Category Archives: literature

Ode to Abreves, Vernacnac, and Neologisms

Recently, my boyfriend sent me an article entitled, “Why I Stopped Being a Grammar Snob.” At first I thought it was his less-than-subtle attempt at curbing my obsession with oxford commas, but it turned out to be an article riddled with all my favorite stuff: linguistics, semiotics, the power of the word “fuck”. It was just a great read, and a great reminder of why I like this thing called English.

I may be the only one on my facebook newsfeed who doesn’t groan as the Oxford English dictionary swells to include words such as “FOMO”, “selfie”, or “newsfeed” for that matter, but languages’ ever-evolving nature is what gives it life. Language literally inhales and exhales to accommodate the culture that creates it. The onslaught of online terms is natural given the time’s dependence on technology, just as abbreviations and hyperboles speak to the impatience and extremism that identify millennials.

Language is meant to communicate (duh). It’s used to articulate a message, yes, but also to articulate the messenger. It presents a code into our culture.

So. If we stopped all this scoffing and snobbery regarding the change of the English language, and actually stopped to think about how and why it was changing, that semiotic sojourn would teach us a lot about ourselves. And if you can’t do that, at least giggle at that fact that derp is now a word. Derp.

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A Literary Love Letter

I realize I’ve been a bit remiss regarding this blog and, although I was itching to update this site with something, I had no real desire to actually create anything new. (But more on that later).

I began to dumpster dive my old documents, searching for something that could pass as a post without actually putting in any effort. Someone’s trash is another person’s new blog post.

Today’s treasure–although entirely self-involved and limited to my own writing experience–hopefully has a larger impact as a important writing exercise. As an assignment in my BFA class, we were asked to write a letter of intent regarding our project. We were told to write about our inspiration, our influences, our hopes and dreams…all that sort of hippy dippy nonsense that I–always more a craftsman than an artist–generally poo poo. But, reading back on my letter, I realize how much these first words on Alumnus bled into not only the script, but my entire writing philosophy:

Dear Self,

Well this has been a long time coming—for almost eight years, I’ve been working on Alumnus. Only, back then I titled the stories Cliché and it wasn’t so much a feature length screenplay as a life long epic, an alternative world where I knew everything about the characters—from birth to death. With a dedication to detail only acceptable in sci-fi writers like Tolkein or Rowling, I explored everything about Mason Black and his friends…and enemies…and acquaintances…and their acquaintances…

I truly tried on every scenario with these characters, living up to the name Cliché. Alcoholic parent? Check. Nasty teenage rebellion stage? Check. Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll? Check, check, and then some. When I started, I was only thirteen or so, unironically finding Mace’s alcoholism artistic and interesting. However as I grew older and more confident in my writing, I realized how to warp the expectations of conventions and I eventually learned to play with storytelling to create what I hoped was something modern and mosaic.

Developing this story helped me develop as a writer. I’ve truly grown up with these characters, but I also feared I grew past Camden. Maybe Mason was nothing more than a glorified imaginary friend, aiding my self-discovery as an adult and as a writer.

But if that’s true then I wasted a whole bunch of time, dreaming about nothing. And I refuse to accept that. It is now time to leave the dreams behind, and get behind the desk. Now it’s time to commit everything to page, and do myself a favor and just write.

So, when I push aside all of the very intricate details such as graphology (Mace has a heavily looped g) and class roster ranked by physical appearance, what is the story of Alumnus about?

Alumnus is about human growth. I suppose the appropriate—albeit douche-y—word for it is bildungsroman. With an etymology dependent on education and self-discovery, Alumnus is a very belated bildungsroman. Despite his IQ of 151, despite his diploma from Camden and the school of hard knocks—he never did learn the most important lesson of all: who he was. And because of this he, like Peter Pan, could never truly grow up.

Mace’s inner conflict is very similar to my own as a writer. Mason is stuck in the past—not out of nostalgia, but out of fear. When at Camden, he was told he was enriched with something genius. He was pampered with preparation and pep talks about his potential. Yet, the closer he got to graduation and the “Real World,” the further he was from figuring himself out. All he knew is what he could be—not who is was in the present.

Twenty-four years and a mental break down later, Mace is forced to revisit his past. And while reluctant, it will become to be the best thing ever to happen to him. It forces him to reexamine his past, and reconcile all the contradictions and hypocrisies within himself.

In the same way, I know I have to return to Cliché—or now as it’s known, Alumnus—and finish what I’ve started.  Revisiting a place of your past is extremely telling, because as Holden Caulfield noticed in his trip to the Museum of Natural History “Nothing’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you.

So, let’s get started shall we? I’m interested to see what’s changed, what’s changing and what remains the same…

Best Writing,

Kerri

This letter is my acknowledgement that, for me,  writing is a convenient construct to allow me to play pretend in adulthood. As such, all my work will be washed with nostalgia, the struggle against maturation, and mild escapism and fantasy fullfillment. Should it be any other way?

Interestingly enough, I still find myself struggling to grow past the Alumnus world. I’m still mildly in love with Mason Black, and constantly use these characters as template in my other works. I wonder sometimes if I have any other story to tell, or if I’m stuck forever with these imaginary friends.

In finding this letter, however, I think I’ve found an important exercise to help me start a new project. The articulation of intent acts as a contract of content, a promise to yourself that you are moving on to a new oeuvre adventure. For an extra dose of fun, seal the letter, and only open it at the project’s completion. Did you stay true to your original idea or did the process take you somewhere entirely new?

God. This is starting to sound like an awful how-to-write blog. Gag me. Remember in the beginning of this post when I chided artistic processes and hippy rhetoric?

TALK ABOUT BETRAYING YOUR ORIGINAL INTENT. UGH.

Anyway. For wishy-washy writers  who can’t quite commit to a new cast of characters: write yourself a letter. Write your project a love letter. Not only will it help you kick-off the process, but it’ll give you an easy-bake blog post a few years later.

Annotated Adolescence

Yesterday, I unwillingly played “let’s pretend we live in the the colonial ages” after my apartment lost internet for a few hours. We still had electricity, of course, but what good is that if I can’t stream episodes of Real World: Portland or stalk myself on facebook. We may as well have been in a three-day black-out.

To occupy myself, I browsed through some of my old school books for no reason at all, really, other than to see my illegible chickenscratch lacerate the great literature of high-school syllabi past. But really. I over-annotated the similes out of these books. I starred every page, underlined practically every sentence–as if wouldn’t fully understand a word until I slipped my pen past it–and added a few too many heart-punctuated exclamation points than I would care to admit. I really loved John Proctor. It was weird.

While I still find some of my thoughts insightful, or at least legitimate, I stumbled across a few marginal notes that just…nope. There is no way that passage means anything, or deserves any further attention.  Below are some examples of quotes you probably won’t find in Cliffnotes or WikiQuote, but teenage Kerri thought were just grand.

Catcher in the Rye

“I brush my teeth. Don’t give me that!”

You might think this quote could have importance within the context, but…nope. Nothing. Didn’t stop me from circling it though

I ordered a scotch and soda, which is my favorite drink, next to frozen Daiquiris.

I guess I was worried that Holden’s second-favorite drink would be on the quiz…

She had really big knockers.

To which I wrote beside it, “nice!”

A Streetcar Named Desire

You can almost feel the warm breath of the brown river warehouses with their faint redolences of bananas and coffee.

I circled “bananas and coffee” and wrote “exotic!” next to it. I guess basic breakfast foods are exotic to 14-year olds.

“Gracious, what lung-power!”

…I mean…okay?

“Well, honey, a shot never does the coke any harm!”

This quote actually did prove useful later in life.

The Odyssey 

“True, my friend,” the glistening one agreed.

I think I just liked the idea of a Greek man glistening. I was a pervert in eight grade. For example, I also underlined this…

Once they’d bathed and smoothed their skin with out with oil, they took their picnic, sitting along the river’s bank and waiting for all the clothes to dry in the hot noon sun.

And this…

Muttering so, great Odysseus crept out of the bushes, stripping off with his massive hand a leaf branch from the tangled olive growth to shield his body, hide his private parts. And out he stalked, as a mountain lion exultant in his power.

It should also be noted that I skipped books 9-15 in the Odyssey. Sorry Ms. Creany. There probably weren’t enough oil-slabbed gods in those parts.

And finally, perhaps the most poignant passage of them all from my favorite play, The History Boys:

You are very young. Grow a mustache.

On “Of Twists and Turns”

 “Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns, driven time and again off course…”

The Odyssey, 1.1

Oh, Odie. What a dirty rotten scoundrel. The Man of Twists and Turns.

One thing* the ancient greeks got right is the power of an epithet. How convenient it is to have the essence of your personality presented at the very start, a handy-dandy cliffnotes of character that leaves all your cards on the table. “Hello, I’m Kerri, the woman of neurosis and extreme hair shedding”–tell me that wouldn’t be helpful to know on a first date.

I’ve adopted Odysseus’ own epithet–of twists and turns–to navigate this blog for a few reasons. First, yes, it allows me to be discursive–the prose of twists and turns–but it also references what I consider to be the characteristic that sired the very first antihero of literature: Odie and all of his bullshit.

On the surface level, Odysseus’ twists and turns describe the taxing homecoming he makes after the war, the sinuous path punctuated with a few social calls to sirens, cyclops, and like, I think there was a little stopover at the underworld too. However, Homer also uses this phrase to call attention to Odysseus’ unique heroic quality: his ability to lie like a rug. He would twist and turn the truth like his life depended on it. Although, to be fair, it kind of did.

Homer spun this pathology as the virtue of oration and the noble art of storytelling, but I know what Odysseus really is…a pretty, little liar. He’s the great, great,  great to the nth degree, grandfather of modern cads like Don Draper, Jeff Winger, and whoever Jim Carrey played in that movie Liar, Liar. While Achilles boasted strength and sculpted muscles or whatever (I didn’t really pay attention to The Iliad), Odysseus survived on charm and swarm.

Not to cast any doubt on the veracity of this blog; it’s not going to publish lies, because, like, what would be the point of that? That’s what newspapers are for (zing!). Instead, it is going to explore my favorite themes of post-modern storytelling, meta-narratives, and fiction as a vessel for truth. I’ll also probably tour the merits of The Real World (not to be confused with the less appealing real world), soap operas, camp, and I’ll sidestep into some linguistic studies of  terms like “duhsies”, and whether or not anyone has any control over irony anymore. In other words, this blog is an odyssey through pop-culture and cultural canons in order to understand the twists and turns of our generation.

…or it’s an arena for me to discuss the things I find too douchey** to say in person…like, you know y’all would slap me if I quoted The Odyssey on the reg. I’d slap me if I quoted The Odyssey on the reg.

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*There are actually a million things the greeks got right, from homoeroticism and the invention of bromance to the original ragers known as Bacchanalia. And noun declensions. God, I love me some noun declensions.

**I always use douchey as a synonym for elitist, highbrow, psuedointellectual etc., just so you can keep up with that. An alternative title for this blog was Ferme la Douche. But French is sort of douchey, too, so…ugh.