This month's Findings

Three things I underlined in the new Harper's:

1. A male flamingo in Mississippi died of injuries sustained while defending its mate from members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.

2. Concerned American consumers will pay an additional 16 cents for eco-friendly ornamental plants.

3. Momentary human happiness is determined not by actual outcomes but by whether outcomes exceed expectations.


What I wrote about the FSU shooting

Today on 1A:

TALLAHASSEE — Student Jason Derfuss walked with books in his backpack out the front of Florida State University's Strozier Library just before 12:30 early Thursday morning and heard a shot behind him. He turned and watched a man with a gun five feet away fire twice more, straight and close into the torso of another person, who collapsed. Derfuss ran.

Inside, on the first floor of the crowded building, a group of Delta Alpha Chi sorority sisters were sitting together and working on papers for classes about religion when they heard shots, too.

They and hundreds of other students scattered, diving under desks, cowering under tables, hiding in rows of shelves, sprinting down stairs, up stairs, toward far walls and dark corners, screaming about a shooter, leaving behind computers, keys and shoes, barricading room doors with carrels and chairs.

Keep reading. And read this, too, by Lisa Gartner, Michael LaForgia and Mike Van Sickler. It's so good.


What We See When We Read

Picked up this book the other day at Powell's in Portland. Nine things I underlined on the plane back to Tampa:

1. Characters are ciphers. And narratives are made richer by omission.

2. It's how characters behave, in relation to everyone and everything in their fictional, delineated world, that ultimately matters.

3. All books open in doubt and dislocation.

4. We perform a book — we perform a reading of a book. We perform a book, and we attend the performance.

5. Are the muscles we use to imagine growing weaker as our culture ages? Before the age of photography and film did we picture better, more clearly than we do now? Our mnemonic skills are atrophying and I wonder if our visual creativity might be as well. Our culture's visual overstimulation is widely discussed, and the conclusions drawn from the fact of this overstimulation are alarming. (Our imaginations are dying, some say.) Whatever the relative health of our imaginations, we still read. The rapid proliferation of the image has not kept us from the written word. And we read because books bestow upon us unique pleasures; pleasures that films, television, and so on cannot proffer.

Books allow us certain freedoms — we are free to be mentally active when we read; we are full participants in the making (the imaginging) of a narrative.

Of, if it is true that we cannot advance beyond a vague sketchiness in our imaginings, then maybe this is a crucial component of why we love written stories. Which is to say that sometimes we only want to see very little.

6. We desire the fluidity and vagary that books grant us when we imagine their content. Some things we do not wish to be shown.

7. Words are like arrows — they are something, and they point toward something.

8. ... we push an attribute of theirs to the fore; we "foreground" a piece of them and then let that piece suffice.

9. Through reduction, we create meaning.


Lisa Lucas in Poets & Writers

"Digital media is tricky because the way you interact with it is all over the place — you see a link on Facebook or Twitter, then maybe scroll through, but it's difficult to see the whole picture, which is easier to see in print." Click.


Thoughts about Ben

1. In early '03, I just needed a job. I would've gone anywhere. I ended up in Middletown, N.Y., at Mike Levine's Times Herald-Record. Ben was already there.

2. We went together to the Nieman narrative conference that first December. Everything was a story. We couldn't wait.

3. In February of '05, I concocted some reporting that took me to Lakeland. Before catching my flight back, I drove to St. Pete. Both of us wanted to work at the Times so bad. Ben picked me up at the airport in New York.

4. Late in '07, both of us trying to fight up from bureaus at the Times, there was a chance to work for Floridian — with people we had seen talk at Nieman, whose stories we had studied at the Times Herald-Record. Ben won the job. I lived in an apartment in the exurbs with an empty fridge and a mattress on the floor and books stacked against the walls. There was a knock on my door.

5. Four years later, he married me and Lauren.

6. The only reason I didn't cry yesterday when I told Neil and others I was leaving for Politico was Ben wasn't in the office.

7. I was a slow learner, but Ben taught me the most important lesson: To do this work, you need to be a person, too.


Grantland's Rembert Browne

Spotted in "Points to Ponder" in the new Reader's Digest: The history of being black in America is the history of nonviolence versus "fight back." Of wait versus now. Of a turned cheek versus self-defense.


James Longenbach in Poetry

From his piece in the November issue:

Yet our now long-established habit of looking at poems, fostered by the rise of print culture, has altered the way poets think about the sound of poetry. Beginning in the later seventeenth century, poets we call Augustan or neoclassical grew to prefer a smoother iambic pentameter line, free of egregious variation, as if the line's neatness of finish were a reflection of its appearance on the printed page. More recently, 
the habit of looking at poems has encouraged the production of a toneless free-verse line whose length is determined merely by its 
visual relationship to other lines on the page. Just as it seems logical that films will change to the degree that we expect to watch them on an iPad rather than in a movie theater, poems have changed because of the changing technologies through which the English language has been experienced, print being the most obvious. What electronic media will do to poetry remains largely to be seen.


The University of Faith of Florida

What I had on yesterday's front:

Earlier this fall, someone posted a question on Are there two fake schools operating on the periphery of college football? One was called the College of Faith, in Charlotte, N.C., and the other was called the University of Faith, here in St. Petersburg.

The websites looked hastily made. The teams were losing lopsided games. How could just-opened, online-only institutions be participating in intercollegiate athletics?

Sometimes it's hard to discern what's real when tethered to a computer.

Not quite a month later, though, on an evening in Lakeland, in front of a few thousand ticket buyers at Southeastern University's Victory Field, the host team called the Fire received the opening kickoff from its opponents from the University of Faith.

Up in the press box, rosters listed the names of 56 Faith players, and corresponding positions, heights, weights and hometowns, all but four in Florida, most of them around Tampa Bay. There were no class years.

Down on the new AstroTurf field, the Faith players wore gray uniforms with green helmets that said UFaith on the back and jerseys with "GLORY EAGLES" on the front.

The score quickly was 14-0, Faith losing, and then 24-6, and then 38-9, and it got worse from there. At some point the slender kicker looked up into the stands at his family and made his right hand into the shape of a pistol and pointed it at his temple and pantomimed pulling the trigger.

"Nobody listening to the coaches!" shrieked one of the assistants. "Everybody doing they own thing!"

The head coach, meanwhile, stood still on the sideline, arms crossed, lips pursed. He had on a white Faith polo shirt and a black Faith visor. On the right side of the visor, in silver script, it said "GIVINS."

Keep reading.