Lost in the Edit

I have noticed in myself, of late, a dreadful tendency to take my own views very much too seriously.  It is becoming an all too common practice for me to truncate a post by cutting out the entire final – and unbearably preachy – paragraph because I am aware of how easily the written word can be misinterpreted – especially with my own dreadful standard of grammar.  A single comma in the wrong place can make the difference between irony and deep offence.  I am constantly teetering just a semi-colon away from a series of ‘isms’ so grievous that some of them may well not have been invented yet – except, of course, by the lawyers, who will be primed to suck the life out of both sides at a moment’s notice.  Whatever was in my head as these closing statements were written, had obviously vacated it by the time the words hit the paper and I am forced to burst my own self-important bubble by hitting the ‘Delete’ button on the final caffeine-drenched sentences for fear of finding myself (unfairly, I must stress) in the dock with Katy Hopkins and Piers Morgan.  How can a single paragraph written to, for instance, express my utter loathing of, let’s say racism, sound like something that was summarily cut from Mein Kampf on the grounds of extremism a mere twenty-four hours after it was written?

I am mono-lingual, but it has become apparent to me that my grip on the one language in which I am capable of writing, is tenuous at best.  The only blessing is that most of the time, I do manage to spot it before I publish.  What leaves my head as a simple truth, an undeniable fact, could hit WordPress as an incoherent, pompous rant were it not for my gift with the Delete button and the foresight to never presume that saying what I really think will ever sound like what I really think.  There are so many evils I would like to address, but I am painfully aware that I could only do so by sounding unbelievably pretentious or unforgivably glib.  Occasionally a joke can make a point, but only if somebody else is willing to see it.

Somehow this only ever really occurs in the final, concluding few sentences and almost always I can get by perfectly well by just cutting them out.  Reading my output commonly requires a kind of leap of faith that makes compensating for a missing paragraph an absolute doddle.  I am certain that many of you will have spotted this before now: a penultimate passage pointing unequivocally towards a point being made, but, in practice, finding itself merely abutting the final weak joke that was originally intended to make it clear that I realised that, although well-meaning, I was perfectly aware of the fact that I was talking tripe.

Except that I don’t think I am.  I think I am speaking the truth.  I am just expressing it very badly – and that is what I will tell the judge..

Anyway, I just felt that you should know, that if you feel a piece ends unduly abruptly or (heaven forfend) in a sentence that appears to have little to associate it with all that went before, that is probably why.  Embrace the fact that I have expunged it – not just from your copy, but also from mine – and it will never be spoken of again.  My views will not have changed (if ever you want to know, just ask) but I may well have just grown up enough to know that they are mine alone and that nobody else is in the least bit interested.

And when it all winds up without a joke?  Well I might have had to cut that too…

Back on the Bike

Photo by Cristiana Raluca on Pexels.com

Life is a lesson which, much like nuclear physics, it is almost impossible to learn.

I felt that I needed a break, and now I have taken it.  I have done something else and now I am back, doing what I feel – although I am pretty sure that few will agree – I I am probably best at.  When I was at school – back in the days of six of the best, free warm milk andReligious Education classes that studied nothing more exotic than Catholicism – it was called Creative Writing or, as I now prefer to call it, writing.  If I have a skill – a point, so moot that I do not think it is even open to debate – it lies in my ability to drop words onto a page in a creative way.  Not meaningful, not logical and, if I’m honest, seldom entertaining, but definitely creative.  For me, spelling is a doddle, syntax is now what syntax has always been, but oh my word, grammar gives me so much trouble.  I just love a comma.  If there is even the slightest possibility of a pause, I bung one in, I mean, how wrong can it be?  In truth, it bothers me that, although I have the warped intelligence to understand almost all of this year’s offside rules, I still can’t figure out a semi-colon.  Anyway, the first thing I have learned whilst I have been away is that it really doesn’t matter: a fairy does not die every time I wrongly use a parenthesis (which I do quite often).  It might not be right, but as long as the majority of readers can understand it, well, it’s almost fifty years since I stumbled to an almost acceptable ‘O’ level grade, and most of those who told me that I’d never amount to anything are too dead to gloat.  If you struggle with my ‘style’ – a definition so loosely applied that its trousers will almost certainly fall down – I apologise.  I do try my best.  I will try to improve, but I dare not promise. 

During the last few weeks I have also learned that nobody wants to listen to me moaning all the time.  The more I moan, the less I live, and the less I live, the more I moan.  I have grown to realise that nobody cares: they’ve all got quite enough problems of their own.  It is ok to wryly raise an eyebrow to the vagaries of life, but only if you’re happy with people pointing at you and calling you a pompous prat.  With the possible exception of Roger Moore, nothing good ever came from a raised eyebrow.  Sharing a point of view is perfectly valid, as long as you do not believe that it is necessarily the right one.  However many people agree with you, there will almost always be more who disagree.  Everybody is entitled to an opinion.  Everybody else is entitled to oppose it.  In the UK we have a specific breed of person* who believes that, as it is their legal right to air their views no matter how caustic they are, they should take every opportunity to do so.  They justify this by claiming that they are ‘merely saying what everybody else is thinking’.  If they are right, then I think I’d like to move.  Probably to another universe.

I have begun to understand that my readers (God bless you!) want absolutely nothing from me but five minutes of entertainment: I do not need to score points or change opinions.  Every time I get a comment saying that something I have written has raised a smile, I walk a little taller for the rest of the day.

In the past I have occasionally tried to bring some continuity into my writing with ‘The Writer’s Circle’ and, more recently ‘The Beginner’s A-Z of D.I.Y Subversion’, but I realised that in this way, I can only ever lose readers: nobody ever starts to read from the middle.  I toyed with writing an ‘instant novel’ this time around – a single, one-thousand word chapter, once a week for a year and voila! the book is done  – until it struck me that at my normal rate of attrition, I would be out of readers by chapter seven, and probably being sued by WordPress for misuse of its platform by week thirteen.  Certain characters have reappeared quite successfully in the past (Dinah & Shaw, The Bearded Man, The Men in the Pub and more recently Frankie & Benny) and will continue to do so.  They are the kind of characters that I like to write, so they will be back.  These random snatches of conversation with no beginning and no end are a joy to write and fit beautifully into my newly found ethos: I like it, I’ll do it, it’s fine.

I live a life that is thankfully devoid of great drama.  I’m happy with that.  I have no desire to report from my own experience on anything that would cause Huw Edwards to further curl his lip.  I do not wish to appear, scowling, on the front page of the local newspaper.  Equally, I am more than happy to be able to report on a split fingernail, my confusion with the universe in general, or the thing that I have just found at the back of the sock drawer.  Providing I can eke out a thousand words and a joke or two, my life is ripe for the reporting.  I have no axe to grind, which is just as well as the last time I actually attempted to use one, I managed to smack myself on the forehead (fortunately with the blunt end) and catapult the piece of wood at which I was aiming, through the greenhouse roof.

Anyway, I’ve taken my break and I am about to return – like Rickets apparently – and all that I am saying, I think – although I can never be sure – is that what you are likely to get from now on, following this brief tarriance and reappraisal of my life is… well, exactly the same as you got before, If I’m honest.

I thought it only fair to warn you.

*The male of this peculiar, preening species is known as ‘Piers Morgan’ and the female as ‘Katie Hopkins’.  As I wrote this piece I found that the erstwhile Ms Hopkins’ name was eluding me.  I found it by Googling ‘obnoxious opinionated woman’.  I’m pretty certain if I tried to, I could bring up Mr Morgan’s name with a single word enquiry.  (Actually, I must admit that I have just tried it and it doesn’t work.  It does, however, pull up many images that could lead to me losing my seat in parliament.)

All the Fun of the Affair

I have this love affair with words.  I can do what I like with them (mis-spell, mis-use, incorrectly hyphenate…) and they seldom object.  (And when they do it is generally through this whatever-it-is that is embedded in Microsoft Word with the specific purpose of driving me half crazy: I know it’s a f*cking fragment, it’s how I write and no, I wouldn’t consider changing it!)  I’m actually pretty nailed on with spelling (although restaurant is, for some reason, always problematic for me) and my apostrophe use is definitely superior to whomsoever (whosoever, apparently) wrote the algorithm for Microsoft.  I love a bit of anthimeria – which the algorithm obviously believes is a word I have just invented – or possibly anthimeriaing.  Shakespeare, apparently, was a great verber, and if he never considered using Gerund as a character name, well, he dashed well should have (or, as everybody says around here, ‘should of’).  I will freely admit, I do like making up the odd word here and there: if it suits what I have to say, and it says it, then I use it.  If it doesn’t appear in the dictionary, well, perhaps it’s not just me who needs to get his act together. I am not alone.  Lewis Carroll, for instance, was a great maker-upper of words – although, strangely, I have just looked up paedophile and it wasn’t one of his. 

Grammar, unfortunately, is an entirely different kettle of frogs.  My use of grammar could best be described as ‘instinctive’ (as was the reaction of many of my English Tutors over the years): I tend to read things out aloud and if I pause, I stick a comma in.  If I stop, I stick in a full stop.  If I pause, just a little longer than a comma’s-worth, but don’t quite stop, then it is a semi-colon.  A colon, in my head, is simply an abbreviation for ‘such as’ or ‘such that’.  And parentheses (surely not parenthesises) I just drop in wherever I might have an extra idea to plop into a sentence, which is not catered for within my aforementioned basic grammatical rulebook.  I understand ‘verb’, ‘adverb’, ‘noun’, ‘pronoun’, ‘adjective’ and a little bit about ‘prepositions’, unlike ‘conjunctions’, and interjections which are well hard!  Beyond that, anything that requires more than a single word descriptor completely passes me by.  I don’t remember ever being taught these things.  I suppose I must have been, although I am certain that I have never known them.  Appositive phrases are completely out of reach to me.

I had an English teacher at school who dedicated his entire life (or so it seemed to me at the time – I’m sure he must have done other things) to chopping my long and florid sentences down into tiny, grammatically correct chunks with his own, equally florid, green ink revisions (although I still think that Word would call the resulting pithy blocks ‘fragments’) and all of my all-of-a-suddens into suddenlys (neither of which, apparently, can be pluralised).  His accuracy with the blackboard rubber is the main reason that I still, to this day, duck instinctively every time I am tempted to make a smartarse remark.  Consequently, my writing tends to veer wildly between the clipped and economical style that he tried to pound into my head and the convoluted mess that is more true to my nature and bloody-mindedness.  What’s the point in a sentence that you can read without having to think about it?  To get through many of mine, you might need a map.  If you reach the end of a sentence I have written with no idea of what I was trying to say at the start of it, it is probably because I have forgotten.

Also, for reasons that only a psychologist could explain, I do not like words such as learnt and dreamt, using learned and dreamed instead, both of which, I realise, are quite wrong, but sound much less ugly.  You may have noticed, I also use the ‘ise’ suffix in preference to the ‘ize’ espoused by the OED, apparently putting me at odds with Shakespeare and Tolkien, which I am sure will really bother them.  In ‘real life’, I am an inveterate and accomplished swearer, but I seldom swear in print because it looks so bloody unsightly.  I wrote a novel once in which every character was deeply flawed and ultimately unpleasant.  The worst of them swore as much on the page as I do in real life.  He was an ugly person and his dialogue disfigured the text to such an extent that I had to find something really unpleasant to do to him.  Oddly, I read it through a week or two ago and, with an appropriate distance between then and now, it actually made me laugh.  I believe that I have read many worse novels – although I could, as always, be very wrong about this – and I wish that I had pursued my search for a publisher rather more assiduously than I did, but I didn’t.  Even today I wish that I had the patience to pursue it, but I don’t (I am allergic to rejection: it brings me out in self-pity and I can’t afford the whisky).  I do wonder if my tortuous syntax might not be an impediment to literary success.  I’m not sure that this can be the whole reason for my stratospheric level of failure, as I have read many a best seller that has, in my opinion, needed some kind of preface from Bletchley Park in order to make it coherent and, unless I am particularly stupid*, there are many ‘great books’ out there that would have not made it beyond my own ‘could I read this in a deckchair’ test.  I am unable to tackle a single sentence in Ulysses without a pencil and notepad.

Anyway, I appear to have drifted somewhat from my charted journey here; the point is – or was, it seems so long since I started this – that I love words (even if my method of linking them together leaves much to be desired) and I love using them (my latest dreadful habit: using italics for expression) and that is the main reason why I continue to write this blog after all this time.  I hope you understand and can forgive…

*Author’s Note: I am particularly stupid.