Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Readers and My Responsibility

Hello Reader,
Got censuring?

Other People
Me and Others
My responsibility

For other people, as readers, what is my responsibility when I write? How much reading comprehension may I  reasonably expect? As a schoolchild doing Reading Comprehension tests, I always assumed that as adults we would understand fully, just as we would one day be able to write and do arithmetic.  Was I wrong? To put it crudely: How much stupidity is normal and OK?

Other People
For example, during page making, at my college newspaper, I remember my editor being gleeful. The previous week something controversial had been published. Now she was putting two censorious letters, side by side, onto the letters page… letters showing diametrically opposed interpretations of what had been written in the first place! One of the two writers, who would surely want to read closely how her ally in print beside her would agree, would then be mortified to realize she had messed up badly by not reading closely in the first place. 

If my editor was gleeful, I can understand. Reporters hate censors. If the classic sin of the censor is to ask society to censor, to blot out from existence, something she has not even read, then surely it is almost as sinful to censure without first reading. … I mean, sure, skim and get hot under the collar all you want in the privacy of your own home; you may feel pleased rustling the newspaper and snorting, “harrumph!” But if you plan to write a public letter —or an Internet forum comment— that would hurt people’s feelings, then you have a duty to first read the piece that you are offended by, taking responsibility to read it word for word, sentence by sentence. 

Or am I being too responsible?

In the privacy of a three man group, a very loose “group,” where the other two are locked in eye contact and arguing… and I realize there is a miscommunication, that they both “don’t get it” as to what they are talking about, or maybe just one is not getting it, do I have a duty to break their eye contact and bust in? Maybe not, if I am being ignored like mere chopped liver; surely not if I am a bystander they don’t even know. 

What’s strange is when I watch this happen not in real space but in web space, on a blog comment section, or thread. Sometimes people “don’t get” where the other person is coming from, sometimes they make a human honest mistake. More often, though, they are being irresponsible. Not solely from being lazy. I see people assuming and projecting, from their petty motivations or having an ax to grind, sometimes from a desire to compete and be superior. Some folks find it easy to offend and be offended, while seemingly never having their own feeling hurt, and therefore, it appears, never caring if they hurt others.

(One of the ways I know my fellow males are the weaker sex is they aren’t tough enough to feel hurt)

For example, web essayist Paul Graham once pointed out that if you watched television about four hours a day, including commercials, then you were spending a quarter of your life before the boob tube. On the essay comment thread, someone didn’t sincerely ask clarification from other commenters, but instead, with a scornful tone, said Graham couldn’t do math. No one else, including me, bothered to tell that needlessly impolite person that a day only has sixteen hours, because you sleep for eight.   

Maybe “reading comprehension” is a cousin to “listening comprehension.” Back when I was in real space, having “meaning of life” conversations at university, if a person had unworthy motivations, or a vested interest in poor listening comprehension, or was too quick to scorn, then I would see no point in conversing. In fairness, I have known people who would argue because it was their one chance all day to “feel some passion,” and I even attended a few meetings of a very argumentative science fiction novel discussion group, but truly such people were rare in my circles. In college I was there to seek the truth, not score points: I felt no responsibility to talk with a man who was vexatious in spirit. Someone else could be his friend. 

In blog-space today, as the non-readers are migrating more to social media and Youtube, you might think that those who still read blogs are folks who read, and maybe even have library cards, folks who have a good chance of having gone to college. College, eh? And even if they didn’t go, well, they would have picked up the proper ethics of discourse from our culture, without ever attending college, just as an atheist would instinctively know how to talk in church. Even a cavalry trooper, if in church among civilians for his first time, would strive mightily to refrain from swearing like a trooper.

I mentioned Paul Graham. He’s very well known in computer nerd circles for his essays. Maybe I’m too innocent, but I never have any problems with his essays. It probably helps that he always runs early drafts past some friends before he posts. He said once he likes it if his friends laugh, which means they were surprised, which means he was able to offer a new idea. Well, he once posted an essay called Economic Inequality. Someone “refuted” it at length. So Graham, feeling attacked, wrote a rebuttal, saying he and his detractor agreed on practically everything. Someone else “refuted” it too, and Graham defended himself again. I put “refuted” in quotation marks, because you can’t refute what you haven’t read.

To me, Graham’s detractors had a carelessly irresponsible level of reading comprehension. Call it “stupid,” and hey, call it “bad,” because of the effects on other conversations in the virtual forum.

Graham says it’s as if they had read the essay title, imagined what a rich computer guy would say, and then wrote their response against the imaginary article in their head. Weird, I know. To avoid this, Graham points out, you can quote the parts you disagree with, thus ensuring you have read it.

As a child long ago, doing those reading tests, I never thought it would come to this. Quoting because otherwise you can’t read? Like I said, weird. I didn’t realize how many people had dark currents messing up their vision until I started reading the comment threads on many blogs. This would be back when “troll” was a new word to me. Incidentally, Graham did an article on trolls, where he said, in my words, “A troll never sees a troll in the mirror.” 

Me and Others
I guess people don’t know when their shadow side is messing them up. As I was reminded this month. Not from reading my comments to others down a comment thread, but from theirs to me. As it happens, one of my joys in life is commenting, but this was the first time in my life I have ever stirred up red and black emotions on a comment thread. Weird.

My responsibility (A preview)
… Well, I’m at over 1,000 words. Better stop. Next week I could touch on what happened with me, and say how one of my joys is helping my fellow commenters comprehend what a nice blogger is saying, and evolve a decision at last as to what my responsibility is for my own writing, which you may find useful. But of course I won’t tell you what to decide—Oops, is that a troll-proofing, patronizing thing to say?

Next week I could start in right where this piece ended. So long!

Sean Crawford
~Here is a link to a hub and spoke: Paul Graham’s essay, followed by links (spokes) to his detractors and his rebuttals, and even to his shorter, trying-to-be-idiot-proof version of his essay.

~Here is a link to Graham analyzing the problem of “trolls” and what he could do about it with his new forum, Hacker News.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Free Fall Interlude

Hello Reader,
Got Free Fall?

Why an interlude? Why, when “everybody knows” that blogs are “supposed to” be on a narrow topic-niche. 

Bloggers are “supposed to” attract lots of readers by always having an ongoing familiar focus. So why? Easy: because I did college drama, and movement studies with theatre majors, and then after graduation I did rhythmic gymnastics, (with parents and coaches, not to compete) and all these activities were like figure skating: Judged not on a narrow focus, but on variety, such as space used, levels, and so forth. 
Variety is the spice of life. 
Hence an interlude. 

Free Fall writing, at the City of Calgary’s C-Space every Friday, is where we all have the same prompt, and then we write like mad, until the timer rings, without no editing, no apologizing. 
On a recent April morning I did fiction, nonfiction, and a prose-poem that people said was beautiful.

Sing it on the way to a funny forum: “Greece is for next week, Free Fall today.” 

April 27 
prompt- “I’m never late”

Darcy was a child of privilege. “I’m never late” he remarked. “It’s a corrupt world, God knows, but back in Hamburg we all knew that wars were won on the playing field and in the halls. No one was supposed to be late.”

Jung looked at him bleary eyed. His alarm watch must have rang, but he was just too tired to hear it.

Darcy continued, “Although we had servants at home, we all took turns in cleaning up, and making breakfast, and here—have some of my star pan cakes.” Darcy had a tray with not only pancakes but some prime great-juice and a carafe big and a carafe small. Tea and milk.

A shapeless bundle of cloth was in the corner. Darcy cocked an eyebrow that way “Sue? She up?”

“No. She crept in to keep an eye on me. I’m sure she’s heard of men creeping out in the dead of night. Just wanted to be sure.”

Darcy moved around. “Yes, that’s her. You can see her head from here.”

Jung moved to see and commented “Our little angel.” They sat camping style and enjoyed their food. 

“Next time,” Jung said, “we involve Sue in making breakfast.”

Said Darcy, “Elevenses”


“Elevenses. What you soldiers call mid-morning tea break. She can help prepare it, and bring it around to everybody. Get to know them.”

Jung nodded.

Prompt- butterfly

I have butterflies firmly categorized as a chick thing. This ever since I took a semester of "Drama for adults dealing with children." For our final movement study, every group or person, except for me, surprised us by including butterflies. So there you are. A chick thing. Oh yeah, I forgot to say that I think I was the only male in the class. That was OK, some of my best friends were people who deal with children.

It was all so long ago. I’m still chuckling over taking a night school drama class. Some of us were lounging in the dairy bar when a lady asked if we knew that our classmate was a radio announcer. Of course. “Well I didn’t, I was casually listening to the radio when suddenly I heard that laugh!” I think of that moment, sometimes, when I listen to CKUA which is were she ended up, fittingly.  Young rock stations are best left for our younger years.

That was the class where I noted someone’s pin (badge) on the first day and said, “Oh, a Doctor Who fan” and we remained friends for years afterwards. She found the class useful for her live action role playing. I may have been the only male in that class too, but I forget. Strange. We think of space fans and nerds as being anti-girl, and keeping them out of our chess club, but I have never minded being around women. In fact, when I go to Japanese fantasy conventions half the people are women. Maybe not for video gaming, but for comics and anime, yes, gender equality.

I’m still laughing at the boy dressed as Sailor Moon, or one of her friends. A mighty cheer rang to the rafters, in female voices, when he said his mother helped him with his costume. That for a lecture on Yaoi, the male on male relationship comics. The professor told is it was nice to not have female competition in your love story.

Prompt- why them?

Why them, why?

Why go after, with hating eyes and clawing fingers, those who love those we don’t?

Folks of lame limbs, the halt and the blind and distant minds, they love in ways that we can only dimly understand, why them?

People of distant caravans once out of Egypt, why not let them go their own way? If they don’t love us, isn’t that punishment enough?

Add them all up, and in one place and time they tipped the scales at six million souls.

Why them? Do they not love football, mom’s apple pie, and ships sailing the waves? Do they not love laughter too? 

Add them up, at a dark place and time, and there’s another six million souls.

Sean Crawford


~The Who fan was Shannon, the professor was from UBC on the coast, the DJ was Allison Brock.

~The holocaust (whole burning) was in the news that Friday. Lest we forget, the victims were twelve million in all, including six million Jews. 
For comparison: A few years ago Calgary passed the one million mark, during the 1988 Olympics we were at eight hundred thousand and something. 

~After the great fire levelled the downtown, and City Hall conducted business in a tent, future buildings were constructed of locally quarried sandstone. One of the old four storey sandstone schools is recently converted into "C-Space" where all sorts of creative outfits lease space from the City of Calgary.

For example: Quest Children's Theatre is on the third floor, there is a stage going in on the ground floor, and at the other end of that floor the tiny coffee shop is now up and running. 
Next to the three former classrooms for my Alexandra Writers Centre Society is the RGO Treehouse, an end room with three plate glass walls, for lectures, meetings and parties.

On our other side is a textile club that makes clothing, across the hall is Alberta Publishers.

Often the walls and halls are used for temporary art showing. You can buy art and jewelry in two stores on the second level. 

Note: That's the building I took my clients to see when it was still half renovated with cool debris. They liked that experience.

Another Note: In case you phone for a bus route, as of last week, Calgary transit is still learning about us.