Rogue Ink

June 24, 2008

Dirty Laundry in the Writing Room

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 5:46 am

I figured out why I couldn’t write. It was because of all the goddamn laundry strewn across my computer.

I used to have a fantasy about this, actually. I had this awesome writer’s fantasy that I would string up a clothesline in a room, and clip pieces of my novel to it, and move them around in a cool and artistic way, and that other people would come into my room and be all impressed by it. I’d stand there in between the clotheslines, looking contemplative, moving one section to another part of the clothesline, and sip a glass of whiskey looking wise and put-upon, grumbling how no one understands artists. It was a good dream. Very Warhol-esqure of me.

The execution turned out to be a little bit sloppier and a hell of a lot less productive. Also, it did not involve me looking wise and contemplative, and there was no whiskey to be seen. It was a raging failure. I am never going to get to be Hemingway this way, people. Seriously.

I have personal issues. I am not going to talk about them here, because come on, y’all come for the funny and the occasional misuse of the word ‘mojo’ (are there any wrong uses for that word, really? I think not). Let us just say these were personal issues worthy of being called dirty laundry. In fact, they might even be worthy of being called dirty underwear. Oh, yes. That kind.

I didn’t realize it, but these issues were aggravating my writer’s block. I had the giant writer’s block (which, if you’ve never seen it, actually looks like one of those wooden child’s blocks with an A and a T and a duck and a 6 and a flower and a 4 on its various sides, except that it weighs a ton and every half an hour or so, a little jester-type creature pings out of the top of it and bitch-slaps you). On top of the giant writer’s block, I had laundry. You would think that the laundry would merely be a minor annoyance, but you would have underestimated the jester. The jester used the laundry for cover. He would hide beneath it and stealth bitch-slap me before I ever saw him coming, and then he would duck behind a pair of jeans and use a wayward thong to block my return blow, all the while saying unkind and unfounded things about my relationship with sheep.

Now, I made an error. My thought was if I could beat the writer’s block, then I would have time to deal with the laundry. This was stupid of me. The writer’s block, you see, looks like a more daunting task, but the laundry nags and nags at you until you can’t focus on getting rid of the writer’s block. Dealing with writer’s block when you have dirty laundry is something like trying to meditate on an anthill. It can be done, I’m sure, but it’s dumb when you could just move your butt on over to a hill with no ants in it.

So I took the weekend off. I neglected the blog (my apologies, all). I stopped beating my head against my web copy. I went out, talked to the people I needed to talk to, resolved some issues, and wandered out toward Sunday evening feeling pretty damn good about life. I scrubbed all my laundry up, y’all. No skid marks on my skivvies. Bleach and fabric softener and those useless little dryer sheets (what do those even DO, besides stick to your sheets and scare the bejeezus out of you when you slide into your freshly made bed?). Everything was shiny and clean and hung up and smelling faintly of lavender.

Then I went to tackle the writer’s block. Without any laundry to hide behind, that jester didn’t have a chance. I snatched his grinning little face out of the air the second he appeared, and then I ate him.

Yes. I ate him. What? He deserved it. Sheep, my left pinkie toe.

Now the writer’s block is no more, and my laundry is done, and I am here to tell you that unresolved issues make your writing suck.

Also, that jesters evidently taste like chicken. Or chicken tastes of jesters. Whichever.

Subscribe. I’ll make a vegetarian of you yet.

June 19, 2008

Sonnets Are Sexy

Filed under: Copywriting,Writing — Tei @ 4:15 am
Tags: , , ,

This is true. Nothing you say will deter me on this point. There is nothing sexier than the rhyme and meter of a sonnet, particularly when transposed to the modern day. I am about to make a point on writing in general and how you can take a little lesson from the sonnet when you feel all restricted about the structure many of us are forced to follow when writing, say, guest posts, or articles, or web copy chock full of keywords.

Before I do that, however, I must prove my point. To wit: three modern sonnets that are sexy as hell. None of them are Shakespeare. I figure you had enough of high school when you were in high school. Won’t make you do that again, much as we do love Big Willie. Plus, I doubt any of you are writing in Old Elizabethan English, because if you were, I would have to skewer you for using creative spelling. I realize there wasn’t a formal dictionary in Shakespeare’s day, so I would not dream to correct the Bard himself. Or Milton, for that matter. If I see anyone who was born past 1933 appending extra ‘e’s to words whence they do not belong (yeah, that’s right, I said whence) I will hurt them badly, and dance upon their grave here in blogland, under the heading “The Vanquished Terrorists of English.”

Why 1933? First person who can tell me gets a pony.

Right. So. Modern Sonnets. I defy you not to get all hot and bothered by the time you’ve finished these.


This is for the afternoon we lay in the leaves
After it had been winter for half a year,
And I kissed you and unbuttoned your jeans
And touched you and made you smile, my dear.
And of all the good things that love means,
One of them is to touch you there
And make you smile, among the leaves,
And feel your wetness and your sweet short hair,
And kiss your breasts and put my tongue
Into the delirium between your soft pale thighs,
Because the winter has been much too long
And soon will come again, when this love dies.
I will hear sermons preached, and some of them be true,
But I will not regret that afternoon with you.

C.B. Trail

Yeah, you thought you’d be bored by now, didn’t you? Suckers. I started you off with the easy one. Here’s another one, by the good Kim Addonizio.

First Poem for You

I like to touch your tattoos in complete
darkness, when I can’t see them. I’m sure of
where they are, know by heart the neat
lines of lightning pulsing just above
your nipple, can find, as if by instinct, the blue
swirls of water on your shoulder where a serpent
twists, facing a dragon. When I pull you
to me, taking you until we’re spent
and quiet on the sheets, I love to kiss
the pictures in your skin. They’ll last until
you’re seared to ashes; whatever persists
or turns to pain between us, they will still
be there. Such permanence is terrifying.
So I touch them in the dark, but touch them, trying.

Kim Addonizio

You and I both know I’ve already won this bet, but here’s one more, not specifically about sex, just to bring home the point that sonnets are sexy regardless of subject matter.

The Desire Manuscripts
V. In the Mourning Fields
(The Aeneid, Book Six)

The world below is starless, stark and deep,
and while you lay beside me, my golden bough,
plunged in the shadowy marsh of sleep,

I read about the infernal realm, and how
a soldier walked forth in the House of Dis
while still alive, breaking an eternal law

by braving death’s kingdom, a vast abyss,
the ground sunken in fog – eerie, treacherous –
guarded by a mad beast, three-throated Cerberus.

Tonight I read about us – foundering, hopeless –
in the Mourning Fields and the myrtle grove,
wandering on separate paths, lost in darkness.

It is written that we were consumed by love,
here on earth, a pitiless world above.

Edward Hirsch

(Note to the authors of all these poems – I am not intending to disrespect your copyright laws, just sharing the love. If you want me to take ’em down, by all means, say the word. I linked people to Amazon for your books, though. Trying to increase the poetry readers in the world. Don’t hate me.)

Now then.

What the hell do sonnets have to do with copywriting?

The English majors among you are just itching to get down to the comment box, where you are going to inform me that none of the above are technical sonnets, because they casually break some rules of strict meter. Hate to ruin your fun, but this is about to be my point, and I need it to prove to you that the sexiness of sonnets is relevant, so you’re out of luck. Feel free to rant anyway, it’s just that you’re going to sound silly now. Sorry ’bout that.

The above sonnets continue to follow the basic rules of sonnets – fourteen lines, specific rhyme scheme, and more or less correct meter. The reason the poets get away with breaking some of the rules is because they are versed enough (heh, writing puns) in the rules of a sonnet to break them, gently, so that neither you nor I notice until we go back and start counting off syllables on our fingers. Which brings me to my first point.

You can break the rules if you know what the rules are.

In copywriting, there are basic rules. One of the obvious ones is: Use correct grammar. However, this rule can be broken, and not even the immense wrath of the Rogue will befall you, if you know what you are about when you use incorrect grammar. For example, I can say the following:

Sonnets bring with the sexy, dudes.

And none of you are going to freak out, though ‘bringing with’ is not a recognizable thing to do with sexy under anyone’s formal rules of grammar. This is slang, and it is used for comedic purposes, and I am allowed to do it because I know what I’m doing. If my entire blog post were composed of slang like that, you would all want to beat me over the head and tie me to my skateboard and send me rolling back down the hill to groovyville where I would belong. Since I do know what I’m doing, you just rolled your eyes and let me be. See how you’re still reading? You wouldn’t be, if I didn’t know what the rules were. You’d be all pissed at me, and you’d leave and never come back, and I’d be sad, because then who would debate gender bias in my comments? The pixies, that’s who. And they don’t even have genders.

You can break the standard rules. You can put more text on a web page than is recommended if you know what you’re doing. You can break rules of grammar, of sentence structure, and of formality. You cannot do any of that if you don’t know what the rules are to begin with. You will sound like an idiot, and you will sound like an idiot who does not know what he is doing. If I misuse grammar on this blog, you all know that I either did it because it’s a casual turn of phrase used conversationally (because this is a pub, not the platform of the inaugural address) or because I am being hilarious.

Laugh it up, denizens. Ain’t nothin’ but a butter biscuit.

If you sound like you are following the rules, you are going to bore us all.

One of the things I love about Addonzio’s sonnet is that I damn well did not realize it was a sonnet until I hit the last rhyming stanza. That is some skills, y’all. (Looky there, did it again. Breaking rules left and right today. I must be a grammatical genius.) The best sonnets are not so obviously sonnets that they beat you over the head with it. Poets should not so painstakingly follow the rules of sonneting that doing so compromises the flow of their language.

Same holds true for copywriting. If you are writing a keyword-rich article, and someone tells you the best length for a paragraph is 200 words and the optimal number of times you can use the keyword is once per paragraph, you are going to sound a damn fool if you adhere to those rules so strictly that it compromises the copywriting. This is a rookie mistake. There’s a lot of copywriting strewn about the web right now that is technically correct. Problem is, it sounds dumb. None of the writers is paying attention to the way it sounds. They’re too busy trying to get the right number of words in the paragraph.

Listen to the way your writing sounds. Read it out loud if you have to. (Note: I would not entirely recommend reading those sonnets out loud at the office. Just a small piece of advice from me to you. Unless you work in a sex shop or something. In which case, I just upped your chances of selling something battery-powered. You’re welcome.) If your writing would sound better if you bent one of the formal rules of your chosen genre, then by all means, bend it. Wrench it sideways. Contort it into Cirque de Soleil. Then read it out loud again. If it sounds good, I guarantee you no one is going to care that you broke a formal rule.

Why? They won’t even notice you have broken it. It’s crazy how that works. If you are skilled enough, your bent rule will sound so natural that unless you have the anal editor from doom on your hands, they won’t pay your contorted, backbending, pretzel-twisted rule any mind at all. And even then, evil editors from doom often know from good writing.

Sonnets are crazy sexy.

Just felt like reiterating that. If you want your copywriting, or any other kind of writing, to be crazy sexy in a similar fashion, though not so rhymey, go ahead and bend a few rules.

Go learn what the rules are first, though. You cannot gently bend rules if you don’t know what they are. You are liable to bend something else by accident, like a gerund. And nobody likes a bent gerund, do they?

Subscribe. I’m bringing sexy sonnets back.

June 17, 2008

Your Copywriter. Now In ‘Attractive.’

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 5:35 am
Tags: , ,

Way back when, I promised you guys more gender/race relations. Remember? Remember how I said I’d talk about it the next day? Well, I lied to you. Kindly keep in mind that the proprietor of the Lusty Weevil is, in fact, a rogue, so lies are to be expected and encouraged. But today I got into a talk with some other female freelancers about being, you know, us, and whether we’ve really come all that far from the olden days, when people still said things like ‘olden’ and we would have been auto-delegated to positions as secretaries and . . . um. Secretaries, I guess. They didn’t have that many choices, did they? That must have been boring as hell.

The Assumption Shift

The Assumption Shift is powerful to behold. For purposes of this discussion, you need to know that I am fairly young and, as they say, easy on the eyes. I won’t be giving any supermodels a run for their money or anything, but let us not beat around the bush here. I’m a good-looking girl. If I had not been aware of this before business interactions began, I would assuredly have become so right quick, because the Assumption Shift begins with – shockingly enough – an Assumption.

The Assumption is based on appearance. I’m an attractive young woman, consulting on a copywriting gig. The Assumption has usually been that I am in this meeting because I am an attractive young woman, and not because I am a professional copywriter. Initial introductions have garnered all kinds of fun reactions to the Assumption. One older executive woman actually rolled her eyes when I walked in the room, while another up-and-coming young gentleman came out with what was undeniably a pick-up line. At the outset of a business meeting. Awkward.

So it’s fortunate that in today’s day and age, there is the Shift.

The Shift is based on personality and communication. Usually, the Shift takes approximately five minutes. Those are a slightly painful five minutes in certain instances, when the Assumption is particularly strong, because those are the minutes in which I have been talked down to, flirted with, and quite frankly insulted. However, by the time those five minutes are up and I have shown none of the reactions that would be typical of the aforementioned Assumption, the Shift occurs. Which is when everyone who was following the Assumption quite suddenly becomes embarrassed. And it serves them right. The rest of the meeting tends to be quite enjoyable. We rogues are not above gloating.

Why Does the Shift Happen?

I am a professional. I can speak eloquently and intelligently about any number of topics, and I am a wily enough rogue that I can generally maneuver my way through a meeting gracefully even if I missed some nuance or technical term. I can make a recommendation for good copy or marketing strategy and stand by it, and I don’t feel the need to apologize for myself for giving a reasoned opinion even if someone senior to me at the meeting disagrees. I don’t say ‘like’ every third word, I don’t have an overenthusiastic bubbly voice, I know when and how to use the word ‘whom’, and I will beat you with a stick if you say the word ‘irregardless’. I am not to be trifled with.

I don’t feel the need to over-emphasize these qualities. The only way to contend with the Assumption is to have another one lying in wait. My Assumption is that I will be treated as a professional, because this is the 21st century, and I am damned good at what I do, and these people have no earthly reason to doubt me. My Assumption is pretty powerful, because it has actual logic behind it. Theirs doesn’t. If asked why she rolled my eyes when I walked in the door, that senior executive could not have given one good reason. “Because she’s pretty” would not have flown. She doesn’t have a reason behind her Assumption. I do. I win.

Why Doesn’t the Shift Happen?

There are a great many people who never manage the Shift, and I get why that still happens. It usually has to do with the fact that none of the abovementioned tenants of the Assumption Shift has anything to do with actual ability. Teenybopper of the Tabloids herownself could be at a business meeting, and for all we know, Tabloid Teenybopper is a mean coder. We don’t know. And we never will. Because she looks, sounds, and acts like Tabloid Teenybopper. Ability has absolutely nothing to do with the Assumption Shift.

I am not suggesting that you are Tabloid Teenybopper. (Although if you are, my readers are not quite the demographic I had in mind). However, I’ve met any number of women who are extremely good at what they do, who cannot get the Assumption Shift because they never got over it. Those first five minutes completely stunned them. They are good at what they do, they were asked to consult, and yet, they are not being treated as professionals. Why?

It throws them. They start to doubt. They don’t stick behind what they’re saying, or they overdo it and insist on what they’re saying, even when, as we all learned somewhere in the School of Things You Never Really Want to Be True, the customer is always right. Even when he’s wrong. The loser. Ability never figures into this equation, only the way they are perceived. Sadly, they can’t act naturally in the face of the Assumption. They start to change.

They allow the way people treat them to form the way they actually behave, and that is not good. You can make people do anything if you treat them as though they’re likely to do it. True for anyone, but particularly true if you’re already feeling vulnerable. I have had people clucking like chickens in front of me, just by saying they seem like the sort of people that would.

The Power of the Assumption

Seriously. Try this on anyone you like. Ask them to do something outrageous. Ask them to crawl on their hands and knees across the floor of a busy mall store. Ask them to burp loudly in front of a group of strangers. Ask them to recite the alphabet backwards to the tune of Bonny Portmore. Ask them blithely, casually, as though you had no doubt that they would do this insane thing. Most of them will do it. To the ones who don’t, just look at them as though bewildered and a little hurt and say, your voice faintly sad,

“Wow. You’ve really changed.”

A strange thing will happen. You will see a look cross their face. This is the look of delving into one’s personal history, to see if one really was ever the type of person to burp at the hot-dog guy. Even if they still don’t do it, you have seen the magic of the Assumption at work. They questioned it. They questioned themselves. They questioned whether they would do something completely idiotic, and further, whether they were the sort of person that did frankly idiotic things for no reason.

The power of the Assumption is Doubt.

So How Far Have We Come Again?

Pretty far, according to my parents’ generation. Used to be that the Assumption would hold for a much longer time. We’re more aware now, as a society, that this Assumption is unfounded. People used to actually believe, in a scientific, logical way, that women were inferior to men. They had research. It was common knowledge. So those Assumptions had reasons. Really stupid ones. But reasons. They felt secure in those Assumptions, and they never went away.

Today, people don’t have that excuse. We all know we’re all equal here. The Assumption is a leftover, and it will go away eventually. I hope. Women used to never be able to escape the Assumption. It hung around like a bad smell, or a devoted trapeze artist. Now, it’s five minutes. Not bad. Maybe in another fifty years, it’ll be gone. We have to hope.

Not Just for Women

Crystal of the Big Bright Bulb has had the same experience, except that she has the double whammy of being both female and black. For her, the trump card wasn’t speaking well, but a degree. (The whole story’s in the comments of My Useless College Education, back here somewhere.) I’m going to quote her at length here.

I’ve done the potential-job-candidate-walk-around and been introduced by my degree, not my experience, “This is Crystal, she has a degree in Architecture from Virginia Tech.” And 85% of the time hearing that sentence changed people’s body language. Notably. Who knows what the hand-shaker thought they were looking at, but it required a visible reset.

A little further down, there was this gem of an Out-of-Context conversation, which makes me want to shake people, but serves to prove my point.

Interviewers, new supervisors, co-workers, new customers and clients, and most (though not all) of the strangers of my professional life responded like they thought I was a dunce and were pleasantly (or not so pleasantly) surprised to find I wasn’t.

My favorite was overhearing a new supervisor say to a crony, “Well, Crystal is just terrific. I mean, I hired her because she was black, and come to find she actually knows what she’s doing and does a great job.” Lovely.

Lovely, indeed. Racist, sexist, all the same beast. It’s an Assumption. And you know what they say about Assuming.

That’s right. They say it’s dumb.

The Magic Key

There is one. Humor. Laugh at it. Seriously.

Crystal does. I do. Getting upset about it just makes your day worse. Laughing at it makes you feel better, and it makes the guy who assumed look like an idiot. Imagine this.

Assuming Dude: “Well, I’m sure a pretty little thing like you doesn’t really care about this technical stuff.”

That is not a made-up comment. That happened to me once. Here’s what I could have done.

Me: “No, I do care! I am perfectly capable, really I am.”

Here’s what I did.

Me: (Incredulous look and a peal of laughter that actually brought tears to my eyes. I was doubled up. People were staring. Assuming guy was embarrassed as shit, which he should have been.) “People still SAY that? A pretty little thing like me?” (More laughter.) “Oh, my. That just made my day. That’s hilarious. You were explaining the technical stuff to me, I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to get distracted.” (Small chuckle.) “Pretty little thing. Heh.”

And you know what? He shut up and explained it.

Which is what I assumed he would do, in the first place. When I asked.

Subscribe. I assume you will.

June 16, 2008

eBooks and How to Shun Them

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 6:57 am
Tags: , , , ,

I have been resisting the eBooks. Mostly this is because I am inclined to write them as though they were some new invention of the Apple folks, like the iPod or the iPhone or the iWantToSeeTheLetterICapitalizedAgainFortheLoveofMoses. I consider the e-something revolution to be akin to the i-something revolution, and no good can come of this, people. It was only a matter of time before people were sending text messages and emails saying things like ‘i lost my monkey.’ Do we really want this to happen to the beloved e? I ask you.

Not that ‘e’ needs to be capitalized as often as ‘i’, but it is a slippery downward slope we’re walking. eventually it’ll be ‘a’, and then ‘u’, and – OH MY GODS it’s starting already! Did you SEE that?

Right. So. The eBooks. I was holding to my righteous stance, here, people. It was blasphemous. An INTERNET book? No pages to twitch? No smooth paper, no old typewriter style font set? No resting book on knees while consuming prolific amounts of cheese and chocolate? Oh, no. I was pure. Steadfast in my love of the smell of leather and old ink. Devoted to the path of good.

The Temptation of the Rogue

Nick Cernis came out with the delightfully named Todoodlist, which sounds simultaneously like a fun organizational tool and an cyborg titillator, a la Jude Law in A.I. I don’t know that Nick particularly wants that association, but it is there, in my head. Nick’s promotion of this eBook indicates that there is a chapter entitled, and I would not joke about this, Zen Kitten in a Box. Who am I to resist a Zen Kitten, much less one enboxed? I ask you. The Todoodlist also affects to help you “embrace simplicity, rid your life of complexity, (hm, lost me a bit there, chaos being so much a part of the rogue life) AND “discover fun new ways to be productive with paper.” Oh, sweet monkey G. PAPER? Stuff I can do with PAPER? And a ZEN KITTEN? Wants it, the precious.

I resisted the Todoodlist, standing reeling in the desert heat, my mind yearning to give in.

The Pen Men have Writing for the Web, a guide for people who want to launch a writing career. Um, yeah, say you. Aren’t you doing that? Wouldn’t this be old news for you? Yes. Yes it would. It attests to my love of the Men when I say that a) I suspect they have been holding out on me advice-wise and know something that I do not, which is why everyone loves them more than me, including me and b) that it would be worth the money just for an enjoyable read, even if I have already done everything they know how to do. The book is for new writers who need a break getting into the industry, and I wanted a piece of that, because I prey upon the weak and the innocent. Well played, Men. Well played indeed.

I shunned the lures of the Men – O! the Men! – certain I would be rewarded for my steadfastness. My skin was peeling away in the heat and I was too exhausted to breathe.

Christine O’Kelly has How I Built a Profitable Freelance Business for Under $50, and if there is anything the rogue is a sucker for, it is things that cost less than $50. I thought this would be an easy resist, since a title like that tends to scream scam (sorry, Christine) but unfortunately, the delightful Dave Navarro of Rock Your Day wrote a review that said, in essence ‘page 17 got me more clients than I could shake an Italian sausage at,’ and I thought damn you, Navarro. Now I am Pandora’s box level curious. What the hell is on page 17?

With a superhuman effort, I did not ask to see what was on page 17, and the Devil let me be, bleeding, sunburned, and delirious, crawling on my knees out of the desert.

And then the Magdalene came.

Naomi Dunford, of IttyBiz, is releasing her eBook today. I do not know what it is about. I suspect it is how to run a kick-ass small business, which is what I hired her to tell me how to do in the first place. She’s really great at it. Naomi is a behaloed goddess of get-shit-done, and she does not beat around the bush when she is telling you what is smart, and what is not, and which is which, and how she knows, and why it will work, and why you should just do what she says, seriously, because it works, damn it. She is fantastic at small business advice, and she has, apparently, written it down. How can I resist the glory that is my ultimate nemesis in BOOK form? It is the two things I love most, nemeses and books, in one shining body of glory. How can I resist her?

I can’t. I am falling from grace. I’m totally buying it. And all the rest of them, actually. If I’m going to fall, I am falling hard. You should come with me. I hear it’s heaven for climate, hell for company.

Addendum. Her eBook is on SEO, and now I need it even more, because I am damned if I understand SEO at all. Sweet Christ. It’s like she KNEW. Here’s the link to SEO School.

Subscribe. I promise never to pretend to be major religious figures again. Well. Maybe Kali. She’s kind of awesome.

June 13, 2008

Phoning it in.

Filed under: Quotes,Writing — Tei @ 4:56 am

Can’t talk. Writing. Back tomorrow.

“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.”

– Neil Gaiman

June 12, 2008

War on English: The Evil Nominalization

Filed under: Out of Context,The War on English — Tei @ 5:58 am

You may not know what nominalizations are, but you know them when you read them. You know because your brain is unable to focus on the words, as though they were a verbal blind spot. You cannot quite comprehend what the words are attempting to tell you, and you promptly decide you don’t care, because it’s too difficult, and it probably wasn’t important anyway.

The phenomenal Douglas Adams (may his atheist soul no longer exist, for it is so he wished it to be and we honor the wishes of Douglas Adams above all other British humor writers, always excepting the ubiquitous P.G. Wodehouse, for whom Adams himself had intense admiration, so we feel that he would be down with playing second fiddle to him) called the nominalization an S.E.P.

S.E.P. standing, of course, for Someone Else’s Problem.

S.E.P.s worked thusly: When a large spaceship containing homicidal androids landed in the middle of Lord’s Cricket Ground in England, bystanders’ eyes simply refused to focus on it. They would look through it, over it, anywhere but at it, while aforementioned homicidal androids methodically killed folk.

That is what a nominalization is.

It is not as cool as it sounds.

The Set-Up

When you write web copy, or print copy, or really anything in a written form, there should always something important about the message you’re delivering. That message does not have to be earth-shatteringly important. Not, just to pick an example out of nowhere, spaceship containing homicidal androids in the middle of a cricket field important. The message does have to have some significance to your audience, though. Your message should talk about something they want, or need, or didn’t know they needed, but now must have, like an iPhone.

If there is nothing significant in what you are writing, please put the pen down and back away slowly, lest I be forced to break out the nunchucks. Writing with no purpose is how bad poetry starts, people. Just say no.

Now then. You have your significant message. Let us say that your message is that you have an excellent new product. This product that will tell off your evil in-laws for you. Not only that, it will do so with excellent timing and perfectly calculated barbs detailing their personal foibles, nervous tics, and sexual deficiencies. Pretty sweet. We’re all excited about it. Tell me, say I. Tell me about this magnificent product, that does something that I personally have wanted to do forever. Oh sweet fancy Moses, tell me about it.

Enter the Evil Nominalization and Its Accompanying Ominous Theme Music

With the utilization of this product, the target of the chastisement will receive a message calibrated for optimal insult impact. The calculation of optimal insult impact is determined by the consideration of five demographics which may include relationship to spouse, relationship to offspring, personal deficiencies, body odor, and possession of pornography.

Admit it. Until I got to the bit about porn, you were dozing off. And that was a mightily cool product, people. There is no earthly reason it should be that boring. Except for the evil, evil nominalization and its buddy the passive voice, the latter of which will become acquainted with the force of roguish wrath another day.

I had an English professor who brought in an amazing example of the true evil to which the nominalization could stoop. Those of you who are a bit squeamish may wish to skip this passage. You will understand when I tell you it involves not only the nominalization, but also insurance agents and lawyers.

Yes. I know. Please avert the eyes of your children.

The Ultimate Evil of the Nominalization.

My professor had recently bought a car. The manufacturers of that car sent her a letter after she signed on the dotted line. It ran as follows. (WARNING: Reading the following passage may result in a 1% decrease in your overall innocence. No one will think any less of you for skipping it and going straight to the translation. No one. Least of all Buddha.)

A defect which involves the possible failure of a frame support plate may exist on your vehicle. This plate (front suspension pivot bar support plate) connects a portion of the front suspension to the vehicle frame, and its failure could affect vehicle directional control, particularly during heavy brake application. In addition, your vehicle may require adjustment service to the hood secondary catch system. The secondary catch may be misaligned so that the hood may not be adequately restrained to prevent hood fly-up in the event the primary latch is inadvertantly left disengaged. Sudden hood fly-up beyond the secondary catch while driving could impair visibility. In certain circumstances, occurrence of either of the above conditions could result in vehicle crash without prior warning.

Did you get that? Neither did most people. Here’s what that message actually said, without the nominalizations:

There are two problems with your vehicle. Either of these problems could result in your losing control of the vehicle. One of the problems has to do with steering, the other with your hood flying up and covering your windshield with a noise calculated to scare the beejeezus out of you. If either of those things happens (oh, and they will) you will probably soon be crashing head-on into another car, a tree, a small pony, or other large and uncomfortably knobbly object. Stay away from the death trap. Warning, warning, danger Will Robinson. Or actually, go ahead and drive the death trap. We did warn you, after all. Our legal butts are covered, and our insurance isn’t going to pay up. Nyah nyah nyah.

P.S. Death!

Insurance agents and lawyers calculated that message. It was designed to inform people without actually informing them, so that they would not return their cars, insisting on a refund and threatening the lives’ of the mechanic’s beloved puppies. The letters were delivered; the people were warned. Except they weren’t. They were all lying in boredom-induced catatonic states, drooling and praying no one would use the phrase ‘secondary catch’ at them again. Ever.

The insurance company was covered. The lawyers had done their duty, making sure all the information was in the letter. The people had been warned. The thing is, nominalizations parked themselves in front of the real information like big, fat S.E.P.s and refused to move. And no one heard the real message in the background, squeaking, “DEATH!”

Moral of the Story: When Lawyers and Insurance Companies Use a Linguistic Device, Stay Clear. Also, Nudity is Attention-Getting.

If you are not a lawyer or an insurance agent, you don’t want to obscure your message. You want to show it off. You want to strip it naked, paint it bright red, put rings on its fingers and bells on its toes and send it through town doing acrobatics on the back of a two-headed goat. If you have a message that is this attention-grabbing and you throw the big black garbage bag of nominalization over it, you are doing a disservice to us all.

Okay, you say. I get it. No nominalizations. What are they again? My eyes, they just . . . couldn’t . . . seem to – I’m sorry, I wasn’t able to read it properly. What was all that about? Was that a spaceship?

No problem. That’s to be expected. Here’s a specific nominization from the previous example.

vehicle directional control

You probably know what that means, when you think about it hard enough. Adams says not to look at it head-on, just sneak up on it and glance out of the corner of your eye. That helps. Vehicle directional control basically means steering.

‘Loss of vehicle directional control’ means ‘you won’t be able to steer.’

Bad news bears.

The English Major Definition

The nominization is the removal of a subject from a sentence. Instead of ‘she took’, the nominalization is ‘the taking’. Instead of ‘he broke’, the nominalization is ‘the breaking’. Nominalization is the horror that is verbs masquerading as subjects.

As we all learned in our primary school, subjects and verbs go together, hand in hand, like happy little dance partners.

She ran

He fell

They took

The vicious little verbs murdered their happy little dance partners and are now spinning gleefully all alone in the middle of the dance floor, attempting to summon Mephistopholes.

The running

The falling

The taking

Oh NO. Save us all.

Why Was This Horrific Thing Invented? Why Gods Why?

Easy. It took people out of the equation. Go back up. Look at those examples. See any pronouns? Anyone saying ‘I’ or ‘you’ or ‘we’ or ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘s/he’ for you bigendered people out there? No? Me neither.

Nominalizations mean you don’t have to get people involved. It’s no one’s fault that the car doesn’t work properly. It’s no one’s situation. The situation is just there, all on its own. And we’d rather you didn’t examine it too closely.

Or, in nominalization-speak, ‘Examination of the problem will result in uncomfortable surety that an entity (which shall remain unattached to homo sapiens sapiens of any kind) may have royally fucked up.’

People like to read about other people. They want to know about your product, your message, your human nature. Do not be an S.E.P., and do not make your message into an S.E.P. to avoid mentioning the humans behind it.

Unless, of course, you’re not human. That is a problem for another day.

Subscription to the weblog under perusal will bring enthused sensations to certain parties.

June 11, 2008

Mourning Grovers.

Filed under: Blogging — Tei @ 4:54 pm

I’m sure everyone’s wondering what the hell happened to me this morning. Me too. I am wondering. You see, when I first moved into my new house, I was delighted to find there was wireless all around me. One in particular was very strong. It was called Grovers. I loved Grovers. My desk corner lived and basked in the glow of Grovers’ free wireless. And it was good.

About a month later, someone got greedy. Some other dude started to download tons of stuff off Grovers. He was the kind of guy Napster worried about, and Grovers slowed to a crawl. I was sad. The owner of Grovers was sad. And he put a lock on it.

Now, I respect that. If you are freelining off someone else’s wireless, it is common courtesy to not use it for crazy downloads. For one thing, then the owner catches on right quick. I kind of want to catch downloading dude and give him some rogue lessons, because even I knew what he was up to, and I suck at technology. Every time Grovers’ owner and I would be happily checking our email on the speedy Grovers wireless and suddenly, without warning, everything started to freeze up, we knew he was there. Not subtle. Bad form.

So Grovers’ owner putting a lock on his wireless was the only smart thing for him to do. The sad thing was, this left me without wireless. Which is when I discovered something about my new house.

No wireless box.

I couldn’t get the wireless. There may be a box hidden somewhere, but it might be up in the boarded up haunted attic. It might be in my neighbor’s side of the house, since I’m in one half a duplex. Figures. I get the giant ugly water heater, he gets the wireless box. ‘Course, I got the claw-footed bathtub, and I think really nothing trumps the claw-footed bathtub. Unless it’s a butler like Jeeves, but that’s a dream I fear I shall never realize.

Oh, Jeeves. Why do you not appear every morning with a cup of the revitalizing liquid to soothe my pain? You would fix the wireless, Jeeves, I know you would.

Here’s the problem with a Rogue with no wireless: I’m a horrible insomniac. I do some of my best work between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. Guess when the internet cafes close down? No, really. Guess. I want you to.

So I have to solve the wireless problem. Five hours of lost potential work time isn’t acceptable, and (just to bring it back around to you people) it often means that I can’t put up a new blog post on time. Last night, I spent two hours trying to get the measly linksys signal I can sometimes tap into to work. No dice. Either I’ll have to get dial-up or I’ll have to go bang on my neighbor’s door and see if we can’t share his wireless box, and he might be one of those guys who isn’t inclined to share. Though he’s kind enough to share his secondhand pot smoke with me on a regular basis through the wall, so maybe I’ll get lucky.

Anyway. That’s what happened to the blog posting. I’ll write it earlier today and get it up before the cafe shuts down.

June 10, 2008

Twitter. The Honeymoon is Over.

Filed under: Blogging — Tei @ 7:56 am

After the ridiculous lovefest that was yesterday’s post, I feel I owe everyone a round of snark. So we set forth into the anticlimactic linkfest that was Twitter.

Everyone was talking about the Twitter. I read the Wired article and made a noise that sounded very much like “Pleh.” I read the New York Times article and felt justified in my snobbery (bless you, NY Times, for indulging my superiority complex). And then I got to blogging, and it all went to hell in a handbasket. James and Harry were talking about giving in to the Twitter. Naomi was talking about how NOT to use Twitter, and when Naomi lays down a gauntlet like that, you are honor-bound to pick it up and smite her briskly across the face with it. In the most loving way possible.

The point is, while I may not be a sucker for the printed media, I am evidently easily persuaded by the digital bloggery. Twitter became that guy in your class who you hadn’t thought was cute until you realized everyone else had a crush on him. I caved. To Twitter I went.

In the Beginning

All was sweetness and light. Twitter said delightfully funny things, it introduced me to all the people it knew. We talked for ages, in little 140-letter vignettes. The Twitter cared about my business and helped promote my blog – so sweet. The Twitter wrote me haikus. It is possible this is because the Twitter was incapable of sonnets, but I was not to be troubled by such trifles. I was enamored. I braided daisies into crowns and sang love songs, people. The Twitter was so good to me.

Then There Was Turmoil

Twitter stopped communicating with me. Someone would send me a message and three minutes later I’d get it. I would find myself with only part of a haiku that I was sure had a preceding part, but I couldn’t find it, and Twitter couldn’t find it, and the Tweet ‘and then fell off a snow bank’ really needs an introduction. I realized very suddenly that Twitter possibly had a drug problem, or was off its medication. I would have been concerned, but the other problem was that I was getting tired of the Twitter. Its conversation had ceased to sparkle. It was repeating stories it had told on our first date. It was boring me to tears.

Then There Was Smiting.

Twitter started to boot me randomly out of the house. Other people too. The Tweet galaxy was all full of people calling into the blackness. “Hello! Are you there? I’m not there. I’m here.” We began to sound like bad Emily Dickenson imitators. “I’m Tweeting – in the Twhirl. Are you – Tweeting here – like me? Are we both – fucked – and speaking – to no one? – Stupid Twitter. I – want bacon.” Then Twitter got all passive-aggressive decided it couldn’t handle my shenanigans and wiped all my old Tweets, which was really just uncalled for. It started to play games with my head, and then I would yell, and it would go off and sulk and not talk to me for days, and we continued in this destructive cycle, neither of us willing to admit that we were just not meant to be. No we were not.

Then There Was the Flood.

I dumped the Twitter. We had a lovely little affair, but it was just one of those things. Just one of those nights. Just one of those magic flights. And now I’ve begun to quote Cole Porter, which just goes to show how damaging this relationship was. It hurts a little still. Inside.

I may sometimes go back to the Twitter, but it will only be to use it shamelessly for blog promotion. Yes, it’s cruel to do to an old flame, especially when you know it secretly still wants you, and you know perfectly well it can’t have you back. That is just the way it is, though.

On another note: Heading over to the Twitter randomly for the first time in about a week, I discovered that James does not, apparently, love me every day. Why, James? How can this be so? What day was ever a wrong one with me?

That’s the other thing about Twitter. It’ll rat you out. Is it any wonder I dumped it?

Subscribe. Lambasting to be continued.

June 9, 2008

A Love Letter to the Men

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 6:05 am

No, not all the men. Not even The Man, who I think we can all agree should be shunned at every possible opportunity, and possibly spat upon when you are weary of sticking it to him. You know the men I am talking about. The Men. The Pen Men. The Men with Pens.

I completed the web copy on Friday night, by the way. Thanks for coming around and rooting for that one. The reason you didn’t see a blog post on Friday night (or Saturday night, comes to that) was that I was busy falling in love with the Men. I know. No one saw it coming. Least of all me. Big sigh.

This ain’t just any kind of love, people. This isn’t that link love variety. This is pure and unabashed adoration, and I am going to tell you why, and if you get all squeamish about the unabashedness, you should turn your head, because these Men need some serious fawning, and I am just the rogue to give it to them.

They’re fantastic to do business with.

To begin with, to speak to one is more or less to speak to the other. This is a noteworthy phenomenon simply because one’s in Quebec and one’s in Vegas, and yet you would swear they share an office and throw wads of paper at each other all day. Paper, by the way, they would purchase for the specific purpose of wadding, as hardly anyone writes on a typewriter anymore. They read minds, people. Their own and yours. I was just having a conversation with them in which they creeped themselves out with their psychic abilities. Psychics only creep themselves out with their psychicness when they are really, really psychic. You can quote me on that.

Once you have spoken to them, a magical thing happens, if I may be stereotypical for a moment and remind you that we are discussing Men. Even with Pens. They listen.

I know that they listen, because you would not believe how random I am when I try to describe things that I need for myself. No, yes you would, you read this blog. I am very random, people. I will start talking about strange animals and foods and sensations, such as, “You know that feeling you get when you’re watching a sunset with someone and it’s romantic and perfect and then your cell phone rings and you have to sneeze but can’t? THAT’S how I felt.”

They were capable of understanding the random that is my head, and this is no small feat. James summed up what I was looking for thusly, and I am quoting: “So we’re aiming for cutting edge, rough around the edges but still highly professional and with a cookie?”

Yes, that is correct. With a cookie. You see what I put them through? Harry must have understood it perfectly too, because he came up with this little piece of the power and the glory. They didn’t even get mad when I became the Lousy Boss. And when I became a wuss, they very firmly and gently told me to stop it. Which I did.

They do good work, they do it fast, they do it affordable, and that banner still makes me weak in the knees. Come to think of it, the inevitable swooning over the Men probably began right there.

No. It was before that. I know when it was.

They love their people.

Yes, they have people. If you don’t believe me, wander on over to their blog and browse about in the archives. The same folks show up to talk again and again, to trade advice, to shoot the breeze. It’s a small city on a hill, or a website if you just can’t strain the metaphor, and the proud and benevolent co-rulers are our favorite Men. They are wise, they are just, and they are free and unstinting with the riches of the kingdom.

If you are the Men, and you are as talented as they are, you do not really need to spend time rubbing elbows with the commonfolk. For one thing, it’s awkward. And yet, there they are, elbows akimbo, ripe for the rubbing. People pay good money for the kind of advice they throw about regularly. They call it consulting.

When the Men give advice daily, for free, with all the goodwill in the world, it is called ‘being awesome.’

They want their people happy and prosperous.

They are one of the major reasons my blogging continued at all, past that initial beginning phase where no one reads you and you kind of feel that you’re tapping away in some sort of social experiment meant to achieve a state of complete loneliness and ennui where none existed before. Not because your flesh-and-blood friends have disappeared or anything; they may, in fact, be in the same room with you plaintively trying to drag your attention back to them, the half-empty box of pizza, and the beer you have abandoned to check your stats for the eight millionth time.

They came around. They commented. They poked playfully at my newbieness. They linked to me, for the love of all that is caramel-coated. They were wonderful. I suspect that their wonderfulness is a secret ploy to get more readers, and I am here to tell you it works way better than the snarkiness I personally employ. I became one of the denizens of the Pen City, and they came around to the Lusty Weevil to have a pint now and then, when they didn’t feel like wearing their crowns. And James developed a small migraine at the lack of a subscribe to comments button on this blog, but that is only to be expected. He is a little odd. It’s because he’s from upstairs in Canoodia.

They basically did everything in their power to hustle me on my own way to a successful blog and a successful business, and neither of those things were necessary, but they are deeply valuable and I was touched to have received them. Those encouragements are half the reason I’m writing this post today. That’s just the Men for you.

The other half of the reason I’m writing this post, in case you’re curious, is that it’s a perfect opportunity to out some of their weirdnesses under the guise of flattery. I am crafty like that. Come along. Next section.

They are, on an individual level, amazing men. Without the capitals. Just a man and a man. Separately. You see what I mean. No, you don’t, do you. Damn it.

Gods, that’s too complicated to keep up with. I shall just make a list for each, and it will all become clear.

Amazing Things About James

  • He knits. This makes me happy for many reasons, not the least of which are the many ways I can think of to mock him about it.
  • He can curse in French, and does so frequently. I am learning a whole new realm of profanity I had not imagined possible. He can also speak French, like a normal multilingual person, but I am way more intrigued by the cursing. I can’t imagine why.
  • He is REALLY into flying.
  • Also chaos. He can’t stop conceiving of new and interesting ways to make one thing bounce off another. He is completely fascinated by it. I have decided he is secretly Puck, sent by Oberon to spy on us humanfolk. I’m ON to you, Faerie King.
  • He will staunchly defend the strangest of food combinations, and then look at me askance when I mention perfectly normal foods like chocolate caramels and ketchup (no, not together. Separately. For all I know, he’d like them together. He’s that kind of crazy). He is also the only Canadian I have ever heard of who doesn’t like maple syrup. Next, I’ll meet a New Englander who doesn’t like fiddleheads. And that will be a dark day indeed.
  • He is a damned fine writer. He is going to get a big head if I keep telling him that, but it’s very true.
  • He’s brave as they come, and he’ll push and push and push until you get brave too. Leader of free men and women, is James. He ought to run Sherwood. He’d get everyone out from under the Sheriff and into the trees in no time.

Amazing things about Harry

  • He knows the joy that is a Honda vehicle, and that owning one inspires the sort of unsurpassèd love that requires an accent mark over the ‘e’. James says that’s an accent grave. Harry says whatever, the bike deserves an accent ecstatic. And Harry? Billy and I agree with you.
  • He loves the lolcats and America’s Next Top Model, and so do I. I choose to keep my love for these things secret, however, and I sincerely hope Harry had no intention of doing so. Because, um. Oops.
  • He will patiently walk anyone through anything, and he will never reveal his slowly growing belief that your stupidity is not to be fathomed. No one else would walk me through widget installation. NO ONE. For they know the stupidity is IMMENSE. And it was. But he stuck it out.
  • He, too, is a damned fine writer. He won’t get a swelled head though. He will just smile quietly about it. And brag to James.
  • He has a motorcycle in his office, a cat under his desk, and a barbeque in his kitchen. I am envious on all three counts.
  • He is a Sagittarius. And SO AM I. We have many times now (and by ‘many’ I mean ‘three’ but that is a LOT when you communicate wholly over the internets) conspired to conquer the world with flaming arrows and swords. You are officially warned.
  • He’s the behind the scenes guy. I have been this guy, and I am here to tell you that while the work is about equal to the front man’s, the behind the scenes guy never gets applauded. And Harry takes this fact in stride, but this is not just, people. I applaud you, Harry. Until my little hands are chapped, they go clappy clap clap for you.

And finally

Just when I thought they couldn’t get any more awesome, they went and invented a fiction-based roleplaying game. And then they let me play. Which was the point at which I gave in. I looked deep within my rusty little heart, people, and there I discovered that the Men have stolen the key to it, and weaseled their way in.

And that, denizens of the Lusty Weevil, is what I have been doing all weekend. Falling head over heels for the Men. If you can resist them, you are a better man than I.

But not a better Men. There are no better Men.

Subscribe. I’m pretty cool too. I talk about that on most other days.

June 5, 2008

Sudden Death.

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 7:06 am
Tags: ,

I am making an executive decision.

Tonight, I’m tired. I’ve been stressing myself out all day about the business, trying very hard to see good advice as good advice, rather than ‘that thing at which I should very much like to throw a shoe with deadly accuracy and a fair amount of force’.

Today, I procrastinated, and scared myself a lot, and got very little done. It’s one in the morning, and I am foregoing the blog post for today so that I can go to sleep.

You’ve all been very encouraging and inspiring and familial, and that makes me feel special inside, but the longer I depend upon you to push my little butt forward, the longer I am spending scooting along on my butt, and that gets to be embarrassing after a bit. I am standing up now. I like being sassy and adorable at you people, and it tends to get me a lot of cheerleading, for which I thank you profoundly.

However, I would be doing little justice to your cheerleading if I didn’t go out and win this goddamn game already. I’m already in about twelve kinds of overtime. I am shocked that y’all haven’t left early to beat the traffic. It is time for Sudden Death.

Those of you who don’t go for sports have no clue what the hell I’m talking about, but here’s the gist of it.

I won’t be posting on this blog again until I finish the website copy and send it over to my marketing guru.

This is the part where all of you tell me to finish the website copy RIGHT NOW, damn it, because you will be devastated if I don’t post tomorrow.


Clock’s ticking. We’ll see if this drags on for another round or if y’all get to go home soon.

Tick tick tick.

P.S. I just used the word ‘y’all’ twice in one post. That’s . . . unusual. Clearly there is something in the air. It’s that new moon getting to me.

Subscribe. The suspense is killing everyone.

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