Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Debate: Arguing Semantics

There are two kinds of people: those who think words matter, and those who don't. If you guessed that this blogger/grammar nerd believes in the power of words, you'd be right. Let's start with a disclaimer: I'm not really interested in having a political debate here. If you know me at all or read on, you'll probably be able to predict my vote today (please vote), but I'm not looking to stand on a political soap box or to incite a comment war—there are plenty of people doing that already.

While watching the debates this year, I also followed along on Twitter—at once an enlightening, inspiring, disheartening, and exhilarating experience. Among my favorite debate twitter feeds came Dictonary.com, which posted about the trending word lookups during the debate. (Bestill my beating heart, people were looking up words in the dictionary! So proud.) Here's a sample (click the image to read more):


So, let's start with the word debate. There are many definitions, the two most common being:

(noun) a discussion in which people or groups state different opinions about a subject.
(verb) to argue about (a subject), especially in a formal manner.

My favorite, however, is this: "to consider an action or situation carefully before you decide what to do." That's what our presidential debates should help us do. They should be part of what has been called civil discourse—the notion 
"that people can have very different values and political preferences, but can still discuss these differences in a civil manner (from the National Institute for Civil Discourse). Sadly, as I've said before, our public discourse is rarely civil these days. 

Earlier in the election cycle, I read a great article by the novelist Nicholas Delbanco who argues eloquently for the the importance of the liberal arts, particularly language and literary arts:
"I believe a culture does itself no damage by attending to its language, and the idea that every phrase should and must be scrutinized is central to democracy."
I feel that virtually all of our political discourse has mutated from civil to vitriolic, and that the language we use has sunk to the level of playground bullying. I don't like to engage in that kind of conversation—in virtual shouting matches where no one listens and everyone is angry. Frankly, it gives me a headache.

Not everyone is facile with words, or uses them precisely and with ease. My husband has often said: "English is my second language. I don't have a first." Funny, yes. But is it an explanation or an excuse. Early on, we had one of the marital "discussions" (read fights) that has defined virtually all discussions going forward. Somewhere along the line, he said something to this effect: "I'm not as good as you are with words. What I say and how I say it aren't important. You should know what I mean."

I disagreed. Vehemently. I said that it felt like I'm being made responsible for both sides of the conversation. I hear: "It doesn't matter what I say or how I say it, it's your responsibility to reinterpret it so that I sound good."

I, on the other hand, pride myself on my use of language. I have a strong vocabulary and try think about what I say before I say it. Which means, that when I say something rude or angry or mean, well, I probably mean it. At least at the time. I take no pride in that. Lately, some of my personal discourse has been less than civil, and it's something that concerns me. That's the main reason why I have avoided political discussion this election cycle. But it turns out, I do have just a few words to say about it.

One of our candidates for president doesn't believe in the power of words—"It's just words, folks." In fact, that entire campaign dismissed even its own candidate's words as inconsequential.

But as a writer, I believe that words do matter—that thinking about your words, practicing them, and stating them with passion and compassion, is vitally important.
"Words matter, my friends. And if you are running to be president, or are president of the United States, words can have a tremendous influence." — Hillary Rodham Clinton
 I've only got two more words to say about this election:

Please Vote


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Here We Go Again …


There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who write blog posts and those who are trying NaNoWriMo … again. (If you don't know about NaNoWriMo, see my earlier posts about it.) See you on December 1.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

NaNoWriMo Redux


There are two kinds of people in the world: those who do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) once and get it out of their systems; and crazy people, like me, who vow to participate every year. I haven't done it in a while—not really, anyway. The last couple of Novembers I've made half-hearted attempts, but have given up pretty early on in the process.

So why do I think this year will be any different? I don't necessarily. But I do know that I haven't been doing much (read any) of my own writing for quite a long time. And that's a bad thing. Firstly, because I miss it. I think about writing all the time. I've a got million ideas, and at least 100,000 of them are pretty good.

And that's the thing. Writing ideas are a dime a dozen. You can have thousands of great ideas. It's the execution of the thing that matters. Until you put fingers to keyboard and try to translate that great idea into a story, you just don't know if it will pan out into something real.

Next, I feel like I'm in a different place in my writing. This year has taken a toll in a lot of ways, but it's also allowed me to let go of some things that I was holding onto for the wrong reasons. As I have absorbed these changes (some might call it growth, but that seems a little grandiose; others might call it giving up, but that seems a little pessimistic), I see some lessons that might apply to my writing.

Letting go is tough job. I think it's one of my worst things. I think my inability or failure to let go has held me back in my writing. So, it's time to see what happens when I really let go. When I stop trying to control everything and let the characters and the plot take over.

This is where I think NaNo can really help. There's just no time to be controlling. You have to meet your word count. To do that, you can't keep going over and over the things you already written, patting yourself on the back for your brilliance or agonizing over your complete lack of talent. All you can do is get in your 1,667 words a day and move on. Sometimes, that's all you can do in life—put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, that's all you can do in writing—put one word down after the other.

So, here we are. I'm already a bit behind (big shock), but I'm trudging along at 8,760 words instead of the 13,333 I would need to be on target as of this moment. But I like my idea; the words are not exactly pouring out of me, but they're coming. I know there are other things I should be doing. I know. So don't lecture me. I don't pretend that I'll have anything very good at the end of the month. But having anything at all is better than nothing. It's definitely something.

It's just too bad that I can't add the 535 words in this post to my word count. Hmm, that would bring me up to 9,295. Not bad.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Twi-night Double Headers

There are two kinds of people in the world: baseball fans and those who, like my daughter, think watching baseball is like watching grass grow. At this point, I'm not really a fan. Oh, sure, I root for the Cubbies because, you know … the Cubbies. The true age of miracles will have begun if the Chicago Cubs ever win the World Series, and I want the universe to know that I'm on the right side of that.

But I was a fan when I was a kid, mostly because of my dad. I'm sitting here with him now, not talking to him because he's sleeping, and thinking about baseball. We were Detroit Tigers fans and in the '60s, that was something. Many of my earliest memories have to do with Tiger baseball games. It was part of our family's DNA. My dad always says that he knew my mom was the girl for him when she sat through a double header on their first date. My mom goes back and forth on whether her fortitude on that first date was a good thing or not.

Willie Horton (the Tiger left fielder, not the felon of attack-ad fame) was my hero when I was a little girl, probably because I got a Willie Horton bat at Tiger Stadium on Bat Day in 1967. That summer, the Detroit Tigers came in second in the American League, and the excitement of a winning team was one of the few positives in a city that was was rocked by violent race riots.

I remember going to a Twi-night double header that lasted into the wee hours when the second game went into extra innings. I asked my brother, the walking-sports-record-book, whether he remembers it being the infamous June 17 games against the then-Kansas City A's, which still holds the American League record as the longest double header in history at nine hours and five minutes. The Tigers won Game 1, but lost Game 2 after 19 innings. I can't believe my brother doesn't remember if that was the double header we saw (although to be fair, he was only five), but I'm going with yes. I was most excited because we got to stay up so late.

The next year, the Tigers took the World Series in seven games against the Cardinals. I can still recite most of the roster from that team. We trick-or-treated at the home of series MVP pitcher Mickey Lolich. I remember being let out of third grade early one day that fall so we could all go home and watch the game on TV. I remember riding home on the handle bars of Jimmy Brown's bike, listening to the opening inning on his transistor radio. I remember listening to the games in the car on WJR AM, and growing into a cranky teenager who would much rather have been listening to rock and roll on FM stereo.

Mostly, though, I remember baseball and the Tigers being all about my dad. Every night, when he walked in the door after work, my dad would shout: "I'm home, sports fans!" I'm sitting here with my dad for an entirely different kind of twi-night double header and I'd give a lot to hear that kind of enthusiasm again. I'd give even more if I could take him home.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


I promised more posts. That was back in July. Clearly, I lied. Whether it was to you or to myself, I'm not quite sure. I do know that I have a whole bunch of posts written in my head. Good ones. Excellent reads. In the meantime, this amused me, as almost all "Two Kinds of People" things do. Enjoy. More soon. Promise. 

(I should probably have kept this image for my dance post. You might see it again.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Wake Up


Not long ago, my friend Hey-It's Mike Anderson posted a visual two-kinds-of-people gag on my Facebook Wall. It may or may not have been the image above (I couldn't find it on my feed), but that's not important. What's important is the thing Mike wrote along with the image: "I miss the blog." Hundreds of Several A few other people "liked" his post.

Now, before you go getting all up in my face about how immodest it is for me to tell you this, let me just say that, as a writer, this is probably the best thing anyone has ever said to me. It means that someone READS MY STUFF. And misses it when I'm not writing. This is huge. HUGE, I tell you.

It's also motivating. Not motivating in the sense that I immediately wrote a new post or anything. But motivating enough that I'm finally getting around to it just a few short weeks (months? Mike?) after the gentle nudge. Again, in writer-procrastination time, that is immediate.

You see, half the reason I haven't been posting here is that I have a lot of other work that I'm supposed to be doing. So, I haven't been writing. Of course, that doesn't mean the other work is getting done, it just means that I was leaving open that window of opportunity to do it, you know, eventually.

But, I miss writing when I don't do it. I miss my legions dozens couple of readers, and was frankly thrilled to discover they actually exist.

So, today I'm posting. If you're one of the two (kinds of) people who read this blog, thank you. Leave a comment so I know you stopped by.

I also submitted two poems (I've been told I'll hear whether they've been accepted in two to six months, so don't hold your breath). Who knows. Maybe I'll even get some of that other work done. Thanks Mike. Now look what you've gotten me into.

Image credit: Bubble Gag. Nudge credit: Mike Anderson

Friday, December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays


There are two kinds of people in the world: those who stay on top of things and those who get way behind. Yeah, I'm way behind on almost everything these days, especially this blog. Keeping up will be my number one resolution in 2014. Maybe my only resolution.

I wish you all the very best in the coming new year. Celebrate the waning days of 2013 with joy and as much laughter as you can muster. See you on the flip side.