Motley Thoughts on a Rainy Day

canstockphoto6624394After wrecking my knee once again, this time by gardening misadventure and not running, rain has provided a welcome reprieve and excuse. I’m chugging through desperate re-writes to get my novel out to a lovely group of beta readers and a couple of agents by the first week of June.

Since I’ve established a hard deadline for myself, I have been busy cleaning windows, rearranging closets, volunteering a few extra hours, sewing on loose buttons, reading obscure texts, and listening to writing advice podcasts while sharpening garden tools. All in all, this would be considered quite productive if any of it actually involved writing.

I wonder if I’m always going to be fighting this battle of distraction. It seems even technology can’t be blamed. Now I know why the classic writer was either going on walks or putting their liver through its paces. It’s lovely to have all those thoughts floating about one’s brain, but quite another thing committing them to paper. I have a mental image of wrestling each and every word to the ground, until they are forced to stand in a row and make a blasted sentence.

*****

It’s easy to get distracted by the current chaos in politics as well, each headline more alarming than the last. I am not particularly surprised by much of it. People voted for a man who has all the diplomacy of a wrecking ball, in addition to a personality disorder that deems every occasion an opportunity to blame, brag, or bloviate.

canstockphoto60130My outrage meter blew a fuse and now I just want to know that the people not besmirched by this person’s conduct are still doing real work in our government – like handling the fact that the threat of homegrown terrorism is as high as it’s been since 9/11. Or backing down Texas, which thinks it should get federal money despite its discrimination against Planned Parenthood and consequently against the poor in its state. A discrimination which has resulted in a higher number of unplanned pregnancies needed to be covered by Medicaid in Texas. It really beggars belief.

It hit me that I’m counting on the much-maligned civil servant to keep our nation from turning into a third world turd hatchery. I’m counting on people who have been insulted and blamed for everything from long lines to confounding paperwork, to keep coloring within constitutional lines. We don’t have the leadership capable of reasoned and steady trustworthiness. We must rely on the sluggishness and lack of agility of government to slow the man-made disaster of our executive branch. That’s right, the IRS and DMV and AARDVARKS (I really hope somebody is using that acronym) are our last line of defense against autocracy.

*****

Mother’s Day came and went with the usual commercial hullabaloo and media coverage. Since it is the most popular US dining day, I stayed home, enjoyed being left to my own devices by my family and gardened. News bits and bobs ran the gamut from how hard mothers have it to the “why not me” defensiveness of the those without children, fathers, etc.

Since most holidays strike me as over-the-top bullshit which I generally ignore, I spent my time thinking about the defensiveness that emerges in response. As much as I enjoy being referred to as a breeder and moocher and victim in my role as a mother, I have to wonder at the anger. Mothers have bankrolled psychiatrists and psychologists for years, but it’s usually the children of said mothers and not a generalized anger.

canstockphoto2606731

I need a card that says “Thank you for leaving me alone on my special day”

Perhaps it is a backlash to the cult of motherhood, Hallmark, and all those gauzy recollections of warm, caring humans that may or may not have been true. I recall being very defensive in my 20s, as all my peers were getting married and having children. I hadn’t planned on either of those things for myself and felt like there was something wrong with me. I could be very snide in my defensiveness. But then I grew up.

I am still occasionally defensive about one thing or another. To me, it’s a tip off that I have some thinking to do. What’s really going on? Am I not happy with my life choices? Am I scared? Am I in pain over something? I’ve learned over the years to listen to people who are defensive and automatically think what’s really going on here? Contempt for other humans is neither healthy nor laudable. People who are genuinely pleased with their lives don’t feel the need to attack others or justify their choices.

*****

Between listening to the audiobook, William Zinsser’s On Writing Well and reading Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman for my English learner tutoring gig, I have gotten some great reminders about writing. I like big words, because some of them just roll off the tongue and make language more interesting. I also have an interest in word histories. Sometimes this gets in the way of writing well.

canstockphoto20761017I have a regular conversation with the students I help, as well as with my own child about writing. Writing gets treated as a different language from speaking and this is why it becomes so difficult for some people. People who are extremely coherent and expressive verbally suddenly feel tongue-tied on paper. The exercise I do with English learners is to have them say the sentence they want to write and then once they’ve written it, have them read it out loud. It’s always different from what they’ve said. Then I have them say it again and write it down verbatim.

When I am well and truly fighting with my words, it’s because I think I have to write something different than what I intend – bigger words, more poetic, flowing sentences. I have a sign on my computer now. Tell the @#$% story. Stop being a writer and be a storyteller. It’s amazing how words drop away and sentences shine with clarity.

Time for me to get back to it. The rain will stop and I’ll be distracted once again by the siren call of my garden.

23 Comments on “Motley Thoughts on a Rainy Day

  1. Perhaps we could form A.A.R.D.V.A.R.K.S:
    Aggrieved
    Anarchists
    Rehashing
    Dramatic
    Vissisitudes
    About
    Republican
    dicKensian
    Strategies

    It plays into the love of outrage for outrage’s sake as well as an appreciation for long-ass words that no one ever uses anymore.

    Liked by 2 people

    • OOh Ooh. Wait. Change ‘About’ to ‘Abrogating’. It flows better and is also a nicely obscure word.

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      • Having just come from correcting spelling for the last two hours, I would be remiss in not replacing “vissisitudes” with “vicissitudes”. That’s right, I was a top speller at a regional spelling bee in 1983 and I intend on retaining the crown (not really a crown, more like a mimeographed certificate where I might have placed 5th or 23rd).

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Love that AARDVARKS acronym comment up there. 😀
    And, let’s see: there are so many wonderful elements to your post. Writing…walking…distraction. You know, apparently Charles Dickens would walk for hours, and hours, and hours…and figured out what would happen on page 738 in David Copperfield before he was even finished with the first chapter. The point is that those walks WORK. 😀
    Second, your musings about the headlines and the carrot. Oy vey. Right. There. With. You.
    And…I’m all “growed up” and even work in education (when I’m not working on my website/doing art/writing/etc….distractions) and I don’t have my own little ones. I realize that you do, and that’s awesome – happy belated mother’s day! – but yeah…the biological alarm never went off – I just hit snooze a few times – but now I embrace that childfree lifestyle. So to each person their path…and it’s all fun. 🙂
    And what vivid images to go along with some storytelling here. 🙂

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    • I hope that you didn’t misunderstand me – I meant that growing up entailed being happy with one’s choices and not being defensive about them, not that it meant having a child. The cult of motherhood drives me nuts, which is why every Mother’s Day I have a little rant and stomp off to my garden. My own brand of defensiveness, I suppose. Of course that’s me nearly every holiday.
      As for walking, I do a lot of that as well, but on some days, it’s just another avoidance technique.

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  3. I like big words, because some of them just roll off the tongue and make language more interesting.

    I recently had the following conversation with my wife, who sometimes reads my essays just to make sure that I am not maligning her too badly.

    “Why do you use a word that no one knows?”
    “Which word?”
    She reads the word.
    “I had to look it up,” she tells me.
    “So you know what it means now.”
    “Sure.”
    “Ah-hah.”
    “You can really be a jerk.”
    “I think we have established that….”

    Like

    • This made me laugh. The real question is: are we being jerks or educators? Likely a bit of both. Besides, I consider it my civic duty to battle back against text acronyms, emojis, and Tweets by using a full vocabulary. So we’re educators AND patriots!

      Liked by 3 people

      • A proper balance is a single word in each essay, column or chapter that is unfamiliar to the average reader. It is too little to be considered snobbish and just enough to let the reader feel like they are stretching their intellectual bounds….but then there are the readers who always know the words – but then who cares about smarty pants anyway.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I was struck by the term “much-maligned civil servant.” Yup, that’s me — maligned, but committed to the mission nonetheless.

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    • Bureaucracies tend to bring out the crabbiness in people and it unfortunately lands on the nearest targets – the person at the desk. Still, I’m glad to know that there are committed people to lead the rest of the pack, so thank you!

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  5. Vocabulary–you know the words you know–unless you are writing to a specific genre–popular or page-turner, say–and don’t want to use words that will slow many or most of your readers down (and you know it because you have done your homework for this particular genre and its likely readers)–just use them. You can’t help how your education went, and is still going. And if you’re smart–you’re smart.

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    • I don’t necessarily put my vocabulary down to smarts, as much as playfulness with words. Sometimes I use a word because I like its rhythm and sound, even if there were a better way to say something.

      Have you experienced some push-back using your vocabulary? I agree, no one needs to hang their head and dumb themselves down. Readers do like to feel they’ve come away a little smarter when they’ve read something. I certainly do.

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  6. Hi Michelle!
    Wow, this post speaks to me. I wrestled with the words for the past 10 days, both in my head and at the keyboard, and they finally stood in those ‘blasted sentences’ last night. Somewhere in the struggle I remembered that this is the writing process, and to ’embrace the suck’ rather than fight it. So I’m re-inspired to keep going.
    And I *love* your words! 😀 I didn’t have to look anything up this time (or maybe I just chose not to?), but I keep the Merrian-Webster app handy on my phone and use it almost every day. David Brooks is always a good dictionary prompter.
    Wishing you agility and authority with your words these days! 🙂

    Like

    • Thanks, Catherine. I do much the same thing when I read – looking up words. There is some writing where there are so many words I’m only understanding through context, that I write them in a notebook to look up later.
      I get hung up writing when I’m thinking about what I should write as opposed to letting it be whatever it will be. As you say, all part of the process!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. In all candor, it’s a beautiful post! Loved reading it. Loved the words you’ve used.

    Like

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