Can you Convince Others?

October 10, 2010 § 2 Comments

It is said that writing is thinking; that the act of convincing someone of your point allows you to find the point yourself. To be honest I am hoping that, as I collect my thoughts on the screen we can both come to understand them.

The ability to get ideas and thoughts across to people is one that develops as we grow older.  As we age our thoughts, our voice, and our ability to convince others of them, change. « Read the rest of this entry »


What makes success?

October 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

The wind howls through the trees outside, the clouds pull together above the roof, but inside it couldn’t be nicer.  You snuggle into a chair by the fire with a fleece blanket (or snuggie perhaps) and the next “classic” clutched in you hands.  Such a great feeling to read and experience a book that captures a society, an era, in history, or of today.  It’s a book (an experience) that thousands of others share with you.  It’s a connection.

But what makes these books classics?  What differentiates these writers from the thousands of others out there with similar talent?

Take Jack London for example.  His books were internationally recognized and he achieved nation, if not world, wide fame.  But why him?  Readers, scholars, and researchers offer thousands of reasons behind his success, and there are likely many more we have yet to discover.

One of my fellow bloggers, titled flamingo, postulated that London was a great writer due to his “unhealthy childhood.”  He was born out of wedlock with no clear notion of who his father was, his mother was weak and suffered from typhoid fever giving her mood swings and depression, and he was forced at the age of 5 to work on the farm.  Jack London’s childhood was indeed hard.  It caused him to search for adventure, and a greater meaning, rather than be stuck in the farm and the factory.  It also allowed him to write of these emotions later in life.  He could talk to oppression, of the restlessness he felt as a child.  These qualities helped develop his writing but they are cannot be credited for his success.  After all, there are many people in the world. even authors in the world, who suffered rough childhoods, and who do not grow up to be world renowned authors.

I think we should take a look at the book Outliers: A Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell.  The main thesis of the book is that, once you reach a certain skill level, the only thing that differentiates the successful from the others is time commitment.  The Beatles played over and over again at a festival before the became famous, Steve Jobs played every night at the hospital computer.  For Jack London his avid reading, and letter writing that brought him over the top.

As a young boy London’s restlessness and thirst for adventure manifested itself in reading.  He visited the Oakland public library (near which he lived at the time) and checked out book after book. This avid reading familiarized him with books, and writing at a young age.  London also developed his writing skill through letters.  He wrote about 10,000 per year practicing, unconsciously perhaps, putting his feelings, voice, and thoughts on paper. This time and practice developed Jack London into the writer he is today.

But being a good writer doesn’t always mean fame.  The last reason, as the occasional author will claim, for London’s fame is his own charisma.  As a “dashing” young man who travled the world in search of adventure he entered to hearts of its people.  His books allowed others to live vicariously through him, and experience the adventures he had.  People wanted to get to know him, and his books allowed them to do just that.

Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young

October 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young, was the title of Faron Youngs hit song in 1955. Although this song came out after the death of Jack London, it summarizes his life and the values he lived by.

From the time he was born, Jack London had a tumultuous childhood. Since her pregnancy was unplanned and who the father was was unclear, jacks mom Flora, often referred to him as her “badge of shame”. As a child, Flora suffered from typhoid fever which caused her to continuously have aggressive mood swings and depression. The birth of jack left already sickly Flora, even weaker and she was unable to care for her son in the beginning of his life. Due to this, she never showed Jack affection. When the family moved to Oakland, Jack was forced to work on the farm at age five. The combination of a loveless childhood and excessive work caused Jack to reject this boring and dreary lifestyle and seek adventure. Since he didnt have enough money to create his own adventure, Jack became an avid reader and eventually wanted to experience things first hand. For the rest of his life, Jack sought passion, excitement and adventure before dying at the age of forty because of bad health.

This unhealthy childhood is ultimately what gave Jack London’s writing its passion and depth. Call of the Wild, arguably his most famous book, follows the struggle of an alaskan sled dog. While some say that since the protagonist is a dog, this book targets a younger crowd. Its darker undertones, a reflection of the darkness of his childhood and family life, make it appropriate for older readers as well.

What makes London’s books so successful is the characterization of being caged in and seeking freedom at some point or another. We can all relate to this feeling, a feeling which London knew so well throughout his childhood. The passion and adventure in London’s books is what makes them so attractive and interesting to all Americans.

Jack London’s Dream Home

October 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

Jack London was an avid explorer filled with many dreams and aspirations. After an incredible sailing trip around the world that lasted seven years and took him to the South Pacific and Australia, he returned to California ready to settle down. Unable to tame his wild imagination his next pursuit was to create a dream house specific to he and Charmian’s taste. However, this attempt to architect his true wishes were crushed.

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A Foolhardy Boy

September 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

You can learn a lot about a book from its cover — I mean, author. The Call of the Wild’s author, Jack London, gives a classic story of a poor child who never really got to be as successful as he deserved to be. He came from parents who were either spiritually obsessed or simply no-good and useless. As a result, Jack spent much of his childhood depending on his own abilities and his own marginal income to survive.

Apparently, one’s childhood has an impact on the way we act with others, because Jack’s childhood led him to take up a life of acting tough by fighting and showing no signs of compassion, as well as heavy drinking in just his teens (of course this was in the 1890’s). He however harbored a softer side to himself. This is what living a life of relentless harshness as a child tends to do to people, forcing in them feelings of wanting to be what they cannot.

Jack London indulged these feelings by making secret trips to the library where he could enjoy the literature he so craved. But it wasn’t long before he set off on his first journey as a seal hunter, inevitably planting the seed in his mind for adventure.

Additionally, as a very interesting fact, it is reported that Jack found himself being the target of many homosexual seamen onboard, but there was much blood, seal fat and flesh around to distract him from that.

He thereafter returned to Oakland where he won recognition for an article he wrote in a local newspaper. Unfortunately, London’s work as a writer could not even pay the bills yet so he intentionally subjected himself to a year of homelessness where he got into more trouble than as a child, and soon after being arrested for a month went after the gold rush in 1897.

Even here, Jack found nothing but despair from the lack of success and nearly suffered scurvy. Yet finally he was able to make his debut as a writer that was worth something after his time there, beginning with The Call of the Wild and The Sea-Wolf in his late twenties, the former of which is still taught in English classes throughout the States.

Jack is just like us!

September 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Jack London grew up the same way every California kid should: in a house of absolute weirdness.

Born an illegitimate child with a mother who claimed to be in touch with certain Native American spirits, Jack was largely raised by his nanny, ex-slave Virginia Prentiss (of course this was HUGELY controversial, just like anything a Californian does). His step father was loving Civil War veteran, but he could be  very odd at times. Of course his family life was unusual, just like most Bay Area families.

Jack truly fit the Bay Area stereotype when he dropped out of Berkley for being “not alive enough” and a “passionless pursuit of passionless intelligence.” Not even Berkley was weird enough for him. Instead he sailed to the Klondike gold rush in order to find himself, and eventually find his stories.

The rest of his life is a tangled web to two marriages, radical political views, and international success as an author. But part of me loves the fact that he was just another weird kid from Oakland once upon a time. I’m sure he just wanted to be as unique as possible and stand apart from the crowd in true California fashion. I think this is what makes him such a unique writer and gives him the voice that he has.

Jack London’s Wolf House

September 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

After reading White Fang and Call of the Wild , my fourth grade class took a trip to Jack London’s Wolf House. The remains of the Wolf House are  located at the Jack London State Historic Park in Sanoma County, California.  It was meant to be the London family home but  was burned to its bare walls in August night in 1913, weeks before  the family was to move in. Today the impressive skeleton of the home reminds visitors what a grand home it would have been.  As a child I remember being so impressed by Mrs. London’s beautiful gardens, and the property’s vineyards and redwood groves and  being extremely saddened by the ruins of such a lovely estate. We studied London and the Wolf House extensively but my knowledge has become foggy in my “old” age. I decided to revisit the Wolf House and research its history.

Jack and his second wife, Charmian, began to dream of the Wolf House long before their marriage in 1905.  San Francisco architect, Albert Farr drafted London’s ideas into blueprints and construction on the house began in April 1910. The house had Spanish and Craftsman influences and  in addition to being their family home, would serve as a workshop for Jack London and a showroom for the couple’s many unique souvenirs from trips abroad. Although it would be fire that destroyed the Wolf House,  Farr’s design took intense  precautions against earthquakes, and featured a concrete base strong enough to support a forty story building. The house had gorgeous  bark covered redwood,volcanic rocks, natural logs, blue slate, boulders, a grand carriage-style entrance, pergolas,  porches, balconies interlaced with twigs and a spanish tile roof to top it off.  The “castle” as the Londons liked to call it, was 15,000 square feet and four stories with 29 rooms.  The  furniture the couple had built to decorate the Wolf House  still furnishes Charmain’s Happy Halls House.

The story of the Wolf House is as sad to me now as it was nearly nine years ago. Forensic experts attributed the fire to spontaneous combustion. This ruling is disputed by some and the source of the fire still remains somewhat of a mystery. The tragedy has been blamed on things such as arson, faulty wiring and just plain bad luck. London vowed to rebuild his dream home but lacked the funds to do so. He passed away three years later and never finished the project. The graves of London and his wife still remain near the couple’s ill-fated “castle”.

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