Monday, December 12, 2016

Small Correspondences

A long time ago I taught Primo Levi's short story called "Small Changes" in an intro to lit class.  Many years later my oldest son went on a youth exchange to Rome where he attended high school at the Liceo Primo Levi.  About this time I bought and read Levi's The Reawakening (memoirs of his long journey to repatriation after being liberated from a Nazi camp) and remembered ever after the detail about how he liked traveling through Romania and seeing language more like his own.

Some years after that my second oldest daughter went on a youth exchange to Romania.  Last night I gave her a copy of The Reawakening to show her the part about Levi's travels through Romania, excited that I recognized the name of the city of Iasi in one of the chapter titles; here my daughter went to church while in Romania.  She read for a bit and noted with interest that Levi had passed through Barlad--the city where she lived--in his travels.

The intersection of the literary and the real, a writer's life and my family's life, gives me a sense of wonder and kinship.  Would it be sign seeking to anticipate that another of my children will cross paths with Primo Levi in the future?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

If a tree falls in a forest and . . .

If a writer writes a text and no one is there to read it, then what?

Friday, December 09, 2016

Don't take anything I say to seriously.

This phrase, or one very much like it, appeared in preface to a written proposal (as in, a written proposal of marriage) by my now husband in early 1992.

What's wrong with this writing?  Yes, it should be too seriously.
What's right with this writing?  It and the proposal in which it appeared served the purpose and pleased the audience.

While we should strive to make our writing as error free as possible,  the power of a text lies in the right message that connects well with our readers.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Do you know good and well?

N:  I write good.
Y:  I write well.

Note also that doing well and doing good are both happy things, and they mean differently.

"I'm doing well" means I'm feeling physically well, being adequately successful at whatever, and so on.   Other examples:  "She's doing well in chemistry."  "My auntie is out of the hospital now and doing well."

 "I'm doing good" means I'm performing positive actions.  Other examples:  "Rotary does much good with its water and sanitation projects." "My grandma did good for many people."

And for fun, look at the Good and Well Duo, here:

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

This Day I Shall Live in Empathy

I knew a woman in the early 2000s in Purvis, Mississippi.  Her father was at Pearl Harbor, not on a ship but on the land nearby.  I actually knew her father casually as well.  I had another friend in Purvis whose husband was at D-Day--not on the beaches, but out on a ship.  When he showed an old picture of a naval vessel to my then very young son and talked about "the boys" (=soldiers), my son had some look of surprise, because I think he was thinking these were children. I could add that my Great Uncle Louis shook MacArthur's hand.

What do these brushes with history mean?  Well, for one thing that I'm an older person who was born to older parents and  who has known older people.

My advice to you, then, is to grow old and as you do to talk to older people.  Every being is deep with being and stories, some for share and others not, and when people talk, listen and remember.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

You Reap What You So to Speak

Metaphorical expressions can cause trouble (Hillary Price, Rhymes with Orange).
Metaphorical speech is part of our reality.  We talk about "hitting the nail on the head," "things going wrong on a dime," "things can go south in a hurry," and more subtly "taking a step back" or "cooling off." These are stock phrases, and they aren't necessarily bad things to use in casual speech.   In formal writing, you may wish to avoid them, or at least use them with very careful consideration, and for sure don't ever say or write something just because the cool people are saying it.

P.S.: Fun fact. I have heard that if your technical writing might go into translation, you will for probably want to avoid metaphorical expression to prevent issues for translators.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Poohing Poohing and Praising Paraphrasing

You have probably heard some rule that no more than X% of your paper should be quoted.  You've probably heard that readers often skip long quotations--or you've done it yourself.

But paraphrasing just so you're not quoting doesn't seem to serve much useful purpose for your audience.  In fact, a less-than-precise and strained paraphrase can even obscure the original meaning.  That's just from the reader's perspective.  As a writer, if you're like me,  you find paraphrasing difficult to do well, so paraphrasing better be worth your time. 

Summaries, however, are really useful.  I have a relative who works for NASA and is familiar with science and engineering writing.  He says the ability to summarize well is really a gift.  I agree!

I think the best audience-oriented use for paraphrase is to build understanding.  I don't mean "dumb it down"; I mean talk with or write to your audience in a way that matches the need.  You paraphrase in speech frequently, I'll bet.  For instance,   this morning my six-year-old was looking for his jacket.  I said to check the entryway closet.  There was a pause, followed by a question like,  "What's that?"  I had to think of how to describe the entryway.  I thought of its location to other rooms.  I thought of the color of the lighting.  Then I hit on a feature I was sure he would know:  the double doors on the front of the house.  He got it then.

What do you think of paraphrasing?  Is it painful, to be pitied,  to be prized, or what?

Away with Delusions of Inconsequentiality!

I have heard that while it is hypocritical to appear better than you are, it is also hypocritical to appear worse than you are.

The big question is, does my writing matter?  Does your writing matter?

A few thoughts there.  The summer between the two years of my MA program, I was reading poetry and wanting to be a poet.  My mum wrote me a letter praising the power of good writing.  I was setting myself up to hear her say I was a great writer, but the letter continued how my mum treasured her own mother's constant stream of letters over the year.  Oh.  There was a lesson there, the biggest being that my grandmother's letters were faithful and frequent, but not amazing in the sense of being published and praised.  That said, their intended audience was pleased and strengthened.  Since then I have had the opportunity to write things that have done some good, for which I am grateful.

Why do you write?  For whom do you write?  Where would you like your writing to go?

Regardless of your writing aspirations, please consider having some honest aspirations and acting on them.

Friday, December 02, 2016

A Bath and Bolo

A bath.  As a new mum I was going to give my firstborn a bath before church one Sunday.  I had his bathtub set up and was filling it with water when I felt the water coming out the bottom of the tub.  Uh huh--I forgot to put in the plug.  I gave up on the bath plan.


  1. New parents are often sleep deprived.  This decreases their mental acuity and (for some)mental stability.  Writers should not intentionally deprive themselves of sleep, or their performance may suffer.  Plus they may drool on their keyboards.
  2. Writers must remember to put the parenthetical reference at the end of all borrowed material.  If they don't, there's no clear stop (plug) to the citation.  The cited material will spill into theirs, and readers will not know for sure whose ideas are whose.

And Bolo. Long ago I took care of my landlord's horses, one of whom was named Bolo. The barn had a gated opening at both ends.  If I wanted to make sure Bolo stayed put in the hall of the barn, I needed to be sure both gates were closed.


  1. If writers set the opening and closing boundaries of borrowed material, there's no question where the borrowed material is, just like there would be no question where Bolo was if he was between the two gates.
  2. If writers start borrowed material with a signal phrase such as "According to Andreas Ekeland," and end with a parenthetical reference, the gates are closed.  Left off, the borrowed material can run into the essay writer's material.

Now, let's note something.  Sometimes that blending of borrowed material with the writer's material is detected because, sadly, the writer's  sentences are not that super and suddenly the writing becomes much better because it's borrowed--without proper boundaries (or quotation marks).

On a happier but true note, writers should set the boundaries clearly so their good ideas are not mistakenly attributed to the author of borrowed material that comes right after those ideas without a proper opening boundary.  (This happened in a lit class a few years ago when a gifted student of mine shared his own good idea, and I thought it was from the next source he cited.)

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Grammar is the Greatest?

Fig. 1.  Is expression more important than content?  Is it more noticeable?  When and how is it appropriate to point out writing errors  (Wulff and Morganthaler)?

I've often thought that good content is more important than good expression.  I also read once a comment about writing TED Talks (you've probably seeing these captivating and somewhat charming monologues in which people who have done great things stand on a stage and tell what they did); the basic idea was that if someone had something important to say, it was relatively easy to help them compose the words with which to say it.

Of course the best combination is a winning idea with painless expression (you may hurt to write it, but your readers should not hurt to read it).

Work Cited

Wulff, Mikael and Anders Morganthaler.  Wumo.  16 Apr. 2016.