Thursday, January 17, 2013

Honorable Mention: It's a Grave New World

Plural Determiner 'several' can't modify singular noun 'cat'

 Hey! Now that I am an honorable-mention-style writer, my words carry grave, new responsibility.  

   So I've revised my New Year’s Resolution (stop serving popcorn as a vegetable) and I'm going to clean up this blog, quick -- before more people discover it slogging about in the spring thaw.
    And honestly? I’m afraid that if I’m not careful, my honorable mention will revert back to dishonored-unmentionables -- and I have enough hand-washing to do, thank you.
   But before I go off to pre-treat something, I want to improve my writing, unearth fresh material, and above all, to stop writing about writing a blog.

   I want to start writing about editing.

   The first stop in any writer’s odyssey to excellence is email, in order to solicit critiques from every stranger we know, but importantly, to do this in a HUGE way.  The bigger the Distribution List, the better.
   For me this includes upwards of 238 distant but kindly relatives and even more-distant acquaintances from around the world and from every facet of my life:  a third-cousin in Indiana, my veterinarian, Publisher’s Clearinghouse. They all wait excitedly to render advice and God knows I need it.
   I can get downright irreverent when allowed, day after day, to abuse modifiers and switch tenses with reckless abandon. Once, I became unscrupulous and started mixing metaphors with gin. 
    The worst was when a Traveling Pink Beauty Consultant found me cross-dressing my first person in a flimsy Barbie sarong.   She appreciated the pink hue, but was otherwise horrified.
   “Nobody told me this was wrong,” I sniffed. “I THOUGHT I needed help. Oh... in the den you’ll find a bald hamster I keep locked in a nominative case.”
    If it were not for the wisdom of countless email-volunteers, I wouldn’t be teetering at the precipice of literary domination today. And had I not received composition-advice from countless sage professors back in college, I would not be swallowing a colorful array of oral psychotropics, either.
   Back then, I didn’t feel I needed email-advice... partly because email wasn’t invented, but mostly because I lived by this theory that professors are often paid money to advise student-writers. My favorite tuition-driven pearl included a phrase I heard a lot.  “Carolyn. When I read your essays, I say, ‘So what?’”
    The ‘So what?’ technique stopped me in my tracks, so I could reflect on how to improve, and so my professors could get some rest. So effective was this technique that, years later, I shared it with my own writing students when I became an English teacher.
   But I learned in short order that writers under the age of 10 burst into tears when their work is critiqued.  Or graded.  Or read.  
   Most of my teaching-colleagues never even came into the same room as their students’ writing.  They simply encouraged student writers by regularly issuing to them Skittles – approximately fourteen Skittles per sentence fragment.          
   Of course, I am dating myself.  Today, it is fourteen Michelle Obama Pencils to replace the Skittles Our First Lady (who art not a nutritionist) thoughtfully made a felony.
    My professors would also prattle on about how I had to ‘get out of my navel.’  This is something all writers do once they discover no one is interested in things they write about. Things like, ‘Guess what I found on my baseboard this morning?’ or, ‘My kid said a funny thing.’ 
   I was taught that the only way to correct this was to write scintillating lies called “fiction” using The Third Person.
   I’d always confused this with The Third Reich, which is why I wasn’t writing in it.  But out of deference to my professors I tried The Third Person.
   My fiction began, “A little boy named Joe lived in a cottage with two parents and his pet frog named Ribbit.”  The accolades were so deafening, I, technically, could not hear them.
   But an even better navel-fleeing technique was to remain in the first person, as in “my baseboard was covered with my son’s leaking mouse-corpse,” but to write about subjects with reader appeal. 
   Leaking corpses hold little appeal, but I was once able to strike a universal chord in a campus expose, ‘What About Spit?’  My paparazzi team and I scoured every stairwell and cement-walkway capturing action-shots of expectorant. We told our story through captions.
   One professor liked it so much he referred me to the works of the dead poet Walt Whitman, that I might note similarities in our styles! But this was an abberation. His colleagues insisted that simple fiction was better than pictorial truth about floor spit.  (They also wrote the parable, ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in George Bush,’ made into a Michael Moore film that won a Caldecott Award.)
   That covers advice from writing instructors.

   I’d now like to drone on about how typographical errors, omissions and other common crime reduce readability even more than writers intend.  So along with writing simple, appealing lies, I might try to proofread my own blog posts.
    I have never done this.  Usually I send my manuscripts to that 238-Person Distribution List and they edit for misspellings, ensuring there is at least one per line, then I send the work through Spelling and Grammar Check. 
   There, omissions and misspelled words lose all importance because entire phrases are randomly lopped off.  I never know by what.  My guess is a helicopter rotor.  I always fear the CIA might confiscate suspicious fragments that Grammar Check suggests, thinking they are code.  You wrote the fragment, ‘Over the vagabond.’ Try this: ‘Over the vagabond and through the wood, to grandmother’s house we go.’” Meanwhile spell check is busy noting that the word vagabond does not exist.  “Did you mean ‘vagina’?” 
   “Yes, I did,” and off I go, encrypting my way to a Safe House or federal penitentiary.   
   Frankly, I love that my posts are imperfect.  This keeps me ensconced in a low visibility ‘safe-zone’ which wins any manuscript I send to magazines the enviable treatment of being flung from executive assistants’ open windows into driving rains which shred it before editors have the pleasure of spitting on it (then having me write about spit).  So… hmm.  

  I guess  maybe I am planning to make pretty much no spring-cleaning changes to my blog, after all.  Because when I read my posts' imperfections, I say, ‘So what?’
   Although now that I have reminisced about my prose fiction, Ribbit The Frog, I might write a sequel, Joe and Ribbit Return (Ribbit is dead, but Joe comes back).
   Hey, look!  Spell-check is replacing Ribbit with Rabbit, noting no capital “R” is required, and Grammar Check is offering great encryption:  Try this, “The dead rabbit writes frog a sequel.”
   Wait. That’s not code.  Grammar check is writing a FABLE!  You know, I’m going to let it press on here -- I think it’s got a great concept.   Something Fan Fiction might pick up an option on. 
    Did you mean, “Some option up on which Fan Fiction might pick?’  Yes, yes, I did. Also, the hawk flies at midnight, and John has a long moustache.    *wink-wink
   (Grammar Check and I are well on our way to our own Caldecott Award and film expose by Michael Moore.  Wish us luck!)