Literary expression takes many forms; from short stories to expanded documentation covering myriad subjects. Throughout history, authors have set themselves apart offering written works as diverse as romantic novels and epic tales of adventure, spanning several volumes. Within each genre, sub-specialists write in styles running the gamut from concise academic form, to sprawling embellishments of everyday encounters. Thanks to technology and the proliferation of the World Wide Web, there is a relatively new player on the field, begging the question: Are bloggers a threat to literary integrity?
Motivation Dictates Value
Before people had pencils and pens, drawings and symbols left on cave walls were effective communication. So who took responsibility for preserving thoughts in this way? The cave people skilled at drawing most likely bore much of the burden, but lesser illustrators surely weighed in too. As communication became more important to society, formalizing language and alphabets, more and more people took up writing as a form of expression. Early writers were not necessarily highly-skilled. But they wrote anyway, because they could. So the slippery slope of unskilled writers sharing ideas, whether or not they have the slightest clue how to do it properly, is nothing new.
It could even be argued that the same motivation existed for cave drawers as for some of today’s bloggers. Fame and recognition, the desire to be heard and remembered, are motivators for taking pens to paper, charcoal to cave walls, and most recently, fingertips to keyboards. What has changed over time is the relative importance of fame, heightened in an information age placing great emphasis on celebrity and adulation.
The evolution of the World Wide Web continues to change the landscape for fame-seekers. An instant audience, perhaps millions, is a powerful draw for those committed to being noticed. As a result, many bloggers put the cart before the horse; adding to the blogosphere, before they really have something to say. Blogging’s greatest threat to quality writing is found among ‘vanity’ blogs, serving only their authors; rather than informative, relevant content shared by capable writers blogging online.
In addition to personal rewards for bloggers, the practice of sharing online carries cash benefits, once bloggers establish followings. Unfortunately, poorly written blogs yield returns for bloggers able to draw traffic, in spite of themselves. When poor content is rewarded with cash, it might appear as though it undermines quality writing, but it may be too soon to judge.
Blogging is an evolving pursuit, subject to corrections as it matures into a long-term phenomenon. And just as competition influences other economic trends, bloggers face free market influences, which may eventually serve to elevate good writing and take incentives away from bloggers spewing drivel.
Purely promotional blog content, disguised as education, is increasingly being called-out for what it is, filtering-out blogs without intrinsic value. Spam gives blogs a bad name, but it also makes legitimate content shine amid the noise. In other words, bloggers with something meaningful to share will prevail, but only with a firm commitment to high quality content, and perseverance sharing their messages.
Discouraging signs may show themselves in the short-term, but blogging is not a threat to quality writing over the long haul.
By Ken Myers
Many people will use literature in order to find solutions to real life problems. Stories involving similar situations have a way of lending insight to problems we face on a daily basis. For those who are unable to adjust to social changes or opposition, reading about them has a way of making emotional and mental connections. Along with reading about these circumstances, could writing your own story help you develop a deeper connection to how you can resolve problems in a healthy way?
First-Person Narrative - Writing in the first person provides the reader with a sense that the story is being told from the individual experiencing the problems. When you read your own material based on true situations, you step outside of yourself and gain a different perspective of your own thoughts. Even if you change the names and places in order to protect others, the entire experience could create understanding beyond what someone else can try to explain to you. Not only are you processing the information from your own point of view, you can then examine yourself as the narrator for the story.
Third-Person Storytelling - One of the most common methods of writing is the use of a third-person point of view. This is when you are telling the story of someone else. This can help you in the same method as mentioned in first-person as you are constructing the story based on your own experiences. Using this method of writing can disassociate you from the situation. However, reading over your own work can put things into perspective based on what your characters perceive. How would each person in your story react to the actions your main character has committed? Are you able to put yourself in their shoes in this manner?
Character Development - One of the hardest parts about writing your story as a form of therapy is the understanding of human emotions within others. You need to have a sense of empathy in order to really give your characters life. While you may think this is absurd, it can greatly help you comprehend the consequences of your actions. Your behavior impacts more than just yourself. Each time you make a decision, everyone around you is affected – and more consequential actions could involve the people around those individuals. It could be a detailed interconnecting web that can alter the lifestyle of so many people.
Honesty - Another difficult aspect of writing your story is the ability to be honest with yourself. You can lie to others if you wish, but you can never lie to yourself. Writing your story in an honest method is the only way to really connect to the issues and make progress towards sorting out your problems. It takes a great deal of courage in order to look inside oneself and realize the problems he or she has. You are the only one that can truly sort out what is going on inside yourself. As long as you are honest with yourself, you could gain a great deal of wisdom to help overcome virtually any situation.
Many people will keep journals of their lives in order to express their emotions about situations throughout any given day. It is one thing to describe a day in this manner, but it’s completely different when you’re telling a tale with a solid plot that you need to address. Even if you don’t plan on showing your writing to everyone, at least keep it for yourself to help reflect on problems you face throughout your life.
Ken Myers is a father, husband, and entrepreneur. He has combined his passion for helping families find in-home care with his experience to build a business. Learn more about him by visiting @KenneyMyers on Twitter.
By Sarrah McGraw
Do Dreams Come True? It depends on the Dream
The greatest thing about the idea of the American dream is that it’s different for everyone. Though it began as an American ideal, it has spread across the world. After all, other nations have visions and ideas of destiny too.
But the question may be asked: What aligns the idea of the “American dream” in the forefront of our thoughts, when it comes to destiny and personal and national advancement? The answer is that it was the first of its kind to be expressly enunciated in written form. The prophetic words written by the founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence define the contours of that same dream. Phrases such as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” “all men are created equal” and that these same men are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” are words that have formed the American dream into what we know it to be.
The American Dream and Literature
Mark Twain and F. Scott Fitzgerald have used the idea of the American dream in their famous works.
Twain’s prolific American novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, seems smitten by the notion of freedom and what it means for the American dream. For the novel’s protagonist, Huck, the dream is all about freedom of movement without constraints or restrictions. Twain’s work is revolutionary because he envisions Jim the slave as a free person as well. Twain describes Jim as being not only free from physical shackles but free from the prejudices of Southern society.
Evolving but not Changing the Dream
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby was published in 1925 and was mainly concerned with the commercialization of the American dream. Through Gatsby, the novel’s protagonist, Fitzgerald dreamt of an American society where you “be all you can be.” For Fitzgerald and for the characters in his most famous novel, the American dream comes with an influx of wealth and exorbitance, rendering it devoid of true love and joy.
How Far are we From Realizing the American Dream?
In 1931, James Truslow Adams wrote, “we dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”
The stipulation with Adams’ dream is that one’s achievements and abilities are dependent upon various external factors–economic situation, social status, gender, sex, etc. Have we, as a society, given up the idea of the American dream?
The 1776 dream was about America’s future. Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Are we any closer to realizing our forefather’s American Dream? Or is this dream not attainable?
Sarrah Mcgraw is a graduate of University of Pennsylvania with a Master of Science in Criminology. She currently resides in Dayton, Ohio and she regularly contributes to http://www.learninglaw.com.
The following was written by Shari Randall for the “Writers Who Kill” blog.
By Shari Randall
The Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) program was created in 1991 by UMass-Dartmouth professor Robert Waxler and his friend, Bob Kane, a judge. Kane was fed up with a “turnstile” justice system that saw the same people commit the same crimes as soon as they walked out the jail door. Waxler was determined to test his belief in the power of literature to reach places inside the minds and hearts of offenders where real change could take place. New studies support Waxler’s hypothesis, showing that among other things, reading helps develop empathy, and that increased empathy can lead to changes in behavior.
By Billy Mitchell
I’ve always been under the impression that literature has the power to change the way we think. We always seem to hear people toss around the idea that some piece of art can change lives, yet I’ve always been skeptical of this notion. My way that I understood it, was that while experiencing a piece of art can work to change our lives, it works in conjunction with other factors; almost as a vehicle for the change as opposed to the motivator for change.
But as I think more on this subject, where does the power to change lives exist, if not in our own minds? If a piece of art causes us to think differently, isn’t it, in a sense, changing our life?
Let’s be clear with something. I’m not talking a massive, move-into-the-forest-and-live-off-the-land or suddenly take up an Eastern religion, change. I am not stating that reading a life-changing book means that we have to alter our lives in some large way. I’m talking about smaller—but pronounced—changes that take place in our minds; changes in how we see ourselves, how we see others, how we think about a certain situation or about morality or mortality. These characters’ interactions or these settings or situations that we read about slowly begin to take shape and create meaning within us, if we let them. While it may be too romantic or grandiose to come out and say: “This book changed my life,” it really isn’t that off-base. In fact, I don’t feel it is at all. Because small changes lead to big ones.
I had difficulty coming up with a concise list of books that have changed my life. Because, as I’ve been saying, these changes are not immense. They are small, sometimes miniscule shifts in consciousness. Without reflection, they can go unnoticed.
Without bringing my whole Kindle library into the picture, I’ve included two books that I can confidently say have changed the way I think. I’m sure I’m not alone in these choices.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.
Some pretty important people have claimed Kerouac’s rambling, methamphetamine- driven scroll has changed their lives. I first read On the Road in high school and I didn’t quite know what to think of it. I knew what I was reading was good (whatever that means) but I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of what was being said.
In its most stripped-down sense, On the Road is a novel about a character in the 1950’s who travels across the country. The plot revolves around Sal Paradise, his group of friends and a number of different characters that he meets in his travels in the United States and then in his final journey to Mexico City. Holding the story together is Dean Moriarty, Sal’s delinquent friend, a representation of the Road itself.
What always catches me while reading this book is the definition of “The Road.” During my first read, I thought of it as exactly what it is: a literal representation of a road, a means in which you travel from point A to point B. But “The Road” that is so important to Sal—who, of course, is a fictional representation of Kerouac himself—is really a physical manifestation of a symbol. The Road, “The Holy Road,” is the ability for us to change our way. The Road gives us the freedom to go anywhere and do anything. The road is a means of living, as opposed to merely existing.
I’m not really in the business of recommending books, but if I was, you bet I’d be recommending this one. It may not get you to stand up and hitchhike across the country…but then again, it just might.
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.
In the movie, “Silver Linings Playbook,” a manic Bradley Cooper has this great scene where he has just finished reading A Farewell to Arms, and proceeds to throw the paperback out the window.
“I mean, the world’s hard enough as it is, guys,” he screams at his parents, the father played by Robert Deniro. “Can’t somebody say, ‘Hey, let’s be positive. Let’s have a good ending to the story?’”
His mother then tells him that he owes them an apology for waking them up at four o’clock in the morning to talk about the ending of a book.
“Mom, I can’t apologize. I’m not gonna apologize for this. You know what I will do? I’ll apologize on behalf of Earnest Hemingway. Because that’s who’s to blame here.”
I won’t lie. I had a relatively similar reaction to the ending of this novel. Although it has been described as Hemingway’s “bleakest” novel in its depictions of the horrors of war and the soldiers that partake in it, the moments of brightness that come through are what create something memorable. That, as Hemingway says, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.” This is the truly amazing sentiment.
I think this aspect of brightness in a novel that is mostly dark is best summed up in a dialogue between Frederic Henry, the protagonist and Catherine Barkley, his nurse and the woman he loves:
“And you’ll always love me, won’t you?”
“And the rain won’t make any difference?”
The following post is a followup to a 2010 blog found here, focusing on the efforts and success of the Speakout! adult literacy program.
By Vani Kannan
Those of us who have facilitated with the Colorado State University Community Literacy Center have seen the excitement when the Speakout! journals are published. It’s gratifying to pass them out to the workshop participants so they can see the fruits of their labor in print. However, we may not see what happens to the journals after they’re published. We know that they circulate around Fort Collins, the state, country, and indeed, the globe (CLC Director Tobi Jacobi brought journals with her to a conference in Prague this past year). But how are they being pedagogically employed in community literacy work?
Before I came to CSU, I volunteered as an adult literacy tutor at a public library in Brooklyn, NY. The students I worked with gravitated towards community literacy publications, particularly those that showcased the voices of language-learning writers. Students checked out the books from the library after our Saturday classes and brought them home to read during the week. They often came to class on Saturday having finished an entire collection of writing, and looking for something new.
Unfortunately, we ran out of such books quickly. It’s hard to find publications specifically tailored to adult literacy students—particularly language-learners and first-time writers. Students at the library responded well to texts with content that was relevant to their lives (e.g., essays on work and family), but written at an accessible reading level. The small grassroots press that had put out the collections we used at the library had gone out of business years earlier. Because of this, the library literacy center coordinators had to look to South African and Canadian publishers. (Of course, this meant that students learning English in the U.S. were learning from texts with non-U.S. spelling conventions!)
Adult literacy publishing is not a lucrative field, which is why it hasn’t taken off in the U.S. This is part of why the CLC’s work in publishing a grassroots journal is so important. As a facilitator in Brooklyn, I saw firsthand how vital it is for adult literacy students to recognize themselves in their readings. The adult voices in community literacy publications resonated and thus excited students about the act of reading. This excitement led them to read consistently at home, which improved their literacy levels tremendously in between our weekly classes.
When a friend started volunteering at a local literacy program in Philadelphia earlier this year, she called me and described her student—a woman who reads at a fourth-grade level and wants to try writing poetry for the first time. Unfortunately, the community literacy space where the volunteers and students meet does not have any texts available at all—let alone adult-specific texts—due to the fact that they operate out of a shared space where they cannot store materials. I sent her a copy of a recent Speakout! journal. She reports that her student was excited by the publication and took it home to read on her own the very same day. No doubt her literacy skills will benefit from reading the work of CLC workshop participants.
Vani Kannan is working on her MA in Rhetoric and Composition at Colorado State University. She volunteers with CSU’s Speakout! program and has been involved in community literacy work since 2008.
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Set in Russia during the late 1800s during an economic and social crisis, Crime and Punishment examines the importance of morality in a climate where the law’s influences have faded. Raskolnikov, the protagonist, commits a horrific crime in the hopes of proving, to himself, his country’s laws are not applicable in a moral sense. After his heinous crime, Raskolnikov searches for redemption, which he eventually finds in Sonya, a young prostitute, who he confides in. It is a dark tale, but one with a powerful message: a man or woman cannot simply do whatever they wish without consequences. It is not a story without redemption, however. Even as Raskolnikov suffers, he finds eventual peace in confession and imprisonment.
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
On the surface, it may seem merely a cruel tale. However, Heart of Darkness flourishes in its understanding of man’s many faults while exploring the horrors that accompany leadership. Marlow begins an excursion in an African jungle where he is greeted by a cast of characters who have abandoned civility in favor of survival-based methods of living. Marlow must confront Kurtz, a man who manages a dock in the jungle and inexplicably governs the nearby tribe with a ruthless, Machiavellian style of leadership. While potentially problematic due to several racist themes, Heart of Darkness unabashedly delves into the horrific nature of a man’s will to survive in the harshest physical and emotional conditions, and leaves the reader with an unnerving question: What, precisely, would you have done in the heart of darkness?
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
The most recently written novel on this list, The Road is nevertheless a captivating bridge between literature and the human condition. Set in the increasingly popular post-apocalyptic wasteland of the United States, the story follows the trials of the man and the boy, archetypal representations of a protective father and his meek, naive son. A unique study of the individual, where the man is realized as a survivor first and foremost, the man holds onto ideals of the world before, but does not utilize them. Unbeknownst to himself, the man has abandoned his country’s laws and has reverted to a more primal state. After realizing his change, the man, and the reader, try to cope with a lawless reality and an existence where the individual is truly responsible for his or her own actions.