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Otium & Achilles' Last Stand

Otium was a military concept in early Roman culture of laying down one's weapons, peace time.

Later, it was translated as an abstract term for leisure time, especially leisure time devoted to intellectual, artistic or personal growth. Time to do things right. Unhurried time. Time to discuss.

Achilles had no such time. He died in battle from a wound to the foot.

He who does not know how to use leisure has more of work than when there is work in work.

For to whom a task has been set, he does the work, desires it, and delights his own mind and intellect.

In leisure, a mind does not know what it wants. 

The same is true of us. 

We are neither at home nor in the battlefield; we go here and there, and—wherever there is a movement—we are there, too.

The mind wanders unsure, except in that life is lived.

Iphigenia "Born To Strength," Ennius, 190 BC


Bullet Proof

If you've ever wondered whether you're the bullet or the gun—or the the one with target on his chest—this song should clear it up. Let's get sea-submerged for a second, late-summer style.

"Bullet Proof...I Wish I Was"
by Radiohead

Limb by limb and tooth by tooth
Tearing up inside of me
Every day every hour
I wish that I was bullet proof

Wax me
Mould me
Heat the pins and stab them in
You have turned me into this
Just wish that it was bullet proof

So pay the money and take a shot
Leadfill the hole in me
I could burst a million bubbles
All surrogate and bullet proof

And bullet proof
And bullet proof
And bullet proof 


Socrates was an ancient Greek philosopher. He is considered the father of modern rational Western thought and the field of ethics.

Socrates did not write. No one knows what he looked like exactly. Socrates is only known through the accounts of his most famous students:

  • Plato (a mathematician) 
  • Xenophon (a historian) 
  • Aristophanes (a comic playwright) 

The Socratic method is hypothesis elimination, where better hypotheses are found by steadily eliminating those that lead to contradictions. Contradictions occur when one hypothesis forms an opposite, inverse conclusion to another.

Socrates would ask a series of questions—not to get answers—but to encourage fundamental insight into the issues at hand and force people to examine the validity of their own beliefs. 

The Socratic method of challenge is used at top universities and considered a defining element of a good, well-rounded education, as opposed to learning based on a technical trade or a hands-on craft.

“That boy’s wicked smart!” The Socratic method is misused and punished by Will Hunting in this scene.

Socrates was a stonemason by trade. His father worked on the Parthenon, the temple in Athens dedicated to Athena, the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, just warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, and skill.

Socrates served in the military in Athens, fighting three campaigns as a soldier. He later questioned whether might could ever make right.

Socratic Paradoxes include:

  • No one desires evil.
  • No one errs or does wrong willingly or knowingly.
  • Virtue—all virtue—is knowledge.
  • Virtue is sufficient for happiness.

The Socratic method encounters insight.

“As the gadfly stings the horse into action, so Socrates stung various Athenians.”

Socrates was imprisoned for criticizing the state Athens. He refused to escape prison when given the opportunity, because he didn’t think any true philosopher should fear death. 

Socrates’ dying words were: "Crito, we owe a rooster to Asclepius. Please, don't forget to pay the debt." 

Some historians think Socrates may have been an invention of Plato—that the man never really existed.

“And like that, he’s gone.” In this scene, the Socratic method unravels in sudden insight.


What Editors Want

Notes from “Submit: The Unofficial Guide to Submitting Short Prose”

Read Aloud. It solves problems. Simultaneous submission is fine. Concentrate on what’s nagging you in the work.

And double space it. Put your contact information on page one. On page two put: 

“Last Name/Work Title/pg 2”

Cover Letter Template

  1. Here’s what I’m sending you.
  2. Here’s where I’ve been published before and who I am.
  3. “Thanks for reading it.”

NO blurbs or bios or endorsements. (Okay, maybe one.) Address your cover letter to an actual editor.

Publishing is subjective. Write for the editors who are going to escape into your story. They will read it, and they are an audience of bookish types who want their teeth on edge. 

Don’t take it personally. Publication is an editor’s taste. The editor wants to help writers. Don’t take a small encouragement as a solicitation for your unfinished backlog. 

Editors read 1000s of stories. They are serious people. Look at the problem in your story. No punchline endings. Pull the emotions with tragedy, not sadness, with ambiguousness slightly in the finish.

Be true to your process, not to “getting published.”

Magazine Types

  • Glossies—the big boys. 
  • Specialty—in-flight, hunting, The SunAmerican GirlU.S. Catholic, etc.
  • Genre—journals with one or two types of writing: sci-fi, mystery, analog, steampunk, literary.
  • Online—little or no pay
  • Zine—little or no pay

An editor at The Atlantic says, I’m looking for a story with a change “where something happens.” Transformation. A shift in understanding or attitude. Something “durable and seemingly worthwhile. Voice in the sense of form should be the aim.

An editor at a literary journal says, Take me into a world. A hook. Interesting characters. Solid craft under emotion where the heart of the writer fills the piece—a story you can’t tell except that it will spill out of you.

An editor at a prose and essay magazine says she wants to see the idea unfolding. Voice can be a synonym for authenticity. Pin down a quality of humanity and document it. Hold a mirror and a lamp to culture. 

An editor at a teen publishing house says, The favorite topics are sex, what will I do when I grow up?, humor, sci-fi, adventure, sensitive, love stories—NOT depression, divorce, cancer or perversion, the most common things adults write for the teen genre.

The Signs of Ineptness or Amateur Work

  • Bad grammar
  • Preceding every noun with adjectives
  • Preceding every verb with an adverb
  • Ellipses or incomplete thoughts
  • Indistinguishable characters
  • Gimmicks or conceits (elaborate, fanciful, and especially strained metaphors)
  • Indistinctive dialogue
  • A “bow” or recap at the end of the story

Final Advice

Write every day. Get in a writing group. Go to conferences. The editors mentioned Sewanee, Bread Loaf, and Squaw Valley, as well as magazines Swink, Hemispheres, River Teeth, and Plowshares.


Desert Island Songs

“What are your Top 10 desert island songs?”

First off, I think I would only take five songs, not ten, because I wouldn’t want to run down my radio batteries too fast the way a ten-song rotation might.

So here are my top five choices, in order:

1. Life Is a Highway

Definitely my first choice song. I’d never get tired of it. “If you’re going my way, I wanna drive it all night long.” Just beautiful. And I love to travel.

2. If I Only Had a Brain

Eventually I would be able to tell you why the ocean’s near the shore. A desert island would be a good place to think about those kinds of things.

3. Theme from Jaws

Classical music always soothes feelings of isolation and anxiety. What better tune than this one, inspired by sea life and marine ecosystems?

4. Happy Birthday (the original version)

It would, of course, be great for days when it is your birthday, but also nice to hear just anytime. Or on Tuesdays.

5. Kraftwerk (Detroit's The New Dance Show Mix, 1991)

This would be great to play along with on the conchshell on festive nights.

Or maybe 2 Live Crew?

Should probably include this one:

Tough call. Especially considering those limited batteries.

Wait, how do people wind up on an island with a working radio, again?