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More Smaller Thoughts
July 24, 2012 - 8:50pm

I have about four half-finished posts in the pipeline, but I’m still trying to recover from the past few weeks. And, I’m home alone with the kids while my husband is away at a conference. I can’t seem to think or write in more than 250-300 word bursts.

Which would make it perfect for me to take the current Coursera course “Science Fiction and Fantasy” which only requires essays of 270-320 words (thanks to my fellow IHE blogger Audrey Watters for pointing it out on Twitter).  I understand that the essays are going to be peer-evaluated, but come on. How much meaningful information can one communicate in 300 words?

And this is coming from someone who gets a lot out of Twitter.

But seriously, I understand that longer isn’t always better, but I really wonder how an idea or a concept can really be fully explored or expressed in 300 words. I expect my freshman writers to be intimidated, and I encourage them to think about the depth of what they are saying, rather than length. I think 270-300 is just…too much like high school.

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More on books versus ebooks. My five-year-old daughter loves chapter books. We have read the first Harry Potter book (a few times), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (more times than I can count now), and James and the Giant Peach. We took the second Harry Potter book out of the library a few months ago and read it all the way through together, but returned it because a) it was due and b) we were leaving and I was not bringing a library book on a trip. Now that we’re home, she desperately wants to get the book to have the required (for her) second reading. And, while we were away, her and her cousin were making pretend disgusting drinks, and I mentioned George’s Marvelous Medicine, so we now had to get that book, too.

Now, I could have simply downloaded them to my Kindle, or even read The Chamber of Secrets online, on Pottermore (and when she gets a little older, you can be sure she will want to interact with the book that way). And my kids do love an interactive storybook; I swear they must have “read” Sesame Street’s There’s a Monster at the End of this Book five hundred times (my three-year-old son’s favorite number) at the airport, on the plane, in the car…But, bedtime reading necessitates a physical book. My daughter can see the progress we are making, count the number of pages we will be reading in one night, hold the book in her hands and leaf through it herself, identifying words that she recognized when she should be sleeping. None of this happens on a Kindle or computer screen.

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Every year, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (or, the CBC) has a literary contest. One of the categories has evolved from travel writing to the broader category creative non-fiction. This year, a bit of a controversy has erupted when the “facts” of one author’s essay were called into question. The story has been taken down, but you can read the author’s eloquent defense of the piece at the link above. The comments are also there to read, and it brings up all sorts of questions about genre (where does the creative start and the non-fiction end?) but also more fundamental questions about truth and memory and agency.

More interestingly for me are the questions it raises about life writing, as almost all of the pieces (the winner in particular) are autobiographical. The subject of the essay is the author. These aren’t magazine pieces written about another subject, but actually pieces of life writing. Because I only found out about the controversy after the story had been taken down (although, the facebook page is full of wonderfully bitter comments about the piece and its eligibility) it seems that people are upset because it reads “like fiction”, but also (as best I can put together) because the piece is experimental in nature with overlapping timelines that, yes, couldn’t happen in reality, but surely fit the “creative” side of creative non-fiction.

I also wonder about the nature of the mob, in this case because it was the comments that had CBC reconsider the piece. I would imagine that the judges (who are not named but identified as fellow writers and editors) decided that the piece qualified, but when push came to shove, someone from the “team” who was not in on the initial judging process either decided or was forced to disqualify the story. The message would seem to be, RULES MUST BE FOLLOWED. Rather than rewarding an experimental piece of writing, it was decided to remove it for fear of offending readers’ sensibilities.

Have we become so embittered about being lied to in our lives, that so much of what we hear is only fiction being passes off as fact, that we lash out at those who dare to try to actually tell a truth beautifully and creatively, to celebrate the messiness of our existence?

I’ll leave it at that. I’m past my 300-word limit. 

 

 

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