My daughter was walking down the narrow aisle of the plane, dragging her suitcase behind her in search of our seats, when a passenger said this into her cell phone. The funny part must have been my daughter’s facial expression, since all of the passengers facing her started cracking up.
I know I have written before about swear words being part of our language, so I thought today I might write about when not to use them.
- Don’t type the ‘f’ word when you are editing someone’s work on an airplane and your daughter is inches away from you reading over your shoulder. (Unless you want to engage in a difficult conversation in a very public place.)
- Don’t have a hero who is shy or gentle use the ‘f’word to describe making love.
- Don’t teach your child the meaning of the ‘b’word unless you want him/her to use it frequently in sentences when describing dogs.
- Don't use the same damn swear word over and over and over in your damn writing. It is damn annoying.
- Don’t use any of them when stuck in traffic or while being cut off by someone unless you are totally alone (actually, just break the habit since inevitably it will come out of your mouth when your car is filled with your child and her three best friends.)
And finally, don’t, please, say any swear word into your cell phone thinking that you are somehow alone in hearing it. For those of you who don’t yet realize this, we can all still hear you. And in fact, some of us even plan our blogs around overhearing you.
"I do my best thinking in the shower."
Hear! Hear! I totally agree with this. There is something about the white noise of the water, the warmth of the steam, and perhaps the being totally naked, that allows my mind to relax and dream. I have had many aha moments while supposedly focused on washing myself. And in this I am not alone. Many people have told me this same thing happens to them.
Yet I watch my daughter, frown on her face, brows scrunched up in concentration, and wonder why this type of thinking looks like such hard work. Which is true? Do we think best when we are relaxed or when we put all our strength behind it? It appears to be a contradiction.
Forbes has a great article about what it takes to become a Strategic Leader: How to Develop 5 Critical Thinking Types
. In it the author, Holly Green, suggests that to be strategic we must be able to draw from these five types of thinking:
- Critical thinking is the mental process of objectively analyzing a situation by gathering information from all possible sources, and then evaluating both the tangible and intangible aspects, as well as the implications of any course of action.
- Implementation thinking is the ability to organize ideas and plans in a way that they will be effectively carried out.
- Conceptual thinking consists of the ability to find connections or patterns between abstract ideas and then piece them together to form a complete picture.
- Innovative thinking involves generating new ideas or new ways of approaching things to create possibilities and opportunities.
- Intuitive thinking is the ability to take what you may sense or perceive to be true and, without knowledge or evidence, appropriately factor it in to the final decision.
As I look over this list I can only see one that seems too difficult to do in the shower, critical thinking. Aside from ruining my computer, I’m not sure I would want to ruin a perfectly nice shower sorting through data.
I guess some types of thinking are
more challenging. So I have come up with the perfect answer; begin to take my
shower mid-day, after the hard work of researching and analyzing the information is complete and when all my brain needs to do is dream and plan.
“Crossword puzzles were used to send secret messages during World War II.”
This, apparently, would be one more good reason why I would make a lousy spy. As much as I adore words, my secret shame is that I can’t stand crossword puzzles. I know, you would think, being a write and all, it would be my life-blood. But no… I stare at those boxes and clues and feel downright disheartened.
Which is not to say I don’t admire those brave souls who do
tackle these tools of
torture, I do! In fact, one of my best memories of my grandfather was watching him, pen in hand, glasses slipping down his nose, as he completed an entire crossword in half the time it would have taken me to watch an episode of Dynasty
; what I certainly would have been doing while sitting with him.
The gentleman at Starbucks who was working on his went on to tell his friend that he had taken up doing cross-words in order to help with his dyslexia. Since he can’t sound words out, he has to know them like a picture in
order to use them. He also said that when he recognized the author of the crossword he would be able to get into his mind, understand how he thought, and complete the puzzle more easily.
While the dyslexia comment makes absolute sense to me, the puzzle personality seems like adding one more layer to an already complicated mission. So now, not only do you have to figure out a 10 letter word meaning ‘crazy
’ (btw – the answer is unbalanced
, in case you ever run across this one,) I also have to know that one particular author likes to use a lot of 10 letter word clues. Really? Who has time for this?
Apparently a lot of people. “According to Will Shortz, editor of the New York Times crossword puzzle, perhaps as many as 50 million people do crosswords just in America.” (courtesy of Oneacross.com
; a great site for helping – e.g. cheating – the system:>)
Still, I don’t see myself rushing out to grab the next NY Times crossword. I’d rather work on my grandfather’s other passion… the Rubix Cube.
“He looks weird.”
Three boys were using their library time to goof off, so I asked if I could help them find a book to read. One of the boys answered, cockily, “Sure, how about a book about Obama’s economic policies.” Given that he was probably eight, maybe nine years old, I sincerely doubted he even knew what an economic policy was. But, information is power, so I took all of the boys over and showed them the biography section of the library.
After a quick tutorial on how to find, alphabetically, biographies on the President, I asked the boys if any of them would want to be President someday. Not surprisingly, the cocky one said yes, but the other two shook their head. One of them, tellingly, explained that he wouldn’t want so many people to dislike him.
They looked at pictures of the President in the books, and again, the cocky one laughed and said the above overhear about our President. It was finally at this point that I lost it.
“You do not disrespect the President of the United States, ever!” I told them. “You can absolutely disagree with his, or her perhaps someday, policies or choices, but no matter what, it is a difficult job that they have taken on and they deserve our respect for that.”
It hit home…. And the boy was finally quiet. At least until after I walked away.
I will reiterate this truth I believe in, our words have power, even more so when we are speaking them as adults around children. What we say and how we say it goes right into their head and without the context to understand our emotions, they none the less pick up on our beliefs. And I am not talking about our policy beliefs… I am talking about our moral beliefs. For example, how we treat people even when we disagree with them.
To riff an old jazz song; It ain’t what you say it’s the way that you say it! That’s what gets results.
BTW - I think Obama looked very cute in the picture.
- BETTING JESSICA readers please note –
Next week I am re-releasing an updated version of BETTING JESSICA. On Thursday November 15th (a week from today) I will have a one day free promotion so that you can grab the revised version if you want it for your
Also, if you liked reading about Jessica’s foil, Cynthia, in BETTING JESSICA then you might like to read a free story about her coming out November 30th on Free Reads from the Genre-istas. Check it out at: http://freereadsfromthegenre-istas.blogspot.com/
Finally, we are looking at the end of February for the release of my next novel, UNTANGLING THE KNOT. I’ll keep everyone updated here and on my home page.
Thanks so much for sharing the journey.
“I was like crap; sorry I know that’s not an appropriate word but . . .”
All of us judge words as appropriate or not based on our version of life. For example I’m pretty sure there are not many teenagers who use the word awesome
anymore. But then I would never use the word sick
One of my early blogs had fun considering word choice:
Taking this a step further, imagine a world where every word you said gave away exactly who you were: where you were from, your sex, your age, what type of family you grew up in, and what your socio-economic standing was.
As in one of my favorite old movies, “My Fair Lady”, I came to understand language in a new way when I lived in England for a while. There were words I would learn from one person that, when said in the company of others would raise eyebrows. It was difficult for them to explain what was wrong with the word, only that it sounded rough. One such word was naff
. The Urban dictionary defines the word as:
British slang, today meaning uncool, tacky, unfashionable, worthless... or as a softer expletive, in places where one might use "fuck" as in "naff off", "naff all", "naffing about".
Without the Urban Dictionary to help me 11 years ago, I had to decide for myself how appropriate the word was for my own, personal usage and also in what company I could employ it.
It is probably telling that the women who I overheard seemed to be discussing church related activities. In this context, I can understand the apology. I can also see where language slips out unintentionally. When as a writer I am sloppy with words, the reader can feel a dissonance between the character I am describing and the one who speaks on the pages. Used purposefully in writing, however, we can give glimpses into our character’s nature and the conflicts they face in their circles of friends and acquaintances.
Glimpses like a mom who deals with her kids’ crap all day and then can’t speak about it with the lovely church ladies in her quilting circle. This is a mom most of us could relate to I think.
Politics, politics, politics…
Perhaps I am simply paying closer attention than others, but it feels like 80% of what is being talked about everywhere I go is politics right now. Not legislating mind you…. But politics; who said what about whom or which
statements are true or false, or all about the latest gaffe a candidate has made. It is enough to drive me off TV and away from Starbucks until after the election.
In a recent phone conversation with my sister in Virginia she said it has become so bad where she lives that people answer their phones, “what do you want…”
when they don’t recognize the number. Ouch.
Now more than ever we as a country should pay attention to language… as I tell my daughter all the time, words matter. And civil words matter more than most. This word civil
dates back to the late 14c, originating from the Latin, civilis
… …"relating to a citizen, relating to public life, befitting a citizen," hence "popular, affable, courteous;" alternative adjectival derivation of
civis "townsman". The sense of "polite" was in the Latin, from the courteous manners of citizens, as opposed to those of soldiers. But English did not pick up this nuance of the word until late 16c. "
(Online Etymology Dictionary Link
It is ironic that during this time England was anything but
a civil place to live. A brief overview of the 16c shows that England was at war with just about everyone… including themselves. Unable to decide if they were Catholic or Protestant, each sovereign brought in a different set of rules and beliefs and persecuted those who did not go along with it.
So, here is my question… are we in another age where the idea of civility is paramount simply for its disappearance? Fundamentalist Christians fight against radical Islamists; and those who are civil, the non-soldiers, get pulled in either direction… as if this is our only choice.
Can we make our civil voice heard? We are: a civilization, a civilized people, civilians who believe in civil rights as part of our founding principles. Perhaps right now we should worry less about the political process and more about the process of civility.
“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union…”
The gym was crowded with the morning noise of kids eager to learn (or perhaps just to see their friends). Few of them were probably paying any attention to the Preamble to the Constitution… but within the first three words
my mind was already humming the tune: you know the one… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHp7sMqPL0g
I don’t know about my readers, but for me Schoolhouse Rock was formative. Not only did I learn important history lessons (I particularly love ‘I’m Just a Bill’ about how laws are created: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyeJ55o3El0&feature=related
– though nowadays they would have to add some lines about earmarks and lobbyists;)
But I also learned about math:
), and science:
Most importantly, though, I learned about grammar. Here are a few of my favorites:
These shows are worth re-watching even now as an adult. It is truly amazing the knowledge I have forgotten, and what better way to remind myself than to bring back the songs that taught me to begin with (apologies to my teachers here, but this is pretty much true). These songs were clever, succinct and catchy… something that is clear when you see how many people still remember them. Schoolhouse Rock was broadcast on Saturday mornings beginning in 1973 and ending in 1985. Many were re-aired between 1993 and 1999 and in 2009 there were some additional songs made for direct to video.
Many parodies and spin-offs, such as Jack Johnsons’ 3R song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSM2riAEX4U
) have been released on albums and YouTube since then and point to the perseverance of the tunes and topics. Like nursery rhymes, Schoolhouse Rock formed the cultural backbone of a generation of young children. We can only hope our words as writers, as moms, as teachers and friends will ever have half as much impact.
I’ll end now having relearnt name of my most used word: an interjection. As they say on Schoolhouse Rocks… DARN! That’s the end.
The click of the basin top shutting.
Sadly I wasn’t actually on
the luxury train. I was watching a PBS special
where David Suchet, the actor who plays Agatha Christie’s Poirot, rides the train to experience it before acting in the movie as the detective. Apparently Agatha Christie rode the train a number of times prior to writing MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS
. The little details she adds, such as the clicking sound made by the basin lid being shut, are so real and true all readers can relate to them; whether they have ridden the train or not.
This is the talent of a truly great author. Mystery, of any genre, requires precise pacing in order to draw the reader into the story. The dilemma… adding details such as the above will often slow things down. So how does she do it? Let’s take an example……Now, weary of lying wakeful in the hot stuffiness of her overheated compartment, she got up and peered out.
This line, which takes place in the very first chapter of the novel, tells us much in the space of 19 words. She could have gone into detail about why the room was hot and stuffy, but the fact that she included the word 'compartment’ shows us instead…. This is a small space; a closed in space.
I now understand what it means to say lazy
writing. The act of pulling together precise words and stripping out the
unnecessary is difficult work. It takes time and thought, hard thought, to come up with the right words. A large vocabulary helps, but is not the key. Rather, I think, it is about thoughtfulness and care… playing with words until we are satisfied we have found the right one that conveys many meanings, rather than only one. It uses metaphor and glyphs to represent feeling and ideas; so that a child can be either a mouse or a puppy…
... and a sink can be a basin or a pool.
“I can’t believe I’m only half way. They shouldn’t make this so long.”
The couple next to me had received one of Starbucks treat receipts. A fantastic way for the company to encourage user feedback by offering a free drink after the customer fills out an online survey. I have received one before and have not been likewise overwhelmed by the process…. But apparently not everyone feels the same.
There is a reason short and sweet has become an adage; people appreciate conciseness and care when writing. Samuel Butler said - Brevity is very good, when we are, or are not, understood. I suppose at worst, keeping our message short runs the risk of confusion. But better that than confusion and boredom!
When I first began writing I attempted children’s stories. This led to a huge appreciation for the talent required of this genre. To fit an entire story into 250 words takes discipline, clarity of thought and an extensive vocabulary. I quickly switched to novel length adult fiction.
Still, brevity is an admirable goal... and one for which I will continue to strive. And in that vein, I believe this post has now made its point and it is time to move on.
“Blah, Blah, Blah…”
Wow! After spending a few days at the Starbucks here you would think I would have some sort of interesting overhear… But there is no way I would bore you with what’s been talked about. It definitely makes me miss my home Starbucks and the interesting, and sometimes quirky, people who frequent it.
Perhaps my brain is simply slow from being on vacation? Maybe interesting things were happening, and I was missing them.
Meanwhile though, at my daughter’s camp, the coach is singing a song about snot. Apparently you have to be smaller than a trash can to get to hear interesting things here. I was sold. I decided to do the rest of my writing while sitting in a beach chair watching the kids enjoy their camp.
It is a universal truth that camps are supposed to be fun and silly. So, why does it seem like most of the camps I find now are intensives in some sport or another? I mean, I know sports are fun… but where’s the silliness? It was oddly reassuring when I heard the coach singing this silly song.
Is it possible that we are losing the ability to act silly…even in front of kids? Over vacation we have been watching (meaning my daughter has forced upon us) a show on T.V. called Figure it Out
. My first instinct on watching the contestants get slimed was to roll my eyes. My second thought was: well, at least it is age appropriate. Now I am thinking… wouldn’t it be awesome if every time we did some sort of silly action we got slimed?
I am sure I would end up in jail… or back in preschool, if I went around sliming people for no good reason. Still, the thought made me smile.
So, I can’t slime people, but perhaps I will
return to Starbucks today and casually sing the song about snot. Hopefully they will consider it my contribution to adding a bit of silliness to the world.