Friday, January 18, 2008

The Writer in the Wild

The Writer is a strange beast. Mostly confined to the corners of large rooms and in the shadows of his own, The Writer manages to keep a low profile as he pecks away at the keyboard of a laptop.

Some breeds of Writer find it advantageous, if only to their own twisted notion of how they're seen by others, to keep a laptop that is at least four years behind the curve. They appear to consider it an act of defiance. A sort of "nuts to you!" middle-finger waving at the status quo.

One particular Writer even has a sticker on his that displays this defiance of popular culture. It says "Who says I want to fit in." It is missing the question mark. Despite this grammatical faux-pas, the Writer in question has been known to chuckle to himself over the grand aptness of it.

Little is known about the mating habits of Writers, given their secretive nature. One may occasionally acquire a girlfriend, but this is seen as more of an exception to the rule than the societal norm. When questioned about their aversion to Writers, women are pretty honest.

"They don't bathe often enough," the women say. And "He's always asking me questions. The way he carries that notepad around and scribbles in it whenever we talk makes me nervous. I've seen movies. That's the way the good serial killers always pick their next victim."

In the public, Writers with girlfriends can be identified as the ones who have to be led around by the hand. The women, with purpose in their stride and a gleam in their eye move with a marked determination, while their Writer clings to their hand like a length of toilet paper to a shoe. The Writer, freed of the need to navigate, stares around vacantly, trying occasionally to get at his notepad with his free hand. He is a congenital bumbler. Left to his own devices in a shopping mall, he would wander around aimlessly, and given enough time and bad luck, drown in a fountain.

Writers in automobiles are the ones on the rumble strips. One of the most frequent health problems experienced by Writers is a chronic tingling of the buttocks due to extended exposure to highway edges.

The Writer is a close relative of The Photographer. They share the vacant stare, bumbling gait and lack of internal compass, as well as the tendency to consider themselves merely observers on the bank of the mainstream. It is not completely understood whether or not this is an offshoot of some "elitist" gene or merely a lack of an "empathy" or "gracefulness" one. As a result, The Writer and The Photographer tend to be viewed with distaste by men who live in the suburbs and still wear cowboy hats.

"I dunno whur they gits off, with their highfalutin' attitude. I mean, they think they's better than me, or summat," said Seattle resident and self-described "All-American freedom-loving, pansy-kicking badass," John "Jake" Smiffington IV. This man works in an office complex, drives a giant pickup truck and has a deer head (purchased from Wal-Mart) in his foyer at home. "Lookit the way this 'un makes it look like I tawks, fer Gingrich's sake!" added the man, discharging a shotgun into the sky and yelling epithets at a passing hybrid car.

The characteristics of The Writer tend to become amplified under the influence of caffeine. In the same way that hummingbirds seek nectar, Writers seek caffeinated beverages. Most of them, if asked, say that it gives them an edge. Something that makes them jittery and inattentive. Something that keeps them from sitting still and encourages them leave the keyboard to check on the dishwasher, or put in a load of laundry. Caffeine's brightening effect on creativity is well documented, but most studies indicate that it causes Writers to wander off and stare at things, so their attraction to it is poorly understood.

Yes indeed, The Writer is a complex and annoying entity. Further study is needed, of course, but a shortage of people with the requisite patience is a hindrance.


Jack W. Regan said...

This post reminds me of the Robert Benchley pieces I've been reading. As I have said before, my dear FooDaddy, you are at your best with this sort of material.

This piece is witty, engaging, and even flirts with sophistication. It is well-written, as well, although periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, but that is a petty thing and merely a pet peeve of mine. If I pet it awhile, it will go away, leaving only the high praise I have heaped.

I sincerely hope to see more of this manner of literaritude from you, as you do it so well.

Paul FooDaddy Brand said...

Ahh. That "where to put commas and periods where quotation marks is concerned" has always been a bit of a confusement to me.

I shall go back and edit that.

I also wish to perform other editations, but have yet to decide where to put them.

Thanks for your prodigious heap of praise! It shall make for fine literary sledding, as it is of proper girthitude.

Jack W. Regan said...

That's a nifty graphic, too. How'd you make the typewriter bar appear over the words on the inserted page? I need schooling in Photoshoppery, as I suck at it. Every time I open it up, the abundance of options scare me and I begin to whimper. Embarrassing for us manly types, to say the least.

Paul FooDaddy Brand said...

I positioned the words, "rasterized" the text layer (turned it into pixels rather than vectors) and then used various methods of erasure to clear the bar.

Jack W. Regan said...

Yes, the "comma/period" thing is confusing and I found myself doing it several different ways, depending on the piece I was writing, my mood and mental state, and various other factors that had nothing to do with the actual writing process.

Finally, I deigned to actually do some research and found a good rule of thumb offered by several reputable grammar sources. One such, the "Essentials of English" (fifth edition) states thus: "Periods and commas always placed inside end quotation marks. Colons and semicolons are always placed outside end quotation marks. Other marks [exclamation/question] are placed where they logically belong..."

I mention this not to be a smartass, by the way, but because I would want it to be mentioned to me.

Paul FooDaddy Brand said...

Excellent! A hard-and-fast (more or less) rule on that confusing bit of language'ry. Thanks, TSB!

I hope the Photoshop trickery will find itself useful to you as well.

Anonymous said...

FD has a copy of Strunk & White on him somewhere. Consult that, since I always say to learn to write good one must needs consult good writers. But it turns out that this little rule is geographic, like the metric system: What TSB is describing is the American way, and it turns out I was taught the British way, which puts the punctuation outside the quotesmarks! I had no idea this was the case until this discussion popped up. This site is a good condensation of the online consensus:

Jack W. Regan said...

First, one should consult several different sources. Not that Strunk & White aren't fine folks, but I think consensus (as FooDaddy's FooDaddy mentioned) is good. Second, as odd as this may sound, appearance does matter on the printed page and I will argue that: “Carefree” means “free from care or anxiety.” (American style) is classier than “Carefree” means “free from care or anxiety”. (British style) The latter just looks clunkier and the former doesn't introduce confusion. About the only exception to this rule I can think of, would be software and technical writing, where the inside placement of a comma could interfere with the 'puter language, such as website addresses or hard drive directories.

Also, while I admire British literature greatly, I must point that it is not flawless and we would do well not to intoxicated by their learned accents. For example, the serial comma is thought by some to be American, although it is used by at least one major British newspaper, the BBC, and recommended by Oxford University Press and Fowler's Modern English Usage.

Most of the posting on this awesome Blog does not employ the serial comma (using a comma before "and" in a listing), but I contend that it is by far the preferable option. I've already prattled on to a dulling length, so I'll expound.

The comma, in my view, is used for two things: clarity and rhythm. Consider the following, serial comma-endowed sentence, if you will:
"I want eggs, ham, and cheese."

And now this:
"I want eggs, ham and cheese."

Read the first example aloud, using the commas for rhythm, as a reader will do:
"I want eggs (pause), ham (pause), and cheese."

Now try it without the final comma:
"I want eggs (pause), hamandcheese!"

You can see there is a sense of rushing at the end of the second sentence (even without my HTML tinkering) and this is bad for textual rhythm. Prose is the same as music. It should have meter, and the comma is the single best way for it. (Notice the use of the comma before the "and." It prevented a confusing sentence, wherein the reader might have assumed I said, "It should have meter and the comma..." It wouldn't been until the end of the sentence when they would have realized their mistake and been forced to reread, something no reader should be forced to do.)

The serial comma is great for clarity, as I mentioned. Take this example, if you're still breathing and can pay the electric bill you'll get for leaving your monitor on long enough to read this comment:
"I shop at Kohl's, Best Buy, Meijer and Schuler's."

Now, we all know that Meijer and Wal-Mart are two different stores. But consider the poor chap who didn't know this. In this case, without a final comma, he might well assume that "Meijer and Schuler's" was a single store. This sort of ambiguity can spill all over the place, leading to all sorts of amusing sentence mangling.

Anyway, I've completely lost track of what the subject was, so I'm going to quit now. Understand, however, that I don't wax eloquent because I consider myself an expert in grammar. Far from it. But I am passionate about the subject and hope that others will join in the discussion. Man, my fingers hurt.

Jacob Nordby said...

A little point of order and then some lavish, fawning, sycophantic praise.

First, the small nudge toward more accurate colloquial descriptions. Ahem...adjusts underwear and smudged reading glasses...having lived in or near Seattle myself, I will just say that you will find almost no examples of the rhinestone corporate cowboy you so amusingly described. If you did, this goober wouldn't say things like "summat" or "lookit" or "highfalutin'".

In very fact, Seattle-ites are known for speech that is nearly free of regional accent (seriously) and they tend to use some of the best grammar around. This is true. I hath said it.

However, I will grant you that there are many cases of the insufferable idiot you created roaming around the edges of my fair Boise. They are not native to Idaho (usually) but have migrated here because of the more forgiving gun laws and a decided lack of "colored folk". Hmmmph. I wish they would stay in Alabama and diddle their hounds or sisters (should you be able to tell them apart) down there.

OK, now for some really good sychopantery.

(a little sonnet to Foo shall ensue)

Such An One As Foo

Dear Foo
His eyes are blue
...well, not really
but his heart is true
...ok, I lied but why do you care
he writes real good
and sometimes even has a girlfriend
but anyway
the thing is
what I really mean
he writes the sweetest things
I've ever seen


Pickle Weasel

Paul FooDaddy Brand said...

Father-Type: You got learned the British commas, eh? Well, ain't that spanky! My father's from another land! Or, at least his learnin' be. Close enough! I must bust out that copy of Skunk'n'Might and read up on this dill-puckery.

TSB: I had similar complaints in school whenever the English teacher would pull out the rulebook and red-tipped marker and ding me for something like the serial comma, or for smashing together two words like "rule" and "book." I have actually made the argument that it's necessary in a list when you want to separate two things that have "and" in them already. Your example of shopping centers does this well. I will use restaurants.

"I done ate at Steak and Shake and Max and Erma's, and I'm a fat guy now!"


"I done at at Steak and Shake, and Max and Erma's, and I'm a fat guy now!"

Of course, those restaurant names could have a 'n' or & in between the pieces of their name, and then the serial comma (didn't even know it was called that until you used it as an example) wouldn't be quite as effective.

KnuckleWeasel: I used Seattle just for those reasons. They seem a relatively sophisticated lot from wheat (very) little I know about 'em, so an urban cowboy would seem out of place there.

Because they seem out of place anywhere, except around gatherings of cows. On real ranches.

Your FooSonnet made me laugh, then cry, and then a little hungry. I think that last one is because Dad sent me an email mentioning McMuffins, and I read it in between Comments here.

I am partial to McMuffins, so I am.

So, in closing, I thank you all for being so knowledgeable and keen!

Paul FooDaddy Brand said...

"From what wheat (very) little I know about 'em..."

Crap. A big, greasy mistake right in the middle of a grammatical diatribe.


Anonymous said...

I wish that I could join your discussion, however I was never very good at all this grammar stuff.

(disclaimer:TSB I apologize in advance if my commas and such are not correct)

I must say that the Writer is an interesting breed.

As a girlfriend of this particular breed, I must say it is not all the bad. I do enjoy leading him around by the hand, so that while he is looking around at everything he does not bump, smash, or otherwise collide with anything.

It is rather fun however I do receive a few strange looks from time to time.

Paul FooDaddy Brand said...

CCG: I just wanted to thank you for the hand-leading. Without you, I would have many a bruise on my shins and hips.

Jack W. Regan said...

Now that lends an amusing mental picture. Curvy leading FooDaddy around by one hand, while he clutches his laptop in the other and gazes about in wonder.

"No, no," says CCG. "Do not speak to the people. Sit down. No, over here. Stop eating the plant."

Anonymous said...

Yes, I've overheard conversations just like that, TSB.

"Fart not, my love", she will say, her voice low and melodious, on any given night, guiding him gently ever onward to humanhood."For lo, your humanhood is yonder in the onward direction, not here in the den of stinky things".

His response is usually the intestinal equivalent of "For the love of God, Montresor!" which is one of my favorite lines of Poe. Makes a dad proud.

BTW-- nice Elton John reference on the P-Weasel's part.

Paul FooDaddy Brand said...

Elton John? As a non-expert when it comes to EJ, you're going to have to explain it.

"In the den of stinky things?" Is that the bathroom? You're implying that she has to lead me out of there, lest I wander hopelessly about the toilet?

Probably a good bet.

Anonymous said...

Yes we would not want you to wander hopelessly about the toilet. Don't worry I will save you.

I won't let you eat the plants either, not because I am mean, but because I care about you. you eating fake plants is not a good idea.

Anonymous said...

You're an EJ initiate if like me you get a kick out of Corrective Soles' 2000 hit Perfect Day

PW's ode is a light parody of Bernie Taupin's lyrics for E.J.'s 1969 hit, Your Song.

Not the baffroom, foo! Your reply to someone who gently asked you not to break wind would be an eloquent, literate windbreaker, wouldn't it? in the den, or at Grandiosity Mall? So yeah. "Have another perfect [phbthbthbth!] day."

Jacob Nordby said...

I suppose that, by trying to pretend he doesn't know every word of every Elton John song by heart (and do the EJ Friday Night Karaoke as often as possible), Foodaddy is attempting mask his flaming homosexuality (not that there's anything wrong with that, naturally).

See how, by using a sentence of blindingly complex structure, I can describe Foo's musical habits AND paint him neatly into a sexual orientation corner?

Very clever, if you ask me. Now poor Foo must do what is nearly impossible and PROVE that he is NOT gay.

FooDaddy, quit farting! That proves nothing. Nor do the Playboy subscriptions.

Curvy Cosmo Girl is a good start, but I still haven't seen any pitchers of her, so I guess time will just have to tell.

Anyway, Crackpappy, good catch on the EJ reference. I kept hoping somebody would snag it.