My god I hate planning trips

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I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent planning my upcoming trip to Ireland and Wales, certainly more than I’ll spend in the air – both going to and coming back from Dublin.

The Euro and British Pound both crush the dollar; hotels are ungodly expensive. I don’t even want to know what food will cost. Adding up our hotel and bus tour totals I had the passing thought maybe it would be safe to sleep on park benches. Dublin’s a nice city. It has loads and loads of parks. We could switch every night, maybe even take turns sitting up watching our luggage. I’d feel a lot better about eating and drinking if that load were off my back. Another alternative would be fighting the pigeons for bread, perhaps camouflaging ourselves somehow so we look like overgrown birds. Dodos, maybe.

Are you sure no one out there lives in Dublin and has a floor to spare?

Crikey.

I shaved a day off Dublin to save a few Euros or Pounds or however you convert hotel money spent in Wales instead of Ireland’s capital city. Still far from cheap, even in relatively far-flung Welsh towns. I chose Bangor, partly because it’s pretty and partly because it’s a nice, leisurely trip over the sea then by train. It’s sort of ocean-front, though not really since we’re staying inland, somewhere I can’t believe actually is considered Bangor but then again Wales is a tiny country. What we will have are glorious mountain views. I suppose I’m okay with that, since we’ll see loads of the sea when we get back around to Swansea. We’ll have the all-around package before it’s said and done. Much money will be spent but many things will be seen.

It’s only a one-time thing, right?

You know who I envy right now? Travel journalists. I want to knock their heads together, I’m so jealous. Perhaps if I’d studied journalism in college, even had a clue what was out there for journalists, I may have worked my way up to travel writing. As it is, I think this is it. Oh, maybe I’ll write a novel, some stories, a stray article and certainly many more book reviews but I feel sick to my stomach when I consider what instruction in writing may have done for me. Honestly, I had no idea what the world held. I grew up in a cornfield, in Central Illinois. Not too horribly far from where David Foster Wallace lived but let’s not think about that.

Please, let’s not think about that.

I didn’t know about MFAs. It didn’t cross my mind to go to a real college with journalism majors. Hard to imagine anyone less informed than I. Yes, I read an awful lot and wrote stupid bits and pieces but now here I am and I can’t see how I’d possibly progress much from here. As far as travel writing, what a joke! My best risk-taking days are behind me, at least my first flush of youth. In my favor, I have stopped giving much of a damn about appearing stupid or childish in public. My kids can confirm that. But with my knees, obstinate refusal to “rough it” and great dislike of crowded places I’m not the best candidate to complete with Paul Theroux. He can rest easily on that account.

Still, surely there’s something I can do, without breaking the bank?

Och, why did I waste my youth! I’m of course the only person to have this regret, the only person to suffer so. And while I’m getting what may be this last chance to travel, with three kids I certainly can’t make a habit of it. Would anyone be interested in travel writing about what’s a day’s trip from where I live?

Hell, no!

Stuck I am, planning one last itinerary, spending an indecent amount of money, doomed to suburbia for the rest of my years. My pathetic years…

Well, that was cathartic. Maybe drowning in the Liffey would be an impressive way to go out, eh? At least I’d make a headline that way.

Sigh.

 

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When critical impartiality fails

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There comes a time reviewers risk becoming dangerously involved in an author’s work, too involved to maintain impartiality without exerting great and conscious self-control. Without noticing it, you become slanted. Every now and then it’s not a bad idea to remind yourself the integrity of professionalism demands lack of prior judgment – good or bad. Favorite writer or not.

We’ve all read exaggerated, glowing author blurbs bearing no resemblance to the books they praise. These are obviously exchanged for an understood return of the favor, at some later point, or a bit of cronyism that exists in all professions, particularly visible in the case of writers. Then there are established writers who use their name recognition to increase sales for a new writer – a kind gesture to the writer that just happens to screw the reader. How do you feel when you’ve spent money, invested time only to find the publicity was misleading? I feel ripped off, less inclined to trust author blurbs at all, which is actually a pretty good rule of thumb.

I believe I’m fairly equitable. Or I did, until last weekend, when I allowed myself to become overwrought after reading a scathing neither true review nor critical piece on the latest book by a personal favorite writer. A book I haven’t yet read, I hasten to add, written by an author whose stature I admire without qualification. Already in a depressed spirit, the unfair criticism was enough to catapult me over the edge. Hey, I’m human.

I’m not particularly proud of my reaction, rushing to rip the critic a new one via social media, but his piece was a sad excuse for a review. I was out for blood, reacting without benefit of forethought. Never, ever a good idea. The result was an embarrassment. Thinking about it the next day, what I did was no better than what he had, using an opportunity to belt a person in the stomach just because I could.

In my defense, what he wrote addressing the actual book encompassed barely a few lines, the rest devoted to tearing into the author’s entire oeuvre, even that writing vague and weak. This was not proper literary criticism, much less a review. I question why the publication ran the piece, the writer’s literary stature obviously the sole criterion assuring automatic acceptance, without benefit of editing. This is a dangerous precedent, one that threatens the integrity of criticism as a whole, but apparently one still very much alive and well.

The only solution assuring impartiality involves keeping in mind few to no professionally edited works are either perfect or completely without merit, at least to its intended audience. Individuals feel positively or negatively about a particular title – or author – but genuinely impartial reviews first take into account the intent of the writer and how well he or she did or did not live up to the expectations of his/her audience. Other points, such as style, voice and the highly subjective definition of literary merit are what will vary greatest from review to review, where individual reviewers have the most latitude for personal opinion.

In either case, the reader must take it all with a grain of salt. My advice? Don’t trust any single critical piece written about an author or his work. Trust the source first, before the piece. All venues are not created equally. Know the source and gain familiarity with the reviewer. Even then, keep in mind all reviewers occasionally slip and forget all this, throwing impartiality out the window. We praise, we rip apart, we get into moods.

Then we are bad. Very, very bad.

I feel like I’ve purged my sins. How about you? Well, we’ll work on you next time.

It’ll be okay. Trust me. I’m a professional.

 

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