Saturday, August 29, 2009

Strong Feelings About Words

Over a week ago my blogging role model Mothership ( from Motherhood the final frontier, a blog I highly recommend - ) attempted to rope me into a meme. I tend to resist this sort of thing mighty fiercely. But the ideas behind it snuck into my head and influenced the radio-rant station that plays in my head when I forget to obsess about politics, religion, finances, and what is for dinner. So in the interest of drowning out the current din in my head about such exciting topics as how to make myself get more exercise, I am going to tackle these questions.

Which words do you use too much in your writing?

The sad thing is that the word “ the” is literally overused in my writing because when I get tired I just write it two or three times in a row like a sort of type-stuttering. I also have to take the word “very” out of almost every sentence. There could easily be an argument made for the overuse of “I” as well.

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?

I hate it when new, probably unnecessary buzzwords are introduced and then heinously overused. Examples? Sustainable, and sustainability have replaced the old fashioned concept of just plain sensible. When did something that is not wasteful or designed with build in obsolescence in need of a special word? The same goes for carbon footprint, which is just another way of saying relative piggishness (high carbon footprint) versus relative stewardship of the planet (low carbon footprint). I am glad that use of these words has made wise use of resources trendy but I wish we could have just kept it in style all along.

Another word that I would like driven out of the language is the use of “got” when describing something that nobody would wish upon himself or herself. I got banana's at the store. I got some good news. Fine, no problem there.
He “got” raped? He got mugged and murdered? I don’t think so. He got a rash maybe. Although in the interest of not blaming the victim perhaps we could say he suffered from a rash. Agency is key- if people are always going out and getting mugged, murdered, and ripped off, then how are we to stop any of it? In the same line of thinking I would like to see the phrase “ blaming the victim” retired from the language because nobody does it anymore.

What’s your favorite piece of writing by you?

That varies from day to day. I hate most things when they are just finished, but if I leave them alone for a week or longer and come back then I am entertained by my own irreverence. I am pleased with this one;

What blog post do you wish you’d written?

I have several favorite blog posts. My favorite concept, that I wish I had thought of is from Vagnino Monologues- a series called " so you think you don't like poetry" that offers wonderful accessible poetry to change the minds of poetry haters everywhere.

My favorite romantic story is

Who I still owe for this

What is the strangest thing you have ever been asked to write about?

I don’t have to be asked to write about strange things. It comes far too naturally. More likely, I have to be asked, repeatedly, and with increasing volume not to write about all the strange things that happen daily in my family.

Name three favorite words…

Liminal, Jungian, and flourless chocolate cake.

And three words you’re not so keen on?
Cognizant- Please replace with aware. I just like the way it sounds better. It is less stuffy- and aware is one of my most favorite words and concepts.

Victim- just get rid of the whole concept. Replace with awareness.

Codependence- again, be done with the whole concept. Replace with awareness. I think I have a theme going here.

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?

I have several. My role model as a writer is my father- who never fails to use writing as a way to explore his passion for art, music, and dance while financing his need for constant travel. My favorite writer as a child was Roald Dahl and I recently discovered an amazing children’s story by Saman Rushdie that was very much in that league.

I have a grudging respect for Elizabeth Gilbert, a huge deep love for Anne Lamott, and a wavering affection/annoyance thing going with Augusten Bourroughs. I also love David Sedaris and my small and reasonable goal is to somehow write like all of them, only better.

What is your writing ambition?

You mean apart from the Booker Prize and being on Oprah’s Book Club? I just stole that line from Mothership, and I don’t think American’s get the Booker, but I am open to all possibilities. I would actually rather win the Newbury Award than any other, once I get my 1980's version of "Go Ask Alice" ready for the young adult readers of the world. 

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Give Me That Microphone

Growing up I had an absolute horror of public speaking. It was so vicious that I intentionally let my grades droop at the end of middle school to avoid any possible chance of being chosen to give the graduation speech. The thought of standing up in the school gym, in front of the students of my small, insular, mostly supportive school was beyond terrifying. I was also the kid who could only mouth the words when singing ( in large groups) at assembly and I tried to get permission to take a shower in my clothes after gym. I was generally thwarted by life. My father was chosen to give the guest speech to my class and I had to get up and introduce him. He added insult to injury by playing a drum and asking the whole room to chant with him in Yoruba. Wince, hands over eyes, hide under the stage.

As I have aged my ability to be embarrassed by anything anybody else does has been worn down by the wild unpredictable whims of my loved ones ( with the exception of my grandmother's love of using loud french as a secret language to talk trash about other people in public- somehow " stupide" never seems to be as hard to decode as it should be). I have come to enjoy my father's willingness to sing, dance, shout, and do martial arts while also giving a slide lecture. I have come to join the rest of the family in our loud, competitive story/joke/outrageous lie telling. I may even have become one of the loudest tellers of myth and hyperbolic truth. I have also grown much less fearful of individual performance, thanks to an incident at the registry when my skirt elastic gave way while I was holding a baby and a toddler. Maintaining dignity in granny pants without losing my active toddler, dropping my baby, or losing my place in line was instructive.

Perhaps one reason I have learned to keep talking, or walking, or whatever I need to be doing is that I have rosacea. When I am hot, angry, passionate, or have eaten spicy food, or anything I am allergic to I turn bright red, not just my cheeks but my throat and chest. I am a teacher, and opportunities to be hot, angry, or passionate abound on any given day. Wearing a turtleneck up over my nose all day gets old after a while. I learned that if I just kept on talking and moving and making sense, a little, that I could in fact live through it. And I learned that the less I cared what I looked like, or what other people thought about me, the less often I flushed in public.

Oddly though my ability to hold it together in my classroom did not carry over to less performance anxiety in other settings. I can keep the conversation moving forward in my own space, or with my own family, but put me in a new group and I am as shy as I was when I was three. But then recently a good friend asked me to go with her to an open mike event and just check it out, as she was considering reading some of her creative writing. I went with her and listened as people from my community told stories, sang, rapped, read random passages from books, joked, and ranted. I felt a strange affinity for these people, most of them strangers. I wanted to try it.

The next time my friend and I both signed up. We were very nervous. We smoked cigarettes. My bladder behaved as if I was nine months pregnant. I coughed, and wheezed, and trembled. But when it was time to just do it I got up and told a story without notes and words came out of my mouth, words that made some sort of sense. I felt so dizzy with basic fear while I did it, but then I felt a wave of ease when I finished. And then the next week I did it again, only this time I read something I wrote. And this time I did not feel shakey, or incontinent and I was able to stay in my head while I did it, so I can actually remember what I said. I was also able to pay better attention to other people because I was not so caught in fear of my own potential failure.

I am going to keep doing this- and move to combine things I have written with stories I have always loved to tell. I am going to write new work that is specifically designed for performance live. Perhaps, like my father, I will add some music and dance and singing, but perhaps not.