In Fear of Descriptive Words

In this thoughtful post, melanonce spoke in defense of descriptive words.  As an example of how descriptors add value, she took a sentence from The Great Gatsby and re-wrote it removing most of the descriptive words.  I liked her sentence better than the original.

She said that without the ‘fluff,’ the meaning of the sentence changed. I am sure she is correct, but I will never know. The adverbs and adjectives distract me and I can not get through them to the meaning underneath.

I love to read, and I read a lot, but I am not a good reader.

I do not enjoy excessive description in writing. I skip whole passages if nothing tangible is said or done within them. I have tried and failed a dozen times to get through Tolkien, but I just can’t deal with his descriptions of trees. I try to move past them quickly, the plethora of words that in essence mean ‘green’ or ‘bark’ or ‘leaf,’ but before I can find another word of action to cling to, my eyes glaze over and the book falls from my numb hands.

And it isn’t just the descriptive words I dislike. I like Hemingway’s short stories, but The Old Man and the Sea bored me. I only got through it because I listened to it while doing other things. I vacuumed and dusted my entire house and folded three loads of laundry in the time between the first shark attack and the last. How could exciting events become so dull? Easy: too many words. I understand that the author wanted the reader to feel, as closely as possible, what it was like to be on that boat, so far from home, enervated and lonely, having your prize taken away from you, chomp by chomp. But for a writer who was praised for the simplicity of his writing, he used hell of a lot of words to tell a simple tale.

I do not read poetry – it makes no sense to me. I can feel the beauty of the flow of the words, the sound of the rhyme, but the meaning escapes me. And sadly, so often the beauty of poetry is stripped away when the bare bones of its meaning is exposed.

I am aware that this makes me look like a barbarian. But I can not pretend to care about varying shades of green in the ocean or the forest or even in a heroine’s eyes. If this means I am shunned from certain literary circles, so be it. I’d probably just annoy you all with my inane questions. (But what does it mean? Why didn’t he just say it like that in the first place? Why is the author making me work so hard?)

 

Today

Watch out, world, I am in a mood today.

There is a mischievous wild-child crouched in my brain today, concocting schemes of madness and mayhem to inflict on the unaware.

Nothing good or productive will flow from my fingers today. I will write no happy endings. I will type no words of encouragement to fellow wannabes. I will click no likes or follows.

Today I scorn the tears of tree-hugging environmentalists and applaud my friend’s purchase of a gas-guzzling SUV.

Today I laugh at the losers who spent thousands on lottery tickets and predict a lifetime of misery for the winners of millions.

Today I sneer at idiots in the public eye who can’t keep their fists to themselves and join the crowds of strangers who scream with one voice, “you suck!”

Today I believe the apocalypse is near, if only to squash the careful plans made by the hopeful.

Watch out, world, here I go…

…back to bed. This mood is exhausting.

Statue (flash fiction)

statueAmelia stood on the edge of the tour group cluster and dutifully stared at the statue. She didn’t belong with these people. The only person close to her age was the guide and she suspected she made him uncomfortable. His engineered expressions that elicited laughter from his usual audience of octogenarians evoked only sighs from Amelia.

She reminded herself that she could leave at any time.

They’d been in Rome for two days; the next stop was Naples. She’d paid ahead of time for the guided tour package, thinking she might learn something, but all it did was exhaust her. She was sleeping well for the first time in months.

The statue, pockmarked and missing its original details, stood alone, far from its companions on the steps of the palazzo. Amelia could imagine the suffering it had experienced over the centuries. To endure so long only to be ogled by strangers, the thought brought tears to her eyes. She turned away.

Behind her, modern Rome rushed by in a haze of tiny cars and scooters. Commuters forced to drive in circles to avoid the ubiquitous past.

The sight of a rounded green car like the old Volkswagen she’d owned with her ex-husband pulled her own past into the present. She cut the memory off and turned back to the group. But the group was gone. Fear and panic filled her. She froze, only her eyes moved, darting, searching. The group didn’t move fast, they couldn’t have gone far. Would they notice she wasn’t with them? Would they care?

She’d resented them, all those old, nosy gossips, digging into her past, but now she wanted them back. If they came back, please come back, she promised she would tell them the truth: that she hated being alone. It was the reason she had stayed married for as long as she did. She would have stayed forever if her husband hadn’t finally, oh so gently, pushed her out the door.

“You’ll be better off without me.” he’d said.

The old ladies echoed his words, “you’ll be better on your own.” And now they had, oh so gently, walked away from her.

Amelia stood motionless, surrounded by strangers, and waited to be found.

 

More on Friendship

Part one: comments and critiques may break my bones, but silence will break my heart.

RuleOfStupid wrote an awesome post about feedback and friendship and other stuff… 🙂  Something he said struck me, and hopefully he wont mind if I quote:

“People who really know you can’t be mean to you, because they know your story and the battles you have fought to be who you are. So anyone who is mean to you does not know you. So it cannot be personal. In which case they’re not being mean to you, they’re just being mean.”

With all respect, I must disagree with him.

There are several people connected with me who have been mean to me and it is because they know me very well that they are able to do so.

Usually this is just one of my siblings, angry at me for something I did or said to hurt them. I may be nice, but I am not good. Sometimes the evilness just pours out of my mouth and before I can stop it, my verbal poison has struck deep. They retaliate by saying something equally mean. Knowingly mean. Pulling some deep insecurity out from the depths of my soul and rubbing it in my face. It can get real ugly. And only someone who really knows you can be that mean. Luckily, unconditional love is stronger than verbal poison, and it all works out well in the end.

But here is a case where it does not work out well: Lets say, for the sake of argument, that a wife leaves a husband, and the husband’s family decides to never speak to the wife, EVER AGAIN. Even though they knew her and loved her for almost twenty years before the split.  These people are not just being mean, they are purposely being mean to the wife because they know her and know how much this silence will break her heart. Did she deserve to be treated this way?  Perhaps… Probably… Yes, but it still proves my point: People who really know you CAN be mean to you. Meaner than strangers could ever be.

Part two: TMI.

Oops, did I say to much? What if, while building a friendship, even a blog-friendship, you learn things about a person that you don’t like? Doesn’t that kill the friendship? Friendship, like every relationship, needs boundaries.  It is better to only show the nice side of your personality, to tell only the stories of the honorable battles fought, to keep the mean or judgmental thoughts and the cruel past acts hidden, in order for people to like you.

I want friends, but if honesty is part of friendship, then I will fail every time. I cannot be honest about everything I think and feel with a person who does not already have a built in unconditional love for me. Because to know me, is to not love me, to paraphrase the old saying. I am not putting myself down, I just haven’t lived the most, well… exemplary life. Deep inside there is a part of me that is selfish, who wants to lie and steal and cheat, and who can be very, very mean.

This is why I try so hard to just be nice, to everyone, all the time. I want people to like me, not for who I really am, but for the person I strive to be: generous, honest, and faithful.

But here I am breaking my own rule again, spreading TMI all over my blog, and scaring away potential friends.

Will I ever learn?

On Friendship, continued.

Once upon a time… OK, actually, two weeks ago, I was at work and a client said something unbelievably nasty to me. It was so nasty, it made me cry. I do not normally cry at work. In fact, I don’t think I have ever cried at work. My instant and perhaps childish reaction to this was to use every single curse word I know while describing the incident to my co-workers. (This did not take long – I am not a creative curser.)

Here are the reactions I received from them:
1) shut up, someone will hear you.
2) too bad, but he is the client after all.
3) get over it.

If this exact same thing had happened to one of them, I would have reacted the way a friend would: I would have given them a shoulder to cry on and agreed with every word they said, just to help them get it all out. Then I probably would have said the equivalent of, “shut up, someone will hear you” and “too bad, but he is the client,” because they are both valid points. (I never would say to anyone, ever, about anything, “get over it.” I think those are the most insensitive words you can say to a person who is hurting.)

It was precisely this event that has led me to think so deeply about friendship.

I have, in the past, described my co-workers as friends. Some of them have known me for almost ten years. We’ve been through many stressful moments together, we’ve bonded over terrible clients and long hours and miserable working conditions many times over the years. I’ve eaten many meals, and consumed vast quantities of alcohol with these people. They know the details of my personal life and I know theirs. I have always thought that I was so lucky to work with people who know me and care about me.  (Side note – my job involves a lot of travel, which is why we spend so much non-work time together.)

I was wrong. They care more about their job security than about my feelings. Which is perfectly normal for co-workers. Somehow I deluded myself into thinking a friendship existed where it did not. How did I came to that erroneous conclusion?

Here is Google’s definition of friend:
A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.

I had (and still do have) a great deal of affection for my co-workers. What I ignored was the ‘mutual’ part. The fact is, as long as we’ve all known each other – I’ve never hung out on a random Saturday with any of them. I’ve never invited them to a party or celebration of any sort and they’ve never invited me to theirs. I was never ‘that kind of friend’ with any of them. But as I am beginning to understand, to them this means that we are only acquaintances.

So how is it that I can still feel affection and concern for people who don’t feel the same for me?

Am I simply too empathetic?

And why is the word empathetic so similar to the word pathetic?

It is possible that I am thinking about this a little too much.

Regardless, I am not done with this topic yet. Tomorrow I’m going to talk about why I think it is a really good thing that I am so pathetically empathetic and how it looks like the blogosphere will save me from the depths of despair. =)

On Friendship

“Ah, this is why I have no friends!” is something I say often.  When, for instance, I blurt out my true opinion about my boyfriend’s clothing choices, or after I spend five days in a row in my pajamas watching Lord of The Rings, the extended version with all the behind-the-scenes footage, for the tenth time.

But the reason for my lack of friends goes deeper than my brutal honesty or my occasional obsessive compulsive behavior.

(I don’t want to sound completely pathetic here, I do have a few friends. But I can count them on one hand. Maybe even on a hand with a finger or two missing. And weeks or months or years will often pass between visits.)

I don’t count my boyfriend as a friend. I have a wonderful, truly romantic relationship with him, we enjoy each others company and have a lot in common. But there are certain things you can not and should not talk about with your lover. Don’t talk about wrinkles and unwanted hair and sagging skin when you want to maintain your sexual attractiveness with another human. Don’t complain about unfinished chores or bad habits if you want that other person to occasionally surprise you with flowers.

I also don’t count my family as friends. All of my siblings (there are four of them) really do enjoy my company as much as I enjoy theirs. We have a better sibling-relationship than most children from large families have. I also have my parents and my step-parents and a huge collection of aunts and uncles and cousins to rely on when I need the help or companionship of other people. But they didn’t choose to have me as a relative. It is nice that they like me, but more importantly, they love me unconditionally. It requires little or no effort on my part to maintain the relationship.

So laziness and a comfortable romantic relationship is one part of the problem. The other part is this confusing, uneven, self-confidence problem.

A part of me thinks very highly of myself and can rattle off a list of strengths and accomplishments instantly. I started writing that list – but deleted it, because I am also humble. =) But seriously – I have a good brain and a good body and I am proud of the things I have accomplished thus far in my life. I try to be kind and generous. I really care about other people and how they feel. When I ask you how you are, I really do want to know. I can ignore my own wants, needs and opinions to just listen and respond to another person’s thoughts.

But here is the confusing part: I have a really hard time calling a person I’ve known for years and asking them to go somewhere or do something with me. It makes me very uncomfortable. Fear of rejection maybe? Or of putting the other person in an uncomfortable position? Of being an unwanted burden? I’m not sure. If they call me to invite me to join them, I want to make up excuses and stay hidden in my house. But if they press the matter, I will say yes. When I go, I invariably have a good time.

In essence, I want the other person to do all the work of the friendship. While I will always answer the phone when they call and I will always be an attentive listener, I won’t pick up the phone to call them. I want someone else to make all the arrangements and just tell me when and where to show up.

When I use the word friend, this is the sort of relationship I am looking for.

Which means I don’t have a lot of friends.

My siblings live far away and I don’t want my entire social life to revolve around my boyfriend.
I need to figure out this friend thing. The sooner the better.

Magic

Today’s Prompt:  “Suppose you woke up one morning and had magical powers for a day.”

This is a strange prompt for me as I am a skeptic at heart. If I have not observed something with my own senses, then it does not exist. Moreover, beyond my own experiences, I only accept something as fact if it is observable in repeatable, objective testing, and documented by disinterested parties.

On the other hand, my favorite books to read are of the fantasy-fiction persuasion. As long as it is contained within the pages of a book with a dragon or a wizard on the cover, I will suspend my disbelief for as long as the author keeps the magic spells flying.

While contemplating the last paragraph, I looked up the phrase “suspension of disbelief,” wandered through the surprisingly well-written entry for it on Wikipedia, and discovered Tolkien’s idea of the “secondary belief” which is, for me, far more relevant. I copied this from the Wiki: “Tolkien says that, in order for the narrative to work, the reader must believe that what he reads is true within the secondary reality of the fictional world.”

That is what I am doing while I read. I transport my mind (as long as the story is a good one) into that fictional world, and I don’t have to suspend anything. I am there, and the authors truths become my own.

If I woke up tomorrow morning with magical powers, I would be, while they lasted, inside my own secondary reality. I would believe completely. However, the next morning, when the magic is gone, I will be, once again, content within my tangible, skeptical world.

Thorough investigation of truth

My randomly generated writing prompt for the day was a quote from Cicero:
“The searching-out and thorough investigation of truth ought to be the primary study of man.”

But truth is tricky and changeable. You could spend all that time searching it out only to find it changed on you while you were out looking.

I sometimes feel I am opinion-less. because I don’t believe in absolute rights or wrongs. What is true today for one might be false for someone else, and they might both change their minds before the week is out.

With a working imagination, how can anything be painted in simple black and white, true or false, good or bad?

Am I opinion-less because I can see both sides of every story? And is that a bad way to be?

Appreciation

What is appreciation? Is it merely recognition of a job well done or is it deeper than that? I ask because it is, to me, the greatest thing in the world.  There are many people, I know, who are content to live in a vacuum, who are able to recognize the value of their own work without having other people see it. I am jealous of people like that. I wish I could be satisfied with my own opinion on my effort. But I am not. Sadly, I feel that nothing I do is of any value unless it is seen and admired by other people.

The logical side of my brain tells me this is ridiculous. I feel quite capable of forming a valued, objective opinion on the work of others, I should be able to do this for myself. But I feel completely unable to be objective. If I have done something that I feel is good, I am sure that I am wrong, completely blind to its faults. I simply don’t believe it is good until someone else tells me so.

Anyone else out there have this same problem?