I am not sure when it happened, the transformation from English teacher who likes smart action TV to nerd. People say you are a nerd when you like something unabashedly and a whole lot. I suspect it is a combination of Joss Whedon simply doing what he does—creating feminist TV and fun movies—and the social phenomenon of Netflix and bingewatching old and new TV shows. Suddenly I can immerse myself into something cool and pay really close attention to the details and catch the kinds of continuity elements that are obvious when you watch four episodes in an evening rather than over the course of four weeks. That leads to an admiration of the writers/actors/set designers, a kind of “I see what you did there” that otherwise would be unavailable to me. Then you add social media and discover that other people really love the same things that you really love, which then makes it even safer to really love it, a kind of reverse peer pressure.
So, yes, the Earth is going to hell in a handbasket, no question, but at least I have my Captain America.
So last week my writing students at MIT were given a piece by science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany’s book About Writing. The passage I like best says, “Use the precise word. Don’t say ‘gaze’ when you mean ‘look.’ Don’t say ‘ambled’ or ‘sauntered’ or ‘stalked’ when you mean ‘walked.’ (And don’t say ‘walked’ when you mean one of the others.) As far as the creative writer goes, the concept of synonyms should be a fiction for high school and first-and second-year college students to encourage them to improve their vocabularies. The fact is (as writers from Georg Christoff Lichtenberg [1742-99] in the eighteenth century to Alfred Bester [1913-87] in the twentieth have written), ‘There are no synonyms'” (4).
Similarly, poet Marge Piercy says (somewhere probably in this book but I cannot find it) that every poet should have, in addition to a good dictionary and thesaurus, a set of Peterson’s Field Guides to trees and flowers and birds. There is a difference between a grackle and a sparrow, a walnut tree and an oak. Similarly, when you get a good thesaurus, that means Roget’s, NOT Mirriam-Webster. For “Color” Mirriam-Webster says things like “hue” and “tint.” Roget’s gives you all kinds of reds, oranges, yellows, greens, etc. Some are from flowers, others from gems. Always look up the thing to see what it came from.
Particulars persuade, people. So watch your language!
Delany, Samuel R. About Writing. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2006.
Piercy, Marge. Parti-Colored Blocks for a Quilt. Ann Arbor: U Michigan P, 1999.
So looking back at my blog today I realize that it has gotten rather estrogen-soaked, which is a shame, since it is summer, which is Buff Men Jogging Without Shirts Season (and you know how loosely I define poetry), and we really ought to take advantage of that. I was thinking about the evolution of my taste over the years, as portrayed in popular culture. As a girl, I watched Wonder Woman and Gilligan’s Island, so I had huge crushes on Lyle Waggoner (Steve Trevor) and Russell Johnson (The Professor): square-jawed American men, hard-working and smart.
More recently, I appreciate eye-candy like Daniel Craig (James Bond, etc.) or Chris Evans (Captain America). Strictly speaking, I suspect this is actually devolution. Apparently I was focusing on the right things back then and have gotten away from it since. Although the new Bond isn’t the sexist pig that most of the others have been, and Cap still has some of the better of the 1940s values (“Language, people!”) while also being a feminist.
That’s what I am going with anyway…