Celebrating Words

I believe that I am now on #35 of my Celebrating 45 list. Peppered throughout the list you will see my love of reading/writing/and language of all sorts.

Today, I want to celebrate the importance of words in my life. It has taken me a long time to admit this. I still blush or stumble when I try to claim it in person, but here goes . . .

I am a writer!!!

My love of words goes beyond written language. I love hearing and seeing language used with power and flexibility. I am addicted to Podcasts and TED talks, where master’s of the arts of writing and speaking fascinate their audiences with perfect phrasing, eloquent language, and an ability to manipulate language for sound and meaning A memorable phrase that lives beyond the moment of reading or hearing it, gives me chills. I thrill in those rare and wonderful moments when my own words–through some source outside myself–come together to create that indescribable perfection of consonants, vowels, and phrasing.

I just finished reading Don’t Let Me Go  by Catherine Ryan Hyde (excellent book with wonderful characters and plot that makes you want to know more).  Two sentences of hers made me yell (in my mind) “That’s it!!!”:

“Hard work can sometimes substitute for natural ability, but natural ability almost never makes up for not being willing to do the work.” (pg. 149)

“Sorry doesn’t mean shit. Not if you don’t plan to stop doing the thing you’re so sorry about. There has to be more to amends than just a word.” (pg. 406)

However, this post isn’t about celebrating other people’s words, as fabulous as they may be.

This is about celebrating words in my own life.

In 1978, when I was 10 years old,  I sat mesmerized and terrified by the television mini-series The Holocaust. 

This was in the midst of my own Hebrew School years, and the crucial years leading up to my Bat Mitzvah. Although I have since lost some of the religious beliefs, being a Jew was (and to some extent still is) an important aspect of my life at that time.

At a Hebrew School meeting after the series aired, the Rabbi met with all the classes to discuss what we had seen. I raised my hand and said, “It made me scared to be a Jew, but prouder than ever to be a Jew.”

On Saturday morning (I’m told–I would have been at the children’s service if I was there) the Rabbi used my words as part of his reflection during the service. This was the moment that I became aware that the right choice of words–even when you don’t know that they are the right words–can be magical, powerful and reach beyond the pages or the circumstances where they’ve been created.

My journey through writing started in school, with my first poems written in 1st grade along with a puppet play. My first book was a collection of poems and short stories that I hand-lettered and illustrated as a project in sixth grade, for another fabulous teacher who influenced my life named Mrs. Jorgensen. My first published work was a poem written bout a piece of art in a museum, that then got placed into some kind of literary magazine someone put out.

I have numerous starts and starts of stories, novels, poems etc. scattered throughout journals and gathered in three-ring binders. Throughout my life I’ve found solace and friendship in words, probably more than anyone even knew. Because of this it makes sense to me that when life began to fall apart around me (for reasons I won’t go into here) I turned to words–writing my first real book, joining a book club, and creating  a small writing group. The two women from that writing group convinced me to take the step into a then unknown world, the one of blogging. Over 756 posts (spread across several blogs) and thousands if not millions of words later, my life is filled with words. Some of them sing with the beauty I yearn for, but most of them are mundane and some are even cliché. However, words fill my life and sustain me, so a celebration of my life would not be complete without celebrating the words that fill it.

What are some of your favorite words? What quotes live on in your memory?

 

Sex and the Double Standard

Since yesterday was the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I read a lot of articles discussing how important reproductive rights are to the lives of women.  One that really struck me was an article written by Lizz Winstead at the Huffington Post called “Abortion is a Medical Procedure”. Winstead writes:

“Of course, those are the sluts like me: Unmarried women who are stigmatized because we choose to have enjoyable, non-procreative sex, a concept that is hideous and freakish and out of the mainstream. And to ice the slut cake, if our birth control fails, we may choose to have an abortion.

Actually, I am surprised they haven’t started spelling it, abwhoreshun.

Yes, women like me are called whores and worse, when, if an accident happens and we choose abortion, we don’t offer the proper amount of remorse and contrition.”

I quoted that particular section because it is perhaps the motivation behind this post. I’m not foolish enough to think that my words might convince anyone to believe in the right to choice if they believe otherwise. This is one of those arguments where nobody wins, and it can turn into an ugly battle of words that just leaves everyone with an awful taste in our mouths.  (On that note, please remember that I welcome comments, but reserve the right to block any comments that attack others or are disrespectful of my readers)

No, my discussion today goes back to an argument I’ve made in the past, words matter and words have power.  I learned that in a different matter this week, when United Airlines agreed to refund the fare difference after my somewhat public display of anger at the way I was treated, which resulted in many of you joining your voices with mine and several e-mails and letters. Words won that battle (but I still will try to fly other airlines as the money doesn’t really make up for how I was treated).

[Update: I am leaving this passage in and crossed out because I just found out they only gave me a refund of $82.88 on my $205.06 extra costs. NEVER FLY UNITED!]

In that small instance, words had (a miniscule amount of) power.

But they always do, which is the subject of this post. This morning, a few questions began to float around my head, based on all the articles and videos I watched yesterday.

  • Why is it that, if a teenage girl has sex, especially if she becomes pregnant, she is labeled as whore, slut, etc. while the male part of the equation is called . . . (drumroll) . . . the father of the child?
  • Why is that a young woman who has been raped or molested is labeled as asking for it, whore, slut, etc. while the male perpetrator (unless actually convicted) is called . . .(drumroll) . . . the accused, a star athlete who made a mistake, a misguided youth, and (if the young woman becomes pregnant) the father of the child?
  • Why is it that there have been hundreds of movies where the main premise is the guy intends on getting laid, and sometimes will even go so far as to buy a prostitute to help him lose his virginity, and they usually go after women who may be called whore, slut, prostitute, etc? There are some movies where the women set out to do the same, but somehow the men in those pictures (at least the one that the woman hooks up with) don’t come off as players in any way, or if they do it doesn’t remain a negative.
  • Why is it that women who speak up about the rights of women–the right to reproductive choice, equal pay, and equality under the constitution–are sometimes labelled whore, slut, bitch, hag, etc? Vocal men usually don’t get similar labels placed on them (except the most extreme ones like Rush Limbaugh, but even then the terms don’t seem quite as ugly).

I could go on and on with this list, but the point is that there are not really terms applied to males that are as derogatory as those applied to females. I mean, I suppose a male could be called a “man-whore” but that still implies that whoredom lies in the realm of women.

Let’s face reality folks. It takes two people to have sex! I’m not talking about self-pleasure and other things. I’m aware of those. But, it takes two people for a girl to gain a reputation. It takes two people for a woman to become pregnant. In the reality of sexual behavior, the male has to take the more active role. A woman can lie there, but a man has the appendage that does the work. So why then, is all the negative terminology about sexual behavior aimed at the woman?

The answer is simple, words have power. As long as we continue to allow these words their negative connotations nothing will change. As long as the men who want to to stay in power (I’m not saying all men, I mean the ones who use this language on a regular basis) continue to label women with these words, nothing will change. As long as women continue to call other women by these words, nothing will ever change.

I turn again to a quote from Lizz Winstead’s article:

And to all the people who claim we shouldn’t talk about abortion, or even say the word abortion because you claim it will be used against us by those aforementioned haters:

That is true only if we let them.
We must stop letting them control the language around this issue. They are trying to control everything else and I say no more.
I am taking back the word abortion.

Words have power, so how can we use that power to claim the rights of everyone to be happy, healthy, independent, sexual beings?

Let’s reclaim the words.

In Defense of Letters

Poor, much maligned, “F.” So many people turned to my post yesterday thinking that it would about a much different “F” kind of day, only to find fun, fairies, and frolicking.

What did F ever do to deserve such a reputation? Is it because the lowest letter grade we can get is an F? or because, by simply attaching “-word” to follow a letter that letter becomes politicized at the very least and often turns into something negative? Our poor letters are taking a trampling in recent times.

  • The F-word or the F-bomb: Self-explanatory, but has definitely led to the corruption of poor innocent F
  • The L-word: a fabulous show, a shocking revelation, a word people are afraid to say to one another (love, silly–not lesbian). Neither of those words (love or lesbian) should be that terrifying or sinister, but . . .
  • The N-word: Now, granted, I don’t think this word should or needs to be said out loud, but I shared in a serious post in the past about how complex that word really is, because of its historical context as well as the way it is used at present.
  • Recently T-words and H-words have been trampled upon completely. I see you all scratching your head and thinking, what is she talking about? But, you have to admit that TRUTH has become twisted and HONESTY  has entered the realm of fantasy.
  • A poor little M-word has become a political hot-potato. As has an R-word, especially for women and G-words. (Translation: Marriage, Rights, and Gays)
  • The most recent attack on letters has, of course, been made on PBS, Oh, the humanity! (Or would that be Muppetity!)

I’m begging you people, stand up for the rights of letters to be well-rounded and represent all of their possible meanings rather than be defined by only one facet of their personalities. Let them embrace their multiple personalities and stand for the true power and variety of language.

Let F Stand for Freedom!

What You Think You are Writing vs. What You are Actually Writing

I’m having a little bit of an identity crisis at the moment.

I know, I know . . . shocking right? Me, trying to figure out who or what I am?

Well, now I have a new symptom of this confusing identity issue. I no longer have a clue what I am writing.

As you may recall, I am currently in the middle of a course/book writing project. I was determined that I was writing an actual adult novel for a change. It was, for all intents and purposes, a fantasy novel, sort of. Kind of. Maybe. But, then again, as I wrote earlier this summer, I am having trouble labeling the genre of this work. Now, of course, many of you suggested that I just write and worry about genre later. And I agree with that. That was also the advice from my editor/instructor in his most recent letter responding to chapter one. (which he liked, by the way).

But he also wrote:

“If I were writing this story (I understand I’m not), I might change that age bit about young women of 21 to young women of 18, and give some thought to a YA novel. As you know, a hot writing niche right now. I just finished the first story in the Hunger Games trilogy, which confirmed what we both know–this isn’t Nancy Drew any more.”

So much for my writing an adult novel. I mean, I know I don’t have to change it, but when he’s right, he’s right!  So, I am now writing a YA novel, but I still have no idea what I am actually writing. Suddenly a romance element has entered the picture, an element that I DO NOT WANT, but it’s creeping in and making me uncomfortable! I am fighting against it, which makes each word a struggle to write.

I guess the book is writing itself and I am just the conduit. Or I simply have lost control of words, my ideas, and my story.

The biggest problem is that every time I try to write now, the doubts creep in and garbage pours out. I know, I know, I just need to let the characters tell the story and figure it all out later.

I just wish I could get out of my own way, and stop fighting myself and my words.

Do you ever find a conflict between what you think you are writing and what you are actually writing? How do your reconcile the two? How do you break through?

The New “Normal” or What is Normal?

I just read a comment on another blog that made me think about language again, and this time I want to discuss the concept of “Normal”.

The comment was this:

What annoys me deeply in many cases is the effort of (some members of) the LGBT group to convince the world that theirs is the “normal” way. What do I mean with this? Male + Male = No Procreation. Female + Female = No Procreation. No Procreation = No Life Renewed. And I don’t speak of modern artificial means — I’m talking about human nature, which has not changed.

I don’t want my child or other people’s chidren get brainwashed into thinking that homosexual is “right.” Homosexual just exists in this world and we have no reason to be mean and dictate to others how they should live their lives.

I get what she is saying in the idea that the laws of nature require a male and a female for procreation. However, in this abundant natural world variations occur, naturally.  I’m not a scientist. But, just my basic high school biology taught me that there is variation depending on genetics. Using the fun and completely nerdy website Wordnik, I found this definition of normal in terms of biology:

. In biology, a species or race considered as a fixed standard which individual organisms may approach by heredity and from which they may recede by variation. The conception of a normal is statistical rather than biological, for there is no evidence that an exceptional specimen of a species differs, as such, from an average specimen in any essential or qualitative way. The notion of a species as a fixed standard belongs to the pre-Darwinian period in the history of biology.

(Click on this link for the many definitions of Normal)

So, if I am reading this correctly, variation is normal.

Yet, there are many people in our world who seem to want to define the NORM as one thing and one thing only. In those minds Normal=Right, and Different=Wrong.

The terms are not synonymous. Right and wrong are moral terms, based off of our individual interpretations of the world. Yes, we can probably agree on some basic tenets of right vs. wrong, but we break those every day. That’s evident.

Normal and different are not related to morals. The are just ways by which we can communicate how we perceive the world, which again relates to our individual interpretations of the world.

There is no truth. There is no norm. There is just perception.

I am the first to admit that I don’t have a”normal” life, whatever that might be. My life, at the moment, seems more like a confusing mess– a carnival ride gone out of control. But, despite my ups and downs, the craziness is part of my normal.

My norm lies in difference.

Perhaps we need to get rid of the term “normal” and use something else. I don’t know what term can replace it, but there has to be a way to celebrate diversity rather than try to make everyone and everything the same.

I would love diversity to be the face of the Norm.

A”maze”ing Words and Surprising Discoveries

Meandering Through a Muddle of Words

We spent yesterday wandering through a corn maze made in the shape of Noah Webster.

The challenge (in order to win a free small pumpkin) was to make your way through the maze finding the words in a giant word search, letter by letter.  Amazingly enough we managed to make it through without having to call 911. 😉

Perhaps the fact that you are given a flag with a number before you enter the maze makes people less stupid. Then again, the competition became intense, which was a little strange, since there really wasn't any competition.

In the center of the maze (aka Webster’s face) was a second game where you had to select the correct definition of some words, and they weren’t easy.

This was the perfect maze for Sarah who has recently taken to looking up words in the dictionary and writing down their definitions, FOR FUN. Yes, friends, she is indeed my daughter, as I would underline (in light pencil) any words I didn’t know in any books I read and make a list throughout my childhood.  The maze combined her new love of words with her never-ending search for adventure.

While the sun stayed behind the clouds for most of the day, it was still a nice day to be in the maze, compared to our adventure in a maze last year in Kansas, which included heat, bugs and two pre-teenage girls who decided that they needed to run through the maze. Of course, this late in the season the maze is a little worse for wear, with brown stalks and downed stalks, as well as evidence of Hurricane Irene who took her own journey through the maze.

As we wandered through the maze, my mind rambled from nothing to word meanings to the meaning of life with lots of side trips along the way.

Disorientation

As we journeyed through the maze, I learned that I have absolutely no sense of direction, while Sarah and Nathan seem to have an innate instinct for making their way through mazes.

The amazing maze explorers know the way.

Another clue!

"Let's see. Where to next? Follow me."

Of course, upon this realization, since I always want to improve, I tried to hone my instincts and improve my navigation ability. My instincts started to kick in, and I eventually figured out a pattern that I could follow. However this inevitably led to the . . .

Brabble of the Babes

You see, Sarah and I tend to be a lot alike. This means that, on occasion, we get on each other’s nerves. Perhaps due to my lack of sleep over the past several days while I was dealing with my personal  emotional roller coaster, or the fact that within 5 minutes of entering the maze Sarah nearly brained me with the flag, my ability to communicate with my daughter seemed to disintegrate rapidly as we made our way from letter to letter. What sounded to me like, “please don’t walk with the flag pointing forward” or “don’t swing the flag around, you might hit someone” must have sounded to her like “STOP TRYING TO KILL EVERYONE WITH THAT FLAG!!”

Sometimes, despite my love of words, I have problems communicating.

As my legs started getting more and more tired, my words became sharper, until I reverted to the inner 6-year-old that often makes appearances when the tension between us gets stronger and decided to stop talking.

Words only work if you use them.

I'm not sure which of us needed a time out more.

Revelations of the Camera Obscura

Eventually we worked through our issues (aka, I stopped talking and we continued on) and found all the letters and words. We exited the maze in glory to select our pumpkin. Then, of course, Sarah wanted to explore a little. We wandered over to the petting zoo, where adorable goats and other animals demanded food which we did not provide. Then Sarah saw an odd structure that looked like a little play house. In reality, however, it was a Camera Obscura and it was really cool.

Through the Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura Landscape

Camera Obscura Farm

Camera Obscura animals

Somehow, looking at the world from a different perspective made me realize that I need to change my own perspective more often, in order to find some incredible things.

So what did I learn by changing my perspective? That there may not be enough words to describe the complexity of my love for my life (even at its most confused and chaotic) and especially for my family.

Sometime words just aren’t enough.

Dancing a jig on a bail of hay, you can't say it better than this.

My Writing Dilemma

Falling through layers of story, I lie swaddled in rich layers of character, conversation, textures, smells, locations and sounds. Each layer makes me snuggle deeper and reach farther into this mysterious world. One layer feels like cool cotton, with bright figures floating through the sky. One is more like a fleece blanket filled with the scent of cinnamon and flicker of firelight. One layer is a scratchy blanket filled with danger and intrigue. There is not one story being told, but many, in a world as complete and complicated as patchwork quilt.

But then . . . I wake up. The scent of the story lingers in the air. The warmth of the layers urges me to stay in bed and fall back into that magnificent dream world. The words echo silently in my brain, but no longer have substance. As soon as I look at them, they disappear.

If only i could capture that story on paper, all my dreams would come true.

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