Category Archives: Writing

Mending Wall by Ben East

Author, teacher and diplomat Ben East reflects on two dissimilar walls: one a poem by Robert Frost, the other the obsession of Donald Trump. With admiration and his permission I am reblog it below.

Only 2,000 Miles to Go

Robert Frost’s great poem, outwardly a critique on a pre-existing wall, arguably has little to do with the hypothetical wall being proffered today.

But Frost’s wall stands for so much more, and the critique applies more universally than merely to stone piled on stone. The critique can be said to include any barrier that divides us. The critique includes blind adherence to tradition. The critique marvels at the depravity and ignorance displayed by our fellow man.

I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

Frost’s narrator, in his easy country voice, recognizes that nature itself opposes these barriers. Hunters or weather or the invisible hand of the outdoors, the ordinary stuff of time’s passage, work in concert against the wall.

The narrator resonates common sense in questioning why his neighbor would rebuild the wall between their properties. And this same good sense reveals the answer: the neighbor is an individual of dim intellect and long habits.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

I’ve always loved this poem. Today I love it more than ever. I hear in this lament the nation’s former poet laureate snickering at today’s gross display of race-baiting, fear-mongering, ignorance, and megalomania.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…

Mending Wall
-Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

_____________________________________________________

Ben East published his first novel, Two Pumps for the Body Man (New Pulp Press, 2016), as a Bush-Cheney era black comedy. Set in Saudi Arabia, Two Pumps does for American diplomacy and the War on Terror what Catch-22 did for military logic during the Second World War. 

His second novel, Patchworks (Moonshine Cove Publishing, Sept 2017), examines American gun culture in a similar light.

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A journalist’s dilemma

trumpcabinetTasked with writing an unbiased, non-partisan sketch of Trump’s cabinet picks, I’m finding what should be an easy job very challenging. I’m having a hard time sketching neutral portraits of individuals who I strongly believe are ill-suited for the positions they have been assigned.

Despite my training at a pre-eminent school of journalism, I don’t believe anyone is or can even appear to be completely impartial. (I also have extensive experience in textual analysis and deconstruction.) Presenting two sides of a story as if they were equivalent is to deceive the reader. There are multiple sides to most questions and they rarely have equal weight. It is, after all, the role of the press to speak truth to power, to investigate and then reveal not just the bare facts (if indeed such things exist), but their import and ramifications.

Someone who has a history of bigotry or disdain for democratic traditions cannot and should not be “normalized” with a bloodless profile. To do so is to betray the reader.

Do I sell out and abandon my convictions? I would be writing for a non-profit that rightfully fears losing its tax-exempt status if it shows any political bias. Can I respect that and also remain true to myself? The key, I think, is to portray the subject with her own words and actions, devoid, as far as possible, of any hint of disparagement. Give the reader, as Mark Twain said, the facts first, and then let him distort them as much as he pleases.

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Filed under Journalism, Politics, Writing

How can I know what I think … ?

WritingI haven’t written in a while, at least not for myself and not for this blog. I’ve been editing – actually, rewriting someone else’s book: his ideas, my words, a syncopated rhythm rather than a steady beat. But for the faithful reader who may wonder about my silence, I confess: writing is hard, and I tend to hyperfocus on one thing at a time.

Wrestling with a writing block

So much advice, so many handbooks – we know what to do, but the step from theory to praxis is dauntingly steep.

Begin by writing something

I’ve often been told that to break through a block, you have to start writing. About anything, anything at all. After some undetermined number of words, pertinent ideas will bubble up. Keep writing. Finally, you reach a point of exasperation and a real need to get to work. Fire up the computer and open a new file.  (When I am ready to tackle the task at hand and don’t know where to begin, I find it easier to write on paper. It’s more efficient to scribble, scratch out, tear up and restart than to copy, move and paste lines on the computer that you’ll probably discard anyway.)

Organizing – or not

As I see it, there are two ways to begin when faced with a formidable writing task.  There are those who know what they want to say, so they map out the work in an outline the way we were taught to do in school: intro, chapters, conclusion.

I belong to the other group. I have lots of ideas knocking around in my head, but as former New York Times columnist James Reston said, “How can I know what I think until I read what I write?”  That was my paradox. How could I begin if I didn’t know what I was going to say?

I used to begin with the introduction, struggling for countless futile hours until a good friend gave me valuable advice: write the intro at the end, when you’re done.  Of course! How can I introduce something I haven’t written yet? Then I learned that for me the easiest place to begin is not at the beginning — the lede is so important! —  but rather, in medias res — somewhere in the middle, at a point in the story that particularly interests me.  After doing that, I write about another aspect or another episode. By then, a structure and a rudimentary outline begin to emerge.

When I was given this advice, I couldn’t see how a structure would just “emerge.”  But amazingly, it does. How can this happen? “Because it was there all along. These are your ideas, but you didn’t know it yet,” I was told. I begin to see a big picture. These two chunks belong together; this other chunk sounds like the basis for a conclusion;  this chunk isn’t relevant; these chunks can follow sequentially….  I may begin to see themes and realize that a better plan might be to organize thematically, a horizontal progression rather than a vertical one. Back to the drawing board.

There. Random thoughts that may perhaps prove useful to someone.

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“Writer’s Block”: You Don’t Have It

I used to think that writing was hard only for me, that good writers just … wrote. When I read what a good writer says about the misery and torment that writing inflicts and the discipline it exacts, I feel, well, comforted, in a masochistic way.

Ben East Books

I’ve been known to comment on various blogs: “I’ve never had writer’s block. I have no shortage of things to write about or the desire to write them. If I’m not writing, I’m chewing on it.”

Ok. In January I blew through 20 chapters of a first draft. Four weeks and done, rough edges and all. February wasn’t so kind. I hit the wall at chapter 12, a nut that took 10 days to crack. I couldn’t deliver background on a lesser character. Frustrating, because I could easily write what I wanted to write. But it was information my narrator couldn’t have known.

I faced options: cut the material; drop the character; change the narrative position; re-write, re-write, re-write. It sucked. It was basically 10 days of 100 words here, 100 words there, a bleed on the train, a grueling transcription by night, one step forward, two steps back. It was hard. It was…

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April 25, 2015 · 7:39 PM

Hire great writers

“If you are trying to decide among a few people to fill a position, hire the best writer. It doesn’t matter if that person is a marketer, salesperson, designer, programmer, or whatever; their writing skills will pay off.

“That’s because being a good writer is about more than writing. Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate.”

I found this on LinkedIn. It was posted by Tim Perez, who honestly said he stole it. I assume it’s been circulating for some time. It is also an  excellent justification of a liberal arts education. The humanities are losing ground rapidly, and with them go the creativity and critical thinking needed to analyze problems and communicate results clearly.

 

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Filed under American Society, Journalism, Musings, Writing

Noir Nation No. 5 – Jihad and its Metaphors

NoirNation5An unabashed plug for Noir Nation, a journal of international crime fiction. Also includes nonfiction, interviews, and tattoos —
Because everything interesting happens in the shadows . . .

The latest issue, No. 5 – Jihad and its Metaphors, explores the current conflict in Syria and Iraq from perspectives available only to fiction.

I am proud to have contributed in several ways to No. 5, not the least of which is an interview with Naïri Nahapétian, a journalist and novelist writing in exile about her native Iran. Fiction gives her the liberty to murder the Ayatollah, from a distance.

Noir Nation  No. 5 – Jihad and its Metaphors is available

On Kindle: http://amzn.to/11HT3ZB
and
In Print: http://amzn.to/1vHNv

Continue reading

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Ten books that influenced me

Sappho

Sappho

I was challenged on Facebook by George Beck to compile a list of 10 books that have influenced me.  The books below aren’t necessarily the ones that were the best pastimes, but they have all had an effect on my life. The first five contributed to my thinking when I was writing my dissertation.

La Divina Commedia, Dante Alighero. Reading this account of the afterworld and its inhabitants introduced me to the richness of medieval Italy and it led me to the next book,

Aeneid, Virgil. Familiarity with Virgil adds immeasurably to the understanding and enjoyment of Dante’s work. Because of these two books, I went to grad school, eventually earning a Ph.D. in medieval literature. It’s fair to say that these two books changed the direction of my life. Continue reading

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