Archives for January 2017

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The Cleverest of All: A Fyodor Dostoyevsky Quote

fyodor dostoyevsky quote the cleverest of all

“The cleverest of all, in my opinion, is the man who calls himself a fool at least once a month.”

Once a month? I thought calling yourself a fool (or idiot) only a few times a week was doing pretty well as an adult! And that is part of being an adult, isn’t it? Admitting that you were wrong and/or that you made a mistake?

Hmmm… Can anyone think of someone who seems utterly incapable of admitting that he/she made a mistake? (One might stick out…)

The Cleverest Man (or Not)

I think there are really two possibilities here:

1. The person knows inside that he/she made a mistake but is afraid of losing face by admitting it.

OR

2. The person honestly does not (and will not) accept that he/she made a mistake.

The first one is sad but understandable. It can be embarrassing and even frightening to admit that you made a mistake – will the person I’m talking to think less of me? Will I lose out on the job or the opportunity? Will it give the other person power and put me in a weaker position?

Despite the fact that being caught in a lie almost always does more damage than admitting our mistakes, I think most of us have done this at one point or another in our lives – especially in a confrontation when winning can easily begin to feel more important than telling the truth. You know, when you’re caught up in the moment, and you’re emotionally invested in the situation.

That’s about as human as making the mistake in the first place. Of course, as adults, we all know that we should go back later (once tempers cool) and fess up, and, yes, that often happens (explicitly or implicitly). At least, it happens if we value the relationship and want it to continue…

The second possibility is much more extreme. It takes an unhealthy dose of arrogance combined with a huge ego. So… narcissism. Maybe, even a god complex. In other words, not someone most people want to be around. Picture it: “I want to hang out with that one guy that always thinks he’s right even when he’s been proven wrong repeatedly!”

Said no one ever.

So let’s consider the converse of this quote. If the cleverest man is the one who calls himself a fool at least once a month, then the dumbest man is the one who never calls himself a fool. In other words, never admits his mistake(s). Ever.

I like this quote better all the time. Don’t you?

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Office Update: What I Should Do vs. What I Want to Do

So… apparently I really stink at estimating how long something will take me to do. Either that, or I’m horrible at recognizing my own limitations as far as energy and time (maybe both&#…

Source: Office Update: What I Should Do vs. What I Want to Do

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Cultural Traditions + Technology = Interesting Trends: A Writing Prompt for Worldbuilding

writing prompt for worldbuilding woman hijab cultural traditions + technology = interesting trendsI live in an area where there’s a good amount of cultural diversity, so when I go out, I see people from many different ethnic backgrounds, nationalities, religions, etc. Maybe because I grew up outside a small town where such diversity wasn’t (isn’t) common, or maybe because I’m a writer (and tend to notice different details than many people), but I’ve started noticing interesting side effects when cultural traditions meet and merge with technology. Simply put, cultural traditions + technology = interesting trends.

Here’s an example:

Cultural Tradition: Women wearing hijab or other cultural head-dresses that cover their entire heads except for their faces

Technology: Cellular phones, especially smart phones

Interesting Trends: Using the hijab to hold their cell phones, thereby giving them free use of their hands with no extra technology or effort

Is it just me, or is that a brilliant idea? You’re wearing it already, so why not make it useful? It’s a logical response. And common! I’ve seen a variety of women in different parts of the city doing the same thing. It’s an interesting trend that has resulted from the overlap of a cultural tradition and technology.

So (you know what I’m going to ask), how can we use that in our writing?

A Writing Prompt for Worldbuilding with Traditions & Technology

Since you know all about the importance of traditions in worldbuilding, being a clever writer, you’ve already been brainstorming traditions for your world. Now, it’s time to apply the technology – and not only ways to complicate the plot with technology.

Here’s one method of attack for this, but, remember the formula: cultural traditions + technology = interesting trends.

  1. Brainstorm cultural traditions. It could be clothing, behaviors, rules, etc. The more options and the bigger variety, the better.
  2. Brainstorm technology. Don’t forget: technology doesn’t have to mean computer or electronics-related. Sailing ships are a level of technology. Swords, plows, cotton gins, and long bows are all different examples of technology. Heck, a stone was once advanced technology! So don’t limit yourself.
  3. Compare your lists and brainstorm ways they could intermingle. Is there a way to make the tradition an advantage for using the technology? Or vice versa? Does the current fashion in your world work really well for carrying / cleaning / concealing / climbing something?
  4. Adjust as needed. You might need to modify the tradition or technology to make them work better together, but looking at them together can give you ideas for how they can build on each other.

That’s not saying it’ll be easy, and it may not be as clearcut as the example I gave. Still, if the exercise makes the different pieces of your worldbuilding interact more, that makes them more realistic (good enough for me).

It can also…

  • add character quirks (Who said that everyone has to use this combination? It could be something only one person figured out – or maybe only one person sees it, and it becomes a trend.)
  • make your world more unique (Build it, and readers will come. Build it, interweave the parts in new and interesting ways, and they’ll come in droves – and rave about it to their friends. [That’s how fandoms are born.])
  • send your plot in less predictable directions (If your plot is driven by something that is more unique, it will be more unique in turn. If the plot ends up boring or clichéd even with this, then, check what’s driving your plot. Odds are, you went off course somewhere.)

So, say that you don’t manage to think of a clearly symbiotic relationship where the technology utilizes a tradition (although it could be as simple as a handy place to put your glasses). Try it in reverse (usually much easier). If nothing else, see how the two could work together.

What do you have to lose?

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Vocabulary Changes Everything: Communication Is a Zombie

communication is a zombie

Just like that

After you get out of high school, vocabulary isn’t really something you think about (if you ever did). Sure, you talk, read, and listen, but you don’t think about the size of your vocabulary while you do it. You know the words you know – except when you forget them (usually in the middle of a sentence in front of someone important).

That’s even true for me and my overly-analytical self. Well, it was. But recently I’ve been reminded of how vocabulary changes everything – both your vocabulary and that of the people around you.

Why Vocabulary Changes Everything

Vocabulary Is Like a Zombie’s Tendons

It’s true. Vocabulary is like a zombie’s tendons: if enough of them are missing, things start falling apart. Sure, it might keep flopping or twitching, but it’s not making connections anymore.

What? Too macabre?

Now, you’re either smirking, rolling your eyes, or going “Huh?” And all because of 1 little word: macabre. That’s what I mean by connections. If you don’t know that word, reading it didn’t help you understand that sentence at all. I might as well have put a blank there. Or a little bracket (insert some strange, French-looking word here). Either way, there’s a disconnect in understanding between too and Now that the reader basically had to jump over and make a guess about what they missed.

Ok. Back to our zombie analogy. If macabre was the only tendon that the zombie was missing, nothing’s going to fall off. Yeah, the pinky finger might be a little loose, but 1. the word wasn’t integral to the paragraph, and 2. only one word was missing. That’s not going to do too much damage to the zombie (I’m enjoying that simile a little too much).

Words work together to help us communicate by connecting ideas to sounds, symbols, and their order. The fewer words you know, and the more the understanding begins to fall apart. So if you’re trying to communicate through writing, speech, etc., knowing enough words is pretty dang important.

If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who’s travelled without knowing the language. You better hope the nonverbals match (just sayin’).

Why Don’t We Notice?

So back to the fact that we rarely ever think about our vocabularies (despite the fact that they’re oh-so-important). Remember how I said earlier that I’ve been reminded recently of how vocabulary changes everything? Well, here are the situations that reminded me.

  1. The $2 Word: For my friend’s birthday, a big group of people went out to celebrate – a couple of people I knew but mostly people I didn’t. I used a multi-syllable word without thinking about it (because it’s a word I know that means what I was trying to say…), and I got a “Woah, big word!” reaction. Cue thinking, “It is?… Umm, ok. Yeah, I guess.”
  2. Subtleties: I’ve been taking classes a lot lately, and I’ve had some teachers that throw in subtle inside jokes when they’re talking, which is great! I mean, it definitely makes class more entertaining – until the rest of the students are giving you weird, sideways looks because you’re laughing, and they don’t know why. The joke went right over their heads.
  3. Shakespeare: My grandpa made the mistake of telling me that he has never enjoyed Shakespeare (sob). Being me, I, of course, made him watch The Comedy of Errors. Granted, it was performed by a Vaudevillian juggling troupe, so, it’s not what you’d call a dry performance. Still, he kept saying that he didn’t have any idea what’s going on (although he enjoyed the circus tricks), and I began to realize that in the recording, some of the more vital words are slurred or glossed over (it’s an old recording). And, naturally, I began to analyze how hard or easy it would be to follow if you missed those words. You can guess the answer.

Did you notice the pattern of when vocabulary went from a background habit to an actual thought? Every single time something called it to my attention, someone else reacted either by not understanding or acting surprised (given additional emphasis to a word they didn’t expect).

See, even though we don’t think about it that way, vocabulary is very much a social creation. Growing up, we mainly get our vocabulary from the people we see most: our family and friends. We also gain vocabulary from our watching and reading habits (reading grows vocabulary the most although movies can help), and we tend to have similar taste to the people we hang out with.

What that all boils down to is that the people you see most are going to know most of the same words you do. Sure, there will be some words that don’t crossover, but there’s a lot of overlap.

That’s why we don’t notice or think about our vocabulary: if everyone understands the words everyone else uses, there’s nothing to draw our attention to them. My friends and family wouldn’t have thought twice about the word I used at my friend’s birthday dinner; however, we probably wouldn’t know some of the words those people’s friends and families use.

What’s the moral to the story?

I don’t know – I don’t write fables!

Sorry.

Zombie-wise, all I can say is that when it comes to keeping those bones together and moving, vocabulary changes everything. And thanks to mine (and some macabre imagery), you may never think of communication the same way again. (You’re welcome.)