Sunday, December 30, 2018

Not the Best of the Best, but....

At the end of a calendar year, many writers make their predictable lists of the top ten whatever that impressed them in the past twelve months.  What follows is not such a list, not the best of the best; it is instead a sampling of a few articles that struck me as important and worth remembering amid all the stuff I've read during the year.

I read a lot--articles on everything from Trump's lies to the Catholic Church's failings along with fiction and film reviews--and by recording the following pieces I save them from being lost to myself, and maybe to you. Isn't writing chiefly an act of remembering?

1.  This brings me, first, to an article by Lizette Borreli on the Medical Daily website. The topic involves handwriting and memory, specifically the use of notetaking by students vs. the common practice of laptop notetaking. I have commented before on the sad neglect in our schools of cursive writing in favor of printing and computers.

I was pleased to learn from this source and several others that typing is less advantageous for learning and retention.   W. R. Klemm wrote in Psychology Today that cursive writing produces activity in various areas of the brain because writers have to pay attention to what and how they are recording. The fact that writing cursively takes longer is itself beneficial to learning; it involves thinking and summarizing skills that keyboard work does not.  Typing can be done without understanding, these psychologists report.  I am fascinated by memory and cognition as related to the writing process and maybe one day I'll understand this mysterious connection better.

2. In a New York Times Op-Ed piece in June, Frank Bruni weighed in on an issue in higher education: the abolition of major fields of study (English, philosophy, etc.) in favor of vocational subjects.   This raises many familiar questions about the purpose of a college question, which he is able to avoid by stating simply that majoring in something--focusing in depth on one subject--is a valuable corrective to the short attention spans, distractions, and overall speed of the smartphone era. "Perhaps now, more than ever," he says, "young people need to be shown the rewards of sustained attention and taught how to hold a thought."  Amen to that, I say.

3. More recently, Maria Popova in her Brainpickings newsletter, commented on a recent book by Jason Farman on waiting, a topic I had never considered.  The book is Delayed Response: The Art of Waiting, a reflection on the positive aspects of waiting.

Popova quotes Farman as contending that waiting isn't an in-between time, a hurdle that keeps us from intimacy. "Instead, waiting is essential to how we connect as humans through the messages we send."  He sees it as essential to learning and being: "In waiting, we become who we are" because the hope that occurs while waiting is essential to the meaning of life.

It's not clear from these excerpts whether Farman discusses patience or mindfulness, but it seems he goes beyond those predictable topics into new areas. I want to know more.

I hope the year about to begin gives us access to more lively ideas and above all inner peace amid the noise around us.