the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: words

The Importance of Sentence Structure in the “Date Question”

In some ways, I know less about “dating” now than I did in high school.  I never dated in high school, so obviously, being young and stupid, I naturally assumed I understood it all.  Now, after years of experience going bra-shopping with Sophia at Target and forgetting to buy flowers on Valentine’s Day, I understand the ramifications and complexities of every life decision, which can paralyze even the strongest of men.

This was my Facebook status update earlier —

“If you were a separated woman who lived on my block, and I asked you to go to the movies, would you assume that I am asking you out on a “date,” and what would you think are my “motivations?” Won’t this act forever change our current relationship? Why the hell am I asking YOU?”

I received several interesting responses.  Thank you, Facebook “friends” — some of who I know absolutely nothing about, but love you anyway — for your honest responses.  I wish I could go on a date with you.  But frankly, I would be too worried that you would write about the disastrous date on your blog, so forget about it.

The Facebook response that intrigued me the most came from Marie Angell, a singer from Houston, who indicated that asking a woman out on a date is primarily — about language.  As a writer, I love to think about the meaning of words.   Writing is about words.  Recently, I wrote a post that everything online is merely words.

So why can’t dating be seen as simple and controllable as being about words?!

This is what Marie wrote —

“Is this a date to you? If so, then you should say something along the lines of: I’d love to take you out–would you like to go to a movie on <date 3 days hence>.

If you just want to hang out as friends (for …now), you can say: I’m in the mood for a movie. How about you?”

So, in a nutshell, if a guy starts a sentence with “I’d love to…” he wants to get into the woman’s pants.  But if he says, “I’m in the mood…” he is saying that he hasn’t seen “The King’s Speech” yet, but hates going to the movies by himself.

Now, it is all clear.

Violent Language

Even if Sarah Palin’s website didn’t cause Jared Loughner to go out and shoot Representative Gabrielle Gifford in this weekend’s horrific incident, few of us think Palin’s bulls-eye map was a very civilized way of making a political point.

But she has a right to do it.

As a writer, I lean towards freedom of speech and expression.  I don’t know how many times in my lifetime I have seen movies, books, or rock and rap music blamed for every ill in society.  Sarah Palin didn’t cause the killer to plan an assassination.  I don’t respect her use of gun imagery for political gain, but she has legal right, much in the same way that I believe a cartoonist can draw a cartoon of Mohammed without fear of being murdered.  It only becomes illegal when the person really cries fire — or calls for a jihad — or murder.

We are all vying for attention with our words and ideas, both in the old and new media.   Sadly, most of us have become just like Sarah Palin.   We use controversial metaphors in order to gain attention.  It is what sells.  It is what makes us watch and listen.  No one hears you clearly if you debate in a reasoned manner.  I thought this type of journalism might change with the election of the intellectual Obama, but, instead, he is called a wimp if he isn’t fighting like an angry dog.

But if we are going to honestly talk about violence in language and every day discourse, I say we also look at ourselves.  We live in a violent and unstable society, and there is a legitmate need for many of us to express our anger — at our government, our families, and even ourselves.  But are we getting too comfortable employing violent imagery in our writing to grab attention, much like Sarah Palin?

As a little experiment, I did Twitter searches on common phrases I read all the time online:

“I want to shoot someone.”

“I want to punch someone in the face.”

“I want to stab someone.”

And you’d be surprised at how many statements like this are made every MINUTE.  More surprising are the positive responses these statements get in return, usually a lot of laughter and agreement.   Clearly, we understand the context of the statements.  We assume the nice college kid writing “I wants to shoot the guy in the supermarket for talking loudly on his cellphone” isn’t REALLY going to shoot him.   The contrast of the statement and the reality is what makes the statement amusing.

We all enjoy writing “I want to punch that guy in the nose” every once in a while.  I know I do.  It is cathartic.  But I’m afraid that violent-aggressive language has become more of the norm rather than the exception, especially online.  I’m sure we don’t do it consciously.  It is the trickle down effect of a society obsessed with violence.   We find violence more “real” — and cooler — than sense and sensibility.   Hey, we can talk like inner city rappers  (even from our safe suburban homes!)  I would hate to think that this type of writing becomes as common in our society as it is for unstable twenty year olds to walk around with Glock pistols in their pockets.

Owning My Words

One day I would like to own my words.  Unfortunately, I still rent.

Sure, sometimes I borrow.  Sometimes I even steal.  But mostly it is a month to month payment plan.

Today was a beautiful day in New York.  It was a good day to try to own some words.  I don’t know if you all know this, but in New York City, words like to fly in the summer air, hoping to escape the heat of all the tiny apartments without sufficient air conditioning.  I woke up early, hoping to beat the other word-searchers, and headed to Central Park with my butterfly net.  I was ready to catch some words, wrestle them to the ground if necessary.  Once they were in my possession, I would take them home on the subway, trapping them in a coffee can I brought in a knapsack, and then — tad-ah! — I would finally own my words.  How proud I would be to write a new post, announcing to everyone that the words you are reading are my own true words, copyrighted and trademarked like Google, Disney, and Snapple!

I was tip-toeing near the Central Park boathouse, binoculars at eye-level,  when I encountered a middle-aged couple in the midst of an argument.  They were about 50 feet up ahead.  He had a gray beard and looked like a professor.  She was thin, with the demeanor of a magazine editor.  She looked like Diane Keaton. I tried to eavesdrop on their argument, but couldn’t make out much of the conversation.  They spoke in a calm manner, even during this heated discussion, nothing like the dishes thrown against wall affairs in my own home.  The professor said something about “Martin” and “Connecticut” and “not again.”  He was very animated with his hands.  The magazine editor said, “You’re wrong!” She said it was a sudden energy, with an anger she didn’t even know existed, and she was jolted by her own words, and it was at that moment that I saw the word “wrong” speed away into the muggy air, like a thoroughbred at the Belmont Stakes.  Was the word “wrong” angry?  Was it waiting for this moment of intensity to finally escape the tension building in this woman’s tongue and lips and vocal cords.  I did not wait to learn.  I really didn’t care.  I had work to do.  I was going to capture that word for my own.

I know some of you are members of PETA or humanists who don’t think I should be out in Central Park hunting down words and capturing them like slaves in Egypt, imprisoning them for my own enjoyment, forcing them into hard labor.  I know your type.  Hypocrites!  How much do you pay your own words?  I read your blogs.  Do you give your words medical care?  Or do you just use your words like Walmart uses Chinese children in a Guangdong sweatshop, making sweaters for suburban housewives at discount prices?

Let’s get real.  The world of words is one of finders keepers.  If I can capture a word with my butterfly net, it is none of your freakin’ business.

I raced through the park, and down Fifth Avenue, smashing my elbow into baby strollers, like a swag-crazy mother at the Swiffer party at BlogHer, a predator after my prey.   I wanted that word.

And then with one long off-balanced swoop of the arm, I grabbed the word, entrapping it in my net.  At least.  I now owned a word.

I owned the word “wrong.”

Why are our joys so short-lived?  By the time, I returned to Queens, much of my  enthusiasm had faded.  I had time to think while on that lonely subway ride.  What could I do with one word?  After all, there is not much to write when you only own one word.

Wrong.   Wrong.   Wrong.

It is a little boring, right?

So, I released the word, and off “Wrong” flew, over Valentino’s Pizzeria and into the night sky.

I’m still a renter of words.  One day, I hope to find the right group of words, and make them my own.

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