Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hot and Hazy: Words Writers Write and Bloggers Blab, Great Blue Herons, Man Boobs and other Rambles, The Series Continues

I was going to call this series "Hot and Bothered". It seemed a good enough theme. A heat wave of possibly deadly proportions settled over the area for the week. It is 82 degrees out as I key this at 6:30 AM. It is supposed to reach, according to The Weather Channel, 103 this afternoon with heat indexes up to 115. For Arizona this is a shrug; for here it is abnormally hot. Plus we have humidity.

Therefore Hot was certainly suitable to use in the title and theme.

Since it was a series containing several posts dealing with "bothers", some for me, some for others, it also seemed appropriate using Bothered.

However, putting these words together not so much. Given the slang connotation, one long in existence and in the mind of many, the combination of "Hot and Bothered" would conjure up images not so proper for a PG rated Blog.

It is one of my pet peeves that so many fine, upstanding words have been gutterized into sexual and drug-culture slang. But this is the mind of man and such vulgarizing has always occurred and always will I imagine. Still, it is something a writer must be aware of. Nothing can kill your piece more than having everybody giggling like adolescent 15 year-olds, beer and bong-infested Frat boys or those...well, jackasses from Jackass, just because you use some street code for a private body part or sexual act.

Actually using the wrong word in any context can destroy your effort. Not only can this change your meaning, it is a distraction to the reader.  It is akin to attempting to speak in an unfamiliar language. You try to impress a beautiful French lady by saying she has the face of a flower —  "Vous avez le visage d'une fleur!" Instead, you purr in her ear, "Vous avez le visage d'un furet!"

Comparing her face to that of a ferret will probably not get you the reaction you hoped for.

Believe me I have been guilty of the wrong word faux pas many times. It can be quite embarrassing, even harm your credibility or reputation.  I wrote a poem called "Exhibition", which became quite popular at readings, but only after I changed one line and eliminated one word. The first time I ever read it publicly I was totally humiliated because of that word. I was describing a painting of a nude woman, which was very much paramount to appreciating the humor in the poem. My original line read something like:

"With breasts unrobed and arms and legs akimbo".

I finished and immediately a fellow in the audience said, "She must have been quite the contortionist to have her legs akimbo." This stole all the meaning and craft from my effort and brought him a laugh at my expense. I had wanted to show the woman was quite exposed and thought the word akimbo meant "spread wide apart". The word actually means to have your hands on your hips and your elbows pushed out and forward. If the lady had also had her feet upon her hips with her kneecaps pushed out and forward she would have been a contortionist indeed.

I changed that line to read:

"With arms down, breasts disrobed and legs audacious."

This is using the wrong word, a technical malfunction either from vocabulary deficiency or spell-check deception. It can be corrected by carefully proofreading or having someone else look over your work. But should an author be concerned about the actual content of their writing?

The obvious answer is yes. A lot depends on your audience. If you are writing a story for a children's publication you certainly want to avoid the use of certain expletives and subject matter; whereas, If you are writing for "Hustler" you will not be telling the story of a cute, fluffy bunny-rabbit's adventures in the cabbage patch.

But that is marketing. Something you do if you are out there trying to sell your stories to whatever magazines are left buying work from freelancers. The old world of words has changed. It isn't the same in many ways since I was a young man. One great difference is there is no longer an editor or publisher standing between you and having what you write in the public forum.  The Blog is here and good, bad or indifferent, Bloggers are everywhere.

Which is what I am today and probably what readership I have is also. So we are free to write what we please, put down what is in our mind, be it grand philosophic thoughts or the mundane deeds of our daily life. Some things don't change, though. What do we dare say or what should we not say in our Blog? We have no editor to put a check on whether we cross some line of good taste. We don't have some style booklet or subject framework of a newspaper or a magazine. We have nothing between what we key on the screen and the whole wide world except some form of a button saying, "Publish".

Do I have any rules for writing?

First, if you are overly concerned about what people will think of you, don't ever consider writing. It isn't going to matter how inconsequential or bland your post, chances are somebody, somewhere is not going to like it, not going to like you and is going to be highly insulted and offended for some reason over something you wrote. If this fact bothers you, then write in your journal and keep it locked up in a drawer. If everyone has to like you or agree with you or never utter a negative criticism, this is not the game for you.

I have been doing this a long time, long before the Blog, the Webpage, the World Wide Web or the Internet ever came along. I'm not a household name, hardly rich and famous and not in demand for interviews on the Today Show, but nonetheless, I am a professional writer. Why so? Because I have been published and paid for my work and that is what a professional is. I have been so in seven decades, my first published pieces in the 1950s and my last just this year. The only decade of my life in which I was not published was the 1940s, so I guess I wasn't a child prodigy. Actually, my first published-for-pay articles were when I was 11 years old. Yes, I have put my hide up on a fence post for public potshots for a long time indeed.

I've been peppered with some literary buckshot over the years. I had boxes of rejection slips. I've been praised and vilified. I had a handwritten rejection slip from a magazine editor some decades back. Now normally a handwritten rejection is a positive thing. If an editor takes the time to personally comment on your piece, even if they don't buy, it means you show promise or they want to see more of your work. Not in this case. This editor called me some very nasty, and I might add unprofessional, names and told me my story had insulted the intelligence of every person living in the Southern United States. I had the feeling if I had hand delivered my opus the good citizen's of that state would have tarred and feathered me at best.

So Rule Number One: grow a thick skin and a sense of humor.

Rule Number Two is be true to yourself and it is only second because if you don't adopt Rule Number One, you shouldn't be writing anyway. This is especially so if you are writing a Blog. When I was young and hungry to be a much-published and potentially rich writer, I wrote as a mercenary. I tried to write to the market and what I thought some editor wanted. Just like any job, sometimes you have to do it the boss' way even when you know your way is better. Not so anymore. I am an old man and I made the decision that what I write from now on will be what I want to write. In other words, I will be true to myself and write my way. I'm Blogging. No one has to read it. Besides, writing to please others eventually pleases no one.

This doesn't mean you never listen to criticism or stop trying to be a better writer. We all can learn to be better and we all make mistakes. It means, though, my content is going to be true to me and my style is going to be true to me and I'm not changing my voice because someone thinks it is not simple enough for today's reader.

However, in writing a Blog, one must be cognizant that it is out there for anyone who wishes to read. It may be someone on the other side of the world you will never meet. It may be many such strangers who pass through your domain, read your thoughts and never comment. It may also be you next door neighbor, the gang down at your favorite hangout, fellow employees where you work, your boss, your boss' wife, your best friend, your worst enemy, your parents, the people in your parent's church, or your church if you have one. It can be anyone and everyone.

This knowledge of who might be reading can become a stumbling block and keep us from good writing, true writing. I have three rules for dealing with this situation, unless, of course, you are the rare bird who truly doesn't care what anyone else thinks of you and isn't worried if everybody in your life comes to despise you.

My last rules:

Write nothing consciously or maliciously to hurt another person or betray a trust or reveal a confidentiality between you and another.

Write nothing that may harm you.  This means give it some thought before you push that publish button. For instance, did I say something that if my boss reads it I will lose my job? Or, did I say something my friends will find so insulting they will no longer be my friend? Maybe you don't need that job and don't care if you lose it and maybe you feel you don't need friends, but if you do, then maybe you want to hold off writing what you just did until another day, like publish posthumously.

This doesn't make you a sell-out or a coward. It just means you seriously consider the consequences of what you do. If you can live with the consequence, then go forth. If you will lose sleep even considering the consequences, 86 it.

My last rule is think hard and deep and long before jumping on a fellow Blogger because you disagree or feel offended by their Post. I have never known two people in my life that agreed 100% of the time on 100% of everything. There is also no right not to be offended. Part of the problem in this country anymore is everyone gets too easily offended. People get shot because someone felt they offended them somehow, perhaps they raised an eyebrow at the wrong time. Choose your battles  is what I am saying. Some are worth fighting and some are better ignored. Also remember, you want the freedom to write what you think and in your way. Give others the same freedom, even if sometimes it hurts, because most likely, you wrote something at some time that hurt someone else and they gave you a pass.

Besides I would bet that 80%, maybe even higher, of the things people get bend out of shape over and offended by are misinterpretations and not substance.

If you keep these simple rules in mind you can freely write in the way you wish about what you wish. But most important of all, be true to yourself.

Now just as a coda, I recently had a story criticized by a college professor no less. I will consider some of what was said, but whether I will change anything I don't know. I'm not impressed by the number of letters behind someone's name. One of the criticisms really bothered me though. It concerned my main character: "Is she black or white? American or Canadian? As a person, she is totally lost to me."

What the...!!!!!

This is how you determine a person? By the shade of their skin or their ethnicity? Perhaps I failed to shape this character as a living, breathing person, but the color of the characters skin or where they came from had absolutely nothing of pertinence to do with either the character or the plot or the theme of the story. This is something I have spend much of my life fighting against, this judgement of who a person is by such superficial things as race, sex, religion, etc. I made a determination several years ago not to identify my characters by race unless this had a true baring on the plot. This constance stereotyping, pigeonhole approach on film and in literature is part and parcel of continuing the suspicion and divide between we people. We need to show people as people first, not as some template of race, sex, etc.

I am surprised this professor did not assume the character was Jewish because her name was Goldie, a possible stereotypical Jewish name in some people's mind. Her name was Goldie because every female character in the story was purposely given a color as a name, Goldie, Rose and Amber. These names were part of the sub-theme of the story, beyond that they meant nothing as far as nationality, religion or whatever.

When I create a character I will give as much description as necessary for the tale. I gave Goldie's age, for that was an important detail, but I didn't give much else. I didn't say what color eyes or hair she had, how tall she was, even if she were pretty or plain, because these didn't matter. Let the reader fill in the blanks sometimes.  Give the reader the freedom to see themselves  as the character. What was the magic of radio? You couldn't see the characters, so their looks were seen in your head they way you imagined them.

If you are white, you can imagine Goldie as white; if you are black, you can see her as black. It does not matter, she is a human being facing a psychological crisis in her life. Actually, Goldie didn't even have to be a woman. It could have been a man, perhaps with a few adjustments. It could have been an Asian-American woman. Frankly, the main character could have been a Drag Queen, although I suppose if it had been about a Drag Queen people would have read more into the story than intended and taken it away from what was my subtext.

At any rate, write what is in your heart and head and don't lose sleep over what others think as long as you've been considerate to their secrets while bring true to yourself.

TO BE CONTINUED -- NEXT: The Great Blue Heron and Violations on the Trail.


Ron said...

Good advice Lar on what to take into consideration in writing a blog. Recently I was thrown off by some very negative and nasty comments to my blog. Now I realize those comments were from a "Blog Troll". I looked up the term in the Internet and that is somebody who trolls the blogs and leaves nasty and negative comments in an attempt to "get a rise"out of the blog writer. Well, he/she got a rise out of me. I fell for it. Not anymore. I shall continue to write as I have before with, of course, taking into consideration the feelings of my readers while at the same time being true to myself. No easy task but one worthwhile following.

moondustwriter said...

Appreciate the honesty and clarity of your words. I laugh as I have been published in many obscure places as a writer or as an artist since I was 14.
How many people read the Lancet?

I actually am thinking of writing a book about blogging and what I have learned ( the hard way)
I think reflecting on the heron is more my speed