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Monday, November 26, 2012

The Errant Writer

Holy cow! I can't believe I haven't posted a word on my blog since May. Truth is, I went through an unusual phase of life, recuperating from surgery, awakening to the possibility that I might actually be mortal, and then seizing the day. Yes, I decided I would never turn down another possibility of having fun. As a result, since May, I have traveled to Canada to see Niagara Falls; to Tennessee to see Gatlinburg and Pidgeon Forge; to the beach (Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island, Florida) to spend ten days of listening to the surf, enjoying the sunrises over the ocean, walking on the beach, and braving the waves; and to Tallahassee, Florida, to attend a week of classes on a wide variety of subjects. I know, that's a long sentence, but it's my blog, and I can write poorly if I want, as long as I know better.

Anyway, with all the traveling, when I'm in town, I've been working twice as hard to keep up with my full-time book-editing business. As a result, things like blogs fell by the wayside. Also as a result of my inactivity on my blog, Google, which supports my blog site, shut me out of my site. It took me almost a week to get it all straightened out, so I could post again.

Lesson learned: Enjoy life, but keep up with the things you've promised, such as writing a blog for writers.

Before I went into surgery, knowing some people never get off the operating table alive, I did a few things all writers should do all the time: I made many backups to my files. In addition, I printed out my memoir, which has yet to find a publisher, so that it might be found by a relative after my demise and carry on without me. Thankfully I did wake up after surgery and recovered fully. I have since written more in my memoir and started another book, but at least I have that one printout of my memoir, should anything crash my computer, my external hard drive, my flash drive, and my Carbonite account on the Internet.

What have you done lately to ensure your data won't get lost or corrupted?

What have you done lately just for fun?

What have you written lately?

These are questions I will ask myself regularly, for the rest of my life, which I hope continues for many, many more years.

I want to thank my blog subscribers for their patience while I traversed an odd time in life, and here's to a fresher, more responsive blogging Bobbie!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Idioms versus Cliches

In the Freelance Editing Network on LinkedIn, I’ve been following an interesting discussion on idioms and clichés.
A Freelance Editing Network member who teaches English as a second language asked the group how to determine what constitutes an idiom and how it differs from a cliché. One astute member explained that an idiom is a phrase whose meaning cannot be deduced from the collection of words it contains, whereas a cliché is a phrase that loses its value through overuse. As I see it, comparing clichés to idioms is like comparing apples to oranges, an idiom in itself. I’m dead set (a cliché) against using worn-out phrases, but aren’t some idioms worn out, as well? Don’t we all have too many skeletons in the closets of our writing? Don’t we need to go through every piece and destroy overused expressions, wordy writing, and the whole nine yards?

A Japanese friend trying to read my sister’s memoir brought idioms to my attention recently when she arrived at a gathering with a notebook filled with idioms in my sister’s book, none of which she understood. She had learned English in Japan, but her classes never covered the many colorful idioms that we Americans insert in our writing and speech. As she read off the list, I searched for suitable translations. “What does ‘skeletons in the closet’ mean? What about ‘the whole nine yards?’”

The real question is whether such phrases spice up our language or simply fill it with words that must be translated to be understood. In my opinion, voice makes the difference. In formal narrative, our writing should remain crisp, but dialogue and casual writing beg for idiomatic phrases that say much more than the words that form them. In other words, idioms say a mouthful, and that’s the name of that tune.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Decline and Fall of the English Language

Editors and grammarians have bemoaned the decay of the English language for decades, if not centuries, so my lament is nothing new. Our language is dynamic, always changing, I realize, but instead of improving, it declines in accuracy. We misuse a word so often and so long that the misuse becomes acceptable in even the highest circles. What a shame!

I hopelessly still expect people in authority, people with influence, people who should know better, to get their words right and not follow the downward trend. Alas, it is not to be so. Last night I heard a news announcer say, “Just like that, speculation that former governor Jeb Bush is running for president is squashed.”

Squashed? Someone smashed it? Squash means to crush something with pressure or to force something into a small space. The correct word is quashed, my friends. To quash something is to stifle, suppress, or declare it null and void. I beg you, don’t quash correct English. News announcers and television journalists who write the scripts for announcers should know better.

Speaking of people who should know better, a few years back, I sat slack-jawed at an interchange on Celebrity Apprentice. In the boardroom, Cyndi Lauper said, “I feel bad about what happened.”

The famous (or, depending upon your opinion, infamous) Donald Trump chastised Cyndi and said, “You feel badly, Cyndi. It’s badly.”

Cyndi, having been incorrectly dressed down, responded, “Sorry. I feel badly.”

What? Donald, you made a bad mistake for badly misleading Cyndi. She was correct in saying she felt bad. For her to feel badly, her fingers would have to be numb.

Do you also feel bad about the deterioration of our language? Go forth, then, and quash all those incorrectly use words!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What Stops You?

Yesterday I held one of my sporadic local meetings of The Writers Network. Having been on the board of the Georgia Writers Association for some ten years, I detest organizations with dues, rules, bylaws, limitations, board (bored) meetings, officers, and regulations. I also get overwhelmed by monthly meetings. The Writers Network, then, my own creation, has no rules, no bylaws, no officers (I call myself the director, to avoid pretentious labels such as president), and no set dates for meetings. Instead, when I feel like it, I organize a meeting at a lunch spot where writers can chew food while they chew on writing issues worthy of discussion with peers.

Yesterday's meeting proved interesting, when one attendee brought up the fact that she's studying memoir writing with Natalie Goldberg. Natalie is an award-winning memoirist who believes writers should get to the bones of their story and tell the whole truth. As a result, the woman said, she wrote a memoir about her personal medical challenge and how her family members reacted to her. One of her family members took exception with the fact that he was quoted as saying something that put him in a bad light. He felt betrayed and said he could never trust her with anything anymore.

Why did he object so vehemently? Because his words had in fact been accusatory and hurtful, and once they appeared in a form that others to see, he probably felt ashamed, embarrassed, and—let's face it—caught.

When people display anger, it often is the result of being called down for, confronted with, or exposed to their own mistakes. That family member had a right to his feelings, but he had expressed them in a cruel manner. As a result, when confronted with his own words, he exploded in anger and turned on the person who had revealed the words to others.

What is a writer to do in such a circumstance? The truth is the truth. As memoirists, should we write the truth, ignore it, or gloss over it? Should we let the truth stop us from writing down the meat of what influenced us in life?

Many opinions arose in the discussion yesterday. Some people said to write what you want and be prepared to lose the ones you love. Some people said to respect the loved ones and write about something else. I stand in the middle. I do like to keep peace among my family members, but I also believe writers should reveal the bare bones truth. Others faced with the same medical condition need to know how family members may react. I therefore suggested using the family member's quotation without specifically designating who said it.

The most important thing writers can do is keep writing. Nothing should stop us. We need to get around potential obstacles, rather than letting them impede us. Some of us have an obligation to write our stories, especially if our stories will help others. We must forge on!

Years ago, I tried to write a novel that began with the death of an alcoholic mother. After the opening, I backtracked and intended to write the story that led to her death. In novel form, I wanted to show how alcoholism affects each family member. I wrote one or two chapters and stopped. Like most writers, I had planned to draw from my own experience; my mother was alcoholic. My mother, however, had not died, and like many families, we had kept her alcoholism a secret, even when it had been difficult to hide. I allowed our family secrecy stop me from writing that book. What a shame.

Today I'm writing mostly nonfiction, and my current project covers my relationship memoirs. In it, even though I change the names, I expose many of the men I have dated. Even worse, I reveal some of my own sexual escapades. If the book gets published, I face public embarrassment and probably will never get another date in my life, but no longer can such fears stop me from writing. It's my life. I did things. Other people did things. Events took place. Embarrassments happened. Sex happened. I own it. I write about it. Nothing can stop me.

As a writer, be the warrior! Write on!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tribute to a Neighbor

Camellias bloom in her yard.
I saw them today, and all my memories of her returned.
My neighbor always waved when I walked my various dogs over the years.

 I watched her health decline
Until she stood on the porch each morning
Hacking up phlegm
With wracking emphysemic coughs,
Trying to get her weakened lungs
To clear out mucus they could not expel,
Just like my mother’s lungs ten years earlier,
Until my mother’s final breath.

For many years after my mother’s death,
My neighbor stepped out on her porch each morning
To stand in the sunshine,
Or should I say that she almost crouched.
Her malformed spine bent, she gagged and gasped,
Coughing, leaning toward her camellias,
Probably unable to appreciate their beauty,
When simply breathing took priority.

Am I the only one who loves the flowers in her yard?
Am I the only one with health enough to love them?

I’m sure that when her husband planted the bush twenty years before,
She cherished the idea that he added beauty to her life.
She told me once, after he died of a heart attack in his mid-fifties,
“Never a day went by that I did not feel loved.”

A few years later, she stood on the porch alone, without him,
Coughing up the residue she and he had inhaled for years,
And after she cleared her lungs, always she lit another cigarette.

I found it hard to muster sympathy,
When I knew she had brought on her illness,
Just as her cigar-smoking husband had brought on his,
Yet she always waved and wanted to talk,
And we had many cheerful conversations.

The year I collected funds for the March of Dimes,
She gave me a whopping fifty-dollar check.
The total I received from the neighborhood:
Seventy dollars.
Only two other neighbors donated, and they each gave five dollars.
I gladly matched the total and sent in the funds,
Wondering how wonderful it would have been if more had given more.

Her nickname always cheered me up,
Yet I could never quite recall it.
It was Candy or Cookie or something mouthwatering.
I hesitated to call her by name, because I never could remember it,
Even though she always waved me in and called me by my name
Whenever she saw me from her porch.
She could not come out to meet me; I had to go to her.
Her illnesses had limited her for years;
Her scoliosis and her emphysema
Made walking not only painful but also exhausting.

Her son and his infant moved in with her a year after her husband died,
And I thought that having a grandchild around would cheer her,
Keep her active,
But one day I overheard her son say to the garbage collector,
“My mother died last week.”

He moved out about thirty days later.
The house has stood empty ever since.
For a year I've picked up papers thrown in the yard,
Scattered around the mostly ignored For Sale sign
Amid the uncut grass.

I walked my dog past her camellias today.
Candy or Cookie may be gone, but her husband’s love blooms on.

Friday, January 27, 2012

How is a Person Supposed to Get Help?

Today's posting is a vent, rather than advice. Today I responded to a voicemail message from a prospect who said she wants to write a book. I called her back, and she revealed some personal issues about which she wanted to write, and then she broke down and said she can't stop herself from doing the same things over and over, and she wants to commit suicide. She said she had thought about it for a couple of days, and she explained that she even figured out that her mother could raise her daughter, thereby keeping the daughter out of the foster-care system.

I spent more than an hour listening to and talking to the woman, doing my best to tell her to get some help. She said she was a veteran and had called the VA hospital, but her doctor was busy and had not called back.

I tried to get her address, but was unsuccessful. I at least had her number, and she told me the area/city in Metro Atlanta where she lives. When she hung up, I looked online and found a crisis line for veterans and called it. Unbelievably, I was put on hold. When someone finally answered, I explained the situation, and the man asked if the woman had made any plans. I said she revealed that she had a plan to keep her two-year-old daughter out of the system.

He said, "You need to hang up and call 911 right now."

I called 911 and was asked where I was calling from, so I told the dispatcher, but said I was calling about a suicidal woman who lived in Duluth. I was put on hold for a full minute and then someone answered. I explained the situation and was told I had reached the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport Police! Why on earth was I switched to the airport police?

Anyway, that person explained that I needed to call the Duluth police and said to hold while she got that number. I held for another full minute (thinking the woman who called me could be dead by this time), and then was given another phone number.

I called that number, and a little girl answered. I could barely understand her. She sounded 12 years old at the most. I said, "Is this a police department?"

"Yes," the little voice said.

I told the person (who I trust is older than she sounds) that I had received a business call, but while we were talking, the woman said she was in crisis and wanted to commit suicide. I explained that I had only her name and phone number, and I gave both to the woman on the phone.

She said, "Do you have her address?"

"I just said, I have only her number, but someone can call her to get her address."

"Do you have her name?"

"I just gave you her name. It's [repeated first and last name again]."

She asked, "Why did she call you?"

I said, "I said it was a business call, but she revealed that she was contemplating suicide, and I want someone to find her and help her right away. We are wasting time here."

"What's your name?"

"Bobbie Christmas."

"What's your number?"

I gave it.

She said, "We'll see what we can do, but we don't have her address..."
I asked, "Can't someone call and ask her for her address? Is anything going to be done?"

"We'll see what we can do. Thank you for calling."

"What's your name, please?" I asked.

Bzzz...I got a dialtone. She had hung up.

I can only hope that the woman in crisis got help today. I did what I could do. I'll always wonder what more I could have done.