Actually, White America, #ThisIsUs. And We Must #DoBetter

Like many, I’ve been watching what has been happening in Charlottesville, Virginia and it has turned my insides into a cocktail shaker of revulsion, rage, and profound despair.

What is missing from this mix, however, is shock.

What is going on in Charlottesville this weekend should not be a shock to anyone, yet my Twitter feed is full of (mostly) white people who are absolutely shocked by what is happening. There are a lot of declarations that the bigotry and racial hatred we’re seeing is “not who we are” or “not what America is about” and #ThisIsNotUs.

If you are one of those people condemning the Nazis and white nationalists using this kind of language, please tell me: Have you studied American history at all? Not the Rah-Rah-America crap we were fed in school, but REAL American history. The history where White America committed genocide. The history where White America enslaved blacks and forced many other races into hard labor to build our infrastructure. The history where non-whites were not allowed to vote. The not-that-distant history where white people kept non-white people segregated, forced them into separate neighborhoods, separate stores, separate schools, separate busses, SEPARATE GODDAMN DRINKING FOUNTAINS.

Because it seems to me that if you learned actual American history, the hard, ugly truth, you’d understand that this country was built on racial bigotry. We’ve been at this for 250 years.

Did you really believe that having a black POTUS was going to make that all go away? That the neo-Nazis and white nationalists would suddenly see the error of their ways and we’d be One Nation, Indivisible, With Liberty And Justice For All?

That there is some serious Magical Thinking.

White America: what we saw in Charlottesville, and in Portland and Minnesota and across the country over the last several months, THIS IS US. It should not be us, we wish it wasn’t us, but we have a hell of a long way to go before we can claim that these people do not represent America.

So, enough living in denial: it’s well past time that we own this. It’s time that we clean this up. It’s time that we come for our bigoted relatives, friends, and co-workers. Call their racist shit out. Have those uncomfortable discussions.

But if all you’ve got is re-posting touching photos with superimposed Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi quotes on your Facebook page all day, you’re bullshit unless you’re willing to do the real work to make Actual America live up to Fantasy America.

Stuff I Saw Recently: Sunrise Edition

“…as the seasons roll on by.”

Now that we’re half way through summer, the days are getting shorter and I’m starting to see the sunrise again each morning, as I wait for the ferry.

Last Wednesday there was a crazy reflection of the rising sun off of some of the buildings in San Francisco. The rose-gold was stunning, though neither my phone camera nor this point-and-shoot could do it the proper justice.

The August 2, 2017 sunrise is reflecting off of the buildings in San Francisco.

(Bonus appearance by @KarlTheFog, stretching an arm across the skyline.)

The following morning, I caught the sun rising up over the Oakland Hills. I’m not sure what tall sail ship they’re working on next door (I don’t think it’s the Balclutha, as I’ve heard it is still in its usual spot over by Fishermen’s Wharf), but I liked the look of it (and my beloved AT-AT cranes) against the sunrise.

sunrise over the east bay hills
The sun rises over the Oakland Hills on Thursday, August 3, 2017. Taken from the ferry terminal in Alameda, California.

STRUNK AND WHITE ARE (not really) FULL OF BULL BISCUITS

So I recently came across another criticism of The Elements of Style, this time by writer A. L. Kennedy.

The primary problem that I take away from Kennedy’s criticism of The Elements of Style is that she is confusing principles for rules. While the first chapter of the book is titled “Elementary Rules of Usage” the chapter that most of her criticism is aimed at is the second chapter: “Elementary Principles of Composition”. Rules and principles are different things.

Among the “rules” that Kennedy takes issue with is “Use definite, specific, concrete language” (Principle 16). White: “The greatest writers—Homer, Dante, Shakespeare—are effective largely because they deal in particulars and report the details that matter. Their words call up pictures.”

White describes the basic principle of writing that everyone is taught, beginning in grammar school:

Show, don’t tell.

In reading Kennedy’s rebuttal, I wonder if this is another case where some proofreading may have been beneficial1 because she changed what White said to infer that Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare were effective writers “primarily” (emphasis hers) because of concrete language. Largely and primarily are not the same thing, and anyone who has studied writing should 1) understand the difference, and 2) agree that Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare were damn good at show, don’t tell.

Kennedy seems to have particular vitriol for Principle 17 (Omit needless words):

What about David Foster Wallace, or Woolf, or Proust, or any other writer of elaborate prose whose work might, under a strict editor following these guidelines, have been unfairly diminished? Maybe you think Infinite Jest could have used a cut or two, but surely you can’t accuse it of being anything less than vigorous. “Rich, ornate prose is hard to digest, generally unwholesome, and sometimes nauseating,” White writes. Unwholesome! How bizarrely moralistic and patently false. Whether it is nauseating to him, of course, is his business; this is merely a matter of taste—which gets at the crux of my argument here. None of these rules apply to everyone, so presenting them in this way is somewhat disingenuous. And in White’s case, more than somewhat crotchety.

A good writer omits needless words, and an editor who isn’t powered by Artificial Intelligence would broadly scrutinize a manuscript, rather than strictly apply such guidelines without considering the whole product. Wallace, Woolf, and Proust were masters of the craft, such that every word that made it to print was there because it had earned its place. And that, to me, is what White was getting at with this rule. If your prose calls for $25 words in some places, use them. But be generous with those $0.25 words, too: you get a lot more value from them.

An aside: I had to laugh when I read the comments section of this article and found another Elements hater whose comment was so full of flowery prose it was nearly unintelligible. I get it: you love language and you love to show off your vocabulary because it makes you sound, I don’t know, “literary”? But wouldn’t you want your audience to be able to understand you? When the average reader needs to consult a thesaurus just to get through a sentence (or, in my case, mimic a “gag me” gesture), you might consider whether you’re writing to be read by a diverse audience, or just performing intellectual masturbation.

As I read through Kennedy’s kvetchfest, I kept wondering if she understood the importance of knowing the rules to know how to break them. She kept me hanging until the end:

As a writing teacher, I know that most people need to master the rules before they can break them.

*DING*DING*DING*DING*

This is true of ANY craft. Understand the basic structure of writing (or painting, or architecture, or music) and then you use it to give your voice—or your vision—a solid foundation to build from.

My copy of The Elements of Style has yellowed pages, tons of highlights and is never too far out of my reach. It is, and always has been, a reference, though I do agree with some of the criticism of how it is used. It should be a required reference for beginning writers, but any writing teacher that flogs The Elements of Style as the canon law of writing is lazy and doing a disservice to their students.

There are volumes of great books on writing (I have many of them on my shelves), but there is good reason why The Elements of Style remains a popular reference, nearly 100 years after it was first published. It’s brief, easy to carry around, and the basic advice still holds up well.

1 An unfortunate error that got past the copy editors was “don’t use the active voice”. Readers of The Elements of Style know that Strunk and White advocate FOR using the active voice.

Life in Mayberry By The Bay: Holidays Edition

One of the charms of living in Alameda is that folks here like to decorate for the holidays. Not just Christmas, though most every street will have at least one befestivated house (and there is Christmas Tree Lane). Alamedans also like to go all out for Halloween, and some households will just do a mash-up of the two holidays.

halloween skeletons decorated for christmas

Alameda was a Navy Town for a very long time, which makes Independence Day rather a big deal*. The town turns red white and blue, and we boast one of the largest and longest parades in the United States. Uncle Sam, flags, and bunting abound.

large flag draped across a porch
Uncle Sam decoration for Independence Day
red white and blue bunting on a white fence

*I am informed by the cats that Independence Day is exceedingly loud and, in their words, “BOOMY” and it is not a preferred holiday for the pets. Please keep your critters in a safe, peaceful place tonight.

Mister Four and Mister Six

Clancy turned four (I think) around the beginning of June (maybe).
ClancyKitteh

And Charlie turns six (I think) today (possibly).
CharlieKitteh

Why don’t I know? Because both of these boys were abandoned by their previous families. Charlie was left behind when his family moved out of their home, and Clancy was found hanging out in back of Popeye’s in Oakland. From what the rescue group and veterinarians could tell, Charlie and Clancy were young cats when they were rescued, but they were not kittens. So ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ they get birthdays some time during “kitten season” and I try to give them their own month. Simon was May, Charlie got July, and that leaves June just for Clancy.

There should be a special place in hell for people who abandon/dump their pets. But in the end it worked out pretty well for the three of us, I’d say. Whatever age My Boys are, I love them and I’m grateful for every single day that we have together.

On Her 80th Birthday, A Tribute To The Golden Gate Bridge

For most of us, it is nearly impossible to envision the Golden Gate–that area of the San Francisco Bay where it joins up with the Pacific Ocean–without the majestic presence of the Golden Gate Bridge (the bridge took her name from the location, not the other way around). Still, it just seems like she was always meant to be in that very spot, and just bided her time until humans evolved enough to be able to help her rise.

In my nearly quarter century of living in the Bay Area, I’ve crossed the bridge on foot only a few times, but every trip has left me wondering why I don’t make that trek more often.

Victoria Klum Photography: Photoblog &emdash; Abstract Gate

By crossing the bridge slowly on foot, instead of racing across by car, my senses get to savor much of what I love here: the delicious brine of the air with an occasional hint of eucalyptus, the way seasons seem to change hourly, watching all kinds of sea and shore life from porpoises to pelicans, hearing dozens of different languages spoken as I pass fellow travelers, observing the busy ship and ferry traffic. And then there is the absolute wonder of the structure itself: the intricate patterns of the rivets, and how it feels alive, when I feel the vibrations through the cables.

Victoria Klum Photography: Photoblog &emdash; Tower

Happy Birthday, Beautiful Lady! May you watch over the San Francisco Bay for many many more years to come.

Victoria Klum Photography: Photoblog &emdash; Golden Gate from Angel Island