English, Uncategorized, Writing

Reviving Obsolete Words and Antiquated Phrases

No I will not be filling this article with shoehorned obsolete words.

Nowadays there is a propensity to say things like ‘languages changes this is no different’ in the fact of the slow collapse of English learning in the lower and middle class in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France (I can’t speak to others but I suspect that the situation is similar).

Vocabularies are shrinking and comprehension of grammar is slowly eroding. Nowadays students need side by side translations when reading the classics of their own language. This is absurd. One of the best things about English, and by far the greatest argument for grammatical prescriptivism, is the fact that one can go back and read very, very old literature. An educated English reader can read the unadulterated works of most major writers that follow Chaucer. Perhaps a dictionary is needed but that is all.

Even Chaucer can be read with a few hours of instruction and an edition with ample and quality footnotes on the first stories. After this it is only on occasion that the reader needs to be taught something new.

Now you might be saying ‘Oh that can’t be right, so much has changed over the centuries.’ Well you’d be right and wrong. A lot has been added to the language since Chaucer’s time but comparatively little has been removed or changed into an unrecognizable form.

This is the real patrimony of English, by just being an educated speaker there is six centuries worth of literature that is available to you!

Despite this obvious advantage there are still those that declare ‘oh a living language changes get over it.’ Well kindly va te faire voutre if you believe that. These people are willing to cut their children off from their cultural patrimony, and for what reason?

We live under the real threat of becoming something like the modern day Greeks – a people with an incredible literature, but none of them can read it. Well, the few that bother to study Koine or Attic can but that is all. The Greeks can’t read Plato or Aristotle or even the Bible because they made a decision to normalize the degenerated peasant speak because it was ‘more democratic.’ This is a degeneration that the Japanese have been experiencing since 1945 and are trying to reverse.

The opposite is the Icelanders, they, through carefully managing their language have managed to avoid letting it simplify and wander as so many European languages have. Icelanders can read the Viking sagas (Old Norse) with greater ease than English students can read Shakespeare despite the extra centuries in between!

However, we can fight this trend. Word that are obsolete and ‘old fashioned’ can be refashioned into something new and exciting. Or at least reintroduced as a literary flourish. Anything we can do to begin reversing the trend of shrinking vocabularies (Grammar will require actual work by teachers. They could start by actually teaching grammar.).

So use old words, antiquated phrases, complicated (but hopefully not unwieldily) sentence structures – in the end our progeny might thank us.

Now if only we could get people to start reading again.

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Writing

Do nanowrimo, don’t write your book

If you haven’t heard of nanowrimo, check it out – however, given the nature of this blog, I’ll assume that you have heard of it.

Now go get started, you’re already a day late.

If you are anything like me, then you probably have about six or seven ideas lying around but one or two to which you are truly committed. These are the ones that, if you did them well, you think would be truly worth reading. Or, at least, might be picked up by someone other than family and friends!

Don’t start this book during nanowrimo. Especially if you have never written anything full length before, just don’t do it. First of all, once the path has been laid down it will be hard to travel any other. Even if you just treat it as a trial run, you will be fleshing out your story in a rush. This is never good and the main points you decide on will be hard to break, the characters will have already been developed. And worse, you’ll be attached to these characters and loathe to change them. The same goes for plot devices, mood, sequence, all these things will now have a certain form in your mind that will be hard to change.

Why’s that bad? They were formed in a rush and, likely, the planning didn’t go much further than a chapter ahead. It’s just a trainwreck waiting to happen and you’ll be really attached to that trainwreck.

So don’t write the novel that you have been planning forever. Rather, write a simpler story, one of the other ideas you’ve had kicking around. You’ll get the practice or writing daily, you’ll learn how to shape longer story arches, how to take your time on descriptions, etc. All of which will VASTLY improve your real novel. Don’t waste your favorite idea on a rush job – you will just end up disappointed. But if you pick a story arch that is simpler and to which you are less attached, it can be a wonderful learning experience!

So get cracking, you’re already behind!

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France, Paris

Paris – Not Quite a Eulogy

“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.”
― Oscar Wilde

Sometimes Paris doesn’t work. Aside from the fact that the French don’t like to work as is (and this is a true stereotype, I’ve found), the city itself just doesn’t hang together properly. Aside from 6 decades of failed immigration policy, 5 governments since the founding of the Republic, the incessant onslaught of developpers trying to ruin the city, problems with crime, Islam, post-colonial guilt, the echos of WW2, Muslims, the decline of the French language in popular use (it as once literally the linga franca of Europe, no more), the loss of her religion, the increasing wealth gap, the development of a new underclass, the fact that soldiers have to patrol my neighborhood, and, lastly, the fact that Anne Hidalgo thinks that skyscrapers will work within the city itself (hint: no one but real estate developers want that) – aside from this the city just feels wrong sometimes. It feels angry and ambivalent all at once.

It’s difficult to explain but think of the last time you walked into a room and something just  fell out of place. Now thing of a time that you have walked into a room after a tenuous truce had just been made between enemies and their anger still hung in the air. that is a decent approximation of the Parisian atmosphere on many days. It is not just the looming and ever present threat of terror, nor the gaping wounds that last attacks opened. It’s something else; maybe the city changed to quickly, who knows? But it is palpable, not always but when it is, it is a thick viscous feeling that that slows everything down and makes the city repugnant.

But it is not always like this. And during the moments when the weakened but enduring spirit can pierce the fog that has fall – those moments are incredible.

It is during those brief moments that one can understand why the city used to capture the imagination of the greater part of the worth. In these moments the City of Light is dimmer but shining nonetheless. You can’t prepare for these times, sometimes you can’t even stop to enjoy them – they pass like one of those rare strangers with whom you make an immediate connection but never see again.

Artists drawing in museums.

The odd couple on a lonely quai.

Children yelling bonjour monsieur to you as they go to school you to work.

In and of themselves they mean little, but together with a million other tiny, indescribable details, the picture of the old spirit comes together. I can no more tell you how these moments come to be than describe why Marat’s posture in Jacques-Louis David’s painting makes such an abhorrent man so pathetic.

These moments are unpredictable but they tend to lie where the stone better bore the weathering of time. At Sunday organ concerts at Saint Eustache, where Parisians line up to listen to a half hour of music on one of the most beautiful organs in the world. When you attend mass at Saint-Nicholas-Du-Chardonnet, a mass performed in the old way and a congregation whose faith would have been more home in the 12th century than in ours. It can be found in lost corners of museums, on roofs in the 6th, on quais in the 4th, in cafés in the second. The sap of the old city varnished some of these places, so it is harder for the problems of today to penetrate and rot what soul remains.

This is perhaps the most interesting time to live here since the Germans marched down Champs-Elyéee and the future of the city as hurled into doubt. But whatever her ails may be right now, the city comes out of hiding when she feels playful or reminiscent.

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Writing

The Many, Many, Many Benefits of Journaling

For the sake of journalistic (or blogger, whatever) integrity I have to be honest: I am horrible at keeping journals. It is a next to impossible task for me to keep writing in one for more than a month. I get sick or go on vacation and habit dies a quick death. But when I do keep journals I feel like I realize the value as I am writing it. I get to run through my day, critique my actions, and practice my writing. And, of course, a lot of things that seem like a big deal when they are happening seem pathetically unimportant seven hours later when I am writing them down.

But what is  truly wonderful is the fact that you get to watch your writing style develop over the days, months, and years (you also get to see your handwriting get progressively better until high school and then fall off, at least in my case). You can see where you started and just how far you have come, which is wonderful when you are having doubts about your ability as a writer or whether or not you have improved. Doubts that everyone has in the path to becoming a writer… Actually, I’d say that no matter what art you choose, the further you get the slower you advance. And considering the difference between good and great is, in many cases, quite thin – you have to just keep working at it!

But if you don’t see your improvement it is too easy to get frustrated and fall into a rut. Once there you’ll have to climb out. And the easiest way to do this is to see just how far you have come.

But this is only one benefit the journaling has to the aspiring author – there are two others that I want to cover. The first is that it is a bottomless source of inspiration, especially if you develop some kind of tagging system (either on the computer or marking the top of the journal page). A short sentence at the top to give a sneak peek of the contents when browsing. You life is full of the stuff about which whole novels are written; the difference between you and a great writer is practice. A practiced eye insofar as finding the stories in the mundane, and a practiced style. Without both your writing can only be so good.

Lastly, it is a wonderful drug. Diving into your childhood, seeing how you felt and remembering things long forgotten, this is all priceless. And nostalgia is a feeling that sharpens others – a childhood memory is usually a thing of extremes extreme happiness, contentment, pain, wonder – and it is these kind of sharpened emotions that make the best materials for writing.

So start journaling, your future self will thank you.

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Writing

Always be writing

One thing that I have come to realize over the last few years of trying to be a writer is that you must always be writing. Always. I don’t want to sound like one of the those fifteen million blog articles on the internet that target authors who prefer to introduce themselves as an author rather than actually write… But this is one thing that you simply must do. you could use your laptop, tablet, etc. but the simplest tool is also the best: get a notebook.

Ideally you should already be journaling every night but this is another habit that you ought to pick up. Your ideas could come from anywhere and at anytime and, as I am sure you must know by now, they don’t always stick around. They may be killed off by a distraction or task at  hand. An ideal has lifespan and unless you write it down it is likely to die without any real development!

Save those ideas! I look over them at the end of the day and choose the ones that I think are worth keeping. Then I write them up on the computer – along with a little information about the circumstances that led to the idea. Return to this sheet once in a while and work out a new article, poem, or story from the best of these ideas.

Beyond just writing ideas, sometimes I’ll be sitting in the bus or the metro and just crank out a short story or poem in its entirety. These sometimes these are nice in and of themselves and sometimes serve as a nice sortie into uncharted territory. If you like the first report back, perhaps it is worth your time to expand the idea into a more detailed story.

There really is no excuse, if you want to be a writer you need to write. If you want to be one of those artists that does nothing but introduce themselves as such at dinner parties, then disregard all the above.

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