What’s On My Calendar in 2019

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

This handy calendar offers motivation, prompts, wisdom and more. Who knows: Maybe one of my quotes will be on the 2020 edition.

Looking back at the holiday season passed, I was fortunate to receive some outstanding gifts, from the intangible (moments shared with family and friends) to the tangible (a couple of six packs of some really good beer).

But assuredly, the most poignant — and hopefully most useful — gift found under the proverbial tree was a desk calendar.

As noted in the accompanying image, my calendar will offer “Inspiration, writing prompts & advice for every day of the year.”

By reading this post, it’s readily apparent that I write stuff, from commentary on public relations, politics and popular culture to travelogues and people profiles. With a career in public relations, marketing and journalism spanning (yes, hard to believe) four decades, there are a lot of other genres I could include within print digital and broadcast.

Back to the present, the most challenging writing projects completed recently were required assignments in my pursuit of a master’s degree in English. For the Theory, Rhetoric and Aesthetics course completed in December, I submitted a paper, “The Growth of a Post-Truth World in Modern Society.

To summarize the essay: Exceptionally challenging and equally rewarding, as I had to analyze early twenty first century perceptions of truth and falsehood while balancing beliefs presented by Plato and a twentieth century thinker. Heady stuff, indeed.

For the spring 2019 semester, I pivot resoundingly in another direction: Novel workshop.

Yes, I will begin — and hopefully finish — a novel by May. What’s the plot? Who are the characters? What do I hope to accomplish?  We’ll find out in a few months.

Should I need inspiration, I will read, savor and gain from the messages displayed on the little calendar on my desk. Then, I’ll get back to work.

 

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What Reading Moby Dick Taught Me About Life Today

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

By tomorrow, I will have finished reading one of the most heralded works of fiction in the annuals of American literature. For the past month of so, I’ve taken on Herman Melville’s monumental classic, Moby Dick, otherwise titled, The Whale.

Being engaged in a masterpiece like Moby Dick compels the reader to focus on one body of work.

As for my critique, that may happen in some form later this year, after I complete the next course in my “quest” (felt it appropriate to use such a superfluous noun, given the plot of the aforementioned book) for my Master’s degree in English. Upcoming this Fall: “English 507 Theory, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: Unthinking Signification.”

Taking on a novel, or any voluminous fiction or non-fiction work the size and scope of Moby Dick requires dedication and patience. The hardcover University of California Press edition I’m reading spans 577 pages and includes some informative illustrations of ships, big fish and the men who sail the ships in order to hunt big fish.

Furthermore, Melville’s prose is not what I would rank as “light reading.” Symbolism aside, this is serious, yet compelling, prose, as detailed in this passage from Chapter 42, “The Whiteness of the Whale:”

“But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and from more portentous — why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things most appalling to mankind.”

Someday, my prose may be this good. Someday. Maybe.

Now, let me direct this conversation to what reading Moby Dick has taught me about one aspect of life today. On my weekday commute on the CTA Blue Line, I observe fellow passengers and ascertain that they would not have the patience to read a novel, especially not a gargantuan work like Moby Dick. Most fellow passengers, not all, ride handheld in hand, dexterously swiping between Pinterest and texts, Facebook and Candy Crush Saga.

Do these folks — young and old — read novels or other long-form literature?  Will they ever? Will a significant number people from future generations only absorb information through images and videos, subheads and captions, texts and instant messages? And, perhaps more vitally, will they ever learn to savor reading a masterwork without responding to an incoming digital message?

Without question, psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists are studying this relatively modern phenomenon. Assuredly, there are plenty of options for conducting primary research, beyond the Blue Line el.

Now, as noted, I still have a few chapters to go. So, please don’t respond with the fate of Ahab, Ishmael and my favorite character Queequeg — much less the big white whale.

Of course, I could quickly consult my handheld and have the answer.  But, nawh! I prefer to savor and learn, page by page.

 

Halfway to My MA: Reflecting on Post Modern Literature Studies

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Comments made by an Illinois State University creative writing professor more than four decades ago truly resonated recently.

Darn if I can remember the lady’s name, but she noted something to the effect that completing a truly challenging writing task — one filled with doubt, driven by despair and desperation, fraught with indecision and frustration — can be among the most magical and rewarding accomplishments in life.

That’s how I felt after wrapping up the final paper for my most recent English course, another step toward earning my Master’s degree. I’ve reached a milestone of sorts: The credits earned from this fourth course means I’m statistically halfway to the 32 credits required.

Wonder what Walt Whitman, considered a pioneer of modern poetry, would think about some of the works I had to read this semester.

The course focused on modern, post modern and contemporary poetry and prose, but rest assured: The assigned writing last semester did not include works by Stephen King, James Patterson or any of the popular juggernaut novelists who produce fantasy and action-prone works that get made into movies and TV series. The subject of works analyzed were void of supernatural spirits and superheroes.

We studied writers of “Language poetry,” an avant garde movement that arose in the hippie era as a backlash against more traditional forms of poetry. We debated topics like alienation, the fragmentation of modern life and poetry’s place in society today. And, we learned that some modern writers employ results from Google searches to create “poems.”

Required readings from mid and late-20th century and 21st century writers were balanced by essays from Gertrude Stein and Berthold Brecht, along with an excellent modern novel highly influenced by seminal works of Walt Whitman, considered a pioneer of the modern poetry movement. For a perspective, we even were assigned essays from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the 19th century philosopher and essayist, and John Stuart Mill, the British liberal thinker.

Full disclosure: I’ve not kept up with modern poetry and fiction; none of the works by contemporary authors we read were familiar to me. That’s why I was intrigued and looked forward to each week’s reading any the challenging writing assignments.

But frankly, I was taken aback by much of the poetry and literary criticism produced today. I found some works on our syllabus bizarre and incomprehensible, unfulfilling and trite, pretentious and directionless.

A quatrain of examples:

  1. One poem has same line repeated 49 times. (I won’t post the line because it contains a swear word; plus, the line is non-nonsensical to me.)
  2. One extended poetic work has one word — “red” — on a single page. (For the record, “red” was used on previous pages, too.)
  3. One essay focused retyping every word of an issue of the New York Times as a transcendental exercise. (The author also gave this retyping exercise as a class assignment.)
  4. A series of poems included one titled, “A Poem I Didn’t Write,” containing the contents of “The Tyger,” one of the most storied poems in the English language. (No doubt, true scholars of William Blake are not happy.)

Yet, to incorporate a cliche, there were literary diamonds among the rough stuff; and I gained a much, much better appreciation of and understanding for poetry.

One conclusion: Modern language, like all creative endeavors, needs to change and evolve; new men and women of letters (to borrow a well-used moniker) should have their turn, their time. For instance, a black poet transcended convention to make thoughts known with graphic-centered poems created using In Design software. (And, said poet’s work served as the basis for my final paper.)

So, if you’re interested the next step in my Master’s challenge, for fall 2018, I’m enrolled in Theory, Rhetoric and Aesthetics — Melville’s Modernity. (I trust we’ll be assigned to read a novel featuring a really big white fish.)

And, if you’re keeping track, I received an A in the course just completed. Read by final paper by visiting my “other” website.

Building on My Foundation in Non-Fiction Writing: Fall Master’s Class Remembered

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Another semester. Another class. Another step closer to achieving a milestone in life.

Our little piece of mortgaged America located in Avondale, the focus of my essay.

That summarizes an important part of what took place this fall of 2017. Specifically, I completed another graduate-level class, one more academic chess piece so to say toward earning my Master’s degree in English at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This fall, I joined 11 other student scholars in the “Non-Fiction Writing Workshop,” a course that allowed participants to submit essays, memoirs, journal contributions and other written works as part of the required assignments.  Each class, two works were presented, analyzed and read aloud in segments or entirely.

The professor, himself a very successful author of non-fiction, novels and short stories, encouraged discussion and criticism — but primarily the constructive kind.

My classmates presented poignant, compelling stories of growing up in parts of the nation and under familial dynamics much, much different than mine. Some revealed much more about themselves, their lives and personal relationships than I ever would, except perhaps in fiction.

I respected everyone and their abilities, and I believe I grew as a writer after absorbing the works presented each Monday night.  A community of sorts evolved: Writers charged with keeping the craft and art of the written word advancing through compositions centered on our own experiences and abilities, beliefs and perspectives.

My essay contributions were driven by what I know best: Chicago.

The second and more substantial of the two essays is titled The “Greening” of Avondale, a perspective on the Chicago neighborhood we’ve lived in for 17 years.

Your thoughts on this work are welcomed. And, if you want to read more of my “scholarly” works, please visit my website.

By the way, I earned an A this semester!