Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Jesus Trigger

Zestful Blog Post #247

Indulge me today. Just indulge me.

I’ve brought up the name of various lords (or Lords, if you like) several times in this blog. Whenever I mention Jesus, I always get an unsubscribe notice for exactly one person. Never two, three, more, or zero. It’s funny, it happens whether I take the name of Jesus or God in vain, such as two weeks ago, when I wrote “But do you see how goddamned entertaining and enjoyable it is to read closely?”, or whether I mention Jesus or Christ in any sort of positive or neutral way, in the in the context of one of my metaphysical-type posts. No one seems to object to the mention of Buddha, or any ancient gods/goddesses I’ve mentioned, like Athena. None of the unsubscribers sends me any sort of message of explanation, but they really don’t have to, because the correlation seems so distinct. Sometimes I wonder what they’re thinking when they make the decision.

Like, “Eww, she said something about Jesus! I am so allergic to that Christian thing! Because there are so many hypocritical Christians out there who are actually fascists and everything!! Any reference to the historical Jesus is surely—somehow—an attempt to proselytize, or as a signal that proselytization is about to occur!! Bad blogger! Lemme outta here!”

Or like, “Eww, she cursed!! I am so allergic to cursing! I condemn cursing! This person is ungodly and perhaps even dangerous! I myself am devoted to clean language, and I myself will go to heaven if I keep doing things right!! This blogger and I have nothing in common! Bad blogger! Lemme outta here!”

Seriously, unsubscriber? You’ve been enjoying this blog, yet now you’re tapping ‘unsubscribe’ because—your identity is that tenuous? You have to protect your bubble so reactively that you’re foregoing the whole experience of Zestful Writing? You can’t just shrug off the bits you don’t like? Is there something I’m just not getting?


[Pagan piñata about to be busted during a Catholic festival in Mexico. Yes! Piñatas were used by the Aztecs to celebrate the birthday of Huitzilopochtli. You remember that popular war god, right?! [photo by ES]]

I swear and use vulgar language fairly liberally in real life. (If you’ve ever spent so much as half an hour with me over a cup of coffee or glass of wine, you’re like, yeah, Elizabeth, no shit.) And I put curse words and vulgar talk in the mouths of some of my fictional characters, especially my first-person ones. Why? For one thing, it’s a comfort zone, and bad language can break tension in a scene, or even add humor. And I feel it’s only honest to permit my characters to swear because I swear, and I feel it’s only honest for me to swear occasionally in this blog.

Last week, in the context of reviewing the writing app Floor 23, I wrote out a Catholic children’s prayer that came to mind. You might conclude that I was brought up in a Catholic household, and you would be right. However, my parents, apart from attending church, for years owned and operated taverns in working-class neighborhoods. And we lived in a working-class neighborhood. So guess where I learned the prayers and the curses? Right! You might wonder what I believe or practice now. My current religion, if you could call it that, seems to be a mixture of Buddhism, Christianity, and paganism, sprinkled with some vestigial Catholic devotional practices.

I know writers who swear in real life but who eschew it in their fiction because they don’t want to alienate readers. Heck, I know Jewish writers who say things like, “for Christ’s sake!” but who wouldn’t put those words into the mouths of their characters. I can understand that. I’ve lost readers because of the language I use. Some have scolded me either via email or in an online review (or both—so proud of themselves). And maybe someday I’ll launch a newer, cleaner series where nobody swears, not even the lowlifes. I shudder, but it could be an interesting challenge.

Well, I have no particular conclusion to offer here. It’s just funny how the Christian God/Jesus is such a trigger, on both ends of the offense spectrum. Funny as hell.

What do you think? Did this post make you uncomfortable? If you’re a writer, do you consciously use or avoid bad language? Reasons? I’m interested. To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review of Floor 23 Writing App

Zestful Blog Post #246

I got an email the other day from a nice fellow named Patrick Krabeepetcharat inviting me to try an evidently very new writing app called Floor 23. In his words, “Floor 23 is a super minimalist writing app that aims to maximize your creative output. As you type, you only see the last few letters you have written, as the rest floats away, to be edited later.  It's a really fun and addictive writing experience that I really hope you will try for yourself.”

That is the perfect description, I found. This morning I went over to the app and signed in with Google (other options were Facebook and email). I thought for a few minutes of some kind of story, and the words ‘guardian angel’ popped into my mind, and I thought about a lonely angel, so I started there. Within seconds I was underway. It’s incredibly simple to navigate, easy to start, and kind of hypnotic once you get going. I shifted between writing the story itself, random thoughts on the story and elements of it, and the experience of using Floor 23.

I set a goal of 300 words, and had them within about 15 minutes; I regret not having timed myself. I am sure that I wound up writing 667 words in less than half an hour. As you type, a few white letters appear on the black background and swipe away from right to left as fast as you can go. If you pause on one letter, that letter appears alone. If you pause after a space, the screen is blank. The app keeps track of your word count and that’s it. When you’re done, you can hit ‘save to clipboard’ and then paste it into a Word doc or whatever. The font is Helvetica. [edit 1/13/18: It's not Helvetica, it's Geomanist.] As you’ll see if you read through my story start, you can’t backspace over a typo; you’re forced to keep going forward. I found that annoying, but of course that’s the point. Microsoft Word automatic conventions, like auto-indent, auto-capitalize of the word ‘I’, and automatic em dash after two hyphens, do not translate. I found this annoying as well, because I’m so used to those little helps, but I realize that’s the tradeoff for enforced forward motion. Maybe future versions of Floor 23 will allow for such conveniences.


[My Microsoft Surface Pro 4 with the start of a sentence in Floor 23. I often prop the device on a slant board, which brings the screen higher and puts my hands in a fairly, though not totally, neutral position. Yes, that’s a Waffle House coffee mug, is there a problem?]

The app’s main page doesn’t tell any origin story, or why it’s called Floor 23, or who Patrick Krabeepetcharat is. It does tell how much it costs, $3 per month (always genius to create a subscription app), and it offers a free 2-week trial, “no credit card,” which I appreciated. If I’d had to enter my credit card into just to try it free, I wouldn’t have. Now here’s my writing session from an hour ago, exactly as written. After that you’ll find my bottom line on this app.


Ok, the title its Lonely Guardian Angel. I'm a guardian and i'm an angel. Walking the streets with no one to guard. This is weird, but I i get it.Once you relax into it, I think this could work pretty welll. There's no backspacing or anything , but let's see if I can make wawhat used to be known as a carriage return. New paragraph.
New graph. I remember learning the prayer for your guardian angel at my mother's knee. "Angel of God, guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here, ever this day be at my side, to light, to guard, to rule, and to guide. Amen." That is the prayer I guess little Cahtholic kids learn when they're very young. Do young children still learn that prayer? When you'rel little, you have a guardian angel; when you're big, you can be one. Can you? 
This is how I write generally, mixing random, or related, thoughts in with what ever story I'm trying to tell, or explore, or get at the heart of.Ah, I wonder how long this is taking. Man, not long. I think it's been about 10 minutes, and boy crikey, I got over 200 words. Of course, these words are sessentially trash, but in here , in here somewhere, always lies the beginning, some acorn, some seed. I was going to tell a story, but it looks like I'm exploring a character. A person--guy? Gal?who wants to serve. Not part of the Guardian Angel organization that provides security in some places, some cities--k do they still do that? I've never seen one. In real life, I'd be moving on from this stream of consciouslness about now, so yearh. What I want is to see how dialogue will work here.
"So testit out," said a little voice.
Carriage return. New line, new graph? "OK," says I.
The streets are cold and empty. It dawns o on me that I might need to find somebody to guard. I was on a bus , you know the crosstown 38 once when I thin / thought a dude might ebe a terrorist, and man, did my adrenaline surge. I got ready to defend the people on the bus from this guy, who might have had an explosive vest on. As soon as he stood up to get off--no, he stood up with meaning in his eyes and determination in his manner. I got up too, and moved toward him, cuz I was gonna do the sacfifice hug. But he just turned and got off the bus. I didn't follow him, because who knew if there was some other terrorist on the bus, ready to explode HIS ver vest.When iI know I've made a little typo, whic I Im I'm seeming to do a lot here, because somehow I feel this pressure to type fast. Invisible pressure, yes. But when a typo occurs, when typing normally, I immediately backspace to fix it, almost always. I'm thinking about all the corrections I'll need to do to this piece, or would need to t do to it if I wanted to. I can see how this app could really helop a writer keep the flow going. Whether you're a newbie or an oldbie. $3 a month? getting my abacus out I see that equals $36 per year. Maybe worth it. I do like Dragon Naturally speaking, but you need privacy to write, unless you really don't care about being overheard as you expl expose your odd fits and starts. It certainly would be possible for someone looking over my shoulder to read what's being written, though you'd really have to pay pretty close attention. So I can see this app as a possible alternative, or supplement , to ordinary typing in a Word doc, or talking into Dragon's c microphone.
The End.
For anyone who has ever doubted my bravery, ask this: Who among us would post such a piece of writing for public view?

Pros:
Enforced forward motion in writing.
Extremely simple and easy to use.
No glitches in copying text to clipboard for pasting into a document.

Con (just one):
Microsoft Word automatic conventions are not supported.
(Note: no backspace function is not a con, it’s a feature.)

Bottom line: Floor 23 is a very cool app that delivers exactly what it promises. If you don’t mind a fairly heavy edit process in exchange for enforced forward motion, this app is for you. If you’re thinking about NaNoWriMo, yeah. I might add that I, personally, would expect my raw output with this app to get better over time, as I feel more comfortable slowing down and typing with more accuracy. I intend to use it more, then decide if I want to subscribe.

And what do you think? To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever.

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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Close Reading 5

Zestful Blog Post #245

My friend Jay, who is a change ringer, turned me on to Dorothy Sayers’s The Nine Tailors, which features change ringing. (Change ringing is a form of church-bell ringing, where an array of tuned tower bells is rung by a team of pullers, or ringers, in precise mathematical sequences. The effect can be hypnotic and possibly even transcendent, as prolonged, repetitive chanting can be in many religious cultures.)

I’m just getting going on this read, and am ashamed that I haven’t devoured anything by Sayers before now, in spite of recommendations from knowledgeable friends. Almost as soon as I started this one, I knew I had to do a Close Reading on it. I’m only on page 49 out of 397, and I haven’t read any plot summaries, so I’m still a virgin reader to the story. OK, we’re going to discuss one little word in the following excerpt, from page 7:

[excerpt begins]
“My dear sir, pray don’t think twice about it. Not but what I am sure Mrs. Tebbutt here would be delighted to take you in and would make you very comfortable—very comfortable indeed; but her husband is laid up with this dreadful influenza—we are suffering from quite an epidemic of it, I am sorry to say—and I fear it would not be altogether convenient, would it, Mrs. Tebbutt?”
“Well, sir, I don’t know as how we could manage very well, under the circumstances, and the Red Cow has only one room—”
“Oh, no,” said the clergyman, quickly, “not the Red Cow; Mrs. Donnington has visitors already. Indeed, I will take no denial. You must positively come along to the Rectory. We have ample accommodation—too much, indeed, too much. My name, by the way, is Venables—I should have mentioned it earlier. I am, as you will have gathered, rector of the parish.”
[excerpt ends] 

The key word here is ‘quickly’. Did you note that? A tiny granule of the story—but instantly telling. Many readers would skip right over that inconsequential little word, buried as it is among all the verbiage being spewed by the clergyman. Careless philistines, such readers would be, but perceptive ones will pause and think.

Hm, OK. There’s a reason the rector doesn’t want the visitor—as it happens, Sayers’s serial character Lord Peter Wimsey—to go to the Red Cow inn. Further reflection yields the possibility that perhaps the Red Cow is of no significance, but that perhaps the rector wants the stranger to come with him instead of anywhere else. We don’t know which possibility is right, and we don’t know what the reason is, but we know there is one. So we are on a little bit of alert with this rector. We shall watch him, and we shall attempt to discern his motive for keeping the stranger either away from the Red Cow, or with him in his rectory, on this evening.


[I might note that Sayers is as much a stylist as she is a technician. Some gorgeous prose to be enjoyed in this book, besides the more workaday passage we’re discussing here…]

We know that the author might have thrown that little adjective in as a false clue, so we must withhold judging the rector as treacherous right away, and on that basis alone. And it’s also possible that the rector has a secret yet benevolent reason to steer Lord Peter one way or another tonight. We do not wish to be made fools of!

But do you see how goddamned entertaining and enjoyable it is to read closely? We are really matching wits twice over: with the characters, and with the author. Because we wonder what the author’s motive is here: To clarify or obfuscate? To enlighten or temporarily confuse? To reward or to trick? Whatever the case, we know the author is thinking about us as well as her story. And so, engaged, we read on, our intellectual senses whetted, knowing we’re being considered equals.

The takeaway for readers is that attentiveness is always rewarded, when the author is a trusted professional. And for authors—the power of a word! One word, to color a moment, to intrigue the reader, to direct your story, if only a tiny bit! O, let us luxuriate in the gorgeous utility of the English language, even when we are so moved that we must swear!

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