Sunday, January 27, 2019

Persistence is Spelled Permeance

No this is not a metaphor,  although I'm sure we can come up with something about permeating barriers. This is a normal dyslexic mistake I often make when perusing the spell check choices. I remember how to spell part of the word, and if it looks similar to the word offered, I pick it. Often this leads to hilarious results.

My first great spell check exchange was when I was thirteen and had written a story about a student having to say goodbye to his teacher before being deported. There was nothing funny about this goodbye scene, or at least nothing funny that I had intended. So you can imagine my surprise when my teacher burst out laughing.  She laughed for a good whole minute before being able to tell me what she was laughing at. She read out loud a line from my paper: "I didn't know people could cry tires." You all know what I meant, but when I saw 'tires' it processed as 'tears' in my brain.

Another mistake I made happens to be on the cruder side, but is too funny not to share. I was writing my first draft for an article in my high school newspaper. I was comparing teaching styles of two English teachers whom I had great respect for. I submitted my first draft to the editor who couldn't control her laughter. The students crowded around her wondering what was so hilarious. She had trouble catching her breath before reading out the words, "he likes to get down to perverted arguments on a regular basis in the classroom".  I meant to say 'persuasive', but we all had a good laugh.

Since I have trouble constructing and deconstructing phoneme ( like Pat vs. Pad) it makes spelling almost impossible for me to master. Throw in silent letters, and difficulty in memorizing sequences and I'm sunk. Spell check is a dyslexic's best friend and has been mine for many years. But like most friends, we have our quarrels. As my English teacher used to love to say, "spelling a word correctly is simply the beginning, the word must be spelled correctly and have a proper place in the sentence."

Take this sentence for example. "There are tows in the closet," said Eva. Can you guess what I was trying to write?  Hint-they are big and fluffy and you can't take a shower without one. Yes, it's towels. Grammer check didn't even catch that one. What did?  My second favorite writing tool. Microsoft Word has a feature where the text can be read back to you aloud. I can't tell you how many mistakes I catch when I hear what I've actually written. Once I finish writing a page or chapter I have Word read it back to me. You can choose the speed and voice. Sometimes I have an American male narrator, or sometimes I go for a female from Britain. Both voices reveal my errors without the least bit of judgment. 

I want to make people laugh with me, not at me, but I've come to the conclusion that humor is humor.  Mistakes happen, I can cry about the fact that I make so many or laugh along with the people who catch them.  Learning to laugh at yourself is important. Luckily, I get the chance to do it often. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Don’t Say That!

To offend or not to offend, that is the question. I have spent my whole life trying to avoid upsetting people, my inclination is to shy away from controversy. However, as a writer, I feel it is part of my job to delve into what makes people feel uncomfortable, to provocate and challenge the norm. If I really wanted to be sure I never ever offended anyone, I would stick to writing about rocks and daisies. Fear of offending has blocked more of my writing than illness and fear of rejection combined. I can get over illness, I can recover from rejection, but the idea that I may have caused another being pain is shattering.

Some examples of questions I struggle with daily include:

  • Should a character swear when the scene calls for it? And believe me, there are plenty of scenes which call for swearing.
  • What about including a romantic scene and how far should I take it?
  • How do I add diverse characters in a way that is respectful of their culture without veering into stereotypes?
I once had a beta reader give feedback that my joke about communism was offensive to socialists. I told her that the joke was a reference to the former USSR and had nothing to do with socialism.  No good, she still thought I should remove it.

Then there was the scene where my main character’s love interest teaches her about gun safety. He also opens up to her about his experience in the military. There is no politics spoken, no sides are taken, no one was hurt, everything was legal. Yet I was told this scene is offensive because guns are offensive.

I haven’t even come to the stories which include people of faith.  No one wants to see their laws and customs broken. I can scream at the top of my lungs- characters misbehave! It’s how the story grows and evolves. I’m not targeting religion, I’m simply writing about characters that happen to be religious and human. No matter, it rubs some people the wrong way and so it must go.

All these scenes and more have kept me up at night and away from my computer for days; wondering if I should change them or not.  I have done research on this topic and it seems I have three options when dealing with someone who may be offended by my writing; concede, ignore or fight.

I personally would not want my shelves filled with books echoing all the same messages. I read to understand other’s perspectives, even if it differs from my own. What happened to the art of civil debate? Can we ever discuss ideas without descending into a mudslinging, head bashing brawl?  I’ve encountered many scrapes along the road to the middle ground, but I’m determined to get there. I must let fear go. Not because I wish to offend others, but because you can’t learn from characters that are perfect, not to mention how boring the story would be. I will continue to listen to others in the effort to gain a perspective beyond myself.  I believe we must show each other grace, kindness, and respect, even when our opinions differ.  And when we don’t’ see eye to eye, I hope we can put down our pitchforks and pick up generosity and agree to disagree. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

I Have a Secret

I have a secret.  I am a writer.  I know that doesn’t sound like much of a secret, lots of people write. But writing is a conversation. I am asking readers to listen, which means I think I must have something worthy to say.

I began writing when I was eight years old. Plots and characters would appear in my mind during chores and my free time. But when I put pen to paper, I struggled. My dyslexia always getting in the way.  I had my first success when I was thirteen, winning a national writing contest. I won honorable mention the year later in the same competition.  My second achievement was an article I wrote for the school newspaper which was reprinted in two local newspapers, one in Georgia and the other in Charleston SC. 

Then I had my first major failure in college when I took the writing placement exams. The exam’s main purpose was to evaluate if a student could read and write English on a basic level. I failed the writing exam, twice. I found out later it was due to my spelling and grammar errors. The failure knocked any hope I had of being a career writer out of my mind. I thought writers don’t fail elementary placement exams, ever.

So, I shelved my dreams, instead choosing to go for something for practical; social work. I forgot all about writing until about five years ago when it saved my life. I had just moved to Israel and was struggling.  I was told to just learn Hebrew, and all would be well. I went to Ulpan for three years; a course for new immigrants to study the language. I also tried Rosetta Stone, tutors and Duolingo. My Hebrew level stayed the same, basic. I felt confused and stupid every single day.  I thought about returning to America, but my family was so happy here. I’d be selfish to make them go back.  Life became lifeless. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kipper came around and I didn’t ask for good health or long life, in fact, I didn’t ask for life at all. I began saying goodbye. That’s when a small voice whispered, “write.”

I hushed it at first, telling it that I’m dyslexic and can’t even pass a straightforward writing exam. I was afraid of people’s judgment, reproval, and rejection.  The voice made me a deal, however. Write for a year, just one year and see what happens. So, I sat down to my computer and I wrote. Words became pages and soon pages became chapters and then chapters became books.
Now that you know my secret, I hope you will share my journey as my first manuscript makes its way into the world.


In my next post, I will explore censorship and overcoming my need for approval.