Part Deux, uh, Dos, I Mean, Two

Henderson, Nevada, December 2008

Last week I posted about ways to be true to oneself. I’m not just thrashing about on that topic. I have begun a memoir. Not necessarily for publication, but for real. So far there is one chapter, but it isn’t bad. My thought is that by crafting a memoir, I’ll get closer to whatever is my true self, and be that much more able to put that true self into whatever fiction I create. I do not think that I am the first person to make this connection.

As I wrote last time, the only successful artists of any sort are those who stay true to their own vision. I do have a vision, but I’ve only recently begun to realize what that vision is. And it isn’t entirely clear yet, not in the sense of what I can do with it at least. But it’s me, and I like it.

I hope that both of you readers enjoy following my progress along this path. 🙂

 

Sorry I’m Late

He’s in the woods, probably looking for a place to, you know.

I’m late because I had to go to Arizona to collect some rent yesterday. On the way, I started seeing double, and the faster I drove, that is, the faster my field of vision slipped past me, the worse it got. No way that’s a problem at 80 mph, is it? Something to do with sinus congestion, I believe. Swiftly may it pass.

Besides contemplating language in general, I’ve also been thinking about ways to be genuine. Successful artists of any stripe are those who are simply true to themselves whatever else happens. Which makes me think: what am I, then?

Well, I have never had what most people would call a “real” problem in my life. I had pneumonia once, M, M, and R. Hepatitis A, Pertussis, and a bunch of broken bones, all of which cause problems, but only the temporary sort that go away with care and time. If you look at that list, you’ll see that I was born before the vaccines for those diseases became available. Why anyone would want to contract one of those when one doesn’t have to is beyond me, but I digress. Those have been my problems. Well, that and the fact that mom was too cheap to let me buy the briefcase I wanted in elementary school. Or the pool table I wanted for Christmas (I told Santa he could set it up in the basement, for cat’s sake!) I wrote a song about this situation, I call it the I Ain’t Got No Troubles Blues. I sang it as part of a stand-up bit, and it worked.

I’ve always been led to believe that the best artists suffer, either for the art, or their art arises out of their suffering. Which means that a guy like me, a man of great privilege, probably can’t be a good artist of any sort. I’m more of a Nero type, maybe, but not really an artist.

Or am I?

Well, you tell me. It’s as existential as I can get, given my fortunate upbringing. I am, I must admit, fascinated as to where this line of thought will ultimately lead. Stay tuned, dear readers (you know, both of you.) We’ll find out together.

French Toast

Bordeaux is a city in Southwest France. I think there are a few wineries in the area.

In five years or so, we plan to be living in France. Exactly where isn’t decided yet, which is why we’re going to stay in Bordeaux for a week in October and explore the Atlantic coast, at least the Southern portion. The logo above is real. It has three crescent moons laid across each other. Seems the port of Bordeaux is on a curve of the river. When the French took over (not so long ago as you might imagine, they called the place Au bord de l’eau, which means “along the water,” and sort of sounds like Bordeaux when you say it out loud in French. The logo drives that crescent theme home thrice. Sometimes Bordeaux is also called the city of the moon. The more you know, huh?

The question naturally arises, could I write in French? Uh, je ne sais pas? Can I write in Englilsh? Will anybody buy what I write in English. I mean, if not, who cares if I can write in French, right? Yes, we are seriously studying French now. Spanish has been fun; I was sometimes able to eavesdrop on my students when they were speaking Spanish and thinking I didn’t understand them. But if I’m going to live in France, I want to speak the language as well, ideally, as I do English. Yes, that well. Ahem. But, here comes the real writing tie-in. Learning French spelling and syntax as well as I know English spelling and syntax (which really is rather well) can’t help but let me write even better, more clear English. When you study things like Future Perfect tense in another language, you are confronted with deciding just what the purpose of Future Perfect is to begin with. Sure we have that in English, silly. You shall have seen that directly. And now you have. (In French, that’s Vous aurez vu que.) The syntax sounds in English like, wait for it, you will have seen that. Vu is the past tense of “you see”, que is one way to say “that,” vous aurez is simply you will (or shall.) Why did I use “shall” for my English example? Because I like the way it sounds, it’s as simple as that. In fact, “will” and “shall” mean the same thing, so there!

Now, that syntax is the same front to back, but such is not always the case. But, in using that phrase, I have to think of which tense to use, and why, and then come up with not only You (pronoun,) but also will (a prediction) have (future perfect, same as plain old present tense this time,) seen (past tense of “see”,) and that (a definite article standing in for an object.) Having to suss that out in a language other than English makes it a lot easier to explain, in any language, why you use those particular word forms. ‘Cause you gotta, right? Well, yeah, you gotta.

I recommend that any writer learn a foreign language. It doesn’t have to be French. Heck, Spanish is easier and a surprising number of the words are just like French, only simpler to pronounce. Also spelled better. Or Russian, or Chinese, Norsk, Algonquin, whatever. After all, if you are a writer, you are not a student of English, even if you never use a foreign phrase for anything. You are in fact a student of language, which is a different thing altogether.

Bonne Chance!

 

Comments?

I have approved 81 comments so far. Well, that’s the total. If I approve one from a commenter, future ones from the same source don’t need approval. Thing is, I get more than 81 comments in a week. Not sure what the scam is, but it’s got to be a scam. Any comments that anyone but myself sees, though, is approved and safe. But I am curious as to what scam is being attempted. If anyone knows, could you drop me a comment below with that info? I’d appreciate it!

English

Well, it is red, and it has a fake windmill on top.

I was in France last week. Half of the week in Brittany, half in Paris. The picture above is from Paris, as you probably already know. The place is in Montmartre, but the better part of Montmartre is on the steps of Sacre Coeur. There’s your advice on what to do in Paris for the week. We like France enough that we hope to move there. With that in mind, we’ve gotten serious about learning the language. I won’t bore you with my progress, or lack of same, or put any French here, well, not much, well, maybe a lot, because as it happens, English vocabulary is sixty percent French in origin, one way or another. Any word ending in –tion, for example, is French. Mostly the meanings are the same. Une table is exactly the same thing as a table, so in reality, once you figure out how to “turn the corner” between French and English, the meaning of words isn’t that tough to master. But, what about the other forty percent of our words? Where did they come from?

Mostly, from German. Words like thief, belief, relief, and even brief (but brief is only used in the original sense by lawyers. It means “letter,” and lawyers write letters (briefs) to the court.) And our syntax is mostly German, while our spelling is a god-awful mess. The rules they give you in school are mostly French spelling rules, which makes sense and they will work most of the time (sixty percent of the time, that is.) Trouble is, those pesky German spellings come in, and they are the ones that you “just know” if you grew up speaking English. I suspect that most of the problem areas in English come from French, but for someone learning English, I suspect that their biggest issues come from German.

See, English is sort of a bastard child of Daddy German and Mama French, and the result isn’t always pretty. But knowing about our bastard language can certainly help one to choose the right word as opposed to the okay word. For hundreds of years, the English nobility spoke French in court, so in England, French words came to be seen as  high class and tony, which is why we hear so many people say “utilize,” particularly when trying to emphasize that they are “really using it, not just using it!” Most of the time, the word “use” provides more clarity, so for a writer it’s better. For a cop or a manager, maybe clarity isn’t what they’re after, but for us writers, it’s better to use “use.” Is that useful? (Heck of it is, “use” comes from French, too, but utilize looks fancier.) This melding of linguistic cultures is why we have such a generous collection of synonyms. You can be tranquil, calm, at peace, relaxed, loose, and so on. This is probably the reason that you see the advice to cut your adverbs. After all, with all those synonyms, you probably don’t need any.

Let me know if you find this helpful. I know that I do.