Saturday, December 31, 2011

Parvum Opus 393: Conascend with Me

It’s not that the world has run out of material for Parvum Opus to kvetch about. Maybe next year I’ll get back to a more frequent schedule. This year I’ve worked on other things.
            When I was a little kid I had an unformulated desire to publish. I didn’t write much to speak of when I was a child, outside of school, but I remember wanting to make a book out of a piece of cardboard. I think I copied the alphabet on it. I wasn’t precocious enough to really make a book, though. But eventually I began to write, and now I can publish too, thanks to new technology. I write, edit, and design the covers; I have a new publishing name, Who Art, and designed the Who Art logo too. You might say I’m postcocious. If I were an actor I guess I’d want to direct.
            So now I’m putting my writing (much of which I already published as e-books) onto real paper. Then I will continue with the epistolary biography of my late high school Spanish teacher, Ellen Rowe (who contributed a bit to the early Parvum Opus columns), as well as other new writing projects.

·         I’ve just published the first year of collected Parvum Opus columns in paperback, now online at CreateSpace and also on Amazon.
·         Also now in paperback is The Wish Book, a bit of brain candy, lots of fun (CreateSpace and Amazon). I used this verse by Yeats from The Circus Animals’ Desertion as the coda to the novella:
Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start
In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.
·         The Man from Scratch will be available in a few days on CreateSpace, and on Amazon within a week or two after that. It’s a murder mystery about cloning and the ethics of genetic engineering. Bitterly humorous but not as sweet as The Wish Book (and not suitable for kids).
·         When Sonny Gets Blue is an audio book, the first volume of an autobiography by my friend Howard Sonny Robertson (CreateSpace and Amazon). I produced it but it’s entirely Sonny’s voice. Fascinating.

            CreateSpace is an excellent Amazon affiliate for DIY publishing and distributing books, CDs, and videos. You do everything online, for nothing or next to nothing, and you end up with a real book. I learned about CreateSpace from reader Dave DeBronkart, who has published two books, also as both Kindle books and paperbacks: 

Thanx and a tip of the Keith Stephens hat to Dave DaBee.

In case you weren’t sure, now we know that it’s the vowels, at least in advertising. Stanford linguistics professor Dan Jurafsky says so. All along I thought it was the consonants. Professor Jurafsky has a blog on the language of food. I think that boy is hungry. Somebody throw him a turkey leg.

(Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, so right now I’ll interrupt my writing for some early festive sipping:  St. Germain liqueur. Good sprinkled on corned beef too, by the way.)

Years ago I was an associate editor for a large Midwestern university, in the publications department, which was next door to the news department, all of which was an arm of the public relations office responsible for fund-raising. One day a hard-hitting journalism student hit me hard with this question:  What if the university needed money for something? Would we cover it up, or write about it, he probed shrewdly. I explained that our office was all about asking for money, all the time, for everything.
            He was probably a classmate of the girl who wrote in the school paper that she was disappointed by London. She’d just come back from her first visit, and asked plaintively, Where were the tickertape parades? A British professor responded that it’s New York, not London, that is noted for tickertape parades. Even New York doesn’t have them every day. Too bad she couldn’t find some other way to amuse herself in London.

I have other stories from that editorial job that will appear in a future novel. I just add in the murders.

Or, Whatever happened to the Jutes?
The Open University has a clever video cartoon about the history of the English language, all told in only 11:21 minutes.
The Open University is European, and not all cartoons.

Dave DaBee tipped me to the Bad Sex Writing Award, sponsored by the Literary Review. Actually I’d mentioned this award in 2009 in PO 350.
            The 2010 winner, whose name doesn’t deserve a mention but you can find it along with his book title on the web site, wrote this:

Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her.

I suggest to any ladies and gentlemen out there contemplating sex for the first time with someone that you ask the object of your speculation to give you an erotic writing sample first (along with the blood test).

Why do we have the word “condescending” but not “conascending”? If you condescend, you deign to go down to someone else’s level. But don’t we attempt to go up to a higher level at times?
            I think we should try introducing this new coinage as a group Parvum Opus project. “We will conascend to add to the English vocabulary.”

Why do we have the word “suburbia” but not “urbia”? “Suburbia” is a bit different from “the suburbs” which simply refers to the communities that surround a city, the small towns and residential areas. But “suburbia” usually implies a state of mind and a way of life, and is often derogatory. People who sneer “suburbia” usually grew up there and think they became cool when they left.
            So why not “urbia” as a companion word? Its meaning would depend on who uses it. I leave that to you — “You know the type, he lives in urbia.” Send your definitions, and we’ll try to introduce that word too.

… but not always logical.
            On a reality TV show about people who get done in by their own dangerous exotic pets, the narrator said:  “James had a fascination for snakes.” This means that the snakes were fascinated by him. It should have been, “James had a fascination with snakes.” (He was fascinated by them.)
            Now it’s true that the preposition “for” seems ambiguous here since it can be used with different meaning in other formations, e.g., “James had a weakness for snakes.” (He was a sucker for their cold little eyes.) But that doesn’t matter. The rule, and the idiom, are what they are. Yes, I understood the meaning, but my attention shouldn’t have been distracted by the misuse of “for” in this instance.

I don’t know when the expression “man up” came into use. It means, of course, to act like a man, do your duty, show courage, etc. Same as “cowboy up”. I recently heard “rooster up” — didn’t note the context, but it must be more like trying to be aggressively dominant, not quite the same as to cowboy up.

A clumber is a type of field spaniel that hunts silently. Neat, huh?

As I re-read my books in preparation for paperbook publication, I find errors no matter how many times I’ve read them before. Here I reprint a poem I wrote at the end of 2003 about my mistakes — slightly edited.

As Lewis Carroll wrote in preface to “Hiawatha’s Photographing”:
“In an age of imitation, I can claim no special merit for this slight attempt at doing what is known to be so easy. Any fairly practiced writer, with the slightest ear for rhythm, could compose, for hours together, in the easy running metre of ‘The Song of Hiawatha’.”

Thus, my end-of-the-year meditation on doing wrong when I know what’s right:

The Unattainability of Impeccability, or

I’m Not Bothering to Make A New Year’s Resolution This Year

In the bowels of my computer
Or perhaps my nether brain cells
Lives a typographic gremlin
Who cares not that I’m a speller —
Disregards my grammar knowledge —
Laughs to think that I’m a writer
(Let alone pretend to edit) —
And to keep from overheating
I must give my thoughts expression,
And attempt perfect composure
When I lay them on the line.

So the gremlin jerks my fingers,
Struts and frets upon my keyboard,
Clouds with floaters my right eyeball,
Even when I type correctly,
Read and proofread till I cannot
Find and fix another error:
Everything looks just as it should be
But it’s all a sad delusion.

“Tart” is “taart,” not even English.
Verbs do not agree with subjects.
Words drop out and strange ones enter.
Print does not match with my brain waves.
GIGO — input leads to output —
Garbage in means garbage out — does
Not explain the situation
(Though perhaps it’s instant karma
As I point my ink-stained fingers
At others' harmless flubs and glitches).

Like the ancient carpet weavers
Of the fabled looms of Turkey,
Should I thread a flower in backwards,
Use red yarn instead of purple,
Purposely distort the pattern,
So Allah will not be offended
By presumption of perfection?

I don’t need to fool my gremlin
By pretending to be flawless.
No god could ever be affronted
By my warp and woof of language —
Vocabulary, syntax, spelling —
All are ways and means to blunder.
Any god who’s worth a prayer
Won’t find hubris in these pages,
Only lots of gag material.
So I’m assigned a lesser spirit —
Just a lowly typing demon
Copyedits all my writing.

By R. Keith, 2003

Happy New Year, and may all your typos be harmless, unlike the one that said “Love me not” instead of “Love me now”.
~ From Rhonda and Fred, 2011