Saturday, April 5, 2014

Why I Don't Worship Grammar

Some pieces of creative writing make their authors seem like cheaters: breaking the rules of English because sentence fragments look cool or because you think comma splices make your writing fancier. Yes, flouting English grammar is a cheap gimmick -- as I've aged, I have concurrently removed egregious sentence fragments from my writing style -- but bending the rules can help depending on the situation.

So, why would a person who reflexively corrects his siblings' grammar (A.K.A. yours truly) say that the rules of English aren't carved in stone?

I think everyone can agree that formal writing is limited. I don't mean to refute that grammar facilitates clear, convenient communication. What I do mean is that formal written language, while effective in most cases, is too stiff to accurately represent how we think. Okay, maybe English professors think in complete sentences, but most other people don't. In fact, I daresay many of us think in fragments: a subject here, a verb there, an adjective or two when you feel in the mood. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; it's just how our minds work, and as long as we can understand ourselves, there's no problem.

One of creative writing's most foremost purposes -- "one of" because I'm sure the status of foremost is contentious -- is to be evocative. Good creative writing lets the reader mentally picture whatever is happening in the narrative. How does a writer effectively paint a picture in the reader's mind? By appealing to the reader's senses in a way that makes visualization not just easy but intuitive. A writer can accomplish this through formal writing, but the same effect can be generated by bending rules of grammar to better represent how people think.

Of course, learning English grammar is crucial no matter what you do. You need to understand the rules and conventions of English before you can understand why you're breaking them. Know why sentence fragments are considered informal, why commas can't join two independent clauses, etc.; then subvert certain rules in informal writing when it seems necessary or at least beneficial.

But if you misuse semicolons or fail to properly enclose parenthetical phrases, I will find you and force you to change your ways.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Thoughts Regarding the Statement, "You'll Understand When You're Older"

1. I'm sure everyone has heard a variant of this statement before -- an adult (usually a parent) says something, you ask for clarification, and the adult responds, "Oh... you'll understand when you're older," usually with a smile or chuckle that indicates said adult is "in the know".

2. Why isn't a kid ever "in the know"? Has anyone ever heard a child say, "You'd understand if you were younger"? (Note: "You don't understand!" from a teenager's mouth doesn't count, especially if it's toward the teen's parents.)

3. I don't think there has ever been a less effective way of dousing curiosity than suggesting someone cannot or is not allowed to know something. It's a challenge, and kids like challenges.

4. Granted, maybe the point isn't dousing curiosity but arousing it -- in which case, it's torture, cruel and unusual punishment. Now the kid will be haunted for the rest of his childhood, wondering what could be so esoteric, so profound, as to prevent him or her from comprehending it.

5. Does the knowledge supposedly restricted to adulthood even come in the form of an epiphany once you're old or mature enough? I turned eighteen four months ago, and the world's machinations are still a mystery to me, so I presume any great revelations either take their time or just never occur.

6. Speaking of this "adults-only" knowledge, how important is it? Will it open my eyes to a whole new worldview? Will I become a better man for knowing it? Or will I chuckle a bit at how my parents thought I couldn't understand it as a young teenager and continue whatever I was doing? Let me explain thus: If I have to wait for adulthood before realizing the humor of some joke an adult told, the joke had better be a good one.

7. I wonder if, even once, an adult somewhere in the world decided to not say, "You'll understand when you're older," and instead explained the joke to the wondering kid. Maybe the kid actually understood. Maybe the adult realized something in turn.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Blogging Regularly Is Hard

As if blogging regularly could be anything but difficult -- especially for me, O greenhorn blogger that I am.

But I can only shift so much blame to other obligations and circumstance. I have lost count of the number of times I have reiterated to myself, "I will blog more often"; unfortunately, talking about doing something is wholly exclusive from actually doing it. In fact, I would wager that abstract ideas and concrete plans are handled by different parts of the brain.

One part of my problem is that I am unaccustomed to writing habitually: daily, weekly, even fortnightly. It's hard to shake the feeling that forcing myself to write will produce only dross, especially when the feeling is partly justified. But (in refutation) isn't that why I decided to run a blog? Shouldn't I write all the garbage I want in order to clear it from my system? I don't mean to compare this blog to a dump -- well, maybe I do, but not consciously -- the point is, neither I nor anyone else can get better at something by not doing the aforementioned something. Indolence is not practice.

The second part of my problem, of course, is inspiration. How do I determine good topics for my blog entries? The difficulty increases when you consider that I am limiting myself to (a) non-controversial topics, i.e. no politics, that (b) are substantial enough to expound in sizable blog entries. While this is probably the smaller of the two problems, it's the one trickier to solve. Inspiration does not respond to commands; it is independent, capricious, and ephemeral more often than not; to wit, it is unreliable. Yet, in order to become a prolific blogger, I have to figure out how to harness it. Joy.

As a step in the right direction blogging-wise, I plan to effect three changes. First, I will begin posting creative writing, likely flash fiction or poetry. Second, I will end my predilection against shorter blog entries -- not Twitter-length posts (one hundred forty characters), but maybe posts under three hundred words once in a while. Third and perhaps foremost, I will try to be more lighthearted because the world has enough disillusioned sourpusses to fill a continent. Blogging done as a hobby should be fun; I have the rest of my life to be a jaded writer if such is my fate.

If fortunes are on my side, I'll add a fourth change to the above list: No more complaining about my blogging inactivity. Until such a time, may your own writing endeavors be more fruitful than mine.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Just a Little Snow

As I live in the northeast and run a blog, I'm probably obligated to write about the recent snow.

At the time I'm writing this paragraph, the outside temperature is above water's freezing temperature by six degrees Fahrenheit if the Windows 8 weather app can be trusted. The snow that fell yesterday has been slowly but surely melting. Our van, the roads, and the sidewalks are clear of the dusting of snow from last night although still a smidgen moist; maybe the dampness will change to ice overnight if the temperature dips.

Don't take my words as incontrovertible fact, but this winter has been the snowiest in my recent memory and probably is empirically if I may infer from the volume of news headlines about snowstorms (and the fact that I'm not accustomed to seeing snow on Christmas). More events were cancelled this winter because of inclement weather than in previous winters I remember.

An interesting thought: The brief intervals between snowfalls haven't allowed snow to completely melt before more falls, so maybe the vestiges of previous snowfalls are extant beneath those of the latest.

Regardless, the inches of snow that have accumulated on data charts since mid-December haven't really affected me. Some people hate snow; I see it as nature putting on a display. Shoveling doesn't bother me; after all, according to my parents, I'm young and fit. I don't have my license yet, so I don't need to deal with ice on the roads. Maybe if my family were housed elsewhere, the snow would be more directly detrimental; but as things are, snow is an event like rain or a hot summer day, something that can be avoided by staying inside and keeping the heat on.

What interests me, though, is the shift in opinion that people seem to undergo regarding snow. What child hasn't been enthralled by snowflakes? Nevertheless, at some point, our psyches link them to undesirable things: labor in the cold, fingers without blood circulation, detriments to driving, etc. Call it Pavlovian conditioning, relating our dislike for work in cold, wet weather to snow itself.

Yet that's almost a mischaracterization. Snow is one of the most aesthetic results of chemistry. Water collected in the atmosphere freezes into tiny, intricate crystals of a plethora of shapes. There are almost two discrete, separate perceptions of snow: one of individual flakes, beautiful crystalline designs; and one of snow en masse, the shovelfuls tossed from the sidewalk and off the car. Can these definitions be consolidated? Snow causes problems, yes, but it can still form the same snowballs and snowmen that you observed it could in childhood. The foremost difference between then and now is your interaction with it.

Is that change in perception a good thing? Is it accurate? At least justified? I don't know.

It's dark now; the snow outside has a faint blue tint in its gleam, probably a result of the light that strikes it. It looks harmless when it isn't actively obtrusive. The temperature has dropped to about 34 degrees Fahrenheit, but we laid out rock salt yesterday, so there shouldn't be too much ice on our walk tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Best Albums of 2013: #1

Before I go on, thank you to all of you who have followed my admittedly amateurish listing, and may everyone have a blessed New Year.

Regarding my choice for album of the year... remember how I said that I'd allow more than one album from an artist?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best Albums of 2013: #2

Following: the longest band name on my list and my penultimate choice for the best albums of 2013.