The Brevity Podcast Episode #1: Dani Shapiro & Thaddeus Gunn

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

Enjoy our podcast on the go!Enjoy The Brevity Podcast on the go!

We’re on the air! The brand-new Brevity Podcast is now available here and on Soundcloud. We hope you’ll enjoy our first episode, featuring interviews and readings from New York Times-bestselling author and noted memoirist Dani Shapiro, and Brevity author and Pushcart Prize nominee Thaddeus Gunn.

In upcoming (somewhat) monthly episodes, we’ll be speaking with Andre Dubus III, David Shields, Ander Monson, Rebecca Skloot, Roxane Gay and Cheryl Strayed, as well as more of our Brevity authors.

Soon, we’ll be invading the world of iTunes, Stitcher, iCatcher, and other podcast services, but for right now, we’re right here, and downloadable for listening on the go. If your fancy technical skills involve RSS feed wrangling, here’s our feed. If you’re on Soundcloud, please do follow us.

Let us know what you think—and we’d love…

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Why I Can Never Go Home Again

Rivers of Time

I was born and raised in Lima, Ohio. And in many ways, I’ve never left. Home weighs heavily on us all. Our early experiences deeply influence the way we see and understand the world around us. I had a charmed upbringing– safe, comfortable, and loved. My parents encouraged me in everything I did. They bought me books and looked the other way when I stayed up way too late reading by flashlight under my blankets. Even then I was awful at subtlety. My community was great. Supportive teachers who pushed me, but also publicly recognized my talents. Warm and kind church-members at both West Elm UCC and Trinity United Methodist, who well lived the sort of compassionate Christianity our faith preached. My friends were solid guys who understood loyalty, solidarity, and collaboration. Few things ever brought me more joy than playing basketball for hours on end with the Gregs before retreating…

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Jane Austen, Programming Languages, and Being “That Guy” in the Writing Class

The Incompetent Writer

Did you read the Buzzfeed piece that came out last month, about writing workshops and Pride and Prejudice, by Shannon Reed? “If Jane Austen Got Feedback From Some Guy In A Writing Workshop.”

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You should. It’s very funny.

Dear Jane,
I don’t usually read chick lit, but I didn’t hate reading this draft of your novel, which you’re calling Pride and Prejudice. I really liked the part where Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle went on a road trip, which reminded me of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (also about a road trip — check it out!).

I won’t lie. I like to think I’m not as sexist and priggish as this guy. Still, parts of Reed’s piece made me cringe in self-recognition.

I winced.

In a writing workshop, it’s easy (easy at least for me) to develop the exact tone (superior…

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Home is Behind; the World Ahead

This post is filled with nostalgic emotions. And although, it looks like it is author’s memoir, but it is very generic as this is the story of most of us. Perfect Press for Reblog. Please read this.

Jennifer Bresnick

IS5eqngy07rd5k0000000000I visited New York this weekend, for a short but multi-purpose trip back to my ancestral homeland.  As many of you know, I spent the first 17 years of my life on Long Island, in a bustling yet somewhat brutal suburb of the great City itself.

New Yorkers are generally very proud of where they live, and remain proud of where they come from if they happen to move away.  They retain their stereotypical attitude (which is, if anything, underplayed in the media) and their propensity for tailgating on the highway.

They can never eat a bagel or slice of pizza without loudly proclaiming its inferiority to the cuisine of their youth (it’s the water, don’t you know), and they will forever be shocked that businesses, restaurants, and public transportation options close before midnight in towns that approach life at a slower pace.

While I’m certainly guilty of maintaining some of these…

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The Great Indian Puncher Shop

One of the most common entities on the Indian Highways, along with the dhabas, are the puncture shops. But when was the last time you saw puncture spelled correctly? The signs comes in various permutations and combinations, always ensuring that it is never spelt p-u-n-c-t-u-r-e.

There is punchur, punchar, punchur and a few other combinations. Some times it gets simplified and Indianized as panchar, which sometimes sounds right to me. Indianized because that’s how we spell our names. I remember a conversation that an American was having with a friend Roshan. He said, “the way your name is pronounced, it should be spelt R-o-s-h-u-n.” Roshan had some explaining to do about subtle differences in the way his name is pronounced and s-h-u-n gets pronounced.

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Customization is the name of the game when it comes to English in India. It is not UK or US, but India that has the largest population of people who can speak English. Our love of English is well known, but we have never been able to accept the language as it is, and have customized it to our will to an extent that might often sound funny to a native speaker. Now we are even ready to claim some derived languages such as Hinglish, or Kanglish as we call in Bangalore. Can you believe it, a large number of slangs in Kannada are actually in English and the words hardly relate to their original meaning!

I am not sure how a British would comprehend the saying “yes, no?” And then we have some more well known phrases like “It is like that only.” There was a much circulated email which carried the photo of a shop selling Chilled Beer with a sign that read ‘child bear’! Some times it can get really interesting. I recall a lady speaking loudly and giving directions on the mobile phone in otherwise quiet queue in an ATM center, which went like this – “that no, you know that ice-cream shop in MG Road no, from there you go straight down and left, you will find a jewellery shop-pu, got it no, ya there only..” There was much more depth to her speech than what I have recalled and jotted down here. I felt it was more of Kannada that she was speaking. Kannada words were generously interspersed in the conversation and it was evidently a chat between two Kannadigas who were heavily processed by our English schools but refused to give up their real identity.

Coming back to the topic of puncher shops, from which I have now digressed very far, I tend to keep an eye on the spellings when I am travelling. Not because I am a purist, but it is fun to see the combinations that get used. One of the interesting things I have seen is – all those ‘puncher’ shops usually manage to spell a much more complex word like ‘vulcanizing’ correctly. That makes me wonder if there is a deliberate conspiracy against the word puncture. Or is it just that truck drivers prefer shops where the spelling is more friendly? Then there was a music shop in Tawang that carried some special offer for ‘cupples’ for valentines day. After punchur shops, the best place to look at is in the restaurant menu in small towns and highways. One such place in UP offered ‘cornflex’ and ‘mashroom’ to its customers. And another place offered Veg Pakodas but when it came to sandwich, they decided to make it ‘vage’. Sandwich itself some times come in many varieties like ‘sandwhich’ and ‘sandwitch’, all of them adding some fun to the food!

The last time I wrote something about such English in our country, some one got angry and grumbled – “It is a ‘phoren’ language and we don’t need to perfect it. I am very fluent and perfect in my mother tongue and I don’t see a need to be good in anything else”. I had then not replied to the comment. But I agree that there is no need to get perfect in English, or anything else for that matter, especially when there is so much fun in imperfections. In any case, I have no complaints or nothing really against corrupting English, and nor have I gone anywhere in search of perfection. Why take things seriously when there is much more value addition in the lighter side of things?

Footnote: One of the greatest writer that Kannada has seen – Poornachandra Tejaswi always had a tough time with English and always used to fail in English language tests in college. He once remarked something like this – “I don’t think I will ever manage to understand English or any language that uses spellings. These people write something and pronounce it totally differently. It’s crazy.”

Deepening Democracy, the Indian one.

For quite some time now it has become evident that policies being adopted by the government and Laws being made by Parliament are not reflecting the views, wishes or the needs of the majority of the people of the country. Policies like FDI in retail, importing hugely expensive and dangerous nuclear power plants, and laws like the SEZ Act or the Civil Nuclear Liability Act are clearly against the wishes and interests of the people but have been pushed through by the government and in Parliament for the commercial interests of large Indian and foreign corporations. The same is evident from the manner in which the government and Parliament has dealt with the Lokpal bill. While all polls, surveys and referenda were showing that more than 80% people favoured the Jan Lokpal bill, the government introduced a bill bore little resemblance to it, and defeated the very purpose of a Lokpal by making it a body selected and controlled by the government and making it dependant on government controlled investigating agencies. When amendments moved by the opposition parties to cure some of these defects were likely to be passed, the government filibustered and engineered disturbances and the bill was left hanging in the air. We are constantly told that Parliament is supreme and that we must respect Parliamentary democracy and that it is inherent in this form of democracy that the people must leave decision making to the wisdom of their “elected representatives”. We know that these representatives are generally getting elected by use of money power and often even muscle power. That is why the major political parties are lining up to induct even those persons who have been kicked out for corruption by the corrupt BSP government on the eve of the elections. We are seeing that only candidates of large, established and moneyed parties have any realistic chance of getting elected, mainly because of the nature of our electoral system in which honest and hardworking social workers who have contested elections as independents or candidates of small political fare poorly in elections.

But even more importantly, we find that after getting elected, these elected representatives normally do not take decisions on policies and laws by finding out what people want, and often such decisions are taken (usually at the level of the party high commands) on the basis of self interest (as in the case of the lokpal bill)or on extraneous and often corrupt considerations. That is why Acts which vitally affect millions of persons like the SEZ Act get passed in Parliament in minutes without any discussion, and the Lokpal bill remains stuck for decades. Parliament these days get adjourned frequently due to disturbances created sometimes by a few M.P.s, and only a small fraction of its time is devoted to real work.

We are told that we have to live with this “imperfect democracy” and that other countries have also learnt to similarly live with such imperfections. But what we are seeing is not an imperfection in the working of our democracy but virtually a total breakdown, where, as we are seeing, the popular will is rarely getting reflected in governance and law making. The challenge before us therefore is: Can we not put in place a system where by the views of the people are directly taken into account in major policy decisions and laws of the State, rather than these being decided by the “elected represenatives” ? Such a system is already in place in tribal areas through the PESA Act which provides for the Gram Sabha (the collective of all adults in the village) to take all public decisions pertaining to the village, though mostly this has remained only on paper. Why can’t a similar model be tried in larger areas such as Blocks, Districts, States or even the entire country? It is true that all the adults of a State or even a Block or District cannot get together to physically discuss an issue as they do in a Gram Sabha meeting. But there are two ways of addressing this problem. If one wants to ascertain the views of the people in a particular State or District on a particular issue, one can have it discussed and decided in each Gram Sabha of that State or district, or one can put it to a referendum to all the people of that State or District. The progress made by IT and Communication technology has enabled a referendum being conducted through internet kiosks (using biometric identification) which can be set up in each village in the country within a year, if the government had the political will to do so. There are still two challenges in such a system of referendums. Firstly, the issue to be voted upon needs to be identified and crystallised into questions which are suitable to be framed for a referendum. For example, there could be many variations of the Lokpal bill. Which versions are to be put up for a referendum and who is to decide this? One way of doing it would be to allow a crystallised issue to be put up for referendum if more than a certain percentage of the population sign up for it. This model is already in vogue in many countries including several States in the US. Thus if 5 or 10% people of the electorate of the Nation, State or the District as the case may be, sign a petition that they want a particular decision to be taken, that proposition could be put to a referendum. If voted upon by a majority of the people, the decision could be made actionable. An alternative model is that whenever a contentious issue arises in the State, district or country (depending upon whether the issue concerns the State or district or the entire country), a neutral body like the Election Commission is charged with the duty to ascertain the most popular views on it and then frame the questions by giving the most popular options, which are then put to vote. Some sceptics ask; how do you expect people to understand complex issues like the Lokpal bill, nuclear energy or genetically modified foods.

“These are matters which can only be understood by experts.”

But are our M.P.s or Ministers experts on these subjects? After all they are deciding such critical matters which affect large sections of society. If they can take a view on it by taking into account the views of experts, so can the people. Some people who feel that they understand the issue sufficiently will vote on their understanding. Others will go by the experts that they trust. Manu may not vote, which is the case even for elections. But this would still be better than decisions being taken only by these “elected representatives” who are often elected on a small fraction of the vote in elections dominated not merely by inadequate knowledge of the candidates, but by money and muscle power and caste considerations. These “elected representatives” are far easier to manage by commercial vested interests than the entire electorate.

Therefore, it would be much safer to trust the people than these elected representatives. Whatever the challenges and difficulties in putting in place such a system, the time has certainly come to discuss this. We need to see how we can strengthen and deepen our democracy and ensure that we really get a truly participatory democracy and thus a government which is really run by the wishes of the people. Participatory democracy is an idea whose time has come.

Steve Jobs, 1955-2011. Rest In Peace.

Steve Jobs, the Apple Inc. chairman and co-founder who pioneered the personal computer industry and changed the way people think about technology, died Wednesday October 5, 2011.

“Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives,” Apple said in a statement. “The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.”

During his more than three decade-long career, Mr. Jobs transformed Silicon Valley as he helped turn the once sleepy expanse of fruit orchards into the technology industry’s innovation center. In addition to laying the groundwork for the modern high-tech industry alongside other pioneers like Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison, Mr. Jobs proved the appeal of well-designed intuitive products over the sheer power of technology itself and shifted the way consumers interact with technology in an increasingly digital world.

Unlike those men, however, the most productive chapter in Mr. Jobs’ career occurred near the end of his life, when a nearly unbroken string of innovative and wildly successful products like the iPod, iPhone and iPad fundamentally changed the PC, electronics and digital media industries.

The way he marketed and sold those products through savvy advertising campaigns and its retail stores, in the meanwhile, helped turn the company into a pop culture icon.

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At the beginning of that phase, Mr. Jobs once described his philosophy as trying to make products that were at “the intersection of art and technology.” In doing so, he turned Apple into the world’s most valuable company.

Mr. Jobs was 56 years old. After exhibiting significant weight loss in mid-2008, he took a nearly six month medical leave of absence in 2009, during which he received a liver transplant. He took another medical leave of absence in mid-January without explanation before stepping down as chief executive in August. Mr. Jobs is survived by his wife, Laurene, and four children.

Although his achievements in technology alone were immense, Mr. Jobs played an equally groundbreaking role in entertainment. He turned Apple into the largest retailer of music and helped popularize computer-animated films as the financier and CEO of Pixar Animation Studios, which he later sold to Walt Disney Co. He was a key figure in changing the way people used the Internet and how they consumed music, TV shows, movies, books, disrupting industries in the process.

Mr. Jobs also pulled off one of the most remarkable comebacks in modern business history, returning to Apple after an 11-year absence during which he was largely written off as a has-been and then reviving the then-struggling company by introducing products such as the iMac all-in-one computer, iPod music player and iTunes digital music store.

The company produces $65.2 billion a year in revenue compared with $7.1 billion in its business year ending September 1997. Apple has become one of the world’s premier designers of consumer-electronics devices, dropping the “computer” in its name in January 2007 to underscore its expansion beyond PCs.

Mr. Jobs officially handed over the reins of the company to long-time deputy Tim Cook in August 2011.

Steve, you will be missed and the world is immeasurably better because of you. If you would like to share your thoughts, memories and condolences, please email rememberingsteve@apple.com.

Drawing from some of the most pivotal points in his life, Steve Jobs, chief executive officer and co-founder of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, urged graduates to pursue their dreams and see the opportunities in life’s setbacks — including death itself — at the university’s 114th Commencement on June 12, 2005.

Yes, Microsoft Did Change The World More Than Apple Did

A new poll in France says 7 out of 10 people think Microsoft did more to change the world than Apple. We think we would have similar results in other countries, if only because a lot more people (still!) use Microsoft products than Apple products, at least for personal computing which is (still!) the most important part of computing.
It’s hard to see a mention of Steve Jobs without the worlds “change the world” or “changing an industry.” And let’s give him his due. Let’s give him his due as one of the greatest entrepreneurs in history, as an amazing entrepreneur and visionary who left many “dents” in the universe. And he did change many industries, like music, film, and yes, personal computing.But in terms of sheer impact on the world?

Bill Gates

Microsoft founder Bill Gates speaks during a forum on education at the National Urban League annual conference in Boston, Thursday, July 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

 

Microsoft wins, hands down.

Microsoft gave the world two things:

  • Microsoft was the first real software company.
  • Microsoft did put a PC on every desk and in every home. 

At the end of the day, it’s that last part that matters. By shifting the value in computing to software, Microsoft commoditized computing hardware and made computing accessible to the masses. If this isn’t one of the most significant events in history, nothing is.

Now, some people will say that Microsoft did this by copying Apple’s innovations like the graphical user interface. Whatever. First of all, Apple famously copied those from Xerox PARC. Great artists steal. Second of all, by any meaning of the word, the person who changes the world isn’t the one who comes up with the idea, it’s the one who executes on it, and 1980s Apple failed to execute (a lesson well learned by Apple under Steve Jobs 2.0).

The original Macintosh did show where the future of computing was headed, but it was also a commercial failure. 1980s Apple failed to understand the value of software, in particular third party software, which was lacking in the Macintosh. (This writer’s mother bought two computers in the mid-1980s: the first Macintosh and the first IBM PC. There was a lot more software for the PC. So she kept buying PCs, to this day–though she has an iPhone.)

Microsoft, being a software company, built an operating system platform that let thousands of others innovate which, along with Moore’s Law, made PCs cheaper and more valuable every year which meant more and more people could get access to them, in a vicious circle.

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Being the first big, viable software company also meant Microsoft cleared the way for thousands of other software innovators,when it was in no way obvious at the start that a company could be viable making just software.

The hardware may have been ugly, and the software clunky (a big reason why Windows is buggy is because of Microsoft’s amazing 20 year commitment to backwards compatibility, which makes PC software a cohesive environment, a tremendous service to users and the world, for which it gets no credit. With less software to support, Apple can afford to wipe the slate clean every ten years, a strength born of weakness.), but it was the software that millions of people used, and loved.

Nowadays Apple is so huge and efficient that it can afford to make the best products at the best prices. But when the personal computer revolution happened, the Macintosh was a Mercedes and MS-DOS was the Model T. The Model T might have been ugly, clunky and cheap, but being cheap it also changed the lives of millions and transformed the world in a way that the early auto pioneers, amazing and necessary though they were, didn’t.

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Now, Apple may yet get its revenge. The mobile computing revolution, with smartphones and tablets, will be at least as big as the desktop computing revolution, and Apple is seriously taking the lead. Android has a good chance of disrupting iOS, but Apple also has a great chance of remaining the dominant mobile platform. Maybe 20 years from now we’ll look back and see Apple had an impact at least as big as Microsoft in the 1980s.

But if we’re looking now, Microsoft clearly had a bigger impact on the world than Apple. The fact that we all love Apple products and they’re gorgeous doesn’t change the fact that the company that actually made the world realize the magic of software, and made computing accessible to almost everyone on the planet, is Microsoft.

How to Enable the New Facebook Timeline ‘NOW’

You’ve been hearing about all the wonderful new Facebook features, and like us, you’re probably super-eager to get started with them.

If you’re willing to go through a series of eight steps, you can get into the brand-new Facebook Timeline right now.

Simply follow the instructions in our gallery below, and suddenly you’ll be basking in a new world of Facebook goodness, just like the developers are. Follow the instructions carefully, and good luck.

Please note: If you haven’t already verified your Facebook account with either a mobile phone number or credit card number, you’ll be asked to do so before you can try the new features. If you need more help with that, here’s a helpful link.

First, you’ll need to go to the Facebook developer page, which is a part of your Facebook account. Make sure you’re logged into your Facebook account, and then simply follow this link to get started.

Owl City’s Unlikely Climb: From the basement to the charts.

 

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As musicians, we all start from humble beginnings. In fact, many people begin by making beats in mom’s basement but few of us ever went directly from mom’s basement to the #1 spot on iTunes, deafening internet chatter, and a sold out US concert tour. However for Adam Young, better known to everyone as “Owl City,” that dream has truly become a reality in the last two years.

Adam Young’s transition from working in a Coca-Cola warehouse in Owatonna, Minnesota, to crafting a platinum record a few years later, is one of the biggest musical success stories in recent memory, a Music 2.0 success story. While working each day at a factory warehouse, he was busy leveraging social media sites like MySpace to distribute music direct to fans and hone his song-writing/production skill by getting instant feedback from listeners. Each day, Adam would rush home from the warehouse and sit down to capture whatever melody he had been kicking around all day. When Adam sat down to create music, he launched Reason.

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“I wrote and recorded Ocean Eyes in my parents’ basement,” Young, the voice of Owl City, says, reflecting on the story we’ve now all heard: the basement-trapped kid producing a chart-topping breakout LP with a smash single (“Fireflies”). Things, surprisingly however, didn’t change that much for the recording of his new LP All Things Bright & Beautiful. Despite now recording in his own house, Young couldn’t part with a certain setting. “Still in a basement”. Young says, explaining where he recorded the new album.  This basement did have its perks, though. “It was a bit more isolated in the way that I could just go downstairs and hit record whenever I wanted,” Young says. “I could make as much noise as I wanted to at night and not bother anybody.”

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Young does confess that the recording environment wasn’t the only distinction between Ocean Eyes and All Things Bright And Beautiful. “The biggest difference between these two albums is just the way it’s put together,” he explains. “I spent a lot more time pre-recording All Things Bright And Beautiful, just really polishing what I knew about the gear that I have in the studio, what attack and release time and threshold values on compressors and things that really affect the end result. Thus the new record feels a lot more stitched together and a lot more resolved.”

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From the hip-hop-inflected, electro anthem “Alligator Sky” (which features MC Shawn Chrystopher) to the orchestrally-tinged, club-friendly “Galaxies,” the songs on All Things Bright And Beautiful contain Owl City’s most fully-formed musical ideas to date. “’Alligator Sky’ is kind of a rabbit hole on the record, “Young explains. “It was just a place to create a sore thumb in a likable way. The whole hip-hop thing is something I’ve never experimented with and it was a fun thing to tackle. I’m a big fan of a lot of older hip-hop like A Tribe Called Quest and some early pretty legendary hip-hop stuff from the ‘90s. It was kind of my homage to that in an abstract way.”

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All Things Bright And Beautiful also features an appearance from Canadian musician Lights, who lends her vocals to “The Yacht Club.” There was never a doubt who Young wanted on the track. “I knew when I was writing the song that I wanted a female, kind of dreamy, breathy, sort of innocent vocal on this track,” he explains, “and Lights was the first person I thought of. I reached out to her and she was kind enough to oblige.” Even though All Things Bright And Beautiful is a huge progression for Owl City, Young admits he’s still getting used to all of the success he’s experienced over the past few years.

“When I wrote ‘Fireflies’ I never imagined it would resonate with people,” Young admits. “It really blew me away; I don’t think there’s any equation you could really put together to get something as magical as that was.” And while he may still be recording in a basment, once the songwriter steps outside, roaming the streets of Owatonna, it’s certainly a different experience. “When I was growing up in that little town I was kind of a nobody,” he says. ” (But now) people will stop me and say ‘You’re that guy.’”