Word Cousins

Merriam-Webster has come up with a clever quiz to see how well you know the orginations of many word pairs.  Some of these word pair seemed more obvious to me than others.  How well did you do?



A gift of dreams – a short story for Christmas

Christmas Dreams can come true. Enjoy Andrea’s delightful original story of one Magical Christmas dream.

Harvesting Hecate

My food ran out days ago and there’s no prospect of rescue up here at the top of the world. I try to put up my tent, but the arctic wind bludgeons and tears at the fabric. My compass is gone, my GPS is behaving strangely and the whiteout obliterates the stars. I no longer know which direction to walk in. The next time I fall, I stay there, slumped in the snow, ready to give in to sleep at last.

I drift, watching flurries of snow dart past my goggles. The snowstorm cancels out any differences in the landscape. When my eyes close it’s darker, but that’s the only difference, it seems, between being awake or asleep.

There is something tugging me. Something rough and insistent. I try to shrug it off but it gives me no rest. I open my eyes to a blur of dark movement. It…

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Writing by Ear

“We should write the opposite way we talk.”

In the early 1980s, I briefly taught Social Studies to 5th-8th graders in a K-8 school about two hours outside Atlanta.  The original social studies teacher had to quit teaching in the Spring because of a problem pregnancy so I got the job sight unseen, thanks to a cousin who  already taught at the school.

The kids were bright, engaging, and spoke English with a thick Southern accent.  Most of them used a form of English that would have made Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer proud.  “He ain’t, we was, him and me are going” were typical phrases.  Even  the teachers’  kids were prone to using sloppy or uneducated English.

After repeated attempts by the English teacher to teach them to use the correct noun/verb combinations and to understand the difference between objective pronouns (I, he, she, we, they) and subjective pronouns, (me, him, her, us, them), one girl seemed to get the pictures.  “We should write the opposite of the way we talk,” she said.  I thought that was a really astute observation.

In the years since then, my own ability to speak standard English has deteriorated and I no long trust my ability to read written words aloud in hopes of picking out the correct way to write something.  It no longer always catches the typos, poor grammar choices,  or wrong versions of a word that it once did.  I now have to rely on programs like Grammarly that show me that despite having a decent vocabulary, my typos and grammatical errors put me in a low ability to catch errors that I used to be able to catch almost automatically.

Having said all this, I thought about my ability to hear the correct way to speak or write in Spanish (my second best language.)  I have no ear for educated or uneducated Spanish.  I can not detect regional accents.  The only thing I have going for me is a vague recall of the tenses that I memorized decades before in high school.

How can you become fluent in a language where you can not pick out the correct usage by sound?  That lack of ability is one of the reasons I say I am functional in Spanish, but not fluent, despite studying it for 6 years in school and 1 year in college.  How do you determine when you are fluent in a language?

Writing All Wrongs

quill pen and parchmentDoes the writer have an obligation to Write the Wrongs they see?  The muckrakers certainly righted several wrongs with their books.  One famous legend has President Teddy Roosevelt choking on his morning sausage after reading Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle,  about the  Chicago stockyards and slaughterhouses.  It resulted in the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.

Rachel Carson was another writer who changed things.  Her Silent Spring, written in 1962, documented the effect of the indiscriminate use of pesticides upon the environment.  It lead to the ban of DDT and the restoration of many species such as the California Condor.

Dian Fossey’s Gorillas in the Mist, highlighted the mountain gorillas of Africa.  The book was made into a movie starring Sigourney Weaver.  Earlier this month, one of the news channels talked about the gorillas making a comeback and being moved from critically endangered to endangered.

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a strong impetus to the Abolitionist movement prior to the Civil War. According to legend, Lincoln tells her, “so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.”

Why do you write?  Is it to entertain, to inform, to instruct?  Is it a case of Have Writing Implement (physical or virtual) and must write?  Do you want your writing to serve a higher purpose or is just having anyone read it for any purpose sufficient?   Does anyone have to even read it or do you just need to write it?

scale of justice

F**k it! I’m a Writer.

quill pen and parchmentI just read a wonderful blog post by Darius Foroux on Why A Daily Writing Habit Improves Your Life.  I ripped the headline from a quote in his blog.  It pithly summarizes why most of us write.  (As we already collectively know, being a writer is not the equivalent of being published.)

I have wanted to be a writer since I wrote a story in fourth grade about a girl in Gettysburg during the Civil War. It was based roughly on the story of Emmeline by Elsie Singmaster.  I always enjoyed highschool and college writing courses.  Termpapers were not a moment of dread and I mastered the art of writing a term paper in the 24 hours before it was due.  (I usually got an A on research and a C on typing, if the instructor  divided the grades out.  My research skills were always much stronger than my typing ability. For those of us old enough to remember actually typing a termpaper, it was much harder before wordprocessing, but at least the errors were ours and not autocorrect’s.)

When I ran a post library, my writing skills were further tested by writing letters in response to the base ‘tell us how we are doing’ campaign.   The formula was to thank the person for taking the time to write, address the issue, and apologize for any possible inconvenience that might have ensued.

This blog ensures that I write something most days.  It gives me the immediate gratification of hitting the publish button.   It also provides a gateway to read many other wonderful, creative, thoughtful blogs. (If there are three words that are overused in the early 21st century, they are awesome, amazing, and epic.)

Why do you write?

Why Do You Read?

Zat Rana makes a provocative argument that people read to memorize or critique in his short essay on “There are Two Ways to Read–One of Them Is Wrong.”  People learn either of these two reasons in school.

This works in school, and it teaches in its own way, but unfortunately, when reading in the real world, this kind of mindset cheats us out of knowledge

Perspective is needed to achieve the real joy of reading. “The only filter worth having is the one that distinguishes between what is relevant and what is not; what matters and what doesn’t.”

Now, having the focus to absorb what you need is critical and so is having a filter in place to detect if what you’re reading is factually wrong.

That said, anytime you read something with the mindset that you are there to extract what is right and what is wrong, you are by default limiting how much you can get out of a particular piece of writing. You’re boxing an experience that has many dimensions into just two.

Reading puts you into a different mode of reality.

By diving into the minds of some of the greatest thinkers and storytellers, it moves us into realms of reality that would otherwise stay unknown to us. We often walk out a good book with a new pair of eyes, and we can then use these eyes to create a better world around us, if we so choose.

Zat Rana makes the argument that civilization only progressed because things have been written down. Each generation does not have to start from scratch because previous generations wrote down things they had learned and passed them on to future generations.  He ignores civilizations with strong oral histories. Early Greek and Roman, Indian, and Native American cultures all had a strong oral history tradition of passing on information.

He also does not address that some people like to read because they find it enjoyable.  They don’t read for knowledge or because it’s a classic or a best seller.  The story is reason enough to pick up the book and finish it.

Modern First Library: Reclaiming Our Children’s Heritage by David Bowles

What if the books you read were not like you at all?  You are a girl and the books are all about boys.  You are a person of color and the books are all about whites.  You are a Catholic and the books are all about Protestants.  Now imagine how much more the books would mean to you if at least some of the characters looked like you or your family.  Read about a poor Mexican kid living in Texas who did not discover books for kids like him until he was grown.

via Modern First Library: Reclaiming Our Children’s Heritage by David Bowles