Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Over the weekend, I attended a local writing conference. Now, I’ve found that writing conferences, especially one-day writing conferences present a small challenge.

The goal (in theory) is for some famous, highly experienced writer to explain to all of us novice and/or struggling writers just how we also can become famous and highly experienced. The challenge is fitting that sort of training into an hour-long workshop on “Making Your Characters Tick (but not like a time-bomb)!” or “14 Ways to Avoid Saying ‘Said’.” As I told you, it’s a challenge.

However, I don’t expect to learn all of these incredible trade secrets at the conferences. Instead, I go to get my annual dose of inspiration.

Unless you happen to be a writer, you probably can’t imagine how much fun it is to sit in a banquet hall with 150-200 other writers. Don’t make fun of me—I’m sure if you like computers or car engines, you like sitting in the same room with other people who like computers or car engines. The other people don’t even have to say (state, disclose, propound, iterate, etc.) anything. Just their presence makes the words begin to bounce about in my head. In a nice way, of course.

I’ve been experiencing a little discouragement recently in my writing. This fall, I sent out a handful of queries. I didn’t expect to get anything back, and I didn’t. Not even rejections—just no answers.

Then my current Areaex novel threw a fit and quit on me.

I’ve been intending to write more queries, send out a poetry packet, start a short story or two. Have I gotten there? No. At least, not yet, inspite of my long-held admiration for deadlines. I’ve been putting the writing part off.

I’ve been working on my writing skills, I argued to myself. I’m not ready yet to submit something. Even better, I'm avoiding the significant stress that deadlines tend to create.

Just to illustrate how bad the problem was getting: I read a post on Urban Muse, a blog I start following this fall, about actually putting writing skills to use. One of the writing coaches interviewed for the post emphasized that it doesn’t matter how well you write if you don’t actually write, and then send it out to get published. I liked the idea so much that I intended to post about it here—that was at least three weeks ago.

At the conference, though, one of the speakers explained how she got 54 rejections on various novels before one of her books was accepted. Inspiring? You bet! Now I’ve got to start sending out more queries; I’ve got to start building my ‘rejection letter’ collection. It's pretty empty at the moment, hardly anything to brag about.

So, yes, I came home from the conference ready to send out half-a-dozen queries and scatter my poems here and there on the winds of literary publications.

Practical results? Today I send three poems off to a contest and sent two article queries to a children’s magazine. I also achieved another goal about two weeks ago by signing up to review books for Tyndale Blog Network—note the new gadget on my sidebar. I'm hoping to get the first book soon and post my review here.

Now I can relax, right?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dilemmas & Quandaries

Last week, I had to deal with a series of dilemmas both constructive and destructive. We’ve moved past truth tables in the logic class. We also found a new category of lawyer-jokes.

A dilemma, officially defined, is a valid argument presenting a choice between two conditionals. In non-technical language, a dilemma is a situation which presents two options. One option will produce certain results, while the alternative produces radically different results. Most reasonable people would want to avoid either option, but the dilemma forces them to make the choice—in theory.

In practice, however, much depends on the way that the dilemma is phrased.

In many cases, you can phrase a dilemma to point out the horrible consequences that result when you choose one of the options. On the other hand, you can also rephrase these dilemmas to emphasize the wonderful benefits of not choosing one option.

You can either be a pessimist in logic, or an optimist.

One particular dilemma, slightly paraphrased, illustrates this difference. I heard it on the video lessons accompanying the workbook Intermediate Logic by James Nance:

One young Roman, after settling on his career, explained to his mother that he wanted to become a lawyer. “But,” she protested, “as a lawyer, if you tell the truth, then men will hate you. And if you don’t tell the truth, then that is unjust and the gods will hate you. You should not become a lawyer, because either way, you will be hated.”

“But mom,” the boy answered, giving the matter a more positive spin, “if I tell the truth, then the gods will love me. And if I tell lies, then men will love me. So either way, I will be loved!”

Don’t you think the boy made the right career choice?

Of course, when you have a dilemma that produces a contradiction, you have a paradox (or a quandary or a headache). In this situation, choosing either option produces X, while also denying the production of X. The example “Hanging or beheading” came from the lengthy collection of paradoxes and logic puzzles at

“Poaching on the hunting preserves of a powerful prince was punishable by death, but the prince further decreed that anyone caught poaching was to be given the privilege of deciding whether he should be hanged or beheaded. The culprit was permitted to make a statement - if it were false, he was to be hanged; if it were true, he was to be beheaded. One logical rogue availed himself of this dubious prerogative - to be hanged if he didn't and to be beheaded if he did - by stating: ‘I shall be hanged.’ Here was a dilemma not anticipated. For, as the poacher put it, ‘If you now hang me, you break the laws made by the prince, for my statement is true, and I ought to be beheaded, but if you behead me, you are also breaking the laws, for then what I said was false and I should therefore be hanged.’”

I can't say much for the prince's powers of perspicacity, but there's also the case of the Greek pupil, also a lawyer who promised to pay his teacher after he won his first case. When, following graduation, he neglected to take any cases, his teacher took him to court claiming that if he won the judge would be ordering the student to pay. If he lost, however, his student would have to won his first case and be required to pay—as stated in their agreement.

A no-lose situation?

Yet the student responded that if he lost, he would not have to pay, since he had not won his first case yet, as their agreement stated. If he won, he still would not have to pay, since the court would have ruled againt the teacher.

Is your mind numb yet?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day

This year, I’ve decided to rename Valentine’s Day.

Before I explain why, I must admit that my family has never made a big deal about this particular holiday. We’ve never made a big deal about any particular holiday—it’s just not part of the family genetic code.

Sure, we celebrate Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving. Yes, my dad buys a dozen red roses for my mom on Valentine’s Day, their anniversary, and other occasions throughout the year. Yes, we have special outings and treats and family gatherings. We just tend to be laid back about such festivities.

“Oh? Yeah! That’s nice…”

“Umm, what have you been reading recently?”

For one reason or another, I’ve never learned how to be properly enthusiastic and excited about all the things a young woman should be enthusiastic and excited about.

I’ve also not had much practice to help me learn excitement and enthusiasm—particularly regarding Valentines and romance. In the past, I’ve tried to avoid Valentine’s, especially as I notice more and more of the PR sales related to romance and ‘special friends.’ It’s kind of hard to ignore the day when so many of my friends have reasons to celebrate it, but I try.

A little cynical, you say? Probably.

This year hasn’t changed much, but I’m a little happier to see February 14th on the calendar.

Last week, before class, several of my students gave me small Valentine’s gifts.

Some people might think that a dozen roses, jewelry, chocolate, and an elaborate dinner are essential to Valentine’s Day. I’m happy with a single rosebud made from floral tape and two Hershey’s kisses.

For those of you who are dating, courting, engaged, newly-wed, long-time married—congratulations! Maybe I’ll join your ranks someday.

This year, though, I’m renaming the holiday as “I-Like-My-Tutor Day.” And, conversely, “I-Really-Like-My-Students Day.” It’s not about romance, just about being good friends and working together on logic and mock trial and short stories.

To make it even better, I’ll spread it over two weeks. Last week, they brought me Hershey’s kisses. This week, I’m planning to take them cookies. We’ll eat them in class while discussing opening speeches, witness statements, and objections—and all the other lovely homework topics!

And you?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Knowing 1, Explaining 0

About two months ago, I had a conversation with my brother during which he reacted to some odd, strange, or unusual information or other…

“Oh?” said I. “Explain?”

“Well, I don’t know—it’s one of those things that are just kind of hard to explain,” said my brother.

“Oh?” said I again. “Then you must not really know it. The test of knowing something is being able to explain it.”

Until last week, I held to that dictum—that if you really know something, you ought to be able to explain it. If you can’t explain it, then you really don’t know it.

Until last week, that was.

Last week, I tried to explain shorter truth tables. Yes, huh?

In reality, the shorter truth table is a simple, easy concept to learn after working longer truth tables—it’s the difference between long division and short division with a small amount of guesswork thrown in gratis for entertainment.

I really do understand shorter truth tables. As I said, they are relatively simple—assume the proposition in question is invalid, set up the ‘equation’ so that it produces an invalid result and check for contradictions. If you find none, you assumed correctly, and the proposition is, in fact, invalid. If, however, you find a contradiction, your assumption was false and the proposition is actually valid.

As I said, it’s simple, especially on paper. I can work shorter truth tables in the dark in Hebrew if I want (well, almost:  ת = ק ● פ or is it ט?)

If you set me in front of a white board, I can solve the problems. Unfortunately, I can’t explain in clear, coherent language how I’m solving the problems.

“And then, well, umm, you write this next to ‘P’ and work backwards until, uhh—”

“Oh, wait, I meant to write true, not false.”

By now, I could probably write a 20 page treatise explaining how to explain Logic principles:

  1.  Make sure you come up with sample propositions to use in the exercises.
  2. Make sure you come up with sample proposition before you try to come up with sample propositions in class.
  3. Make sure the sample propositions are NOT real life examples—especially not theological statements. Otherwise students will worry about whether or not the statements are true or false, instead of examining the effect that their trueness or falseness has on the problem being solved.
  4. Make sure the sample propositions are SHORT! In other words, do not use statements such as “Martians drive limousines.” If you try to teach the biconditional with a statement such as this, you will end up with nonsense such as “It is true that Martians drive limousines if and only if it is false that Martians do not drive limousines.” Now say that twenty times fast with five students watching you.

Yes, I know Logic, particularly the part about shorter truth tables.

No, I can’t explain it coherently, but I could show you with a whiteboard. It’s just one of those things.

Therefore, I no longer believe that being able to explain something should be considered the ultimate test for knowing it. (Now, if you define ‘explaining’ as writing lengthy treatises which explain how to explain, perhaps I could still debate the theory?) It’s back to the Logic board for me.

Anyway—I take that back, mon frère.

Friday, February 3, 2012

La Abeja Reina

And "Tortuga," the turtle

Queen bee,
And gorillas…

I’ve mentioned before that I like languages. More recently, I mentioned taking a Spanish class this fall. I had to drop out of the class this spring, due to a scheduling conflict, but I’ve still been studying Spanish at irregular intervals. That is to say, today I was typing vocabulary lists into a spreadsheet. Long, long lists about “la familia y los amigos” and “el reino de los animales.”

Since I like words, and I like playing with words—and I like playing with the history of words as well—I started trying to decipher the linguistic peculiarities of these vocabulary words:

Who, for example, came up with “la mariposa?” Yes, I’ve heard the word before, but I never knew its translation. To my ears, it sounds somehow more “butterfly-like” than the English word, and “la libélula” sounds far more onomatopoetic and gorgeous than plain, old “dragonfly.”

I can’t explain how those words came into being, but a few others sound more familiar—“la foca” I recognize because I know its Latin root “phoca” or “seal”…thanks to reading Sir Walter Scott’s The Antiquarian several years ago. “La mosca,” which rhymes, reminds me of its French linguistic cousin, “le mouche” or “fly.” And who needs much translation for our friends “el elefante,” “la jirafa,” or “el hámster?”

"Hippo," el hipopótamo
I can also guess how, in the world of compound names, we happened to be introduced to two other old friends—hook-foot and mountain-jumper (“la garrapata” and “la saltamontes”). In English, we know them as ticks and grasshoppers.

But can someone explain how the “r” in “crocodile” jumped several letters back to become “el cocodrile?” Or why “o” became “e” to make “dolphin” into “el delfín?”

And can “el escarabajo,” the beetle, possible have a connection to “scarab?”

Sometimes, of course, the word’s origins are much more obvious—for example, when you want to explain why “mosquito” resembles “el mosquito.”

Yes, I like words, and the history of words, and all the extraneous explanations for how they got here and where they are going. Sometimes they seem simply anomalous; sometimes you can tell exactly how cupboards and bookshelves and grasshoppers came to be called by their names. And at other times, we seem to have chased and pulled them across continents in our hurry-and-scurry lives. In other words…

"León," the lion

…leónes, y tigres y osos—oh my!