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Happy New Year!

Posted: January 1, 2017 by R. A. Gates in Ruth's Words, Uncategorized
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Which direction did that witch go to get my sandwich? I should have told her, order two, and don’t let the chef put too much mustard like last time–a dash of thyme is welcome. And I hope she didn’t wear that stupid hat where she’s going; I wouldn’t if I were her. I wanted to go there myself, but their cashier annoys me, and they’re never gonna find a nicer one. Oh, well.

English is weird! I’ve been using it for some time, well, English and Bad English, and even today, I find it odd. Sometimes, it’s like trying to tell a person born blind what blue looks like. To me, communication is the most important thing in a relationship. And here is the rub: just because two people speak the same language, it doesn’t mean they understand each other.

Language is a living organism, always changing, and it is effected by time, religion, creed, sex, age, location, social status, and so much more. A word I use today may have a completely different meaning five years from now and another in ten. English doesn’t make things easy with the amount of rules and what not. It is a miracle we’ve gotten so far.

So, how does one communicate. Clarity and patience. It is not enough to use words, but we must place ourselves in the shoes of another. How do they perceive you and what you say? This may be achieved through clarity and patience. When using words that may have several meanings, be sure your syntax reveals the intention of the word, and if a person displays confusion, don’t cast blame or call them ignorant. Patiently inquire what they don’t understand, or, rephrase your words using alternate choices in vocabulary. It’s not like English doesn’t have enough synonyms.

Anyways, how does this apply to writing and literature? Well, that should be evident. Pick up some Shakespeare and see how the language was 400 years ago. It’s readable, but requires some knowledge. Imagine how your literature will look to humans another 400 years from now. They might need a dictionary too.

When writing your story, clarity is one of the most important things you can strive for. I am an advocate for writing the first draft as fast as possible and with little thought. This allows for the creative instinct to shine. But writing is like a sculpture. A block of clay is placed before you, big chunks removed, and little by little, it is slowly refined to bring forth amazing art. So, be patient with your own work as well. Give it time. Craft it, mold it, and ensure that it will stand the test of time.

Anywho, I’ve rambled for long enough…

I remember that years ago, when I encountered my first writer’s group and choppy-sentence ridden passages I hated them.  My own sentences were long-winded with a tendency towards the passive. Now, I catch my stream-of-consciousness rough drafts to be choppy, halting and exactly what my younger self despised.

Yet, now, I’m defensive of the choppy sentences.

What happened?

Everyone’s style changes.  Life, reading, and our own minds conspire towards this end  Even if, somewhere, we want to hit the pause button, we really don’t have a choice.

I think that it was easier to slow down and think through things in a long-winded fashion when I was younger.  I didn’t understand that the chaos of life could cause a person’s thought patterns to come in continuous clips of phrases, to be constantly urgent and hurried.

That doesn’t fit in every scene.  When you want something to move slower, to build character rather than plot, this sort of choppiness needs to be edited out.

So while scouring my short stories for too little sentence variation, I am thinking about the pendulum swinging from one end to the other despite my desires.

I suppose we have all witnessed changes in our writing over time. Have any caught you off guard in this fashion? Have any weaknesses morphed into strengths? Or vice versa?

“What the hell are you talking about?” you ask, incredulous at the ridiculous and counter-intuitive title you just clicked.  Horror, especially the graphic sort, is a public menace that desensitizes us to negativity.  In the war between good and evil, positive and negative, light and dark, extreme fiction pulls us out of balance in a direction we should not tread.

This, my friends, is horse manure.

Like any other symbolic product, art that draws on the dark, the nasty, the gruesome, and the violent is received by different audience members in a variety of ways.  I know this because I have experienced horrific art in ways different than others assumed that I would. The idea that because I like something you see as negative means I glorify or support negativity is false.  Personally, I feel like I’ve taken positive lessons from extreme art.

By way of example, let me take you back to my teen years.  Yes, the dreaded 1980s.  Big hair, parachute pants, actual arcades.  The decade was awash in all kinds of subcultural sounds, from pre-Goth, depressing New Wave stuff to dudes in make-up party rock.  Me, I dug on thrash.  Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and of course, Slayer.  You would be correct to assume, with names of that sort, that these bands didn’t exactly sing happy songs.  And as part of the subculture that worshiped these bands, I had many a devil and skull on my bedroom walls.  The thing was, I never took it as bad because I was never a bad person.

So imagine my surprise when one day, based on the Slayer tee I wore, I was accused of being a Nazi.  Turns out, a lot of people thought that the band glorified the Third Reich and supported their ideology.  And maybe they did.  There was certainly some Nazi imagery in the artwork the band chose.  The biggest reason people thought that, however, was because of one of the bands most popular songs, Angel of Death.  The song is about Josef Mengele, and approaches the notorious doctor by singing graphically about his gruesome medical experiments during the Holocaust.  The lyrics pull no punches. They are graphic and nasty. And they are likely in the realm of truth in depicting what this monster actually did.

Now, I freely admit that I did (and still do) really like this song.  The music is fast and the subject matter appeals to my sense of the macabre.  But, I never liked it because it glorified Mengele and the Nazis.  In fact, as gruesome as some of the lyrics were, they are actually presented in a value neutral sort of way.  They come off more as a list of facts.  When I heard the song, I never thought the band was holding Mengele up to be emulated.  I actually took the song to be on the side of the victims.  I took it as an illustration of horror and terror brought down on innocent people, and I tended to empathize with them.

The song sensitized me to the horrific.  The opposite of what many believe horror does.

That influence carries over into what I write today.  I choose, at times, to rub my readers faces in nastiness because I want them to feel it in a visceral way.  No doubt, sexual violence makes frequent appearances in what I write.  But I don’t write it for the purpose of titillation, though I’m aware a small percentage of readers will be titillated.  And I don’t write it just to shock.  I write it because it’s a prominent part of our culture and I want people to engage with it, understand it, and work to integrate the impulses that cause it.  I want to sensitize the reader to the horror a victim experiences so that they will empathize with them.  Hopefully that empathy becomes part of the way they approach the world.  And, I want to sensitize the reader to the darkness that might lead someone to victimize someone in that way.  I want people to empathize with the perpetrator because he is us and he won’t go away by ignoring him. Perhaps that sensitivity will lead to solutions.

Does graphic horror desensitize?  In a world where drone strikes are discussed as body counts and dead innocents are referred to as collateral damage, I think maybe we’d be more sensitive if our noses were rubbed in the smell of burned fleshed and the gore of shattered bodies a little more often.  Go watch graphic scenes of torture in films like Hostel or Martyrs and see if you can still stomach the idea of “enhanced interrogation” or still think it’s okay to farm out information gathering to nations with less restrictive rules.  Irreversible does not make me want to victimize women.  It makes me, by engaging my primal emotions, want to resist their victimization.

So go on out there and fight desensitization.  Get elbow deep in the gutter.  Imagine the out of control.  Empathize with the light by entering the darkness.  Write some extreme fiction.  It can be a public service.