Maybe we’ve been teaching it all wrong…


You might remember Daniel Davis as Niles, the sarcastic butler on the TV show The Nanny, but he’s also a fine Shakespearean actor. His British accent is so good that the producers of The Nanny wanted him to work with Charles Shaughnessy, who played Maxwell Sheffield on the show. Shaughnessy is from London; Davis is from Gordon, Arkansas. He’s an expert in acting in Shakespeare’s plays, so if he makes a statement like the one above, I would tend to trust his judgment.

I read the ROW80 post of Mike Roberts, who runs the blog Anything but the Best is a Felony. Mike makes a comment in his post that got me thinking about what Davis said. Let me share it with you.

If I were ever to, in another life, become an English Lit. Prof., I would teach the classics like a Writer, rather than a scholar. I would point out HOW Austen paces her novel and how we get to know the characters. (Emphasis mine.)

I learned more about how a novel is put together after reading some of the hundreds of how-to books on the market today than I did in eight years of secondary education. If I had known half of what I know now (and I’m no expert on the subject, believe me) when I was in high school, my grades in English would have improved and I would have enjoyed the assigned reading much more. If I had known about character arc, or three-act structure, or what to look for when I read a novel, I’d’ve had a ball. Maybe some of you were taught those things; I wasn’t.

Likewise, Shakespeare wrote plays. Plays are meant to be performed. They’re meant to be heard and seen, not read. I can think of one brief scene we acted out in high school, the assassination scene in Julius Caesar. (All right. We did have a very entertaining class where we put Shylock on trial.) On the page, they’re dry and dusty; on the stage, they come to life.

Most high school English teachers haven’t appeared in a Shakespeare play. Most of them haven’t written short stories, novels, poetry, or plays (screen-, tele-, or other). They might have done one or the other, but for the most part they have an academic understanding of all of these. Compare this with the sciences. You don’t often see a chemistry teacher teaching biology, or a physics teacher teaching earth science. You have world history and US history teachers. Why don’t we have Shakespeare teachers, poetry teachers, novel teachers?

What do you think? Am I just ranting for no reason? Or do you see what I’m driving at?

The future of social media…?

While I can no longer receive the programming offered by WXIA (“11 Alive”), our local NBC affiliate (signal’s too weak), I still have their app on my phone, and they send me news updates, so I don’t miss their newscasts. In addition to the local news, weather, sports, and traffic, they also publish a lot of general-interest stories.

This week, there was a story from Julie Wolfe, one of WXIA’s reporters, that asks the musical question, “What will social networking look like in 2058?

The social media company Ku (and, God knows, we needed another social media company) anted to know the answer to that, so it looked at current trends and said, if those trends continued, by 2058 people would be posting to social media an average of a hundred times a day. That’s an average of a post every fourteen minutes and twelve seconds, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Without a break to go to the bathroom. Gotta go? Take your phone with you. (Apparently, there are those that do.)

This line got to me, though:

The poignant moments comes when the subject posts “Two polarizing fears: that everyone is watching, that no one is.”

Shades of Oscar Wilde….


The article goes on to say that the folks at Ku don’t think social media will grow at its current pace ad infinitum. Paul Curran, Community Manager for Ku, said this:

“We want to believe that with technological innovation, we will also grow in terms of social behavior. In some point down the line, perhaps we will understand that chasing our next social ‘rush’ is equal to taking another hit from a cigarette.”

There’s Oscar again…


You know? That might be it. All of this social media stuff started when smoking became such a social evil. I can remember the days when I’d meet friends and we’d talk, drink coffee, and smoke cigarettes. That was our social networking. Now, if you’re going to have cigarettes and coffee, you better take your coffee to go and sit as far away from the front door of Starbucks as you can…

I know. I’m being facetious. I’m not sugesting that everyone go to a Starbucks and light up as a form of protest. Nor am I suggesting that we should all take up smoking, because that’ll improve our sociability.

But, you know what… maybe we need to put social media in its place. Mary and I were at Target the other day, and we were walking behind a woman who was walking like she was disabled, like I am. We walked around her when we could, and her disability was that she was trying to walk down the aisle and text at the same time. Another day, I saw a kid of about three run through the Target parking lot and almost get hit by a car. His mother was about twenty feet behind him, texting. Regardless of how many laws are put on the books prohibiting texting while driving, and how many PSA’s run on TV showing the last text messages from people who were texting while driving, people are still doing it.

Maybe we need to revisit the joys of being unavailable. Remember those days? If someone called you, and you weren’t home, the phone just rang until the caller figured, “well, guess they ain’t home,” hung up and called back later. If someone stopped by your house and you weren’t there, they moved on. Maybe they left a note, maybe not. If you were out of the house, say at a restaurant, and needed to use the phone, you found the pay phone (installed away from the dining room), called your party, and explained “I can’t talk long, I’m at a pay phone.” And, if the phone rang and you were in the bathroom, in bed, watching your favorite TV show, reading, or in the middle of cooking or eating dinner, you didn’t answer. There were no cellphones, text messages, email, social media, answering machines, caller ID, no other way to contact someone; you either called them or went to their house, and if they weren’t there or weren’t answering, well, tough bananas.


And maybe we need to get comfortable with the notion that we’re going to miss things, and that it’s okay and, if we really need to know, we’ll hear about it soon enough. Mom used to say that, no matter how you felt about something, six billion Chinese could care less. If that’s the case, maybe it’s really not that important.

The world of social media is the world of Truman Burbank. Do we really want to be part of it? Do we really need to keep up with the Kardashians?

Anyway, best of luck to Ku. It’s essentially Twitter except, instead of sending tweets, you send “Hey, Ku”s. For those of us in the writing business, it’s another place to make our presence known, another plank in the platform, as it were. So don’t forget.

I’d love to know your thoughts. What do you think about having another social media outlet? Do you know anyone who posts to social media a hundred times a day? Do you miss “not being there”?

The Worst TV Show Ever

The other day, The Daily Post, a blog run by WordPress that sends out a daily prompt, asked this question:

When was the last time a movie, a book, or a television show left you cold despite all your friends (and/or all the critics) raving about it? What was it that made you go against the critical consensus?

That’s easy.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

To hear some people talk about it, if they gave Nobel Prizes for television, Seinfeld would have won one, hands down. I mean intelligent, well-read individuals were saying this. And for the life of me, I can’t think of a single reason why.

They said the show was about “nothing.” I disagree: it was about four unlikable, neurotic characters maundering through life and getting on one another’s nerves. You have Jerry, the anal-retentive who alphabetizes the many cereal boxes in his kitchen cabinets; George, a little weasel who’s always trying to get something for nothing; Elaine, a narcissistic harridan who thinks she’s God’s gift to men; and Kramer, an individual who respects no one’s personal boundaries and is either high on something or a complete loony. There is nothing about them that mitigates any of their faults; you feel no sympathy for them because there’s nothing about these people that evokes it. Every week was an exercise in pitting these four against characters who were just as unlikable and neurotic as they were and watching them be outnastied.

Where’s the humor in that?

And yet, it’s described in Wikipedia as “[a] critical favorite, commercial blockbuster and cultural phenomenon”. Really? Why? All I can figure is that it benefitted from the Thursday night schedule, strong on NBC and weak on all the other networks.

We welcome replies to our editorials…

Picking on Facebook Again… (#blogboost)

Everybody here loves social media, right? And, if I had to guess, nearly everyone is on Facebook, right? Let me ask you a question, then…

Have you noticed that, the less time you spend on Facebook, the better you feel? I know I do. I signed off of Facebook on July 2, and except for a couple of times, mostly to research this post, I’ve stayed off. And probably will.

Why? It all has to do with some psychological experimentation they decided to conduct on a small segment of their users a while back. Evidently they were curious about seeing more positive or more negative updates caused people to post more or less frequently. So, rather than asking people if they’d like to participate in their experiment, they just sort of conducted it on 700,000 randomly-chosen users. The results of the experiment were published earlier this year.

Well, the crap hit the fan at the end of June, and on July 23, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, apologized… not for doing it, but for “poorly communicating” that they were doing it. It seems that, buried somewhere in the terms of service, Facebook has said that they can do this. They just never did a good job of telling people that. Oops.

It’s one thing to know that you’re part of a psychological experiment. When I took Psychology at Northwestern back in the paleolithic period, part of the deal was that you had to sign up to be a part of a certain number of experiments to pass the course. You knew that you were being experimented on. This is a different story: I don’t know if I was made a part of this experiment, and if so, which group I was assigned to. Like a lot of Americans, I have dysthymia. I don’t need some social media company deliberately manipulating what I see to make me feel better or worse. If someone was already depressed, how could this have made it worse? What if someone took their own life or harmed themselves or others so Facebook could see how to manipulate their newsfeed for advertisers?

I’m not naive enough to think that Amazon, Google, et al. aren’t using the things I do online to tailor the results I get based on what I’ve done in the past. I expect that. In the case of Amazon, I almost welcome it, other than the fact that they keep recommending Regency romance novels to me because Mary and I share the same account. What Facebook did is different: they deliberately pushed positive or negative news to people who didn’t know it was being pushed to them, all because they were afraid that too much negative stuff in your timeline might cause you not to use the service and that the advertisers who are paying big money for Facebook to push their ads might take their business elsewhere if people stop using Facebook.

This is why I don’t add a social media link for Facebook here. You see links for Twitter and Google+, but I refuse to add one for Facebook. I won’t be spending much time there anymore, anyway…

One house that will be TP’ed tomorrow night (#blogboost)

This has been the topic of discussion on social media today.

Apparently there’s a woman in Fargo, North Dakota who, if she decides that a trick-or-treater who shows up at her door who appears to be “moderately obese,” will send a note home with the kid rather than giving the kid candy.

The letter in question (source:
The letter in question (source:

I understand that childhood obesity is a problem. I’m not saying that being obese is a good thing. Having been a fat kid and being a fat adult now, in fact, I can tell you that it really sucks. Regardless of how you feel about Hallowe’en, though, it’s a day when kids, fat kids and skinny kids alike, dress in costumes and go from house to house collecting treats. It’s a tradition. Kids do it even if they’re not crazy about it. It’s part of being a kid.

I mean, really, where does this lady get off? She’s deciding what kids are obese and denying them candy, and sending a snarky note home to their parents. Say the kid comes to her house with half a dozen friends, and all of them get candy, but he gets a note telling his parents that he’s fat and they’re not doing their job. Really, who died and made her the Hallowe’en police? Giving the kid a note for his parents is akin to giving him a rock.

What she’s planning to do is a form of child abuse. Really, humiliating a kid in front of his friends like this? You don’t think that’s going to get around school on Friday? You don’t think the kids in his neighborhood are going to hear about it? And telling his parents how to raise their kid? I can tell you that, if someone did that to me or one of my brothers, my mother would be in this woman’s face about it.

Maybe, instead of giving candy out just to the kids that she judges to be acceptable, she should give out bags of celery and carrot sticks. Or sugar-free candy. Or apples, or bananas, or little boxes of raisins, or popcorn balls. Or maybe she should turn out the lights and leave the house until trick-or-treat is over.

Oh, well. We know what she’ll be doing on Friday: trying to get the toilet paper out of her tree, washing shaving cream off of her windows and broken eggs off the side of her house. Maybe some kid will leave the hose running on her front porch all night. It’s supposed to be below freezing Thursday night….

What do you think about this?