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Archive for the ‘language’ Category

So, we have:

Woman without her man is nothing.

And also:

Come and eat grandma!

And slowly, even the most stubborn souls begin to see the value of punctuation.

Woman: without her, man is nothing.

Come and eat, grandma!

Oh, what a different a few dots and squiggles can make.

These are famous ones, of course. I was trying to remember a really wonderful one that wound up in print a while ago, and finally found it:

And this is all silly and a good reminder that commas are life savers (I know Ray’s family and dog are grateful for them!) … but there was a story the other day that also proved that a well-placed comma can mean the difference between winning and losing a legal battle.

I’ll admit that I’m a latecomer to the Oxford comma. I was forced to use it in grade school. But I was forced to do a lot of things with my writing in grade school, and many of them I heartily disagreed with and despised. Once I had a little more freedom to write how I wanted, I began to jettison those things I didn’t care for, and the Oxford comma fell by the wayside with the other castoffs. People have argued with me about it quite a bit over the years — which maybe says something about the folks I hang with¹ — but I have remained stubbornly against. I taught English for many years, and I taught the Oxford comma … but also made it clear that a) I didn’t use it myself and b) no one’s grade would be damaged by the decision not to use it.

But then I got my current job. I got this job, and one of the first things I had to do was edit the big, serious report we were producing. And before the editing began, I was asked to put together a style guide so that all of the people who were adding writing could try to have the same set of rules in mind as they worked and so that changes I made to text would all follow clear guidelines.

Making that style guide was, I have to admit, fun for me (which most definitely says something about the kind of person I am!). I saw the guide as my chance to lay down the law, list out my writing pet peeves, make our sleek and shiny report conform to my writing style. (Oh yes, a little power is truly a dangerous thing!)

Pretty quickly in my style-guiding I ran smack into the Oxford comma. And somehow, for reasons I couldn’t explain and can’t explain now, that comma suddenly made sense. Made perfect, why-didn’t-I-ever-see-this-before sense. And I’ve been using it ever since. (Somewhere, my 6th grade teacher is pointing, laughing, and saying, “I told you so!”)



It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices

__________

¹ This wacky-grammarians-on-my-friend-list business did not extend to the guy who came to a party I threw years ago … who smugly diagrammed the sentences of the people who spoke to him. You may think this is a clever party trick. Trust me when I tell you that it really isn’t.

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In which my title really doesn’t make any sense but is, instead, a lame attempt at a pun.

I was in a waiting room today. A doctor’s office waiting room. With lots of magazines, but also lots of books. There’s a shelf full of a rotating collection of random reading material. Today, I saw a book called Ageism and picked it up, not because I had any intention of reading about ageism, but because I thought it would make a good text for me to try another erasure poem. That’s right. I haven’t let this go yet. Wanted to give it a try using the directions for a change. So, while I waited to be called for my appointment, I poked through a couple of pages and picked out some words and phrases. Here’s the result:

Undiminished 

Implicit stereotypes are probably
Not diminished
If anything
The process of bias seems reasonable
Automatic assumptions strengthen
Following unpleasant words
Suggested in context
Regardless of evidence.

Attitudes
Not fully addressed
Join visible markers
Common discourse
Discriminatory language, comments, judgement
All context
Regardless of evidence.

Okay. I can see the value of following the instructions for how to “find” one of these poems. This one actually makes sense, unlike the ones I wrote when I was only getting a piece of the instructions right. (Somewhere, my sister Fox is shaking her head in despair, wondering when her family will ever learn to read directions before starting.)

And now that I’ve followed the rules … I may be done. We’ll see. This did give me some things to think about, however. The words, “the process of bias” practically leapt off the page at me. The process of bias. Yeah. I want to sit with that a while. Last weekend, my writers’ group critiqued the new script I’m working on for Adventures in Racism, and I’ve been thinking about the question I’m grappling with in that comic — how children learn prejudice and whether or how they can unlearn it. The process of bias. Yes. So much to think about here. Maybe this is the path I’ve been dumbly and divinely stumbling along through this whole erasure poem process … keep futzing around until I get back to Adventures, until my mind refocuses on my work.

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This past April, I didn’t write a single poem. And maybe that doesn’t matter, but it does, too. Every April since 2008 I’ve written poems. Every April since 2009, I’ve done a poem a day for the month. But this year I couldn’t make it happen. My poetry brain shut down. Part of that, surely, was rustiness — for writing in general, but definitely for poetry. I kicked myself over it. A lot. But I finally had to just let it go. It was clear that I wasn’t going to produce any poems, and I needed to move on. I had another knee surgery looming on my horizon, and I had work to do. So I moved on.

But it still ate at me.

And then today, for our third Girls Write Now genre workshop, we wrote poetry. Specifically, found poetry. No matter how many poems I write, writing poetry scares me. Always and always. And, at the close of a year in which I failed to meet my annual poetry challenge, I was more scared than I would usually be. But I have such a good time working with my mentee*, I was looking forward to today’s workshop, despite the looming threat of poetry. Our guest presenter was the amazing poet, Rupi Kaur, and she led us through the creation of our first poem of the day. She wanted us to respond to a series of questions … from the point of view of wallpaper. When she said it, my brain immediately relaxed. Because I could write anything, right? As wallpaper, there was no pressure. I didn’t need to make sense, didn’t need to be clever or “right,” I could just go with whatever came into my head. She asked questions such as, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” and “How do you feel?” And I tried to just write my answers, not worry overmuch about the line that came before or whether or not the end result would amount to anything. And the end result gets weird in places, but it works, too:

In Situ

I am thick with dried glue, stuck fast to plaster
I am lonely — who looks here? Who really sees me?
To flap free in wind, a flag proclaiming a nation …
instead, here — these dry frames blocking the sun, nails in my eyes.
I could have wrapped novels, embraced classics.
Where will I go when the family leaves, the renovation begins?
If only my stripes and curves had value, were valued —
if only I hadn’t bent to the axe blade, given myself to the pulper.
There was shine and power in that new roll,
but that doesn’t excuse bringing my sisters with me.
My sisters, who could have made their own choices.

And then moonlight drapes over me, a silver renewal, washing clean.
I feel myself then — all adornment, all quiet civility —
here, gilding these walls, creating comfort, home.

It’s weird (and that title is annoying), but there are bits that I like. And overall, I like the reminder: that I can put words together however they come together, that I don’t have to agonize over everything all the time, that I am allowed to write things that don’t work and don’t make sense and won’t stand the test of … well … anything. And it doesn’t matter. I can write nonsense and move on to the next thing. I’m amazed at how easily and often I forget that, how adeptly I construct barriers between myself and my writing.

After the wallpaper musing, we worked on erasure poems, taking texts and “finding” our poems within them by crossing out (erasing) the words we don’t want in our poem. And I found a magazine article about making cheese … and created two poems that make no sense at all but which I like very much.

(Untitled 1)

This story, perfect storm.
Community, all, fair weather,
able.
Now made the bargain
opportunities
independent,
opportunity learned.
You —
with specifics,
craft.

(Untitled 2)

I came one day —
delicious-looking.
I asked. He said.
Continued making, starting,
following, famous.

I didn’t know our privilege.
I found minutes
realized opportunity,
a hands-on reality.

She agreed.
They would.
I needed, I could.
I worked truly,
indirectly,
next.

A fun day for this rusty, gun-shy girl. Before leaving the workshop, I grabbed an article about Brazil from a travel mag … I feel more erasure poems coming on!

_____
* I have a new mentee! Naima, who I had the absolute pleasure of working with these last three years, graduated in June and is now off in college. So, in September, I was paired with Sara … and I completely adore her.

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Finally settling down to write the slice I hinted at ages ago. I’d planned to write on the day it happened, the 18th, but the story was eclipsed by my visit to my orthopedist and the discovery that I need another knee surgery. And then other slices just kept coming up. Well, today I am slice-less, and so …

On the 18th, my job hosted a meeting at the training facility for the Plumbers Union. Obviously not a place I would normally find myself, but I’m so glad I got to be there. The facility tour was fabulous. The classrooms look great — and I was quite happy to see some women in those classes — and I learned a lot of terminology I’d never heard before. My favorite of these new terms was … wait for it … the Torturous Waterway. Seriously. Could you love that more? I couldn’t. So dramatic, so powerful. I imagine raging rapids firing through some narrow, deadly, serpentine sluice.

No.

The Tortuous Waterway?

Torturous Waterway

It’s part of the flushing system in your toilet! You activate that waterway every time you use the bathroom!

I love it, love the fact that it has such a dramatic name.

Now I want to know the names of all inner machine workings. Who knows what other excellent fabulous is hidden in plain sight!

There was another fabulous term I spotted in the main hall at the center. It wasn’t a new term — in the world, or to me. It was a really old one, and I was super happy to see it on prominent display:

20160317_102536

All hail the continued use of Journeyman! This is a word that was coined at a time when language was still magic and often majestic. JOURNEYMAN. Love it.

Another wonderful part of the tour was seeing the displays created by the students. The students are given free rein. They need to show off the skills they’ve learned, but they can do that in whatever way they like. What at great teaching tool!

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Sure, the meeting was great, but this tour? It was everything!


It’s the Slice of Life Story Challenge! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!

SOL image 2014

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So, Weltschmerz. I mentioned it briefly the other day. It a depression caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state. I think of it as the opposite of Schadenfreude (taking pleasure in another’s misfortune), though it probably isn’t exactly an opposite. I said on Thursday that I tend to be more of a Weltschmerz girl than a Schadenfreude one. And despite my discovery that I can feel Schadenfreude, I am still more of a Weltschmerz girl.

An old boyfriend of mine was often annoyed with me. One source of his forever-dissatisfaction was my inability to see the world as it was. I used to have a much stronger Nellie Forbush streak than I do now. You know, Nellie Forbush, from South Pacific? I was totally that cockeyed-optimist she sang about, immature and incurably green.

It drove him nuts. I would express concern over some situation, exclaiming, “That’s not the way it’s supposed to be!” And he would pretty much lose his mind because the concerning situation in question wasn’t at all variable, it was always just the way it was. The problem was that I wanted it to be better — I wanted it to be “right” — fair, equitable, kind.

He would rail against my ideal-world vision, said I was a fool in rose-colored glasses. Yeah, he was a spectacularly bad boyfriend, truly. I kept my glasses on all the same … I eventually took them off long enough to see him clearly, thank goodness.

I think this kind of flying-in-the-face-of-what-is optimism is precisely what causes Weltschmerz. Because you hold onto that shining image of the ideal world … but then you also see the actual world, and it just breaks your heart again and again.

But, despite my illicit affair with Schadenfreude, Weltschmerz girl I remain. Knowing it’s called something, has this specific name and definition, is oddly comforting. Have you ever experienced Weltschmerz? Did you know it was called that? Does it make you feel better knowing that feeling has a name?


We’re almost halfway through the 2016 edition of the Slice of Life Story Challenge! Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the rest of the slicers are up to … and to post the link to your own slice!

SOL image 2014

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The Undoing Racism training I’m attending is two and a half days. Ours will also have a day-long follow-up session next month. It’s been really interesting so far. In part, because the information and the way it’s shared is great. In part, because the facilitators are strong. In part, because I’ve met people I’ll definitely want to keep knowing after tomorrow’s session ends. In part, because some of those people are people I’ll get to work with, and it’s great to know they’ll have the same anti-racist foundation/vocabulary I have as we work on policy and programs. And in part, because two of the group members have had the courage to open themselves and be vulnerable in front of the group.

There’s the brave honesty of one of the white men in the group who is struggling with much of what he’s been hearing. I’m impressed with this man because I think other people reacting as strongly as he is would already have left the room. But he stays. He gets red in the face, and he’s having a hard time, but he stays.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not giving this man some kind of approval cookie for sharing his anger/pain/guilt-manifesting-as-frustration/whatever. I have no cookies — other than the snickerdoodles I bought for the group this afternoon. This man will have to deal with his feelings — or not — on his own. He’s clearly challenged and uncomfortable, and he’ll have to work out what to do about that.

No. I have no cookies, but I so appreciate him because, with his decision to be open in his resistance to the training, he gives the rest of us so much to talk about. There are other people in the group who seem equally challenged — a young white woman who has shut further and further down in her inability to express her discomfort, a biracial man (European and Asian) who seems conflicted about claiming an identity — but they are much more quiet in their struggles.

When I mentioned this training Tuesday, I said I was afraid that I’d walk into the room and see only people of color. I’m quite happy that didn’t happen. Yesterday we were a group of about 30, split almost equally, POC and white. We lost a couple of people today, but were still pretty evenly split. And maybe the evenness of that split makes talking up easier for that struggling man. I don’t know.

Our second brave one is a Black woman who talked about recognizing herself yesterday as a person who protects white people, who soothes and reassures them so they will feel comfortable, so that they can know we’re not (heaven’s forfend!) talking about them when we say all this stuff about implicit bias and white privilege.

I appreciate her for her own sake but also for mine, for the fact that I recognized myself as a protector, too, but chose to process that in my head and not aloud. While it’s true that I haven’t been much of a protector of late, the pull is still there. As soon as I hear the hurt in someone’s response to what I’ve said or written, I want to reach out and let them know how great I think they, individually, are. I’ve mostly been able to refrain from doing that. And hearing the facilitators talk directly about that yesterday was a harsh spotlight for me. And a necessary one.

I knew before I’d gone through a full hour of yesterday’s session that I would want to take this training again. Today cemented that knowledge. People often take it more than once — one of the men in our group has been six times already! — but I hadn’t expected to be ready to re-up so quickly. There’s a lot to learn about how to have these kinds of conversations from watching the ways our facilitators guide conversations and push people out of their comfort zones. And the conversations change each time because, even though the training stays the same, the facilitators and groups change each time.

So curious to see what tomorrow’s work will be. And what our one-month-later session will be in April.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014

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Of course there is more to last week’s vocabulary story. Even as I was trying to figure out how “scuttle” suddenly found itself tripping off my tongue, there was a little something else poking at the side of my brain: scuttlebutt.

Here is what both Wikipedia and my dictionary have to say:

Scuttlebutt in slang usage meaning rumor or gossip, deriving from the nautical term for the cask used to serve water (or, later, a water fountain).

The term corresponds to the colloquial concept of a water cooler in an office setting, which at times becomes the focus of congregation and casual discussion. Water for immediate consumption on a sailing ship was conventionally stored in a “scuttled butt,” a butt (cask) which had been scuttled by making a hole in it so the water could be withdrawn. Since sailors exchanged gossip when they gathered at the scuttlebutt for a drink of water, scuttlebutt became Navy slang for gossip or rumours.

How does this one little word that should really never have been a word in the first place take up so much space? And how did sailors get famous for cussing when they were running around saying words like scuttlebutt? Language is so wacky.

Navy slang, people. A scuttled butt. You can’t make this stuff up.


It’s the annual Slice of Life Story Challenge, hosted by the wonderful people over at Two Writing Teachers! Every day this month, hundreds of writers will be posting their stories. Head on over and check out the other slices!

SOL image 2014

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