Sunday, 31 May 2009

needle-felting is like creative writing

My sister is working on a needle-felted landscape based on a photo of a riverside path along the Yarra. Tree ferns line one side of the winding track.

She laid down fibres with her needle-felting machine but put it aside because she didn’t know what to do next. Then she decided on some hand-stitching and embroidery to give it more depth and make it look more like the concept she had in her mind when she began.

It’s been weeks now and the project sits on a bookshelf where she can look at it from across the room and assess how it resembles the original photo. She keeps adding layers. She sews over it and dulls it down. When a spot doesn’t look right she removes it by sewing over it again. She needs to highlight the brightness of the sun on the tree fern leaves. She needs to bring the sunny spots into sharper contrast to the shadows on the winding path.

It’s like writing.

I've been watching a series of videos of Robert Olen Butler, the Pulitzer-winning author, as he writes a short story in real-time. Thirty-four hours of watching his creative process. Seventeen two-hour sessions.

His method makes me think of my sister's needle-felted project, because he writes about three hundred words each night; and then reads them over next evening, and adds to them, and changes them, and re-arranges them, and perfects them, before moving on.

It's amazing and inspirational to watch.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

serial commas and grammar girl

In researching the use of serial commas I've just come across Grammar Girl's site. I like it so much that I'm going to add the widget to my side bar. So here's hoping I've conquered the technology to achieve that.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

caring about dying languages

I attended an interesting book launch last Wednesday in the Alcaston Gallery, in Fitzroy. In the midst of beautiful artwork produced by indigenous women on Mornington island in Queensland, Professor Kate Burridge from Monash University introduced a new book, Dying Words,
by Nicholas Evans. The setting was chosen because much of Evans' work has dealt with indigenous languages of Australia.

Dying Words deals with a subject I am passionate about – the study and preservation of the many languages of humanity.

Professor Burridge said, amongst other things:
• The book is timely, due to the crisis in loss of languages. Of the six thousand extant languages, half will probably die in this century.
• It has much to say to experts in the field of linguistics.
• It is readable and enjoyable and is accessible to the general public.

Google book Search has a so-called 'preview' of the book, so it should be possible to read parts of it and decide whether you want to buy it. I bought it, because I'm interested in the way languages shape our view of the world. It seems a tragedy every time a language dies - that is, when the last speaker of the language dies. I remember, many years ago, meeting a young woman who said her language, Romansh, was nearly gone.

However, I read on a Swiss site that the language is still in use today.
Though Rumantsch has been an official language in canton Grisons for centuries, it has not been officially recognized as a national language of Switzerland until 1938. The sudden recognition was motivated by Switzerland's will to resist the ideology of incorporation of all ethnic Germans and Italians into Hitler's German Reich or Mussolini's fascist Italy. So the exotic fourth national language was very welcome to demonstrate that Switzerland is different from its neighbours ...

Until towards the end of the 20th century, there was no such thing as a standard Rumantsch language. If at all, people wrote in one of the five local dialects - which made it definitely unrealistic that anybody would translate anything into Romansh for a few readers (considering that a total of only 60,000 people are speaking one of the five Rumansch dialects). When it became clear that Rumantsch risks to become extinct the Lia Rumantscha [league for the preservation of the Rumantsch language] defined a common standard language called Rumantsch Grischun in 1982.

It seems a huge task to try to prevent small language groups being overwhelmed by larger ones, but all humanity loses out when a unique way of visualising the world is lost. I'm looking forward to reading Nicholas Evans' book, to see what he says about this distressing situation.