Thursday, June 28, 2018

Night of the Living Bandanna

Zestful Blog Post #270

Buckle up for a fast rant on spelling and usage. I know the dictionaries have given up any pretense of prescriptiveness. But here at Zestful Writing, we can still mount the barricades against the onslaught of phonetic spelling and sloppy usage.

·       The side rails of a boat are gunwales, pronounced ‘gunnels.’ They are not spelled as they are pronounced.
·       I wanted to make some wine, so I stomped some grapes and let them ferment for a while. My quilting group was getting too set in their ways, so I tried to foment revolution by making a quilt from Tyvek.
·       The cheerleaders waved their pompons. This is such a losing battle. Pompon is from the French, meaning ornamental tuft. The wide usage of pompom is a result of mishearing and not bothering to look anything the hell up.
·       The wagon wheel fell off because the linchpin failed. The linchpin of Bob Hope’s comedy was self-deprecation. The word does not relate to the verb ‘lynch.’

Let us unite.

·       The thing you put around your neck to keep the sun off is a bandanna. Many writers hesitate, then decide it must be spelled like ‘banana,’ because, well, it rhymes. No. Bandanna.
·       Although envision and envisage are similar words, few writers really know the difference. I envision that someday I might buy an RV and drive around North America. Oh, hey, I just bought an RV, and I envisage a series of trips to the national parks. Looking at it simply, to envision is to imagine something in the distant future, and to envisage is to contemplate something more immediately possible. Kind of a slippery distinction. Also, to envisage is to sort of have an opinion. I envisage Home Depot as a treacherous gauntlet that reminds me of unfinished projects.
·       Here’s a sneak peek at the finished product. It is not a covert mountain, which would be a sneak peak. The whole process piqued my interest. It did not peak my interest. When someone writes that their interest was peaked, I slam my desk in a spasm of pique.
·       One slips gaiters over one’s boots before hiking up a dusty, muddy, or covert mountain. One does not put on gators. While gators are generally docile, they don’t like to be treated so roughly. The way to remember this: you walk with a particular gait. You put on gaiters to help your walk go more comfortably.

I have more, but I feel better, so I’m gonna call it good. Do you have any peeves like these that make you seethe? To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever. [Photo by ES.]

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

You Burn What You Got

Zestful Blog Post #269

I picked up a copy of National Geographic magazine a couple of months ago, interested in the cover story on Pablo Picasso. A curator of his work was quoted as saying that Picasso’s greatest talent was “assemblage”—or synthesizing, if you like. From the article: “to sift through layered memories—a conversation with a poet, the haunting expressions in an El Greco painting, the medley of sensations from Malaga, a pot of paint in his studio.”

The curator mentioned the French expression, faire feu de tout bois: to make fire of all wood. In rural Washington state, where Marcia and I lived for seven years, most people heated primarily with wood harvested from their own property. I once commented to a neighbor that I wished we had more madrone on our property, because it was so dense and burned so well. He shrugged and said, “You burn what you got.”

I guess that’s just another way to say, quit wishing things were different and use the brains you have to make the most of the materials at hand.

 [OK, not a Picasso, not a Van Gogh, but the best I could do during an “I can paint!” phase…]

Like a homesteader, Picasso sure did make the most of what he had. Although reportedly he wasn’t such a nice guy to everybody, he was one of the most productive artists who ever lived. I admire that deeply. Lessons? You keep going, you don’t resist change. You throw things together; you stay open to the relationships between people and things. If one well runs dry, you dig another. If you get bored of one crop, you plant another. You’re open. You trust the process blindly.

Go, us.

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Off Topic

Zestful Blog Post #268

It’s rare for me to stray off the topics of writing and the writer’s life, but today I kind of have to. If you read no further than the period at the end of this sentence, I just want to say you never know how profoundly your friendship might affect someone.

Folks have been talking a lot about the recent celebrity suicides, and therefore suicide in general. I was taken aback to read a social media post by an old friend who mentioned my name among a few others as friends who helped her, during some very dark times, stay away from the brink. I’d known she was struggling on and off, and just tried to be a good friend. But I hadn’t known how much my simple friendship meant to her. What’s a good friend? Just someone, it seems, who gets in touch and wants to do stuff together. Someone who listens. Someone who can laugh. That seems to be it.

Sometimes, though, that’s not enough, and it’s not your fault. So far in my life I’ve had one friend who committed suicide; no one knew how bad things were for her until it was too late. The worst social gathering I ever attended was her funeral, where all the wonderful hundreds of people who loved her were there. Beautiful day. Everybody was there except her. She was still lying on a slab in the morgue with a purple face and a groove around her neck from the rope. The family was too shattered to decide what to do with her just yet.

I read another social media post where someone pointed out that when an airplane decompresses, they tell you to put on your oxygen mask before helping others. So yeah. Check on yourself. How are you doing? Breathe normally.

It’s one thing to be there if a friend reaches out when they’re staring into the abyss. Naturally, you go. You do everything you can. But somehow, I guess it’s important to listen to your gut too. Even if things don’t seem that bad, your friend needs you to suggest grabbing a cup of coffee. Or get out for a walk. Just a little something.

You might never know.

What do you think of all this? To post, click below where it says, 'No Comments,' or '2 Comments,' or whatever. [And hey, yeah, a bit of a new look for my blog; wanted to make it look a little more like my web site. Thanks, webmaster extraordinaire Marcia!]

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Everybody Skips the Begats

Zestful Blog Post #267

When I was about 12 years old, I got into a phase of wanting to explore religion. I decided a good first step would be to read the Bible from beginning to end, because it seemed that’s the way you’re supposed to read a book. Front to back. Being an experienced consumer of novels by then, I knew that skipping ahead was a sign of weak will.

Moreover, it seemed people knew the Bible stories, but nobody ever sat down and read the whole thing straight through. Nobody I knew, anyway. My family had a so-called Catholic Bible, or the Douay version, which I somehow understood to be ‘not the real thing.’

I reasoned that checking a Protestant-issue Bible out of the library would be counterproductive, because the library only granted two renewals, and I figured that such a long book with such thin pages and such small print would take me half the summer to get through. So, with some allowance money, I bought my very own pocket-sized King James version, opened it up, and started reading. As I went, I underlined passages that seemed especially relevant with a blue ballpoint pen.

As you may know, Genesis starts off with the creation story, which is halfway decent reading. But as soon as Cain slays Abel and gets banished, we learn about Cain’s wife and kids, which, who cares? This comes around the end of Chapter 4, and the chapters are pretty short in through here. We learn about Cain’s kids, and their kids, and more generations of kids. To be accurate, though, we don’t learn about them, we just learn they got born and named.

But don't even talk to me about Chapter 5.

[Other people's family trees are so boring. Photo by ES] 

Here’s where the begats really come thick and fast. And you’re like, why? I’m never going to remember these people, I’m probably never going to see them again, and yet I have to read that they existed. The narrative picks back up again in the next chapter, featuring Noah and all his cubits, then things get sloggy again. You realize, oh, hell, Noah’s got to re-populate the planet! I am in for so many more begats.

I put the book down for a few weeks and returned to Nancy Drew. When I picked it up again I stuck with it fairly well, but stalled out once more in Numbers. Yet more begats. When I got to college and took a course in the Bible as literature, I understood things a lot better. And when I asked the professor why he didn’t make us read the begats, he just shrugged and said, “Everybody skips the begats.”

So we see time-honored lessons for authors:
·       Get right going with some action on page one.
·       If you front-load your story with characters, you’ll risk losing your reader.
·       Give every character a purpose, for God’s sake.
·       Be nice to your brother and animals.

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