Not Your Gramma’s Grammar
The default view of our own language (I’m speaking from the US as a monolingual—feel free to chime in with experience of other native or second languages) is of a rigid thing. A structure. Strict boundaries. Even a trap, sometimes. Penalties may apply.
There’s some justice to that view. Mistake “your” for “you’re” in a post online and you’ll soon hear about it. If you Capitalize random Things as you write—maybe for “emphasis” as our barely-literate President Trump has put it—you look like a fool who doesn’t know the language. Even worse, quotation marks for emphasis. NO THAT’S NOT WHAT THEY’RE FOR STOP IT.
Some things are fairly rigid. But.
Language is made out of thin air. It’s a figment of our imagination, shared. And it changes. It changes all the time. The Latin of the beginning of the Roman republic was different than the Latin of the late Roman Empire. Old English is literally a foreign language for a speaker of modern English, yet the latter evolved from the former (along with a crapload of loanwords from a bunch of other languages, to be sure). And then there’s slang. Notice how fast slang terms come and go? Not many stick around for more than five or ten years. But some do. “Cool” is the biggie, somewhere near a century old at least. A fair number of people still know what World War 2 era FUBAR means. How long has a kissass been a kissass? That’s slang if I’ve ever seen it.
Words are coined to fit new things. Automobile was coined to describe the new motive invention, but the old car which was used for some horsedrawn vehicles survived side-by-side and is used in preference. Laser passed from an acronym used in specialized sciences to an everyday word. Watergate, due to association with Nixon’s scandal, stopped meaning a specific hotel and took on the general meaning of big ass scandal. And then there’s Shakespeare who coined a new word when he felt like it. What a bold display of artistic power that was.
Language may change as we move about the country. As a boy in Wisconsin I’d go down by the store to buy some pop. As an adult in Virginia I go TO the store to buy some SODA.
And language has a sneaky way of shifting for no apparent reason as you watch. I’ve noticed an example.
Even a decade ago, you’d go to the gym to work out and when you got home you’d say “wow, what a workout.” A two part phrasal verb (verb + a different type of word) is/was two separated words BUT ONLY FOR CERTAIN WORDS, but the noun form of these linguistic weirdos would be a compound word (it can also vary by tense). The airplane will take off shortly, so buckle your seatbelts for takeoff.
For some reason I can’t see, for a few words the construction has shifted for some of these phrases, and I have no idea why. All I know is it looks weird when I see them, but it doesn’t seem to look weird to Millennials or younger folks. Do you want to workout? I need a good workout. It looks weird to me, and it probably looks weird to you if you’re over 30ish. Or maybe 40ish. My fingers are not quite on the pulse of bleeding edge English linguistics.
People love to bitch about grammar and spelling mistakes, and talk about “kids these days.”
Some of those mistakes are just normal change, and kids have always shaken things up, linguistic or otherwise. It’s what they’re for.
In the best of Trump voters, there’s deep and intense dissatisfaction. A feeling that anything must be better than the politics of our memory, whether that memory is the few years of the 18 year old first time voter or the several decades of the elder Trump voter.
In many, I think, there’s an approach to politics that is identical to the approach to sport. You choose a team, and you root for them no matter what. Which is a foolish and dangerous approach to politics no matter who you’re voting for, and a core failure of civic education at school, in our communities, and in our homes.
But I’m not talking about the best of Trump voters here. I’m not talking about the rah-rah-go-team voters, or the reluctant ideologues who don’t like Trump but hate anyone outside the GOP more, or the impulse-shopper voters who went with whoever’s last sound bite they liked more, or the strategic ‘he’ll pick SCOTUS justices I’ll like’ voters or the on-the-fence voters who aren’t quite sure, somehow, who best represents their ideas and ethics.
I’m talking about the hard Trump core. The people who love the guy for all he represents. Not the Russian bots and foreign provocateurs, but the ones who sound like Russian bots despite being born and raised in the most corn-and-apple-pie-fed settings across the country.
Theirs is the triumph of the won’t.
They call themselves “alphas” and their perceived enemies (most of the citizenry of the United States of America) “betas” and “cucks”…
…and “feminized” (because being a woman is bad, or means you’re inferior, or means you’re genetically programmed to serve men because quite a few of the Trumpite hard core love them some 19th century pseudoscientific genetic determinism and its cousins eugenics and eugenic-style theories, and possibly phrenology and physiognomy and phlogiston and phlat earth ‘theory’ and who knows what else) and, well, whatever flaccid insults help them feel turgid and ready to lash out violently — because manliness, to them, is not showing humanity, but is found in behaving like a rage-blind distempered ape.
They imagine that by naming themselves dominant and aggressive, that makes them paragons of rock-jawed will.
They have little clue what it really reveals: it doesn’t reveal will. It reveals won’t. A humanity-paralyzing fear of tomorrow, of today, and of anything that doesn’t cater to their fussy, prissy, whiny control-freak demands of reality. A boy-tantrum “I WON’T” to the inevitability of time passing. They’re pissed off that reality itself won’t cut the crusts off their PB&J like mommy used to, but insists on being reality.
The “f–k your feelings” crowd runs on the feeling that they are offended that the universe will not treat them like the little princes and princesses they know they are.
That failure of adapting to the facts of life is their motive force, just as gasoline is the motive force of your car: there are a variety of other ingredients and factors, some important and others not, but without gasoline and failure Trumpism Car DOES. NOT. MOVE.
Of course, that’s not what they see in the mirror.
Trumpites, just like “God Emperor Trump” mostly cast themselves as alpha-male towers of will (or equivalent, or admirers of same, when women) — an army to proudly march back into the middle of the 20th century. Or maybe the 19th or 18th, depending on the Trumpite.
As if a past can ever be re-lived. As if the past was ever half as idyllic and perfect as many of them seem to believe — and an awful lot of them can remember the middle of the 20th century.
It is, after all, the land of their childhoods, the land of their childish dreams and childish ambitions. It is an age of shelter for many, even those whose childhoods were difficult or even abusive — what comes after, dealing with the adult consequences of childhood deprivation and/or abuse, often seems even harder than childhood, especially to the adult living it in the now.
And the remembrance of childhood is veiled in the ignorance of the child, and that is hazed by the passage of decades as well as the bitter demise of childhood dreams at the hands of reality — and both white male Boomers and GenX, key Trump demographics, had big dreams that died hard. Dreams of privilege expanding endlessly, dreams of unlimited world-altering success, dreams of the industry and union driven white middle class boom of the 1950s trending up, up, forever up, three chickens in every pot and three cars in every McMansion garage on a solid acre in the suburbs with a tall white privacy fence and a dog and a cat and 2.5 children educated at the highest standard in the world.
Only, the Boomers grew up to be Yuppies and ‘vulture capitalists’ and GenX grew up to build the dot-com boom and bust and found the ‘gig economy,’ and the ‘leaders’ of both have spent, collectively, the last 40 years gutting that goose that was laying the golden eggs, haven’t they?
There were a lot of rich guts in the American goose. Gutting it has taken a long time. But the work is almost done, now. What do you do with a fowl once you have it gutted?
You cut it into pieces and fry it, that’s what. It’s delicious.
Then you throw the bones away. Might take another 40 years to get there. And the process is part of the problem. The Boomer and Gen X gutters know they’ll almost certainly be dead and gone by the time they’ve gnawed this goose down to the greasy bones.
And here they are, writing and tweeting and bitching and Trump-voting away, flailing about wildly for someone else to blame. We (white male GenX, of which I am one) aren’t about to blame ourselves collectively. We’re all about ego and the importance of the individual, by which we mean ourselves, singular, not any other white male of our generations and certainly not any other individuals beyond that demographic. I, me, me, I. And if something is wrong you must be to blame and that’s why we have Trump yelling at his fans to ‘knock the shit out of’ people who dare voice dissent and why we have ideological zealots stabbing people for not agreeing with their politics (yes, enforcing the ‘correctness’ of their politics by killing those who disagree. Or, in milder form, by calling them rude names on Twitter.) and attacking people for having brown skin or the ‘wrong’ religious/spiritual/ideological/scientific/educated beliefs and knowledge.
Let’s go back, for a moment, to that perceived childhood idyll they’re so hot to “take our country back” to.
For me, childhood was the 1970s. In my memory, there’s sort of a glow around those years. That glow is the better side of my childhood. A glow of carefree play. What did I know or feel of the ugliness of the war in Vietnam or the national humiliation of Richard Nixon or the horror of Kent State?
Little or nothing, of course. I was a boy, a poor boy to be sure, but one who was wandering field and forest of rural Wisconsin with a faithful dog at my side. I was concerned with wading in creeks, gathering hickory nuts, snacking on wild apples and plums and berries, climbing trees, playing games with my friends, reading books, and so on. I wasn’t watching or comprehending much of the news.
The 1970s were no golden age, to be sure. But they look a bit gold to me when I remember them. Because I was a child, and the cares of adulthood were not yet upon me. The 1950s are no different. Or the 1930s, or 1990s. Wherever your childhood is.
Trumpism is no yearning for utopia, and it is no brave embrace of the hard work of making a better tomorrow. It is a fleeing in the hopeless direction of lost childhood. It is a cowering. For tomorrow is always uncertain, and doubly so for those who wish, uselessly, to live in the past.
The thuggish threats and violence and posturing with gun and fist are not strength. They are the bared teeth of the rat backed into a corner — only the Trumpite corner is built of fear-rhetoric and scaremongering taken to heart by the fearful. It’s not real. But more than imaginary, it is a huge corner packed full of a whole chaos of rats constantly telling each other how hellish and awful life and the United States and the world are. And no matter how much the rats tear into each other, no matter what other of their fellows they manage to bite, what they rage against is impossible to bite, because it is tomorrow itself, and the blood they taste is their own.
They’re raging against the only true constant in the universe: change itself. A constant that nothing can turn aside, delay, or even touch.
And, perhaps fittingly for the generations of Boomers and GenXers that are the meat of the ranks of Trumpism, their idea of a better world is an action B-movie. No actual leaders, just stars whose charisma is a scriptwritten Hollywood facade of strength, whose power is all spectacle and cheesy one-liners and costumery (Mike Pence and Scott Walker on Harleys, anyone?) whose will is the will of the moral and ethical and emotional weakling: the temper tantrum, the uncontrolled rage, the urge to mass murder with big guns and exciting stunts and technicolor explosions, and of course lots and lots of angry, violent intimidation.
Bully tools, but played out in real life instead of the theater.
Yearn for an angry, bloody version of childhood all you like, Trumpites. That way lies chaos and loss and disappointment. Adulthood can be quite a bit more boring, with its reason, and compromise, and sometimes painful ethical choices, and hard work, and compassion. But one way leads into a better future for our children, and one leads into Lord of the Flies for children of all ages, even the balding ones with deep crows’ feet.
Follow the Leaders: one piece in a series by artist Isaac Cordal.
You may have seen the piece of art above already. It has been bouncing around the internet for some years now, often billed as “politicians debating sea level rise” or “…climate change.” Well, it kind of isn’t, and it kind of is, and following the link in the caption might shed some light on it.
It is a FANTASTIC representation, inadvertent or otherwise, specifically of the current US GOP/Trumpite approach to climate change and rising sea levels.
And that approach…
…yeah. That’s going to be SUPER EFFECTIVE.
But our Fearless Glorious Leader and his Band of
Thugs Merry Men (they’d surely call it sexist to acknowledge the women who choose to support him rather than lump them together under a masculine collective) aren’t restricting themselves to climate change. If you’ve been following current political events, he/they is/are not just ignoring climate change science, but rolling back environmental protections that have cleaned up industry-polluted land, water, and air over the last 40 years, acting to revive coal use and hobble the increasing use of solar and wind power generation, which I might add, is rising because it is now cost effective due to technological advances perpetrated by that terrible villain, science.
In other words, the 21st century is SCARY and THINGS ARE CHANGING and LET’S HIDE IN THE 20TH CENTURY. Unless you’re a public school student, in which case they’re shooting for the 19th century. No, really. The target there is getting rid of all those troublesome public schools and leaving education to corporations and churches, which I’m sure will work out great in an alternate timeline where suddenly technology stops working.
The only problem is that hiding in the past is a gigantic mistake, and it will always be. Yes, there’s such a thing as tradition. But traditions only make sense as long as they help people. If things change and they become harmful, or you realize they’ve been harmful all along and we don’t have a need to accept that harm — I’M LOOKING AT YOU COAL WITH YOUR BLACK LUNG AND OPEN PITS AND TOXIC RUNOFF AND OH WHAT A SHOCK BURNING THOUSANDS OF ANCIENT FORESTS IN CONCENTRATED FORM EVERY DAY MIGHT RELEASE GASES THAT CHANGE THE CLIMATE A TAD GEE WHIZ WHO WOULDA THUNK IT — then you say “yay, positive change!” and start using wind turbines to charge your iThingiee. And we all breathe a little easier, and people who live near the ocean like me start thinking that maybe, just maybe, our descendants won’t have to flee farther inland in the 22nd century.
A month ago, I posted a word cloud for a work in progress, Broken Rice. It was around 8,000 words long then.
Since then, I reached a “I don’t know what to do with this next” point, then let the story sit for a while and worked on other things, then picked it back up recently for a major rework.
I liked a lot of things about the story and basic premise. Other things weren’t working for me at all. That’s why I took a break on writing it. I do that quite a bit. I start stories, then set them aside and come back days or weeks later. Sometimes I accumulate quite a few half-finished stories. When my pattern of working works well, it forms sort of a natural cycle with periods of drought and periods of plenty. I’ll finish nothing for a couple of months, then knock out a spate of finishes all of a sudden.
Broken Rice needed major work. When I picked it back up I overhauled it completely. I radically changed the setting, the personality of the main character, some major plot elements. I had to rewrite from stem to stern, making everything make sense again, then rewrite a second time so everything felt and sounded right, so everything fit in again, had the right new tone and the right new mood.
I really didn’t want to change the story so radically. But I had to. It’s hard to explain — you have to be invested in what you’re writing enough to kill it or alter it beyond recognition, sometimes. Get too attached to finishing exactly what you’ve started and you can find yourself writing a lot of meh. I don’t like writing meh.
Times like this, I’m so happy not to have hard deadlines. That’s an aspect of being self-published that is a great advantage… unless you let it turn into procrastination. Which I’m sorry to say has happened before and it won’t happen again please don’t be mad I’m probably not as much of a stereotypical GenX slacker as you think.
But, back to the story.
I’m not sure it will be finished soon. I have a general idea for an ending and some general ideas of what may happen along the way. From 8,000 words I’m now at 14,000. Maybe there are 5,000 more words in this one. Maybe 10,000. But the words keep coming in little chunks of 500 or so in stolen moments deep into the wee hours when everyone else is asleep or when I wake up early. So I keep writing them.
The more of them I write, the better I like the story now. That’s a good sign.
The word cloud changed quite a bit. Compare and contrast!
(This post appeared on my Patreon page 3 days before it appeared here — support me there, even for a buck a month, and you see all my posts first PLUS get a FREE copy of any ebook short story I publish THIRTY days before it goes live, even if I charge for it elsewhere!)
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This story speaks to one of my most and least favorite things, tradition. Tradition perpetuates all sorts of things in societies, some as innocent as making snowmen, some nonsensical, some neutral, others negative or positive or even more likely all of the above wrapped up in a big Gordian knot built over centuries. Tradition can lift up or destroy, build community or disrupt it. Like it or not, it’s a product of human beings being social creatures — attempts to break the old patterns wholesale and build new ones anew have been disasters: think French Revolution, Soviet Union, Cultural Revolution, Khmer Rouge. Like bending wood or bamboo to fashion the crook of a walking cane, human society in the large traditions that govern and define us must be reshaped slowly and with care lest they crack and shatter.
Small traditions, like the snowman, can become security blankets when the pace of change becomes rapid, as it has been these last two or three centuries. I have a feeling that within my lifetime (if I should make it into my 80s or 90s, fingers crossed) elementary education will become something accessed online rather than by gathering together in a municipal building, and printing breakfast cereal in your kitchen is likely to become common. For oldsters as I would be when that time comes, watching children play in the snow will be a comforting traditional blanket to wrap around my shoulders as I watch from a padded chair in the comfort of a heated porch. And maybe, who knows, I’ll go out and help roll some snowman body segments, something I remember fondly from my early childhood. Maybe despite the availability of conveniently printed food I’ll break out some primitive chicken eggs and vanilla and condensed milk and make a bowl of snow cream. Or make hot chocolate on a pan on the stove. All minor, comforting traditions — no doubt with the advent of the convenient powdered hot chocolate packet making it from bars of real bar chocolate on the stove is a small way for those born before their debut to relive a piece of the old world, the world they were born in before all these changes like internets came to be.
More than tradition, “Continuity” also speaks to the basic human condition that technology cannot touch — at least, not yet and not without radically redefining the human condition.
Even if humanity were to become, say, a population of consciousnesses loaded into android brains, there would still be snow (assuming we don’t really overdo it with this climate change thing). And still the potential to play by creating snow…er…droids. And if there are no children in such a strange new world, perhaps still some oldsters who remember what it was like to be raised in a world of meat humans will still go out and build snowmen, if only to take comfort for a little while by indulging in a little of what the world was before it changed.
But everyone can see the cover, at least!
This story is Patreon-exclusive for 90 days as thanks for helping me reach my $60/month funding milestone!
As I wrote for the folks on Patreon: This is one of my less common pieces — mainstream fiction (magical realism at most) rather than science fiction or fantasy. I wrote this one shortly after the passing of an elder friend of the family. It’s not his story or mine, but it carries truth regardless.
It’s the story of an old man, a young one, and a lot of memories.
A Pledge of one measley dollar grants access to read this while it’s still exclusive to Patreon, rather than 90 days later. I also post a piece of microfiction (or longer, if I feel like it and/or am inspired) before the end of each month as a thankyou for contributing to keeping the S.A. Barton household running, so I can continue to prise precious writing time from the joyously greedy fingers of my 2 year old, 4 year old, 17 year old, wife, and (less joyously) my own worries.
Those of you who read what I write here at Seriously Eclectic — especially those of you who take a moment to comment or hit ‘like’ or say hello on Twitter or elsewhere:
You help, too. Don’t think you don’t. Yes, this particular story is for the Patreon crowd for now — but don’t I give you plenty to read here, too? And pretty cover art to look at? Sure I do.
Looking forward to hearing from you all.
Is this my future? A big stinky onion future?
There has been a lot of talk about the pervasive pessimism in science fiction recently. Notably in the last couple of years, but there have been grumblings on the subject all the way back to the dawn of Cyberpunk with its dreary skies the color of television tuned to a dead channel. You know, before a dead channel was an eye-searingly vivid blue.
The dawn of science fiction tended to be pretty upbeat. Yes, there was rampant sexism, pretty much every important character was an heterosexual, able-bodied, highly intelligent, male Caucasian, imperialism was the savior of space civilizing exotic alien noble savages, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was a nice automated house with a yard and a white picket fence in the suburbs, or at least within flying-car range of the suburbs. But it was upbeat. Medical science was constantly solving inconveniences like infectious disease, cancer, and aging. Easy travel to friendly worlds around other stars relieved the problems of population pressure and resource wars–or at least moved the wars to desolate asteroid belts and the deeps of interstellar space where the collateral damage was lighter. The average schlub on the street, if we saw him, was educated and clean and on his way from his nice safe 9-to-5 where his wife would cook dinner by pressing a button and afterward tossing the dishes into a receptacle to be disintigrated and reconstituted sparkling clean in the automatic dispenser for the next meal. There were no worries about the electric bill or rising gasoline prices or the wholesomeness of food and water being compromised by deregulation.
Everything in the life of the USA, which is and was the author of the bulk of science fiction collectively, seemed to be on an inevitable upward trajectory that would easily carry the future into a better and more expansive place.
And then things stopped peaking. They started heading downward in many regards, and the longer this reversal continued, the more people–including writers of science fiction–noticed it. The point of view of the US science fiction writer wasn’t naturally upward anymore. It was downward. Imagine the view from a car on a rollercoaster. Heading upward, you’re looking to the sky. Once you roll over the top, pause, and then plunge downward, you’re looking down the hill. And you’re screaming; even if you can see you’re not likely to plunge straight into the ground and die, it feels like you will.
The US middle class has been shrinking for a while. The space program has contracted; we don’t talk about when we will build a colony on the moon anymore, not seriously. We talk about the next automated probe we’re going to land on Mars for a look around the dust. When Kennedy said we’d go to the moon, people mostly believed him. When Obama said we’d go to Mars, even enthusiasts said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” We don’t feel secure in our jobs anymore, if we have them. Our incomes have gotten smaller after inflation adjustment over the years, not bigger as we once, in the halcyon years of optimistic science fiction, assumed they would continue to grow forever.
Maybe when we find the bottom of this decline we’re in, in terms of the collective prosperity of ALL US citizens, US writers will cheer up a bit and science fiction will grow an upbeat consensus again–hopefully with the racism, sexism, and imperialism absent. Or perhaps the heart of science fiction will shift.
Science fiction, after all, has been a world literature from the beginning. US writers may have and may still comprise the majority, but if SF is to teach us anything, it is that the future always brings change. And SF has been growing, I understand, not just in other English-speaking nations, but also worldwide and outside the traditional Western bastions.
Literature belongs to the world and all its people. I welcome all the cheer the other writers of the world can lend us US writers in climbing out of our funk.