Posts Tagged ‘words’

I try my hardest never to judge anyone for anything, but in one specific area I sometimes fail:  I can’t stand half-arsed attempts at anything.  I just can’t bring myself to read crap writing, listen to crap music, or summon anything but indifference towards crap art, and it bugs me that people release things before they are ready for release.  If you’re going to do something, then you have to do it to the absolute best of your ability, otherwise why bother?  Why would I write, unless I can learn to do it in a way that makes my soul bleed and my heart explode?  Why create music that wouldn’t even stir a cup of coffee?  That’s not to say don’t go for it – actually, I’m saying the opposite.  If you’re going to create anything, then do it as though it were the most important thing in your life, because really it is, or should be.  Strive to change the world, or get the hell off my planet.  Nobody is born good at stuff – this takes tears and frustration and dragging your self-esteem through the shitter.  But if you want it, then how else can you get it but to challenge yourself to be better, with every note or sentence or brush stroke you put down?  And if you find yourself dissatisfied with something you’ve done, then go back to it.  Stay up all night with it.  Take it to the basement, and fight to the death until it’s either excellent / great / powerful, or ditch it entirely and keep on trucking.  You can’t ever, ever let the product dictate your limitations – it’s the other way around, and with that mindset, you really don’t have any limits.  This is key.

A plain fact is that writers have to research – we’re all very familiar with that.  I couldn’t write cold about an FBI agent or a safari guide, because I don’t know anything about being either.  If I wanted to attempt that, then I’d need to do a whole lot of learning before I began.  So that being said, something I see over and over in fiction writing is when people use the musical term “octave” incorrectly, and it goes up my arse.

Two people are engaged in adult playtime, and when a particularly stimulating thing just happened, “their voice went up an octave”.  NO IT DIDN’T!!!  They’d sound like Mickey Mouse!  An octave is the same note, raised to the next stave in the musical spectrum; that would sound ridiculous in this context, and send the love interest into fits of laughter or fear!  I’m sure it went up in pitch, maybe even volume (decibels), had a tremolo effect in there, the intonation changed, but if I was ever playing round with someone whose voice went up eight whole notes for any reason, I’d either call a doctor, an exorcist or Simon Cowell.  An octave is a very precise measure, so it would sound perfectly harmoniously musical – they would literally be singing.

To that same note – pun intended – look at the roots of words, and use them accordingly.  Octave – eight notes.  Octopus – eight tentacles.  Octet – eight people.  Octagon – eight sides.  Octapeptide – a protein fragment comprised of eight amino acids linked in a polypeptide sequence.  (OK – that last one I didn’t know without referring to my old beloved Merriam Webster).  Octogenarian, an eighty year old, octcetera octcetera octcetera.

I don’t really care what anyone writes – it is certainly none of my business.  But from a reader’s perspective, these small transgressions can have massive ramifications in how you are perceived as an author.  If you choose to write, then words are your notes, and using the wrong one is akin to Beethoven hitting a bum chord halfway through Moonlight Sonata.  One second you’re half asleep floating on a raft at midnight, and the next you’re arse-deep in cold water, thrown out and coughing up seaweed.  Words are critically important, especially if words and language are your business, and you’re asking other people to give you money in exchange for those sentences.  The worst response you can get to any creative endeavor is apathy.  It’s hard enough to shine in this overcrowded world, without giving the world a perfectly valid reason to bury you in obscurity.

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In one form or another I’ve had that “Ninja Pencil” blog theme kicking around in various guises, initially as the term used to relate to artwork I was trying to promote.  But now I’m not there any more, I’m here, a few years later, and so I’m bidding the ninjas farewell and going to train under the warrior monk Lu-Tze, from Terry Pratchett’s Thief of Time.  I obviously can’t stop thinking about time-travel.   Pratchett and Star Trek are equally responsible.  And maybe Galactica, with their jump drives and FTL technology.  I think if I need to get serious about my writing, I need to start channeling JJ Abrams or Gene Rodenberry in my pre-scriptionic meditation rituals.  And if I can channel the Great Bird of the Universe, then I’m gonna start channeling Robert Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Cliff Burton when I play guitar, and Jerry Goldsmith when I write music.

I joined the local YMCA a few days ago, and the place is great, not to mention yuge!  They’ve got a big indoor rock-wall which I’m dying to try out, and they have induction sessions which I plan on attending pretty soon.  So yesterday I swam for the first time in forever, getting to about 750 or 800 meters before they closed at 2.  I wanted to keep going, so instead I sulked in the steam-room for about forty five minutes.  It was most traumatic.  And then, for consolation, I met a friend for beers at Dave’s on Post Road in Warwick.  Yesterday was fun.  This weekend, I am doing as little as possible.

CC

There is nothing abnormal or heinous about forgetting names – I do it often.  But when you are in a situation where you do forget the name of the person to whom you are speaking, never, ever utter the phrase, “I’m sorry – I’m not good with names”.  This is a terrible thing to say.  Here’s why.

Nobody is perfect; we all understand and accept that. Nobody expects you to remember the name of everyone you encountered throughout your life – it is universally understood that this happens.  But this does not mean you don’t remember the person – you remember them probably quite well.  You recognize their face.  You remember when you last saw them; what you were doing when you bumped into them.  You probably even remember the topic of your conversation, and so the only “crime” going on here is that you forgot their label – big deal.  The person made an impression on you, you made an impression on them, and this is what truly matters.  This means something to both parties; you are secretly thrilled they remembered you, and the same is true in reverse.  Names are immaterial in this equation, when there is so much more going on.

But when you squint in discomfort, cringe, and then declare, “I’m sorry – I’m not very good with names”, you are giving off a very loud, clear and incorrect message that you don’t remember the person, and this is hurtful.  And even worse is when you try to wing it, and get it wrong.  I don’t care if you forget my name, but I care if you forget me.  I have a memorable face, and I say interesting things.  I am funny, and I made you laugh.  We talked about our cats, and I gave you a recipe for cat pie – how could you possibly not remember any of that? 

In addition, the declaration that “I’m not good with names” is purely an excuse, casting off personal responsibility for not making the effort to remember the name, and blaming it on some bullshit personal trait that has no basis in reality.  You’re fine at remembering names you need to remember, and have no problem with names of people you see frequently – remembering names takes practice, usage and requires you to commit them to memory.  We’re not good with anything until we choose to be, and so telling someone “I’m not good with names” is a subversive way of telling them that their name was not important enough for you to remember.  Holy insult, Batman!

Last month, I put this to the test.  I say hi all the time to the janitor at work; he’s a nice guy, and he knows my name, because it’s stuck on my cubicle wall.  I was once formally introduced to him ages ago, but for the life of me I could not recollect his name.  An awkward moment  presented itself where it became obvious I had forgotten his name, so I said:  “Ya know what?  I feel like an asshole right now, because we talk every day, but I cannot for the life of me remember your name.”

The guy laughed so hard he almost fell over, and then he told me his name was John.  He forgave me instantly, and even asked why I felt like I should have remembered his name, when there had never been a single occasion where I needed to know it.  I said I should know it because we speak almost daily, and I felt rude.  I sure as shit remembered his name after that, and the mutual enjoyment of each other’s company almost doubled in that moment.

So next time you forget a name, give it a shot – make absolutely sure that you communicate the message, “I may have forgotten your name, but this does not mean I forgot who you are.” 

This is a very important and powerful distinction.

I am a word geek. Etymology is up there among my favorite subjects in life.
I love words, language, where stuff can from, how it came to be known, how the words were formed and what cultural influences were involved – the more word-geekery I can find, the better. One of my favorite constructions is “plumbing”.

A plumber didn’t always just fix your toilet. “Plumber” was a collective term for anyone who worked with Lead, including roofers working with lead tiles, cannery workers canning food (prior to us learning that lead was toxic – incidentally, this is what killed English explorer John Franklin, on his expedition through the Northwest passage through the Arctic ocean), and of course, our traditionally known plumbers, who worked with lead pipes. The periodic table symbol for lead is Pb, from the Latin name of the material ‘Plumbum’.

So to “plumb the depths” of something came from when we would hang a lead weight on string, to measure the depths of a hole or body of water, which we still do today, all the time, when we go fishing. Although lead has been replaced by less toxic materials in most cases, as nobody but the most twisted of our species likes to cause Swans & Mallards to die horribly.

Plumbers’ Arse, however, is taken from the more modern phenomena of today’s plumbers failing to wear belts, and then bending over and revealing their butt-cleavage while they stop your sink from leaking. Hopefully, they do not leak themselves.

Chris