Saturday, 28 November 2015

Listen, My Friends, and You Shall Hear

Leonid Osipovich Pasternak

Listening is a huge part of writing. Being receptive. Noticing details as well as the wide sweep of something. Bowing to the emotions, considering ideas that do not, perhaps, come naturally to the writer. One needs to, wants to, sometimes cannot help but give attention to what one receives, hears, notices. Even if the attention given springs from disgust or boredom, these reactions must also be heeded because it is all grist for the proverbial mill.

When I listen to others who create, no matter their medium, I hear them express similar ideas about the need to go inside themselves, slow down, allow ideas and feelings to flow or charge or explode. This shared experience is an interesting and delightful aspect of creativity. It's an exciting, enthralling and sometimes quite scary process in which we participate.

Today I have been in the presence of several animals lovers, people who care for animals and treasure them as wonderful companions and friends. I have had relationships like that with some animals, as well, and as I listened to these friends talk, I felt the resonance of something familiar but couldn't put my finger on what that was. Then tonight, after a long day of get-togethers and conversations, I wanted to explore this feeling of synchronicity or unnamed resonance I've experienced for the last several hours.
I think that listening to the deep animal lovers felt familiar because it is so similar, maybe identical to, my experience of creativity and creative expression. Those who love animals (or babies or music or the soil or colour or the stars or…) are listeners and receivers. Noticers. Animal lovers create space for and are open to inner knowing and exploration. They respect that which they love, as do writers and painters, singers and dancers. This sort of love sometimes requires us to "get out of the way," as one friend said today of her time with animals.

And this is true for me when I am writing. I am a participant and a co-creator at the same time. As in any relationship, I sometimes have to just get out of the way and let the thing flow and be whatever it is. Then I come back into the process or unfolding and consciously shape and direct it, but – when it works the best – only in a way that shines the truest light on that character or story or scene, so that it can show itself. It is so difficult sometimes, and such a privilege, too.

So these conversations today have given me several hours of pleasure and opportunity and fun. I've learned some new perspectives on love and devotion. It has been thoroughly satisfying. Thanks very much to all those animal lovers and open listeners today.

Thursday, 26 November 2015


First off, I can't believe I forgot that yesterday was Wednesday! So here is yesterday's WordWednesday entry.

Lewis Carroll first coined "portmanteau" for words in 1871. For example: "slithy" is a portmanteau word he formed by combining lithe & slimy

Portmanteau words don't always work in both directions; slithy works, while limy and limey do not. Another example: I have combined the words notice and invitation to make invinotice. I think it works better than notivation does. 

You'll see a lot of portmanteau words in my WordWednesdays because they're just a lot of fun and, often, quite clever.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Alphabet Soup, Anyone?

OK, folks, pull your chairs up to the table; it’s time for lunch. Today’s special is a big helping of
alphabet soup. It’s not exactly like the kind you had when you were a kid. No, this soup is specially made to save time and energy, often growing out of the tiresome and unwieldy labels one encounters in certain arenas of life. It’s just how everybody talks these days, OK?
Vernacular alphabet soup comes in two basic flavours: initialism and acronym. An initialism is “a group of initial letters used as an abbreviation for a name or expression, each letter being pronounced separately (e.g. BBC)” (Oxford English Reference Dictionary). Other common examples are CBC and  ER. An acronym is “a word, usually pronounced as such, formed from the initial letters of other words (e.g. Ernie, laser, Nato)”. (Oxford English Reference Dictionary)  More about acronyms another time.
Initialism alphabet soup takes many forms. There is sports soup – NHL, NBA, PGA, CFL – and government/military soup, such as OPP, IRA, KGB, MP, UN, CIA, and RAF. Then there are commercial/industrial soups, which include IGA, GT, GM, IBM, PR, and COD.
Alphabet soup has become so common you might have experienced a new linguistic malady called Alphabet Soup Confusion (ASC, for short), wherein one struggles with the increasing ambiguity of now overused initials. For example, who supports the WWF – wrestling fans or animal lovers? Is a PC better known to computer users or Canadian voters? And did you know that BC stands not only for British Columbia and Before Christ, but also Bachelor of Chemistry and Bachelor of Commerce? There’s probably something else, too, but not in my world. And anyone who enters a new field or job usually has to learn new terms, many of which are initialisms. The little critters can even be regionally or personally different; WW I and WW II are initialisms to some people but not to others. Do you say “dubya-dubya-two”  or “double-you double-you two” or “World War Two”?
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Internet chat and texting lingo, which has taken initialism to new heights… well, places, anyway. It has become so much a part of Internet language that some chatters are forgetting how to spell. It’s possible that chat-talk can’t even be called initialism, because Internet chatters rarely use capitol letters; holding the Shift key takes too long. Here are some examples: brb (be right back), cu (see you), lol (laugh out loud) and 4u (for you). Even “okay”, which is often spelled “ok,” has been further shortened to “k.”
Now I have to admit that many of these chatisms (if they can make up “words”, so can I) are very efficient. Nevertheless, I can’t help but worry a little about where this rampant initialism is dragging our beautiful English language. It seems we can’t even take the time and energy to say four or five syllables just because two will do. What’s the big rush? I understand that when you’re chatting on the Internet or texting on your phone, you want to keep the conversation moving, and shortcuts help. Fine. But when you’re talking face to face? Are you going to walk out on someone who says, “I’d appreciate your doing that as soon as possible” rather than “I need that ASAP” because they’re taking too long?
I honestly can’t figure out what to make of the whole thing. I say TV, CAA, PEI, and CPR. And I am aware that contractions, which I use regularly, are a short form that someone probably objected to about 100 years ago. So what’s my problem? I guess it’s the part of me that doesn’t want this wonderful language to change too much. I sometimes feel sad to hear it misused so freely, because I like the sound of English when it’s used well.
Yet the irony is that I also enjoy the flexibility of English. I like making up words myself, as you may have noticed. So, I guess the only solution, as with so many conundrums in life, is to look after my own English and let everybody else look after theirs – unless they’re in my English class. Then they’d better watch it.
 A little word challenge for word-nerds like me: Time yourself for three minutes and see how many initialisms you can write down, not counting the ones mentioned in this column.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


Prepone: to hold an event earlier than originally planned. Opposite of postpone. We preponed the meeting from June 1 to May 15. I didn't make this one up, though I wish I had because it's just such a sensible word. Instead of "moving the meeting up (or back or ahead...?)" you could simply prepone it. How easy is that? According to John Morse, president and publisher of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, prepone is used by English speakers in India. I suggest we borrow the word in North America.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

#‎WordWednesday‬: Carbage bag: a trash receptacle for your car, maybe handily hanging from the gear shift...? This portmanteau word was made up by my friend, Christianna Jones, who sews handy little carbage bags to sell.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Keeping a Journal 101

Writing in a journal or diary is a useful and simple way to sort through your thoughts and feelings. You can write words you would never speak. You can draw and muse and meander or you can record daily events and weather.

I have a friend who has written in her diary every single day since she was a girl, and she's now in her seventies. Some of her entries are short and simple -- Storm today, for example -- while others contain significant ups and downs, emotions and ideas. While I don't come even close to that sort of constancy, my journals provide me with a welcome outlet for muddled thoughts and exploding emotions, for plans and possibilities.

In most journaling workshops I offer, I meet people who have never kept a journal and feel they don't know how to start. In response I quote The King in Alice in Wonderland: "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop." In other words, just get started. What you need to say will come out, and you can stop when you're done. Spelling and punctuation are not important, and it doesn't matter when or where you do your writing.

So find yourself a simple spiral notebook, a beautiful hardbound journal, or a new "sheet of paper" on your computer and give it a try. I suggest you write the date at the top of each entry; it can be interesting to look back later and see what you thought or what was going on at this time in your life.

Here are two good ideas to start with if you've never journaled before or would like to get back to it:
  1. Write this sentence starter and then finish it with whatever comes to mind: I have no idea what to write, so I'll write about the time somebody told me...
  2. Describe the weather at this exact moment or when you first woke up. Does the weather affect your mood or what you do?
From time to time I will offer other journaling ideas in this space. Have fun, record your life for posterity, or explore your inner workings. Your journal won't tell.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Monday, 2 November 2015

 Also, Write What You Don't Know

A little while ago I wrote a post about writing what you know. Well, here's a great related quote I found last month on author Nino Ricci's website:
"I once heard the Saskatchewan writer Ven Begamudr√© describe his writing thus: “I write what I know, and what I don’t know I research, and what I can’t research I make up.”
This is why I love writing fiction! I get to be a sort of god who makes up worlds and people and events, while simultaneously being the outlet for those very people. Through their words, temperaments and lifestyles, they tell me what they might logically (or illogically) do in various situations. Often I have to stop what I'm doing and slow my mind enough to listen to my characters, pay attention to how they are in their world. And then, whether or not it's where I thought the story was going, I cooperate with what they've conveyed. Sometimes I think, "Of course that's what has to happen!" while at other times I don't know where a character's "suggestion" will take me or the story. I go with it anyway to see what happens. Great fun. Also hard and interesting work that can require research and pausing, asking for others' input, more research, more pausing. And much rewriting, of course.

Writing fiction, even for a relative neophyte like me, is an interesting weaving of what I know, what I find through research, and what I make up. It takes a while to get the end result, but I do enjoy the ride.