Archives for category: Writing

I humbly submit an antidote for pretension – yours, mine or someone else’s – in the following definitions of “art”:

art (n.) –  an attempt by an artist, typically through extraordinary means, to make people care about the same weird shit they do

Any of you out there who make a thing they call art has probably noticed themselves caring a lot. I don’t mean this as a compliment; the things you (we) care about tend to be, um, weird.  They don’t have the qualities that usually provoke caring.

To clarify, angry artists reading this, I am not talking about themes.  I know that your art tackles the big, even universal.  I am not calling you a weirdo for exploring femininity, or class, or mortality.  I am willing to (begrudgingly) give humans the benefit of the doubt and say most of us care about these things.

I am talking about the much smaller-scope.  The subject and not the message, if you follow me.

That person has hairs on their neck where hairs often grow on people’s neck.  I care about it, for some reason.

– Probably not me, ever

Maybe you are a photographer who cares about leaves in muddy puddles.  Maybe you are a sculptor who cares about what the other four fingers do when someone’s index is pointing.  Maybe you’re an electronic musician who cares about the different pitches and tonal nuances you achievable with a quarter-pound of ham.

I am being told by my imaginary editor, Shahnaz, that the verb I might mean is “obsess,” and not “care.”  And that may have merit.  (Shahnaz is also upset about my split infinitive earlier, and I do not care.)

Even weirder, then, that we would “obsess” about something that doesn’t even fit the traditional criteria for “care.”  Know what’s more weird?  Weirder?  Possessing of higher WL (weirdness levels)?  Trying to convince other people to care about it.  Or obsess about it, if we are exceptionally talented.

And yet we do.  We go to great lengths to.  But we do it.

Because even if they don’t in their day-to-day lives, you can bet if they really like your muddy leaf exhibit, they will – at least for a moment – care then.

art (n.) – a form of communication characterized by leaving almost nobody on the same page, almost any of the time

This point is best illustrated in the form of a table.

The audience gleans a specific meaning from the piece. The audience believes the piece is open to interpretation. The audience believes the piece is meaningless.
Matches the artist’s message. Does not match the artist’s message.
The piece has a specific intended message. Woo! Whoops Whoops Whoops
The piece is meant to be open to interpretation. Whoops Woo! Whoops

Ha-HA! Now I am talking about themes!

Now, of course I don’t think this chart captures the whole of art criticism.  Nor am I of the opinion that the abundance of Whoopses here are bad.  I think that art is a place where people being all over the map adds to the fun.  Maybe the place.  (I said these descriptions would be inelegant, not negative.)

You are smart people.  (Even if you are artists.)  You understand what I’m trying to say.

I’m sure I’ll come up with more whack ways of looking at things.  And I’ll share them with you.  And hopefully trick you into being interested.

-J

 

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The case is not that I haven’t been writing.  I have written not a lot, but not a little, since last I posted to this blog.  I have been, as always, chipping away at my collection of poems.  I have been very slowly performing edits on that old novel you might remember.  I have been doing larger-scale, maybe printier, work.  But the case isn’t even that I don’t have things to say that are more appropriate for this morsel-sized blogging medium than for a book.

I have been struggling with a question around the first few paragraphs of every post I find myself drafting.

The disclaimer that I sometimes I wish I could wear around with me IRL and on the interwebs is that I am not an expert.  In political science, in sociology, in love, in art.  In this, I guess I am not different from many people expressing opinions into the internet.  So why pay attention to them, or me?  I find myself on a thought-train destined for the conclusion that what I have to say is not especially gripping — as vitally important as the subjects I am speaking on may be.

My kind brain and my anxious brain argue about it.  The anxious brain wins.  The post is deleted.  I am not sure who benefits or suffers for this.  It’s just how it is.

But as a part of a series of life-changes, here I am turning this idea on its head.  Because whether it’s 0 or 7,000 of you reading this . . . 100% of you must care at least a little what I have to say, right?  Does this resonate with anyone else?  You’re WordPress people, and you’ve wrestled with inner questions about it, I assume?

Do you have the two brains too?

Expect things.

A lot of writers much smarter than I am have told me I should, at all costs, avoid adverbs.  And because they are so very smart, it seems logical that they are right (whatever . . . that means?) on this matter.

But I’m not happy about it.

At some point, I decided that adverbs were my favorite part of speech.  I couldn’t tell you why or when I made this decision, but I know I made it.  If you don’t believe me, here is a brief list of adverbs I have had to resist the impulse to use, from the top of this blog post ’til now:

  • Unanimously
  • Totally
  • Generally
  • Really
  • Exactly
  • Definitely
  • Ridonkulously
  • (Okay, maybe not that last one)

My love of adverbs does not blind me to the benefits of crushing them under one’s Mighty Editorial Fist.

One of the reasons I’ve heard for this writerly (Adjective!) aversion to verb-describers is that they encourage a certain kind of laziness.  Or redundancy.  Or both.

Run for your lives! Jerry screamed, frantically.

“Frantically,” here, could be lazy because it might take the weight off of the writer to properly describe the peril of the situation.  If ze establishes that Jerry is frantic with an adverb, there may be less of a need to describe the venomous, thirty-inch fangs of the bloodthirsty tiger cobras pursuing him.

And it is redundant, because . . . well, have you ever heard somebody scream, “Run for your lives!” and thought to yourself how remarkably un-frantic they sounded?  No, smartass.  You have not.

But!  But, but, but.  What do rules have, children?

Exceptions!

(Sometimes, exceptions prove the rule.  I have no idea how.  But a lot of people seem to think it’s true.  Whatever.)

Perhaps Mx. Writer is trying to hint at the details of a situation only, without describing them (yet!).  Adverbs to the rescue!

Perhaps the next line in our writer’s tiger cobra scene is something like,

Oh dear, has something happened to the diamond? shouted Diana, almost . . .  amusedly.  There was no time to

Shazow!  This is a terrible example, but it does (I hope) give you a sense of what I’m talking about.  Diana had something to do with the tiger cobras, and the tiger cobras are part of a broader plot to steal the diamond.  The adverb here is what we in “the biz” call a hint.

An adverb might also come in handy, if somebody is doing or saying something in a way we wouldn’t expect.

Jerry was running out of hallway.  He glanced behind him and, not seeing the cobras, ducked into a door he vaguely recollected might house a broom cupboard.  He slammed and locked the door behind him, then wheeled around to face a young waiter – no older than nineteen, by the look of him.  They stared at each other, evaluating, for what felt like hours.  Then the waiter stepped across the breadth of the closet and embraced Jerry paternally.

Again, Shazow!  Writerperson is not being lazy by putting that “paternally” in, rather than explaining the fact that Jerry’s dad (Eliyahu) is really a time-travelling international spy.  Ze was trying to SHOCK and CONFUSE you, for dramatic effect.

I’m not selling this very well, huh?

Well, if you’ve gotten this far into the post, it seems to me you must have a sincere interest in my adverb-related views.  (Why?)  That being the case, I’m now going to gush a little bit.

You know how bow ties are cool?  And fezzes?  Adverbs are cool.

Let’s look at one.  Just one of the super, cool, super cool adverbs out there:

Instead.

Who hasn’t been in a situation where they meet a word at a coffee shop,  or maybe a book store, even a bar?  You hit it off right away.  Soon you’re slipping hir into casual conversation with people.  You’re loving the way the sounds feel when you say them.  The fricative consonants– MMM!  (Or should I say, “THHH”?)  You’re in love.  Pretty much.  At least you’re content to think of it that way.  This word is giving you everything you think you need.  But what does it mean?

I’m talking about the word.  What does it mean?  You’ve been using it so long and so often, you’re scared to look it up and find out you’ve been making a buffoon of yourself.  You’ve forgotten how to communicate – no, how to function – without this word, but you’re slowly realizing that the things you love about hir are probably all things you made up.

What you need – what we all need, girlfriend – is an instead.  Why?  It is a magical, self defining adverb.

That’s so awesome, I can’t even come up with an extension of my dating analogy to describe it with.

BOY
I’m not going to college! I’m
going to be an actor instead!

MOTHER
What is that supposed to mean?

BOY
I’m not going to college. I’m
going to be an actor in its stead.

MOTHER
Oh. I misheard. Want some pizza?

Is that not awesome?!  I love pizza!

Why are you looking at me like that?  Wait!  No!  Come back!  I’ll stop being so weird!  (I won’t.)

I suppose there is a non-idiotic way to say this.  I love adverbs, at least in part (Partially!) because they demonstrate the Anglophone (human?) flair for condensing.

It’s easy to conclude that our hypothetical writer used “frantically” because ze was too lazy to make it obvious for us.  But maybe ze used it because ze didn’t want to throw off the rhythm of a passage.  Ze condensed a lot of descriptive information into a single word.  Surely, the adverb here doesn’t make the speaker out to be less frantic than a description of the circumstances would.  It just gives us less of a why, and sometimes we don’t need so much why.

So we condense!

Maybe, a long time ago, people got sick of saying, “A friend in need is a friend, as characterized by hir actions demonstrative thereof.”

So they condensed!

I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore.  That’s a sure sign that I should wrap this up.

Take heart, fellow lovers of adverbs!  Sure there are situations to steer clear of adverbs.  I left a lot of juicy ones out of this post, and I am inclined think it is “better” for their omission.  But, in this writer’s opinion at least, it is no sin (if anything, like a two-crops-in-the-same-patch-of-dirt-level sin) to let them fly when you feel that itch to celebrate their niftiness!  Any word, used to delight or thrill or entice or arouse, is a word I am glad you use.

Except, “literally.”  Stop saying that.

No matter how many times I resolve to write absent the expectation of immediate flawless-ness . . . I still do that.

I saw to myself, “Come now, J. Just get the words on paper (read: screen), raw and unedited, then refine them into a glistening gem of literature!”

Did somebody famous once say that the first draft of everything sucks big time?

In any case, while I am working (slowly) on more substantial blog posts, I just wanted to check in and assure you that my net absence is the result of neurosis and not neglect.

I also wanted to invite you to share with me your struggles of a similar nature. You may be wondering why you should take time out of your day to shoot me a comment or email, and frankly starting to consider me more or less a pretentious ass. That’s okay. I still like you.