Posts Tagged ‘words’

OK, I’m cross. Very cross. It’s all too frequent these days, what with the increasing idiocy of politicians and the gradual erosion of standards of living across the board (oh, did I say ‘across the board’? I meant ‘for those who already have criminally low standards of living’). But I’ve just read this article on the BBC News website, in which Tory MP David Davies says Cameron’s plan to put through a bill allowing gay marriage is ‘barking mad’.

It’s the sort of thing you’d expect from a Tory, I suppose. But what the f*ckwit says is so STUPID that I’m literally shaking with anger.

I’ve found myself in the uncomfortable position today of supporting David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, all of whom are in favour of permitting gay marriage. Wow. Never thought that would happen. But good for them. They’ve come up with a reasonable way of legislating to allow gay people to get married without forcing churches that don’t consider loving relationships between people of the same sex to be valid to carry out the ceremonies. It’s not perfect, but it’ll do for now.

And what does this idiot David Davies say? Let’s look at it in detail:

“…we’re going to lose a large number of very loyal activists…” So it’s not about whether this is the right thing to do. It’s about whether people will still like the Tories if they do it. So, to go to extremes, it would have been wrong to take a stand against Hitler in the mid-1930s because it might upset people? Umm…

“If there are any sort of areas where there isn’t full equality with married couples then I’d be more than happy to support making changes to civic ceremonies, so I really don’t know why we need to go ahead with this at all.” So the right to be able to marry one’s life partner isn’t included in ‘full equality’ then? Umm… [and before anyone says ‘it’s just a word’ – BOLLOCKS is just a word as well. As is FUCK. And if you’re offended by that, don’t try to tell me words don’t have any power.]

“I think most parents would prefer their children not to be gay, knowing most parents want grandchildren if nothing else.” Well, Mr Davies, my parents have three children, only one of whom has (or is likely to have) children. And that child is the one that is gay. Umm…

“…having gay marriage recognised by law which opens the door to all churches being forced to do that…” apparently because we have so many laws imposed on us by the European Court of Human Rights. Oh, for pete’s sake. I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.

“It changes the way that sex education is going to be taught in schools.” W, as they say, TF? How? Why? If there would be a change required by allowing gay couples to marry, then perhaps that change should be happening anyway, huh?

I’m furious. FURIOUS.

This issue isn’t particularly relevant to me as an individual at the moment, even though I’m gay. I’m not in any kind of relationship, and to be honest, there’s not much room in my life for all the shenanigans that go with finding someone to be in a relationship with. When would I find time to go on a date? I work 12-16 hours every day, 7 days a week. No time or energy for a quick shag, let alone a fulfilling relationship. And, strange as it may sound, I’m perfectly happy on my own.

However, it is very relevant to all of us as a society, and hence to me as a member of that society. Stella Duffy expresses the argument for allowing gay marriage a lot more clearly and powerfully than I ever could, so I suggest you read her recent post, Ten Reasons I’d Like To Be Allowed To Marry My Wife.

I have two sons. As younger teenagers, they adopted the playground use of the word ‘gay’ as a derogatory term. I tried to explain to them that this was hurtful to gay people and encouraged subconscious or casual homophobia. They said, ‘Mum, it’s just a word.’ I didn’t tell them I was gay.

A year or so later, when I did tell them, I’ve never been so proud of the way they reacted. Or rather, didn’t react.

Me: ‘Kids, come here, I’ve got something to tell you.’
[kids approach, looking worried]
Me: ‘I’m gay.’
Kids: ‘Oh, is that all?’
[Kids get back to whatever they were doing]

And ever since then my sexuality hasn’t been an issue. The only thing that changed is that the boys have stopped using ‘gay’ as a casual insult.

I know lots of young people. And I can’t think of a single one of them that is the slightest bit fazed by homosexuality, or would want to deny gay people the right to marry, or would treat gay people as inferior in any way. In fact, my older son is ruder about people with ginger hair than he is about gay people (I don’t approve of gingerism either, by the way – it’s just as irrational as homophobia).

Perhaps David Davies and all those idiots who think gay people don’t deserve the same rights as anyone else should listen to the next generation and stop living in the past.

WANKERS, the lot of them. (hey, it’s just a word)

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Something I haven’t had much time for lately is my own writing. I’ve been doing bits and pieces, and taking opportunities when available. At the beginning of May, for example, I went down to Chipping Campden with a friend for a one-day workshop run by Mario Petrucci. The title of the workshop was ’16 ways to write a poem’, and we did a lot of listening and a lot of writing.

The best thing for me about the day was getting my mind back into the poetry groove for a while. You know how it is, you spend hours and hours writing copy for websites or festival programmes, or proofreading other writers’ work, then it takes a significant effort to switch your head into a creative mode.

KeyringOne of Mario’s 16 ways was called ‘The Third Mind’. He asked us to write ten lines about an object – any object. I chose the keyring my mum gave me as a graduation present back in 1987 – a comment on my tendency then to lock myself out! These were the lines I wrote:

Goldish colour fading to silver.
A present from my mum.
Slightly corroded, pitted by time.
Holds my keys.
Gets tangled up in itself.
Makes a nice rattling sound.
Heavier than my keys.
Gucci logo (the old one).
Has interesting links in its chain.
Works by pulling (not turning) the bit that looks like a screw.

I read the lines out with no explanation, then Mario gave them a title selected at random from a list of feelings we’d generated beforehand… for mine the title was ‘Friendship’. Try reading the lines again with that title in mind…

Amazing, isn’t it?

I love poetry, the exactness of each word, the way every single nuance feeds into every single line and makes it more than it is. I’m working on a poem at the moment which, on the face of it, makes no sense. But when you read it in light of the title the whole thing clicks into place somehow. And one of the joys of poetry is talking about it with other poets. On Friday I went to the first meeting of a new poetry critiquing group. I was so pleased when my poet friends, who hadn’t seen that poem before, instinctively understood what it was about and gave me some invaluable advice on how it could do its work better. I’m looking forward to finding a couple of hours to work on that poem, now I know what it needs.

Perhaps in another blog post I’ll be able to identify more clearly just what it is about poetry that has grabbed me and won’t let me go. I doubt it though. I just know it gives me great joy and a sense of being with words in a purer way than any other kind of writing or reading.

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Just so you know, things are getting silly… I don’t have time to think, let alone write blog posts this week. So unless I suddenly discover those extra hours I’ve paid myself for, I won’t be writing any more till the weekend. I do have some ideas churning away in my head though, so it’ll hopefully be worth the wait.

Random thoughts about words

‘Hiatus’ confused me for a long while. I thought it was something quite active at first – it sounds like it should involve rushing around. One of the ladies at the cafe where I worked on Saturdays when I was a teenager had a hiatus hernia. I felt very sympathetic, as I imagined it was similar to having a muscle whipping around loose inside her belly, like a snake that had got its tail trapped. It wasn’t until fairly recently that I discovered ‘hiatus’ actually means a temporary break or a gap in something. It doesn’t seem to matter though, I still think of it as a lively word. I wonder how many other words I have a totally inaccurate understanding of.

When I was younger, about 5 or 6 I think, I started to obsess about the way words sound. I spent a whole week trying to persuade myself that ‘cold’ was in fact an acceptable word. I’d say it out loud to myself over and over, and it would never sound right. Strangely, it was always one word at a time that bugged me, and once I’d finished worrying away at the word of the week (or day or hour or month) I became quite comfortable with it again. I still get occasional flashes of weirdness about particular words. Never about written words though.

And then there was ‘ha-ha’. I asked my mum and dad why this combination of wall and ditch had such a stupid name. They said it was because when someone fell down the ditch because they didn’t see it was there, everyone else would say ‘ha-ha’. Which seemed perfectly reasonable. I believed that for decades. Then I found out the real reason – it’s half wall and half ditch: ha-ha. I have never forgiven my parents.

What do you say to a child who asks, ‘Why is a chair called a chair?’ I always used to respond, ‘It’s got to be called something.’ Which is totally unsatisfactory, but it usually got me off the hook. I suppose an alternative would be to point said child in the direction of The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg, but that would seem a little unfair. It’s a good book though.

Why is there no English word for schadenfreude?

Why are swear words starting with ‘b’ so much better than any others?

And finally, I can say ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ backwards. Not quite sure why. But it’s a fabulous word which means the act or habit of describing something as worthless.

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Paper vs pixels

Do you prefer to write with a pen or typewriter, or using a computer? And do you prefer to read a real book, or are you happy with an ebook reader?

Things change

I’ve written before about character development – I don’t agree that writers should start by knowing everything there is to know about their main characters. I’m not just being lazy, I tried it a couple of times and discovered that as I developed my story, the characters changed to fit the situation and the theme. And of course, the situation changed to fit the theme and journey, and the theme changed to fit the characters… you get the idea. So spending hours and hours getting into the mind and history and subconscious of my characters was a waste of time. Well, maybe not a waste, but it would have proceeded a lot more smoothly if I’d thought them all through at once.

The Waterfall Process is BAD

I have a horror of fixing things in stone that stems back to my days as a software developer. We used to follow the ‘waterfall process’ (in a vaguely uncontrolled way)…

  1. Write the business specification which describes what the client wants. Well, what they say they want.
  2. Write the analysis document which describes the functionality you plan to give the client. This is what you think the client wants – not necessarily the same as the business specification.
  3. Write the system design which describes how you’re going to provide the functionality. This never quite matches the analysis, and always moves further away from the business specification.
  4. Develop the software which usually provides a whole different set of functionality.
  5. Test the software against the business specification, to which it now bears no resemblance.
  6. Give it to clients and do a lot of fast talking to persuade them that it’s exactly what they need.

This model isn’t in favour much these days, but the issue of scope creep still rears its ugly head. It’s perfectly reasonable for developers to suggest improvements or make changes to work round problems, and it’s also reasonable for clients to have second (or third or fourth) thoughts about what they want. However, if developers don’t keep going back and changing all the documentation to match, you end up with a pissed off QA team. They keep raising bug reports only to be told, ‘Oh no, we changed that spec.’ And they get cross. As far as they’re concerned, your story isn’t consistent.

This explains my sense of deja vu when I realised my radio play didn’t meet the specification. I’d followed the process of developing my characters, identifying the theme and journey, writing the story summary, then getting on with the scenes. It didn’t work. I had fixed the characters and the story by writing them down in great detail, and I found myself writing scenes to conform to the work I’d done.

Once I let myself think outside those constraints, everything fell into place. All the story elements fed into each other, rather than trying to fit pre-cut jigsaw pieces together I was changing the shapes and smoothing the edges to make them connect effectively.

So I wrote a play that was internally consistent, flowed well, reflected the story I was trying to tell. And I was left with a character summary and story summary that didn’t match the final scenes – so I’m going to have to go back and change them for the portfolio. If I didn’t have to hand them in I’d just throw them away (same as we used to do with old analysis and system design documents).

Words are ephemeral, till you write them down

I was on a boring training course once. Can’t remember what it was about. I did what I always do in those situations – I doodled, and I found myself writing thoughts and ideas down. I watched the words forming on the page, and had a weird kind of out of body experience. Maybe it would be better described as an out of mind experience – it seemed as if the words were appearing from nowhere onto the page, becoming real. My thoughts were escaping to lead lives of their own.

Once you’ve written something down on paper, you can’t erase it completely without destroying the paper. If you type it into a document, it will appear on the screen but can be just as quickly removed, leaving no trace. Words made with pixels don’t exist in their own right. Words on paper do. Words in your head don’t really exist either. You’ll forget them if you don’t write them down, and you’ll be left hoping something will trigger their return.

The ephemeral representation of thoughts and ideas is exactly what I need to ‘plan’ my writing. If something sticks in my memory, it’s probably worth remembering. If it triggers lots of wild associations, so much the better. If it doesn’t work, I can rub it out without feeling guilty about wasting paper or destroying words. (I do have a horror of destroying written words that stems from my lifetime love affair with books.)

On the screen is even better. I can shuffle sentences and paragraphs around till they fit, I can create and destroy, I can delete the lot and start with a clean sheet if I need to. I can revert to a previous state of affairs, I can make global edits. I can flit around my document(s), working on whatever I feel like working on. I can create links between various aspects and make sure everything connects up.

What about reading?

When it comes to writing, I’m a pixel girl every time. Given the choice of a real proper book or an e-book, however, I’d go for the former. I do have a Sony e-book reader, which I raved about for a while, but I have to admit I’ve gone back to reading mostly printed books. Part of it is the limited availability of the books I want in e-book format, but much of it is the solid comfort of opening up a block of paper to find words that won’t change on pages I can feel. I guess when I go on holiday I’ll appreciate the reduction in volume of one Sony Reader compared to 10 hefty paperbacks, but otherwise I think I’ll probably stick with real books.

The permanence of words printed/written onto paper, which gives me such problems as a writer, reassures me as a reader. Isn’t that strange?

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