Cut & Paste. Fold, Bend, Staple & Mutilate.

This past weekend I attended a reading of selections from William S. Burroughs Naked Lunch. I had not read the work before (it’s now on my TBR list), but I knew enough about the Beats to not be shocked by its strange, surreal and sometimes profane language.

In the discussion that followed the reading, someone mentioned there are now websites that will “translate” any text into Burroughs style and I have been eager to try them out. But first, a little background. Burroughs’ strange language is not merely the product of his mind, it is the product of his hands: after typing some of his text, he cut up the paper and rearranged the pieces, thus reordering the words and even inventing new words. That became the “final” version. This wasn’t Burroughs’ own invention (I learned that today by researching online), but he is the most widely-known practitioner of the technique. There’s a video of an interview with Burroughs that includes a short demonstration of the cut-up technique. You don’t need a demonstration, though; it’s easy enough to try it yourself with a printed text (that you’re willing to sacrifice for the sake of art) and scissors.

Or you can do it virtually using online tools. This is fun to play with. Open up a text file on your computer—the odder the better—and give it a try!

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When Calls to Action Fail

It seems that every article I’ve read recently about social media engagement and non-profit management emphasizes the importance of a call to action. It’s not enough to tell your readers about yourself; you need to give them a push to follow it up with some kind of action. On that point I do not disagree. But these arbitrary deadlines remind me of infomercials and are at odds with the behavior I expect from respected non-profits. I’ve seen a few that, in my eyes, fail in a bit way: these arbitrary deadlines can make a casual reader think that donations are not needed after the deadline.

After spending the New Year’s weekend offline, I had a lot of catching up to do. Twitter and LinkedIn go on without me and some of my blogger friends didn’t take the weekend off.

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Under the Influence

I have always liked old buildings. On vacations I usually seek out old house museums. My home is almost a century old (the original part, anyway, which is only two rooms). I love that high-tech companies are putting their offices into old lofts and industrial buildings. So when I learned that Christopher Gray, who writes about architectural history for the New York Times, was speaking at a local historic preservation organization, I went.

After Gray’s talk I got into a conversation with a woman who is a regular member of the group. She said it was nice to see a “young person” like me (this was several years ago; I was still in my 30s) attending an event in person. It seemed to her that many young people spent too much time with “this new Internet thing.” Then she asked how I’d heard about the event.

“I read about it on the society’s website.” Her face fell.

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Back to My Roots

Trinity College Library
Trinity College Library by Nic McPhee

I was a nerdy, bookish child–the kind who got As (if not always straight As; a B or two might slip in, but nothing less than a B), the kind who read under the bedcovers with a flashlight after I was supposed to be asleep. It felt like there was so much to know and I couldn’t seem to soak it up fast enough.

My parents are to blame, of course. They read to me at bedtime from before I can remember, probably before I understood the words. I knew the alphabet when I started kindergarten and then taught myself to read. (I’d memorized the picture books and matched the words to the pictures.)

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