Category: Writer’s Desk

all about writing, words, fiction, writing projects

Writing Style

I haven’t taken a photograph in almost a month.  I’m running out of images to use and they are getting less and less related to the actual posts they accompany.

I have spent a week considering what my writing style is.  My sister asked me if it’s important that it have a label.  I absolutely think that when you get to the point, as a writer, that you are determined to get your work in print, you must know what your style is in order to sell it.  No one will be impressed if you say “My style is undefinable”.  It is the great vanity of creative people to believe their work defies all description or labeling.

I am told that having an enormous creative crisis at this point in my project is perfectly normal.  I finished writing the second draft and promptly realized I am a total hack writer with no definable style and no consistency or true gift.  Nothing but a loser and a waste of time.  It’s been pretty spectacular.  I’ve actually been crying about it when no one’s looking.

I realize that I’m letting you know just how pathetic I’ve been behaving over this.  I’ve just been writing in such a vacuum and I am the only one to read my book and judge if the efforts have been worthwhile and I am not able to judge this.  It’s like asking me to say if I made a good enough child, to judge if I might have been better off sticking with cats.

Here’s what really worries me: if I’m to judge by Cricket and Grey what my writing style is I have to say it has multiple personality disorder.  I needed to write in both first and third person.  I struggled with that for a long time when I first started writing it.  It was agonizing until I simply accepted that I needed to write in both perspectives and got on with it.

It’s about seeing in and seeing out.

Do I need both because I’m not skilled enough to pick one and make it work?  Good question.

The other thing is that the style is both light and playful like a Georgette Heyer novel and then shifts to a grainy disturbing darkness full of nightmare and evil and gritty naked truth.

It’s like trying to blend Pride and Prejudice with The Road.

Doesn’t it seem like these are two completely incompatible styles?  So how can my style be a mix of the two?

Yet it is.  Alternating constantly between the two, rather than blending.

Everyone kept saying to step away from the second draft for a while.  My friend Angela suggested I work on some other writing project while letting the second draft breath.  So finally I opened up and dusted off the Jane Doe book I’d shoved under the bed.

There it was again.  First person and third person.  Only I never agonized over it with Jane Doe because I went on instinct alone.  No planning, no outlines, and no plot work (which explains how I got to 108, 000 words and couldn’t possibly end it and had to stash it somewhere to sleep for a while), I went with my instinct.  I just wrote like a maniac.  I wrote those hundred thousand words in less than three months.  It took me over a year to do the same with Cricket and Grey.

I spent much of yesterday rereading Jane Doe.  I was surprised by how much I like it.  How worthy the bones of it are.  The plot is a disaster and huge aspects of it need reworking but there is work there I can be proud of.

My style is as steady in it’s duality as my own personality is.  It also permeates my life, my blog writing, and my head.  To recognize it offered at least the relief of finally seeing that I do have a style.

What haunts me now is how on earth my style will ever get published?  When you pick up a book you expect to be carried along in a smooth and seamless narrative that sustains a specific mood.  There is no part of The Road that is irreverent or playful or light hearted.  Likewise there is no part of Pride and Prejudice that falters from the light social satirical mood, there are no cannibals or serial killers lurking in the bushes at Longbourn and even if there were they’d be fodder for satire as well.

My style is an unblended mix of dark and light.  Harsh and gentle.

My style is likely to give you mood whiplash.

There is the breezy irreverent mood that skims through you like a pretty little boat and then just as you’re relaxed into this kind and quirky place I take you down to hell where your eyes are gouged out by my personal demons, where I rip you to pieces with knives and there is a lot of blood.

Who the hell wants to take that trip for 300 pages?

Aside from me, I mean.  It’s the only trip I know and I’m comfortable with extreme contrasts.  It’s the only trip I’m capable of taking anyone on.  I do it all the time in my blog.  There is the visceral rich writing that is thick with images and stark with violence and then there’s all the joking about penises and Republicans.  My blog is all high contrasts.  There are two moods, two personalities in constant alternation.

Inside versus outside.

Exactly like what I show the world versus the hell in my head.

Exactly how I make light of absolutely everything and just as everyone is enjoying the breezy conversation I dump your heart full of anger, abuse, pessimism, death, and hopelessness.

I do it fast.  I never know exactly when the mood will switch but I doubt there’s a friend alive who hasn’t kind of wished I wouldn’t do that.

My writing style is:

1.  Dual points of view in the same story/piece.

2.  Alternates constantly between rich and dark with breezy and sweet.

3.  Violence is a constant theme.

I still don’t know how to succinctly label the style as I don’t think there’s a whole lot of precedence for it.  There may be a really good reason for that.  Which is what terrifies me.

Having writing crisis’ serve a purpose.  I see what my style is very clearly now.  I just have to convince myself that I can write well enough to make it work, to make people want to go on my trip.

In truth I am completely overwhelmed by how much work it takes to make a novel good enough to print.  I keep telling myself it doesn’t have to be a work of fucking art because I want to be a career novelist, not necessarily a nobel prize winner.  I just want to write.  It doesn’t have to be the most amazing thing ever.  I don’t have to put every single thing I’ve got into one story.

But I do.  It is unacceptable to me to write anything mediocre.  It is unacceptable to me to write anything less than the best I have in me.

How many years will it take me to make Cricket and Grey good enough?

How long will my family, friends, and other responsibilities wait for me to be completely present again?  Writing a worthy novel takes so much more out of you than you ever think it can.  It’s exhilarating and draining simultaneously.

If I was already published, if I already had a novel out there that was reasonably successful I know my family would not grow too impatient, but how long can they sustain patience for this endless project with no results, no reward, no success.

My writer friend Angela asked me if I’d still be writing novels even if I never got published.  I said yes.  I can’t stop this trip now.  I bought the ticket when I was ten and I’m not getting off now that I finally caught the damn train.  But if I never got published I would feel sad if I looked back and found I’d made a sacrifice of my family just to write for myself.  My garden is full of blackberry and choked with quack-grass for this writing.  You can’t write gently here and there, snatching a spare moment when one presents itself if you want to make a story come to life.  It requires you to bury yourself in it, spend shocking amounts of time ignoring absolutely everything else around you.

So if I’m not good enough to get published then it would be really nice to know that now and spare the rest of my life such criminal neglect.

My gut tells me I’m good enough.  My gut tells me that even if I’m an uncomfortable writer to read, even if my style of writing gives readers mood whiplash, it’s at least honest.  It’s the interior and the exterior in one place.  It is the reality: we require efforts at buoyancy and light in order to swallow the swords of hell without dying.  My gut tells me that my style might not be comfortable but it reflects a truth that people will understand because it reflects the order of the universe:

Dark and Light.  Yin and Yang.  Good and Evil.  Virgin and Whore.  God and Satan.  Life and Death.  Summer and Winter.  Men and Women.  Black and White.  Private and Public.  Innocence and Guilt.  Ugly and Beautiful.  Night and Day.  Truth and Lies.

I will find a way to describe this style in one small sentence or phrase.

For my own process I am going to publish a few excerpts from both Jane Doe and from Cricket and Grey that illustrate this style.  If anyone wants to weigh in and describe how they perceive my writing style I welcome it, however, this is an exercise for myself mostly so that I may concentrate on distilling my understanding of my own style so that I can go to a book agent and say “When you read my book THIS is what you’re getting.”

I have to thank all my family and friends who have patiently been coaching me out of this awful crisis.  I have been sinking pretty far this week.  Part of this is no doubt compounded by the cough and the sore throat and the stupid calf muscle.  Being sick is not easy on a crisis already in progress.

I am climbing out of my hole.

There’s much work to be done.

Cricket and Grey is Complete

I have finished the second draft of Cricket and Grey.

It took me 1 year and 26 days to get that far.

99,004 words.

Chapter eighteen is pretty bad.

Much of it is really good.

Draft three is where I make the writing even, cleaner (not content-wise!), consistent, and so good that I will find myself an agent within the year.

I am exhausted.  But that’s mostly because while pushing against my self imposed deadlines I have been dealing with my child’s increased need for intervention (we’re back to the psychologist we were seeing before, quite a relief), my mother moving in, working about 30 hours a week, cooking, making room for my mother, cleaning shit out, and getting my kid through strep throat.

I am excited to start the more delicate process of polishing the novel.

I’m going to take a mini-break from it for a few days while I re-establish healthier habits such as getting walks, bicycle rides, and Kung Fu back into my routine.  I haven’t been to Kung Fu for almost two weeks because of the strep and then I was way too overwhelmed last week as we were recovering to do anything but get through each mini-minute as it came.

I drank way too much beer and ate way too much cheese.

I have no regrets.  I don’t believe in them anyway.  I did what I had to do and that’s what I asked of myself.

I’ve never been this close to achieving something that means everything to me.  Writing was an ambition long before designing was.  Although there was no time in my life I haven’t loved fashion, it didn’t occur to me that it could be a vocation until long after knowing I was a writer.  A bad poet.  A good essayist.  A novelist.

I can tell you about 15 reasons why my life sucks right now.

But the truth is, those things that would have made me perceive my life as sucking are so much smaller than what I’m aiming for and what I’m closing in on.

I think you can bear a lot more in life when you’re fulfilling your purpose.

It can’t be denied that I have been able to maintain my more positive and philosophical outlook on what used to be the intense suckitude of my life once I changed medications last June and took a break from most social interactions to readjust myself.  Don’t anyone believe for a second I could do all this, keep from breaking down on the page every day, if it weren’t for psyche meds.

It is ironic, I think, that a major theme in my book is herbal versus western medicine and what people do when they don’t have access to modern medicine.  I know a lot of people idealizing herbal medicine.  It’s ironic because my main character Cricket is brought up to believe that herbal medicine is the only way to proceed to the future because in her lifetime modern medicine has been largely unavailable.  One of her biggest conflicts is discovering that her father worked to get modern medicine to people.

I depend on modern medicine.

This is the first time in my life I’ve completed an entire manuscript.

I wrote 108,000 words for Jane Doe but never really finished it.  There was so little plot organization that I got stuck.  Couldn’t end it.  It’s still incomplete.

I’m not going to lie, I’m very proud of myself.

Now, I need to start work (the paid job), so I’m going to leave you with two brand new words I made up to enrich your language:

enfreakened – to become freaked

embuttered – to be covered in butter

Here is a little transcript from Facebook:


If a person can become enlivened, can they also become enfreakened? If a person can become embittered can they also become embuttered?


LMAO!! Embuttered??


Yeah, why not? Paula Deen is exactly the kind of person you could apply this brand new word to. “Don’t become embuttered or you’ll start talking twang, y’all!” Or how about “To embutter the batter you simply fold it in with air…”

I’m determined to find a moment to tell someone I’m “enfreakened” this weekend. “I’m enfreakened by your embuttered state.”


My arteries are clogging just at the mention of her name. I am “enfreakened” by the notion that she uses it after she showers, like cocoa butter. Perhaps that is a form of use; Embutter: the liberal use of butter slathered on oneself as an emollient.


OH my god- I am enfreakened by the thought of being embuttered! Carolina- I have a phobia of butter getting on my fingers… that congers up a nightmare for me. On the other hand, excellent use of my brand new words! You are AWESOME!

Words are magic.

Only Half Engaged

I can’t be completely in this world while making an entire new one in my head.  My family needs me and I float somewhere just slightly out of reach because I am mapping, breathing, and thinking in a different rhythm.  I am listening to a different season, seeing a different light, and feeling life with a borrowed heart.

I am only half engaged because there is a story driving through me at breakneck speed, even though today I sat down to Chapter Eighteen, the second to the last one, and nothing would come, it felt like a charcoal silence.

Until I wrote in nightmare language.  A language I’ve always spoken.  Still, it rushes through my head and then crashes onto the page like an asteroid.  I spend time cleaning up the detritus and picking through the remains.  Which always turn out to be mine.

I’d like to remember this time.  Life is mad chaos around me.  My mother moved in with us today, we still have no idea if we’ll get to keep living here, my son is red flagging himself for help so that we spent two hours at the psychologist’s office, and I’m working a paid job and trying to parent, to avoid having the department of health and human services called on me, taking in neglected stray children, and I’m sitting on the last two chapters of the first novel I’ve ever gotten so far with.  I’m sitting on my life’s ambition, a powder keg of expectation and effort.

I want to remember how impossible getting to this point has been and yet how if you just keep doing it, keep sitting down at the desk, even if you have to stare at a blank page for an hour, it will come because it has to come.  Scratch at small words, timid brushes against the wall, keep pushing and it will burst through like a broke dam.

Have you any idea how many hundreds of times I’ve sat down to write a novel, how many times I felt it trying to break through the surface and then got in my own way?  I kept coming back to the desk, to the paper, the pens, the typewriter, the journals, the computer.  For thirty one years I’ve been sitting down to this because I had to.  The other stuff I did I did because it’s more lucrative and in some ways more fun.  The designing is a passion and a joy and pays a lot better in general than most authors can expect to make.

That’s not what I’m here to say, to record, to remember.  I get lost in details.  I’m on Chapter Eighteen and it’s coming so slowly though it explodes in my head.  It will need so much polishing and finishing and fixing, but I am so close to my own purpose my hair is catching on fire.

I can’t sleep, I need rest but I also need to get through this, get to this, get behind this.

I know that the hardest part is yet to come.  Selling it.  Selling myself.  Pitching.  I know that it would be classic to try to sell this one for years and end up selling the next project instead.  Books, decent books, take a tremendous amount of energy to write, a great deal of time, I am here to tell you that the better the book you’re reading the more work it took and as you hold that 300 page book in your hand you should know that it takes a minimum of two years to produce it.

I have to sell a novel because it is absolutely what I am here for.  This.

Though what I write here, what I’ve written on Dustpan Alley, is important too and in a different way and I think there’s more blood to drain.  It’s not over.

It is inconceivable that I will not sell a novel and even if I make very little, this is what I am here to give.  It’s all I really have of value.

My writer friend Emma said about writing the first two chapters of her first book, which she’s just commenced writing, that writing like she’s meant to be doing is life affirming.  That sticks in my head because I know exactly what she means, I feel it.

So maybe life is crazy, too full, stressful, sad (and there’s always fresh fodder), and fucked up, but it is so much more bearable when you are  are fulfilling your purpose.

So whatever yours is, think about it, ask yourself how you can pursue it, how you can be the instrument in life you were carved to be.  Don’t run from it.  Don’t be lazy.  Don’t tell yourself lies like you can’t, or that it’s not enough.  Whatever it is you’re supposed to be, whether mother, executive asshole, policeman, musician, farmer, cook, father, writer, teacher, social worker, it doesn’t matter, just do it.


It’s never too late and it’s never too early.

I must go now.  Chapter Eighteen waits.

Dissecting Story and Character

My friend Skye sent me a very useful link to a blog called Query Shark and I’ve been studying it in order to learn how to write an excellent pitch.  That’s my goal right now, to write an excellent pitch.  There is no part of  life for which such a skill is wasted.  Last Friday I spent all day long reading good queries and bad queries and trying to write my own in my head.  This exercise was illuminating.  It shed light on some serious weaknesses in my approach to my story such as the fact that I kept telling people it was about taking a dangerous trip to Portland in the future when there is no gasoline available to the public anymore and the roads are rough and good people have turned to crime.  Yes, it is, and it isn’t.

In a pitch you have to know your plot as though it was the story of your own life.  And then be god.  If you can’t say what the plot really is then you won’t ever get your story off the ground.  The thing about writing is that you can plan, plot, write organized outlines, but as you write your story will evolve.  This is what I’m learning.  So you have to keep up with your story as a writer, not just keep up but actually get ahead of it.

I know what my story is about and somewhere in the muck of my overstuffed brain is a very clear knowledge of what the core of the whole story is.  I know it all but I am tongue tied.  I can’t explain how it gets so convoluted between my head and my voice.  It’s like I know how to say it in a different language and something keeps getting lost in the translation.

It’s a story about an herbalist who’s father dies and the death taxes are too big and she has to figure out how to make enough money to save her property which is her livelihood.  But she starts finding out that her father was living a double life and she’s the only one who doesn’t know it and so she gets in lots of danger….

Oh my god.  I make myself sound like such an idiot.  YAWN.

Oh right, but the main thing is that her mother was murdered years before and her father’s death uncovers information about her mother’s murder that her father had been keeping from her.

I had to really look at the whole story and ask myself what the most important thing about it is.  Her mother’s death.  So what kind of story is it?

It’s not a mystery.  It sounds like a mystery but there’s no “who dunnit” puzzle to solve as you read.  There’s no detective with magnifying glass to the ground and “fingerprint” powder on his nose.  You get to find out who the murderer is but it doesn’t unfold like a mystery.

A mystery= character spends whole book trying to solve a puzzle.

A suspense= character spends whole book trying to stay alive and in the course of not dying figures stuff out.

The point of a mystery is who committed the crime.

The point of suspense is how a character survives a terrifying experience.

This is a suspense novel.  It doesn’t have lots of carefully laid clues, there’s no path of crumbs to the bad guy.  It’s all about stumbling into danger you didn’t know was there and running until you flush the enemy out and stand them down.

Inspector Lynly=mystery

Charade= suspense  (with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn)

There are certainly some stories that blur that line.

My head is flooded with plot and character.  I am living it and breathing it.  Since getting my head straight about the real core of the story it has become easier to re-map the plot with the little changes that keep evolving the story as I rewrite each chapter.  Characters are becoming sharper and snug little friendships are finding their tension, just as they do in real life.

I read a post by another writer in which she was talking about getting comments from editors about changes they would want to see in her book before they’d think about taking it on.  She writes how she wouldn’t listen to them because every word she wrote, every sentence is perfection and there was no way she could cut the back story to her character because it was so beautiful.


Later she admits that she wrote the backstory to make her book longer so it would be novel sized rather than be a novella.  She ends up admitting that maybe the editors had some points.

I admit that I was absolutely bowled over at the kind of arrogance it would take to suppose that several editors are wrong and she is right.  I think an author has to have an instinct for what they’re doing and there are sure to be sticking points, points that are so important to you that you would rather not publish your story than have it ruined.  Still, what I’m finding out in my experience of writing “Jane Doe” and now “Cricket and Grey” is that you have to absolutely be smitten and absorbed and completely invested in your story to write anything worth reading but how it unfolds is something that is flexible.  If the way you wrote it is confusing to a professional editor then it pays to listen and ask yourself how you can improve your plot so that readers will follow absolutely unaware of you laboring behind the words.  You want the reader not to know you’re there.

Unless that’s the specific style of the writing.

The important thing is to be willing to improve your book.

A writer serves the writing, not the other way around.

I can’t believe I just said that.  I’m going to leave it, because it’s true.

Naturally, if an editor told me they thought Grey should actually be from Wisconsin instead of Scotland I’d tell them to “EFF OFF EEDJIT!”

However, if they said “lay off the Scots slang, it’s too heavy handed” I think I’d listen.

This is where my thoughts are.  This is where my head is.  If I seem distant from friends and family right now it’s because I’m far from everyone.  If I could shut myself away to write eight hours a day, I would.

So much else still hangs uncertain in my life.  My mother is moving in with us in a few weeks.  We’ll have 3 dogs, 4 cats, and 4 people in this house.  We may have to move in three or four months.  All of us.  My kid is a handful right now.  There is the usual life drama.  I’m working hard to get my blue belt in Kung Fu in three months.  I’m working hard to make good food and I still do my official work (the one with the actual paycheck).

The story pulls at me day and night.  I can pay attention to other things for short bursts but there is an urgency now, a complete and desperate need to lock the office door, grow a beard and write.

I have so much to write here, such as a post about the Kung Fu in writing, most hated words, satisfying slang, and I still have that ableist post to finish.

It all waits.

Because I’m not here.  I’m very busy trying to simultaneously kill of and save a person.

I wonder if this is how Vonnegut felt when he wrote?  I wonder if all writers feel this way in the middle of a project?

I don’t know.

I have to go now because I have some responsibilities that have been waiting all morning while I breathed a new smuggler to life named “Butterfly” Jason Jones.

If you need me, good luck.

Straight from the Jugular is ready to see and buy!

Buy Straight from the Jugular

It’s listed up in the Blurb bookstore, though it’s unfortunately too late to order in time for Christmas.  It’s a small square book (7″x7″) with high quality paper.  It’s expensive (my personal profit is small, most of the cost is what Blurb charges per book) but I have a book this size that my brother produced (and I wish he’d make public to buy- his work is crushingly poignant) and the quality is fantastic.  The copy of his book I have is with the image wrapped cover which is my favorite option but the most expensive of them all.

Most people I know right now are broke so I doubt many people I know can buy a copy but please look at it in the preview and go to the bookstore page just to make me feel visited, okay?  If you know anyone who would enjoy looking at it too, send them to visit as well!

I’m very proud of this project.  I will be posting this on all my blogs and hopefully will learn to apply the widget to them in the side bar so anyone tripping by can jump in and look (and buy!) my sweet little collection of photographs and writing.

About the book:

This is a book of my photographs that have sparked narratives and uncovered stories.  As is true with my writing, I’m not interested in capturing only the pretty or the awe-inspiring.  I’m not interested in self portraits that show me always at my best or pictures of other people that they would put in their school yearbook.  What I look for is motion, color, transitory moments; I want to uncover the blood and the guts, the trash, and the paint underneath the paint.  I want to see the sting, the opening, the flight, and the dreams that live and die just beyond our sight.  I want to revel in the minutiae, the detritus, the flecks of light that catch us, and follow the eye where it goes when we’re not thinking too much about it.  I want to find the humor, the daily irreverence, and the jubilation of daily life.

Just like my writing, my photographs come straight from the jugular.

Straight from the Jugular project

This is my first fry project.  It has nothing to do with books.  I almost caught the oil on fire.

I’ve been taking a little break from the novel to work on a few blurb projects for Christmas presents.  I made a little book of all our pets for Max.  I know that he’ll treasure it because I scanned all the good pictures of Ozark that I could find and of the babies (Pippa and Penny) and Chick and the Chickens.  I also included a little section for all the insects and other creatures we’ve run into in our daily lives like the Praying Mantis that we found in our kitchen.  I also finally made a scrapbook of my trip to Scotland to see my dad get married.

There’s a third project I’ve been working on.  I put together a book of “wisdom” and observations with some of my very best photos called “Straight from the Jugular”.  This one I will put in the Blurb  book store so people can buy it if they like.  It’s like Dustpan Alley Lite.  I am a magpie of words and thoughts and this is the nest I’ve built with them.  It is filled with gems like this:

“Doing laundry is like taking a summer vacation in a food processing plant.”

“It doesn’t matter why you missed the bus, it doesn’t matter what might have happened if you hadn’t missed the bus.  You missed the bus.  It’s not coming back.  The best thing you can do is wait for the next one and when you catch it, enjoy the ride.”

“Invitations to grow my penis are always so tempting, and yet I still hold back.”

The subtitle I have now is “Wisdom, with more swearing” but there are surprisingly few swear words in this little book.  This book is full of things to think about, common sense, truth, ideas, observations, and some very good advice like this:

“If you and someone else exchange terribly mean words and only one of you apologizes for it:  make sure you’re the one who apologizes.”

As soon as I can come up with a good subtitle and a succinct description of this book I can proof it and offer it up for sale.  Not that I’m going to ask you to buy a copy (it’s expensive to get these printed and so selling Blurb books is a lot like selling any books: you need a magnifying glass to see the profit margin if you’re the author) but I want this to be available.  Writers have a hunger to publish.  I’m going to go the traditional route for Cricket and Grey.  I don’t think I want to self publish my novel but this little project is something I wanted to do for myself and for anyone who misses me and the headaches I give you with all the heavy thoughts I bring to this magic world.

So here are some possible subtitles (this is just a brainstorm):

  • Wisdom, with More Swear Words
  • The Bloody Truth, Common sense, and How Much Laundry Sucks
  • Still coming up with reasons not to jump after 40 years
  • Observations and Advice from a Happily Unsuccessful Suicide

Oh well.  I am dry.  I am stalled.  I’m very happy with this little book and yet I can’t even come up with an adequate subtitle or description.

It’s the little book of meditations for people who don’t float on levitational joy.

It’s the book of meditations for people who think meditation is stupid.

It’s support, thoughts, and advice to enjoy when no one else will tell it like it is. (very subjective, of course)

(I am going to end this post gracefully now, without yelling, screaming, or pounding the walls in frustration.  Shhhhhh.  I’m leaving the room now.)

The (C)Harm of Words

There is no elegant way to lead into a discussion about appropriate use of language to describe people honestly without offending every living soul on earth, so let me start by saying that I will agree with absolutely anyone who says that there are some words that should never be used by any person with a conscience, with a love of humanity, and a belief in civil rights for everyone and those words are (do I really need to say them here?  Yes, I think I do because of what’s coming afterwords):









There are more, of course, but my exposure to hateful words is limited to the hateful people I’ve been exposed to in my life and whichever particular brands of hate they swing around.  You will not find me using any of these words unless I’m writing a bigoted hateful fictional character or recounting specific dialog that I’ve had to hear in the real world.  What I’m saying is that before I go on, you need to understand that a language of hate is not the same as a language of teasing, of ridicule, or of honest social commentary.  The language of hate, racism, and bigotry is indicative of a deep ignorance and/or a severely flawed human being.

Do we understand each other?  I don’t care if two gay people call each other faggots, I will never do so.  I don’t care if two African Americans call each other niggers, it is unacceptable language for me to use because it evokes the will to burn human beings alive for the color of their skin or for their sexual orientation.  Got me?

Okay then.  Words.  I’ve been noticing a lot of attempts to remove derogatory words from everyday language.  One example of this is objecting to anyone using the expression “That’s so gay!”.  Another example is the attempt to get people to stop saying “That’s retarded!”.  A third example is an objection to people saying “She’s so crazy!”.

Here’s a human truth: we are a big huge mass of individual animals all vying for space on the planet, for space in rooms, for space in lines, for space in groups, in jobs, in families…very few people manage to live in a vacuum and most people have to deal with a large number of people every single day that they might not choose to invite into their personal sphere.  This fact creates a lot of pressure.  I don’t know how many people can claim to actually like everyone they meet (those few who have made such claims are, in my opinion, self delusional) but most of us have to deal with people we dislike, that we disapprove of, and that we disagree with about a lot of different things both important and ridiculously unimportant.

One of the ways we let off steam and attempt to either diffuse tension or to be honest about it is to express ourselves verbally.

Another uncomfortable fact: everyone in this world is given different mental capacities, different skills, different sexualities, different body shapes, different races, different combinations of races, different desires, different quirks, different levels of mental stability, different levels of creativity, and different levels of honesty:  some of these things are more universally undesirable than others.

Being born with Down Syndrome is not ideal.  You may know and love many wonderful people with Down Syndrome but I know NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON who hopes, when they are pregnant, that their child will be born with it.  That’s a fact that you can’t change just because you have a big heart.

The point I want to make is so huge I’ve avoided it for a couple of years.

For some people being born gay might be just as awesome as being born straight but there are many people who fear being gay and so on the spectrum of possible sexual orientation many people aren’t going to see being gay as an ideal sexual orientation.

We all have our separate scales and measurement of what we wish we were, what we’re glad we’re not, and we use those measurements and scales to put others into context in our lives.  It is not mean to compare ourselves to each other and every single human being does it whether they will admit to it or not.  When we describe other people we need descriptors that are informative.

If I am talking about someone who’s mentally retarded why should it be wrong for me to say what they really are?  Because they’ll be offended?  Mental retardation is a fact of some lives and in itself is not an insulting descriptor when it’s fact. Well, what if I’m trying to describe someone I met who obviously isn’t literally mentally retarded but has an obviously limited mental acuity… am I never ever supposed to mention such a thing out loud?  Am I expected to NOT NOTICE?  Am I expected to keep silence?  Will this change the fact that some people are born with more mental capacity than others, just by never mentioning it?  What is an acceptable way of describing a quality in another person that I find less than desirable?

No matter what words I use to describe a person with a limited mental acuity, I’m still saying they’re fairly dumb.  I’m still saying that they are lacking in something I find desirable.

Tell me what you think will happen when we prevent everyone in the world from ever mentioning the shortcomings we observe in others in the world?  What do you think will happen to language if we aren’t allowed to use it?  What will happen to communication if we remove every negative connotation from it and only allow ourselves to notice the good things?  What will happen if we only allow ourselves to use positive words?  I know there are those that think this would create a perfect world full of well adjusted people and no one would ever have their feelings hurt.

Bullshit.  BULLSHIT.

Why?  Because we are human beings.  I believe that every human being is just as worthy of living, no matter our shortcomings, as everyone else, but we are NOT created with equal skills, equal capacities to achieve the same things as each other, we are not all created particularly well.  We are all created differently and we will never all like each other and not talking about things doesn’t change the fact that they exist.

There are people who are assholes.  Why shouldn’t I be able to call someone an asshole?  Using strong language to describe a person who has made me feel like total crap, a person who has in one way or another disrupted my life with their meanness, their insensitivity, their crude behavior- using strong language communicates strong feelings.

I am not perfect.  I am wrong about things often enough to keep me humble.  But I reserve the right to observe people honestly and to share those observations as sharply and accurately as I can and to apologize when I find I’m wrong.  Language is one of the single most important things humans have ever accomplished.

I don’t see how straight people saying “That’s so gay” should be considered offensive.  If you have known a lot of gay people in your life (as I have) and have loved enough of them, you will firstly think “Dude, are you trying to be insulting?  Being gay is awesome!” but truthfully, it’s usually meant in a more mildly teasing manner and here’s something I have to get off my chest: some of the gay men I’ve known and especially my close friend J. who I roomed with for two years are most definitely stylistically different than all straight men.  Some gay men have a unique flamboyance of dress and approach to life which is absolutely nothing like the burly chap-wearing tough gay men nor anything like straight men in behavior or style.

When one guy says to another “Dude, that shirt is SO gay!” I actually think it’s a valid observation to make.  Because there are things J. would have worn that no straight man would ever have worn.  To observe that some gay style is definitely different than straight style shouldn’t cause offense because it is sometimes TRUE.

Well, I’m not gay so do I have a right to fight not to expunge that expression from general use?  I think I do have a right to object as a person whose greatest passion in life is language and the more colorful and descriptive language is allowed to be without being hateful the better we communicate with each other and the more truly we understand each other and the more I love it.

I’m mentally ill.  So if you won’t allow me to have a right to let people say “That’s so gay” then I submit that calling people “mental” or “crazy” is completely acceptable.  I call myself crazy all the time.  I am not crazy in the schizophrenic delusional way that requires heavy anti-psychotic medications and possible institutionalization.  However, I am clinically mentally ill, I have experienced a period of psychotic break with reality including auditory hallucinations and inability to recognize myself in a mirror which my first psychologist believes was an indication of my personality fracturing (when I was a teenager)… so when I say I’m mentally ill I’m not joking.  I’m not exaggerating.  I’m also not ashamed.

Is my mental state enviable?  Is it ideal?  Would I wish it on anyone else?

Only on my worst enemies.

So when people call someone “mental” to describe an imbalanced state of mind, I don’t see it as derogatory, though clearly no one who isn’t mentally ill wishes they could be and so calling someone “mental” or “crazy” could be considered negative and/or mean since it isn’t a quality anyone really wants to be associated with.  Still, if you are dealing with someone who is acting irrationally the easiest way to get another person to understand what you’re talking about is to compare their behavior to that of a a group of people known to be mentally imbalanced.  “Mental” gets the idea across succinctly.

People get hurt by words.  Max and I talked about this recently.  In school they were using the old stupid verse “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me…” which he said is a lie.  I agreed.  We talked about taking responsibility for how we talk to people.  We talked about trying not to hurt people with words just as much as we avoid hurting them with physical violence.

I’m not in favor of flinging hurtful words at people all the time.  But the truth always hurts someone and I’m also not in favor of living a life of lies.

Nothing is solved by expunging expressions and words from use that are judgmental or descriptive in a negative way because there are many qualities in humans that are negative and we should always be allowed to discuss them and observe them.

I suggest that the only words allowed to be expunged from use are the ones that carry with them actual hatred.

When people say “That’s so gay!” they are either making a valid social observation that some things are more gay in style or habit than others, or they are trying to hurl an insult at a heterosexual person who will find such a comment mildly distressing.  It is NOT an expression of hatred.

Calling someone “mental” is to observe an imbalanced or unpredictable character or action, it is NOT a hateful slur against mentally ill people.

When people say (and I’ve said it myself ) “Don’t be retarded” they aren’t saying “Retarded people are evil and horrible and valueless” they are observing that someone who has been gifted with a modicum of mental acuity is choosing to behave as though they were born without any.

If we remove the negative part of our language we remove half the truth from it.

Honesty always has the potential to hurt someone.  Sometimes it hurts me.  Sometimes it hurts you.  Sometimes it hurts someone we love.

Language is like people and comes with infinite variations both good and bad.  I suggest we each take responsibility for our own use of it.  If you claim not to have any negative feelings or if you think it’s just as awesome to be mentally ill as it is to be relatively balanced and normal, then you are a lying sack of shit.

And I mean that, really.

I’m not personally insulted that you don’t want to be mentally ill like me.  I’m only insulted when you aren’t even willing to admit that some people are “crazy” and some aren’t.  I’m offended that you would like to stuff my shortcomings under the carpet so you can pretend we’re all the same beautiful butterflies.

That kind of dishonesty doesn’t get me the help I need for my mental illness and it doesn’t improve my life to have my particular challenges brushed off as non-existent or normal.

Pretending that we’re all the same diminishes me and my life experience more than using my mental state as part of your yardstick for sanity could ever do.

It diminishes us all.

Language is the best way we have to communicate, to negotiate, to understand, to express our individuality, to mend bridges, to burn them, and to evolve.  You don’t evolve by denying the truth.  You evolve by accepting it and then without regard to anyone else you seek ways to make yourself a better more compassionate person.

But  no matter how evolved and compassionate you become, you are still human.

The most spurious thing anyone has ever said about humans is that “There’s no such thing as normal” or another way people like to frame it is “Everyone is normal!”

No matter how uncomfortable it makes anyone, there are general norms in behaviors and in actions and there are always people who aren’t normal; whose behaviors don’t fall within an acceptably average range.  I should know.  I have consistently fallen outside the norm my whole life.

Abnormality doesn’t cease to exist just because you pretend it does.

So here’s what will happen if you successfully get rid of the expressions I have used as an example of what people are uncomfortable with: new ones will replace them because people need to notice and express those things.

This morning as I contemplated finally stepping up to this topic it occurred to me that perhaps it is a favor to language that gentle-souls try to remove words and expressions that make them uncomfortable because it will force new ones to surface which will enrich language all over again.

I was thinking about what I would call people I normally refer to as “mental” if it became heinously unacceptable to the masses to use “mental” and I turn to Georgette Heyer for inspiration and our even more colorful language of the past:


Is that actually less offensive to the same people who object to “crazy”?  It means the exact same thing.

You can’t stop humans from being human.

You can’t suppress truth.

You can’t whitewash language or it loses its diversity and soul; it becomes homogenized and useless just like most food in the United States:  Mal-nourishing, processed, clean of all organic life, dead as a corpse but pretty as honey-baked ham.

A friend gave me this following link in which this issue is discussed from the polar opposite point of view as mine.  It filled me with rage, but in the interests of listening to different points of view on the matter and as an example of why I felt I needed to tackle this post in the first place, I offer it up for anyone interested.

Ableist word profile: crazy

I am an ableist, apparently, and I think the word has a negative connotation since clearly the people calling me an ableist are using a word that describes people who discriminate against those with disabilities , and while it might be true- I don’t think it’s fair for them to use a word with any negative connotations about me while they’re accusing me of doing the same about them.   Especially because I am one of the people they are supposedly trying to protect by expunging all negative words and descriptors from language.  Their time and thought might be better spent simply working to improve the services available to people with special challenges.

Wait, am I allowed to refer to different-abilites as “special”,  Which was previously a colloquialism for mental retardation?  Though the word “special” is also used in positive ways to refer to awesome amazing people we most particularly love…this whole post is saying that even if a word has a positive connotation as well as the negative it is wrong to use it.

God dammit- this is ridiculous!

So here’s something Philip found for me on the same topic but completely funny and irreverent and anyone who agrees with the first link will undoubtedly be deeply mortally offended and hurt irrevocably by this handling of the same issue:

“That’s so gay” Is so lame.  I mean, dumb.  I mean, retarded.  Oh god…

It’s all in the comments.

A word about bullying and how negative language is merely one weapon amongst many in the bully’s arsenal and removing it from use will not prevent people from being bullied:

I know there are many people out there concerned about the power of words to bully.  I understand how people might think that if you remove all mean words from our language or at least forbid people (kids especially) from using them that suicides from bullying would never happen.  It is ignorant to believe this.

I was bullied quite consistently from the time I was in Kindergarten until I was sixteen.  I think efforts to bully  me have continued since then but efforts at bullying me eventually failed to impress or hurt me because I just ceased to care.  I was so busy plotting my own death by the time I was fifteen that someone hurling a bottle at me from a car for looking different seemed pretty insignificant and made them look amazingly stupid.  I might have been mental but I was never stupid.

Bullying is a special art and it can be accomplished with almost any weapon.  The weapon of choice is irrelevant.  A fist or a foot is just as painful as words can be but sometimes just excluding a person from something is worse torture than any words can inflict.  I’ve experienced all forms of bullying so I consider myself an appropriate witness for the prosecution of bullies everywhere.

What defines bullying is intention to torture and repeatedly push someone down to break them apart.  Bullying isn’t hurling one insult at a person.  It is a repetitive assault over the course of weeks or months and even years in some cases.  There are a lot of bullies in the world and they are generally very broken people, some of them sociopaths, some of them so desperate for acceptance from their peers they’ll push someone down who their peers all agree is different just to be considered one of them.

The use of a derogatory term against another person, if it is based on your true feelings about someone and isn’t coming from a place of actual hatred (as in the terms listed in the beginning of this post) may be an unkind act but it isn’t automatically bullying unless you repeat the offense over and over with the express intent to wound the other person.  Bullies derive satisfaction of one kind or another from watching people hurt.  It is all about intent.   Bullying is a ritual of abuse.

I have been called many things in the past forty years but the worst hurt I have ever recieved in my life has been from friends and family because those are the people whose opinions I care about the most.   Those are the people who have the most power over me.  I believe this is true for most people.

I’ve been called: freak, mental, crazy, prude, bitch, cunt, shithead, a failure, slow, stupid, fuck-up, witch, loser, narcissist, mean, ignorant, cold, weak, evil, satan’s helper, satan’s dirty little secret (okay, I just made that one up because that would have been such a memorable insult and would have made me laugh), sinner, two-faced, insensitive, thoughtless, selfish, a nobody, goody-goody, annoying, outsider, liar, misfit, creep, weird, weird-ass, asshole, jerk, breeder, and sick0.

Those are only the ones I can remember.

I won’t tell which ones caused the most damage or who delivered them.

It is infinitely worse to be told by a parent that you’ll never amount to anything than being called “retarded” on the school playground.  They both hurt but one is crushing in a soul destroying way while the other usually fades over time and has much less power.

My point is that it’s important not to confuse the weapons of the bully for the source of evil but to recognize that it’s intent that differentiates bullies from people simply letting off steam or expressing displeasure with each other or exposing their own ignorance.

How to prevent bullying:

1.  This is 100% the responsibility of the parents of children. Many parents bully their own children and this will teach their children to do the same.  It is a parent’s job to treat their kids the way they want their kids to treat others.

2. Teach your child that it’s okay to have opinions and make judgments about people in life, (because without allowing them to do this they will not know that it’s okay to recognize when a person is “off” in a dangerous way) but teach them how to judge when it is hurtful to share those opinions and when it’s okay to share them.

3.  Give your child attention, talk to them about their experiences with others that bother them, be a person they feel safe sharing their fears with not the person they fear being imperfect around.  If you want to keep your child from becoming hopeless from being picked on you need to know when they’re experiencing problems and you need to be the one to give them tools for putting the experience in it’s place.  If you don’t know how to do that for your child then get some help.

4.  Help your child build a strong self esteem. With you they should feel that no matter how imperfect they are they’re loved and valued.  Your kid is going to be teased and hurt by others at some point in time, if they come home and feel loved and valued and if they are helped to understand how flawed a bully is it will help them maintain their feeling of self worth.

5.  If your child, for whatever reason, is prone to being teased and or bullied: teach them self defense. Teach them not to take it.  I believe in dealing with bullies without violence but if your child is being physically pushed around they should not be encouraged to do nothing.  Bullies will only stop bullying for two reasons: indifference or fighting back.  The bully thrives on fear and weakness.  A bully will usually stop bullying if they no longer get the satisfaction of making their target afraid.

My closing statement:

Language is not the enemy of anyone.  Language is merely a reflection of the human spirit in all it’s gorgeousness, potential, disappointment, ugliness, gravity, difference, truth, lies, light, and dark.  If language is sounding mean then it’s merely reflecting what’s in the human heart.

Let me end by asking you this: if you look at your own reflection on the surface of still water and you don’t like what you see, can you fix what you don’t like by stabbing the water?  As soon as the water settles again you will see exactly what you saw before.  You have to change yourself.  You have to change the original heart and soul of a thing.

Language is a reflection of who and what we are.

The Stupidocracy of Elitism

I despise elitism.

That can sit alone on the line for a while.

Still, elitism naturally occurs and seems to perform an important function which I originally thought was to allow a very few to live high above the writhing dirty masses but which I’ve recently (today) come to think may actually serve to force those outside the club to try harder to reach their potential.

If the world was all fair, all egalitarian, and peaceful, maybe none of us would have reason to become better than we started out.  Maybe we need something unattainable to reach for; something to want that we are told we can never have based on something as arbitrary as money in the bank or skin color or sexual orientation or social class.

For anyone who hasn’t figured this out yet: America has just as strong a class system as every other country in the world.  We like to claim that our “democracy” protects us from such an inequitable division of people.  It doesn’t.  Just try to get in tight with the Astors if you’re a nobody from the slums of the East Bay.  Even if you have wads of money to toss out the window at whim you will undoubtedly give your origins away or if you don’t they’ll know where you came from by some other means and guess what?  It will matter.

I have been feeling discouraged about my writing in the last couple of weeks.  Today I felt particularly low.  I’ve been reading some extraordinary work by other writers and I let it get under my skin that I have never written anything half as memorable.  I was going to write a post called “The great boo-hoo” in which I planned to shove myself into a black hole of self pity and self denigration.  Very useful tactic for the self destructive but hardly a constructive way to improve my writing.

Then I read a post in an ongoing discussion about the struggle of bloggers and other online writers to get the respect they deserve from the print community.  The most recent discussion sparked some comments from people in the traditional journalism community that caused my hackles to rise and my ire to ignite.  It’s really just the usual skirmish in which the establishment is afraid that the brave new world is going to destroy everything meaningful and worthy and replace it all with complete crap and garbage.

Apparently many journalists are scornful of any writer who hasn’t gone to college for a “proper” ( meaning expensive) education  and it angers them to think that lowly upstart bloggers can just press “print” and their words will go live to the whole world.   What about the importance of credentials?  What about the importance of having an actual establishment backing you up?

There are a lot of different kinds of writers and journalists are by no means more important than technical writers or creative non-fiction writers or novelists.  I think perhaps some journalists feel a bit superior to other kinds of writers because supposedly they’re telling “the cold hard unemotional facts”.  What a bunch of rubbish!  Nowhere have I heard more biased crap than in newspapers and on news channels.

Listening to one kind of writer thrashing others with their diplomas and their connections and their paid gigs makes me angry.  Many extremely stupid people have managed to get degrees from esteemed colleges and at least one or two of those very stupid people with fancy degrees actually became president of our country and screwed everything up more royally than I could have done.

This is all layered on top of other conversations in which established writers say that you’re not a writer until you’re published or that you’re not a writer unless someone else is willing to pay you, or until you have a note from your doctor to prove you’ve destroyed the nerves in your hand from all the word slaving you’ve been doing.

I believe most writers out there aren’t first rate.  I believe this because in all fields there is a great deal of mediocrity.  I don’t believe anyone can call themselves a writer just because it sounds kind of cool.  There are transcendental writers, shitty writers, good writers, boring writers, writers that break all the rules and get away with it, and those who break all the rules and don’t get away with it because they aren’t good enough.  There are new writers who haven’t had time to mature yet, there are old writers who used to be good but who have become hacks out of complacence or boredom.  Being a writer isn’t about being good or bad, paid or not paid.  Being a writer is something you are.  If you’re a writer you’ll know it the minute it’s true.

It’s like being a human being.  We may all be born with similar or the same potential (I’m undecided on this point) but due to a thousand different influences we may become good humans, mediocre humans, or bad humans.  But we’re all still humans.

When I hear people suggesting that you can only be a legitimate writer if you can acquire the proper education and be lauded by other more established writers I want to rise up and knock down establishment.  I want to prove them wrong.  I want to show them all the incredible writers who didn’t go to Yale or Harvard or even community college but whose work is held up in most of those institutions as examples of excellent writing.  Jane Austen comes to mind.  Not good enough?  Mark Twain had no formal education in writing or journalism.  Is there a writer out there who would dispute his legitimacy?

What it takes to be a great writer isn’t about the education at your disposal.  To any reasonably intelligent person there is a world of education available without benefit of college in the public library.  Practicing your discipline every single day and striving constantly to improve and evolve is what it takes.

The underdog is my great hero.

I don’t believe print will die because of the Internet.  I also think the print industry needs to recognize that just as much complete crap is pushed through newspapers and publishing houses as you can find on the Internet.  Just because a person writes for a newspaper doesn’t mean they are a good writer or that their standards are better because they have the New York Times standing behind them.  I’ve read the most amazingly biased untrue crap in newspapers.  The same is true of online journalists and publications.

I don’t think the platform gives legitimacy,  I believe that personal skill and integrity gives legitimacy and you’re just lucky or persistent (or both) if you get someone to pay you to write.

I needed to hear all the pomposity to light a fresh fire under my ass.  I’m not the writer I ultimately want to be yet.  Every single day I’m working at it.  Every single day I work harder to reach the level of skill to fix the fickle eye to my page- to prevent the hurried reader from closing the book or leaving the site because they just have to read the rest of what I’ve written.

That’s the ultimate compliment to a writer; to force the hurried person to stop and listen, to catch some one’s imagination or their interest with such force that they feel compelled to keep reading even if their house is on fire.

Instead of dissolving into a great puddle of self doubt and hideous self pity I am using the establishment to spur me on.  I am the underdog. I am paying my dues every single day I work harder at my writing than I did the day before.  I pay my dues every single day I put all my time into my writing for no worldly compensation.

I still despise elitism.

But perhaps it is useful for overcoming and surpassing elitists.

Word Files: Toddler Words

Many things get under my skin but one of the most insidious is the feeling I get when an adult seems to relate to all-things-child more than they relate to other adults (who aren’t kid-centric).  This whole trend (and it IS a trend) seems to be mostly my generation, probably getting revenge on what they see as a lost childhood due to latchkey lives and the great grown up love-fest that was the sixties and seventies.

Words have a lot of power in all of our lives.  What words we choose to use says a lot about how we’re feeling at the moment, what our social background is (or what we wish it was), and what kind of people we are.  Our use of words is personal, except when it isn’t.  I have often wondered how many people realize how they sound to others just based on the words they use?  I also wonder if people understand how their use of language may prevent opportunities from coming their way or prevent others from giving them the attention in life that they deserve.

Being an avid blog reader I couldn’t fail to notice the incredible trend for writing “mommy blogs”.   There are thousands of mothers writing blogs about their day to day experiences raising children and the majority of them call themselves “mommy bloggers”.

Mommy is an infantile word.  It’s what children often call their mothers.  It’s something they stop saying when they mature because to continue to call your mom “mommy” is baby talk.  I know adults who still call their moms “mommy” and it really creeps me out.  It says that a person hasn’t developed a more mature relationship with their parent, that they have never really grown up.

For a blogger who is only blogging for fun and to meet like-minded people, who cares?  You can refer to yourself as “mommy” all day long and you’ll be in good company.

The problem I see is that a lot of the  “mommy bloggers” consider themselves writers, they express a desire to make money from their blogs, and hope to write books eventually.  If you want to be taken seriously as an expert in parenting or as a writer with something interesting to say to a broader spectrum of people, you are going to have to drop the toddler talk.

First of all, you should refer to yourself as a parenting blogger.  This signals that you are into children, you’re raising them, but you aren’t wishing you were one of them.

Then you should clean out all the words your toddler says or that you say to your toddler when you’re speaking or writing to non-toddlers.

Here’s a good list of infantile words to consider replacing in your writing:

mommy (why not refer to one’s self as “mom”, or “mother”, or “a parent”)

yeppers (makes me think of the loud chirping bark of a chihuahua)

yuppers (because “yeppers” wasn’t enough)

oogly (I’ve seen it appear on an embarrassing number of times on parenting blogs)

lil (this one is also a southern affectation I find creepy)

yummers (this is fine for talking to your three year old, but other adults?  No!)

nom nom (you must check out this link: 10 truly awful words because he took the words right out of my mouth!)

nummy (“nummy for my tummy” comes to mind,  I never even talked to my toddler like that!)

yummy (a word many people use and I even caught myself saying it out loud the other day- totally insidious!  Fine for kids but adults can do better, myself included.)

tummy (okay for use with kids, but stomach is better when talking to adults.

golly (stupid word people think they’re using “ironically” in place of swear words.  It’s just stupid.  Even when The Beave said it.)

giggle (This is a hideous word when adults use it.  When adults say they “giggled” it makes me sick to my stomach.  The word is for children only- no-  not even for kids.)

om nom nom (worse and worse!  Will the food eating noises never stop?  Want to actually hear me chew my food?  NOT YUMMY.)

googly (Sometimes paired with “oogly”.)

scrummy (supposed to be yet another variation on “yummy”)

poop (I may be a mother but I’ll be damned if I need to hear “poop” talk anywhere)

poopy (it’s surprising how many women use this word in their parenting blogs)

snarfle (how a Snuffleupagus eats, the muppet comparison in the 10 truly awful words list is irresistible)

fluffers (like rainbows and clouds and fat men scarfing down cotton candy)

snoogly (I just made that one up because that’s the way these awful words are created)

I think that makes the point adequately.

Here’s the truly disturbing thing: I’ve seen many of these words used on food blogs where the writer is really working hard to be taken seriously.  How can I take any cook seriously who calls a dish “scrummy”?  Aside from it’s resemblance to the word “crummy”, it also sounds like a silly childish version of “scrumptious” which also happens to be a horrible word used mostly to describe the fat cheeks of babies.

I realize that many people use these words to revisit a time of “innocence” along with their children, to enjoy the fleeting wonderful journey of parenting, and that it is meant to reflect their connection to youth and joy in all things sweet and unthreatening.  If that’s really who you are and that truly reflects where you’re at and you use those words intentionally – then who cares?  Use them!

But if you want to be taken seriously in a professional capacity of any kind, these words are not going to earn you any respect.  They are not the words of an adult.  They aren’t going to convince me you’re the expert of anything, not even parenting.  If you want to write a book for other adults then you need to talk like one.

Words are powerful and when used intentionally will help you get where you want to go (wherever that is), but used without thought or understanding may be holding you back from things you want to achieve and opportunities you hope will come your way.

I would like everyone to think more about their use of words and what they say about you.   We have a rich language at our disposal, it’s a shame to let so much of it go to waste on un-words like “om nom nom”.

Update: Another article on this subject has been written on one of my favorite food writing blogs Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacob, The Worst Food Writing Words

So, if you didn’t listen to Rich at Them Apples, and you didn’t listen to me, then surely you will listen to a writer/editor who’s worked in both print and online with food writing and writers for years?  She has links to another article about the same subject and I’m going to put it right here for you:  Top 10 Foodie Words We Hate, by the LA Times The only reason I didn’t do a post specifically about food words I hate is because everyone keeps doing it for me.  So if you’re not a serious writer, who cares what any of us have to say?!  But if you’re a serious writer, especially a food writer, then you should be taking notes and pulling out your dictionary and thesaurus to find better words than

An extra thought: If I want to write a character for a story who is a woman completely wrapped up in her children to the point where she herself is childish, little girly, and unsophisticated, as well as immature- I would use many of those words in the above list in her dialog because it would signal to readers exactly that kind of character.  We all sound like characters to someone else.  What character are you?

A Shoulderful of Stones

I’m going to try really hard to hide from myself the fact that it is twelve am.  This is when I turn into a circus act almost as horrible as a mime and become excessively emotional, commemorative, and fly my flag half mast on principle.  I’m trying to dive into writing the second chapter of the book but I’m distracted by: Jon Stewart interview segments from the past 13 years, the fact that the second chapter needs to not suck and the pressure pushing in at me, the need to curl up and watch either Cadfael or Will and Grace, the certainty that I suck beyond measure, and the memory of the one and a half grilled cheese sandwiches Philip made for me this evening.

I’m distracted by music, pen, rain, tomatoes, the rustle of dry paper, time, popular culture, the flies, and the hour.

I know what I mean to say but can’t find a good sentence anywhere because I’ve spent all day cleaning the dead flies off the porch, cleaning the kitchen, making tomato soup, processing tomatoes for sauce, listening to the Beatles, and thinking about bigotry and plotting my rise above it all.

There is the intention of the path:  to underscore with my black sharpie thoughts that no matter how terrible life is there is always something just a little better than death and on the best days there is euphoria in the smallest details like watching tiny birds chatter over the red hot poker flower stalks and in laughter between friends and loved ones.

There isn’t a goal for fame or ridicule.  There isn’t a goal to make a million dollars.

Two out of those three things would be awfully nice and I wouldn’t say no to them if I achieved them.

But that’s not the goal.

Why agonize?  It’s just words.

You wouldn’t want your car mechanic to take that attitude.  “It’s just an engine, why agonize?” You wouldn’t want your lawyer to say “It’s just litigation, it’s just a question of jail or no jail…”

That’s why I agonize.  Because words matter.

I am struck by a youtube video I saw of Harlan Ellison talking about paying the goddamn writer and the fact that everyone wants writers to write for free.  What hits a nerve for me in this is that words matter almost more than stones.  My kid said the other day how stupid he thought the saying “Words can never hurt you” is because it’s wrong.  I told him the saying is relying on a literal interpretation and he said that was total bullshit because words hurt people all the time.  (He didn’t actually swear.)

It’s true.  Language has the power to detonate rage or ignite it, to destroy families, to dissolve relationships, to inspire death, to cement enemies and to declare world wars.  It also has the power to bring unlikely people together, to convince impossible partnerships, to heal old scars, to express dreams, to encourage the hopeless to hope, and to inspire inexhaustible love.

Language is as potent as vision, as potent as art.

In most ways I’m a good multi-tasker but when it comes to the writing I have to be more obsessive.  I can’t divide myself endlessly.  What I’m coming to understand is that I have to dive into the book as though it was the only world, the only voice, the only thing I know outside the essentials.  Would you expect anything different from a doctor: that their attention be completely on the medical issue at hand?

I have to stop piling the food preserving projects on myself.

I have to close myself off to all other distractions and immerse myself in the grave, where Cricket and Grey begins.  I have to ask myself to write the story that I would be excited to find on the shelves of the bookstore, that I would want to have as my own.  I have to ask myself to write the story I’ve been missing my whole life and that others have been missing too.

Like a shoulderful of stones.

I only have to write the words you’ve been waiting to hear for your whole life.

It’s time to fold away the tomato projects, the pesto, the sauce, the ratatouille, and the grilled eggplant for freezing.  I want to sock away more preserves.  But I want to write more than I want to eat.