Sunday, May 27, 2012

Beyond Home

I find myself thinking about the past – about how I relate to it – about others.

I think about growing up during WW II.

I think about being draft-eligible after the Korean war ended.

I think about being in Nam.

I think about a quarter-century of colleagues who started in the "brown shoe" army and ended in "Army Green."

I think about "jungle fats" and desert cammo, about sky blue and Navy blue and colors known and unknown, to whom we owe our thanks and our freedom.

Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in this nation at least, don’t start wars, seldom end them. Those who take up braid and brass, especially today, do it for as many reasons as there are men and women who serve, and they all end up doing it for the same reason in the end: to preserve and protect us all from those whose envy is so great that they believe their mission is holy and unstoppable.

To those who stand in their way, who stand today between us and those who would destroy us: we all thank you. Simply that. What more is there to say?

Thank you.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Writing Spoken Here

Writing Spoken Here

Last week I admit I had some fun playing with words. Writers can have fun and if we aren’t we shouldn’t be writing in the first place. If you are not a writer, or haven’t tried to be one, the you might think that those of us who do support ourselves (even modestly), are really just having fun (at the reader’s expense). Well that isn’t exactly true.

Writing, like any other work, is first of all, just that: work. It differs from those occupations people pursue only for money, in that we do it because we love it, and love all the bits and pieces: words, parts of speech, spelling of words, punctuation, grammar, even outlining and indexing and all of those things that make up the writer’s box of tools. And of course, reading. That’s the best tool a writer has. It’s the one that teaches us how to write, mostly by showing us how others have accomplished the single objective we share: telling a story.

Writing can begin with something as simple as a letter or even a thank-you note. When most writers were very young, someone insisted that they write what they were feeling, in a form as common as a letter to a grandparent or aunt or uncle. Perhaps it was a thank-you for a birthday present, and you learned not only to say thank you, but to describe, however simply, how the gift made you feel, or what you did when you first opened the package. Such a start teaches one to think about what has happened, to describe an event or a feeling so that someone else can share it. (Let me emphasize right here that "awesome" is not an adequate or acceptable description under most circumstances.) From that beginning, future writers learn the pleasure that finding the right word, the perfect expression (and perhaps the correct spelling) can bring. It takes time, of course, to progress from a simple note to "real" writing, but once the pleasure of it is experienced, the desire for more begins to grow.

There is nothing as satisfying as writing something that "sings." Do it once, and you will want to do it again and again. And soon you are writing and writing and writing.

The compulsion to put words into readable form is one that doesn’t go away. A writer may be speechless, but never wordless.

Which brings us to the promise made in my previous blog: what the obscure words in that essay mean (in alphabetical order):

          Bumwhush - Ruin, obscurity, "gone to the bumwhush"

          Cabobble - To mystify, puzzle, confuse
          Daw - To be fully awakened; to be dawed: to have shaken off sleep, to come to one’s self out     of a deep sleep

          Quafftide - Time of drinking (As in "It’s five O’clock somewhere)

         Ramfeezled -To exhaust oneself with work

         Ugsumness - Terribleness

These and other old words are to be found in The Word Museum, the Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten, by Jeffery Kacirk, (c) 2000, Barnes & Noble Books, 2004

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Living Language

All languages (except perhaps Latin), are "living languages." They change with the times over (usually) a long time. We were discussing just that issue in the writing group I belong to, with more than a little time spent on the changes the internet and "social media" have wrought in our written language: @ for at, txt for text, and so on. For writers, of course, language is sacred, words are nearly all we have to trade, and (especially among those of a certain age) any deviation from what we speak and write seems the end of civilization as we know it.

But the truth is, language is alive. It grows and changes just as we do. We may not always realize it, but (aside from "catch phrases" we pick up from younger people) our language is modified almost daily. New discoveries, new technologies, new philosophies add words to our language, but so does usage. What something meant a century ago might be totally different today.

I remember a colleague who came to America from Hungary after the revolution is 1956. Aside from having learned English from a Norwegian ship’s captain, he remained connected to his own first language through his family and friends who also escaped to America. The aging of language was pointed out to me when we were working with a client whose parents had come to America at least a generation earlier. The man had learned Hungarian at home (unlike my home, where my Hungarian relatives never used that language), but to my colleague the generational difference was immediately apparent in the other man’s use of words that by the 1960s were considered "archaic." For Frank (Ferenc), the other’s Hungarian was more formal, less "today," than his own. So it is with English, or any other language that is spoken every day.

One only has to look back a generation for examples, the most obvious of which, I suppose, would be "gay." It is a simple word that once only meant happy, cheerful, and the like. But what about "like?" English is confusing, of course. "Like" once had only two meanings: similar to something else, and in the most common use, it meant to appreciate or have good feelings about a person or object: I like coffee, or I like my friend – that sort of thing. Today it signifies that you have looked at someone’s posting on an online page (such as this one, which really isn’t a page at all), or seen someone’s picture or even a product. Or the word "wall." That is a term that has, for centuries, meant a separation, or a physical structure. Today it identifies a "page" on some internet screen; one on which you might "write" a message.

The point of all this is that though we who use words as tools of our trade may think of them as fixed, immutable, meaning exactly what they did at the moment of putting them on paper (or a "virtual" page) truth is, they are alive; they are not static or fixed. Words and their meanings change because language is a living thing. It is not meant to cabobble, but perhaps to daw us from our mental isolation. But the ugsumness of it all makes one feel ramfeezled, doesn’t it? One looks at the clock to see if it is yet quafftide, or if one is indeed on the road to bumwhush after all.

I will provide translations in next week’s edition of OutOfMyMind.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


As a writer I’m often like a traveler without a GPS: I’m dependent on road signs I can understand a I flash by. I know my destination, have an idea of the general direction, but am easily misdirected onto byways leading nowhere. I find backing up an essential driving skill. It’s the same with writing.

Often I begin a story or an essay (like this one) with a general idea of where I’m headed, maybe even have the last scene or line as the target, and then the journey begins. Thoughts, characters, situations appear ahead, and if I’m driving too fast I miss the turning that will lead me . . . where? I don’t always know. So I keep on driving on.

Movement forward is not the only direction. Sometimes taking side-trips (even if you must back up, or turn around, or find a new way out of where you have written yourself) can be just what your journey or your story needs. If you have been driving the same road every day, eventually you fail to see what’s around you. If you write the same story every time, especially if you find a formula that works for you, you run the risk of what in driving terms is known as "highway hypnosis:" failing to see things around you until you are suddenly in the middle of the crash you are about to commit. If awareness comes soon enough you might avoid the crash. Otherwise you will find yourself picking up the pieces (if you survive). The same is true about writing, at least for me.

Every story begins with a destination. My road maps are outlines, my way-points are chapters, my places to visit are the characters and their history. I can’t imagine a story (or even an essay) that would reveal itself to me from beginning to end, all at once. Neither can I look forward to a journey where every turn and stop is pre-determined and met on schedule. Turn the key, throw the map on the backseat, and let the road take you. The end of the journey is the destination, but not the routemap.

Enjoy the ride!