Beautiful free images — and an idea for what to do with them.

February 10th, 2016

VERY longtime readers of this blog may remember my previous posts on where to find great free images to use for blogging etc.:

This morning I stumbled across a fabulous resource to add to these, courtesy of @tracibrowne:

The beautiful shot by Cayton Heath at the top of this post was one of the first I came across at the first site Traci lists, Unsplash.

Now for the idea of something fun you can do with these: Use a random compelling image as a writing prompt.

I’ve done this many times with the flash fiction in the “Storytime!” category of this blog. For instance, I got the idea for “Sanctum” strictly by looking at the photograph of the church at the head of that post.

I find it’s a good exercise for the creative muscles to build a narrative around what you see in the photo:

  • Who’s in the photo (or just off the frame, or hidden from view)?
  • What’s their story?
  • How did they get there?
  • What’s going to unfold in this setting?

And so on. Then you can challenge yourself to structure your story (or poem, meditation, etc.) in a way that best draws out your ideas.

Please try it and point me to the results!

Comfort music.

February 7th, 2016

As with the prior post, I asked a leading question for my friends on Twitter — this time, about their favorite “comfort music” (like comfort food). Here are their answers:

Books Worth Rereading

February 4th, 2016

I asked a fun question on Twitter and got lots of great answers from my reader friends. Sample from the thread below if you’re looking for your next great read.

Sin against the page.

November 7th, 2015

You’ll never find your voice and express your truth if you don’t.


Cast off your bogus obligations.

November 1st, 2015


I’ve been reviewing my life for fake obligations.

Of course we have genuine obligations — for example to our spouses and children, or contractual obligations that we’ve entered into intelligently and that it would be painful or unwise to break.

But feeling obligated, or guilty, about some old personal choice that doesn’t fit into one of those categories of genuine obligation? Bogus.

  • Feeling guilty about the “To Be Read” pile of books on your nightstand? Pointless
  • Needing to “catch up” on a TV show or your Twitter timeline? Inane.
  • . . . you can fill in your own examples.

I once worked with a guy who had a sort of fetish about reading ALL of the New York Times every day. But he was a busy man, so the newspapers piled up. He had weeks’ worth of a backlog, but he wouldn’t chuck even one section without at least leafing through it.

To the degree that that was enjoyable for him, and that the growing stack of newsprint in the corner of his living room didn’t weigh on his psyche, fine. But it was starting to weigh on him, from what he said.

A lot of us do something similar with our inboxes, magazines, Netflix queues, financial mail to be shredded, books we’re not thrilled about finishing, or whatever else. If you take ten seconds you can probably think of the leading culprits in your own life.

I say: chuck those bogus old not-really-obligations to the curb, and do it with a clear conscience. In fact, make a conscious point of developing your skill and your mental toughness in chucking them without remorse.

Travel light in your psyche, friends. Life is short.

[image source]

Some Twitter-driven thoughts on “white privilege”

August 28th, 2015

This morning I struck up a conversation with @GRIMACHU on the topic of “white privilege” — a term he rejects as nonsensical. I composed my reply in the form of a series of tweets, but he and I agreed in a friendly exchange that it would be simpler to itemize them here.

(I’ve retained the original numbering of my tweets for ease of reference, even though I posted only the first 6 of them on Twitter.)

1. IMO, @GRIMACHU, your ire over “privilege” is misplaced. But you’ve obviously given it much thought, so I’ll lay out my logic in detail.

2. Others are free to follow along, but I’ll frame the rest of these (30+) as replies to @GRIMACHU to keep from cluttering streams.

3. I also acknowledge that Twitter is cramped for this kind of discussion. We can change venue, if you want.

4. And I get it that we may simply disagree. If we do, please tell me where the disagreement arises. I genuinely want to know.

5. Okay, here goes. Let’s keep in mind a short vers. of that OED defn: “A special advantage available only to a particular group.”

6. The “Basic, expected, societal standard of treatment” you cite definitely SHOULD be equally available to all. Totally agree.

7. Alas, what do we observe IRL? That standard isn’t equally available, in this context, because racism still exists in society.

8. Now, COULD a POC be biased against white people? Of course. But is that really what we’re talking about when we say “racism”?

9. I don’t mean some abstract, philosophical definition of “racism” that applies it equally to any race. I mean in real life.

10. In the US, Europe, and many other parts of the world, whites have traditionally held most power, influence, and wealth.

11. And we’re not only talking about long ago. Whites remain the overwhelming majority of legislators, CEOs, the wealthy, etc.

12. This doesn’t mean that all whites are racist, or that things are as bad as they used to be. Not at all.

13. But wouldn’t you agree that POC continue to suffer from racial bias far more often & far more deeply than whites do?

14. If you don’t agree, what evidence would you cite that whites have it anywhere nearly as bad as POC in terms of racism?

15. There’s tons of evidence that IRL the basic standard of decent treatment is disproportionately afforded to whites.

16. Or, more precisely, that when the standard is denied on a racial basis, it’s disproportionately denied to POC.

17. This is no mystery; it’s grounded in mountains of research in history, psychology, etc. We know where it comes from.

18. So, unfortunately, the basic standard of treatment is not equally available to everyone. And the pattern isn’t random.

19. I’m a straight white native-born male. Through no action of my own, I experience nearly zero racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.

20. To use your term (which I have no problem with), I’m not “underprivileged” in any of those dimensions.

21. So how could we label MY experience? For instance, does it work to describe it as neutral?

22. Alas, it’s not really neutral, because it’s way better than what a lot of people get.

23. One way to describe it would be to say that I benefit from “A special advantage available only to a particular group.”

24. Philosophically, sure, it SHOULDN’T be an advantage. It SHOULD be the standard everyone enjoys. But IRL it’s not.

25. And in the abstract, sure, I COULD suffer from anti-white bias. But IRL: nearly zero instances, & none w/power behind them.

26. None of this means I did anything wrong. In fact I couldn’t have done anything to change my race, where I was born, etc.

27. Rather, it’s an observation that I benefit from a sort of exemption-from-systemic-B.S. that POC routinely don’t receive.

28. So my question for you is: What term SHOULD we use for that unearned, unwanted exemption-from-systemic-bullshit?

29. “Racism” doesn’t work, because racism is not what I’M experiencing.

30. I experience a 2nd-order effect CAUSED by societal racism, but I don’t suffer b/c of either racism or this 2nd-order effect.

31. (By the way, this is why I can’t agree with your rephrasing of my earlier question, or that I engaged in tautology.)

32. In fact I BENEFIT from this 2nd-order effect, relatively speaking – even though I didn’t ask for it or want it.

33. So what shall we call that benefit? “White exemption”? “Pro-white bias”? “Status quo bias”? What would you suggest? [End.]

Usage peeve: series out of parallel.

January 23rd, 2015

I love the eclectic Quartz newsletter that hits my inbox every morning. I don’t mean to pick on Quartz, but this morning’s edition contained a prime example of a usage peeve of mine — when a series of items is rendered out of parallel grammatically:

Quartz parallel

Here’s the problem: when you read “the company suffered food safety scandals in Asia, rising competition from ‘fast casual’ restaurants in the US, and…” you EXPECT the next thing to be a noun phrase conveying something else that the company suffered. In sum, “the company suffered A, B, and C.”

Yet then you encounter the verb “saw,” which presents a different construction — one that ought to run “the company suffered A, [verbed] B, and saw C.”

Good writing chooses one construction or the other rather than mashing the two together.

The fix here is incredibly simple:

“the company suffered food safety scandals in Asia, saw rising competition from ‘fast casual’ restaurants in the US, and had half of its Russian outlets closed by the government.”

I see this issue constantly. Please join me in stamping it out.

ADDENDUM, Saturday, 24 January 2015: My lovely friend Ann Marie Gamble suggested this page on parallel form for anyone wanting more instruction and examples.



January 8th, 2015

Books on Shelf

I asked my Twitter friends to “Please tell me ONE book you’re concerned that I may not have read yet.” This is what they told me:

Great Books You Might Have Missed

(And now I’m going to go figure out the easiest way to embed a Storify page into a WordPress post . . . )

(Also need to dig up the photo credit for this image — coming shortly!)

The beauty of mise-en-place.

January 5th, 2015


Anyone who’s been following this blog for a long time may recall my affection for the creative dictum of Chef Fernand Point:

Every morning the cuisinier must start again at zero,
with nothing on the stove.

That is what real cuisine is all about.

This item from NPR complements it nicely, I think:

For A More Ordered Life, Organize Like A Chef

The piece talks about how professional chefs live by the concept of mise-en-place, which guides them to organize everything in their kitchen workstations ruthlessly. Having an ideally-ordered workspace allows chefs to do their grueling work, even at the highest level espoused by Chef Point, without becoming overwhelmed by it.

Thanks to my friend and fellow writer Glenda Burgess for pointing to the NPR piece. She and I have been talking about various ways that we can organize our own writing lives to eliminate clutter and noise and get the real work done — which is what mise-en-place is all about.

What are you doing to organize your workspace and workflow better, here at the start of this new year?

Photo by Don LaVange, used under a Creative Commons license.

Book Review: Maigret in Montmartre, by Georges Simenon

January 3rd, 2015

This is the first Maigret novel I’ve read, but the second Simenon overall — after Three Bedrooms in Manhattan, which I read a couple of years ago. Three Bedrooms was too claustrophobic and had too much navel-gazing even given its narcissistic protagonist in the throes of a midlife crisis. This Maigret book, by contrast, showcases a Simenon who has a much more evenhanded touch with his characters: the dialogue flows, the details included are only the telling ones, and you get a real sense not only of Paris at its seedy, sodden worst, but also of the routine work of police detectives and the distinctive human traits of the call girls, pimps, morphine addicts, and other people they encounter.

Do be aware that it is a period piece — the misogyny is ripe, and the homophobia is overripe — and that there are a few bumps in the road that could have been smoothed out with a few more minutes of careful editing. But that was not Simenon’s way, was it? Considering the overall smooth delivery of such racy subject material (which must have seemed very edgy indeed in 1959) and the attractive subtlety of Maigret himself, it’s easy to understand how Maigret became so popular among millions of readers around the world in Simenon’s heyday.

Related post: Simenon and Fleming on Writing.

Maigret in Montmartre at Amazon