This is for Merlin Mann

Lately I've been playing around with some publications at work, putting my rudimentary Photoshop and InDesign skills to use, and it occurred to me that one thing that makes a good designer is the ability to pull all the little bits together -- making sure all the fonts are consistent and go together, reducing the size of the text where appropriate, positioning the images in just the right place, adding a border or a graphic element here and there. All those things come together to make a good design, and separate the amateurs (like me) from the pros.

Now stay with me here, because this is a bit of a stream of consciousness post and I'm not sure what it all means. In one of Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea books (sorry, I can't remember which and Wikipedia is no help), the main character Ged (or is it Tenar) stays at a castle with his companion, a little animal that I picture as being like a squirrel. Within moments after they get settled in their room, a servant quietly brings a litter box and unobtrusively places it on the floor. Reading that tiny detail the first time, that someone was thoughtful enough to provide a potty for the little animal, practically made me weep. The way LeGuin engaged with the mundanities of life and included them in the picture she was painting, brought the entire scene to life and pulled me into the story. 

In Everyday Zen (I think), Joko Beck tells the story of some her students, whom she was teaching about mindfulness and paying attention. She notes how one of the students gets up from the table and walks away without pushing in his chair. How could he really be mindful if he didn't notice the chair? 

These are the things that came to mind when I read Merlin Mann's recent meditation on arcs and The Wire. 


The single most memorable part of the Wire for me is Snoop -- her accent, her clothes, her voice, her androgyny. She made the series for me. To my whitebread eyes, she seemed strange, and charismatic, and scary, and absolutely real.

To me it wasn't the intersecting story arcs that made The Wire, it was the details. The nails in the nailgun that boarded up the houses full of murder victims and eventually gave them away to Lester. The way the cops threw beer cans on the roof of the station. The fact that Mr. Pryzbylewski washed Duquan's clothes for him because he was homeless and the other kids at school made fun of him because he stank. Those touches are what's missing in most television shows, and in most writing. 

Maybe it's because I'm a girl, but to me, the blogs that matter are the ones that give me a glimpse into someone else's life. The promise of personal blogging is the chance to connect with a total stranger who's a good writer and observer, who's honest and generous with their life. See Tenuous At Best for an example. I've never met her, but I look forward to hearing from Not Very Anonymous Mom, and I care about what happens to her and her family. 

In On Writing Stephen King compares writing to telepathy. He has a picture or idea in his mind, writes about it, and by doing so gives me the chance to see it too. Unfortunately, bad writers, whose thinking is fuzzy and whose writing is vague, just send me static and make my brain hurt. Most of today's bloggers are unfortunately of the second variety, and their collective cloud of white noise creates a background of anxious, meaningless, vague nonsense that is destroying our ability to pay attention to what matters. For god's sake people, let's cut it out.

2 comments:

Not Very Anonymous Mom said...

aw, thank you jennifer! i always feel as though i'm failing you and my other reader... like i'm giving off more of that white noise you refer to.

ok, you've revved me up to write another post.

cache said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Kate
http://educationonline-101.com