Monthly Archives: March 2016

I Don’t Feel Like Writing Today

I’m not in the mood to blog today, so instead of coming up with something interesting, I’m going to explain the sudden influx of blog posts. Because why, Morris? Why are you unleashing your opinions on the interwebs?

It would be cool if this was some kind of galactic demand, and if I didn’t post a new blog every Friday, I’d get smited or the sun would burn up or every third person would get boiled alive in a plague. But such is not in the case. As with so many things I do, nobody really cares if I manage to finish it (though, if I’m really lucky, a few people are glad to have it once it’s done). Well, nobody except for my mom. My mom is pretty awesome. And she’d get annoyed if I didn’t blog by every Friday (re: on Friday because deadlines aren’t deadlines if you aren’t right on top of them). We made a deal a few weeks ago that we’d each update our blogs on a weekly basis. Me because I was terrible at blogging. Her because she wanted to start a blog. Yay blogs!

It turns out writing blogs is just like every other kind of writing. The more you do it, the better you get. At least, I really hope so. Otherwise I’m wasting a ton of time learning how not to blog.

This holds true for my mom, certainly, and while I’ve had years to cut my teeth on writing, she’s fairly new to it. In answer to your unasked question, I will not be debuting her blog on my blog today. That will come another time. Instead, I will point my finger at all you would-be writers and say, “Get the hell off here and start writing already! You’re wasting time.”

In other news, “Light on Dimmed Bodies,” a story I wrote in grad school, came out this week in the first print edition of The Flexible Persona. I haven’t gotten my copy yet (it’s coming, yay!), but the snippets of the other pieces I’ve seen look amazing. You should check it out here.

Words I Don’t Know

Nascent

What I Think it Means: A skinny, slimy guy with a huge, huge nose that’s always in the air, totally full of himself. Like a younger version of the asylum keeper in Beauty in the Beast.

Batb_1824

Dude looks pretty nascent to me.

What It Actually Means: beginning to exist; recently formed or developed

So like the baby asylum keeper?

Avuncular

What I Think it Means: Like a thorny, bushy tree? Or no, it can’t be a noun. It sounds like an adjective. So the feeling of being a thorny, bushy tree. Maleficent when she became the pricker garden in Sleeping Beauty.

thorn bushes

So being these thorns basically. Samson’s face summarizes how awful it would be. Thanks, Samson.

What It Actually Means:  like an uncle; kind or friendly like an uncle

Can we pause and appreciate the awesome coupling there? Avuncular means like an uncle. Nothing has ever made me so happy. That’s perfect.

Punctilious

What I Think It Means: On time. No idea why, it just sounds like being on time. Oh wait, because of punctual. So punctilious is like punctual’s whiny little brother..so the trait of someone who whines about being on time as a form of humble-brag.

cogsworth

If this guy’s not punctilious, who is?

What It Actually Means: very careful about behaving properly and doing things in a correct and accurate way

I wasn’t too far off. Being punctual is part of being punctilious. Cogsworth applies.

Supercilious

What I Think It Means: Clearly, this is punctilious’s twin sister who’s never on time.

Lumière_in_first_film

So Lumiere, of course.

What It Actually Means: having or showing the proud and unpleasant attitude of people who think that they are better or more important than other people

So supercilious is actually punctilious’s evil cousin.

Paucity

What I Think It Means: The pot-bellied father of punctilious and supercilious. He does things like order a three course lobster dinner on welfare.

iconic-princes

So I figured I’d just stick with the Disney theme and googled “pot bellied Disney.” This is what I got. Thanks, Internet. You never let a girl down.

What It Actually Means: a small amount of something; an amount that is less than what is needed or wanted

I was so very, very wrong here. A paucity of a gut would not be a pot-bellied gut. It’d be like a concave, starved gut. I think English missed a great opportunity here, though. Is there any word that sounds more pot-bellied than paucity? Well, pot-bellied. But paucity’s right up there.

*All definitions are from Merriam-Webster’s simple definition series.

The Punctuation Trap

I was sitting outside of my undergrad adviser’s office one day (English majors for the win!), when I heard this quote. She was advising a fellow writer/English lover at the time:

“You have a very big vocabulary. But I don’t think you should use every word. Because, the thing is, you know the words, but you’re not using them correctly.”

I snickered because I’m a jerk.

This is a really common thing for new writers, but it isn’t limited to words. I see it most often with punctuation. You know which guys I mean:?! … ;

The problem with these grammar marks is not that they’re wrong, but that they’re stealing the show. Everything new writers use them for those first few years–trailing off, adding emphasis, indicating confusion–can and should be better achieved through words and actions. Using them is like using a cliche. It’s cheating. It doesn’t really show a feeling or an emotion, except in the broadest, most ineffective strokes.

New writers reach for them to sound like more experienced writers. Lacking confidence in themselves, they bolster their text (or their feelings) with big words and obscure punctuation. Because hey, if you can use punctilious correctly and throw in a semicolon, you can’t be all bad, right? Not quite. Punctuation marks are the spices of writing. The more obscure spices, like turmeric, paprika, and sage, are great with a light touch, but pour on too much, and the dish is kaput.

The basics will get you by just fine for a very long time. A manuscript that has proper periods, commas, and quotation marks is far more impressive than a manuscript chock full of misplaced semicolons, ellipsis, and whatever you call this: “?!”. When starting out, cull the more obscure punctuation from your writing. Learn to use the standards more effectively. How can a writer indicate confusion without a question mark and exclamation point combo? How can a writer combine thoughts, but still use separate sentences?

Once they’re gone, keep them gone for years. And I mean years. (Unless you’re writing thousands of words a day, then maybe nine months. At least give yourself the amount of time it takes to make a baby.) When it has been programmed into your brain that you do not use those, when you’re so blind to them, you red-pen them without even considering if they’re appropriate, then you may open your eyes to them. When do they work? When do they emphasize instead of scream? When do they give a feeling that is best earned through their use, and not some other word or gesture? When is a semicolon really a better choice than having two sentences? (If you find an example, please share it. Because, really, when?)

There are a few, rare moments when these little guys, the lovable jerks of the grammar world, are appropriate. And when they are, that one time in an entire novel-length manuscript, use them. They can be like swear words, completely effective when used properly, or so over-used, they slip out in front of grandma.

*Edited for an ironic grammar error.

 

I’m Sexist

But I don’t mean to be.

And that’s why it pisses me off when people tell me there’s no reason for feminism or that feminism should be dead. Here’s a story.

I come from the Harry Potter generation. When I started the series, only three books had been published and I was about 11. The final book was released when I was in my late teens or early twenties, and it felt like the end of my childhood.

I remember when I read the first book. It was Christmas, snowy outside. My brother had to beg me to leave Harry for a few hours to try our luck on our parents’ old cross country skis. (We had no luck.) I made him wait until the end of the first Quidditch match, and I remember thinking about Golden Snitches and Lee Jordan the entire time I failed at skiing.

I remember this for a lot of reasons, but one of the main ones is because I was certain J. K. Rowling was a man. Any author who wrote about sports, who invented a sport, had to be a man.

I also noted that Harry was a boy, and my 11 year old self knew that men wrote about men, and only sometimes women, but women always wrote about women. (I was pretty sure I was worldly. I was not.)

Harry Potter was also a good book. It wasn’t a love story. I was pretty sure that women couldn’t write books that were well-paced with lots of action. I was pretty sure that all books written by women had fairly low action and lots of emotions, and that the plot stopped so the characters could mull around and talk. I liked books like this well enough, but they weren’t Great, like Harry Potter. Only men could write Great Books.

This is pretty obviously bullshit.

Harry Potter

But it took me awhile to realize this, and it took me longer to realize how deep rooted these beliefs ran. I still can’t tell you why I have them or where they came from.

I found out J. K. Rowling was a woman after an Internet search. (The Internet was still pretty new, and J. K. Rowling was one of the first things I Googled…before Google was a verb.) J. K. Rowling wasn’t only a woman, but she’d hidden her gender on purpose. And weirdly, that’s what bothered me the most. She wrote under her initials specifically to hide her gender, and I felt duped. I didn’t reflect on my feelings about this, or what those feelings said about me or the world. Instead, I spent my time feeling righteously outraged in the way of 11-year-olds. And really pissed that I was so invested in Harry that I’d read more of his books even though I’d been “lied to.” Weirdly, I felt like she was furthering the exact sort of sexism she was fighting against (as if my own misconceptions about her gender didn’t prove the usefulness of her writing under her initials). I believed that being aware of something automatically meant you had to fight it.

It took me a long time to admit what you’ve probably already figured out. Had JKR written Harry Potter under her real, female name, I probably would not have read it. Or, had I read it, I would have found fault with it, judging it more harshly and picking Hermione apart. I would have found fault because she was a woman where I found no fault when I thought she was a man.

This is really screwed up.

It’s more screwed up because I was a young girl who wanted to be a writer. I’d glass ceiling’d myself. I’d absorbed that young male characters were standard and that a character needed a reason to be a woman. Female wasn’t a default setting. What bothers me most now, as an adult, is that this didn’t bother me as a kid. After I’d come to terms with J. K. Rowling’s trickery, I decided to copy it and use my own initials to hide my gender. I continued to write male characters unless I had a Reason to write a female, and I continued to believe that female writers weren’t, and couldn’t be, as good as male authors. It took me a long time to realize that the women writers I loved were not the Exception to the rule, but that the rule itself was ludicrous.

So, let’s raise our beer glasses (because women can enjoy beer, too. This chick used to believe wine was for girls and beer was for boys) to the kick-ass female authors who got us through our childhood’s. I’ll start. Here’s to Megan Whalen Turner, Robin McKinley, and, Queen of the Realm, J. K. Rowling.