Ruth, the love of Bob’s life, leaves him for Chuck.
Next time he meets someone named Ruth or Chuck, will they just be names to him?
A father calls his teenage son ‘stupid’ when he can’t find the right tool.
A suitor says to his intended, “I love you.”
They’re just words, right?
Every time I hear someone excuse their use of profanity that way, these are the things I think about. Is it reasonable to place all the burden of effective communication on the listener, to make them decipher what the speaker means (or does not) by their language choices?
I think not.
If your goal is to convey the coarseness many people still associate with certain language, that’s your choice.
Claiming that others have no reason for offense is not.
A month ago I tried to leave a 5-star review for a cool guitar accessory I’d bought on Amazon. I got an error message. When I followed up with Amazon this was their response:
Yes, in fact, I know people who’ve bought the same items as me on Amazon.
I know some of the authors whose books I’ve bought, read, and reviewed.
And I have been given books in the hopes I would review them.
Never, once, have I intentionally attempted to deceive or mislead anyone about my own books or my opinion of any other item at Amazon. Hey, I’m that guy ahead of you making you crazy by driving the speed limit instead of going as fast as everyone else. I’m the guy who reports cash earnings and pays taxes on them.
In short, I’m honest, in everything, in every way. I’m genetically incapable of lying or cheating.
When I know that there are folks who are gaming Amazon left right and center and making money at it, folks who are cheating every way possible and getting away with it, but whatever mistake I made leads to, with no warning whatsoever, a full permanent ban from ever leaving a review of anything, ever again, on Amazon, it feels unfair.
I’m no longer raging, but I’m still sad. Maybe even a little hurt.
I was planning on asking for your book reviews in my next newsletter. I won’t be bothering. In fact, you might want to avoid reviewing any of my books, in case Amazon decides we know each other.
I’ve noticed something about an audience’s reaction to live music: how the applause happens.
Obviously, there’s applause at the end.
And at the beginning, there’s applause—twice.
Some people recognize the opening notes on the guitar, the first piano chord, the drum riff leading it off, and instantly cheer for what they know is coming. There’s a medium sized round of applause in the opening seconds.
Then, the singer starts the song, and people recognize the words. That applause is a roar. People recognize words more than they recognize music.
Some bands play around with this. Bob Dylan is famous for rearranging his music so much that, until he starts singing, even fans aren’t sure where he’s going—and sometimes, not even then. Okay, we always eventually get it. He’s an extreme example. Sometimes a new intro delays the applause until the singer makes the song clear.
Comedians and storytellers play on this. Telegraph where you’re going with a joke, a humorous story, and people will slowly start to get it. A rising chuckle, a few laughs, and before the punchline everyone gets it—and then, you leave it there. They’ve figured it out and told themselves the joke. Don’t kill it by nailing it down.
Listeners, readers, those people who take stories in, whether they’re jokes, morality plays, songs, are smart. They love story, they understand it. They don’t need to be led by the hand, they just need a compass and a map.
As long as you’ve marked the trail clearly, letting readers find their own path makes a more satisfying experience.
Because I (usually) drink decaf, apparently people think I like weak coffee. One place I worked, my morning ritual was to dump out the watery half-strength muck someone had just made and make a pot of strong-and-a-half decaf. At home, my coffee is the strongest you’ll ever taste. Not kidding. It will punch you in the tongue. I love the taste of coffee. What I don’t like is the caffeinated shakes.
When we were traveling, everyone we stayed with or even drove with assumed that because we were from California, our preferred temperature was somewhere around 80ºF. It’s closer to 65º, thank you very much. We’d sweltered our way through two experiences as guests when we realized what was going on.
Having moved from far northern Wisconsin to southern Arizona, it is only natural that every single person we meet comments on how nice it must be to finally see some decent weather. I’ve learned to respond that it sure is sunny here, oh ho oh ho.
We hate the heat. We love the snow. Since we work from home and don’t have to go out if we don’t want, two feet of snow overnight is fun for us. We all prefer sweaters to short sleeves, and a roaring blaze in the fireplace to living cooped up with a/c for six months.
Also, apparently from the way I talk, everyone assumes I love bacon.
After finishing his latest fiction I’m rereading Stephen King’s On Writing which, although not precisely instructional, is the most inspiring book I’ve read when it comes to staying the course as a writer.
Last night this reminded me why:
“I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since—too many, I think—being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who as ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.”
“. . . in my heart I stayed ashamed. I kept hearing Miss Hisler asking why I wanted to waste my talent, why I wanted to waste my time, why I wanted to write junk.”—from Stephen King’s On Writing p50
Count Alexander Rostov is placed under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow in 1922. For life. Because art loves constraints, telling a story within the confines of a single building helps make this both deep and broad. There’s an understanding of Soviet thinking I’ve rarely seen. In the sweep of more than three decades, the joys and pains of life take on a stoic Russian feel, especially in the author’s footnotes which tell us “don’t pay attention to this character, he’s not as important as the scene might suggest” or “sadly, this character, much as we’d love to see them again, leaves our story here and never returns.”
The early days of music videos taught us a number of things, but one of the biggest lessons I took was that musicians cannot necessarily act. The first corollary is that bad acting spoils an otherwise good video. The second is that a bad video takes some of the joy out of a good song.
Stretching a bit more: find video of Irving Berlin, playing piano and singing. Perhaps the worst singer capable of carrying a tune in all history.
One month ago at this moment our yard was silent and white. A foot of snow covered everything, including the lake. The pines had a light frosting of white and the darker bark of the elms and walnuts stood out from it all.
Nothing moved. No sound but a tractor in the distance.
We don’t let go. We claim we’re cursed by the gods to keep pushing the stupid boulder up the stupid hill, but that’s not what’s really happening. We think it’s about the white whale, but it’s us. We pretend it’s about art.
If you’re old enough, you remember a scene, whether in real life or on TV, of a parent telling their food-fussy child “Eat your sprouts; there are children starving in China!”
(If only the kids could send their Brussel sprouts to China. But I digress.)
Do hungry children in another land make it more important for your kids to eat well? Perhaps there’s a thin, very thin, connection with showing appreciation that we don’t go wanting. Try telling that to a kid facing a pile of Brussel sprouts.
How often have you heard an author decry the lack of quality in self-published books, saying that lack of quality hurts us all?