Links: Teen sex attitudes, writing lessons, sentence origins, math, cities, tea, languages, and more

* Parents Just Don’t Understand: A sociologist says American moms and dads are in denial about their kids’ sexual lives. See also: “ Sex? Not my kid! A new book explores parental delusions about their teens’ sexuality.” Notice this: “[S]exual threats are seen [by parents] as ever present — from someone else’s sex-crazed kid, someone else’s corruptive parental influence, someone else’s perversion. Rarely do parents attribute the risk to their own child’s sexual desire or agency. Surprise, surprise.”

* The Most Important Writing Lesson I Ever Learned; unfortunately, I think most academics either never learn or forget this:

When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer, must give him something worthy of his gift to you.

* Where do sentences come from?

* “[A]lgebra isn’t harder than other subjects, it’s more objective. Therefore, it tends to make educational fraud more visible. People rarely fail algebra and succeed in other subjects; they fail in all subjects and algebra is the only one where it can’t be ignored any longer.”

* How communities are banding together to create high-speed, affordable broadband access.

* Allen Wyler’s Dead Ringer unintentionally shows the importance of creative writing classes. The novel starts: “A dark, ill-formed premonition punched Lucas McRae in the guy so hard it stole his breath.” But premonitions don’t punch people in the gut—other people do. “A second later it vanished, leaving only a lingering vague sense of foreboding.” We don’t need “lingering” and “vague” one word will do, and the phrase itself is a cliche anyway. This is the sort of stuff college sophomores discuss in “Introduction to Writing the Novel.”

* Survival Lessons From an Ancient Failed City:

Today’s sprawling cities expanded in a period of mild weather too, with no anticipation that seas might rise or energy resources could be depleted. Angkor and modern cities resemble one another in that they were built to survive in only the most benign weather regimes. The roads, sewers and the like of the modern suburb are based on an assumption of mild weather and cheap energy. Recent events like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and subsequent Midwestern intense storms show how poorly modern infrastructure performs in extreme weather.

* Everyone loves smut, says Patty Marks of Ellora’s Cave, who turned kinky fiction into millions before E.L. James.

* How to start an online tea business. My best guess: don’t.

* Bryan Caplan: “To understand why Americans don’t learn foreign languages, simply reverse this reasoning. We don’t learn foreign languages because foreign languages rarely helps us get good jobs, meet interesting people, or enjoy culture.” I approve of learning foreign languages and admire people who do, but I doubt the typically American derives much benefit because the typical American has to travel too far to make use of the foreign language. For most people, learning programming languages is probably far more useful in terms of both job skills and “learning how to think.” This view is close to David Henderson’s point: “Thoughts on Second Language.” Here is a counterpoint. It is possible that foreign languages would be much more useful from a very young age, but then the same could be said of Python. It’s possible that I haven’t seen foreign language benefits in my life because I haven’t learned enough of a foreign language to receive real benefits.

* You’ll never be Chinese.

6 responses

  1. Agreed; starting an online tea business is probably not the best entrepreneurial move. BUT, Adagio Teas has managed to make the most of it with their users’ signature blends. Have you heard of Adagio’s fandom tea craze? Cara McGee, a tumblr-famous fan-artist, has brought the company much more than a modicum of success with her BBC Sherlock, Doctor Who, Hunger Games, and Avengers inspired teas. She’s got a following of approximately eleven-thousand users, many of whom purchase her tea designs on Adagio. As one of her “followers”, I’ve been introduced to the customer friendly services of Adagio, and now it is my go-to site for tea purchases. I’ve always been a tea-lover, but the amount of tea I’ve purchased since discovering the company has skyrocketed; I’ve spent nearly $300 at Adagio this summer alone, and I know I am one of many obsessed fans to have done so.

    It doesn’t have really anything to do with your article, but I thought it an interesting phenomenon that you might want to comment on.



    • BUT, Adagio Teas has managed to make the most of it with their users’ signature blends.

      Yeah. I’ve been very hit-and-miss with Adagio, which makes me less interested in them. But part of the problem for new entrants is simple: Adagio and a couple other big players are already there. So it’s a hard place to make money, even if you really like tea.


  2. Re: “The Most Important Writing Lesson I Ever Learned”

    I see some truth in this piece, but have something to add.

    The most important thing I learned from writing this summer is that when I start considering another person reading my shit, I stop. It’s so terrifying that it paralyses me. When I allow that what I write comes from me and goes to no one, the words start to flow. They frequently suck. But you know what? No one has to read them. That concern can wait until draft two or three, when there’s no stopping the words from finding their way onto the paper. This mentality doesn’t lessen my interest in quality or style, but allows me to focus on what I like without concern for anyone else’s version of good. I want my writing to be beautiful for its own sake, like a macrocosm of an elegantly constructed word. Of course, the beauty of words is all to do with what they communicate, which necessitates exchange. But at least in the realm of first drafts, for me, that is an entirely internal experience.

    Not that anyone should care about my writerly feelings. I’m sure I’m writing this comment for the sake of my own understanding, and if I publish it (in the most modest sense of the word) it’s with the notion that a reader might gain some insight from it too. Writing is a valuable way to understand complicated ideas, not all of which can be “powerfully concentrated” without losing substance. Furthermore, making something sellable doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the private experience of writing. I used to see writing as both an adventure and stress relief, and that joyful perspective only recently came back to me. I hadn’t put in hours of writing just to write in a long time, because my writing was nearly always focused on being “good enough” in some abstract way, instead of on turning images into words and vice versa.

    Also, the first sentence of “Where Do Sentences Come From?” had me banging my head against a wall because I felt so accurately represented. The rest was less painful and more interesting. I particularly liked the point about letting a sentence go, even if it seems perfect.


  3. That’s good advice which I learned very early. No matter how good a writer I believed myself to be and how much friends told me, that did not imply that these people would be enthusiastic fans of things I later wrote. In my twenties I used to send people copies of my writing (either hard copy or via email). Not necessarily fiction, but not throwaway stuff either. I generally received zero feedback or even acknowledgement that anyone had actually read it. Of the friends I sent things to, several were serious writers or academics or critics — the kinds of people who knew how to read and appreciate complex or deep things. For the most part my writings were ignored — although in face to face conversations certain friends would allude to those missives I used to send without getting specific.

    Why the neglect? Part of it may have to do with indifference or the reluctance to provide negative feedback. But I would estimate that 75% of it might simply have to do with people not having the time or attention span to read things.

    Of course, I stopped sending these things. For a while — after I set up my blog — I would email URLs, but after noticing the lack of response, I gave up on that as well. Facebook is a different story, and I have gotten slightly more feedback through that. But generally I just assume that the primary reader of my serious writing will be only myself. That is a fact of life. I have learned to rely on myself to catch typos and polish sentences and anticipate objections.

    Some exceptions to note:

    First, if you are a young and pretty girl, your writing will always be noticed — although for all the wrong reasons.

    Second, bloggers are pretty diligent about keeping up with things — especially about topical items. If you know how to use an RSS reader, you tend not to miss as much.

    Third, I think people who don’t know you personally are more apt to give serious consideration to things you write. Old friends or family tend to assume they already know you or that your efforts are mostly tedious.


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