I am the Human Spell Check

Bring me your misspelled words and incomplete sentences.

In school, I never studied for spelling tests (at least I never needed to) and I always got a “104” (perfect score plus I got the “challenge words” right as well).  The English language, as random and pieced-together as it is, has always made sense to me.  I wasn’t too bothered with the fact that the word “know” has a silent “k” (originally it was pronounced).  Nor was I ever really annoyed with the “I before E except after C” rule.

Somehow I’ve made sense out of the consistent inconsistency of our junkyard Spumoni language, borrowed mainly from our European ancestors- and also surprisingly from Yiddish, the universal language of the Jews, being that there are almost exactly the same number of Jews living in America as there are in Israel; accordingly, the United States has the 2nd highest Jewish population in the world.  Examples of adopted Yiddish words – bagel, klutz, schlub, schmooze, schmuck, shtick, schnozzle, tush, schlong.

And I’m convinced that my love of words has a lot to do with why I don’t really have a Southern accent, despite only living in the South (AL, FL, VA, TN).  Because I know how words are supposed to sound.  It’s not “ahss”, it’s “ice”.  It’s not “Toeyohduh”, it’s “Toyota”.  To speak in any distinct accent would be to stray from the standard American way of speaking.  I’m overaware of the way I pronounce words- only in rare occasions does a hint of Alabama come out of me.

I am the person in any given room who people ask, “How do you spell ‘initiate’”?  Then immediately, the word pops up in a translucent white font outlined in black, in my head.  I am that guy.  That can always save the day in times of a spelling crisis.  In college, I was the guy that all my dorm mates would bring their papers to for me to correct them the night before they were due.  And not only was it fun for me, but I took pride it doing it.

The downside of being a human spell check: I’m horrible at math and science.

The irony of writing about being a human spell check: I misspelled the word “spell check” in the title for this post by combining two words as one.  The real spell check caught it for me.

For a similar post by a similar but different writer, read http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/05/12/99-grammar/.

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Some People Like Being Offended and/or Taking Advantage of Pointing Out a Person’s Perceived Faux Pas So They Can Correct Them and Feel Empowered by It

There’s more than one way to say, “You’re wrong and I’m right.”

I admit that part of the joy I get in reading the online articles of other writers who are much more popular and commercialized than I am is from skimming through the hundreds of opinionated comments that people leave at the bottom of the post: People on both sides of the issue trying to prove both the author and/or each other wrong.  Here’s an example I effortlessly found this morning: http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/Insurance/AssessYourNeeds/weston-7-insurance-myths-that-could-cost-you.aspx

And it often starts with one person who slightly takes the author’s words to an extreme context to where they can become offended.  Therefore, they’re happy because now they get to leave a comment to tell off the writer, which indeed draws a flood of other commenters disagreeing with the first person.  And so the snowball grows. 

For many people, their desperation for a sense of power is so strong that they make themselves a sort of victim, offended by the slightest opinion of someone who does have some amount of control or influence over others- in this case, an online author.  A website where this tends to happen regularly is The Grio.  Here’s an example:

http://www.thegrio.com/specials/be-well-be-healthy/how-obesity-has-become-a-part-of-black-culture.php

Of course the easily offended don’t just get their kicks from the Online World, they practice their form of self-psychosis in the real world too.  Not too long ago I offended someone when I bought a snack for them (they gave me the money for it up front) and I didn’t bring it back to them in a separate container from the one I got for myself.  It all worked out because they ended up giving me theirs without me paying them back- but still, the person made a scene over something very petty, in front of several other people.  So I felt compelled to apologize- if for no other reason, because I felt awkward.  (But if anyone should have been offended, I’d like to think it should have been me- for the sense of slight public humiliation I went through in the process.)

Events like that have taught me to apologize less.  It’s not always my fault when a person is offended (though it often is).  I’m learning to be better about sorting out the people who I indeed hurt through my lack of sensitivity and those who are simply chronic Glass Joe’s.  So hear this, people who are offended way too easily:

Sorry, but I’m just not that sorry anymore.

Being Engaging, Yet Never Really Standing on Dangerous Ground: My First 30,000 Hits on WordPress

Thanks for 30,000 hits.

I think it should be a sin to bore people.  But it’s an insult to art when an artist has to resort to shock value to get a person’s attention.  Somewhere in between Stale Familiarity and Offensive Toxicity is a place called Spunky Creativity.  Off-beat and optimistic.  That’s the place I try to write from.

Writers, by nature, put themselves in a vulnerable position.  Anytime I publish a post that I know has potential to be popular, I usually am suppressing at least a little bit of anxiousness for it.  Because I am implementing (yet testing the limits of) #6 of The Code:  “Be edgy but not controversial.”

Will it be controversial instead of just edgy?  Will I somehow offend a reader unknowingly?  Will I expose too much of myself in the writing, seeming like a know-it-all, a jerk, or douche?

My favorite author, Michael Chabon, referenced this thought process in his newest nonfiction book, Manhood for Amateurs: “Anything good that I have written has, at some point during its composition, left me feeling uneasy and afraid.  It has seemed, for a moment, to put me at risk.”

As it tends to be the case, the edgiest posts I write end up becoming my personal favorites and the ones I am proudest of.  Because they have the most substance.  The most creativity.  And are hopefully the most engaging.

Here are several examples: The Cannabis Conspiracy, Introduction; Modern Day Scarlet Letters: R&B; Free Marriage Advice; Singleness; The Gift No One Really Wants; The Funny Thing about Jews; Emotionally Charged Words; Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People ; Water into Wine; BS Detector; What is a Christian Nation, Anyway?; Religious Views on Facebook Profiles

Grabbing a reader’s attention is one thing.  But having what I wrote stay in their head for a day or two, having them ponder about it, having them share that same idea to others either through conversation or by my forwarding my link, having them save my website in their favorites, well, that’s another thing.

It’s important to me that my website is not a gimmick, a trend, or anything that can be described as “cute”.  But I also have to make sure I’m not sparking a political or religious debate.  Because if what I write is in deed controversial (as opposed to just being edgy), I could wind up in a situation where my post gets attention just because of the long trail of comments of people arguing with each other, themselves, and me over the open-ended content I wrote about.

That’s not for me.  Let other people argue. (Often, controversial topics aren’t new and fresh anyway.)

That’s one of the reasons that my current #2 post of all time, Capital Punishment, In Theory, remains popular.  In it, I don’t question whether or not capital punishment is wrong or right.  I question those who support capital punishment with “could you be the one to pull the trigger if it was up to you?”  That’s not controversial, that’s deep.  And edgy.

If nothing else, when I write, I am simply trying to entertain myself.  So if I’m not intrigued by the material I write about, I figure no one else will be either.

Other posts of this “10,000 Hits” series:

Being Down to Earth, Yet Never Really Touching the Ground (posted April 11, 2010)

Being Original, Yet Never Really Breaking New Ground (posted May 18, 2010)

The Art of Storytelling: How to Be a Good Storyteller- Start in the Action or Plot, Note the Irony and Comedy, Then Do a Quick Recap

I’m not good at it.  I just follow a formula I made up.

Last month my Italian second cousin Phyllis from Kenosha, Wisconsin left me a comment on my post People Watching in Nashville Traffic, saying, “I love your stories!”  Until then, it had never crossed my mind that I even told stories.  I’ve always seen myself as a younger Grandfather Time- the voice of a man who keeps one foot in the past and one in the present, in order to keep a nostalgic feel on everything “new” idea I write.  Just an involved narrator.

I’ve always thought of myself as a commentator on life.  A writer of nonfiction.  There’s no hesitation in me admitting I’m no good at making up stories- fiction is something I am only a spectator of, not a creator.  What I can do is embellish the story that is already there.

Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon

By connecting the facts to old school pop culture references with a subtle smart Alec touch.  Finding ways to make the ordinary occurrences of life seem more interesting than they are.  My favorite author, Michael Chabon, refers to it in his book Maps and Legends, as “the artist’s urge to discover a pattern in, or derive a meaning from, the random facts of the world”.

 

And that’s basically what I’m doing.  And I get so much out of it.  It makes me feel like, in a sense, I’m about to prove the world’s wisest man ever, King Solomon, wrong, when he said there’s nothing new under the sun.  (Though he’s still obviously right.)

Because everyday life events actually are more interesting than they seem.  They may just need to be seen from a reversed diagonal angle.

So now I’m embracing the fact that intermittent in all my quirky observations are actually little stories.  The tag “storyteller” became even more real to me yesterday as I was conspiring with my sister to write Which Role Do You Play in Your Family? When I asked her what my roles are, the word “storyteller” came up write away.

There are certain things about yourself you can only learn from other people.

Frank Lapidus

Maybe my surprise in all this is the connotation that the word “storyteller” conjures up in my head.  Some eccentric, animated man looking like Frank Lapidus from LOST (for some unknown reason) telling a corny ghost story to a bunch of kids gathered around a campfire who all gasp at the end of the tale when he says, “And the ghost of Tom Joad still haunts this campground today in the form of the wolf that killed him…”  And of course, right as he finishes that sentence, the storyteller’s buddy, who has been hanging out in the woods waiting for his cue, howls at the top of his lungs, for dramatic effect.

 

But now I get it.  Storytellers can also recite true stories.  Nonfiction.  That is my specialty.  And now that I better understand who I am as a writer and communicator, I am starting to realize my frustration when people don’t tell stories the way I like to tell them (and hear them).

Like the guy at work who drags out the end of the story until the last sentence.  And I think to myself, “You can’t do that!” Because I get annoyed waiting to find out the point of the story and I stop listening and start thinking about something else, and whatever I start thinking about instead ends up becoming a new post on this site a few days later.

Or the friend of a friend who uses the punch line or climax of the story as the opening line.  Again, “You can’t do that!”  Because then I feel like there’s really no point in sitting around to hear all the details.

What that tells me about my own form of storytelling is that I have a formula for it:

1)     Start the story in the first moment of action and/or the plotline.

2)     Get to the resolution of the story by the second paragraph, approximately 1/3rd or halfway through the length of the post (or if the story is being told orally, 1/3rd or halfway through the time set aside to tell the story).

3)     Spend the rest of the time or page space picking out the irony and humor of the story’s events.  By not ending the story when the story actually ends, but instead, ending on an provoking or comedic recap note, it opens up the door for the listeners to share in the story- because the story is resolved, yet left open-ended.  (Like the finale of LOST.)

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on storytelling, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one