Once Upon A Time, There Were Only Blogs…

We don’t think a lot about it. But we have to remind ourselves how potentially dangerous spending too much time in front of screens may be. By midday Friday, I found myself developing a terrible headache.

Too much time writing and staring at my Microsoft Surface in recent days had probably been the main culprit. I do try to take breaks when I’m at the screen for a long time. “Ten minutes” every hour at least.

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Weekend In Belfast

My wife and I ventured to Belfast for Saturday and Sunday. It was our first time there. It was also an eye-opening experience:

“Welcome To Belfast” over the terminal at Belfast International Airport. [Photo by me, 2016.]
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“Dear Charlotte”

My 19 year old niece is at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She would like to write LETTERS! Younger people these days…

In 2016, starting an actual LETTER. [Photo by me.]
In 2016, starting an actual LETTER. [Photo by me.]
I posted that to Instagram yesterday as I began it (and I have since moved on somewhat). Why? Because it dawned on me that it’s hilarious.

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That 9:30 Lecture

The other day I mentioned that my niece – who’s 18 – has started university this week in Belfast. (She’s at Queen’s.) It’s her first extended time away from home without her parents around. I believe her previous “separation” record was when she was 15: she had flown with us – uncle and aunt – for two weeks in New York and in Florida, just us three.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a pencil and back to class text.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a pencil and back to class text.

If you are just starting out, university will seem unfamiliar and maybe at times intimidating. You are thrown back largely on yourself for perhaps the first time. Within days, though, trust me, it will all start to make sense.

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“It will not be prudent, you guys…”

New students at Clark University in Massachusetts have been advised against using the expression “You guys” because it is deemed sexist.

Screen capture of Twitter.
Screen capture of Twitter.

No alternative specific gathering greeting is suggested in the New York Times article that tweet references. We know American southerners famously say “y’all.” The British may say “You lot.” (However, reading the article “You lot” may not be acceptable either given its use by someone sometimes suggests the speaker is claiming superiority to the group being addressed.) Or maybe we could go for “Comrades?”

Kidding aside, I do not recall hearing “You guys” when I was in university in the 1980s and early 1990s. It has really taken hold in the last 20 years or so. I’ve never used it seriously myself.

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That Terrifying Word: “History”

That I wrote in yesterday’s post how after I’d completed it I was returning to [writing] “Robert,” “Henry,” “Carolina,” “Marie-Thรฉrรจse,” and others in the late 1700s, pushed my mind to thinking on that word so many university students fear: history.

The Obelisk, Trent Park, London. [Photo by me, 2016.]
The Obelisk, Trent Park, London. [Photo by me, 2016.]
I thought it was worth “attacking” this morning. As a lecturer, I saw “the look” in so many students’ eyes. The mere word “history” is enough to terrify even the best of non-history majors:

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Grandparent Wimbledon

Father-in-law [on the phone yesterday, speaking to an old friend (also in his 80s) who’d just lost a brother, and now moving on subject wise]: “….You have our condolences. How’s your son? My youngest is doing much better, and his three are marvelous….”

Mrs. Nello [in the next room with me, overhearing, observes like a BBC sports presenter]: “The opening serve from Dad. It’s in. No return. Dad’s up, 15-Love.”

Me: “What?”

Mrs. N: “The bragging about grandchildren is like a tennis match. Back and forth trying to top each other. Haven’t you ever noticed?”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of an older man playing tennis.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of an older man playing tennis.

F-in-L [to the man on the phone]: “Well, and my eldest grandson is at Oxford.”

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Questioned By A Classics Student

Yesterday’s post opened revolving around my younger nephew. His brother is now age 21 and at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford, doing Classics. He was around for the weekend due to his Dad’s “half century” birthday, and we volunteered to drive him back to his Oxford flat – he doesn’t live at St. Hugh’s itself – late Sunday afternoon.

View from the communal rear garden of my nephew's Oxford flat.
View from the communal rear garden of my nephew’s Oxford flat.

He being with us for a couple of nights gave us a chance to chat in person. His thesis topic compares Descartes and Plato. I won’t go into more detail; indeed I’m not sure if I even can at this time on a Monday morning. ๐Ÿ˜‰

After he explained, he surprised me when he asked me if I had a copy of my latest novel. (Although we’ve discussed my writing several times before.) Fortunately, I had a paperback “proof” of Distances within easy digging out reach. After I’d found it, as he inspected it, we talked.

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Those Happy School Memories

My brother-in-law had a “big” birthday yesterday – the same as I’d had back in September.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a birthday cake.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a birthday cake.

At the party yesterday, which was held in a restaurant, we sat at a table with my youngest nephew, who’s now 14. He held court, dominating the table talk. Also at our table were my wife, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law.

At first, he offered insights into video games and PlayStation vs. X-Box, about which his grandparents looked totally confused, and bordered on too much even for us at times. Unsurprisingly, he began drifting into talking about his friends, then his teachers, his grades and his school generally. Then he came to school life – the “unsocial” side of it in particular.

He’s an excellent student, but we all know school can also be, well, school. We’ve all been through it in one form or another. Bullying came up, followed by his sharing some ugly examples of what happens occasionally in classes and in hallways.

Horrified, suddenly my 85 year old father-in-law spoke up: “Why, they [kids these days] are barbarians. In my day, the headmaster would take care of matters, and you didn’t misbehave again.”

“Teachers can’t hit students nowadays,” I reminded him.

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Striving For “Diverse” Characters (And The Pitfalls)

We’ve all seen the Oscars’ debate about “diversity” in film. That led me over the last few days to thinking about books, including my own. Although not nearly as media-prominent, literature is seeing much the same discussion as film – especially children’s books:

Screen capture of the PBS web site.
Screen capture of the PBS web site.

It is argued not unreasonably that children seeing characters “like themselves” is good for them. Beyond that:

….Dhonielle Clayton, vice president of We Need Diverse Books, stressed that good storytelling on a range of topics benefits all children and young adults, not just ones who belong to the communities they portray. โ€œBy having kids read cross-culturally, it really helps them have a common language of accepting and understanding,โ€ Clayton said.

Writing for children is not my genre, of course. So I’ll leave children’s literature to children’s authors. Yet the matter is relevant in its own way for us in “grown up” literature, too.

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