The Obligatory Kindle Post

I got a Kindle for Christmas, and now am obliged to write about how it looks like a real page, how cool it is to be able to carry my library with me and won’t it be great for travel, and how it will revolutionize reading, writing, printing, and life as we know it. And I will probably admit that while I love reading on my Kindle, I will never part with my dead-tree collection.

Consider all that said. I’ve read plenty about eBooks in general, and the Kindle in particular, and that pretty much says it all. If you want a reading list, I can refer you.

What I do have to say about it is this (and these observations are by no means unique, either):

I love to read — in theory. In reality, I have trouble seeing the page. I thought that going to bifocals would make it easier to read, but most of the time my arms aren’t long enough to hold the book where I can see it. And I don’t like holding books. If I can read with my book on the desk and plenty of light, it works, but reading in bed is tedious. Reading from my computer or iPhone hurts my eyes.

Kindle is allowing me to read more. Easy to hold, easy to turn pages, easy to adjust the size of the print. It keeps your page. You can write notes and underline without messing up your book. It’s like having an exercycle or a treadmill — now I have no excuse.

There are many people who love books as objects – the binding, the pages, the feel of a volume in their hands. I’m sure there were readers who didn’t want to give up their scrolls when the codex was becoming popular. But Amazon doesn’t sell a lot of scrolls these days. Eventually more ebooks will be sold than paper books.

I am quite ready to get rid of as many books as I can. More

Doing

I’m getting sort of stressed, realizing how much stuff I need to do in order to live a truly minimalist life. I have far too many clothes, books, DVDs, appliances, cooking utensils, gadjets. All of these are destroying my chances of happiness. They are keeping me from Getting Things Done and focusing on the One Thing that Matters, or even figuring out what that One Thing is.

Getting that Zen thing down takes a lot of effort. Maybe I’ll look for another article to read.

Recently I’ve read a lot of articles and a couple books about minimalism, organization, getting things done. All of this gives me new ways to spend my time without really producing anything. I can take in a lot of advice without really changing anything inside me.

It may be that enlightenment is approaching, because I am finally beginning to understand what I already know: life isn’t about Getting Things Done; it’s about Doing Things.

Proponents of GTD will say, “Of course. That’s what GTD is all about — getting the time and focus to accomplish what’s important to you.”

But that’s not exactly what I mean. What I have learned about myself is that a sense of accomplishment is less satisfying to me than the accomplishing. Getting there is better than being there.

Wordsworth said, “All good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”

Ask yourself which is more important: the emotion or the recollection — or the resulting poem? For me, the the poem is less important than the emotion and its recollection. The act of writing is more satisfying than “having written.” Working on a story — getting ideas, inventing characters and scenes — is not a chore that must be finished so that I can mail out another box of pages. It’s just what I do.

One of my favorite quotes from the movie Harvey is Veta Lousie Simmons’ explanation of what art is: More

Imagination Should Not Be an Elective Subject

As a teacher of Creative Writing, I often feel like I’m not contributing much. Though it is part of the English department, Creative Writing is an elective course. There is no graduation exam for electives; we are “none of the above” subjects, whose only purpose at times seems to be supporting the “real” subjects – math, science, social studies, English. We are kept around to fill holes in students’ schedules and give them something fun to do when they’re not cramming their brains with math and science.

That’s about the way I saw it too, when I began. But in the three semesters that I’ve taught this class, I have come to believe that Creative Writing could be the most important class that students take. They have been so well ‘schooled’ that they are badly educated. Since the age of five, they’ve been learning not to write down an answer unless they’re sure it’s correct, to follow directions, and do things the right way. Socially, they’ve learned that the goal of school is to fit in, not be different. Certainly not to be creative. Except for a few rebels, they don’t know how to have ideas.

And yet, without new ideas there is no progress – or even survival.

Can people be taught to have ideas? Can creativity be learned? If it can, it won’t be from fill-in-the-bubble tests. The notion that there is a right answer and a wrong answer for every question is what our children are learning right now.

But there isn’t a right way or a wrong way to write a poem or a story. More

About Time

The best way to improve American education would be to move to metric time. If we divide the day into 100 ‘hours’ of 14.4 minutes, we can claim that our children attend school nearly 5000 hours a year – more than China, Japan and Korea combined.

Okay, nobody will buy that.

The current discussion about this country’s dismal education system, however, is all about time. How much time — days, hours — should our children be spending in school? More is always better, right?

Students in Japan attend school 240 days a year; in South Korea, it’s 220. In the US, it’s only 180. Since those countries regularly best us academically, the solution seems obvious: keep kids in school for more days, or make the days longer.

Some states have eliminated snow days in order to force districts to make up these ‘free’ days. My district gets only 3 snow days this year, where last year we had 5. In most years, we use up those days, and in a few years, we’ve had to make up a day or two because we’ve used up our allowance. Rural districts have ten or more snow days a year; unless they use up spring break and a few Saturdays, they’ll be in school until nearly the end of June. In other words, don’t plan your vacation yet.

I’m not so sure that keeping kids in school five more days in June would replace the time we would have spent in the classroom in January or February. More

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