Archive for May, 2014


Sunday, May 25th, 2014

This past Sunday (May 18th) Jay Young and I traveled to the of Western New York for our second trip to the Vineyard Writers’ Conference.  Held once again at the beautiful Patterson Library in Westfield, both Jay and I were eager to involve ourselves in the proceedings.  Plenty has changed for Can the Man in the last year, and we were more than ready to share, learn, and evolve with a large group of fellow writers.  Among the participants were several published authors ready to give lectures on improving the craft of writing and provide first-hand experience for any writer looking to take that next step.  The presenters in attendance this year were Ron Androla, Chuck Joy, Nancy Kay, Linda Lavid, and Tom Noyes.  Although you may not have heard of any of these authors, they are pre-eminent figures in Western New York and Pennsylvania writing.


Each of the presenters offered information pertaining to every important facet of writing from outlining to the final steps of the laborious process of finding publication.  For our morning session, Jay and I both attended Linda Lavid’s presentation “Dazzling Tools” which centered on the integral steps of developing plots, subplots, dialogue, and successful narration.  Lavid focused her talk on the use of conflict to drive the plot and to derive character development.  In addition to this, Lavid also made note of the intricacies of successful back story and how a beginning writer will often erroneously use this as a crutch to advance the story.




After the morning round of seminars, keynote speaker Ron Androla addressed the attendees with a speech he loosely revolved around, “The Process of Writing Poetry, and the Poetry Process of Writing.”  Androla is an award-winning poet from Erie, Pennsylvania, who has been widely published over the last forty years.  During his seminar Androla read several poems—“I Have Nothing to Say,” “Right Finger,” and “When the Moon Says No,” among them.  Androla’s poems are a winding road of free-verse, unhinged by the sometimes restrictive rules of poetry. His poems evoke vivid visions and stir the senses.


The group then attended a luncheon at the historic McClurg Museum before returning for the afternoon session.  This time Jay and I attended the “Weeding Words” lecture given by Nancy Kay.  This session focused on the consuming process of self-revisions, and the painstaking efforts to perform publisher’s edits while still staying true to your original vision of the story.  We talked about removing needless words and being concise.  I found it to be informative for my style of editing.


All in all, the Vineyard Writers’ Conference is a spectacular value for the price we paid.  If once a year I can surround myself with like minds looking to hone the craft of writing, then that is something worth paying for.  I would urge any writer—young and old—to attend next year as there are many invaluable lessons that can be absorbed from the published authors in attendance.


-Spencer James-

CTM Wants to Know: Are You Smarter Than….You?

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

As humans, we are inherently curious about the people that we see around us. We value their clothes, their demeanor, their character, and their intelligence, most times without sharing a single word with them.  After reading an “intelligence” survey by one thing is certain, most of us believe we the majority of people around us are idiots.  YouGov determined that 55% of average Americans feel that they are more intelligent than other Americans.  This in turn means that, on any given day, most of the people around you believe that they are not only smarter than you, but that they are more intelligent than themselves.


Basically, we’re a nation primarily comprised mostly of self-centered assholes—the likes of Ted Cruz and Donald Sterling come to mind.  One reason we all believe we’re smarter than the average American is because our laws provide us the freedom to value untruth. This study shows that even though American students lag behind in fields like science and mathematics, they are first in confidence.  We’re too egotistical in our own personalities to even feel like we need to be intelligent. There is no staying power in confidence, and to find future success as a nation we need to knock some of these over confident jerks down a peg or two.  The problem with the country isn’t that we’ve fallen behind scholastically, it is that we have the audacity to believe we don’t need an education to be successful.


Furthermore, it should also come as no surprise that wealthier American’s think a larger percentage of the population is “unintelligent.”  When those who make less than $40k were questioned, they believed that nearly 30% of their fellow citizens were, “intelligent.”  Instead of letting our own personal wealth dictate our perception of intelligence, we need to realize that we could all benefit from more education.  It would also be important to learn that wealthier members of society are in no way guaranteed to be more intelligent.  However at this point American intelligence is rapidly deteriorating, at all levels, to a point where we are certainly dumber than we give ourselves credit for.

American’s are generally typecast as a spoiled, egotistical, and prejudicial crowd.  We’re loud, obnoxious, and the rest of the world thinks we all weigh three-hundred pounds and ride Rascal scooters through McDonald’s drive-thru’s.  We can’t hope to change the perception of American’s in the rest of the world, but we can strive to alter it from within.  For example, the United States isn’t even sniffing the global top-ten in math, reading, or science even though we have that whole “confidence” thing mastered.  The children in this country are better at using social media than they are calculating their times tables.  However this doesn’t stop any of us from believing in our perceived superiority above all other countries.  We are falling by the wayside when it comes to adapting our educational system to best fit the society in which we reside.  We are still using antiquated methods in an attempt to teach disinterested kids, while simultaneously overburdening them with standardized testing.  Truth is we have no business even talking about intelligence, yet alone measuring ourselves against other first-world nations.  Face it, we are not as smart as we used to be and half as smart as we could be.



-Spencer James-

CTM Attends: Peter Baker’s “Vineyard Writers’ Conference”

Sunday, May 11th, 2014


Last year CTM attended the annual Vineyard Writers’ Conference for the first time.  The Vineyard Writers’ Conference is conveniently located in the historic Patterson library, nestled among Edwardian homes in Westfield, NY.  The Patterson Library, dedicated in 1908, is an ornithologist’s paradise, festooned with notable stuffed birds such as the iconic golden eagle.   Spencer and Jay had never been to a writers’ conference before and it seemed to be a valuable experience.   Judging from the animated conversations that followed the event, it seemed that they also had fun.  After having attended several conferences alone it was enjoyable to have their company and to watch them engage in the process.  I have attended several writers’ conferences through the years and I was considerably impressed with the value of the Vineyard Writers’ Conference.  Anyone who has attended more than a couple writers’ conferences can attest to the exorbitant costs of attending.  Conferences generally start at a few hundred bucks and attending a notable conference, such as Bread Loaf, which costs $1,930.  This fee does not figure the cost of lodging, food, etc.



For $45 each we participated in multiple workshops, improved some projects we were working on, and had some great laughs.  Not only did we learn aspects of the writer’s craft, we also sat in on one of several thought provoking sessions on other aspects of writing.  One such session Jay and I took on self-publishing with Linda Lavid which focused on how technology is changing publishing and book marketing.  We listened to notable local author Gary Earl Ross read a riveting short story and speak to the audience about writing.   Personally, I found the conference to be informative and refreshing.  After I left I felt motivated to pursue some worthwhile projects that I’d shelved and it made me eager to jump headfirst into the creative process.






This year Can the Man will return to the conference to engage with an exciting new group of writing instructors and participants.  Registration is open right up until the start of the conference and anyone is welcome to join!  We look forward to seeing some familiar faces and making plenty of new connections in the local writing scene.  Revisit Can the Man for a full synopsis of this year’s conference in our Sunday Blog, slated for May 25th.



-Loren Mayshark

Can The Man Reading Suggestions

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

If any of our readers are looking for an opportunity to pick up a new book on politics Can The Man has several interesting suggestions of works:


1.) Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009)- Chris Hedges

Political journalist and former war-correspondent Chris Hedges takes you behind the veil of American media prejudice, propaganda, and cultural stagnation.


2.) The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap (2014)- Matt Taibbi

Taibbi, a former Rolling Stone journalist, offers the audience his take on America’s massive disparity in wealth. The book condemns the hypocrisy of the American justice system’s treatment of drug offenders and white collar criminals.


3.) Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire. (2013)- Noam Chomsky

In this book, the legendary linguistics expert and political activist examines the Arab Spring uprisings and Occupy movement. Chomsky offers his insight into the modern political condition.


4.) The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. (2012)- Jonathan Haidt

Haidt is an acclaimed social psychologist who takes the reader inside radicalized thinking, and identification in modern culture. His findings reveal some unsettling conclusions about why we worship, believe, and shun those who do not.


5.) A Confederacy of Dunces (1980)- John Kennedy Toole

This humorous picaresque novel by Pulitzer winner John Kennedy Toole has experienced a resurgence in relevance following the recent financial crisis and political upheaval.


6.) The Year of Dreaming Dangerously (2012)- Slavoj Žižek

Marxist philosopher and champion of the far left Slavoj Žižek examines many of the ideological changes that are taking place in the world today through his own lens.