citizens.

 

This chart is difficult to read, but it essentially says that even now, the president is elected by less than 45% of the U.S. population. Granted, some people are too young to vote, or ineligible for other reasons. But even in the best years, only about 60% of eligible voters did so.
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When I say voting is a privilege, I say so in light of the history of voting rights in the United States. Here is a list of the major milestones.

 

1789: The Constitution granted states the power to set voting requirements. Generally, states limited the right to vote to property-owning or tax-paying white males, approximately 6% of the population.

 

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1790: The Naturalization Act of 1790 allowed white men born outside the U. S. to become citizens with the right to vote.

 

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1792-1838: Free black males lost the right to vote in several Northern states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
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1792-1856: Abolition of property qualifications for white men, from Kentucky in 1792 to North Carolina in 1856, the periods of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy. However, tax-paying qualifications remained in five states as late as 1860 (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and North Carolina). They remained in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island until the 20th century.
why writers readers vote
1868: Citizenship was guaranteed to all persons born or naturalized in the United States by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, setting the stage for future expansions of voting rights.
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1870: Non-white men and freed male slaves were guaranteed the right to vote by the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Disenfranchisement after the Reconstruction Era began soon after. Southern states suppressed the voting of black and poor white voters through Jim Crow Laws. During this period, the Supreme Court generally upheld state efforts to discriminate against racial minorities; only in the 20th century were such laws ruled unconstitutional. Black males in the Northern states could vote, but the majority of African Americans lived in the South.

 

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1887: By the Dawes Act, citizenship was granted to Native Americans who were willing to disassociate themselves from their tribe, making them technically eligible to vote.
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1913: The Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution gave voters the right to elect Senators, rather than state legislatures doing so.

 

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1920: The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution gave women the right to vote. The same restrictions that hindered voting for poor or non-white men also applied to poor or non-white women.
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Women have had the right to vote for less than one hundred years. Many polls reveal gender gaps on issues and candidates. Don’t waste this opportunity to express your values!
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1924: All Native Americans were granted citizenship and the right to vote, regardless of tribal affiliation. By that time, approximately two thirds of Native Americans were already citizens.
why writers readers vote
1943: Chinese immigrants were given the right to citizenship and to voting by the Magnuson Act.
why writers readers vote
1961: Residents of Washington, D.C. were granted the right to vote in U.S. presidential elections by the Twenty-Third Amendment to the Constitution.
 
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1964: The Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution prohibited poll taxes from being used as a condition for voting in federal elections.

 

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1965: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 protected voter registration and voting for racial minorities. This was later applied to language minorities. This has been applied to correcting discriminatory election systems and districting. (Updated in 1975.)

 

why writers readers vote
1966: The Supreme Court prohibited tax payment and wealth requirements for voting in state elections.
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1971: The Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the Constitution granted the right to vote to those aged 18 through 21. This was in response to Vietnam War protests, which argued that soldiers who were old enough to fight for their country (and maybe die) should have the right to vote.
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I’ve read that this age group is the least likely to vote. Some put the figure at 20%.

 

1986: U.S. Military and Uniformed Services, Merchant Marines, and other citizens overseas, living on bases in the U.S., abroad, or aboard ships were granted the right to vote in the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.

 

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2013: The Supreme Court (in a 5/4 vote) struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval. The core of the winning argument was that racial minorities no longer continued to face barriers to voting because “Our country has changed” (Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr.). The majority determined that specifying states that must receive clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before they changed voting procedures, moving polling places, or redrawing electoral districts was unconstitutional.

 

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This year, major outcries have arisen about everything from ID requirements to relocation of polling places that have a disproportionate effect on minorities. For example, suppression of African American votes in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, and Texas; Hispanics in Kansas; and Native Americans in North Dakota. Make the effort to vote in spite of obstacles!
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Elements of Halloween

halloween decorations

Halloween is second only to Christmas in money spent specifically for the holiday. Americans spend almost $10 BILLION per year on candy, costumes, and decorations. But how many people have considered the meanings of things associated with Halloween? Here, for your edification, is Halloween deconstructed. Many Halloween traditions have their roots in ancient Celtic harvest festivals, especially the Gaelic festival of Samhain. Halloween came to America with the Scottish and Irish immigrants in the 1800s, and was widely popular by the early 1900s. But some modern Halloween traditions were first practiced approximately 4,000 BCE, so it’s no wonder that meanings and traditions have morphed over time.

skulls

Skulls, Skeletons, and Bones

Skulls serve as reminders of death and the transitory quality of human life (a reference to Golgatha in Christian tradition). A skull is often depicted with cross bones (St. Andrew’s Cross), a symbol of spiritual perfection.

A skeleton is the personification of Death and sometimes the devil. In alchemy, it is the symbol of blackness and putrefaction which precede transmutation.

In some instances a skeleton symbolizes death in general and the brevity of human life.

Druid priests would throw bones of cattle into the flames and thus bone fire became bonfire. Also, see CATS below.

One superstition is that if an unmarried woman sits in a darkened room and peers into a mirror on Halloween, she will see her marriage future. If a face appears, it will be her future husband. If a skull appears, she will die unwed.

In the United States’ Deep South there lingers a belief that white moss taken from the skull of a murdered man has special magical and medical properties.

Currently skulls represent courage and rebellion, embraced by bikers and others.

Skulls carved from crystal and mineral rocks are thought to be strongly protective and healing.

witch doll

 

Witches

The word witch comes from the Old English wicce, meaning wise woman. Wiccan were highly respected at one time.

According to popular belief, witches held one of their two main meetings, or sabbats, on Halloween.

Witches and warlocks were regarded as priestesses and priests of devil worship.

In medieval Europe, owls were seen as witches, and have historically been one of the most popular Halloween images.

At various periods in history, witches were believed to be in league with the Devil, and anyone (mostly women) associated with unexplained occurrences was suspected of witchcraft, leading to hunts and trials.

At one time, all cats were thought to be familiars of witches, and witches were believed to be able to turn themselves into cats at will to carry out their evil intentions

elements halloween

Halloween Animals

Cats. During the ancient celebrations of Samhain, Druids were said to throw cats into a fire, often in wicker cages, as a means of divination. From their association with Samhain, and later witches, cats are now an integral part of Halloween, especially black cats. (see above and below.)

There is a worldwide superstition that a black cat crossing your path will bring good luck. (Be sure to make a wish if it does.) In America, black cats are generally thought to be unlucky—although black and white—and grey—cats are said to be lucky. The international good luck belief in black cats dates back to Egyptian times when one of their most important goddesses was Bast, a female black cat. So, a black cat walking into your house is an omen of good fortune, particularly of money to come.

(Other aspects of cat luck depend on whether you own it or meet it, whether or not it crosses your path, and how many cats are involved.)

Not directly related to Halloween, but in both America and Europe, a white cat is looked upon with some suspicion, and a gray tortoiseshell coming into your home is a bad omen.

Black cats are thought to have curative powers. A little blood from the tail is reputed to heal many minor wounds if rubbed on the affected area. They are also used in rituals to appease the gods, but never killed. To kill a black cat is extremely bad luck.

During the Middle Ages, Satan was believed to take the form of a black cat while consorting with witches.

Cats are not just cats. Druids believed that cats were humans who were being punished for evil acts during their lives. Opposite: Buddhists believed that cats were the temporary resting places of extremely spiritual people. Related: In Japan, it was believed that spirits of the dead sometimes take the form of female cats. Cats have long been believed to be the familiars of witches. (See above.)

A cat on top of a tombstone signals that the soul of the body buried beneath was possessed by the devil.

sri lanka bats

Although in the East, bats are a good omen, in the West, they are considered harbingers of evil. It’s a creature of mystery and darkness, coming out at night and mysteriously disappearing at dawn (as witches were also thought to do).

In the Middle Ages bats were believed to be in league with the devil and in partnership with witches. A bat was called the witches’ bird.

Bats were thought to be able to transform themselves into human form or that of a wolf or other unrelated species.

owl night

Owls are associated with both wisdom and doom. There are lengthy myths and beliefs going back to the Greeks and Romans and probably earlier. For Halloween purposes, I’ll focus on the doom beliefs. One superstition is that hearing an owl’s call is a sign that someone is about to die.

In Vedic mythology of the Hindus, Yama, the god of the dead, had owls and pigeons as his messengers.

An owl shrieking during the day heralded an impending defeat in battle, a plague, sickness, or death. In rural communities, the owl is still seen as an evil omen.

Native Americans believed the owl wasn’t a real bird but the spirit of the dead, taking that form to warn of approaching death. In addition, the hooting of the owl was sometimes the dead communicating with the living. The owl was supposed to be the heartbeat of the dead person who came to tell news in the gloom of midnight.

A Seminole Indian who hears an owl call whistles back. If the owl doesn’t answer the whistle, s/he believes s/he has received the summons of approaching death.

When a single crow caws near a house it is announcing an approaching calamity. If it flies to the left, it is a sign of bad news.

When a crow is seen immediately before or after a wedding ceremony, the unhappy couple will divorce.

ghosts halloween

Ghosts and Ghouls

Although Celtic folklore is full of ghosts, driven by both good and evil intentions, generally it’s unhealthy to meet a ghost.

Ghosts embody, and in a sense symbolize, fears of beings who dwell in another world.

The Druid Thanksgiving for harvests occurred on October 31. It was the feast of Saman, lord of Death, who called together the souls of all the wicked ones who had been condemned to inhabit the bodies of animals during the year. The good souls were believed to take human form, but it was impossible to tell the real human beings from the ones inhabited by ghosts.

Good souls entered the body of another human being for the occasion, but wicked ghosts had to roam around in search of an abode.

It was believed that any harm that might be inflicted by a wicked soul could be lightened by gifts.

Medieval people believed that cats and rabbits were inhabited by evil souls. When these animals were seen on the ground where the dead were supposed to rest forever, they were taken for ghosts in disguise.

scary jack o lanterns

Jack-O’-Lanterns

Originally, a jack-o’-lantern was intended to light the way of a wandering spirit, denied entry into either heaven or hell. Carved pumpkins are a New World variation on an old Irish tradition.

The Irish Celts invented the jack-o’-lantern. According to folklore, Stingy Jack was out drinking with the Devil and convinced him to turn himself into a coin to pay for their drinks without spending money. He put the devil coin in his pocket with a silver cross which kept the Devil from changing back. He promised to free the devil if the Devil wouldn’t bother him for a year, and if he died, the Devil could never claim his soul. Subsequently, he tricked the Devil another time or two. When Jack finally died, God found him unfit for heaven, but the Devil had promised never to claim his soul for hell. So Jack was sent to roam the earth with only a burning coal for light.

Stingy Jack put the coal in a turnip and became Jack of the Lantern. The Irish carved jack-o’-lantern from turnips, beets, and potatoes to scare away Stingy Jack and any other spirits.

trick treaters

Halloween Costumes

Halloween costumes are an offshoot of an ancient Celtic belief that dressing up as ghouls and other spooks would allow them to escape the notice of real spirits roaming the streets during Samhain. Traditional Halloween costumes reflect supernatural beings such as vampires, ghosts, skeletons, witches, devils, or other monsters.

According to ancient Roman records, people in today’s France and Germany wore costumes of animal heads and skins to connect to spirits of the dead.

One belief was that people who wear their cloths inside out and then walk backwards on Halloween will see a witch at midnight.

masquerade

Early celebrants of Samhain often disguised themselves as evil spirits by simply blackening their faces. This may be the earliest form or “false faces,” as masks in Ireland were known.

Among the Iroquois, their False Face dances originate from Flint, the evil one of their Twin culture-heroes, who rules over darkness.

Masks sometimes carry magic power which protects their wearers against sorcerers and those who would harm them. On the other hand, members of secret societies use them to impose their will through fear.

Masks are agents to control the movements of spiritual energies scattered throughout the world and all the more dangerous for being unseen. Masks are designed to subjugate and control the invisible world. Trap them to stop their wandering.

Halloween Colors

Orange is known as a symbol of strength and endurance, often represented today by pumpkins, carved or not. FYI, A New Hampshire man has grown the largest pumpkin ever recorded in U.S. history – weighing in at an incredible 2,528 pounds. Steve Geddes of Boscawen, N.H., won $6,000 in prize money at the Deerfield Fair for his first place pumpkin on September 29, 2018.

As a color midway between yellow and red, it’s primary symbolism is that of the balance point between the spirit and the libido.

Black is frequently seen as a symbol of death and darkness, a reminder that Halloween festivals once marked the boundaries between life and death.

Black is most often seen as cold and negative, nothingness and chaos, confusion and disorder, a symbol of evil, and the color of death.

Black is the color of melancholy, pessimism, sorrow, and misfortune.

Brown and gold are typically the symbolism of autumn and harvest. Corn stalks and hay bales are common representatives today. Scarecrows symbolize the agricultural roots of Halloween.

Brown is the color of earth and excrement. At various times, in various cultures, it has been the color of melancholy, humility, poverty, and sadism.

In Ireland, brown shared all the underworld and warlike symbolism of black.

Gold and light are symbols knowledge leading to immortality. If it is used well, in the search for knowledge, it brings happiness. Otherwise it brings disaster. The color gold and the pure metal are solar symbols, but “minted gold” is a symbol of perversion and the exaltation of unclean desire, the spiritual degraded to the level of the material, the immortal to the mortal.

In Greek tradition, gold is associated with the sun—and thus fertility, wealth, dominion, a center of warmth, love and generosity, the fire of light, knowledge and radiance.

sweet sour candy

Halloween Treats

In ancient times, the Celts put treats on their doorsteps and in the streets to provide offerings to placate the spirits who roamed the streets at Samhain, a sacred festival that marked the end of the Celtic calendar year.

“Souling” is a medieval Christian precursor to modern trick-or-treating. On “Hallowmas” (Nov. 1) the poor would go from house to house, offering prayers for the dead in exchange for soul cakes.

Early door-to-door begging involved the poor seeking coins.

Some trace trick-or-treating to the practice of mumming or guysinging, which involved costumed people going door-to-door performing prepared dances, songs, and plays in exchange for treats. This was common in Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man, and Wales.

The first known mention of trick-or-treating in North America was 1927, in Canada.

Halloween Superstitions

October 31 is traditionally the time when the spirits of the dead are allowed a last fling before winter sets in. In Ireland, it’s said that if you hear footsteps behind you on that night, it is one of the dead following you and you never look around lest you see him or her and soon become one of them.

During celebrations of Samhain, bonfires were lit to ensure that the sun would return after the long, hard winter. Even earlier, worshipers of Baal, the Syrian sun-god, built fires in his honor about the same time of year as Halloween. Around 837, when Pope Gregory IV declared Nov. 1 as All Saints Day, people believed that ghosts and goblins were abroad on the eve of All Saints Day and built great bonfires to keep them away.

To banish evil spirits, walk around your house three times backward and counterclockwise before sunset on Halloween.

The Name and Associated Tidbits

Hallowe’en dates back to about 1745 and is of Christian origin. Halloween is short for Hallows Eve, which was the evening before All Hallows (sanctified or holy) Day, also known as Hallowmas on Nov. 1.

In Mexico, people dress up like ghouls and parade in the streets to celebrate The Day of the Dead on All Saints Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls Day (Nov. 2).

Teng Chieh (Lantern Festival) is one Halloween celebration in China in which dragon and other animal lanterns are put out to guide spirits back to their earthly homes. Food and water to honor their deceased loved ones are placed by ancestral portraits. In Hong Kong Yue Lan (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts) includes fires, food, and gifts to placate angry ghosts looking for revenge.

San-Apple Night and Nutcrack Night are names derived from the ancient Roman Festival of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds. Halloween customs and games that feature nuts and apples (such as candied apples and bobbing for apples) have their roots here. Apples are strongly associated with the otherworld and immortality, while hazelnuts were associated with divine wisdom.

In some American towns, Halloween was referred to as Cabbage Night, and the use of cabbage in a Scottish fortune-telling game. BTW, there are many old traditions in which girls can “see” their future husbands on Halloween. Several other fortune telling activities involve apple peels, pairs of hazelnuts near open fires, salty oatmeal bannocks, or items symbolizing the future hidden in food (e.g., a cake), or stones around the remains of a bonfire.

Besides those mentioned above, Halloween has been called Witches Night, Lamswool, Snap-Apple Night, and Summer’s End.

BOTTOM LINE: Everything associated with Halloween has deep roots and multiple meanings. Know what you’re symbolizing! And incidentally, make your characters know, too.

FYI: Samhainophobia is the fear of Halloween!

elements halloween

Why Human Skulls?

October is traditionally the month to bring out Jack-o-Lanterns, ghosts, spiders, monsters of all sorts, and skeletons. But this October, my focus is on human skulls. Some of you are aware that I have been posting skull pictures on FB dailyBut why? Short answer: because I love them! They can, do, and always have represented many meanings to many people and cultures.
why human skulls

Skull Symbolism

 
As best I remember, I first noticed skulls on old tombstones in Boston. Virtually every tombstone featured some version of a skull. A frequent depiction was a skull with angel wings, presumed to represent death and life after death.

 

why human skulls
Subsequently, traveling abroad, I saw skulls in paintings, representing mortality, the swift passage of time, and that life is temporary.

 

Catacombes of Paris
Catacombs of Paris, 2007 [Source: Djtox]
In Rome, Prague, and cities in Portugal, I saw whole rooms and cathedrals walled and decorated with skulls, often honoring dead saints.

 

Skulls For Honor

Skulls honoring the dead took a much more personal turn in Cuzco, Peru. Since Inca times, mummies of the dead emperors were kept in homes and played an important role as leaders in Cuzco. Traditionally, families kept the skulls of ancestors on small altars in their homes. The pictures above are not mine, but when there I visited a one-room Inca home still inhabited by a family where an ancestral skull rested on a shelf carved into the stone wall, along with a partly burned candle and dried herbs. The skulls of loved ones are said to be good company, and to watch over and protect the family and the home.

 

why human skulls
In Mexico’s Day of the Dead, dead ancestors and relatives are honored in a joyous celebration in which sugar skulls in bright colors create a celebration of life as well as death.

 

Using Skulls

 
why human skulls
Using the domes of skulls as bowls, as ritual drinking cups, and/or as a tribute to the victor goes back millennia. The oldest known one was 12,750 BCE. Posting or displaying the heads of slain enemies is well known. It may be that people made skull cups to honor and remember their dead, but it could also have been to try to tap into magical or healing powers.

 

Skull medicine has a long history. In the 17th century, people would drink from skulls, drink the powdered skull, or imbibe the entire head. This was part of a widespread tradition of medicinal cannibalism using everything (bone, blood, flesh, and fat) that continued into the 18th and even the 19th centuries.

 

But I Don’t Do Any of Those Things With Skulls.

why human skulls
I have skulls for ornamentation and symbolism.  At first I wore skull scarves and jewelry for mystery book signings and panel presentations only. The more I looked at created skulls, the more attractive I found them to be. I’m not alone in this. A human skull with its large eye sockets is especially appealing to people and is easily recognized even in fragments. I especially like mineral skulls, and created this one-of-a-kind choker for myself.

 

why human skulls
I first read about the power of stones for a short story, “Beast and the Beauty.” Interestingly, I didn’t come across any stone for which the asserted power is malevolent. And even more interestingly (to me), some ancient societies believed that objects like crystal skulls represent life, the honoring of humanity in the flesh, and the embodiment of consciousness. That appeals to me.

 

why human skulls
If you search for skull symbolism online, you will find a post on bikerringshop.com, “Behind the Bones: the History of the Skull Ring.” This anonymously authored post includes a lot of interesting info; for example, “To the Victorians, a skull ring was a way to celebrate lost loved ones and a reminder of the wearer’s own mortality.”

 

In addressing the complicated symbolism surround skull rings, they address the following topics.

 

  1. Death Symbolism: most obvious association; a way of embracing and understanding your fate
  2. Carpe Diem: time is limited, so free spirits make the most of it
  3. A Reminder of Life: associated with the afterlife in many religions, from Aztecs to Christianity
  4. A Symbol of Equality: everyone will die, and one skull is pretty much like another
  5. Toughness and Rebellion: representing rebels, people who play by their own rules; bravery and toughness in the face of death.
why human skulls
Actually, I have more pendants and earrings than rings, from the totally formal to the clearly casual.

 

BOTTOM LINE: Find out about skulls, consider their meaning, and enjoy them.

Is the Quality of Writing Declining? And if So, Why?

mahjong
I recently played mah jong with other women of a certain age who were lamenting the quality of writing today, especially among their grandchildren. The opinion at the table was unanimous. But upon reflection (even after I noticed the poor writing in some recent novels I read), I wondered whether that is true. I searched online and here are the first several articles I found.
quality writing declining
According to Goldstein, “Three-quarters of both 12th and 8th grades lack proficiency in writing… And 40% of those who took the ACT writing exam in the high school class of 2016 lacked the reading and writing skills necessary to complete successfully a college-level composition class…”

 

Goldstein says that the root of the problem is that teachers have little training in how to teach writing and are often weak or unconfident writers themselves. According to a 2016 study of teachers across the country in grades three through eight, fewer than half had a college class that devoted significant time to the teaching of writing and fewer than a third had taken a class solely devoted to how children learn to write. The article then goes on to discuss various approaches to teaching writing.

 

In spite of the shortage of high-quality research on the teaching of writing, Goldstein cites a few concrete strategies that help.

 

  1. Children need to learn how to transcribe both by hand and through typing on a computer.
  2. Children need to practice writing great sentences before writing paragraphs.
  3. They need clear feedback on their writing.
  4. Students need a synthesis of freewriting without a focus on transcription or punctuation AND grammar instruction.
quality writing declining
Aalai says she has seen a decline in writing ability even over the last ten years, declines in critical thinking, proper syntax, spelling, grammar, even proper structure like paragraph indentation and how to cite sources. And she asks, “In the digital world where language is reduced down to 120 characters or less, is some essential part of ourselves that needs to be cultivated… also being lost in the shuffle?”

 

quality writing declining
Morrison’s blog post is very thorough. She presents facts on the writing skill gap, as well as “interesting data from The Writing Lives of College Students,” a list of strategies instructors might consider to develop students’ writing skills. “What is surprising is that students view sending text messages as a writing form and consider it to be the most valuable form of writing over all others.” There are also several enlightening responses to her blog.
quality writing declining
Gaille’s blog offers the following reasons for the decline in writing skills.

 

  1. Social Media Displacement of Reading. The basic issue is that students engage in social media rather than serious reading as a leisure activity.
  2. Digital Brains. Cites cognitive neuroscientists’ conclusions that touching, pushing, linking, scrolling and jumping through text accounts for students’ difficulties with reading the classics.
  3. College is Less Rigorous. (He cites research.)
  4. Writing Skills Are No Longer Graded. I.e., “[c]ontent alone matters, not how well the student expressed it.”
  5. Text Slang. This includes shortcuts, alternative words, or symbols to convey thoughts in an electronic document.
quality writing declining
Ingraham cites data to the effect that in 2015 the percentage of American adults who read literature (novels, short stories, poetry, or plays) fell to at least a three-decade low. The data exclude reading for school or work, so I’d classify this as reading literature for pleasure. Only 43% read at least one work of literature in the previous year, compared to 57% in 1982.

 

Who reads?

 

  • 50% of women, 36% of men
  • 50% of whites, 29% of African-Americans, 27% of Hispanics
  • 68% of people with a graduate degree, 59% with a bachelor’s degree, 30% with a high school education

 

Across the board, there have been drops in literary reading among all ages, races, and educational levels.

 

Does it matter if people are reading fewer works of literature? Yes! “A number of recent studies have demonstrated that fiction—particularly literary fiction—seems to boost the quality of empathy in the people who read it, their ability to see the world from another person’s eyes.” And the world needs more empathy than ever!

 

quality writing declining
This post starts with six quotes about the deterioration of language, then goes on to note that these quotes come from 1785 through 1978! According to Harvey A. Daniels, Famous Last Words: The American Language Crisis Reconsidered, “The earliest language ‘crisis’… that I have been able to discover occurred in ancient Sumeria… It seems that among the first of the clay tablets discovered and deciphered by modern scholars was one which recorded the agonized complaints of a Sumerian teacher about the sudden drop-off in students’ writing ability.”

 

According to this article, Daniels concludes the following:

 

  • our language cannot “die” as long as people speak it
  • language change is a healthy and inevitable process
  • all human languages are rule governed, ordered, and logical
  • variations between different groups of speakers are normal and predictable
  • all speakers employ a variety of speech forms and styles in response to changing social settings
  • most of our attitudes about language are based upon social rather than linguistic judgment
To paraphrase Gaille’s last paragraph: Just as good writing withstood the distractions of dance crazes, automobiling, and magazines, it also will survive social media.

What About Healthy Relationships?

I’ve been writing about relationships, both in terms of domestic violence and sexual assault/rape. But what about healthy relationships?

Define healthy relationships

healthy relationships
Key parts of relationships (click to enlarge image)

As I’ve written before, the term “healthy relationships” doesn’t necessarily pertain to just romantic partners; it can also include family and friends. A handout I received during an event with Hanover Safe Place (see image above) listed the following characteristics as being part of a healthy relationship:

  1. Self-esteem: Feeling positive about yourself before you’re able to take care of partners, friends, and family
  2. Communication: Talking out problems, feelings, and ideas, but also being a good listener
  3. Agreements: Promising to be respectful and follow “rules of relationships”
  4. Connections: Having more than one relationship so as to not remain isolated
  5. Balance: A give and take between the two people in the relationship

Are you in a healthy relationship?

An article in Psychology Today, written by Alice Boyes, Ph.D., goes a few steps further. It lists 50 characteristics of healthy relationships. By clicking the link, you can read through these characteristics; if you can answer “yes” to most of these statements, it’s likely you’re in a healthy relationship. Remember to be truthful with yourself!

healthy relationships
Relationship questions (click to enlarge image)

There are also questions you can ask yourself about your relationships (see above handout). These questions vary, but include:

  • Do you make decisions together? Give examples.
  • Do you trust and believe them? Do they trust and believe you?
  • Is your relationship built on choices, not pressure?

What to take away

Healthy relationships are built on equality between the partners. One person should not have most of the power in the relationship! Being in communication with one another, giving as well as receiving, and keeping the relationship balanced are all important to maintain a healthy relationship.

The Good and the Bad

lewis ginter origami garden
The good is yesterday’s visit to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden—the usual lush flora plus the current exhibit of metal sculptures based on origami. I saw only part of the sculptures but they are stunning! The heat drove me away before I tour the entire circuit, so a return visit is in the offing. I wanted to share, but couldn’t think of a way to make the excursion particularly relevant to writers and/or readers.
good bad lewis ginter
Therefore I decided to alternate the good with the bad—some nuggets of really egregious writing, from mixed metaphors to clichés—cited in this essay in the June 18th issue of The New Yorker.
new yorker critics high crimes
 
N.B.: The entire article is 3.3 pages plus a full-page illustration. Clearly, I’ve chosen only some of the worst writing quoted from The President Is Missing (Bill Clinton and James Patterson) to suit my purposes. The article contains much that is complementary, informative, and entertaining, and I highly recommend reading the entire thing!
“She had to bite her tongue and accept her place as second fiddle.”
“…the sorrowful, deer-in-the-headlights look is long gone. The gloves have come off.”
good bad lewis ginter
“Along the way, little animals bounce out of her path.”
“Augie looks at me like a lost puppy, in a foreign place with no partner anymore, nothing to call his own but his smartphone.”
good bad lewis ginter
“Adrenaline crashes through my body.”
“Volkov’s eyebrows flare a bit.”
good bad lewis ginter
“Augie lets out a noise that sounds like laughter.”
good bad lewis ginter
“…her face once again becomes a poker-face wall.”
good bad lewis ginter
“Casey falls to a crouch, gripping her hair.”
good bad lewis ginter
“…eyes in a focused squint…”
good bad lewis ginter
“a sweeping nod”
good bad lewis ginter
“shakes his head, hiccups a bitter chuckle.”
good bad lewis ginter
“My head on a swivel, I focus on Devin.”
“I break into a jog, something close to a full sprint”
good bad lewis ginter
“a bunch of scrambled jumble”
Bottom line: Even highly educated and highly successful writers sometimes try too hard to make their writing compelling and vivid. Beware!

What Would You Call a Bunch of Bluebirds?

Many—hundreds? thousands?—of animals have collective nouns to identify a bunch of those animals—e.g., a pride of lions, a pod of dolphins.

 

an exaltation of larks
I used to have a book of such collective nouns titled An Exaltation of Larks. Probably I still have it somewhere, but I can’t find it. So over the weekend, when I wanted to find collective nouns for the birds visiting my backyard, I went online.

 

bluebird
But bluebirds? Zip, zero, nada. No generally agreed upon collective for bluebirds. Perhaps that’s because they generally hang out in pairs and congregate only when migrating.

 

birdfeeder
love my new bird feeders, set up after my birthday. Whether it’s the configuration or the the addition of a suet cage, we’ve never had so many different birds visible from the kitchen window. And I found lots of collective nouns online. In fact, some birds have multiple collective nouns that are generally recognized. So my husband  and I decided to just go with the label we liked best. For example, a murder of crows.

 

call bunch bluebirds
We also have a clutter of starlings (I rather like their bright orange beaks) and a scold of blue jays. Then there is the plague of grackles, beautifully iridescent.

 

Sometimes we are graced by an echo of mockingbirds, or a drumming of woodpeckers.

 

call bunch bluebirds
We have a ubiquity of sparrows, though they were camera shy. The drum of goldfinches not so much so.
I still hope to catch on camera a mewing of catbirds and a dule of doves. But I did catch a member of the college of cardinals—a young one.

 

female cardinal
Our banditry of titmice swarm the feeder—except when I was taking pictures today! But, surprisingly, I got our bobbin of robins perched on the feeder, even though they are ground feeders.
Later in the year, I expect the return of our hover of hummingbirds. For the time being, I am content with our charm of finches—mostly house finches.
And our chime of wrens.
Yes, I love our dissimulation of chickadees. What’s not to love?
But what about the ignored bluebirds? I found one place on line that, while acknowledging that there was no accepted collective noun for them, suggested a sky of bluebirds, or a beatitude of bluebirds, saying throw some options out there and see what sticks. So I’m suggesting a blessing of bluebirds.
 
 
What do you suggest?

Hop, Skip, and Jump Reading

I’m an all-or-nothing sort of reader.  When I get into a series, I start at the beginning and binge straight through. But recently I find myself sampling broadly among one-offs.

 

There’s still fiction. On Kindle I just finished What Comes Between Cousins. I find Jane Austen fan fiction enjoyable escapist reading. This particular one has a fresh story line, so I read it through—though I must admit it could use a good edit. I’ve nearly finished The Mad and the Bad, a fascinating mix of craziness and gore. And then I will move on to Elizabeth Strout.
I loved Olive Kitteridge, so the Strout is pretty much a sure pleasure. The DeStephano book is an unknown quantity. A friend passed it on, saying it’s a well-written, creepy tale of genetic engineering. I’ll keep you posted.

 

hop skip jump reading sister age fisher among friends
At the same time, I’m involved with nonfiction—memoir, for example. I’ve long been enamored of M.F.K. Fisher as a food writer. Recently I came across two memoirs by her: Among Friends, about growing as a non-Quaker in the Quaker stronghold of Whittier, CA, and Sister Age, a collection of fifteen stories she wrote over the years about the art of aging and living and dying.

 

And then there is Sherman Alexie, poet and story teller, about whose You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me the San Francisco Chronicle declared, “Emotionally spring-loaded, linguistically gymnastic, and devastatingly funny.” And besides that, my husband loved it!. He often laughed aloud and read excerpts to me. It’s an impressive blend of narrative, dialogue, and poetry.
[Source: Feminist Texican Reads]
If memoir doesn’t appeal to you, consider some of these other Sherman Alexie books.

 

hop skip jump reading
Of course my food reading continues. I recently acquired collectable copies of these two books.The Art of Eating is actually a collection of her first five books:

 

hop skip jump reading
How to Cook a Wolf is a long-time favorite, but Consider the Oyster is gaining ground. Who would ever have thought a whole book about oysters could be enthralling?

 

Last but not least on my current revolving bookcase is The Physiology of Taste—which I admit doesn’t sound like entertaining reading. Originally published in France in 1825, this work by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin is the most famous book about food ever written. If you search online, you can find several sites that offer from a few to as many as 1567 quotes. Many are already familiar, such as, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”

 

M.F.K. Fisher’s translation, published in 1949, is incredible, not only because of the readability of the 30 “Meditations” and the 100+ pages of “varieties” but also because Fisher’s annotations themselves are informative and enjoyable.

 

So, for the time being, I am happily hopping, skipping, and jumping among these eight books. How many books do you have in progress? And what are they?

Renowned Planetary Astronomer Heidi Hammel on A Wrinkle in Time

I’m very pleased that Dr. Heidi Hammel agreed to a print interview about this book! I’ve long believed in the power of books, especially for young minds. My childhood home didn’t have children’s books but I recently read A Wrinkle in Time for the first time. Dr. Hammel’s experience makes me wish I’d had it as a child!

Planetary astronomer Heidi Hammel
[Photo credit: Mike McGregor]
VL:  How did you come to read A Wrinkle In Time?

HH: On my tenth birthday, in 1970, my 11-year-old brother gave me a copy of A Wrinkle in Time. This was the scholastic paperback edition, blue with series of concentric rings around three small characters.

wrinkle in time 1970
[Source: Wikipedia]

VL: What was going on in your life at the time?

HH: I was just a kid, a young girl specifically, at a time when girls did just girl things. Sugar and spice and everything nice. Glass ceilings everywhere. Invisible glass ceilings—most girls didn’t even THINK of doing things other than being a wife, a nurse, or a teacher. Maybe a daring girl could be a flight attendant or a secretary. But no real girls did science or space research or math. (Madame Curie was a unicorn, a historic anomaly, not a real regular person.)

VL: I can absolutely identify with that. I read the Cherry Ames series about the adventures of a nurse. Although she was a great role model in many ways—daring and caring and a problem solver—in high school I wanted to become a surgeon. Although I was valedictorian of my class, I was counseled to become a nurse instead—albeit with a B.S. degree so I could move up in administration. I do admire your determination! But tell me, in what way(s) did the book affect you?

HH: The book blew my mind. Here was a girl like me – her physical description was mine, from the limp non-descript hair to the glasses and teeth that would need braces; her school life was like mine – interested in things that other girls were not like atomic particles and space, and not really accepted as “popular.” Yet, for all her faults – indeed, specifically BECAUSE of her faults – she completed a hero’s journey. What an eye-opener. What a LIFE opener. A literal literary role model. If an ordinary girl like Meg could find her father across all of space and time, then all things were possible for me. When, years later, a special teacher suggested I apply to MIT for college, I had a “WWMD” (what would Meg do) moment, and said “sure!” The rest is history, as they say.

wrinkle time storm reid
Meg Murry will be played by Storm Reid in the 2018 film [Source: IGN]
VL: Did you ever reread A Wrinkle In Time? When and why?

HH: I’ve reread A Wrinkle in Time many times over the years. During my high-school years, as an undergraduate at MIT, while in graduate school for physics, as a young mother, and even now. I reread books I love, because the stories ring true, and because I sense different overtones based on who I am and what I have experienced in my own life. Things that may not have registered to me as a 10-yr-old, or 30-yr-old, or a 50-yr-old take on new meaning when viewed through the lenses of varied experience.

VL: So true! In my younger years, when my primary escapist reading was murder mysteries, I never reread them. Once you know “who done it,” what’s the point? The exception back then was Jane Austen, whom I discovered in college and have reread many times since. Now, since I started writing them, I seldom read mysteries. My escapist reading goes in all sorts of directions and I reread often! I also tend to give books I love to others. Have you ever given A Wrinkle in Time to others? If so, who and why?

HH: I gave this book as gifts to friends as a young girl, especially those friends who I thought might share in the vision of what young women could be and could do.

I read it aloud to my own children, so they could travel through the tesseract with me to worlds so different from – yet so like – our home planet.

VL: What other books by Madeleine L’Engle have you read?

HH: I’ve read all of her books. The complete Kairos and Chronos series, as well as her books for adults.  I admit to enjoying the “young adult” books more than the books specifically for adults.

[Source: BellaOnBooks]
[Source: BellaOnBooks]
VL: Has any other book been as influential in your life? If so, please elaborate what, when, and why.

HH: I think the only other book that comes close to having a visceral impact on me would be Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles. In this book, Bradbury paints a tapestry of human exploration on Mars through a series of short stories that are as much poetry as science fiction. The stories are deeply human emotional stories, but told from the perspective of Martian natives. It was brain-bending in an orthogonal way to A Wrinkle in Time but nearly as powerful and evocative.

martian chronicles bradbury
[Source: Book Addicts]
VL: What a recommendation! Perhaps I have my next escapist read lined up. But to close out here, what else would you like to say about A Wrinkle in Time and/or Madeleine L’Engle?

HH: My hope is that each generation of girls and boys have Madeleine L’Engle’s books placed in their hands at a young age.

VL: I join you in that hope! And thank you again for sharing your experience with and thoughts about this powerful book.

 

Planetary astronomer Heidi Hammel
[Photo credit: Mike McGregor]
Planetary astronomer Heidi B. Hammel graduated from MIT and the University of Hawaii, and did her post-doctoral work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. She is Executive Vice President of AURA, which operates astronomical observatories including the Hubble Space Telescope. Dr. Hammel is also an interdisciplinary scientist for NASA’s next great space observatory: the James Webb Space Telescope. She has been profiled by The New York Times and Newsweek Magazine, and in 2002 Discover Magazine identified her as one of the 50 most important women in science. Dr. Hammel has been lauded for her work in science communication, including the San Francisco Exploratorium’s 1998 Public Understanding of Science Award. Asteroid “1981 EC20” was renamed 3530 Hammel in her honor. You can read more about Dr. Hammel here.


Stay tuned for our #WrinkleReRead giveaway of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and Becoming Madeleine, a biography of the life and works of Madeleine L’Engle written by her granddaughters.

Reading for the Week Ahead

[Source: Twitter]
In these hectic days, even if you only have minutes, I have reading suggestions!

reading week ahead spongebob theatre

The December 18 & 25 issue of The New Yorker contains a two-column theater review of SpongeBob SquarePants the musical. No kidding: THAT SpongeBob SquarePants, who debuted in 1999 and, as Tommy Smothers might say, took the storm by country.

The play has all the pun-intended characters, from Mr. Krabs to Squidward Q. Tentacles. It has songs by Cindi Lauper, They Might Be Giants, and others.

The review is lively, well-written, and very positive. Read the review even if you have no intention of hieing off to NYC any time soon.

[Source: Academy of American Poets]
If you’re a more literary type, sample a little Charles Simic. Simic immigrated from Belgrade in 1954 and started publishing poetry in his twenties. He’s won tons of awards, including a Pulitzer. He served as Poet Laureate of the United States in 2008 and 2009.

reading week ahead new selected poems charles simic

This book contains nearly 400 poems spanning fifty years, including about three dozen revisions and seventeen previously unpunished poems. Simic is witty, broad-ranging, and fresh. He can enthrall you for as many minutes—or hours—as you can spare.

reading week ahead
What if you have time for nothing but assuring that you acquit yourself well throughout all the celebrations? Sarah Chrisman to the rescue!

reading week ahead true ladies proper gentlemen
Many of the issues people faced in the 1880s and ‘90s are surprisingly modern as well: invasion of privacy, divorce, dealing with people from other places or cultures, technologies developing at mind-boggling speed…

reading week ahead table contents
For your convenience, advice is organized by topic. You will find sound guidance, such as telling husbands to give their wives (one at a time, please) every advantage it is possible to bestow, and—as far as possible—to patronize merchants of their own town.

BONUS: There are watercolors and illustrations throughout.

[Source: Wikipedia]
If you are introspective and/or looking for inspiration, Mark Nepo’s got you covered.

Nepo is a poet and teacher, and—by the way—a New York Times Bestseller.

reading week ahead book awakening mark nepo
Oprah Winfrey, among others, recommends this book. It contains 366 dated entries, including one for February 29th. Each begins with a brief quote, followed by author’s reflections to inspire your own musings.

However, there is also a subject index with multiple entries under such headings as sadnesses, truth, and quiet teachers.

FYI, here is the beginning of the entry for today.

reading week ahead sugar tree

Even though time is short, happy reading!