I really hate that we fought this war for civil rights before and it has come back. But more than that, I hate how easy it was for one detestable human being to make it happen. It took less than three years. I never imagined our freedom could be chipped away so fast … and I hate it!
“If the freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ― George Washington
“To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile but is morally treasonable to the American public.” ― Theodore Roosevelt
“Because if you don’t stand up for the stuff you don’t like, when they come for the stuff you do like, you’ve already lost.” ― Neil Gaiman
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ― George Orwell
We bloggers are endlessly in search of answers. All kinds of answers. I am, in particular, forever seeking an answer to the ultimate blogger query.
What makes people follow me? Why are some posts popular while others — which I think are better — are not?
I think I’ve got it part of the answer. Not the whole one. There are just some posts that, for reasons I cannot fathom, become wildly popular and I never figure out why.
The more typical answer became obvious while I was reading someone else’s post titled “Excellent Demo.” It was about a software presentation to a prospective client that goes horribly wrong. The WiFi connection doesn’t work. The hot spot tool doesn’t help.
It’s humiliating and the kind of experience we have all had. It’s painfully universal. I can remember at least two horrible professional moments, both involving cameras. After more than 30 years, they remain cringe-worthy and painful to the touch.
His company got the contract anyhow. He wondered why?
I realized the answer was probably simple. Everyone in that room — at some time or another — had a similar experience. That the demo went badly generated a visceral empathy with the audience. The disaster didn’t sell the product, but it didn’t unsell it, either.
Back on Serendipity, I noticed the two posts that did better than usual were both about the kind of stuff that happens to everyone. What was the common thread? I looked at other popular posts.
I looked at the list of my all-time most popular posts. Not including camera, movie, television, and technology reviews which have an evergreen cycle, all Serendipity’s most popular posts have a universal theme, something to which anyone and everyone can relate.
I don’t write this way on purpose. I’m betting most of you don’t design your style. It comes out of you. It is you. I can control my subject matter, but I have little control over my style. When anyone asks about my “process,” I come up blank. What’s a process?
I don’t have a process. I get an idea. I write about it. It may leap out of a conversation with Garry, a comment I make on someone else’s blog, a book I’m reading, a TV show I’ve watched. A dream I had or what the dogs did. Many are anecdotes … things that happened here and elsewhere. Often, the interesting part of the story isn’t the event, but how it affected me or others.
There are blogs that deal with issues. Some special interest web sites which talk about current events, news, politics, religion, archaeology, history, the power structure, education. Some are all about history or literature. Or talk only about movies. They have their audiences, people who are interested in the things these bloggers write about. I and many of you reading this have special interests too, but mostly, we are interested in life.
That’s what we write about it. Sometimes, it’s a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Nice and tidy. As often as not, it’s a memory, a string of thoughts wrapped around something that happened. A wish, a wisp, a wistful moment. And strangely, other people enjoy reading it.
The English language has more than 200,000 “official” words in its dictionary and probably another twenty thousand or so unofficial, idiomatic, or regional words used by specific groups which have meanings yet to reach a dictionary.
There is nothing you cannot say in English using real words. If you are living in an English-speaking country, using real words will not diminish your level of communication. More likely, it will enhance it while lending you credibility with other literate people.
You know: people who read books and stuff like that?
If you feel there is nothing you can say that is not cruel or insulting — and which will surely hurt someone? If you cannot make your point without hateful speech? Maybe you should consider just shutting up. Silence is golden, they say, so why not give it a try?
Hateful speech and bullying is not a symptom of how free you are. It’s a sign of a twisted soul. It is by definition ungrammatical and ugly.
Everyone knows the invisible yet obvious lines of what is acceptable speech and what isn’t. I think we all know this much by the time we get to first grade.
The people who regularly cross these lines are not ignorant. They know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it. It isn’t any lack of education. It’s a failure to have sympathy or empathy for other humans.
This is a disease for which there is no known cure.
The language of the truncheon is not an accident. Those who speak like thugs do it intentionally.
You can argue this point until the cows come home. It will remain wrong.
One of the things I’ve always admired about the British upper class — possibly the only thing I admire about the British upper class — is their ability to be absolutely polite while verbally eviscerating their opponents.
It’s an art form. They at least understand that a rapier — a razor-sharp, tool — is a much classier weapon than a bludgeon. And on the whole, leaves less of a mess.
If you have to join the fray, put away the big stick and try the rapier.
I read a unique article in the Washington Post by a writer talking about something from her childhood that inspired her to be a writer as an adult. Her name is Ann Patchett and her title names the motivating force in her career choice. The article is called, “Snoopy taught me how to be a writer.”
That’s right – the Snoopy from Charles Schultz’s beloved comic “Peanuts”. The perpetual loser, Charlie Brown’s dog. Ann says she read Peanut compilation books, as I did, in her formative summers and was smitten by Snoopy. She says that she was a nerdy, uncool kid who saw Snoopy as the essence of cool. He even raised the totally uncool status of his ‘person’, Charlie Brown, just by being so quintessentially cool himself.
Snoopy was confident enough to let himself become totally absorbed in his fantasies – WWI Flying Ace, Soldier in the French Foreign Legion, figure skater, tennis star, astronaut, and so on. He brought everyone else along with him in his fantasies to the point that they too heard the imaginary bullets flying by and the roar of the imaginary crowds.
Snoopy as WWI Flying Ace
Snoopy as astronaut
Most important, Snoopy was a writer. He let his imagination run wild here too and then he sat down on the top of his doghouse and typed. He sat at his typewriter and plinked the keys to form hackneyed and repetitive paragraphs that he knew needed ‘editing’.
He had confidence and sent his manuscripts out to editors. He got lots of rejections, like all writers, yet he kept on trying. The best thing about Snoopy was that even when he failed and his doghouse was riddled with bullets, he lost in sports or his manuscripts were rejected again, he was still cool.
His superpower was that he remained cool in failure as well as in success.
Anne says that Snoopy taught her how to survive the publishing process; to deal with rejections and then get over them; to ignore bad reviews and move on. Snoopy turned out to be her perfect career mentor and he also led her into a life with dogs who enriched and fulfilled her. She says she always assumed that her dogs have an active inner life and are always cooler than she is.
I was never inspired to write. I just always did and so did my parents. My school required creative writing and analytical writing as well as research papers from the third grade on. My high school papers are indistinguishable from my college ones.
My father published seven books and numerous articles in the field of psychiatry and anthropology, many before I was born. He spent every summer locked in his study, writing, Every day he would present his writing to my mother who would edit it and encourage rewrites when needed. There was a lot of heated discussion about content, organization and writing style throughout my childhood.
When I was around fifteen, I joined my mother and we became my father’s editing team. As he got older, his writing often rambled and went off-topic and it was our job to keep him focused. We often had to outline material for him and even rewrite sections ourselves when he resisted our ‘advice’ and insisted on his now more stream of consciousness style. That may work for fiction, but not for an academic treatise.
Writing has always been a part of my life. I went through a period of anxiety and insecurity in my own writing when I was in high school and my mother did for me what she did for my father. She helped me figure out what I wanted to say and the most effective and persuasive way to say it. She taught me how to organize my thoughts and present my ideas cleanly and clearly.
When I started writing short audio theater plays with my husband, I had to learn how to write dialogue, which is a totally different kind of writing. I was used to writing analytical prose, which is not the way people talk. Dialogue has to sound like someone is actually speaking, not reading aloud from a non-fiction book.
So my writing evolved and expanded to encompass a new format for me. It is amazing and gratifying to hear actors bring your words to life. It’s even more awesome to hear audiences reacting to your words by laughing and applauding.
I loved Snoopy too growing up, but I identified more with Linus and Charlie Brown than with the fearless, adventuresome Snoopy. I can imagine that if Snoopy ever wrote short plays, he would picture the adulation of audiences and bask in their approval. I’ve had that experience, so in a way, I’ve had my ‘Snoopy moment.’
Even a nerd like me can feel cool. But never as cool as Snoopy.
As soon as whoever it is — usually, a child or grandchild of some older person shows up clutching a proxy in hand, evil will be done. The old person will be forced out of his home, all his possessions will be stolen right down to and including his most comfortable chair.
Soon, a scream will echo through the halls of the lordly manor as the corpse is discovered.
Will it be the old person or the young person … or, sometimes, someone apparently completely disconnected from the event? Barnaby and his sidekick Ben will investigate.
The truth will always surface and that person found dead — who I assure you will not be the only person found dead because no good Midsomer Murder has fewer than three murders in any episode — will ultimately be discovered to have some hidden, furtive relationship with everyone else.
Who is everyone else? Family, of course. And the wealthier and nobler the family, the more murders will have occurred before the show ends.
I always feel short-shrifted if there are fewer than three murders in an episode. And there has to be at least one scream.
For the last few days, I’ve been waking up to the realization that I’m probably going to die of heart problems. Now, being as I’m already 72 — and I recognize that I and everyone else is going to die of something eventually — this isn’t shocking or surprising. Once I finally understood that this heart thing wasn’t an attack or a disease, but a genetic problem, a lot of things made more sense.
The cardiologist was very good about explaining the nature of the problem and how in families that have it, one out of every two children will have the condition. That was when I realized the surgery I’d had was not a cure but a temporary fix.
It was (is) an interim solution, although I’m beginning to think that life is an interim solution to eternity.
How temporary? No one knows. At my age, everything — even my heart — grows slowly. It might take 20 years, by which time I could have been run down by a crazed FedEx driver or been done in by something else. Or it could be next year.
What I was told is that “So far, your heart is still pumping a reasonable amount of blood and you have an adequate number of red blood cells where they need to be. But the heart is growing. Again.” The implication was they will not repeat the surgery. The heart could last — even overgrown and thickened — decades, but the surgery might easily kill me. Or, as that old joke goes: “The surgery was a success, but the patient died.”
So I’m not going through an “Oh I’m going to die” crisis. More like doing a mental calculation about how long I’ve reasonably got. A few years? A decade? Two decades? More? No one has a measurement, so in the end, I’m still dealing with the same thing I was dealing with before: something will kill me. Probably my heart but give me a little time and who knows what else could pop up?
Given my family history, I figure cancer or heart. Both run on both sides of the family, but aside from my mother, most people on both sides also manage to live a pretty long life, DNA notwithstanding.
It was at that moment that the phone rang. It nearly jarred me right out of bed. I swear it’s louder sometimes than others and this was a really loud morning.
I’m not kidding. It was the “Death Insurance” saleswoman. Alive, not recorded.
“How are you?” she said.
“Fine,” I rasped.
“As you probably know,” she began, “the price of funeral arrangements is exorbitant. So, we are selling … ”
“No!” I choked and hung up. Gee WHIZ!
Seriously. Did I need that particular call as my first call of the week? It’s bad enough to get all this crap on television.
“We are broadcasting,” said the crew from ESPN, “from the iconic top of the Green Monster in iconic Fenway Park,” by which they were referring to the broadcast booth set on top of the tall green wall in the stadium’s left field., a.k.a, the left field wall.
Fenway might even be iconic if by that you mean the “oldest baseball stadium in the U.S.,” but I don’t think iconic means that. This was the actual moment I realized I never wanted to hear anyone say “iconic” about anything again. Ever. I’d had it with the word.
Even when it’s relevant. Even if it is spelled correctly and regardless of context. The world has become overly iconic and used to mean anything and everything which essentially means it means nothing.
Anything which means everything means nothing.
That includes “iconic.” Especially “iconic.”
Because everything can’t be iconic. It’s an oxymoron.
Word overuse started as a TV phenomenon and has continued with a lot of help from social media. It started with … I don’t know … cool? Groovy?
It gathered energy with “awesome” and “totally awesome.” Is there a difference? If “awesome” means “striking awe into a viewer,” how is “totally awesome” more awesome than one, single “awesome”?
Meanwhile, word overuse went in hysterical overdrive when all female persons who were remotely well-known became a “Diva.”
Now, the word is iconic.
What happened to the rest of the language? Surely there are other synonyms which could be used?
Suggested alternatives include:
Those are more than enough words to give one reason to ponder word usage. I have a “thing” wherein I won’t intentionally use the same word or even two versions of the same word in one paragraph. I sometimes do it accidentally, but if I notice, I’ll go back and change a word.
There are few words in English for which there is no substitute. At least — not among adjectives. Maybe a few nouns are unique to a specific item but adjectives are slippery devils. Where there’s one, there’s another and another and another.
Arabic has more words than English. Officially, more than 12 million words, though I wonder how many of those words are obsolete or not in regular use. English is the next largest language with about 200,000 words in active use, excluding those which are currently obsolete. For the moment.
NOTE: Never count an obsolete word as completely “out.” Obsolete words have an odd way or slithering back into standard English without warning.
Meanwhile, 200,000 is a fair number of words. The next time the word “awesome” or “iconic” springs to your fingers or lips, contain yourself. As a personal favor, please find a different word. Any word.
Let’s make “emblematic” a hot new word. Even better, let’s use “seminal.”
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