Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Even more cool new phrases to drop casually into conversation

Every household has its own code words and phrases that outsiders simply can’t penetrate. But I want to share mine with you, not only because they’re insanely cool but also because – if you spread them among your own friends and family – they might just take over the world. Then not only will everyone imitate my speech, lisp and all, but also I will finally be able to ban long beards and car radios, make my cat a senator, instate Voodoo as the universal religion, and rename the months of the year after myself and my family members.

Your participation is truly appreciated.

a gypsy check(noun phrase) Borrowed from the Spanish la mirada del gitano, this could possibly be the most useful contribution ever made to the English language. A gypsy check is the last look around before you ‘pack up the tent’ and leave a motel room, hospital room or anywhere else you’ve stayed for a while. The gypsy check ensures you haven’t inadvertently left behind indispensable items like your phone recharger, toothbrush or secret stash of emergency raisins. If the waiting taxi driver asks why you’re on all fours looking under the bed, just casually say, “I’m doing a gypsy check,” and you’ll never again be accused of having OCD.

Gogolian specificity(noun phrase) I’m going to tell you what this is at the risk of giving away my greatest blogging secret and revealing myself as a fake. Gogolian specificity, a word which I swear I read in some academic treatise years ago (therefore, it must be real), is, in my understanding, a satirical device epitomized by one of my favorite authors of all time, 19th-century Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. Gogolian specificity is choosing a specific item as opposed to a generic one, for instance “Big Red” instead of “chewing gum”. Don’t ask me why this is funny: it just is. In fact, if you’ve ever read some of Gogol’s works, like the short story The Overcoat, you’ll know that he was seriously (though bitterly) funny. I’m not funny at all, not on paper or in person: just ask my husband. But because attempting to be lighthearted is a lot more fun than depressing everyone with my status as a poor starving writer, I like to give humor a go. And thanks to Gogol and his specificity, I sometimes have some degree of success. Yes, the man who starved himself to death after burning part of his final manuscript in a state of depression and possible madness, is my sole key to humor.

immortality project(noun phrase) Shamefully stolen (from whom, I haven’t the foggiest), this phrase so succinctly wraps up a very complex concept that it has saved me many breaths which would have otherwise been wasted in circumlocution, possibly as many breaths as saved by the word “circumlocution” itself. Immortality projects are all the things we are working on to ensure that we leave behind meaningful traces of ourselves after we die: having children, publishing books, discovering plutonium. Immortality projects are not very Zen, in that they have nothing to do with living in the present moment. What is one to do? But as much of a conundrum as this issue is, it is nonetheless what we call in my household a “high-class problem”.

But that’s another blog post.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Writer’s block: a new understanding

Image by Marc Olivier Jodoin
I always used to scoff when someone said they had writer’s block. “How can you have nothing to write about?” I would say. “I could write five pages about the crack in the sidewalk we’re standing on now.”

Today I’m older and wiser and a bit less peppy. I’m no longer sure that writing five pages about any sort of crack is such a good thing after all. And I’m also no longer critical of people suffering from writer’s block. I now know that writer’s block is real. I’m not too proud to tell you that this very week I’ve suffered from writer’s block, as well as a stuffed-up nose and PMS. And I now understand that it’s not always a question of finding the right subject matter, but about finding a way to write about it.

Writer’s block is sometimes just not being able to find a pen.

Writer’s block is writing the most inspired work of art in your head at eleven thirty at night while lying in bed in the dark, and falling asleep immediately afterwards.

Writer’s block is having an urgent proofreading deadline and twenty-eight essay exams to mark for other people.

Writer’s block is being struck by a fantastic turn of phrase that you absolutely must jot down, before getting struck by the end of a broom that your little boy is wielding while screaming “Dinosaur, you gonna die!”

Writer’s block is sneezing so many times in a row that you can’t sit upright, let alone type.

Writer’s block is getting frustrated to distraction by the fact that a rice cake crumb has jammed the ‘u’ button of your keyboard, despite the fact that the ‘u’ is clearly the least useful (and least beautiful) of all the vowels.

Writer’s block is having a word limit before you start writing.

Writer’s block is having your brilliant sentence typed only halfway before it’s cut short by the fifth daily request to watch the “How Chocolate is Made” clip on Youtube.

Writer’s block is having a flea infestation.

Writer’s block is trying to write while lightly browning the garlic and cooking the steak medium rare.

Writer’s block is no longer being able to keep your eyes open despite having had a cup of black tea and five pieces of dark chocolate.

And with that, this writer, now happily unblocked in more ways than one, bids you goodnight.