Tag Archives: talking

Personality: You are Who You Pretend to Be

As a child I was extremely shy and introverted. This doesn’t mean that I was weak or without personality. I was fairly strong willed but I wouldn’t talk or do anything to stand out in the crowd. The argument for nature vs nurture might play in here. My personality was imprinted at birth. My circumstances affected how my personality played out.

Growing up in a home rife with turmoil and many abuses probably made me into the shy and insecure child that I was. I was picked on, teased and remained in the background. I remember my passive aggressive act when one girl was bugging me in school. I didn’t confront her but as I walked home I spit on the sidewalk in front of her house.

In grade 7 I was still fairly shy but starting to flower in personality (as we are all wont to do in teenagerhood). I had a few friends, and was trying to fit in. However, my mother asked me what I wanted for Christmas (or my birthday) that year and I said a purple dress/shirt/some item of clothing. I received a wardrobe of purple; pants, tops, dresses. Everything was purple. I could not wear purple again for about ten years but today it is a color I wear frequently.

With that geeky stigma of one color, I tended to cringe and become conscious of clothing. I also looked at Margaret Parsons in my class. She was shyer than me, had red ringlets (really gorgeous red hair actually) and wore a school uniform. In retrospect I have a lot of sympathy for Margaret and Morag, who both came from school systems with uniforms. They stuck out like sore thumbs and again, moving into a district wasn’t easy. They were definitely outsiders and looked at strangely. Kids are very cruel, not yet tempered with the social skills on how to stab someone nicely in the back.

Back to Margaret; she was very very shy and quiet and I decided then and there that I didn’t want to be like her, which meant I had to change. It was important for me to fit in. My family was different, with divorced parents, not going to church, fighting. All my friends had more “normal” families. First was the clothing. Jeans and T-shirts were much the norm for teenagers.

By late high school I upped the ante again. My clothing was mostly in shades of blue and brown. I decided that if I wore brighter colors it would make me more outgoing (and had read something to that effect). Basically it became a case of fake it till you make it. I did this again in art college.

Overall it was a long, slow transition, but little by little my clothes got brighter and my personality changed. I started to wear more jewellery (some would say I wear too much) and became a clothes horse, liking fashion and trying to find unique styles. But along the way I consciously challenged my boundaries. And sure enough, I went from being a shy introvert to and outgoing extrovert.

Few of us are 100% of anything. We all have introvert and extrovert in us. I can be quiet, even withdrawn, and sometimes prefer to sit back in the sidelines and watch. But I also enjoy being at a party or around people. Had I not pushed myself I would have probably remained an introvert. Would the switch have happened anyways? I don’t know. But I’m sure it would have taken much longer.

Wearing bright colors was a physical manifestation of how I wanted to change and I think it did work towards bringing me out of my shell. And shell it was, a protective coating from a tumultuous home life and the jibes and jeers of class mates. Interestingly enough, I grew a different shell, with bolder colors that stopped a lot of the teasing once I wore them with confidence. So yes, I think a leopard can change its spots.

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Little Words and Zed

I’ve worked many years as a copy editor and have a fairly good memory for spelling. It’s amazing really that we ever standardized the English language, if you take into account that there’s British English (BE), American English (AE) and the bastard child of both, Canadian English (CE). AE and CE say “synchronize” instead of “synchronise”, but BE and CE say “neighbour” instead of “neighbor” and “travelled” instead of “traveled.” There are a few other odd words such as “jewellery” vs “jewelry.” But mostly we can understand each other even if Canadians say “zed” and Americans, “zee.” I’m an adamant proponent of continuing the “zed” pronunciation (being Canadian) and when some little tads corrected me with saying, “It’s zee.” I pretty much bit my lip and corrected them since they’re Canadian. Alas the invasion continues.

So, is it any wonder that there are so many misspelled words considering that Shakespear spelled his name so many different ways? Of course ,a lot of this had to to with relative illiteracy of the era. If you didn’t write regularly, even if you knew the rudiments, you weren’t very likely to spell words correctly.

As an editor, sometimes words are so often misspelled the same way that I start to doubt my own senses and then I have to look up words that I know are spelled incorrectly. Here are a few words of the modern age that are misspelled frequently:

  • burgundy (not burgandy for color or wine)
  • indefinitely (not indefinately, received three times last week) if it’s not finite then it’s indefinite like infinity .
  • no one (not no-one nor noone; this might be different in England)
  • its (the most misused word ever: if it is blue, then it’s blue. If the ball belongs to it (the dog), then it (the ball) is its (the dog). Its ball rolled into traffic.
  • twenty, thirty-something (twenty-two not twenty two)
  • would of, could of: People say this: I could’ve gone to the store. (which should really just be “could have”) But because of the way we hear it, I’ve seen it spelled could of. Wrong wrong wrong. Could have. I’ve seen this in books, which tells me either the copy editor was inexperienced or the publisher didn’t have a copy editor.
  • yeah is an informal form of agreement (yes) and yay, which is a cheer: Yay! We win.

And then there are the similarly pronounced words that have different spellings and meanings, called homonyms. Some commonly misused ones are:

  • consul (a consul general or Canadian consul) and console (to sympathize with someone, or a panel or case that holds an item like electronics)
  • aisle (what is between two rows of bookshelves) and isle (where we all want to go for a tropical vacation)
  • altar (where we put our objects to worship) and alter (how we change our appearance to escape the law)
  • brooch (what you wear as a decoration) and broach (what you do when you want  to raise a subject)
  • complement (how many you have–a complement of soldiers) and compliment (to praise–my you look great in your uniform)
  • council (a group of people) and counsel (the adviser/counsellor you get when your marriage is on the rocks)
  • gorilla (these guys use bananas) and guerrilla (these guys use guns)

There are many homonyms and a very extensive list can be found here, even ones that I’ve never considered or known. http://www.cooper.com/alan/homonym_list.html

I find it particularly bad when I read books that have many misspellings but it all depends on how good the publishers are at maintaining quality and if they care. Many small publishing houses do not even have copy editors and depend on (demand) the authors proofread their work. Of course everyone should always do that and hand in relatively clean copies. Still, when you’re looking at a story over and over again you are bound to miss some of your own typos. A second set of eyes is always best.

I sometimes think the internet will work at crumbling the English language (maybe others too) as people abbreviate words down to essential letters. We tend to get lazy at writing, leaving off capitalization and punctuation. Part of the advent of computers for everyone meant that many people have them but probably not everyone learned to type. And like our signatures that get messier the more we write them, our grammar goes to pot on the internet.
But English is a living and therefore evolving language so maybe the misspellings will take over the more people use them. In the meantime, misuses and typos will continue to drive the editors of the world crazy.

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Internet: Rudiments of Courtesy and Respect

I have been on the internet since it was DOS, a big black screen with glowing green text. The early chat rooms and newsgroups were full of pedantic people trying to prove themselves in one way or another, from the spelling nazis to the socially insecure showing their scintillating intelligence and argumentative nature. In the new newsgroups, there are often rules against correcting someone’s typos but you can still get the know-it-alls. You also get the people who have to air their grievances against another for one and all to suffer through.

We live in a modern age of computers and instant messages. Before those came along there were phones and letters. Before that era, there were letters and pigeons. Before that, and during, there were riders on horses. Communications could always fall into the wrong hands, or not get through, or your courier be killed…if it was really important and political.

Some of our view of courtesy comes from the Victorian era but even before that, through much of the middle ages there were such things as courtly behaviour. Nobles and the higher echelon, even the peasantry, showed respect. Sure, rumours existed but they were and have always been perpetuated by people talking about the subject behind the subject’s back and never addressing the issue directly. Should one noble to the other have something particularly vicious to say, probably couched in witty ways, it was usually done face to face, because the fewer witnesses the better to deny it ever happened.

To call one out, especially one of any noble lineage was tantamount to a duel or a war, or maybe an assassination. Words had power, have always had power. Words can slander, can give respect, can color one’s view. But even as much as words reflect on the subject, they also reflect on the speaker.

No matter how wronged a person is, or how justified they may be in speaking of the scurrilous things people have done to them, when even the injured get on the soapbox it most often is not pretty. Be careful who you paint with that brush for the paint can spatter on you. I have seen this over and over, and used it as a good lesson. When the wronged one starts pointing a finger back
and getting to name calling, that person too loses credence. Sometimes turning the other cheek is the best policy.

To air one’s laundry, whether yours or the pilfered goods of the “other”, it is still airing your laundry in public. It is a tactic that holds the public hostage to a viewing whether they want it or not. It is a tactic that one does to shame the other. It is a tactic that shows the one who airs as callous, mean, little and low class. It is a tactic meant to anger and to justify one’s own behavior. And it is always lowly done and not of the noblest of intentions.

Here are a few rules by which I judge if there is courtesy and respect. I try to use these. Discussing is one thing but belittling or berating others is not acceptable.

1. If you have nothing nice to say, shut up.
2. If you hate someone, tell them personally. We don’t want to know.
3. If you want to be Machiavellian and stir the pot, well then you really think
you’re so witty that no one is catching on as you sit back and lick your paws.
You’ll believe yourself superior, but it’s not very noble either.
4. If you have to show off your intelligence and superior knowledge in a
pedantic manner, then you’re not very secure and it shows.
5. If you have to whine about how much you did and that no one ever notices or
wants you, then no matter your position you’re not doing this for noble means and
maybe there’s another reason no one wants you.
6. If you make yourself a martyr and make sure everyone knows, then expect to
be used that way and not to get sainthood at the end.
7. If you’re getting so out of hand in your vitriol that someone has to smack
your hand, well then maybe it’s time to go to mommy until you grow up.
8. If you can’t be constructive, or don’t know the facts, shut up.

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Weather and Commonality

My neighbor's Victorian painted colors are the only ones that show up in snow on snow.

My neighbor's Victorian painted colors are the only ones that show up in snow on snow.

It is alas, snowing again in Vancouver. I’m supposed to go to a friend’s for Boxing Day but may very well not make it out.

What I have noticed over this last week of weather, snowy, slushy, slippery, trudging weather, is that people have opened up. Where normally we walk down the streets minding our own business, not making eye contact or glancing briefly and away, that has changed.

I’ve passed people shovelling and shovelling and shovelling their walks. A few of us have popped out with our cameras to take pictures of the record breaking views. I’ve followed behind people stepping into foot-deep slush and water puddles, squeaking and shrieking as we slip and the wet seeps through our boots to later freeze our feet.

We’re clumsy, we’re beleaguered by snow and stuck cars, we laugh at our silliness, because we can’t curse and grumble the whole time. People have looked at each other and smiled in commiseration. In the long pre-Christmas holiday line-up I started talking with the woman behind me about how we both almost got rid of our old boots this year. And she said she was originally from New York but wants to get her maple leaf in Newfoundland (when she applies for citizenship). I was wearing my cat hat (with ears) because it’s the warmest I have. Another woman commented on that and how it seemed to suit me.

Me in cat hat on my very snow street.

Me in cat hat on my very snowy street.

In our conversation about weather the second woman said she worked for the government and they’re staging all sorts of disaster scenarios to prepare for the 2010 Olympics. We were making comments about how bad it’s gone at the airport this year. On Dec. 24th Air Canada cancelled all of its short and medium haul flights (my friends going on West Jet were luckier), and Greyhound cancelled all buses in and out of the Lower Mainland due to road conditions.

We thank the bus drivers for stopping over the three-foot banks of snow in front of the bus stops and smile at the people shovelling to ease our way. One thing the adverse weather is doing is making people much more friendly. We have a certain commonality in weather and in dealing with it. Even Christmas does not have that commonality because we come from different backgrounds and beliefs, have had good or bad Christmases.

But snow and more snow and dealing with it in a city where we don’ t normally have to, has given all of us something we can talk about, safely and freely. If it wasn’t for all the other unsavory aspects of bad weather I’d almost welcome it for the aspects of bringing out camaraderie in everyone. I have actually really liked this side effect of weather.

Photos are courtesy of my neighbor Rob.

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Writing: Talking Heads

When you write a conversation between two or more people, you have a dialogue. However, for many new writers a common problem is what we call “talking heads.” Dialogue goes back and forth between Dick and Jane but there is no setting, no description whether of the room or of their actions or mood. The reader will become lost, not being able to differentiate from one character to the next, or in being able to tell what is going on besides talking.

Using “Dick said,” “Jane said” with every line of dialogue becomes overly repetitive and boring to read. It also doesn’t show what the character is doing or feeling while they are talking. Writers will sometimes fall into: “I love that coat,” Jane said excitedly. “It costs a fortune,” Dick replied morosely.

Adverbs ending in “ly” can slow down the action. They’re also used to “tell” when the writer should be “showing” instead. Using the above examples with showing could result in much more information: “I love that coat,” Jane said as she ran over to the rack and pulled out the purple Armani.

Dick scowled and kicked at the faded carpet.  “It costs a fortune.”

Here we have Jane’s excitement shown by her actions. Dick’s disapproval is shown in his expression. We now have mood and something of setting, though not a lot. This could be extended to the next lines: Jane turned and looked at Dick, noticing his hunched shoulders. “How can you say that? It cost less than your golf clubs.”This now adds more on their relationship, and notice I didn’t even have to say “Jane said.” It’s obviously Jane because I’ve mentioned her. I’ve also now made it her point of view. By noticing Dick’s shoulders, we are seeing through her eyes. Once in a character’s point of view, you need to stay there and not jump back and forth from one character’s POV to another, or you risk giving your reader whiplash and further confusion.

You can get through a few lines of dialogue without description but very few. Even a half a page is too much without something. The reader needs tone of voice, emotions or actions. Adding tone of voice is a delicate thing. You don’t want every piece of dialogue to have: he expostulated, she snarled, he growled, she simpered, he bellowed, she screamed. It gets a bit much, bringing melodrama where it shouldn’t be.

All in all, you can have a dialogue heavy scene and still show action and setting and emotion. It takes practice and balance. Variety is part of the solution. Falling into a pattern of he said/she said, or having dialogue that always ends in action is a pitfall for repetition. The important thing is to keep the action active and to stay away from passive language.

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