Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Literary hypocrites and the plagiarism business

I enrolled to an advanced essay writing course. About 30 percent of it dealt with plagiarism. So I read articles after articles on it, and I got the impression of watching a debate in a kindergarten. "He pulled my hair." "No, she started it, she called me a sissy." Finally I turned in my essay with (hopefully) proper citations.

J. D. Salinger used to be my hero, although my favorite was his less popular Franny and Zooey. When a Swedish writer wanted to publish a post-modern paraphrase, 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, Salinger sued him (Sulzberger). A similar narrow-minded attitude prevails in academy where the greedy business exploits the good intention of honest academics. Fighting literary plagiarism in the US now is mostly about money.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Don't trust me, I am a manager

Management is part science, part art. The remaining eight parts is deception. It is similar to astrology in this regard. Oh no, I can hear you gasp, astrologists are different. They suck poor people’s blood, not poor in a literal sense, but people who believe in medieval superstitions refuted by science decades ago. I wonder if there is any serious research on the effectiveness of management in general. There are researches that compare management styles and approaches, a number of business magazines (the shiny version of tabloids printed on more expensive paper) publish articles on the most successful managers of the year, of the century, of human race. But the higher price of a business magazine doesn't make it different from astrology.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The diamond cutters' rules of editing

All I have is a question I want to walk around: how to edit what I have written. I do not know the answer, I do not know the way, so I will digress for sure. I will digress, because it is worth stopping sometimes on the road and look under a bush, it may hide an unexpected treasure.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The write side of the brain

Since I quit eating sweets, my brain needs another source of joy. So I learn. I enrolled to online courses, now I do two in parallel. I eat sweets occasionally, to be fair, but at most a few times a day. But it is learning that gives me the kick, I practice a small language every day, I finish my assignments for the essay writing course on time, I practice and practice. “No pain, no gain” says the workout mantra which emphasizes the less important part of the experience. Learning and practicing can be sheer joy, let me share my examples.

Public speaking. I have been a member of Toastmasters for two years. It is a international organization that has as many members worldwide as half of Amsterdam. Its goal is to help its members become confident speaking in the public; the fear of public speaking is presumed to be worse than the fear of death. I didn’t find it dreadful when I joined the club, I was comfortable to speak my mind in front of people, but they had difficulty to follow my thoughts that jumped from topic to topic. It was a gradual progress, I hardly noticed it, but I am more confident now. The club has a strict schedule, every evening is structured the same way, we clap a lot. First it felt as alien as stumbling upon a gathering of the Alcoholics Anonymous. Then I got used to it, even realized how much this warm atmosphere helped me: I could experiment with seemingly stupid ideas, I could make mistakes, and all I got was a round of applause and a nice piece of feedback what I could do differently next time.

Drawing. I am not a Pablo Picasso (in his early years), but I am above the stickman-only level. It is not my hobby, but I had periods in my life when I carried sketchbook with me and my then favorite pen; I sat on a bench and made a quick sketch of a fallen oakleaf or an old lady in a purple coat feeding her snowwhite poodle. Well, showing these drawings to my friends would have been embarrassing. Then I heard of an application, Paper by 53. I thought drawing applications are for illustrators, for those who can draw, like a racket is for those who can play tennis or at least intend to learn it and take it seriously. After ten minutes spent with Paper, I had to admit this was something different. I don’t know if you ever had this feeling of immersing in drawing for an hour, then you come back to this sobering world, look at what you have done, and say, meh. It is not fair that so much effort adds up to so little. When I looked at my sketches with Paper, I felt the opposite, they looked better than what I had been prepared to see.

Drawing again. When I first encountered the book Drawing on the right side of the brain, I was skeptical. I didn’t expect more than what similar books on the same shelf had to offer: deep knowledge on how to make my aura colorful or how to have a happy life in 3-4-5 easy steps with just five minutes every morning before my breakfast cereal. I tried the first exercise in the book. Then I looked at my drawing and it made my jaw drop. Impossible, I couldn’t draw this well. And this jaw-dropping moment repeated more times while doing the exercises. I haven’t become a Pablo Picasso (in any of his years), but I enjoy drawing now and I am usually satisfied with the result.

Where is a toastmasters club for writing? What is the “write side of the brain” method? I have been looking for it, and I still don’t know. I know there are tons of books on how to write (I have a shelf full of them). There are courses on all sorts of writing from academic to creative to script writing. Writers’ groups, National Novel Writing Month, and tons of tons of advice, “Just keep writing” being the number one of them. Oh boy. I want to have that jaw-dropping experience when I jump and yell, Impossible, I can’t write this well. I want others to have this experience too. Are you in? If so, let me know.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A taste of majority

The master does not hit his slave anymore, the manager lives in harmony with his people. Our modern age reinvented the pyramid, organizational consultants never stop preaching the difference between management and leadership. The chain of command belongs to the past, like the steam locomotive and printed books.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The dirty secret of being funny

We sit on the cozy couch, watch soccer players or politicians, and we nudge our partner, “hey, I could do this too”. There are some professions though that we are less confident about, we probably would not climb the stage, make fun of ourselves, and enjoy being laughed at. Being a comedian seems to be more challenging than being a soccer player or a politician.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The tiger and the manager

A few companies ago I had a wise old manager, the big belly of Buddha, the white beard of Obi van Kenobi, and the management skills of Steve Jobs... no, Jeff Bezos, no, he was an experienced guy anyway. He invited me for a beer one afternoon (I'm not sure if Kenobi would do that). I asked him what his top priority was (this is a question managers eat and drink). "I have a bunch of great people," he answered, "I'm working on how to set them up for success." What a noble soul, I thought, he's obsessed by how to make others successful. We tasted our craft beer, it was bitter, so it must've been excellent; I shivered. He continued, "People are like tigers, they have a lot of power without direction. How can you use that power?"