Can you tell me what to want now? I can’t go on, no turning back. We’d sing, “Jesus on the main line, tell him what you want. Just call him up, tell him what you want, what you want.” But these six months, they came to me, I tell you— tire tracks and footsteps flattened the grass ’round the green tent—my words made such sound toward the crowd—they bent, repented. But I knew I was nothing, I just stalled in the river’s flow. I waited for you, tensed as a dog’s hind leg crouching before bread crusts and melon rinds. Miz Black yowls “Call him up, call him up now!” But you’re here, and I’m blown, a cattail’s sag, I am birds dispersed—pepper in the wind.
I often tell screenwriting students not to avoid the difficult scene. By “difficult scene” I mean one involving a serious confrontation, a declaration of love or infidelity, or a confession of sin or weakness. These are scenes that lesser writers try to work around, since they are so difficult to write. But these scenes are the cornerstones of a meaningful story.
Joel and Ethan Coen accomplish what Cormac McCarthy set out to do in his bombastic 2005 novel No Country for Old Men. The movie by the same name is a portrait of the moral void of post-Vietnam America (it’s set in 1980). The title, which implies a nostalgia for vanished old-world values, is taken from Yeats’s poem “Sailing to Byzantium.”
Thank you, Morgan, preschool prodigy of likenesses. I hadn’t considered my propane heater so closely, its hot imagery, how, as you declared that winter evening in my kitchen, munching a chip two-handed like a squirrel, the heater’s line of flames looks like people. And as your younger sister Ella whirled in pink britches around the kitchen singing flames like people, people dancing, and as you grinned at your own brilliance and the brilliant line of half-blue half-orange folk you culled up with spark of thought and vapor of breath, I saw them too, figures swinging hips with whippy fervor to the beat of ignition.
Born seeking likenesses, each of us. We secure a simile, like the wild Ella scooped and wrapped in her father’s arms, let it burn to purer metaphor, let it cool as we celebrate, as we praise our precocity. Really, we praise the world, we delight in its many wrought likenesses.
A professor of the theory and practice of social media, Clay Shirky, doesn’t let his students use electronic devices in his classes. It’s not just that he can’t compete with the hardware or the software. Studies show that multitasking is bad for the kind of cognitive work required in a classroom. It has a negative effect on memory and recall. One study showed that students who multitasked in class scored lower than those who didn’t. The presence of electronic devices also distracts those who aren’t using them. “I’m coming to see student focus as a collaborative process,” Shirky said (Washington Post, September 25).