Archive for February, 2012
Here’s the thing. Grammar is bullshit and doesn’t matter.
I’m a writer. No, stop nodding. Stop it. Right now. I’m not a writer like you’re a writer. I’m good at it and get paid for what I write. I have immense respect for language. I love language. But language is also a schizophrenic slut who wants you to abuse it. Bad. It wants you to slam it against the chifforobe and make it do things that are cause for shunning in orthodox Amish society. Language is changing every day, everywhere, and the attempt to contain it within a system that was largely designed a fucking century ago is arrogant and elitist in the extreme.
My first blog post back some douche bag on Facebook called me out for poor grammar. Guess which one of us is the professional writer and which one of us is totally for sure absolutely going to start that novel any day now once he finishes outlining it properly? One of the key differences between us is that motherfucker knows the rules of grammar, and I know when to let them go. I only obey the flow of what I’m writing and the impact I want the presentation of those words and information to have as they are read. Impact is what it’s all about.
Sentence fragments. They’re great for that. But I’ll also begin a sentence with a conjunction to achieve a similar effect. I use semi-colons the way the first Okinawan farmer to take up arms against a samurai used his rake and hoe; HOW HE NEEDED TO AT THE TIME.
NOR AM I ABOVE CAPITALIZING AN ENTIRE SENTENCE WHEN I WANT THE ENERGY LEVEL TO RISE OR TO CONVEY OUTRAGED EMPHASIS ALTHOUGH I ADMIT IN THIS SENTENCE THAT IMPACT HAS PROBABLY WANED SOMEWHAT AS IT’S GOTTEN A BIT LENGTHY AND OFF-POINT SORRY ABOUT THAT.
Listen, I love Grammar Girl and you love Grammar Girl and Oprah loves Grammar Girl and that’s awesome and I’ve constructed this run-on sentence for maximum comedic effect. I believe in teaching kids the basic rules of grammar. Not everyone uses words for creative pursuits. There are job applications, loan applications, correspondence, college essays, and a million other functional needs for clarity and confidence in one’s writing. It’s important for reading comprehension. Everyone should learn basic grammar.
Once you’ve got a handle on those basic rules, especially if you’re a creative writer, disregard and change at will.
The same goes for narrative style and structure. It goes double for narrative style and structure. There is at least a precedent for dictating rules to people when it comes to grammar. Telling someone how to construct a story is a fallacy, and you’re a phallus for trying. If anything, we need more experimentation in this area. I’m tired of reading the same tripe in the same style and arrangement of chapters. Even Quentin Tarantino is using and reusing a chapter structure. And once Tarantino rips it off, a good general guideline is to drop it like a hot stone in a Russian bathhouse.
Don’t worry about what’s trendy, what’s popular, or what’s passé in the overstuffed, largely neglected world of fiction. Change tenses midstream for all I fucking care. Flashbacks, flash forwards, prologues, epilogues, first-person narrators, fourth-person narrators. It can all go in a blender and come out in any order you see fit as long as it is serving a purpose for you as the author. If you believe in its function and have a clear vision for its use, someone else probably will, too.
But don’t ever flash sideways. Rules aside, that shit is just retarded.
Here’s a story. I found myself sitting for a panel at a convention on some subject I don’t remember because panels and cons are both useless. This was back when anyone with their name on a couple hundred bound pages impressed me. We all go through such a phase. I’m half-listening, probably staring at some geek girl’s rack, when at the tail-end of a rant by some genre fiction novelist you’ll never hear about I caught, “… it’s like writing in first-person!”
“Whoa, whoa, what’s wrong with first-person?” I piped up, having just written an entire novel largely in monologue form that most of you probably don’t remember.
I proceeded to get verbally gangbanged by the small press mafia who were dumping on the use of first-person narrative, especially those written in the present tense, as a blogger-created trend to be dismissed. It was among the first times I realized most writers have shit for brains… and talent. Who the fuck are these people to even have an opinion? Some frumpy bitch who writes historical romance (read: porn no one wants to buy) and says you have to go to Scotland to write about Scotland yet couldn’t buy a one-way ticket there with the book she ended up not getting published. The mid-list horror superstar of the con whose ass everyone kissed because he was probably the only one scraping a living with his fiction, and then strictly because of a movie option on one of his books continuing to be renewed.
You know who they’re not? Suzanne Collins. She would very much like to hear how first-person present tense narratives don’t work except she’s too busy buying Guam. She doesn’t even like Guam, but she needs some place to store her extra hats. She’s a young lady who wrote a little YA novel in that style that is now beloved by millions and about to be the next hotshit post-Potter movie franchise, which will lead to even more millions digging her disdained, passé style.
It’s a good thing she wasn’t at that con.
Look, it’s 2012 and the world is going to end in about ten minutes. I say no more rules. I say fuck the King’s English, fuck the Fowler brothers, fuck Hart’s Way, fuck The Elements of Style in all its forms. Relegate them to emergency toilet paper where they belong. My teachers were and are the authors I love to read, and the more rules they broke, the more they hooked me with their style.
Find your own, don’t listen to what anybody (especially writers, least of all me) tell you, and write the thing you want future archaeologists to discover when they’re sifting the cultural remains of this burnt-out cinder we call Earth.
I was bullied as a kid. Bad.
I was a fat, nervous, terrified little bastard from birth to about age fifteen. I was scared of everything. My mother got pulled over by a cop for speeding and I burst hysterically into tears. I went catatonic for about ten minutes after the Wolfman and Frankenstein cornered me at Universal Studios one vacation (and I’m still looking for those two motherfuckers. Their day will come). I had no friends, no defensive capabilities, and I weighed twice as much as any kid in school. It made me a natural target and I was, often.
Here’s a story. It will feed directly into my point assuming I arrive at such a place (I’m not a fucking fortune teller). When I was still in single digits my mom and I lived with my grandmother in North Shore, near the Salton Sea. It was the middle of fucking nowhere. Our street had four houses on it and room for about fifty. The rest was desert. There were two convenient stores, a bar, an abandoned motel, and that’s it. Yet there were a handful of kids from around the estates who needed schooling. So they bused us into Mecca, many miles away, for that.
Because it was the middle of nowhere, they had to divert buses from more populated areas to scoop us up. There were two of them, and if the first bus that usually collected our ragtag group was full by the time it got to us, it just sailed past.
And then we were screwed.
Truly, deeply, phantasmagorically arseholed.
I’ll explain. That second bus ranks high on the list of the worst places in which I’ve ever spent a meaningful amount of time. Folks, I am a man who can describe with intimate detail some of the worst whorehouses and drug dens in Mexico and South America. I have worked in the shittiest purgatorial towns of both New Jersey and Texas. A public school bus should not be on that list.
It earned its spot for one simple reason. The kids on that back-up bus were hyenas on meth and we were meat. It was largely populated by one inbred clan of fuckwits who all looked identical to each other, and the younger they were the closer their eyes seemed to be set. They were a family of genetic sociopaths. I was often held in a headlock all the way to school while my cheek was pinched hard enough to burst capillaries. My stomach was slapped and punched until it was completely numb. The verbal abuse was the stuff of nightmares and could have broken down a CIA-trained sleeper assassin.
One of my most vivid memories of that time is of sitting in the first seat of the hell bus (naively thinking it would save me) while directly across the aisle a friend of mine was being garroted. Literally. An obese cholo-in-training was behind him with a length of nylon choking the life out of the kid.
The driver, the sole adult on the bus, was sitting less than three feet away. I started yelling, “Bus driver! Bus driver!” while VIOLENTLY YANKING THE SLEEVE OF THE FAT FUCK’S SHIRT.
He didn’t speak, didn’t even turn his head. I didn’t exist.
Here’s the point. That was over twenty years ago. Fuck all has changed. Your kids are still roving packs of sadistic little animals and you ignore it. You buy them a smart phone and call it a day. You hold a pep rally and give a speech to an indistinguishable mass of humanity and then clock out. It’s bullshit. Bullying is about as valid a rite of passage as female circumcision, and no less its spiritual equivalent. You’re bullshit. You’re not an educator if you allow bullying to go on in your school, you’re a corrupt prison guard. You’re not a man if your son is a bully, you’re a fucking failure and I hope you die early of colon cancer and the pain causes your cruel offspring to turn to drugs which they eventually overdose on because you both deserve it.
I couldn’t take the hypocrisy of adults and the abuse of my peers. I quit high school in the middle of my sophomore year, went to New York, and became a professional wrestler. If I hadn’t I probably would have killed myself. People tell me the things I’ve done and the places I’ve been in the intervening years make me brave. The truth is I bailed. I fucking deserted. I took the last lifeboat and left the ship to burn. The truth is I don’t know how any of you made it through, how any of you make it through whole. I wasn’t strong enough to do it.
What sparked all of this was an article I read about Lee Hirch’s documentary BULLY being given an “R” rating by the MPAA. The Weinsteins, who bought the flick, want to show it in schools. Where it absolutely should be screened. This is an important film. Hirsch actually captured real bullying as it happens, as well as its widespread effects. Being rated “R” means it can’t be shown in those same schools. It’s madness.
It mystifies me the MPAA still exists and I truly do blame the wealthy and powerful producers and directors of the last few decades who have step-and-fetched with their every flick rather than taking a stand, but that’s another blog post. The point is this is yet another way adults have found to leave these kids out in the fucking cold when the slightest bit of action could help.
It’s thoroughly and in all ways unacceptable to me.
I can’t encourage you enough to make noise about this, and to support The Weinstein Company in its proposed “leave of absence” from the MPAA (which I hope they go through with). In a broader sense, I also can’t preach strongly enough to you that you do something about bullying in general. “It Gets Better” isn’t nearly good enough, but at least it’s proactive. I’d like to see the irreverent and downright rude bastards and bitches that tend to congregate to my works take that shit a step farther.
What that step is has to be up to you, and there is no one or right answer. I can tell you to write your congressman, join the PTA, start a fucking phone tree, whatever, but in the end you’re going to have the idea that actually ends up changing things. That’s just the way it works.
So start thinking on it.
Personally, I’m a firm believer in prison rules. I advocate the bullied everywhere band together, isolate the biggest, meanest fucker on the yard, and just beat the shit out of him. Seriously. Don’t kill him, but put the kid in the hospital for an extended stay. And write “bully” across his forehead so everyone knows why he’s there.
Now, that’s horrible. What’s worse is IT’S BETTER THAN ANYTHING YOU IMPOTENT CHUNKS OF OFFAL HAVE COME UP WITH YET.
The theme of this blog in this, the year 2012, is the end of the world. I don’t know how that end comes. I do know if we can’t bring our kids through their adolescence with their minds and bodies intact then we are fucked as a species in the most literal evolutionary sense, regardless of whether the Earth keeps spinning.