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

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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

Withnail and I and Me Myself Personally

I expect I’m teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here as you’re all terribly literate bods but I’m sure you’ve noticed, just as I have, that there’s an increasing tendency for people to say I when it should be me.  ‘Something happened along the way to my friend and I,’ they say; and I want to scream, ‘No it didn’t!  Something happened along the way to my friend and me!!!’  This is what’s known as hyper-correction; the mistaken belief that a correct construction is wrong because it sounds like an incorrect one.  Like, for example, saying ‘slither’ instead of ‘sliver’ in the mistaken impression that the word has suffered from some sort of Cockney takeover from which it must be rescued forthwith.

It’s very straightforward really.  ‘I’ is the subject of the sentence, the person doing whatever it is – but if something happens to them, the ‘I’ becomes ‘me.’  Hence it’s ‘I, Claudius’ because Claudius is speaking about himself as the subject of the action, the doer (and yes, I know a lot of things happen to him but that is not the point of the title; the title makes him the subject of the book, not its object.)  Conversely, it’s a #metoo movement, not an #Itoo movement precisely because it’s about things that have happened to me that were not of my doing.  Withnail and I have come on holiday by mistake; but on this mistaken holiday a number of things happened to Withnail and Me.

But you don’t even have to delve into grammar to get this.  There’s a very simple test: just go back to the original sentence and take away my friend.  You wouldn’t say ‘a funny thing happened to I,’ would you?  Because you’d sound like a Rastafarian and only a Rastafarian should do that.  So why do so many people make this mistake?  I think it’s because something takes over when you hear yourself say ‘my friend and…’ and supplies the word ‘I’ as sounding correct; just as in the brain of some people an ‘s’ always implies an apostrophe.

Here endeth the lesson…

Kirk out

MotherFatherSonandHolyHell…

I’ve kept up with the bizarre and incomprehensible MotherFatherSon out of sheer dumb curiosity – because, having given it four hours of my life already I can’t bring myself to jettison the entire series and besides, there’s a certain voyeuristic thrill to be had from seeing just what will happen.  But god, it’s hard work.

This week in episode 5 we learn about Max’s childhood with an abusive and controlling father (yeah, I’d never have guessed) and how Max thinks he was horrible but right, rather like the Roundheads in ‘1066 and All That’ who were ‘Right but Repulsive.’  The central scene is a dinner ‘conversation’ between the three protagonists which is staged in a symbolic glass house, some of which goes like this:

Son:  Why are you here?

Father:  To tell you that I don’t think we should talk.  The plate you dropped – it was deliberate

Mother:  Max, you can’t do this

F:  Caden, you’re in love.  Why would you want to fight with me?

S:  We have to talk about this

F:  If we talk, we fight!  This is the line.  If you want to go over the line, this is it.  It’s the end.  There’s no coming back.

M:  How does it end?

F:  The way all fights end – badly

S:  Then good for you

F:  Good for me, for all of us

S:  A cover-up!

F:  Families are hundreds of cover-ups.  Let’s finish our meal

S:  And then we talk

F:  All right, let’s talk.  This is you.  Your mother’s doing it for you

S:  Fuck you Dad

F:  Well, there we have it.  We can pretend that this is about the news or ethics but it’s not.  Good.  Now do you feel better?  Fine.  Now be a man.  Tell your mother you don’t need her to fight your fights.

S:  All this make-believe.  All this fake family.  There’s no love.

F:  You hear him?  He’s wrong

M:  I’m not part of your conspiracy.  And I’m not afraid of you.

F:  Should I be afraid of you?

M:  We are going to talk about extortion, blackmail…

F:  Stop!  We have one more chance.  Please.  End this.

M:  You’re brilliant.

F:  I’m belligerent when I’m right.

M:  Are you ever wrong?

F:  I didn’t realise you wanted to save our marriage.

There’s more of this, acres more – and yes, I have taken some bits out but I promise you it makes no more sense with them left in.  It’s like odd bits of dialogue downloaded from schlocky dramas by someone with no idea about how people actually talk – which makes it all the more astonishing that this was written by the same person who wrote ‘The Assassination of Gianni Versace’ and ‘London Spy’, both of which were excellent dramas. I simply cannot understand how the same person could have written such strikingly different scripts.  Here he is talking about his work and shedding no light at all on that question – and here, should you wish to use it, is a link to the series.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

 

Me, MySelf and Will

I’m trying to think of something good to say about Brexit: meanwhile here is some light music.

The last couple of weeks or so, we’ve been buying a pro-Remain paper called the New European which this week thought it was a good idea to turn over an entire issue to Will Self’s Brexit diary for March.  Self does not suffer from low self-esteem: some people might struggle to fill 50 pages of a national newspaper with their own thoughts; some might wonder what right they had to do so.  Not Self: and in an issue entitled A Plague on all Your Houses we learn that Will is pissed off with everybody.  His scorn, like muck spread on a field, is scattered everywhere; it covers Brexiteers, Remainers, Kippers, the Far-Right, the far Left, Momentum, the undecided, the alienated, the aloof and anyone else I’ve forgotten to mention.  In fifty excoriating pages Will Self finds an unkind word for all of us which left me wondering, where’s the moral high ground Self inhabits and how do the rest of us get there?  Because although he admits he can ‘remoan for England’ his scorn attacks everyone but himself.  He is – or appears to be – above or at any rate beyond all this.

Yes, we’re in a mess and no, we can’t see any way out; but what possessed the New European to turn an entire edition over to a man who criticises everything while proposing nothing, I can’t fathom.  OK, full disclosure; I don’t like Will Self.  I never have: his monotone drawl (a bit like a flattened Clive James) irritates me and his show-off cleverness annoys me – but none of this would matter if he had something helpful to say.  He doesn’t.

In case you didn’t know, Will Self is clever.  His writing style makes this very clear; he never uses one word where several adjective-laden ones will do, and makes each phrase carry so much extra weight that it’s hard to get hold of the main point of the sentence.  You might think that, like Wilde (only less ironically) he has nothing to declare but his genius – except that he does have things to declare and my god, he declares them.  Here’s a couple of typical examples:

‘My collaborator [in the paper] Martin Rowson sent me satiric little cri de coeur along these lines first thing, along with his latest twisting of the human form in to Mobius strip of scato-suggestiveness.’

Here he is slagging off John Bercow for ‘subverting the constitution’ (commentators including Laura Kuenssberg disagree):

‘There he is, depriving the Prime Minister of her third baby vote, and leaping out under the quizzical eye of the lancet window behind the speaker’s chair, his geometrically-patterned skinny tie, hip in around 1996, flapping behind him along with his batman gown…’

Scorn is Self’s stock-in-trade and he really goes to town here.  The paper’s editorial talks of ‘uncomfortable, even painful truths’ and there are plenty of those (I fully accept responsibility as a Remainer for not realising how many people felt ignored, and for in that sense being elitist) but in the end who appointed him judge, jury and executioner and why?  In this daily diary of March (up to the 26th when the paper had to be put to bed) he attacks virtually everyone and everything.  He’s mean about Harry Potter (‘liberal solipsism’) he loathes Jeremy Corbyn (though he’s no Blairite) he’s thoroughly nasty about Comic Relief and his rudeness about Stephen Fry by way of quoting Julie Burchill is insulting on a number of levels (‘Stephen Fry is a stupid person’s idea of what an intelligent person looks like.’)

There’s more, much more along these lines: in commenting on the mosque murders he scorns ‘the telegenic and impeccably liberal Ardern, who’ll order all evil to quit the world with a simple cry of ‘Expelliarmus!” and several times makes unpleasant reference to Radio 4, ‘superannuated funny-man Steve Coogan’, ‘presenter of a Radio-programme-for-the-four-people-in-Britain-who-still-read-books, Mariella Frostrup’ and ‘the oscillating deputy leader of the Labour Party and world-class fat-shamer Tom Watson.’  Blimey.

There was so much of this that, whether I agreed with any of it or not, it was hard to take.  Of course this type of ridicule is the cut-and-thrust of ordinary political satire but Self goes so far beyond satire and into spite that it begins to look like misanthropy.  In fact the only time he approaches human sympathy is when he chats to ordinary people in Stoke, one of the highest leave-voting areas in the country.

But none of this would matter so much if out of the morass he had some sort of proposition arising from it: if not a solution then some sort of way forward; some means of uniting the opposed and healing the rift.  But unless this is some sort of backhanded way of uniting everyone against him by attacking us all, he doesn’t.  Not one word does he say about the future; which is why as well as irritating the paper is singularly unhelpful.

Still, those who like Self’s particular brand of ornate vitriol will probably love it.  And he’s here all week…

Kirk out

 

 

 

 

 

Blockhead: My Top Tips For Overcoming Writer’s Block

I have previously tried to analyse what writer’s block actually is:

https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2017/06/27/lay-your-head-on-the-writers-block/

and now it’s time to share some of my top tips for dealing with it.  No matter whether it lasts for an afternoon or a year (or longer) writer’s block is painful, debilitating, numbing and horribly frustrating.  Where does it come from?  Where does it go?  It seems to arrive like the wind, out of nowhere, and to disappear equally mysteriously.  Whatever your particular brand of writer’s block, some of these may help:

  1.  Set an alarm and write for 10 minutes without thinking, revising or stopping.  Any old junk that comes into your head is fine.  Don’t even worry about sentences.
  2. Sign up to writing prompts such as writerswrite.co.za
  3. Describe what you can see from your window.  I can see a quiet street with several vehicles parked, one of which has ‘Integrated Building Solutions’ on the side.  I might choose to write about what the hell that means and why everything is a ‘solution’ nowadays instead of saying exactly what it is ie ‘builders.’
  4. Go through old notebooks for any ideas you can harvest.  If you haven’t got any notebooks go out and buy one; there’s nothing like a new notebook for stimulating ideas.
  5. Take one item on your desk and write about its history.  At this moment apart from a laptop, I have two digestive biscuits on my desk.  I could, if I chose, write one of those stories they used to give us at school – The Life-Cycle of the Chocolate Digestive (‘I was made in a factory from flour and sugar…)
  6. Do something else.  Dig the garden, go for a walk, do the washing-up.  The unconscious mind will keep working while the conscious mind is occupied with something else
  7. If all these ideas bore you to tears, recognise that sometimes boredom is necessary and, like land lying fallow, can prove fertile ground for new seeds.

Kirk out