Fallen for Sign

I Love You!

I spent the past weekend attending a crash course in American Sign Language (ASL). Dustin and I have been learning and using ASL for about a year now, and while our vocabulary has gotten to be pretty good, we know we’ve been missing the Bigger Picture. We just didn’t know quite how big that was until this weekend.

We started learning ASL when a deaf man moved into our congregation. The lone woman who knew any ASL begged anyone who was available to start learning so we could help her interpret talks at the hall. About eight of us joined up and she began teaching us informally. A few who were able signed up for a night class at with Communication Services for the Deaf, and they let us mooch off their class notes. Within about a month, we had started signing small parts at the meetings, and here – a year later – most of us are comfortable enough to translate parts up to 30 minutes long with reasonable coherence.

We knew what we were doing was at least acceptable because Alan – our deaf friend – was picking up what was going on without having to look too confused. If there’s one thing that deaf people generally seem to do, it’s tell you straight out when they don’t know what you’re trying to tell them. So we felt pretty good. But we also knew it wasn’t the best because we have DVDs provided by the Watchtower society – primarily translations of the Bible – that are so astonishing in their beauty and eloquence that it makes the rest of us feel kind of like kindergarteners. I suppose that’s only fair – we’ve only been doing this for a year. But for all we watched them, it was not at all clear how we could move up to that level.

And then some arrangements were made to have a group of people come up from Colorado to help us out.

Seeing amazing sign language on a DVD is one thing – seeing someone stand right in front of you who is that good is absolutely amazing. Alan has only learned ASL recently himself, so he was just as impressed as the rest of us.

What we learned this weekend (trying to cram a five-month course into three days) was that more than anything, ASL is about the pictures you create rather than the words you know. Facial expression, classifying people and objects by location and shape, and did I mention facial expression? are SO important. I can’t quite express the amazement I feel having finally grasped this concept. It makes so much sense and seems so very simple in principle…

But now our friends from Colorado have gone home, leaving us (for now) to try and put principle into practice on our own. I’m really excited about the challenge. Learning a new language is such a rewarding and terrifying experience, all at the same time. This is the second time I’ve done it once before with any dedication (French), and I feel like I’m standing now on the brink between adequacy and actual competence, and it’s exciting.

Fiction Writing Pitfalls

Before I go too far, let me put up a disclaimer about my credentials. I am not a published fiction writer. I have had several non-fiction stories published in fairly obscure journals, but no one has ever paid me to write fiction. I hope that changes some day, but for now I do it for fun.

That being said, I do it for fun and I do it a LOT. As one of my favorite professors once said, quantity must come before quality. I see an incredible improvement in my writing over the past ten years, which is about as long as I’ve been writing any kind of fiction. My characters are more interesting, my plots less shallow, and my form much less gross.

Writing in a club, I also get to see other writers go through this transition. Sometimes, I even get to help. I really enjoy doing that. Over the years, I’ve noticed several very common problems that new writers have, and here I am to tell you all about them, in hopes that if you are also a new writer, you might be able to benefit a little.

Following are my Top Five Pitfalls of New Fiction Writers, in order of most irritating and, coincidentally, easiest to correct.

1. Not Proofreading. Proofreading is so important. This is perhaps a bigger problem in fanfiction writing than in regular fiction writing, because if you plan to submit something to a publisher, you wouldn’t dare hand it over without proofreading. When “only” fellow club members will read a piece, I suppose sometimes writers feel that it isn’t as important, but it is! Whether we mean to or not, readers judge an author on how technically correct her writing is. I mean the basics here: spelling, simple grammar, punctuation. If you proofread, you will catch all the silly mistakes and even some of the less silly ones. You will sound more intelligent and more invested. I’ll never be able to stress this enough. Practice by proofreading everything, even your emails to ma. You’ll never be sorry.

2. Making Yourself the Main Character. I’ve talked about this before. Each of us is the most interesting person we know. This is because we know ourselves better than anyone else. The problem you run into if you try to fictionalize yourself is that you are less willing to take risks with the character. This can be harmful to a character whether you’re writing interactively or alone. Your character will react to situations the same way you would react, and if you never push beyond yourself, your character will probably never appeal to anyone other than yourself. The biggest problem here is that it is almost impossible to see for yourself that your personality is stunting your character. She looks just fine to you, because of course, she is you. I think the only way to really get around this is to try writing a character (as a protagonist) who is very different from you. I mean it – think of the one person in the universe you most despise and write a story where that person retains all of her qualities but becomes the hero of the story. If you don’t find that infinitely more satisfying than writing about yourself, I’ll eat my socks.

3. Excessive Description. For the most part, this is just what it sounds like. I think many times, writers new to fiction underestimate what their reader is capable of, imagination-wise. Describing things is one of the delights of writing. Well-done descriptions can really awaken the reader’s interest, pull him in and capture his heart. Descriptions that are bulky or unnecessary serve only to annoy your reader, causing him to either question your description or lose interest entirely. There are a couple specific ways that over-descriptiveness causes trouble in writing. I’ll specifically mention my two favorites: Adjective Abuse and Metaphoric Mayhem.

Adjective Abuse: When we write, we have very specific images in our minds, and we want to convey them to our readers. Long strings of adjectives may cover all the sensual bases, but they also get in the way of letting the image form naturally in your reader’s mind. Could your “grove of maple trees whose rustling leaves had all turned red, orange, and yellow, glowing as if on fire with passion for the fall” just be a “grove of brilliantly colored maple trees”? Could your “large, grey, wrinkly, old elephant” just be a “large old elephant”? Are the images conjured really very different? The need for complex or multitudinous adjectives may depend on how important your subject is. If the subject is unimportant, drop those extra adjectives like hot potatoes. Or just potatoes. If your subject merits extra descriptive attention, ask yourself “why?” When you know the answer to that, focus on describing it in a way that will give the reader the information she needs to know without beating her over the head with images she could have conjured up for herself. Maybe that grove of maples is where your bad guy is hiding? Try “the grove of maples was aflame with color, making it difficult for his eyes to focus on what might be lurking inside.” Let your reader paint the trees with their specific colors, replete with shadows and gently blowing breeze. If describing is one of the joys of writing, filling in the descriptive holes is one of the joys of reading.

Metaphoric Mayhem: This is the one that causes me to groan aloud as I read. Metaphors and similes are beautiful things. Sometimes they can do a job that straight description simply cannot. “When he told her the news, she wavered a bit from the shock of it, looking pale and sad.” Or, “When he told her the news, she shivered where she stood like a candle flame about to go out.” Both accomplish the same thing, but the second implies so much more. The danger of metaphors is twofold, however: they can easily become too silly and can easily be used in the wrong place at the wrong time. We’ve all see those email forwards that list the best of high school metaphoric disasters: “McMurphy fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup;” “The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.” You get the picture, but it’s so ridiculous, you stare at it and completely forget what was supposed to be going on. Even a good metaphor, when used in the wrong place, can do damage to the story’s flow. “Across the ballroom, the princess spotted Lady Mavis, dressed in a gown that was brown like horse poop.” Again, you get the picture, but it completely contradicts the setting and mood.

4. Over-Wordiness. This is like point 3, but applies to every single word in what you wrote. I read some very good advice somewhere (I think perhaps it was from Stephen King’s On Writing) that said, essentially: write your story, then cut a third of it out. What’s left is what you meant to write in the first place. Here are a few very specific ways of using too many words:

Excess Inner-Monologuing: This is something I see a lot around my Nerd Club, and is one of the reasons we don’t focus too hard on the “try to avoid short posts” rule. In order to make their contributions seem important, many of our writers are inclined to add too much information about their characters’ thoughts. If describing your character’s thoughts serves no purpose in the plot, drop it. “She took the piece of pie and was reminded of childhood at her grandmother’s house. There was always a fresh pie on the windowsill every Sunday morning. Usually it was rhubarb, but sometimes it was apple. She loved apple the best.” Unless Grandma’s Pies will come back in Chapter 16 as the murder weapon, we probably didn’t need to know all that, and now we’ve lost our train of thought about what was going on in the present. This is the greatest danger: distracting your reader from the actual storyline. If the train of thought is important to the story, give it proper attention by not placing it at a point that distracts from the flow of events. “She went back to her room and sat down at her desk, heart pounding fast with the realization she’d just made. Grandma’s pies! They had been fresh on the windowsill every Saturday morning. Not just some Saturdays, but every Saturday. That was the key!”

Constant Catch-Phrasing: This is a habit we learn from speaking and sometimes forget to filter out of our writing. Many of us like to preface our statements with words like “well,” or “so,” or similar words. They add nothing except to give the narrator a hesitant voice. Such phrases can appear at the ends of sentences in the form of rhetorical questions (“isn’t it?” “right?” “don’cha know?”) or in the middle of sentences as any number of useless words. That might mean that the writer is particularly fond of a certain way of phrasing something, and although it’s okay the first time he uses it, it becomes irritating if used repeatedly. The same can be said of large or uncommon words; sprinkling them throughout a story can add flavor, but overdoing it is like over-salting your dinner. The words “just” and “actually” are my two biggest pet peeves. When proofreading your work, if you come across either of those words, ask yourself “does the meaning change if I leave it out?” You might be surprised how often you answer “no.”

5. Did I mention Long-Windedness? Okay, it’s the same as Over-Wordiness, but it’s a big one and bears repeating. In 3 and 4, I mentioned specific ways people include too many words in their stories, but after deleting excess descriptions, inner monologues, and useless adjectives, sometimes there are still too many words. This leaves your story feeling slow or bulky. The best way to catch yourself falling into these traps is to ask someone else to read your work. It can be difficult to get honesty out of a reader, but if you tell the reader what you are looking for, then it will be easier for him to tell you what he finds because he knows you aren’t expecting a report of perfection. First drafts are always too wordy. If you want to try something fun, take a story you’ve written and try to cut out half of it without damaging the plot. I don’t mean for you to save the full flavor, but see if it is possible to cut out half the words and still keep the plot – bare bones though it may be – in tact. You might be amazed.

So she says 1800 words later. But I am referring to fiction, and I think I might have at least one or two worthwhile points. Good luck!

The Narrator In My Head

Since the age of 13 or so, I have thought in narrative. Most people have some sort of inner monologue. Mine just thinks it is narrating a book. It started out as a rather self-conscious habit, a thing I started doing as I began to write my first (reeeeally terrible) novel. It was a kind of practice, I suppose, finding ways to make normal situations into something worth telling about.

As I got out of bed: “She woke up confused, still clinging to the remnants of what must have been a lovely dream.” As I waited for my mother to pick me up from school: “I was the last one left on the cement steps of the school. Well, me and the knot of boys by the beat up truck who were probably concluding a drug deal.”

Sometimes third person, sometimes first. Always in past tense, always a little over-dramatic.

Through the years since then, my inner narrative has stopped being a conscious habit. I don’t think I do it all the time, but I do catch myself at it now and then, and wonder if it makes me strange. I suppose we all ride one car or another on the Strange Train, though.

As my husband herds me into the car to go to work: “She felt about early mornings the way she felt about creamed spinach and steamed broccoli: they should only be used as punishments for especially heinous crimes.”

Perhaps the habit of thinking in narrative causes a person to be more prone to thinking that writing an autobiography is a good idea. I’ve always thought that autobiographies are the biggest ego parade it is possible to throw for yourself. Especially ones entitled “My Life So Far” (sorry, Donny Osmond). Gross. How vain must a person be before she thinks her life is so interesting that other people want to read about it?

Or maybe I’m just grouchy about celebrities whose egos are that big. If you’re already famous, can’t you wait for someone else to write your biography? Ordinary people, though, sometimes do live lives that are truly interesting. I didn’t care much for A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but I loved Running With Scissors, and I loved the scandal about the difference between fiction and memory that swirled around A Million Tiny Pieces. (That’ll be another blog some day.)

It seems to me that you either have to experience momentous events or live in momentous times before your autobiography is worth writing. At least, if you want it to become a best seller. Or be helluva funny.

In the meanwhile, I’ll just keep narrating my day to day monotony and maybe someday, some bit will be interesting enough to include in my first bestselling novel. Haha. Just you wait.

“… she concluded, and clicked ‘Publish,’ hoping someone would find her inner narrator just a little funny. Or interesting. She could settle for interesting.”

Sex & Gender in the Coe College Writing Center

Shawn, you made my day by asking. 😀 You can be my favorite this week. Ask, and you shall receive. This is the edited version. I can’t find the version where I tried to determine how many people in the WC were just talking about sex, versus how many were actually having sex. I did a survey very very late one night to compile my data. The survey consisted of me asking the three or four other people who were there their opinions on who was a virgin and who was not. No research ever conducted was more shady (or more entertaining). The verdict came up at about an even split, resulting in the quote “the virgins lose by one!” and the discovery that Star Trek geeks have at least as much sex as the rest of the world. 😉 Somehow, those bit didn’t seem worth turning in for the assignment, so out they went. Oh well.

Kyn, the studly Writing Center Mascot, the standard of manliness to which all Writing Center men aspire.

Sex and Gender Roles in the Writing Center

The Writing Center is an entire subculture of college life. In my semester-end commentary for Topics in Composition, I noted that the writing center “seems to be a refuge for nerds.” I meant this in an entirely complimentary way, as I myself am a proud owner of said title. The Writing Center frequently embodies everything you expect of a college after reading the shiny brochures they send high school seniors: Students lounge about reading or working on computers, sip coffee and occasionally take a time-out to ponder some minor philosophical point. It’s brilliant, it’s random, it’s even inspiring. There are, however, times (especially after hours) when the Writing Center takes on a slightly less sophisticated approach to life: Guildenstern* and Polonius* are involved in an animated discussion of the mating habits of TKEs, Lysander* is debating a trip to the ‘Drite, and Horatio* has climbed the pole in order to survey the chaos.

One afternoon, I sat at a Writing Center desk, working on a paper and minding my own business. Behind me, Lysander and Claudius* were talking about their respective reputations, and why neither of them can seem to find a girlfriend. “The other day,” Lysander declared, “Viola* asked if you and I were dating!” The “you and I” in question were Lysander and Claudius, who are both unquestionably (at least, if you know them) heterosexual men. Both men found this mistaken comment quite hilarious – it is not the first time Lysander has been mistaken for gay, and Claudius was amused to be inducted to that club.

What I realized at this point was how common such conversations are around the Writing Center. I long ago ceased being amazed at the nature of these conversations. Perhaps because we are an institute of learning, you would expect the conversations to remaine hinged around interpretations of Lorca or Freud, but there are days when conversations differ very little from what you might hear in Greene Hall in the early hours of the morning. Once away from the topics of academia, sex and alcohol become the preferred subjects, in that order. But why would such a group of intellectually oriented people be so fixated on such banal topics?

Sex and sexuality seems to be the primary focus of most of these off-topic discussions. Evidence of the fixation is easily apparent: pinned to the walls and taped to the tables are sheets of quotes – recorded moments of hilarity, entertaining and incriminating evidence preserved for an indefinite moment in time. Further inspection this particular afternoon revealed that over half the quotes on the wall were currently related to the subject of sex or nudity:

“I’m a sex goddess!”

“Hey Demetrius!* – what are you doing tonight?” Demetrius: “Not you.”

“What are you talking about?? EVERYBODY wants to see me naked!”

“Mom! Rosaline’s* trying to use me!”

“I can make any girl make porn noises.”

“I’m screwed because I can’t get screwed.”

“He’s well endowed, like a nice Iowa hog.”

“Abandon pants, all ye who enter here!”

Such comments may seem particularly surprising in conjunction with a sign taped to the front of the desk: “Thou shalt not be found in compromising positions whilst in the Writing Center.” The second of the Seven Deadly Sins of the Writing Center. It is not quite the mixed message it originally seems. Ten minutes of eavesdropping on any conversation will tell you that while no one plans to be caught in any compromising positions, no one has any problem talking about them. According to one consultant, “The two most frequently used words in the Writing Center [are] ‘paradigm’ and ‘ass.’”

Talking is what we do best. Although the writing center has obtained a reputation for being a central location for nerds and geeks, the consultants are eclectic and random, a sampling of people from every major and interest group, all thrown together because they share one common talent: conversation. It is this skill at the art of talking that allows us to relate to other students well enough to be of assistance to them in their writing endeavors. Through conversation, it also becomes possible for us to excel at all things; both the possible and the impossible are brought to life through the use of words, tone and inflection.

Perhaps this is the reason that the use of discussion, especially in this intellectual setting, provides something of a performance ritual for Writing Center consultants. American society today is highly disapproving of public, physical displays of male dominance. In many societies, there is an actual rite of passage which separates the men from the boys, if you will. Many tribal cultures (the Masai of Africa, for example,) use ritual and ceremony to celebrate the passage into manhood. A Masai man will spend months undergoing purification ceremonies before undergoing a ritual circumcision. Only at this point may he join the ranks of the morani (warrior class) where he may participate in cattle raids and take young girls as lovers.

Because cattle raiding and child molestation (Masai girls are allowed to have morani lovers until the age of puberty, but no later) are frowned upon by modern American society, our men must find ways to express their maturity and “manliness” in other, more socially acceptable ways. The men in the Writing Center are in a particularly unusual circumstance because their gender is so vastly outnumbered. For every male consultant, there are five female consultants, tipping the odds considerably in favor of the women should a difference of gender opinion happen to arise. In some respects, the men compete not only among themselves for attention and supremacy, but they must also compete with many of the women. It has been jokingly noted that there are more “alpha male” personalities among the female consultants than there are among the male consultants.

It is perhaps this factor exactly which is cause for frequent confusion on the part of outsiders concerning the sexual orientation of Writing Center men. Although Lysander and Claudius joked freely about being mistaken for homosexual, the problem is common to all the Writing Center men, and not all are able to take the confusion so lightly. Although our male consultants are currently all self-confidently heterosexual, they have all had their sexuality questioned – by both insiders and outsiders – at various points, regardless of physical appearance, nature of involvement on campus, or even presence of a steady girlfriend. Is there some quality unique to Writing Center men that makes them obvious targets for confusion?

“Of course,” Rosaline said in response to my question. “They’re intelligent men who are capable of function on a level above beer and partying.” Just so. Writing Center consultants are picked for these very traits. In order to work with such fragile issues as students’ self-expression, a consultant must possess a certain amount of articulation and human compassion – two traits frequently (and often mistakenly) associated with homosexuality in men.

Perhaps the recurrence of loud and enthusiastic discussion of sexual endeavors and aspirations are the way these men, trained in verbal expression and some degree of compassion, are able to affirm their true identities, both to anyone who will listen as well as to themselves. Because they don’t have a rite of passage to shape their societal identities, they must function within the parameters made acceptable by their circumstances.

While this masculinity affirmation theory may explain why male consultants are so prone to discussion of sex, it does not explain why the female consultants are every bit as likely to participate or even instigate such conversations. The very fact that we are at a liberal arts college may explain some of it; women expect to be treated as equals to men in all ways. The fact that we so vastly outnumber the men may have something to do with it as well. Where women might feel threatened to have a discussion of such bizarre topics – topics that are generally considered exclusively male fodder – in other situations, in the Writing Center, we feel safe. Safety in numbers, safety in environment, confidence in ourselves. We were hired to talk, so talk we will!

Interaction of men and women in the Writing Center is not limited to interaction on a singular basis. By this, I mean that there is a rather high rate of relationships that tend to develop between Writing Center consultants. Some days, it seems that we are something of an endogamous society (meaning that we tend to choose from our own, looking for potential mates among our own culture before looking elsewhere).

As this paper is being written, there are currently four dating couples within the writing center, one of which has plans to marry in the relatively near future. Over the past two years, there have been at least twelve proclaimed relationships (several of which involve the same people in different combinations.) One consultant proudly proclaimed that every relationship she’s had while at Coe has been with other consultants. Several others have realized, with varying degrees of alarm, that a vast majority of their relationships have also been within the Writing Center. “That’s really kind of frightening,” Guildenstern* muttered, after ticking off the “incestuous#” relationships he’s had over the past four years.

Is it a contradiction that the outside world has an overwhelming tendency to perceive our men as homosexual, while from the inside, we (at least, a certain factor of us) have a tendency to perceive them as ideal dating candidates? Mostly likely, reasons are the same. Especially among those who appreciate the Writing Center for its tendencies toward an academic atmosphere (aka, nerdiness,) there is also a logical tendency to look for such qualities in a potential mate (I use the term loosely). Those characteristics which make us appealing during the application process – the capacity to make intelligent conversation, original thought, willingness and ability to express ourselves – are also those characteristics we tend to look for in friends, and are, by the transitive properties of logic, the same qualities we look for in a potential mate.

There are, of course, those who believe that incestuous relationships within the Writing Center are something less than good ideas. In the words of several consultants who have refrained from incestuous dating:

“[Writing Center men are] all kinda strange in an alarming kind of way. I don’t think I could handle that much… eech.”

 

“Just think what would happen if they spawned…. ugh! Those kids would be such dorks…”

 

“Incestuous conferences take a terrible turn…”

There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. How we relate to each other and to the world outside the Writing Center is entirely relative.

Bibliography

Adams, Justin. “Writing Center Observations.” Assignment, Topics in Composition: Dr. Robert Marrs. April 2001.

Blauer, Ettagale. “Mystique of the Masai.” Annual Editions, Anthropology 01/02. McGraw-Hill/Dushkin: Connecticut. 2001: 73-79.

Dickson, Christa. “wit mcnuggets.” Surrideo. http://www.public.coe.edu/~crdickso/quote.html (4 January 2001).

Hooley, Kenneth. “Two Hours in the Writing Center.” Assignment, Topics in Composition: Dr. Robert Marrs. April 2001.

Wenk, Laura. “Chaos and Pandemonium: Free Time in the Writing Center.” Assignment, Topics in Composition: Dr. Robert Marrs. April 2001.

Wenk, Laura. “December Commentary.” Assignment, Topics in Composition: Dr. Robert Marrs. December 2000.

*Names have been changed to protect the guilty, but I must give credit where it is due: Quotes and input are thanks to (in no particular or incriminating order) Christa Dickson, Scott Fine, Lee Sanders, Justin Adams, Chrystal Gant, Amy Burgin, Mary Brunius, Laura Wenk, Brandon Kendhammer, Kenneth “Hobz” Hooley, Krista Geier, Shara Stough, Nicole Krueger, Jeremy Seifert, Laura Farmer, Lin Prisbey, Warren Clarida, Chris Sheppard and Jaime Crichfield.


* Names from Shakespearean plays will be used to protect the identities of those individuals involved with this research.

# The term “incestuous,” applicable to conferences between consultants, makes a disturbingly easy transition to application to relationships. No inference is being made in any way to relationships between actual blood relatives.

The Writing Mirror

In writing class today, we played the composite story game. Most people have done this at some point in their lives. Each person in a group starts a story, then every few minutes, you pass it around and then write a few sentences on someone else’s story. Eventually your story comes back to you, having gone totally haywire. Here’s my story:

Billy Bob couldn’t believe his ears. He leaned over and turned up the radio. Had he really just heard what he thought he heard? “Astonishing news this morning!” the announcer said. “We just found out that

Canada’s army has mobilized against the United States of America. Hockey-stick related injury reports are streaming in. It is speculated that the attack is indicative of Canada’s long-standing envy over America’s ‘really cool flag.’ A statement issued by the Canadian prime minister read:

‘Eh, we will trow all our best rocks and sticks at them until we can drive them away, yah? Too bad we have excessively strict gun laws which prevent us from properly defending ourselves.'” Just then, an alarm rang out signaling

that Joe should wake up. “Damn,” he thought. That was a good dream. It had been awhile since that dream; he loved it every time. Just then his wiener dog Max came into the room and peed on his new rug.

“YOU LITTLE BASTARD,” Joe screamed. He got up immediately and cleaned it up. Well, time for work I suppose, he thought. Maybe I can pick up where I left off tonight with that dream.

And there you have it. A truly brilliant act of literature, yes? Well… it could use some copyediting.

Anyway, the point of the exercise was to get us to think about different styles of writing. We went around the table and talked about how each person’s style was different, and how you could tell that from the story bits each person had written.

It is always a bit disconcerting to have someone appraise your writing style. Writing can be very personal, and we can be very touchy about it. I learned this very well working at my college’s Writing Center: you handle a person’s writing the way you would handle his ego – gently.

All we did today was say “I think so-and-so is a humors writer/soap-operatic writer/dark writer.” Not so bad, eh? But a judgment nevertheless. My writing was judged to be “nice,” that is to say – I spent my story fragments trying to lighten the mood. We had bunny rabbits with PTSD, man-eating fat boys, homicidal casino workers, and hands stretching up through pavement cracks from the depths of Hell. I guess subconsciously, I was trying to keep the tone light. I wanted to be entertained, not depressed.

So yeah, it was probably a fair assessment, and none too damaging to my ego. But it made me think about how I perceive myself as a writer too.

I know my role as an administer of my writing club: I am the one with the light touch. I am the one who is overly-sensitive to member feelings and the one who wants everyone to be happy. Clubs need people like me to protect the members from people like eq4bits, who I’ve seen leaving comments here. 😉 Clubs need people like her to help the club as a whole survive people like me, who would probably let everyone get away with twinkidom. As Shawn said during class today: “You bring balance to the Force.” Thanks, Shawn. You get points for that one.

But what about me as a writer? I have flashes, now and then, of seeing my writing from the perspective of others, and I find it very strange. Like a mini out-of-body experience. Am I always a fluffy writer? I wondered today. Hmm. Let’s see.

I just cracked down on J.K. Rowling for disclosing the imperfections of her characters. I said I wish she’d left them ideal. That doesn’t bode well for me.

My own characters are interesting enough, I think. My primary character is a young woman who is my age but very different from me. She is ambitious, where I’m a big fat sheep. She has difficulty maintaining relationships, where I think I’m pretty easy to get along with and I’ve found the love of my life. She’s been accused of murder, she’s transfered men to other places for selfish reasons. In the end, she’s a good leader, and at least she isn’t a twinky.

Hmm. Writing her up like that, she doesn’t sound very interesting. I have plans for her to fall madly in love with a man she can’t be with. I’d like her to develop some enemies. In the past, I’ve written some stories about her that have made people cry (or so they told me). I think I’m pretty good at that. I make myself cry a lot, but I’ve mentioned before how easy that is.

In the end, I guess that means my writing isn’t all roses, which is just as well. We had one member who we nearly ran out of the club for just that reason – too much positive and not enough conflict.

I suppose it is situational. Though my musings apply primarily to fiction, a predisposition toward the positive can come across in non-fiction too. Look at the perfume the government sprays all over its announcements. Oh, nevermind. Not a good example of non-fiction. But there are ways of writing letters, ways of addressing people, that are more light-handed than others. And I guess, as already mentioned, I do specialize in that. I think it is usually effective and easy to swallow, but I suppose there are times when you just need a hand from hell to come and tell it like it is.

SO not enthused.

There are certain words I don’t believe belong in the english language. “Enthused” is one of them.

I can’t remember the first time I heard this word, but I’m pretty sure I even cringed at the time. Maybe it’s a fad word, like “stoked” (a word with the same definition, but infinitely more satisfying in mental imagery), but apparently not. I think it is a word that was invented in the heat of the 90s, along with such gems as “not,” “whatever,” and “loo-hooo-ser.”

There are two different ways you can use the word “enthused.” It can be an adjective (“I am so enthused to see the Spice Girls reunite!!”) or a verb (“‘I totally love the Spice Girls,’ she enthused.”)

The second usage is by far the most awful. It somehow makes me think of raving, or head bopping, or open wounds. Not sure why, but those are the mental images I attach to that word.

You’ll never catch me being enthused or enthusing about anything. No thank you.  Regular old excitement for me.

Bazillion

I just used the word “bazillion” in a post, and noticed the spell checker didn’t object. So naturally, I decided to Wiki it. Here’s the good part:

“Imaginary words ending in the sound “-illion”, such as zillion[1] and bazillion[2], are often used as fictitious names for an unspecified, large number, by analogy to names of large numbers such as billion and trillion. Their size is dependent upon the context, but can typically be considered large enough to be unfathomable by the average human mind.

Heh heh heh. As a word nerd, I just love that.