For the writers among us

A few thoughts and observations on that demon that haunts us ink-stained wretches:

“… writers don’t like the actual writing bit.”

“Being literate as a writer is good craft, is knowing your job, is knowing how to use your tools properly and not to damage the tools as you use them.”

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Douglas Adams, (1952 – 2001)

The above three quotes are from Douglas Adams, best known as the author of the five books of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. (I know, but that’s how he described it.) And from personal experience I can say that first quote is spot on. As well, I have written many short stories that prove the third one as well.

As for the second, that would be for the reader to determine. I like to think I write well, and use, but not abuse, the English language properly. One piece of advice I was given is “write the way you speak.” In other words, if you don’t commonly use “ten dollar words” in your daily vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing, even if you can get them half-off. You’ll sound pretentious and will probably use them wrong. My writing always uses the vocabulary and speech patterns I use in everyday communication and people have told me that when they read my stuff, they can hear my voice reading it in their minds. I consider that a compliment. The only time I vary from that is if the character requires it.

There are several other “rules” of writing that make little sense to me at least, such as “write what you know”. That may be fine if you’re writing a technical piece, but doesn’t necessarily apply if you’re writing fiction. When it comes to my fiction, many of the stories start with me asking myself “what if …?” then answering the question. How bleak would the literary world be if authors only wrote what they know? We’d have been deprived of works like J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series as well as many books that are now considered classics.

“Write what you know.” I’m a blogger – sporadically recently because there are things going on that interfere with the writing as well as Douglas Adams’s first observation – and my blogs are usually about things or events that either interest me or incense me. And given the newly elected government in Ontario, I think there’s going to be a few things that incense me. In my more honest moments, I frequently describe my blogs as “rants, raves or reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.”

One thing I read somewhere (I think it was a writer I friended on MySpace years ago) was that in order to be a writer, you must write 600 words a day. What that writer didn’t add was that it must be six hundred words you want to keep. I don’t agree with that word count. You can only write so much and if only 10 words will come that are “keepers”, then that’s ten words you don’t have to worry about later.

Many people who don’t write and don’t understand writing will often joke about the process and sometimes point to the hoary opening “It was a dark and stormy night” as an example of writing. Actually, I used that twice in one story just to see if it was possible to use it without seeming trite. Here’s what I came up with:

It was a dark and stormy night – a real nasty one – the kind I’ve come to dread ever since that night. I was sitting quietly, enjoying my beer, when I noticed the guy staring at me. I ignored him as I do anyone who is rude enough to stare. Then I sensed him coming over.

After a bit of small talk, he stopped talking and just looked at me. I looked back. “What, you want to hear about the time traveller?”

“If you wouldn’t mind telling me,” he said, signalling for refills for both of us.

I thanked him, then said, “I don’t mind telling, if you don’t mind listening. All I ask is that you don’t interrupt too much, because I don’t really like talking about it.”

He agreed and, after a sip of the beer, I started.

“It was a dark and stormy night “ I stopped as I saw him glaring at me, then I said “I know, I know – any story that starts that way has to be pure bull, right? Hear me out, then you tell me.

In the introduction to this piece I wrote “I planted my tongue firmly in my cheek and here’s the result”. I know it’s hard to tell from this short intro, but what do you think? Did I pull it off? If you like, I’ll post the entire story later this week.

Okay, let’s try to get serious for a few minutes here. Writing is, by its nature, a solitary pursuit. When you’re working on a piece, be it fiction, a blog, essay or factual, most writers don’t want anyone around to derail their train of thought. I usually have classical music playing quietly while I work. In one short story, I destroyed an entire planet with “Ride of the Valkyries” in the background. Yes, some writers say that so-and-so is their muse, their inspiration, but that doesn’t mean that muse has to be present all the time. I’m fortunate in that respect as I live alone so there are minimal interruptions.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Very true. I can’t count the times I’ve started writing something with a plan in mind only to have the characters dictate what happens through their actions. I usually just leave it since on the occasions I’ve tried to bring the story back to my vision, it didn’t work as well.  And yes, it can happen that something you’ve written will send a story off in a new direction rather than following your roadmap. I think it works this way: You write something and your mind picks up on that and asks “what if I follow that line instead?” That is what I mean by the character dictating the ensuing actions.

It seems that many good writers are also voracious readers. Not to see what the “competition” is doing, but simply for the enjoyment of the written word. No, the excuse that it cuts into writing time won’t work. Without some kind of break or diversion, your mind goes stale and your work will suffer.

And, I think I’ve done it again – started off with one idea in mind, but ended up somewhere else. I could have probably spent much less time writing this if I’d simply said “write about what interests you; write it with passion and in cohesive sentences and the readers will come.” To finish off, a quote from Robert A Heinlein (1907 – 1988), the great science-fiction writer “You must write.”

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

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How can you not know this?

My grocery store had a short survey link attached to the bottom of the cash register receipt. Since there was a chance to win a $1,000, I filled it out. I was doing fine until I came to this question:

On your most recent visit, did you have any problems that required assistance from Customer Service or other staff?

Yes
No
Don’t know

Seriously? Are you so out of touch with reality you don’t know whether or not you had a problem that required assistance from staff? It’s either “yes, I needed help locating a certain product” or “no, I found everything on my own”. This is one question that doesn’t need a “maybe” option. Or if you’re that unaware of what’s happening around you and to you, why are you out without a keeper? And, by the way, a keeper could have helped you.

I’ve seen similar questions on other surveys. Questions that should be a simple “yes” or “no” often have “don’t know” or “undecided” as options for something that either is, or isn’t. I can understand the need for a third option for some questions, such as those related to politics or world events, especially if the respondent doesn’t keep abreast of the news, but not for a question asking about a personal experience.

When your perception is based strictly upon what you observed or experienced, there is, or should be, no gray area. It should be black or white. Let’s pick a simple example: There is a certain vegetable you have tried and wouldn’t eat again. Are you going to answer “Do you like this vegetable?” when you know damn well you aren’t going to say “I don’t know.”

Is this third option on the above question a case of trying to avoid upsetting anyone or just a lack of thought on the part of the person who prepared the survey?

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love (and definite answers) too.

Oh, my answer was “No”.

Cat.

Could I have some logic with that?

I haven’t picked on commercials in a while, and there are two at the moment that bother me because they appear to treat the viewer as unable to think. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect these are being shown internationally. (I have a transportation background, so to me “international” refers to Canada/US, not overseas.)

First is a spot for the Chevrolet Malibu. The vehicle is in a showroom, surrounded by a group of people. They are asked to describe the car in one word. Among the replies is “fast”. Idiot! This is sitting in a showroom, so how the hell do you know it’s fast? It could be a real slug on the road? Case in point: back in the late seventies and early eighties, the Thunderbird had a reputation for being a car that could bring it. In the years I mention, it was powered by a 2.3 litre four. I had the same engine in my ‘81 Mercury Zephyr and even with the four speed transmission I had, there is no way I could characterize it as “fast”. So how the hell can you tell, just by looks, this Malibu is fast?

 

Next is an ad for ZZZquil. Man is lying in bed and a mechanic rolls his creeper out from under the bed and says something along the lines of (and I think I’m quoting accurately here) “your car’s in terrible shape. It needs parts I’ve never even heard of. And it’s going to cost a fortune.” Okay. Number 1, if you’ve never heard of these parts, how do you know the car needs them? As an addition to this, if you’ve never heard of them, I don’t think much of your abilities as a mechanic. And, number 2, if you have no idea what these parts are, how do you know it will be expensive to replace them?

In both these commercials, which I presume are meant to be serious, the one thing lacking is logic. In the case of the Malibu, unless that man has driven one, or been beaten by one at a stoplight drag race, how does he know how fast it is? In the Zzzquil ad, well, I asked the questions in the last paragraph.

Commercials such as these two, which talk down to viewers and potential customers, do not impress me, nor probably a lot of other people. Logic may be as rare as common sense, but some of us do possess it and don’t like being treated as if we aren’t intelligent enough to buy and use the products being hawked.

Cat.

 

Is that your high point?

I first wrote of this years ago, when I was using Blogspot, but it continues to irritate me, so here goes again.

Ontario is one of those jurisdictions that allow personalized license plates. Maximum of eight characters – letters and numbers only. Some show a lot of creativity, such as the Volvo I saw flying past me on the highway one day, well in excess of the posted limit (he must have been, because I was) with the personalized plate “NONE”.

Then there are the ones specific to the vehicle displaying them, like the white Volkswagen Rabbit with the plate “IM LATE”. Good, but if the next vehicle happens to be a minivan, the context is lost. Or “RED BMW”. As long as that person keeps buying red BMWs, fine.

But the ones that really irk me are those that celebrate a past event in the owner’s life. That is when I ask the question posed in the title. For example, I saw a vehicle one day with “SSGT RCR”, which to any former member of the Canadian armed forces can only mean the person was a Staff Sergeant in the Royal Canadian Regiment. For my non-military readers, the RCRs are a much decorated infantry regiment. As I said, with that plate, I have to ask whether the high point, the highest accomplishment of the owner, was being a non-commissioned officer in the army. What about all the years since? Has nothing else of import happened in your life since you left the service? I’m not denigrating anyone’s service to their country, I served myself, first in the Royal Canadian Engineers, then in the militia with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. But, I’m not going to get a personalized plate that reads “CPL QOR” to celebrate that fact.

No, I have something else in mind were I to get a personal plate. When I drove a cab, one customer, also a friend, told me she had my phone number listed on her cell phone as “leggy bitch” (I wore a lot of miniskirts in the cab – helped greatly with tips), so in order to avoid the censors in the Ministry of Transportation, I’d ask for “LG BEECH”. At the time, my cell phone number spelled out “legs”, so that plate would have seemed appropriate. At the moment, I have what the ministry calls “tourism plates” because they have Ontario’s official flower, the trillium, on them.

If you want personalized plates, go for it! But I would ask you to consider not commemorating something from thirty years ago.

Cat.

Kellyanne Conway explained

INTENDED AS HUMOUR OR SARCASM AND NOT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY

As a Canadian and not directly involved in the recent American election, I’ve refrained from commenting on the fallout from the results of that election except for the occasional snarky comment of other people’s Facebook posts. To be honest, Donald Trump scares the living hell out of me.  But Kellyanne Conway and some of her bizarre comments are just too tempting to resist.

If you read or watch science fiction, you are no doubt aware of the concept of alternate universes.  This concept goes a long way to explaining her comments, specifically the “Bowling Green Massacre.”    It should be obvious to even the most casual follower of news and/or politics that she is not from this planet.

An alternate universe would easily explain her comments.  In our universe (the “real” universe) Bowling Green is known as the location of GM’s Corvette assembly line.  But, in the universe usually inhabited by Ms Conway, it was the scene of a terrible massacre by terrorists.

The problem isn’t that she’s using alternative facts, it’s that with her ability to engage in interdimensional travel, she sometimes forgets which universe she’s occupying.  There, problem solved and her weird statements explained.  Think about it – what else makes sense.

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love too, no matter what universe we inhabit.

Cat.

What you should do …

DATE: Sept 1

TITLE: What you should do …

“What you should do …” is something we’ve probably heard at various times throughout out lives. The phrase is usually followed by some suggestion that, upon examination, would be of benefit only to the speaker.

If you’re trans, you probably hear this phrase more than other people. Under the guise of offering you constructive advice, they will suggest things that won’t really be of benefit to you, but will make them feel much more comfortable. In fact, their ideas would probably have an adverse effect upon your plans for the future.

Now, I’m not saying the previous paragraph applies to everyone who utters the dreaded phrase “what you should do …” is doing so for their own benefit. If you have one friend who’s opinions you trust, if they utter those words chances are they truly do have your best interests at heart.

But for those casual acquaintances, if they say “what you should do …”, what you should do – and this is the only “what you should do …” you should to – is walk away.

One more “what you should do…” you should do is enjoy the long Labour Day weekend and remember to hug an artist – we need love (and good advice) too.

Cat.

Some random thoughts

Riding the bus today, my mind wandered and touched on various items.

1 – The Region of Durham is doing some serious road work at a major intersection. This of course is causing massive traffic backups and pretty much throws bus schedules out the window. The irony in that is the construction is they are installing “bus only” lanes to speed up public transit.

2 – If you were to ask Canadians the origin of Canadian English, no doubt most, if not all, would say “England”. According to a documentary I watched, they would be indirectly correct. The documentary stated that the major influence on “Canadian English” actually came from the United States, which was settled in large part by the British. Pronunciation, definitions and some nuances are all courtesy of our friends south of the 49th parallel. Spelling is a different matter. In the 1870’s, Sir John A. Macdonald, the Prime Minister at the time was the head of the government that passed a bill that made the use of “u” in words such as colour the only official spelling. So when I use that spelling for neighbour and honour for example, I’m only following Canadian law.

3 – Watching some programmes on Germany before and during WWII. Am I the only one who sees irony in the fact that the Nazis ideal was a tall, blond, blue-eyed physical specimen while neither Hitler nor his inner circle were anywhere near that ideal?

4- This isn’t exactly a random thought, but was a private Facebook message regarding a string I was involved with, and thought about during my bus ride. I think it bears repeating here:

I am horrified by some of the postings I read from my American friends regarding their troubles with housing, medical care and employment. Granted I lost a job when I came out, but someone through church told me that if I could get my Pickering taxi licence, he’d hire me. I did and he did and I drove for seven years until I was injured. Perhaps it’s the Canadian psyche, but except for the young drunk men on Friday and Saturday nights in the cab, I’ve never had a problem. As an example of what appears to be the general view (and yes I know generalities can turn and bite me in the butt), during the last provincial election campaign, not one candidate; not one reporter from any media, nor any member of the public brought up the fact that Kathleen Wynne, the Premier of Ontario, is lesbian. Everyone stuck to the issues. I think that had this been an American election campaign, her sexuality would have overshadowed the actual issues. By the way, she won and now heads a majority government. Based on my experiences over the past twenty years, I sometimes think that my brothers and sisters in the United States would consider Canada, specifically Ontario, a trans Utopia.

Not quite, but we’re working on it.

Since it’s Friday, enjoy your weekend and remember to hug an artist, we need love too.

Cat.