The Art of Typing

iPad and keyboard, JMN. photo

Whence cometh much folderol. JMN, photo.

[Frank Bruni and I share an alma mater — UNC-Chapel Hill. I enjoy his columns. His account of learning touch typing at age 17 mirrors my own experience. One semester of typing class in the tenth grade has served me well. I can type fast like Bruni can. I can stare into space and record conversation in real time. Or capture my thoughts almost faster than I can think them — not always a good thing! My little Corona electric portable followed me everywhere. The transition from typewriters to computers was effortless. The QWERTY keyboard is like an organic extension of my fingertips. I seem to be a minority of my gender in the skill, however. Most of the men I’ve known are hunt-and-peckers. I confess to one failure to adapt lately: I can’t get used to using my thumbs to type on my smart phone! What follows is Bruni:]
And my typing was so very good because my typing was so very correct. I often hear, in these pedagogically permissive times, that there are many routes to solving a problem or mastering a task, and that’s true. But sometimes there really is a right way, and it’s learned through complete submission and unquestioning practice.

The emphasis today is often different, Twenge said: “Do it your own way, everybody’s unique, there are no rules.” It can feed a runaway individualism. My mother, long gone, was all for adventure and personal expression, but she was also for drudgery and humility, and I bet that she trusted secretarial school to acquaint me with both. I’d have plenty of time later to jet off to faraway lands. First, I should sit still and train my fingers to fly.
(Frank Bruni, “What I Learned in Secretarial School,” NYTimes)

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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Notes on Hell

Arturo, JMN

Arturo, JMN.

Flight has been prominent in my life. Not the aerial kind but the fleeing kind.

I vaguely recall that Sartre’s play “Huis Clos” (No Exit) ends with several people enclosed in a room condemned for all eternity to talk at and past each other with no escape. Sartre concludes, “L’enfer, c’est les autres.” Hell is other people.

My personal take on the matter is that maybe Hell is not others but oneself. How would that go in French? “L’enfer, c’est soi-même”?

As a newly minted scholar in an abstruse field I landed an assistant professorship at the University of State-Somewhere, a hyphenated campus of a good school.

In year two I realized my destiny there was to teach basic language classes to students majoring in other disciplines. I should’ve gotten a masters in applied linguistics to do that, I told myself, not a doctorate in fuzzy studies

In year five I pitched translation as a new offering to ground my discipline in something practical. It was a hail Mary, and brutally swatted down in my annual performance review.

My tenured superiors had noticed by then that my student evaluations, glowing at first, were now in the toilet. I knew I was doomed. I gave notice, to spare them and me my firing, and limped lame-duckedly through year six while they searched for my replacement. I fled the scene but took myself with me.

In the last stage of my academic unraveling I convinced a good person to join me in having another go at marriage, the second one for both her and myself. What could go wrong?

In marital year three I wasn’t overtly suicidal but may have exhibited a symptom: I started throwing away my personal effects. I destroyed the typewritten original copy of my dissertation. I carted all my books to the curb to be picked up by the garbage truck. (My wife asked me if I really wanted to do that, and prevailed on me to bring them back inside.)

An insidious voice in my head whispered that I was lightening my load for the moment when I’d find an exit again. As it happened, that moment was still several years away.

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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You’re a kind ear, Joe.

HJN, Abstract, watercolor

HJN, Abstract, watercolor

I hope I don’t wear you out with my musings. Poetry is there when you need it. It seems to rise to the occasion when nothing else will do. It concentrates the mind and the emotions, like scripture.

Poets get a bad rap, partly of their own doing. Poems come across as puzzles too often: What’s he or she really saying? Why not just talk plainly?

I think our notion that poets have their heads in the clouds or up their asses comes from the 19th-century Romantics.

Ferlinghetti is an eminence among our modern poets. He has pushed back against complexity in poetry. He and Cummings and Bukowski are credited with being “gateway” poets who tempt folks into poetry because their verse is “easy” to grasp.

Poets sprout from various crevices and lurk among us. One I follow wrote not long ago that “poetry is easier to write than to read.”

Nowadays poetry is mostly read by other poets, and by duffers like me. Poetry seems to me similar to mathematics, though — useless yes, essential yes. I’ve often heard people say something like “I’ve never used algebra after having to study it in high school.” It’s beside the point. “Useless” abstract studies wire our brains in positive ways.

Auden wrote in his elegy to Yeats, “Poetry makes nothing happen.” Toward the end he falls into strict cadence: “Earth, receive an honored guest. William Yeats is laid to rest… With your unconstraining voice… Still persuade us to rejoice…. In the prison of his days… Teach the free man how to praise.”

Rejoice and praise. It packs an emotional wallop that I can’t quite put a finger on, what with the rhythm and rhyme and all. It reminds me of the force that “Taps” has when played on a bugle at a grave. Makes me bawl. I guess that’s why poetry hangs around, at least for now.

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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Maruja Mallo

Maruja Mallo s El racimo de uvas (1944) (c) The Estate of Maruja Mallo. Courtesy of Ortuzar Projects, New York.

Maruja Mallo’s “El racimo de uvas” (1944).Credit© The Estate of Maruja Mallo. Courtesy of Ortuzar Projects, New York.

Even within artistic circles, these women were often excluded or treated as muses to male creative genius (Dalí once described Mallo as “half angel, half shellfish”). Their work, however, insists on a different story. Mallo — who never married and who eventually stopped putting clearly identifiable men in her paintings — created a painted world that suggests a wonderfully aggressive mind in search of beauty, but unconcerned with looking pretty.
[Thessaly La Force, “The Works of These Female Surrealists Resonate Now More Than Ever,” NYTimes, 8-8-18]

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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From the Jargon Log: “strategically inconsequential”

Pfc. Paul Landenberger, a soldier in Viper Company, on patrol in the Korengal Valley in April 2009. CreditTyler Hicks The New York Times

Pfc. Paul Landenberger, a soldier in Viper Company, on patrol in the Korengal Valley in April 2009. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

ABC News, 8-10-18 — “Another failed attempt by Taliban to seize terrain, while creating strategically inconsequential headlines,” U.S. Forces-Afghanistan tweeted.

[Footnote: More than 2,200 Americans have died in Afghanistan since 2001.]

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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“The Odds”

Leonardo caricature1

Leonardo Drawing

The Odds

If you’re a person given to gambling,
What odds would you lay on the following:

A grizzled dude straddling his big Harley
Presents his better half as his “old lady”?

His better half (who sports a lovely tan)
Calls her bewhiskered partner “my old man”?

When you put salt and pepper on your snack
You shake the white stuff first and then the black?

Extremely educated persons need
To start each sentence with the word “indeed”?

Down on the farm where simple ways are dear,
The people say “yonder,” not “over there”?

In the metropolis where hipsters reign
“Aw shucks!” is not how they express their pain.

The odds are fair that the above are true.
A word of caution is, however, due:

If ster-e-o-types give you great delight,
Beware of barking dogs that also bite.

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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WWE

Pfc. Paul Landenberger, a soldier in Viper Company, on patrol in the Korengal Valley in April 2009. CreditTyler Hicks The New York Times

Pfc. Paul Landenberger, a soldier in Viper Company, on patrol in the Korengal Valley in April 2009. Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

According to the bullhorns and depending on the year, America’s military campaigns abroad would satisfy justice, displace tyrants, keep violence away from Western soil, spread democracy, foster development, prevent sectarian war, protect populations, reduce corruption, bolster women’s rights, decrease the international heroin trade, check the influence of extreme religious ideology, create Iraqi and Afghan security forces that would be law-abiding and competent and finally build nations that might peacefully
stand on their own in a global world, all while discouraging other would-be despots and terrorists.
(C.J. Chivers, “War Without End,” NYTimes, 8-8-18.)

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

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