Enjoy language (An announcement and treat)

Hey guys, just a quick note!

Cornstock theatre has asked me to teach a summer session in July of play-writing for their kid’s camp. It’s nothing too big, only one day, but I am stoked! I can’t wait to start planning and researching exercises for the children.

I feel like Pinocchio, I’m a real playwright, oh that I am!

And with my excitement, I’m sharing a treat with you today. Listen to Stephen Fry, enjoy language.


A golden discovery

Every so often, I find, on the web, an artist so clear and cutting, that I can’t look away, so it is with Ze Frank.  From first watching his, Diary of a Sad Cat, I was hooked.

His work, funny, insightful, ironic and sometimes mournful, is the perfect reflection of the human condition. I urge you to check out his Youtube channel.

Note: He does have foul language in many of his videos, so beware if you are at work or if you have little nuggets (children) around.

If you are wondering where to start, I’ve listed my favorite art/life related videos below:

1) Good Books, a lovely discussion on literature, including my favorite author Vonnegut and one of my favorite books, Watership Down

2) Monkey Farter, a discussion of modern art

3) Teddy has an operation, what does a sick teddy bear and your life have in common?

4) Your time in jelly beans, what do you do with your extra jelly beans?


Isn’t that just Orwellian?

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” -Kurt Vonnegut

This has been a guiding principal of my life since age sixteen when I first picked up Mother Night. As I grown and matured in my studies, however, I’ve taken it a step future realizing not only are we what we pretend to be, we are what we say.

The importance of language is often taken for granted. Being born into a world where, for most language formation is a given, it is easy to forget that our constructs of life,  how we interpret the world, is structure through language.

I came across an article early this week by Jason Slotkin, lamenting the buzz term that “Orwellian” has become especially in light of the NSA.

Personally, I’ve heard the term used repeatedly this week on several 24 news stations with no regard on the validity of the term’s usage.

This isn’t the first time Orwell’s work and ideas has been corrupted. Apple so famously borrowed from his work 1984,which was a brilliant marketing move, though something I’m sure old George would have hated.

This is the danger with writing, once it leaves us, we have no control on how it is used or interpreted. Words are beautiful and dangerous creatures.

As an author and a responsible user of the English language, I believe that we have some ownership in how words are co-opted and used.

Words are powerful especially worlds the elicit emotions. Words can be used and manipulated by people with varying political agendas. Words can become so cliche that any power in them designates.

We are what we say. We are what we write. We are what we read. And we must be careful with it.

A writing challenge for the challenge challenged

I was going to write today but…..

Life has a nasty way of getting in the way of writing. Whenever I ambitiously commit myself to a writing challenge something derails me. For example, last time I decided to participate in the novel in a month challenge, I promptly fracture my wrist (in five places) while mountain biking.

I was going to write today but my cat wouldn't let me

I was going to write today but my cat wouldn’t let me

However, I have found the solution! Mini-challenges.

For those like me who like writing challenges but also fail to complete the month long or so many word a day challenges, I bring you a week of exercises.

I am going to start tomorrow (Wednesday). I’ll let you know how it goes.

Oh and if the notion of a one-act play seems daunting in a day, try the sub-genre, 10 minute play.




Soliloquy SUNDAY–take the stage, and give me a speech.
Murder Me MONDAY–kill me with something in the crime genre.
Try-a-Limerick TUESDAY–inspired by NPR’s Wait wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!
One-Act WEDNESDAY–try some drama for your mamma.
Humor-me-it’s-almost-the-weekend THURSDAY–just make it funny.
Flash-Fiction FRIDAY–a complete story in 50 words or less. The fewer words, the better.
Satire SATURDAY–be bitingly funny, and make a statement while you’re at it.

Grammar Nazism vs Creative Writing

Sherman Alexie, who wrote one of my favorite books, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian,” started a twitter firestorm with his short statement “Grammar cops are rarely good writers. Imagination always disobeys.”calvin on writing

Coming from my background, a technical writer who attended a liberal English program, I find myself conflicted.

One the one hand, I was taught and truly believe that language is so amazing because of its adaptability. There are no set rules given from God on grammar, only arbitrary rules that we decide are such until the point that subversive forces change it. The reason language survives is its necessity and  adaptability. (Note: for a discussion on this, see my blog about one of my favorite words that shouldn’t exist.) And if it didn’t evolve well all of us would write and speak very differently than we do today.

But, I also wrote a 13 page paper on the verbiness of certain verbs. And I loved every minute of it. Linguistic classes were some of the toughest classes I took in college but they are worth every minute you spend looking at rules, decoding texts and engaged in late night study session.

The English language has a fascinating history. Understanding its roots, and the principals behind word foundation, punctuation and grammar has helped my writing in innumerable ways. Your writing becomes more rich. You understand how the proper adjective can make or break a piece. You can make the world hang on a period.

As one of my teacher’s once lecture to us, “A good writer breaks the rules, but he has to know the rules first so that he can break them.”

In the end, Alexie has a point, fixation on proper grammar can hinder creativity. Often very technically correct work that lacks imagination or innovation is uninspiring.

But what Alexie ignores is that grammar knowledge  can also enhance writing.  Knowing when to use grammar rules and when to break them enhances and adds variety with writing as does knowing the varying nuances of word history and definition.

In my opinion, it is both creativity, and a knowledge of the grammar rules (and when to break them) that makes a truly skilled writer.

Which do you think is more important, grammar or creativity? Or a combination of both?