Thursday, September 29, 2005

A Thought for the Day

Those of you who have taken a peek at the long list of links on my sidebar know that I enjoy reading literature, and I've written some myself, even though my training and background leans towards the formal side of social science research.

From time to time, I meet other bibliophiles and aspiring writers, many of whom think that the writing process mandates attendance at writing seminars, or at least an MFA.

The question I always think of is, "How did the great writers in the past write so well without the self-help groups, without endless books on the topic, without a graduate degree?"

See, when I was seeking funding for my dissertation research, I eschewed the "how to get your research grant" books (i.e., Sage publications), and focused instead on reading lots of research grants in my field, and others, and asking faculty members who had written successful grants for their recommendations. After I took all this information in, I wrote - I wrote a lot - multiple drafts of each grant.

Consequently, I was a Fulbright Fellow, and was awarded funding from the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, and others.

So, I'm always a bit baffled by those who flock to the "after-market" for creative writers. No doubt, part of it is a social support system for what is admitedly a lonely and solitary craft, but it is also a very good way to: 1) part you from your valuable time and money; and 2) delay the inevitable, which is - writing! The British novelist Martin Amis once advised the worried-writer crowd with, "you simply must put the doubt and fear aside, and write."

I was thinking about this the other day while rereading a great book, "The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters" by Karl Iglesias (Avon, MA: Adams Media Corp.). A few choice passages in the section, "Point #15: Educating Yourself" echoed my thoughts.

Ron Bass

I came up to (a Stanford professor) after class one day and said, "I really want to write fiction What writing courses should I take?" He said, "Never, ever, ever take a writing course, never read a book about writing, never let anybody tell you how to write. Take literature courses, read, steal, turn everything to your interpretation. As soon as you take a writing course, it's the beginning of the end, because you establish someone else as the authority for how you can write, and it can't be. Writing is an art, it comes individually out of you. Only you can express your art your way, it's an expression of who you are. I can't tell you how to write, Fitzgerald couldn't tell you, Faulkner couldn't tell you."

Scott Rosenberg

It's very difficult to teach someone how to write characters and dialogue. I believe that with the best screenwriters, it's a God-given talent. What you can learn, however, is structure. And you don't even have to go to film school to learn. You can pretty much get that out of a couple books.

Robin Swicord

At the same time, I'm not sure anyone can teach you how to write. All writing is self-taught.

Lessons? Stop reading this blog and go back to writing - I am.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The ABCs of Chinese Food

Los Angeles County uses a letter-grade system to alert the public to "healthy" and "unhealthy" food. Some patrons were surprised to see poor marks for their favorite eateries when this system began a few years back (i.e., my beloved taco trucks - but that's another post), and the more squeamish foodies still check out the grade before trying a new place.

So today I was amused to read a Column One article in the LA Times on Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley which highlighted some of the cultural conflicts between Western-scientific frames of health and cuisine, with centuries-old traditions:

The county does not categorize restaurants by their cuisine. But, anecdotally, officials have long believed that Chinese restaurants elude A grades at a rate greater than any other type of restaurant. Consider this: 80% of the county's eateries have an A. So why is it so hard to find an authentic Chinese restaurant with anything other than a B or C?

Chinese restaurateurs argue that their kitchens simply use too many ingredients and too many cooking techniques to comply with the all the rules of health inspectors like Chiu.

They say inspectors are overly strict and that a perfect score is tantamount to destroying the flavor of their food. If a roast duck were kept at the temperature the county wants it at all times, for example, chefs say you'd be left with duck jerky, not the succulent flesh and crispy skin diners expect.

And if diners were getting sick, restaurant owners say, they wouldn't be coming to eat in such large numbers.

"We've been cooking like this for 5,000 years," said Harvey Ng, owner of Mission 261 in San Gabriel. "Why do we have a problem now?"

As for me? An old anthropological adage goes, "If it hasn't killed off an entire culture, it's good enough to eat."


No More Delaying....

Finally, finally, some good news for the week - and for the country:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 - Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the powerful House Republican majority leader, was accused by a Texas grand jury today of criminal conspiracy in a campaign fund-raising scheme.

Mr. DeLay was indicted on one count charging that he violated state election laws in September 2002. Two political associates, John D. Colyandro and James W. Ellis, were indicted with him.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Something Out of Place

Halfway through a workweek, halfway through a mandated survey project, and I've only been able to collect enough material for one good rant (not on the survey - too much material for that - but I'd like to keep my job).

Monday night I saw a special screening of Capote starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and penned by actor-turned-first-time-screenwrighter Dan Futterman. The buzz about this movie from Telluride and Toronto was positive, and Hoffman's portrayal of TC is impressive. There is already a murmur going around some boards that Hoffman might get an Oscar nomination for this part. I liked it, so if you enjoy this blog, make the effort to catch it when it comes to your town.

My gripe, however, isn't with the cast - it's with the crew. One memorable scene has a headshot of Capote talking on the phone to New York from Kansas circa 1960. Nothing else is going on, except for a few cuts to the office in New York at the other end, so anything out of the ordinary stands out. I'll say - the phone he was talking on had an RJ11 phone jack sticking out of the end! All the other phone scenes remained true to the old hard-wired connections, but props failed on that one. A brief review of phone history in the US shows that RJ11 phone jacks only became widely introduced after 1977 to facilitate connections with *new* home consumer products like answering machines and faxes.

Leave it to an anthropologist to point out the obvious. (The AA's basic guide to ethnography: shut up, sit down, and observe before opening your mouth.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Busy, Busy, Busy

Your intrepid AA apologizes for the many of you who have visited this site only to see last month's measly offerings. With the busy testing season over at Happy Valley College (sic), I'm now well into the early-term survey season, complete with a consequential validity study of a language test which, probably, will need to be re-evaluated next term with additional validation research (i.e., criterion validation, cut score validation, reliability studies, and disproportionate impact surveys - if these terms inspire fear, you should be afraid - very, very afraid).

As you might imagine, with this going on, and other stuff away from the office, my posting has been on hiatus.

Nonetheless, come this weekend I'll be venturing out to two events I'm looking forward to. This Saturday evening at the Mountain Bar in Chinatown, Jim Ruland will be hosting another evening of literary readings with the next gathering of Vermin on the Mount, and Monday I'll be off to a special screening of Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman, which recently created some buzz at the Toronto Film Festival.

And for the good stuff? The best line of this past week:

Student: How do I add a class? (Third time asking the same question.)

Supervisor: Go to the classroom and request an add slip. (Hitting his head on the counter while simultaneously answering.)

Student: Before class?

Supervisor: That's generally a good idea.

Student: But what do I say?

Supervisor: Try, "Hello."