I just don’t want to die without a few scars

November 17th, 2011
1955 Ford Thunderbird

You see those cars that are completely stock cherry, right out of a dealer's showroom in 1955, I always think, what a waste

Walter with his signet ring shakes my hand, wrapped in his smooth soft hand and says, “I’d hate to see what happened to the other guy.”

The first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club.

I tell Walter I fell.

I did this to myself.

Before the presentation, when I sat across from my boss, telling him where in the script each slide cues and when I wanted to run the video segment, my boss says, “What do you get yourself into every weekend?”

I just don’t want to die without a few scars, I say. It’s nothing any more to have a beautiful stock body. You see those cars that are completely stock cherry, right out of a dealer’s showroom in 1955, I always think, what a waste.

by Chuck Palahniuk (born February 21, 1962)
from Fight Club, A Novel
image – from South Beach Cars, a lovely 1955 Ford Thunderbird convertible

Values

Now, I get the concept of too much caution, and I know that if you want to make an omelet you’ve got to break some heads eggs, but I’m not the only one who thought, “I can own the shiny car and have adventures, too!”

Let’s back it up and think about an inner journey, like the simulated travel that can happen inside one’s self when reading a book or seeing a movie, or, more importantly, the inside view on outgrowing childhood. For those sorts of evolutions, maybe we can’t bring along the shiny car or the signet ring, because those things are too tempting. They’re “expensive,” but getting them is a matter of cheap logistics – make the payments and you’re in – evolution and self awareness are not factors. Given the choice of bleeding for a dream or making payments on a cherry convertible, who wouldn’t stop to caress the convertible? Better not to tell your inner Walter about that car, or even think of signet rings. On the inside, the first rule about fight club is you don’t talk about fight club. Don’t let the shiny car come between the raw heart beating inside and who you think you are.

As Tyler Durden put it in the movie, “I say stop being perfect, I say let… lets evolve, let the chips fall where they may.”

Unbelief is a terrible thing. And so is the hurt we cause each other unknowingly.

November 16th, 2011
sun almost breaks through clouds

Believe in us. Do you remember that day?

…I remembered what I you told me about seeing Corrine and Samuel and Olivia in town, when she was buying cloth to make her and Olivia dresses, and how you’d sent me in to see her because she was the only woman you’d ever seen with money. I tried to make Corrine remember that day, but she couldn’t.

She gets weaker and weaker, and unless she can believe in us and start to feel something for her children, I fear we will lose her.

Oh, Celie, unbelief is a terrible thing. And so is the hurt we cause each other unknowingly.

by Alice Walker (born February 9, 1944)
from The Color Purple, 1982

Love has no weapons; it has no fists. Love does not bruise, nor does it draw blood.

November 14th, 2011
happy cat

She kissed us until we purred like cats... praised us in songs of her own making

Whenever my father hit us, my mother would say, “He only did it because he loves you.” Whenever my mother struck us with her hairbrush, her broom, her hands, she did it in the name and under the sign of love. Such love as we got hovered beneath the sign of Mars, a frayed refugee of some debased and ruined zodiac. But my grandmother brought back from her journey a revolutionary doctrine: Love has no weapons; it has no fists. Love does not bruise, nor does it draw blood. At first, the three of us drew back when she tried to hug us, to take us on her lap. Tolitha stroked our hair and faces. She kissed us until we purred like cats. She praised us in songs of her own making. She told us we were beautiful. She told us we were extraordinary and would do great things.

by Pat Conroy (born October 26, 1945)
from The Prince of Tides, 1986
image – faeryboots

Writing Prompt – November 13, 2011

November 13th, 2011

QuoteSnack offers fresh quotes several days a week, attributed and linked to a confirmed, published source. In addition, I’ll sometimes post a writing prompt with simple instructions. The next post will be a quote that has something to do with the prompt, so you can take a peek at differences or similarities in how someone else relates to using the same words.

There is no wrong approach. Don’t worry if something seems to be a lot more emotionally charged than it is on the surface, or if some prompts are duds for you. This is a mind-opening exercise; anything is possible.

The Prompt

Directions:

  1. Be ready to write, word processor open, or pad and pencil in hand. Set a timer for five minutes.
  2. Clear your mind.
  3. Click “Reveal Writing Prompt” below, and look at the prompt for the space of one deep, quiet breath.
  4. As you start the second breath, clear your mind of expectations.
  5. Write, full on, whatever comes to you, for five minutes. Do not stop to correct anything – just go.
  6. When the time is up, you have to stop.
  7. Get up and wiggle. Move. Laugh. Growl. Pat self on back.

You’re welcome to leave comments about the experience and anything that comes of it, including links or even your entire prompt-generated exercise. However, please don’t look at any comments until after finishing your own writing. What you’re doing right now is a personal thing.

Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net.

November 12th, 2011
tennis ball over the net

Context, over the net. What next?

Some writers for children deliberately avoid using words they think a child doesn’t know. This emasculates the prose and, I suspect, bores the reader. Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net. They love words that give them a hard time, provided they are in a context that absorbs their attention. I’m lucky again: my own vocabulary is small, compared to most writers, and I tend to use short words. So its no problem for me to write for children. We have a lot in common.

by E. B. White (July 11, 1899 – October 1, 1985)
from The Art of the Essay No. 1
in The Paris Review, Issue 48, Fall 1969
image – nimish_gogri

A Context that Absorbs their Attention

Notice the bridge. Tucked in between a sentence about “hard words,” and another about “short words” is an encouragement to challenge readers: “They love words that give them a hard time, provided they are in a context that absorbs their attention.” Context is the glue.

What happens when context is left out of the picture?

A few years ago a study of Stanford University students showed that using big words to look smarter can backfire. The study (I get a laugh out of this) is titled Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

The study’s summary tells us there is “a negative relationship between complexity and judged intelligence. This relationship held regardless of the quality of the original essay, and irrespective of the participants’ prior expectations of essay quality.” In other words, readers thought the simpler language was written by smarter writers.

Readers were shown three versions of the same text. I think the simplest versions are better written. In the most complex versions “every applicable word” is lengthened. The effect is like thesaurus soup. The sentence “I want to go to Graduate School so that I can learn to know literature well” becomes “I desire to go to Graduate School so that I can learn to recognize literature satisfactorily.”

The simple version’s writer wants to “know literature well.” Apparently, the writer who uses more complex words cannot yet “recognize literature satisfactorily.” A fifth grader should be able to “recognize literature.” Couple that with using other big words in a klutzy way, and I’d wonder if writer number two is faking English fluency.

Sigh.

Do you see? The complexity was changed without consideration for the context. When the words made less sense, the writer seemed less intelligent.

As someone who is just a smidge obsessed with etymology, I must confess to a smug satisfaction that “hard words” weren’t why the complex version bombed for me. Context puts ideas in a reader’s head, so it’s good to be clear about the intended message.

“How’s this?” he asked, showing the ad to Charlotte. “It says ‘Crunchy.’ ‘Crunchy’ would be a good word to write in your web.”

“Just the wrong idea,” replied Charlotte. “Couldn’t be worse. We don’t want Zuckerman to think Wilbur is crunchy. He might start thinking about crisp, crunchy bacon and tasty ham. That would put ideas into his head. We must advertise Wilbur’s noble qualities, not his tastiness. Go get another word, please, Templeton!”
by E. B. White
from Charlotte’s Web

________________________

For more about The Paris Review, check out this Faulkner quote: “Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” It’s from his 1956 interview.

In case you’re curious, there was a Paris Review interview named The Art of the Essay No. 2, but it did not appear until the Summer of 1997, 30 years after the No. 1 I quoted above.

Thought for the day: Vocabulary is Sexy.

There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree

November 11th, 2011
crowd with hands raised

The Universe is an awfully big place

CHRONO-SYNCLASTIC INFUNDIBULA – Just imagine that your Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on Earth, and he knows everything there is to find out, and he is exactly right about everything, and he can prove he is right about everything. Now imagine another little child on some nice world a million light years away, and that little child’s Daddy is the smartest man who ever lived on that nice world so far away. And he is just as smart and just as right as your Daddy is. Both Daddies are smart, and both Daddies are right.

Only if they ever meet each other they would get into a terrible argument, because they wouldn’t agree on anything. Now, you can say that your Daddy is right and the other little child’s Daddy is wrong, but the Universe is an awfully big place. There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree.

by Kurt Vonnegut (November 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007)
from The Sirens of Titan
chapter – Between Timid and Timbuktu (1959)
image – deadserpents

Happy Birthday Kurt Vonnegut

🙂
The Sirens of Titan is what first put Vonnegut on the map.

Writing Prompt – November 10, 2011

November 10th, 2011

QuoteSnack offers fresh quotes several days a week, attributed and linked to a confirmed, published source. In addition, I’ll sometimes post a writing prompt with simple instructions. The next post will be a quote that has something to do with the prompt, so you can take a peek at differences or similarities in how someone else relates to using the same words.

There is no wrong approach. Don’t worry if something seems to be a lot more emotionally charged than it is on the surface, or if some prompts are duds for you. This is a mind-opening exercise; anything is possible.

The Prompt

Directions:

  1. Be ready to write, word processor open, or pad and pencil in hand. Set a timer for five minutes.
  2. Clear your mind.
  3. Click “Reveal Writing Prompt” below, and look at the prompt for the space of one deep, quiet breath.
  4. As you start the second breath, clear your mind of expectations.
  5. Write, full on, whatever comes to you, for five minutes. Do not stop to correct anything – just go.
  6. When the time is up, you have to stop.
  7. Get up and wiggle. Move. Laugh. Growl. Pat self on back.

You’re welcome to leave comments about the experience and anything that comes of it, including links or even your entire prompt-generated exercise. However, please don’t look at any comments until after finishing your own writing. What you’re doing right now is a personal thing.

Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth

November 9th, 2011
dark water

Be careful not to touch the water - anticipating the weight of unknown potential

“Voldemort will not have cared about the weight, but about the amount of magical power that crossed his lake. I rather think an enchantment will have been placed upon this boat so that only one wizard at a time will be able to sail in it.”

“But then — ?”

“I do not think you will count, Harry: You are underage and unqualified. Voldemort would never have expected a sixteen-year-old to reach this place: I think it unlikely that your powers will register compared to mine.”

These words did nothing to raise Harry’s morale; perhaps Dumbledore knew it, for he added, “Voldemort’s mistake, Harry, Voldemort’s mistake… Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth… Now, you first this time, and be careful not to touch the water.”

by J. K. Rowling (31 July 1965 – )
from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (16 July 2005) Chapter 26