Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Communication Breakdown

I could not give less of a shit about the Grammar Wars.  Here’s why you shouldn’t either.

The spirit of a law is always, always more important than the letter.  Following the letter of the law is what turned Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell into a bad thing.  It started off as a well-intentioned policy of inclusion; prior to 1992 it was permissible for a military recruiter to ask an applicant whether he was a homosexual.  If the candidate answered yes, his ability to serve could be denied outright.  The spirit of DADT was to prevent that discrimination.  The spirit was you’re not allowed to ask after someone’s sexuality and use their answer against them.  The spirit was that you cannot be compelled to give information regarding your own sexual orientation and thus be prevented from service for doing so.  The intended end result was that military discrimination against homosexuality was now over.

Then some asshole nitpicked the letter of the law and the whole machine just went right on discriminating for another 20 years.  “It says you’re not allowed to tell anyone you’re gay!  You told!  You’re out!”  Picking apart the wording of the law turned it around to serve the very discrimination it was created to prevent.  To adhere strictly to the letter of this law was to be willfully ignorant of its purpose.
Naturally this can be seen as an argument for greater consistency and specificity in our language to prevent such confusion.  The entirety of the debate about the 2nd Amendment can come down to the placement of a single goddamned comma.  But if I left the comma out of the sentence, “Let’s eat, Grandma!” no one would mistake my meaning unless it was for the sake of either making a joke or to point out their own superiority.
An unavoidable truth is that language itself – both written and spoken – is constantly evolving.  We don’t use punctuation in a modern society the same way we did 200 years ago, or 200 years before that, or in another 200 years from now, and thus we’ll never find an answer by guessing what someone meant solely by analyzing the specificity of text. 
I spent a couple of years working in a corporate environment, which meant there were some people with whom I communicated solely through the written communication of email.  I remember shaking my head at one woman who consistently asked for help using the words “Please advice.”  The very instant I typed those words just now, Microsoft Word made a little blue squiggle under the word “advice” because it knows it’s the wrong word to use here.  The word should, of course, had been “advise”.
But you know what?  I knew what she meant.  I could have wasted energy by throwing my metaphorical hands into the air in confusion.  I could have asked her how I was supposed to offer pleasure to an abstract concept, feigning ignorance until she tracked down the nature of her minor spelling error.  I could have reveled in how much smarter I am, mirthfully imagining her writhing in frustration as I – her grammatical savior – elevated her understanding to my own level of enlightenment.  Instead, I answered her question, we got our work done, and went on with the rest of our lives.
The same idea applies to the uses of there/their, its/it’s, your/you’re, and to/too/two.   Some people consistently use those words incorrectly, true, but never does it ever change the meaning of the sentence.  If ever you’ve been bent out of shape about someone using the wrong homonym, ask yourself:  did this cause you to misinterpret the intent, or did you use your Context Clues and figure it out? 
For example: occasionally there pops up a debate of which city people think of when someone says, “The City,” the popular answer being New York City.  But how in the fuck do people think those two words are said devoid of context?   Has anyone ever begun a conversation solely with those two words?  Why would you do that?  If someone approached you and said, simply, “The City!” would you then respond, “Ah yes, I know which city you mean.”  Or would you perhaps request a complete sentence that would enable you to know what they meant?
That’s where the grade school homonym lesson comes in.  If someone tells you, “Your great,” or “Your sweet,” you wouldn’t be suddenly lost in the conversation.  You wouldn’t ask, “My great what?” or say, “My sweet . . . apples?  What do you mean?  Why are you just typing random words?”  Not unless you were being a dick, anyway.
I actually am sensitive as to why this bothers people.  Some of us worked very hard to get good grades in school.  We were told that communication skills were of paramount importance.  I get that.  I agree with that.  Communication is important in art, in science, in relationships, in lawmaking.  It’s frustrating to see someone succeed while putting in less effort, or with less care.
But criticizing a stray comma or an unnecessary apostrophe doesn’t improve communication any more than eating a pie on March 14th makes you better at math. 
Seek to understand your fellows rather than criticize and dominate them, and we’ll actually evolve much faster.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Suddenly, it’s a year later.

The last regular writing I did was to promote a show I was in: the 2012 production for A Klingon Christmas Carol.  Each week I’d discuss my perspective on the rehearsal and production.  Prior to that I’d write from time to time about what was going on in my life, or stories from the past for which I’d finally found an entertaining way to tell. 

Then we hit January, and I spent the month in Southern Illinois filming a movie I wasn’t allowed to talk too much about.  I can say that it’s called Dig Two Graves, but more than that I wasn’t certain what I was allowed to say – a project in production likes to keep some secrets – so I decided to play it safe and say nothing.

In February of last year I hit a professional lull.  It was the first time in eight months that I had no idea what my next job was going to be.  I’d spent the previous March to December losing 35 pounds, but in January alone I put on 40.  Also, my long-cured back troubles resurfaced in full force.  My finances were more desperate than usual.  I hit a fit of depression that made my new relationship suffer.

Then things picked up professionally.  By the first week of April I had booked my next four shows, which would carry me for a ten month span in which I’d be either in rehearsal, performance, or both simultaneously.  I even booked my first three commercials (in increasingly important roles) and was featured on a major network TV show for the first time.

I never talked about these things because they either felt too depressing when I was low, or too much like bragging when I wasn’t.

But I suppose the biggest influence over shutting myself up came from the discovery of The Paper Machete, a weekly Live Lit show that featured essays on news topics of the previous week.  I found the show entertaining, engaging, but most of all it felt important.  Naturally the perspective of many of these pieces were filtered through the thoughts and feelings of their authors, but it was always larger than the person who wrote the piece.  As opposed to my own writing, none of the pieces could have been titled, “Here’s Why You Should Care About Me This Week” composed of a tale of why their lives either suck or are full of victories to be envied.

I want to be a writer.  I don’t begrudge people who write about themselves (even though I despise the term Creative Non-Fiction), but when I do it, it just feels so shallow.  As a result, I write nothing.

Worse than writing nothing is what I choose to do with my time instead.  I play more video games and watch more TV.  I become more of a consumer than a creator, and I feel I lose the right to call myself Artist if I’m not spending time creating some form of art.

Worse, if I write nothing at all, my writing gets rusty.  Then, even on those occasions I do manage to say something, I find I’m saying it poorly, and the joy is sucked out of being creative.

And now here I am again.  At the same time of year, I have no acting gig lined up.  I’m overweight based upon the clothes I used to fit into.  And I have nothing important to say.

But I’ve learned that saying nothing gets me nowhere, and I have less self-respect than if I merely say nothing important. 

I’m still trying to find my voice, but I think I’m done caging myself.  I don’t let the opinion of others bring down my mood, compromise my values, or alter my appearance.  Why should it be any different with my art?