Saturday, March 6, 2010

Distraction, Making Words Invisible

By Keith Fisher

The writer opened his laptop, and turned it on. His fingers twitched in anticipation, waiting for the software to load. In a moment, he would be able to pour out his innermost thoughts, for the world to admire.

With a shrug and a sigh, he reached out. His fingers curled over the keyboard, index fingers were placed above the F and J keys. Suddenly, the ideas evaporated. He had nothing to say. He leaned back, rested his head on the chair, and cursed at the ceiling. He called himself a fraud, like he had, so many times before.

I’ll bet you’ve all been there, a time or two. I tossed and turned all night, and fell asleep about six a.m. I still hadn’t come up with a subject for this blog. Well, I have several vague ideas, but my mind wouldn’t let me develop them.

When I write a blog, or an article, I try to put a slant on situations from daily life. This week was spent in total immersion reviewing my college math books, studying for a test. I can’t think of a way to incorporate algorithms into writing, although, I’ve done it before.

After studying all week, I knew my mind had turned to mush, when I closed my eyes and I saw equations written on paper. The brain is a marvelous thing, you know. It can recall archived info, totally ignored for years. I’d forgotten how to do much of what I studied, but after a little struggle, my brain kicked in, a light came on, and I remembered. Well, signed numbers remains a mystery, but I think I figured it out.

Anyway, with all the concentration, I haven’t left my mind open for new concepts and metaphors about writing. I did however, take a short break, and noticed something while reading an article in Writer’s Digest.

When generally referring to the human race, in the old days, writer’s and speakers used words like, mankind, him, he, and his. It wasn’t chauvinistic, or exclusionary. After all, God had used those terms in scripture.

Then, as I understand it, in deference to women, we started listing both, with a fore slash, he/she, him/her, and so on. Using the female reference first was also acceptable. That way of writing, however, grew tiring, so many writers added statements at the outset, saying, they would use one or the other, but they were including the whole race.

I’m told the proper way now, is s(he), but we seem to be going back to using one word. We writers are using one gender, or another, without a statement about gender neutrality. I can usually tell whether the author is a man, or a woman, by which word she/he uses. Don’t get me wrong, however, I’m happy with the change, but there is a problem.

The article I read, written by a woman, was about characterization. The writer used a lot of references to a theoretical person, and in every case used female pronouns. As I said above, It doesn’t bother me, but the author used the word she so many times, it drew my attention. Like my mathematical immersion, I was distracted. I wondered if the writer ever developed male characters.

I don’t know if I would have noticed it, if I weren’t a man. I understand how women could feel excluded, but I don’t think gender neutral is the answer either. Perhaps we use those words too much anyway, but how do you write an article on characterization without using a lot of pronouns?

I’ve learned that said, is an invisible word when used in tag lines. Do you think we could learn to ignore he, she, his, and her's too? I know it would make writing easier. I wouldn’t have to worry about so many repetitions.

Good luck with your writing—see you next week.


Braden said...

As a sensitive artistic type, I hate the idea of anyone feeling excluded. Even as a kid, before these more enlightened times, I thought it was a little strange to say "he" when you were refering at least partially to females. At the same time, I find s/he or s(he) quite clunky and aesthetically unappealing.

Your point about "said" being virtually is interesting--it would be nice if we could find something to do about our pronouns.

L.T. Elliot said...

Interesting food for thought. It would be nice if we could find an "invisible" pronoun applicable to both genders.

Darvell Hunt said...

L.T. Elliot wrote:

>It would be nice if we could find
>an "invisible" pronoun applicable
>to both genders.

Curiously, I'm finishing up a middle-grade novel that does exactly that. One word means both "he" or "she." Add an "s" and it turns it into "they" or "them." Or, add an apostrophe and an "s" (or "'s") and it turns the word into his or hers.

It's kind of a fun kids' books that plays with words and language usage. There are lots of other "weird words" as well, too. I'm quite excited about it. My kids sure love it. ;)