Sparked by Words

Dirty Words

Dirty words. Stub my toe on the sharp metal caster and you’ll hear me spew lots of dirty words. Crap, kocker, damn it, dreck. It hurt, damn it, I’m allowed to holler, and I don’t have to be nice about it. In English and Yiddish, I holler all the bad words. Feckuckteh caster.

Lenny Bruce, the rebellious comedian who loaded his dark comedy with language considered obscene, made seven particular words famous by virtue of their being too dirty to speak aloud. So of course he did, and was arrested for his defiance. Cover your eyes if you’re the sensitive sort because I’m going to list them here: cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, piss, shit, tits. Bruce’s real crime was pointing out the hypocrisies of our culture but the words got him in trouble. He was too vulgar for polite society, no matter that society was too brutal for the underrepresented and downtrodden. Bruce was no angel, and many people lost sight of his legitimate demand for free speech, the very thing we now take for granted. Today, his seven dirty words hardly raise an eyebrow, so often are they hollered through the night.

An infant’s first word is “mama” or whatever word in her native language aligns with that individual. Fathers have been trying forever to get the first word to be “dada.” But the first word ever uttered by the very first human who found she had a voice box that allowed more verbalization than a huff, grunt, or yowl? It was “fuck.” Had to be – standing small and alone in the African desert, she found the world terrifying, she saw her life in peril, and she said what we all say at such realization. “Fuck.”

Here are dirtier words, much dirtier:  abandonment, abuse, arson, betrayal, bigotry, deceit, drug trafficking, exploitation, false accusation, forced starvation, genocide, holocaust, human experimentation, human rights suppression, human trafficking, incest, lying, misogyny, murder, prejudice, racism, rape, religious persecution, sexism, slavery, terrorism, theft, torture, war, xenophobia – sadly, I’m certain there are more. This is the real dirty language. Still, language is benign. Add music and every word sounds like sugar being spun into cotton candy. To be offended by dirty words but ignore the acts they identify is akin to disdaining the menu but still ordering awful food.

You can put in all the asterisks, ellipses, blank spaces, bird calls, or underlines you want in order to grant your writing a measure of gentility, but face the facts. You may swear upon your holy books, mutter amens and hosannas, grovel on your knees, pledge your honor, and promise repentance. None of it means a thing without follow through. Every writer, humanitarian, philosopher –  every decent person accepts the same truth. Words are harmless, scratches in the dust even when howled under duress. It’s the acts that are horrific, and the reality that these acts take place every single day all over the world – the acts are far worse. More hurtful, longer lasting, intentional.

Writing these words does not make writing a bad act. Writing them brings the implied actions to the attention of a public that often wants to hide behind prayers, lattes, and cell phones. There is no indecency in words. The indecency is in the fact that so many engage in the actions described by the words. When we eliminate these bad acts so completely that to say one of these words engenders genuine confusion among all people – what does that mean? I can’t understand words that don’t relate to the human condition anywhere in the world – then we can label them as really bad words.

Words can lead the ignorant to understand the complexity of past events, so write. Words can warn or instruct, so write. Write the truth in any and every way you can. Employ words that hoist power, and worry little about words that bear no weight. Even if they’re ugly. Worry about acts that injure, abuse, kill, threaten, maim, enslave, bludgeon. If the dirty words you write make someone see the other side, feel the pain, and change their behavior, you’ve done your job. If the dirty words you raise on a poster cause the government to enforce justice, you’ve done your job. If the dirty words you speak arouse the pulse of the apathetic public and encourage them to find out the truth for themselves, you’ve done your job.

Call me a dirty girl. I yearn to be that and more. I will not stand down. The only thing I own is my integrity. Pen to paper. Truth to power.

Here in fact are the very most vile, horrendous, and disgusting words in English, and they can be translated into any language and still carry the same inherent evil. I hold out my hands for the cuffs. Arrest me. These are the dirtiest three:

GUILTY AS CHARGED

 

Quill pen and scroll image courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

 

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A Gentleman in Moscow

Popular upheaval, political turmoil, industrial progress – any combination of these can cause the evolution of society to leapfrog generations, sweeping aside aspects of the past that might otherwise have lingered for decades. And this must be especially so, when those with newfound power are men who distrust any form of hesitation or nuance, and who prize self-assurance above all.

From A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, © 2016, Viking

Quote from a book 1, a thought worth considering,  a book worth reading

 

 

Cover image courtesy Viking

Choices

So many things are going wrong in my life at the moment, most of them related to – well, everything, now that I think about it. I’ll begin by stating that I won’t begin at the beginning. Imagine problems one, two, three, ad infinitum. And the final problem – the car, nineteen-years-old, worn and cranky – was at the mechanic shop last night, and the two older grands spent the night at my home so their parents could have an evening out. Hubby was working out of town. That meant I couldn’t drive the grands anywhere but I asked if they’d like to walk to a restaurant. So we did. The nearby shopping center offers many choices, and the kids picked a favorite Italian place, one that good-naturedly welcomes kids. We each ate pasta with a favorite sauce, slurping meatballs and noodles, gorging on hot bread and butter, sharing our selections with each other. After dinner we walked to the grocery store around the corner and bought food for breakfast this morning.

On the sidewalk we passed a man slumped against a wall who asked for nothing but looked away from us, seeming sad, dejected, tired, homeless. Possibly he was ill from a life lived in dark corners or unkempt gullies for who knows how long. I have so many bills, a falling-apart car, a house in disrepair on many fronts. Our financial situation precludes us visiting our younger son, his wife and the two younger grands.  But I bask in so much wealth in many ways.

My grands waited at the corner and watched as I walked back to the homeless man and asked if he was hungry. He nodded but remained silent. I gave him a bill. He looked and when he realized I’d given him not a one but a ten dollar bill, his face lit up. Ten dollars will buy a fraction of a tank of gas or pay a small bit of what the mechanic is going to charge me to fix the car that may run well enough to need that gas. Tears dripped down the cheeks of the old man; he could barely speak but in a hushed voice, he asked my name. I told him and asked his, then told him to please get something to eat. He nodded, still grasping the bill, a lifeline for the evening.

I don’t usually give to people on the street though we donate small amounts to many charities and worthy causes in more traditional ways. When possible I participate in service projects, and the kids do the same as part of their Scout programs. I know the homeless man may have bought a cheap bottle of booze with the bill, but I can’t stop people from destroying themselves if that’s what they choose. I can only choose my own life, and last night I chose to give a stranger, an old man, enough to sustain him for one more night. I hope he ate something hot and good for him. I choose to think he did. The kids witnessed a small act of mercy, and hopefully it impressed them in a way that will impel them to be compassionate as they grow up.

My grands were so sweet the whole evening and this morning, and so grateful that they got to spend the night at my house. I am angry, distressed, and deeply frightened about the deterioration of the environment, the danger of escalating world political danger, the uncertain economic future facing all my grandchildren and all your grandchildren. But my choice is to continue to do as much good as I can in this world, even if they are only small acts of justice or kindness or being responsible for the earth’s limited resources.

So, it has been a very good week for me despite the falling apart car for which the mechanic shop is having a hard time finding the part it needs to fix it, despite the fact we do not have air conditioning to endure this hot and humid summer, and despite that the floors in the kitchen and the bedroom remain ruined after two different broken pipe floods. Life is very good for me and I know how fortunate I am. It is far worse for many others.

Many years ago I was given a tiny piece of paper imprinted with two Hebrew sentences. I carry it with me at all times. Each sentence reminds me I am part of a world that is incomplete. It is not only my choice, but my charge as a citizen of the world community to contribute in a positive way. On one side is written, “The world was created for my sake.” On the other, “I am but dust and ashes.”

I am but dust and ashes. The world was created for my sake, not to squander but to help ensure the future. For the grandchildren of the world.

 

 

The Children painting courtesy Valentin Serov, CommonsWikimedia.org

 

I have been honored as a guest writer by Adrienne Morris who blogs at Nothing Gilded, Nothing Gained-Period Drama on Paper at Middlemay Farm https://middlemaybooks.com/blog/

My story, Jelly Glass, was featured there yesterday. It’s a peek into one family’s life.

I would be doubly honored if you would mosey on over to her blog and read it there: https://middlemaybooks.com/2017/08/06/keeping-kosher/

One of the most incredible parts of blogging is getting to meet people from all over the world, from all walks of life.

You’ll enjoy traveling around Adrienne’s blog, reading about her life in upstate New York on a wonderful farm and learning about the books she writes.

Thank you, Adrienne. Got a big grin going on over here in Southern California.

 

 

Basket of roses photo courtesy Pixabay

It’s All a Big Lie

Two truths and a lie: 1. My mom called me by a foreign name. 2. When I was a kid, I had a purebred collie named Sugar. 3. I was a Boy Scout.

Two Truths and a Lie is a game my grandkids love to play. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to strangers or even to friends who don’t know as much about you as they think. By the end of this article, you have to figure out which of the three sentences in the first paragraph are truths, which is the lie.

My name is Sharon Lynne Pratt, though my nom de plume is Sharon Bonin-Pratt. Notice the hyphen between my maiden and married last names, important because it makes my author’s name rare. I don’t use it for legal purposes, however, as in signing documents for court judgments or on my driver’s license or applying for astronaut school. (Two truths and a lie – you figure it out.)

I write fiction, meaning I lie all the time. You can’t trust a thing that comes out of my mouth, or a sentence I write in a story. The nature of writing fiction is to present a fabrication of the world, yet reflect a truthful image recognized by readers. “That happened to me! I understand exactly what she wrote! How did he know that about me?” The more history I research, the more science I present, the stronger the scaffold I build for the inventions in my book. I lie – you believe, if I’m good enough.

For outstanding examples of how this has been accomplished by published writers, consider All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr who visited St. Malo to understand the aura of independence and isolation in order to write about its siege and destruction by fire during World War II. The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish evokes the period during which Spinoza was excommunicated from Judaism for heretical thoughts. She researched seventeenth century European Jewish life, revealing the tight strictures and precarious circumstances under which Jews lived and their fear of persecution from Christian fanatics. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini relates the history of twentieth century Afghanistan, the country of his birth. His story describes the end of the monarchy, the resulting war, and the takeover by the Taliban. America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie portrays the life of Martha Jefferson. They carefully referenced many of the actual documents written by Thomas Jefferson and used his own words to evoke his daughter’s life. Those are some of the truths of these books. You’ll have to read them to discover the lies.

Nearly every writer posts this disclaimer, or similar, at the beginning of their novel: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to real people or events is entirely coincidental. Novel-speak for, “I wrote this book, you didn’t, it’s not about you, and don’t try to steal it.” Statements written to ward against lawsuit for plagiarism, libel, slander, and theft. Sometimes no more effective than wearing garlic to prevent the plague.

A story must resonate with readers, no matter how much history or innovation in the plot and characters. The greatest authors write stories that brilliantly reveal the human condition. We read Doerr, Kadish, Hosseini, Dray and Kamoie, and come away with a punch in the gut that has us flailing on the floor. “I felt that. Gimme more.”

Two truths and a lie about me: My mom called me mumzer, a disparaging word meaning bastard. I thought it was part of my Hebrew name, though it’s Yiddish.  First sentence is true. I was terrified of dogs as a kid and walked blocks out of my way to avoid them. We didn’t have a pet dog until I was fifteen. The dog was a mutt and wasn’t named Sugar. Second sentence is the lie. I was a Boy Scout because my two sons were avid Boy Scouts. (Though never in my life was I a Girl Scout.) I joined and became a trained adult leader. Third sentence is true.

Two truths and a lie about my books: I interview, discover, and research, then tumble everything together in a madhouse of language and invention to write stories. It’s all fiction. Sort of.

 

Photo of children playing, courtesy: commons.wikimedia.org

 

Silence

We argue with ourselves all the time. May the better part of us be victorious. I argue with others all the time. May the better part of me be silent.

 

Just a thought, 4

 

Painting courtesy Dionis Baixeras, Knitting, 1888, Google Images Wikimedia Commons

Shooting Blanks

No, not that kind of blanks – this is a no-guns site. And not the other kind either – I’m a woman after all, past the age where I’d have to worry, long married, and this isn’t that kind of blog anyway. Shooting blanks in a story – this is what I’m talking about.

I’ve been working with a friend who’s writing her first book. Katelyn, nearly twenty-one, close to graduating college, planning her master’s program. She’s brilliant and talented, majoring in economics or something else I would never have considered, and trying her hand at writing a novel on the side – in her spare time. Like so many of us did when we were young, a bit inebriated with all the possibilities, able to stay up writing all night and still function next day at university and at work. She can write, her teachers told her so, my brain confirms her skills.  It’s been my pleasure and honor to be trusted to assist her.

But she’s shooting a few blanks in her story. I pointed out a section where her protagonist, Samantha, acquires a secret cache of letters blazing with accusation about boyfriend Hank’s suspected dark behavior. (I’ve changed the actual events here a bit because it’s Katelyn’s story after all. This is not the place for a reveal of her book. But you’ll get the idea.) Thing is, Katelyn left out how Samantha got those letters, and I asked if it would be described later. No, she said, she figured her readers could imagine how it had happened.

This is where I explained that a story is a footbridge across a raging creek but it can’t be a chasm over the Grand Canyon. A writer needn’t put in every single movement or conversation because most of that ordinary stuff bodes closing the book covers, sans reading it. However, certain events must included – sufficient planks to actually get from one edge of a story to the other without swinging precariously over a great nothingness. In other words, how Samantha got those incriminating letters.

Katelyn’s dilemma points out two problems inexperienced writers often suffer. The first is knowing what to include so readers can leap easily, plank to plank, to get into and then out to the other side of the story. The second is having an actual story to tell, not just an accumulation of sketches about captivating characters, but a story, a plot. Problem, conflict, crises, solutions, and final resolution that not only resolves the problem but shows the growth of the main character. Connections between events and characters must be obvious. Holes for the reader to fall into are not part of the real estate.

Katelyn finally understood that knowing how Samantha acquired the letters that pointed out that Hank made a career out of duping wealthy women impacted the story. It wasn’t after all  a fairy godmother who plopped the letters onto Samantha’s favorite zebra-striped pillow. To allow readers to depend on their imaginations meant letting them take the story into potentially ridiculous dimensions – fairy-land. Thus a ruined story. Katelyn reworked it to show Samantha’s inventiveness about tracking down the hidden letters, adding another adventurous element to the story. Even Katelyn loves the new passages and recognizes how much breadth they add.

Blanks are fine as long as they’re essentially vapid. Samantha showered and then called her best friend to talk about hair color. Nah, leave it out. But delineating the pivotal clue to understanding the louse who never says he loves her – that’s fundamental. Fill in the blanks so your reader knows how the antagonist attempts to flummox the  protagonist’s success, and how much risk the hero will tender to claim the final prize. Remember: it’s not the reader’s job to write the story. It’s yours, Writer.

You’re doing well, Katelyn, blanks filled in nicely.

 

 

Photograph of Cantolloc aqueduct near Nasco, Peru, courtesy: Wikimedia commons, Google images