Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

Mucking stalls. Freelance writing. How do they differ? I discuss.

The Unimportance of Being Earnest

The National Association of Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) has decreed that it is “Words Matter Week 2012“.

Why?  Guess we couldn’t wait for March break for the festivities to begin.

NAIWE has posted a “Blog Challenge”, the prize for which is an Amazon gift card which is more than likely not useable by non-Americans.

So why would I bother responding to the five daily blog questions in the Blog Challenge?  Well, it: a) beats coming up with a blog topic of my own; and b) could be an interesting exercise in seeing whether I can remain sincere, earnest, and non-snarky (my money’s on ‘no’).

Ready, gang?  Of course you are.  I can see you’re on the edge of your seats.  Here are the Qs:

Monday, March 5

Writers craft words into memorable phrases, stories, poems and plays. What writers make your heart sing? Why?

Irving Layton‘s poetry is unabashedly randy.  You can imagine him flinging off his khakis and running naked through a park, little Irving flapping merrily in the breeze, just for the sheer helluvit, and that amazed and tickled me when I was an undergrad.  Who knew CanLit could be naughty?

Michael Ondaatje is hard wading, but if you’re in the right frame of mind, you can submerse yourself completely in his imagery.  Like swimming through the most gloriously textured jello.  You might only get through six pages in a sitting, but they will stick with you for days afterwards.

But I have to admit that I seek out cleverness in much of what I read.  That’s why the late Douglas Adams is still top of my list of ‘people living or dead I’d invite to my ultimate dinner party’.  You can read Hitchhiker’s 30 times and it will still give you the giggles … his turn of phrase was just that good, his logic just that twisted.  I mean:  “Here, put this fish in your ear.”  “What?  Ewww!”  “Oh, come on, it’s only a little one.”  

Pure genius in words of two syllables or less.

Cynthia Heimel, the American queen of snark, is another one, and a personal role-model.  When I dial the snark up to 11, I try to channel her.

Tuesday, March 6  
What word, said or unsaid, has or could change your life? How?

Okay, the editor in me immediately wants to change this to “What word, said or unsaid, has changed, or could change, your life?”

I mean, it’s supposed to be the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors.

But I digress.

Should I be uber-obvious and say “You won the lottery”?  Nah, I’m better than that.  (Though I really, really think it would rank up there in terms of life-changing events, and I would like to humbly encourage the universe to consider my worthiness …)

So how about “reason”, because that’s what rules my life.  Or at least I attempt to let it rule my life.  Reason, as in rejecting superstition (the preceding paragraph, ahem, notwithstanding). Reason, as in refusing to let fear rule.  Reason, as in not taking anything on faith, and not accepting faith as a virtue — at least, not the faith that demands unwavering, unquestioning acceptance of things that make no sense.  Reason, as in understanding the difference between anecdotal evidence and repeatable fact.  Reason, as in question everything.  And reason, as in presenting both (or many) sides of an argument or issue in my writing, with as little bias as I can possibly muster, and letting my readership make up its own mind.  Preferably with its critical thinking skills fully engaged. This, as I see it, is what journalists are mandated to do.

I was not always reasonable.  I had to do some growing up first to understand the difference between doctrine and truth.

Wednesday, March 7
Communication breaks down when words are misused. What is the funniest or worst breakdown you’ve ever observed?

Well, there was the flyer from the local garage promising “complete insurrections” of my truck’s engine …

And one from my editor at the Canadian Sportsman, a magazine which focuses on harness racing (in which horses move at the trot or pace) and thus rarely talks about any of the other gears an equine might display.  In an article about retired racehorses going on to second careers as riding horses, said editor used the word “cantor” throughout.  I am unclear as to the religious significance of this.  (Should I out this editor as my brother?  Nah, better not.)

Thursday, March 8
What person in your life helped you understand the importance of choosing words carefully? What would you say to them if you met them today?

If I’m a grammar Nazi, I’m mere infantry compared to my mother, who would probably not be in the least amused to be compared to the head of the Gestapo.  (Fortunately Mom doesn’t venture onto the Interwebz, having developed something of a phobia for mousing.)  Throughout my childhood, and to this day, no grammatical error ever goes unnoticed or uncorrected by her eagle ear.  She is a devotee of the English language and abhors its abuse.  In the process of this constant and unrelenting policing, she created two career journalists.  And so at some point soon (because as I say, she will not see this) … I’ll thank her for never giving me an inch, and I’ll do it in person.

Friday, March 9
If you had to eliminate one word or phrase from the English language, what would it be? Why?

I have to pick just one?

Personal pet peeves include “orientate”, “hopefully” (which is a perfectly good word, used extremely imperfectly), and “irregardless”.  That people don’t get the difference between lay and lie drives me nuts, too, though I don’t suppose you can really eliminate either one from the language …

As for phrases, “It is what it is” irritates the snot out of me.  It’s meaningless!  But the vast majority of cliches make my skin crawl, truth be told (see what I did there?).

English is a malleable magpie of a tongue.  It borrows freely from more (and less) romantic languages and scripts, and changes with the tides … you only have to read a bit of Shakespeare, or even Dickens, to see how much it has transformed in a few short centuries.  So while we can try to prevail upon it with rules and admonish those who butcher it, the reality is that it’s impossible to be too unforgiving.  What you hate today will probably be either gone, or gospel, in a decade or two.

(Did I achieve the right mix of snark and sincerity?  Do tell. And l’chaim.)

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14 thoughts on “The Unimportance of Being Earnest

  1. Crafting Words is a noble profession………..!

  2. For a second there, I thought this sounded like a great idea and that maybe i should try it – for giggles and whatnot. Then I saw how well you did with it and decided to stick to writing my posts about bodily functions and oddly random merchants of death. Even when it got to the 3/6 challenge, all I could think of was “Santorum” – and that’s not good on multiple levels. My hat is off to you – well done.

  3. Being of the Hebrew persuasion, I just have to comment on the misuse of “cantor.” I’m picturing a bunch of retired racehorses draped in tallis and wearing yarmulkas, solemnly belting out a good Jewish prayer. After a nice snack of oats and lox, they stand around exchanging one-liners about their youthful indiscretions. My only question is, if they’re retired, why aren’t they in Boca?

  4. The lox would not go down particularly well, but a nice bagel is always appreciated. And who says they’re not in Boca?

  5. I am a big fan of smart snark. Love the “editor in me” comment on March 6th. A very fun read :)

  6. Reblogged this on dariacarey and commented:
    I love words, and snark. This post has some of each.

  7. Janne K on said:

    Having the right state of mind to write is imperative, and I don’t have it right now. But the least you did was amuse me and made me use the last 10minutes of my time in something good and useful!

  8. Sia A on said:

    I loved the little tirade on reason. though sometimes I do let it flop to the side, and go for the magick candy of the spirits, reason is a good shilling in your pocket.

  9. G'Day on said:

    Reblogged this on My Blog and commented:
    Writing From the Right Side of the Stall

  10. tpr2 on said:

    lol I’ve never had the snot irritated out of me…what’s it like?

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