Let Me Splain it to You

Just in case you’re not familiar with the word mansplaining, it refers to the tendency of some men to inform women of what they already know. A good example is this, which happened to me a few months ago. I met a man at a Council of Faiths meeting and as soon as I told him I was a Quaker he proceeded to give me a run-down of Quaker history.

The starting point seems to be that we need to be kept informed and they are the man for the job. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that we might know this stuff already – that we might even be experts in our field – that, god forbid, we might actually be able to tell them something about it! No. They are like search engines picking up on a word and spewing out information on it. Except that I haven’t googled anything and I already have the information, thank you very much.

Of course as the definition above suggests, man– is not the only kind of –splaining. I may in the past have been guilty of whitesplaining, telling people of colour about their own culture or religion, though I hope not; there’s also ablesplaining, which I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you as you already get the idea.

Basically all types of splaining are about power relations. It’s about saying ‘I know more than you about this,’ even when it is blindingly obvious that the person concerned is living with whatever ‘this’ is and is therefore the definitive expert. It’s about positioning yourself above the other person, being the expert, the spokesperson.

So now I’ve explained this, you can stop bothering your pretty little heads about it…

Kirk out

What Utter Twaddle!

I’ve been writing utter twaddle all day because sometimes that is the only way to go. The hope is that you write yourself into some sort of coherence if you just keep going; sometimes it works, and it sort of worked today though I’m not terribly happy with most of what I did. Still it’s better than the other day when I was forced to resort to writing obscenities for several paragraphs like George VI trying to overcome a stammer (come to think of it, the principle is probably the same: The King’s Writing, anyone?)

But basically the only way to get through these days is not to let yourself care. Don’t care about quality, don’t care about inspiration, don’t care about structure, don’t even care if you’re making any sense or conforming to any of the rules of grammar throughout the known galaxy – just write. To paraphrase a character in Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise, Write, write, effing write! Write, write, effing write! If you’re interested the relevant clip’s at about 13.40. And here’s Richard E Grant commenting on my work:

Indeed, Richard, I have written twaddle today. But it’s my twaddle.

Kirk out

Word of the Week

Shee-eesh, but it’s cold! Those of you reading this in less temperate climes than the UK may scoff but it was below freezing last night and this morning a clammy cold pervades the atmosphere; the sort of cold that reaches into your bones and which any sane person would stay in bed to avoid. Normally by this point I’d have turned off the radiator in my room but not only is it on full-blast, I also have the halogen heater wafting warmth in all directions. It’s definitely time to put up the plastic double-glazing.

See, it’s not just the cold that makes us run for cover, it’s the damp. Dry cold I can deal with; wet warmth I can deal with – but damp cold is the worst of all worlds, and we have it in abundance here in the UK. Still before I complain too much let us spare a thought for those flooded out of their homes – and another, deeper thought for those who have no homes, flooded or otherwise.

I’ve begun to wonder how safe we are here in Loughborough. It’s a fairly low-lying town and the drains get blocked at the best of times; the park over the road is regularly turned into a swamp with rivers running through and although the council have taken the excellent measure of planting absorbent plants in specially absorbent soil next to the stream, I can’t help wondering how effective they will be in the long term. I imagine it: first the underpass will fill up (it’s already six inches deep) then the footways will become impassable, threatening the leisure centre; then the park will become a pond and finally the water will creep over the road and start on us.

The frightening thing is that once it starts there’s little or nothing you can do. Water is one of the most pervasive elements on earth, and potentially one of the most destructive – which is why we all need to do what we can right now. And I suggest the first thing would be to elect a government which takes the climate emergency seriously – which is not one led by Boris Johnson.

All of which makes my word of the week look a bit trivial. Applied by The Guardian to Jenifer Arcuri, it’s ‘sublebrity‘, someone ‘famous for being famous.’

A much-needed word, I suspect.

Kirk out

Constructing the Other Half of the Policeman’s Beard?

I have discovered, via my perusal of various Nano groups, that I am what is known as a ‘pantser’, in other words, one who flies by the seat of their pants and does not plan much, if at all. I’m not sure I embrace being in the ‘Pantser Division’ (ho ho) but it’s good to know I’m not alone. As I’ve said before if I knew what was going to happen in each chapter I’d be so bored I wouldn’t want to write the damned thing.

I’ve also discovered the meaning of that bizarre phrase ‘Save the Cat Beats’ – at least I have a vague idea of what it means; that there is a sort of structure which your novel should follow in order to get the right measure of ups and downs. Insert crisis here. Here be dragons/ghosts/murderers. Your main character should make an entrance here. That sort of thing. But even though I have a vague idea of what Save the Cat Beats means, I still don’t get why it’s called that. Is there a cat that needs saving? Or is ‘cat’ short for category? Do ‘beats’ refer to… actually, what do beats refer to? It’s all too much effort and I’m sure I could find out but right now after all that effort, I need a lie down. In any case I utterly reject this phenomenon because it sounds horribly close to another, which is (or so we are constantly told) that soon all novels will be written by computer. https://www.mhpbooks.com/computers-can-write-books-now-but-we-probably-dont-have-anything-to-worry-about/

Still it might be a while: up to now the results have not been terribly coherent: ‘The Policeman’s Beard is Half-Constructed‘ was one early effort and an attempt to make a digital film (if you see what I mean) resulted in this. But even if some machine manages to pass for human my response is, ‘bring it on.’ Although some more formulaic novels might possibly one day be written by algorithms (I’m thinking Mills and Boon, perhaps, or the more predictable sort of genre writing) I believe there’s something so fundamentally unpredictable, so weird and outlandish and unexpected about human creativity, that digitised fiction can only sharpen the sense of what it means to be human.

Kirk out

Uninterested? Not Any More!

You know a word’s in trouble when an otherwise fairly erudite and intelligent writer uses it wrongly, for today this canard cropped up in my daily readings from Richard Rohr, and I put my head in my hands and groaned. It seems almost everyone now uses disinterested to mean bored or uninterested, so that the original sense of the word as defined here – not having a vested interest, being impartial or above debate – is lost. What’s more no-one seems to mind. Not wanting to look like frowsty old professors or grizzled grammar geeks, everyone stands by and allows poor old disinterested to be hacked to pieces. Well, not on this blog! We stand for the fearless protection of words! We will not allow people to tell us they’re ‘good’ when actually they’re ‘fine’ – we will not allow them to say ‘disinterested’ when they mean ‘uninterested’!

But in the end all this is just Canute holding back the tide (although supposedly he did this to demonstrate his lack of power). It’s the Academie Francaise trying to stem the flood of English words by issuing French alternatives and it is doomed. In the end what decides the meaning of words is general usage, and if everyone chooses to redefine disinterested – as I think they already have – as uninterested then that is what it now means.

Thankfully though, Peterborough has not been redefined as Brexit city; Labour won by six hundred or so votes. Phew!

Kirk out

The Blandest Thing on the Menu

What am I doing at the moment? I’m glad you asked. I’m rewriting a story I first wrote years ago for Woman’s Weekly magazine. Why? Because women’s magazines pay squoodles of dosh for a story and I thought it was worth a bash. I had several bashes at it in fact and I did ‘study’ the magazine as you’re supposed to before submitting, the conclusions of my study being that I should make the story as bland as possible. Now, things have moved on since then and it may be that Woman’s Weekly is as raunchy these days as Cosmo once was, but in those days the stories were so gentle as to be practically soporific. Well, I gave it my best shot (of valium)and when one story was rejected I wrote another, even blander one. Of course there’s no way of knowing why a story has been rejected so I might have been completely on the wrong track, but I couldn’t help thinking of Goodness Gracious Me and the guys who get hammered and ‘go for an English.’

I guess blandness isn’t in my nature… but it can be problematic to find out what is in your nature and other people’s guidelines are a very blunt instrument for doing so; sometimes they help and sometimes they don’t. If I’m feeling secure, I just sweep the unhelpful ones aside. But today I discovered Colm Toibin’s rules for writing and they made me feel thoroughly inadequate. He suggests writing all day with a short break for lunch and then another for the news, then writing until bedtime. No sex, alcohol or drugs while writing (yes, I agree with that) but not much of anything else either. I know I can’t work like that, and I ended up feeling quite inadequate. ‘I’m not doing enough! I’m not dedicated enough!’ And underneath it all the sly whisper of conditioning, is this because I’m a not a man? Am I actually the blandest thing on the menu?

But what’s missing here is context. From the tone of these rules I suspect that he wrote them for himself rather than for others; I also suspect that he has periods of writing and periods of rest as no-one could keep up such a schedule 24/7/365. In any case other writers’ rules are very hit-and-miss, and when they miss we should give them a wide berth.

Kirk out

Are You a Moron?

I like to think of my readers as intelligent. You may not all be Einsteins (though who knows, perhaps you are) but I can tell from your comments and blogs that you’re thoughtful and sensible folk. I am also intelligent (this is not a boast as I’ll explain below) and a key part of intelligence is openness; being receptive to new ideas. Creativity is always searching, always questing, never 100% certain. So yesterday I checked out a list of fifteen (it’s always a multiple of five, isn’t it?) tips for better blogs. I’ve also signed up to daily blog prompts, not that I need them but it’s useful to have extra ideas from time to time.

My first impression was that the ‘Really Useful Blog Writing Guidelines‘ was basically ‘how to write for morons.’ First, you should check ‘readability’ which means, don’t make it too hard to read. Don’t use long and complicated words. Avoid difficult concepts. Hm. Not sure about that… Then eschew (oo, is that a complicated word?) eschew linking words (aka conjunctions) and use short sentences. Nope, don’t agree with that. Forget about the passive voice (depends whether it’s needed, otherwise I agree) dispense with the past perfect tense and don’t use excessive punctuation. OK, I might be guilty of that one. Oh, and leave lots of white space.

I can see where they’re coming from: keep it punchy, keep it real, cut out the verbiage. Fair enough. But I want to write for intelligent, thoughtful people; people who care about books and ideas, people who are engaged with culture and politics; people whose attention span is longer than that of a gnat. People who can follow a sentence through a couple of conjoined clauses without losing the thread. Folk who care about the difference between simple past and past perfect. There are a lot of claims on our time so I keep posts short, but short doesn’t have to mean shallow.

If all that’s elitist, then call me Jacob Rees Mogg. But intelligent doesn’t have to mean highly educated. Intelligence is not merely an accident of birth, it’s a quality (or spectrum of qualities) you develop. In the end I don’t write for an elite; I write for people who care – about words, ideas, culture, gardening, anything. I don’t write for folk who can’t be arsed.

Here endeth the epistle.

Kirk out

PS Far too many brackets in that post