On Enjoyment

UnsafeAn email from an occasional reader ofMontanaWriter pointed out that I frequently use the word enjoy. That accusation is certainly true, and no doubt could be mathematically verified by anyone wanting to take the time to count. Whether the reader found the frequent use of the word useful or irritating, she did not specifically say, but her tone indicated that she might find it at least… repetitive.

Q. What is the chief end of manA. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Readers of the Westminster Catechism and/or that most Montanan of all books A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean, will recognize these words. Enjoyment seems to me to be at the essence of all that is best in this vale of tears: nature, sports, art, books, friendship, family. And so the word comes up often here on a blog that ultimately is about those things.

We watch sports because we enjoy doing so. We read sometimes for information… but for the most part for pleasure. We fish and hike and listen to music and meet with friends over a dinner and a cold beverage because we enjoy doing so… every other reason is merely secondary.

Another reader recently pointed out that MontanaWriter has been up and running for over a year now. Looking back I see that the official anniversary date appears to be March 13th. With a year under my belt, I reflect on what I have learned participating with you all in this peculiar exercise.

Starting MontanaWriter led me to finally publish Montana Poems. I hope by this time next year I will be able to say the same about either the book of short stories I keep shuffling and rearranging or my unfinished mystery novel. I know the world is holding its collective breath.

If I have learned anything of any significance from what I have been doing here, I cannot specifically say. I can say that from my life in general this year I have learned –and in most cases, relearned –a great deal about myself. Some of it good… some not so good.

One thing that has surprised me looking back over a year of posts is how non-controversial I have been. I am by nature an ornery and argumentative sort. I love a good debate, and friends will tell you that I hold a number of edgier than average views on a number of things. And yet I find none of that here. Perhaps this next year will bring more controversy to MontanaWriter, though I doubt it. In a red state/blue state cyberworld that sadly mirrors our own, there is probably enough controversial blogs already. The reality is that since I really do not give a tinker’s damn what most people think about politics or theology… I assume they feel the same way about me. As much as possible I have lived by one credo: Never give unsolicited advice – wise men don’t need it and fools won’t heed it.

MontanaWriter it seems will continue to evolve. At least as long as I find enjoyment in doing it.

On Editing Yourself and Other Impossible Challenges

Great_TypoAs a veteran of 20+ years of writing and editing, I know one thing for certain: finding typos and grammatical mistakes in your own writing is very, very difficult. Everyone… even an experienced editor… needs an editor from time to time.

When I started in publishing – more years ago than I care to admit most of the time – it was in the days of colored pens, manual typewriters, and hard-copy manuscripts. Spell-check and grammar-check programs have made the process easier, but the process remains essentially the same.  Mistakes still routinely happen.

It is, as a mathematician once explained to me, simple mathematics. Each character and space in a document, each keystroke, is a variable. Thousands upon thousands of variables piling up and interacting until a mistake inevitably occurs – a typo, a formatting mistake, a slip of the finger, a grammatical tense shift. Editing is necessary precisely because mistakes are mathematically certain to happen.

Long ago I had a job that required that I do occasional copy editing. The process at this company was for the other writers to send their rough copy to me, I would do a quick edit and forward it to a designer who would layout the catalog, brochure,… which would then be posted for a final look-and-edit. I do not remember who edited what I wrote. Anyway, when the mock-ups for the first catalog I worked on were posted I was called into the office of head of Creative Services. She was upset with my editing because three mistakes had been found on the posted mock up. “So-and-so [the person who had held my job previously] never allowed mistakes,” she said. “We have a tradition of zero errors.”

I asked to see the mistakes. They were all typos. One was from copy that I wrote, but did not, of course, edit. The other two were from common copy that came from a previous version of the same catalog. Looking back in previous catalogs I later found that one of the typos was over three years old. It had been republished over 12 times.

When I began in publishing all those years ago one of the production editors told me that there are three errors in everything that is printed, “You just hope it is not in a head, a sub-head, or something important like the price.”

When you are trying to edit yourself in a blog… you are lucky if there are only three errors. The most you can hope for is that the mistake is not in something important “like the price.”

“Thanks for the awesome posting…”

Ghost Window in Spring (photo © m.a.h. hinton)

Ghost Window in Spring (photo © m.a.h. hinton)

MontanaWriter returns after being on hold for a week… an unplanned holiday necessitated by a combination of technological challenges and entropy.

Searching through the unapproved comments from the week I find the usual high number of comments from unknown parties pretending to praise me and my website by saying “Thanks for the awesome posting it saved much time.” What time MontanaWriter could have saved these ubiquitous “commenters” is beyond me. Why webmasters and erstwhile hackers from around the world would spend the time trying to post such a generic comment on random websites is also a mystery to me. One of many aspects of the web and the on-line world that will probably always remain mysterious to me.

Fake comment-posters aside, the best part of doing MontanaWriter has been the interaction with readers. There are it seems some regular readers and others who merely “stumble” upon this site through a search. Those have been some of the most interesting emails I have received. There is something wonderfully serendipitous in an out-of-the-blue connection with a person I have never met and probably never will.

Spring is slowly coming to the North Country. The air remains cold but the sun is high and bright. In the evening, light through the closed windows reminds us of what is to come. Our steps are lighter, our futures more promising. Life is returning even here.


Music Monday: “Nessun Dorma” by Luciano Pavarotti

On the first day of Spring, what could be better than Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma. It is as close to heaven as most of us will get in this lifetime. Enjoy!

Nessun Dorma English translation found on the internet:

Nobody shall sleep!…
Nobody shall sleep!
Even you, o Princess,
in your cold room,
watch the stars,
that tremble with love and with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me,
my name no one shall know…
On your mouth I will tell it when the light shines.
And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!…
(No one will know his name and we must, alas, die.)
Vanish, o night!
Set, stars! Set, stars!
At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win!

Great Opening Lines

One_Hundred_Years_of_Solitude_CoverI have been thinking of great first lines and first paragraphs for short stories and novels. The first line and first paragraph of a story are essential for drawing a reader in. They are the first impression… the first glimpse through the door into a world we have never been and are uncertain whether we even want to enter. If that first glimpse strikes our fancy, we will open the door wider and walk in. If it leaves us cold, or does not resonate with us, we will simply keep passing… to the next door and the next… until we find one to our liking.

Here are a few great opening lines that came instantly to mind. I am forgetting a number of them I am sure. Great opening paragraphs will have to come another day.

In the meantime, enjoy!

Great Opening Lines

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

“None of them knew the color of the sky.”
~ “Open Boat,” Stephen Crane

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
~Pride and Predjudice, Jane Austen

“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.”
~A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
~A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

“In the fall the war was always there but we did not go to it any more.”
~“In Another Country,” by Ernest Hemingway

“The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm.”
~“Something Wicked this Way Comes,” Ray Bradbury

“This is the saddest story I have ever heard.”
~The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford

“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.”
~The Old Man and The Sea, Ernest Hemingway

Poetry Review: Haiku by Matsuo Basho

bashoWith the tragedies in Japan this week, my mind has been on Matsuo Basho again. The beauty of his poems lies in his ability to encapsulate perfectly a single moment/thought.

Until this week I had never noticed how much his poems seem like prayers of praise and lamentation. Their humanity and beauty shine through even the roughest of translations.

How Admirable
How admirable!
to see lightning and not think
life is fleeting.

Moonlight slanting
Moonlight slanting
through the bamboo grove;
a cuckoo crying.

This old village
This old village–
not a single house
without persimmon trees.

the cicada’s cry
drills into the rocks.

First Day of Spring
First day of spring–
I keep thinking about
the end of autumn.

Spring Rain
Spring rain
leaking through the roof
dripping from the wasps’ nest.

Cold Night
Cold night: the wild duck,
sick, falls from the sky
and sleeps awhile.

A Modest Proposal: An NBA Minor League System

Bill-Walton1It is that time of year again… the snow is melting, the days getting longer, and the NCAA tournament is about to begin. Like spring training and day-light savings time nothing says the end of winter like March Madness and the annual lament to the quality of college basketball.

There was time, not so long ago, when great college players stayed in college all four years. What that meant was that when a traditional powerhouse returned to the tournament year after year, most fans knew a large percentage of the players… had watched them grow through the years. Now, all is different. The best players are one and done and the college game has suffered for it.

Not only does this one-and-done trend hurt the college game, it ultimately hurts the NBA game as well. Players rushed to the NBA usually sit on the end of the bench for a few years and regress, only to be replaced by a new crew of one-and-doners who also fail to progress. In both the college and NBA game, players are nowhere near as fundamentally sound as they once were.

The solution to this two-fold problem is for the NBA to step up to the plate and follow the Major League Baseball model of professional minor leagues. The new system would look like this:

  1. Going forward college and high school seniors only would be eligible for the draft
  2. Drafted high school seniors would decided whether to play in college or in the NBA minor leagues
  3. Teams would lose the rights to any students who choose to go the collegiate route
  4. Those student who choose to go to college rather than the pros, will not be eligible for the NBA draft until their senior year in college OR until one year after they officially drop out of their college program

This simple proposition would ultimately be the best for both games.

College Game

  • It would give kids with no academic interest whatsoever a route to working on their game
  • It would clean up the cheating and recruitment shenanigans that now plague the sport
  • It would raise the quality of college game and bring the scholar athlete back to campus
  • It would give more continuity to the college game year to year
  • It may minimize the excessive power that college coaches now have in the current situation
  • It would help create more fundamentally sound basketball

NBA Game

  • It would increase interest in the NBA draft because fans would know at least some of the players well
  • It would help create more fundamentally sound basketball

Music Monday: “London Calling” by Joe Strummer and The Pogues

On the Monday before St. Patrick’s day can there be anything better than a tune by a legendary Irish punk band? Only a legendary Irish punk band backing a true punk legend!

Searching for a Pogues video in honor of St. Patty’s I came across this video of Strummer and the Pogues playing a classic from the only band that matters.

Hard to believe that Strummer has been gone for over eight years already. This week, dear reader, take a moment to tip a pint or two of Guinness for Joe. We will never see the likes of him again.


Poetry Review: “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg


The poet, the martini, and the beauty

For the most part, I do not have much interest in urban poets or urban poetry. There is so little variety in the urban landscape and milieu that there is really only room for one or two poets to write about it. How much can really be written poetically about brick and steel and glass, about commuter trains and buses, offices and taxi cabs. It is all the same if you are writing about Minneapolis, New York, Chicago, or urban Moscow. What someone wrote in the 1920s would be just as true today of the urban landscape and experience. (The city, after all, is prosaic by its very nature.) If I had to choose an urban poet though, I would choose Carl Sandburg.

There are few poems by Sandburg more familiar to occasional poetry readers than “Chicago.” It is a staple of high school literature books and American Lit. 101 classes. It may be the best poem about an American city ever written.

The language and form Sandburg uses in “Chicago” is as muscular as the city he sings. It is essentially a love poem written by a lover with absolutely no illusions about the true nature of the object of his affection. Chicago is rough, crude, dangerous, tough, and exciting… and Sandburg loves it. It is not a poem of beautiful words and phrases because those kinds of words and phrases would not be a Chicago.

My daughter is in Chicago this weekend and so the Windy City has been on my mind. When I was in my early 20s, I lived in Chicago – first in Bucktown, near Western and Armitage, and then for a few years in Hyde Park. I am glad that she gets to spend a few days there. I wish I was there also.

On a windy March day when my daughter is enjoying time in the Windy City, this seems like just the poem.



Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders;

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your
painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have
seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women
and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my
city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be
alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall
bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted
against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his
ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked,
sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Poetry Review: “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?” by W.B. Yeats

Yeats1I have to come to see lately that much of the music I most love comes from angry young men… while much of the poetry I love seems to come from angry old men. What does that say about me? About the nature of music and poetry?

Yeats as a poet is unique in that he grew greater as he aged. He wrote some of his best poems as an old man… just weeks before his death. While the poetry of his youth is not born in anger some  of his later poetry certainly is. He became an angry old man… grew mad.

The rhyme scheme of “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?” is straightforward as is the argument. So much that is familiar to close and frequent readers of Yeats is here… words/images/symbols: the not-so-veiled reference to Maude Gonne, the Helen of Troy reference, the journalist slight, “figured,” “old books,” “lighted screen.” When you spend time with Yeats you begin to recognize themes and patterns that enrich and adorn individual poems and interconnect one to another.

With anger still on my mind (see yesterday’s Music Monday), Yeats’ “Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad” seems like just the thing on a Tuesday morning.


Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad?

Why should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher’s wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream,
Climb on a wagonette to scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.