Sapir-Whorf and Writing

I have a passion for words. Like many of you, I find words and syntax and writing incredibly interesting and gripping. My interest has evolved over time, and has led me to my favorite linguistic theory: The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

The Hypothesis (which was never formally proposed by either Sapir or Whorf) has two sides, Linguistic Determinism and Linguistic Relativism. Determinism is the more extreme version of the hypothesis, which states that language limits and defines human knowledge, thought, and perception. The lesser and more accepted side, Relativism, states that the language we use structures the way we perceive the world around us.

This is a controversial theory, with supporters on all sides of the argument. Studies have been done to both prove and disprove the theory, but we are less interested in the Linguistic application and more interested with the theory.

By theory, language can create the world. If we are to believe Determinism, nothing can exist in your mind outside of the context of a language (be it a traditional one or not). I’m going to make up a word.

Mecha-Whale.

Think about the word, and I mean really think about it. What does it look like? What does it sound like? Where does it live?

I have only given you the word, but you can extrapolate all of this information based out of the familiar words that you recognize. A word just created an entire idea, and entire life system, and a being.

Let your readers extrapolate sometimes, because you can count on their minds filling in the blank.

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Writers Challenge #1

Hey everyone,

 

So yesterday I had a prompt idea that I would like to share. I would love to see what pieces you guys come up with, and what feedback you all have. Happy writing!

 

Prompt

The government is secretly kidnapping geniuses and forcing them to be a part of a think tank.

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The Legacy of Bear Mountain-A Review

Cover

The Legacy of Bear Mountain by Janie Mae Jenson McKinley

The Legacy of Bear Mountain by Janie Mae Jones McKinley is a memoir-style collection of short stories about her grandparents and their life on Bear Mountain in North Carolina. What I would classify as Creative Nonfiction, The Legacy of Bear Mountain brings startling realism to life without electricity or running water. Stories about the Great Depression, faith, and cultural change place the reader among the “mountain people”, and remind us of how different the world was only a short time ago.

McKinley writes about Bear Mountain intimately and with an obvious surplus of knowledge. She writes as only one with great respect and adoration can, and both of these qualities bleed into her writing. McKinley has a fair command of prose. I would not call it elegant or beautiful, but she writes simply, coherently, and as fact which serves her style well. McKinley does a great job of mentioning the right information. Her knowledge of mountain culture and history is both astonishing and fascinating.

I am not often drawn into a memoir, but McKinley forces her reader to see the love she and her grandparents have for both Bear Mountain and for each other.

The book is in desperate need of a professional editor or two. There are a few small grammatical errors, but what makes this book difficult to read is the formatting. The cover is lackluster. The view from Bear Mountain is, I’m sure, beautiful, but the impact does not transfer well in the low-quality photo that serves as the cover. The cover also has three different fonts, a different color for each font, and all of the words are piled at the bottom of the page. If I had to guess, I would say that McKinley did this herself. It appears to be done in “Paint” or a similar program. The book is worthy of a much higher quality cover.

The second issue is the placement of what I’m calling “Content Boxes”. These are boxes that show up in the middle of the page to provide background information. Some of these boxes are very useful, for example sometime McKinley utilizes them to explain an older tool or to elaborate on the slang in dialogue. Occasionally, the information in the boxes seems like fluff. My biggest problem with the content boxes is that they interrupt the flow of the story. McKinley does a wonderful job of drawing her reader in and immersing them in mountain life. The content boxes can snap you out of that. They would be more appropriate as footnotes or in an index, not mid page.

The final issue I have is that, at the end of each chapter, there are “respond” sections. There are questions with lines available to write responses to the chapter, or to recall similar experiences in your own life. I am not sure why these sections are here, but I do not believe they help the book. If anything, they harm the book. Planned response sections are the province of self-help books. I did two of the sections while reading the book, and they harmed my experience. I believe McKinley may have wanted others to elaborate on their faith and experiences to see how God has worked in their life and I admire her dedication to her faith. But these sections break the narrative, and they should be removed altogether.

An excellent book, and an absolute read for fans of creative non-fiction. The drawbacks are worth reading the book, and with some revision work the piece could be very beautiful. McKinley should be very proud of her work and her heritage, I hope to see more work from her in the future.

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The Mind is a Muscle

Have you ever noticed that really dedicated people tend to obsess about their work? I use the word obsess because that is what it looks like to the rest of us, but dedicated people will tell you that it isn’t an obsession, it is a lifestyle. And it is. At a certain point, the dedication becomes second nature, because the brain dictates what is important.

Your mind is a muscle, it will think about the things that you typically think about. You can train it, exercise it, and it will pay off. In interviews, Stephen King says he has “so many stories to tell”. Many new writers I know say they can’t “come up with a good story”. Interesting isn’t it? The reason behind this is that Stephen King is a professional writer, and his brain is trained. His brain recognizes stories, produces them, lives them. The budding writer has no such advantage, but the brain can be trained.

Keep a Journal

New writer’s who seek advice hear this all the time. People say it is to help improve your writing skills, and it is, but not in the way that you think. Writing in a journal will not refine your prose simply because you are writing in a journal; practice makes consistent, not perfect. No, writing in a journal keeps your mind in the writing mindset, and it makes your brain analyze your life in writing. This helps you recognize stories, traits, characteristics, human nature. Keeping a journal is vital.

Have a Word Count

You need to write everyday. Writing for a writer is like running for a runner, you need to do it consistently to improve. It seems obvious, but many self-proclaimed authors I know barely write. Have a word count, maybe 1000-2000 words a day, and just write. It doesn’t matter if it is bad, or if you don’t care for the plot, the point is that you are making yourself do the work and that is by far the biggest hurdle.

Read like a Writer

Read for syntax. Read for plot. Read for characters. Question the books. Why is this character so gripping? Why am I angry that this person betrayed another? Why does this paragraph flow so well? Start training your brain to realize these things, and eventually it will come naturally. Apply it to your writing.

Have a Community

Talk with other writers. Having a writing community is incredible, because it keeps you responsible for your work. Make writing a bigger part of your life, let it influence your friends. Most writers I know don’t get to talk about their work very often, and talking about our work helps us deal with mechanics and plot. It doesn’t make sense NOT to talk about it with people, because writing is who we are.

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By the Pricking of my Thumb

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury
Picture rights to MDCarchives

So while I was traveling for the wedding, I spent my time reading Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. I am a fan of Bradbury’s work, but have always had more on my plate. Not to say right now I didn’t, I am in the middle of two book reviews, but sometimes I need to read for leisure.

So the book is great. The descriptions can get a little lengthy, but that is Bradbury. The characters are all incredibly well defined, and the plot is interesting.

Usually I don’t write blogs about the books I read, but one concept in this book stood out to me. The concept of Evil being parasitic, and therefore, being able to starve. Forgive me for being ambiguous and not using specific examples or names, but for those who haven’t read the book it seems necessary.

I have always believe that things exist in binary. Everything is defined by its opposite. Everything. Before there were chairs, nothing  WASN’T a chair. Chairs didn’t exist. It wasn’t until we invented a chair, and everything else became NOT a chair, that chairs were a reality. I think the same thing exists in emotions, even in the concept of Good and Evil. People write a lot about how the Devil has good qualities like leadership, ambition, etc., and that this proves Evil can not exist without Good but Good can exist without Evil. Inherently, I am not sure this is true. If it was incredibly painful and dangerous to be charitable, would we still do it? We feel good by doing good, and inherently part of it is selfish. This is me digressing and thinking out loud, but it is still something to consider.

So evil can starve. It can be whittled down into nothing by taking away its power. As a writer, this is valuable, because Evil exists in me. I can feel it. I myself am not evil, but the evils of sloth and pride are so present in myself I can barely distinguish them from their positive counterparts. It is encouraging knowing that we can starve Evil, that it only has the power we feed it.

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Out of Town

Hey everyone,

I know I am a Tuesday/Thursday blogger, and in hindsight I should have written some material for you ahead of time, but I am leaving town for the weekend to go to a wedding. My next blog will (hopefully) be a review of The Legacy of Bear Mountain, by Janie Mae Jones McKinley, so that is something to look forward to.

A quick story because you’re all wonderful.

My father is a hunter. He started at seventeen and hasn’t missed a season since. As a kid, my mother, sister, and I would go with my father to my Uncle’s home, where all of the hunting was done.

Thousands of years of evolution as a tribe-people have bred idolization of adults into the brains of children. My father hunted, so I would hunt. That seemed less like an option, and more like the inevitable. My pursuit of adulthood and instance that I could hunt led my parents to by me a training bow.

My training bow was light, compound, and plastic. Arrows were either blunted or specially tipped to catch the grass and ground. I would practice for hours at a time in my Uncle’s backyard, and the current number of arrows I have lost is somewhere in the fifties.

I happened to be shooting one day when I missed. This wasn’t uncommon.  I ran off into the woods, after the arrow.

After a few minutes of looking around, I saw the arrow embedded in the ground on the opposite side of a small creek. I approached to grab it, when I heard a grunt on the other side of the creek

Fear is not something many suburban boys know of. Deer are usually also a mystery. I looked up to see a buck. A large, golden, horned animal much larger than myself. I would like to end the story with “and I killed it and earned my father’s respect as a man”. I can’t, I was eleven. I like to think that was the day I discovered my own answer in the “fight or flight” question.

I was a large kid, and I sprinted out of the woods, back towards the home, and up the hill. I collapsed onto the couch and my mom, aunt, and sister were all staring at me. I told them what had happened.

After their laughing subsided, my mom said “That was the fastest I have ever seen you run!”

I haven’t lived it down to this day.

Best,
J.P.

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Travels With Charley-Review

I was born and raised in Illinois. I have had the pleasure of seeing New York City, Washington D.C., and many parts of Wisconsin. In college, I was able to study abroad and see England, Scotland, Belgium, Germany, and France. One of the most sudden realizations I had was that I knew very little of my own country.

Very few Americans I have talked to have seen much of the United States. There are a lot of reasons for this. People have jobs and families, traveling can be expensive, and the United States is a massive country (3rd largest behind Russia and Canada). The United States has a very diverse landscape and diverse people. In an effort to learn more about my country, I began reading travel books.

I have a bad habit of buying more books than I read, and Travels with Charley was one of those books that had been sitting on a shelf untouched.

The books begins with Steinbeck talking about his wanderlust. He says this restlessness is natural in every American because we are a nation of wanderers and immigrants. Steinbeck buys a large trailer which he converts into a make-shift home, and he travels across the country with his dog Charley.

It is a venture of faith, to travel in such a way. I can hardly imagine it, but it sounds appealing. It sounds like freedom. Steinbeck  writes about Montana and Wisconsin as if God can be found there. He excels in finding beauty in places people normally don’t think to look.

The book has given me a new appreciation for my country and, like all travel books I read, has given me a restless soul. What are some things you would like to see before you die?

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