When this image appeared on my Instagram feed this morning, my immediate response was “Yes!”
This is why I have been writing and posting poetry and blog posts to help me deal with my feelings about my first Christmas without two very special people in my life, my father and one of my closest friends, both of whom passed away within five days at the end of June.
I have been doing everything I can to make Christmas joyful. Part of that has been working through my feelings and accepting the changes in life that have happened in this mixed up and turbulent year.
It is not that I have no joy or excitement. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to celebrate or focus on the positives in life. It means I need to works out how to manage the shades of guilt I experience when I feel joy, and the weight of sorrow at the very same time as enjoying the lightness of excitement and anticipation.
I fully realise that Christmas is very different for many, many people this year. Lockdowns, halted travel plans and distance have made sure of that. Like me, many people are grieving. Others are facing different sets of challenging circumstances.
The fact is, though, that it is my life that I am living. I have to manage my grief and work out how to balance things for myself. Nobody else can do it for me, and it has to be done. To refuse or fail to deal with my feelings isn’t healthy.
So, I write poetry and blog posts. I blurt my feelings and ideas down onto the page, then shape and craft them into something that both expresses how I feel and lets others in similar situations know that they are not alone, and that their feelings are not wrong or abnormal.
That is my Christmas gift to the grieving people of the world; empathy, understanding and the room to feel as they do without judgment.
Writing It Instead of Carrying It #emotions #grief #WritingCommunity
A friend asked me recently how to write a book review that goes beyond whether or not they liked and enjoyed the book.
Having posted some time ago about things to avoid when writing a book review, I thought it high time I wrote something more positive and helpful in the interests of helping people review books more confidently.
A good book review doesn’t have to be long or academic.
Using everyday language is absolutely fine. You don’t have to write like a professional reviewer or an English teacher to write a meaningful or helpful review.
Some websites where readers post book reviews require a minimum length, which gives you room to say whether you enjoyed the book and why. One or two sentences will do the trick. There is no obligation to write any more than that if you don’t wan to.
If you do want to write more, try these ideas:
Why did you like or dislike the story? Remember that others may like what you disliked, and vice versa, so always try to be kind. Feel free to say a book wasn’t to your taste – and try to identify why – but avoid comments like “this sucked” or “I hated it”. They are not helpful. Similarly, “Best. Book. Ever!” is of limited use if you don’t say why.
What important ideas did the story make you think about? Themes such as love, anger, justice, revenge, pain, fear, overcoming… anything that is relevant to you or to a lot of people are helpful points for comment.
Were the characters likeable? Where they relatable? Why or why not? Was there something we could learn from them?
Did the writer’s style impress you in any particular way? Were there images or word pictures that you liked? Did it make you laugh, or imagine vividly, or feel genuine emotions of one sort or another?
Was it easy to read and understand, or did you have to really work at it?
What other kinds of people might appreciate the book? Think about interests, age group, and genres or categories here.
Remember that every book is unique, so some things will be more
Writing about ideas like these will help you to write a review that is interesting in itself, and will encourage the right readers to choose that particular book. In that way, you’ll help both the author and prospective readers at the same time.
This will also help you to avoid retelling or summarising the story and giving spoilers that might put prospective readers off or make them feel as if they no longer need to read the story to find out what happens.
The practice of leaving a preposition at the end of a sentence, often referred to as preposition stranding, has long been considered to be “against the rules”. Generations of teachers and grammarians have condemned it as a grammatical taboo.
That isolated, lonely preposition, separated from its noun, is known as a terminal preposition, and may also be described as danging, hanging or stranded.
Albeit with the best of intentions, this was drummed into me as a child, so I simply accepted it and tried to avoid doing so in whatever I wrote.
As I got older, though, I came to realise that it’s something we do very naturally in speaking. In fact, avoiding it in spoken English can make what one is saying seem very formal and stilted.
When I was in high school, one of my History teachers told us a story about one of Winston Churchill’s famous comebacks. On receiving a correction about finishing a sentence with a preposition in the draft of a speech, he responded, “This is nonsense, up with which I shall not put.”
As it turned out, it probably wasn’t Churchill who first made the joke. I don’t know if he ever did, despite numerous and varied attributions. It has also been attributed to various other people, and there are variations on the line that was said to have been delivered, so it’s hard to know who said what, and when.
Either way, the story demonstrates that the rule is actually a bit ridiculous.
So where did this rule come from? And is it something we still have to abide by?
Back in the 1600s, a grammarian named Joshua Poole developed some principles about how and where in a sentence prepositions should be used, based on Latin grammar.
A few years later, the poet John Dryden, a contemporary of John Milton, took those rules one step further when he openly criticised Ben Johnson— another great poet— for ending a sentence with a preposition. Dryden decreed that this was something that should never be done. Nobody bothered to correct or oppose Dryden, and Ben Johnson certainly couldn’t because he had been dead for years, so Dryden’s strident and public protestations popularised the principle into a rule. Over time, strict grammarians and pedants began to actively oppose the practice, and the rule became widely accepted and firmly established.
Ironically, despite all the wise and clever plays, poetry and essays written by John Dryden, it was his consistent complaint about the terminal preposition that became his most enduring legacy.
Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, published in 1926, calls it a “cherished superstition that prepositions must, in spite of the incurable English instinct for putting them late… be kept true to their name and placed before the word they govern.” Fowler goes on to assert that even Dryden had to go back and edit all of his work to eliminate the terminal prepositions in his own writing.
In the last century or so, people have become progressively less fussy and worried about it, but some still seem determined to cling to the rule no matter what.
I advise my students that in formal writing such as essays, speeches, official letters and submissions, it is best to avoid the terminal preposition just in case their reader is someone who might judge them for it. Any other time, in keeping with standard spoken English, they are free to use their prepositions wherever they feel most natural and make the most sense.
Nobody in the 21st century is going to naturally ask someone “On which char did you sit?” rather than “Which chair did you sit on?”, nor will they say “I wonder for whom that parcel is intended” Instead of “I wonder who that parcel is for.”
In the 21st century, that really is nonsense up with which we do not have to put.
There are many ways people have found to refer to this era of Covid-19 and all its baggage: widespread testing and temperature checking, social distancing, hand washing and sanitising, and the wearing of masks.
One of the most common is ‘these times’ and variations on that — these strange times, these difficult times, these awful times, and so on. There are myriad adjectives one could choose, although some are more socially acceptable than others.
Recently, I’ve observed that people have started to capitalise the term as These Times in blogs and social media posts.
This interests me, because of the way in which the language is being ever so slightly adjusted to add weight and significance to the term. Those capital letters are acting as an intensifier.
Intensifiers are those parts of language that add strength to what we’re saying or writing. Words like ‘absolutely’, ‘completely’, ‘terribly’, the commonplace ‘very’ and even the humble little ‘so’ are all intensifiers. Some people use expletives to do the same job, especially in spoken English. The meaning of the sentence doesn’t change if they are removed, but the sense of degree or importance in the words around them isn’t necessarily communicated if those intensifiers are not present.
By capitalising those Ts, writers are communicating their assumption that their readers will know exactly what they’re talking about. And, in These Times, there is little doubt that they will.
It seems that I haven’t just dropped the proverbial ball when it comes to blogging regularly, I’ve gone and lost the jolly thing. I last saw it a couple of weeks ago, when it bounced a couple of times before rolling away through some very prickly bushes and falling into a seemingly bottomless hole.
The thing is, life since that drafted virus unleashed itself on the world has been tumultuous.
I could tell you I haven’t written anything, but that’s not true. I have written some really great lessons and three entire new units because what I had planned (and written) previously wasn’t going to work in an online learning environment.
I could tell you I didn’t have a quarantine project, but that isn’t true either. I’ve had two, both of which happened by necessity rather than design.
Project One: reinventing my career Initial Observations: Teaching from home is a whole lot more work than it sounds. All that extra time online is very tiring. Final Observations: Challenging and exhausting, but enormously satisfying. Most students engaged really well. More positives than negatives. Verdict: Aced it.
Project Two: supporting my father as he spent a couple of weeks in hospital before transitioning into residential aged care. Initial observations: Lots of phone calls. Mountains of paperwork. Huge emotional adjustments. Further Observations: Decisions are hard, even when you actually have no choice. Emotions are hard. Being on one mental and emotional roller coaster while your dad is on a completely different one can only be dealt with by hanging on for dear life and completely faking any appearance of knowing what you are doing. Verdict: Aced it. Especially the part where I looked like I knew what I was doing.
It should also be mentioned that these two significant challenges occurred simultaneously. I didn’t have time to scratch myself, much less spend any more personal time online than I did.
So really, I’ve achieved far more since mid-March than is apparent from my nonexistent output of either blog posts or fiction.
I admit that I have seriously contemplated walking away from writing and/or blogging. Even while considering that, I knew that was the stuff of emotional and mental exhaustion, because I still have ideas and plans bubbling away in the back of my mind. I am not ready to quit, and I would be letting myself down if I did.
I will get my mojo back, even if I’m not sure when that might happen.
I didn’t need this quiz to tell me I’m a book lover, and it certainly won’t come as any surprise to seasoned readers of this blog.
Still, it’s a fun quiz that highlights the fun things about loving great books.
For the record, there were three things on this list that i didn’t check off.
I haven’t missed a bus or train stop because I’ve been engrossed in a book in at least 30 years, simply because public transport isn’t really a thing where I live.
I haven’t joined, or thought about joining a book club, because my experience tells me that I like different books than most people. The minute I joined, they’d choose for us all to read some soppy romance or militant women’s fiction, and I’d have to fake my own death to escape. It really is a better choice to just leave them to it.
If you want to know what books I enjoy, follow my Book Squirrel blog for reviews and recommendations!
Christmas is just around the corner, but these gift ideas would work just as well for birthday gifts, or just to say “keep going!” when the writer in your life needs a little encouragement.
Notebooks. Bookstores, stationers and newsagents carry a range of different notebooks to suit any budget. There are beautiful notebooks available, from leather bound journals to new-fangled clever notebooks that enable your device to take a photo of a note and import it into Evernote or OneNote as a fully editable note. You can get plain, dotted or lined pages, so there are plenty of options. Any writer, journaller or blogger is going to enjoy using a notebook given out of love.
Things to write with: the gist of a nice pen shows you respect their craft. However, so does the gift of a pack of their favourite ball point, gel or felt tip pens in their preferred colour ink. Some writers use a favourite brand of pencil.
Sticky notes. The humble sticky note is a fabulous tool for planning, plotting, sequencing, tracking character trajectories, and keeping track or writing ideas. There is a huge range of colours, and sizes available, but there is also quite a range in quality. Sadly, the cheapest ones tend to lose their stick rather quickly. A range of lined and plain notes in various sizes and colours, and some page flags and place keepers might be just the ticket.
A gift voucher from a stationers or office supply store is basically a free ticket to a treasure hunt In writer’s heaven. Some people shy away from vouchers as gifts because they seem impersonal, but a writer will think this is a perfect gift.
Coffee or Tea. Writers seem to thrive on coffee and tea. A gift of freshly roasted beans or a favourite blend of tea will always be appreciated. Vouchers or gift cards from a favourite barista or coffee shop will likewise be welcomed by anyone whose writing thrives on caffeine.
Writing snacks. Fuel their writing with a box or basket of their favourite chocolate, nuts, candy, pretzels and trail mix.
Writing time! Often, writers are limited by the demands of life. A voucher that promises uninterrupted writing time while you mind their kids, walk their dog, cook dinner for their family or clean their house for them is a great way to show your love and appreciation for them. Keep in mind, though, that if you choose this option, you need to keep that promise or you will have a very sad reader on your hands!
Book promotion credits. One of the things that authors often struggle with is having the time and resources to promote their books. A gift of book promotion for a month or more is sure to be well received and very much appreciated. Book Squirrel offers a range of promotion options tailored for Indie authors at very affordable prices.
I was saddened to read what happened to Sharon Cathcart the other day in response to a blog post about racism. Nobody should have to put up with another person’s bad behaviour simply because they are standing up for what is right.
Sadly, there can be no doubt that racism and white supremacy are still living and active in our world.
We see their outworking on the news, on the streets, on social media, and in the actions of hateful people. It can be public or private. It can be overt or concealed.
It seems the only thing it cannot be is eradicated.
I do try, in my own sphere of influence, to teach and challenge others to embrace equality, acceptance, and empathy for what others have endured, and what is still experienced by many.
I try to make people aware of what white privilege is, and why it’s wrong to perpetuate it. Yes, I’m fully aware that I’ve been a beneficiary of it all my life. I’ve had advantages others haven’t, simply because I’m white. That doesn’t mean I am willing to sit back and allow it to perpetuate.
This is why I teach my students about the effects of European settlement of Australia on the indigenous people, then and now. It’s why I teach my students about segregation, oppression, and the Civil Rights Movement, and have them listen and respond to speeches by Martin Luther King Jr and JFK. It’s why I thave them study texts such as ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ and ‘No Sugar’. It’s why I teach about inequality, wellbeing, and social justice. And I make sure they understand that for everything that has happened in the USA, Australia’s track record is no better.
It’s why I challenge people who tell racial jokes, or call people names, or avoid people who don’t fit their ideal.
It’s why I object to the way in which my country continues to detain people who are legitimately seeking asylum on small third-world islands nearby. It’s why I object to policies and practices that continue to discriminate against indigenous Australians.
And it’s why I write blog posts like this.
I do not ever claim to be perfect, but I detest prejudice, discrimination, and everything that goes with them. It’s not just about race: nobody should be excluded, abused or marginalised for being different in whatever way.
I, too, have had hateful messages left on a blog post or three. I know they are intended to upset me, and to deter me from posting something similar again.
Sadly for those responsible, it has the opposite effect. I always figure that if someone is vehement enough to threaten or abuse me over something I have written, I have probably touched a nerve that deserved touching. As my grandfather used to say, “If you throw a stone at a pack of dogs, the one it hits will yelp the loudest.”
He was a wise man, my grandfather. That statement was never made about actual rocks, nor about actual dogs. It was invariably made about bullies, and various other sorts of horrible people, and the way they would always lash out or blame someone else in response to any accusation or opposition directed at them.
That’s the same reason people leave nasty messages on blogs and social media. They resent the fact that someone is calling them out on their hate.
It’s okay for them to say what they want, though. They have rights, you know.
I was coming back here to write about something else, and found that I had a threatening e-mail (via my contact page) and comment (permanently deleted) from a white supremacist in reference to the link I shared about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Suffice it to say that this individual now has the rare distinction of having been blocked.
This is what white supremacy looks like: threatening anyone who dares to show support for people of color, or to speak out about what happens to them.
And that is actually what I came here to write about. When my dad died, I mentioned that he had given away the bride when one of his African-American students, Joe, married a white woman. Her own family refused to attend.
Anyway, we tried very hard to find Joe in time for Daddy’s funeral. The number my mother had was disconnected, and the…
In her blogpost titled ‘Did That Dragon Call My Name?’ Susan Bass Marcus reflects on why she enjoys writing her blog. Like her and, I’m sure, many other authors, I really enjoy writing my blog as a different form of creative outlet than writing fiction.
Mine is quite an eclectic blog, I suppose. Shakespeare, my love of words and language, books and reading, life as an Indie author, teacher life, my involvement in community and school theatre— it’s all fodder for my musings and ruminations here at WordyNerdBird.
I enjoy the opportunities to explore ideas that I would not seek to explore in fiction. There are some aspects of life that are well suited to inclusion in a story, and others that really don’t work so well, yet they are still worth thinking about and exploring.
It’s good to share aspects of my life – as a teacher, an author, a poet, a reader, an actor or director, a blogger, or a member of the human race – in a way that others can hopefully relate to and feel as though they know me a little better each time. I also hope that some of those posts are thought-provoking and help others to see things from a different perspective.
I love sharing what I know about Shakespeare and making his writing more accessible to new readers. I try to do that in a way that is down-to-earth and easy to read, so that my pieces are interesting, enlightening and not too long.
I always hope that people will find my posts about choosing and using the right words helpful to them, whether they are students, authors, bloggers, or whatever else they do. I love language and how it works, which definitely qualifies me as a grammar nerd and a word nerd, and I appreciate the opportunities to share that knowledge and joy with others that a blog like mine provides.
Susan Bass Marcus blogs quite differently than I do, because we are individuals with different styles and interests. Her posts are interesting and helpful, so I trust you will enjoy her reflection on the pleasure she gets from blogging, too. She is definitely a blogger worth following, and an author worth reading.
I am used to imagining the ways that dragons think and respond to humans, to change, and to challenges. For years, I studied dragon lore and felt the need to write my own story about them, which I did; and while two novels about the dragons that inhabit my mind have been published, I am still writing about them. Why? Because I have more to say. In a way, I have just begun to tell their story. Aurykk, the golden dragon, and his nephew Draaco, call my name and I answer, but not without feeling some anxiety and hesitation. It’s that darn opening paragraph.
A member of the Chicago Writers’ Association, Andrew Reynolds, once posted a blog entry that summarized responses to a question he threw out to the membership: Why [do] we write? His post: “[W]hen the question popped up as part of a discussion about writing among a group of writers I am…