Wednesday writing wire - large teapot edition
What I'm reading
I'm currently reading A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East by David Fromkin. If it seems that the Middle East is constantly in turmoil, the roots of this can be found in how Britain, France, Russia and the United States carved up the fallen Ottoman Empire by drawing their own new borders on the map and creating new countries (Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon) at the end of World War I. From a 2014 viewpoint, the arrogance of the imperialist mindset is mind-blowing; at the time, this way of thinking was central to how the victors of WWI viewed the world--and the conflicts we see today are in a large part the result of this mindset imposed upon a region of the world that they understood nowhere near as well as they believed they did. The book covers the period of 1914-1922. I'm only about 1/4 through; so far it's a fascinating read, and I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say when I'm done.
While D and I were on vacation, we listened to the audio book version of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. This book is also fascinating--and frightening. Carr builds a compelling case for the idea that the internet hasn't just changed the way people communicate, it has changed the actual structure and function of our brains. Backed by scientific evidence, he shows that the brain isn't static or fixed once we reach adulthood (as was once thought), but is constantly adjusting and rewiring itself in response to the kinds of stimulation and the cognitive demands placed upon it (a phenomenon called "neuroplasticity"). He traces the development of different communication technologies--from oral traditions through the first writing, to printing presses, radio and TV, typewriters and the Internet, and shows that each technology was more than just a delivery method for information: the method of delivery changed the nature of the message itself. The upshot is that our use of the Internet overloads our brains with information. And what modern humans are experiencing--the constant distraction and inability to concentrate--these are all the results of how our brains try to deal with information overload. Ultimately what's being compromised is our ability to learn, to remember and retain, to think deeply and creatively, and to use our brains to their fullest capacity. Carr doesn't pretend that he's not just as much of a distracted Internet junkie as the rest of us, nor does he indulge in the pointless argument that "technology is evil" & we should "go back"--what he does is point out that we should at least think about how the Internet with all its benefits, also imposes a heavy cost. This book is one of several things that have spurred me to question how much of that cost I'm willing to pay, and to significantly reduce the amount of time I spend experiencing life via a computer screen.
What I'm writing
I'm continuing to plug away at The Free City. I've reached the part where my #1 main character is about to run away with her girlfriend, but instead they are arrested. My main character is going to end up spending months in a lovely place known as "Reeducation".
I also got a rejection on my short story "The Collapsing Hills". Pooh nuggets! Well, at least I'm submitting stuff. Next step: brush up TCH and send it out somewhere else.
What else I've been doing
My husband and I went on a vacation/road trip recently, following the old Lincoln Highway (America's first coast-to-coast highway which opened in 1913) through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. We had a fun time traveling on smaller roads, including a few stretches still paved with brick, passing through little towns that time forgot, and stopping whenever the hell we felt like it, at antique shops, old-fashioned diners, and the occasional very large teapot. Sometimes these stops were very few and far between, and there were long stretches of farmland, or long stretches of suburban strip mall blight. We spent a fair amount of time complaining about how everything has turned into Denny's and WalMart. But we also found treasures such as the Lincoln Motor Court and the Steel Trolley Diner.
What's inspiring me right now
I've been continuing to correspond with a number of friends via the good old fashioned post office. Receiving real letters in the mail is awesome! I'm also planning to participate in "31 postcards in 31 days" (you send one postcard per day during the month of October).