Seasons in sickness

I have to confess that I am generally not very good at reading other blogs, but one I have been following is by Alison Clayton-Smith on the Mslexia website, about life as a writer with chronic health issues, and, while we have different problems and different approaches to life, I do identify with quite a lot of what she says. Here, for what it’s worth, are my own thoughts.

Today is the 28th of February. Next week is Shrove Tuesday. The last day I was at work was the 30th of October. When I went off sick, it was autumn: now, winter is on the cusp of spring. A whole season has passed, a third of a year, and I’m still laid low with back pain, unable to do most of my normal activities. I’ve had an MRI scan (an experience I thoroughly recommend for any horror writer wondering what it might feel like to be buried alive) but no results yet. Now, there could be a serious problem, but I’m suspecting/hoping that it’s actually ‘just’ a muscle strain which will heal itself in time, and nobody so far seems able to answer the question ‘How much time?’ Meanwhile, I’m stuck in limbo, a life revolving around taking painkillers, having cups of tea, baking in my polka-dot pinny, doing my prescribed gym ball exercises and going for walks around the local parks.

Sounds crap, doesn’t it? Several people have said to me ‘oh gosh, you must be going stir-crazy’ or words to that effect. The truth is it’s actually not all that bad. I’m lucky enough to have a supportive husband, a spacious and pleasant home, a circle of lovely friends to have cups of tea with, easy access to walks along the river. I don’t have to deal with most of the stresses of everyday life. I have, essentially, become accustomed to my restricted lifestyle, lowered my expectations, moved into the mindset of the long-term sick. Perhaps surprisingly, I’m not bored, most of the time. Access to the internet in general and social media in particular helps, of course, but so does the fact that I’ve always been happy in my own company, largely content with the inner life. Solitude is an essential component of life as a writer, and, while I haven’t been able to do much actual writing, I have been able to do a lot of thinking, working through ideas for future projects. Right now poor health has put my life largely on hold, but hey, I may as well take the opportunity for some reflection. When life gives you lemons, make gin and tonic.

Link to Alison’s Mslexia blog: https://www.mslexia.co.uk/blog/2014/02/writing-to-make-life-easier/

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Pedantics & Semantics

Warning: todays blog post may cause some of my more pedantical readers to literally explode in rage.

In my humble opinion, good writing is about many things – characterization, dialogue, description, plotting – and its often impossible to determine which is the crucial criteria. But for some people, theirs only one thing which matters: strict grammatical correctness. Now for many years, I was as proud a grammer and punctuation peddant as they come, the scourge of apostrophized plural’s wherever I found them. More recently, however, I’ve become increasingly laissez-faire. Why then have I turned to the dark side, become an apostate of the apostrophe?

Well, one reason is that many things which wind up grammar pedents aren’t really problems. Like the objection to words comprised of a mixture of Greek and Latin roots – who cares? What do you call you’re television? The proculvision? In the past, I’ve been called out for using ‘ize’ instead of ‘ise’ on the basis that ‘ize’ is ‘American’ (and therefore, inferior), when actually, its perfectly acceptable in British English, and the prestigious OED agrees with me. I’ve yet to hear anyone put forward a convincing reason why one shouldn’t be able to merrily split as many infinitives as one likes, or use a preposition to end a sentence with. And I’ll start a sentence with a conjunction if I want to. Why should ancient style guides restrict me today? Hopefully, I can express myself well enough in 21st-century English without pandering to the whims of dead grammarians.

Which brings me onto another reason: language evolves all the time, and yes, some neologisms may seem ugly and unnecessary, (I must here confess to an abject horror of the word ‘gifting’) but if other people find these words useful and elegant, and their readily understood, why should you try to artificially restrict there means of expression? And that, I think, is the heart of the matter: being picky about such things doesn’t actually help those who are less well-educated to improve there language skills, it just pisses them off, or, worse, makes them feel stupid.

Now, theres clearly a time and a place for pedantrey – when your beta-reading a manuscript for instance, or editing a press release. But in most instances, I don’t honestly think it’s called-for. Sure, if someone’s got in such a semantic twist that they’re in danger of being misunderstood, then it might be a good idea to quietly point out the difference between say, prostrate and prostate – but otherwise, if you’ve got yourself understood, then isn’t that the whole point of language? And if your genuinely so illiterate that you can’t make yourself understood in writing, then shouldn’t that be a cause for pity, for polite and understanding aid, or even for political action to improve educational standards, rather than for sneering? Between you and I, snorting in laughter at others’ ignorance of grammatical shibboleths doesn’t make you look clever. It makes you look like an over-privileged snob, chortling at the plebs who didn’t have the same good fortune as you to benefit from a decent education.