Posts Tagged With: Creative Writing

I am a Domestic Goddess

In my coursework studying creative nonfiction, my classmates and I often discuss what is “truth” and how frequently “truth” gets wiggled in order to create a good narrative arc, or pretty prose. It’s kind of a fascinating question. I have recently been disappointed to learn that some of my favorite writers have blatantly made things up in order to create a good story. It seems like everyone does it – creative nonfiction is NOT journalism, so whether it is allowed in this genre is a great, debatable issue.

Ultimately, it’s all about the narrative. And narrative is a malleable beast.

And that’s how I get to be a domestic goddess.

Last week this happened:

I was home alone but it was Saturday night. I did not have a single soul in this blessed city who wanted to hang out with me all weekend.

I was feeling blue. I couldn’t shake the heart crunch of a break up. It wasn’t a particularly serious relationship, but I was wallowing.

I was swamped with work but my blueness was making my mind run in circles rather than towards productivity. I was procrastinating.

My baking, usually something I’m reasonably good at, did not go smoothly. First, I didn’t read the recipe carefully and mixed the flour and sugar. I was not supposed to do that. If you have ever tried to separate out grains of sugar and flour once they have been mixed – well, you’re a better man than I. I just dumped it in the trash, wasting over 3 cups of good product. I didn’t have *quite* enough butter – damn you, metric system, I was about 20 grams off. I tried to realign things to use margarine instead but I didn’t have quite enough of that either. I decided it would be fine.

It was not fine.

I then tried to soften the butter in the oven (I live in a house without a microwave, and don’t get me started on it). The butter melted way faster than I expected, making is liquid-y instead of soft.

All this added up to create some cookies of mass destruction. You could bruise people with those cookies if you had a good throwing arm or a slingshot.

I unscrewed (yes, unscrewed) a bottle of wine and proceeded to drink the entire thing. Drunk and alone on a Saturday night.

I listened to the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” musical soundtrack and sang along to every word. This is possibly the reason I’m single.

I called a friend and whinged at her about my sadface problems.


So that’s the “truth” of what happened.

But with a little bit of editing:

I was home alone, a rare blessing in my house of three where someone is always around and using the communal space.

I poured myself a glass of red wine and blasted my iPod, another rare treat when you share living space. I belted along at the top of my lungs while I turned on the oven and warmed up the kitchen. I baked sugar cookies, perfect for dunking in a cup of milky tea.

While home for Christmas, I only got see see my childhood best friend briefly, so I called her up – it’s so cheap to add international minutes to my mobile phone. We caught up in an edifying, deeply satisfying way. I love knowing no matter how long we go without talking, we can always pick up the phone and talk like we still converse daily. She will always be a part of my life.


In that version, I overcame an obstacle and succeeded in having an excellent night, embracing my domesticity and some me-time. If my life were a chick flick, I’d probably add the baking mishaps back in for a bit of endearing, slapstick humor.

And the cookies did genuinely taste good, they were just very, very hard.

Both versions are true. But the tone of each is pretty different. It’s all about shaping the narrative. Which is another way of saying it is all a matter of perspective.

Which is another way of saying fake it till you make it.

I am a domestic goddess. Come, drink wine and eat cookies with me.

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Reason Hemingway Wrote in Paris

It’s because no one in France understood what he was writing, so they didn’t give him crap about his own language.

There’s an (unattributable but maybe GBShaw) saying, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” Now you see what I did there? I used double quotes. I have recently learned that not only does our language thwart communication, but so does our grammar and spelling. I’m looking at these people I live side by side with as though I’m from another planet.

A planet with more common sense.

The English put single quotes around a quoted sentence, or a line of dialogue. Then if there is a single word within a sentence, they put double quotes. How does this make “sense”?

Quotes are cushions, they keep the words safe. Why would you choose to use half the amount of protection you are lavishing on a quote? If you appreciate another person’s words so much you want to quote them, respect them enough to give their quote the full benefit of fortification. Double quotes stand out. They are noticeable. Sometimes I don’t even see single quotes and then I don’t realize I’m reading something important. Why do single words get this treatment but not entire sentences? It seems mismatched – you’re overwhelming a single word with all that quotage, while leaving the sentences or paragraphs to fend for themselves. I don’t get it.

I say double quotes for all! Maybe it’s my over-consuming American nature, my more-is-better-than-less complex, but single quotes are basically apostrophes with an overinflated sense of self, and I don’t like them.

There. I said it. I am starting a rumble with single quotation marks.

Then there is the issue of “z.” Which is “zed” over here. Let’s not even get into it. I don’t care to know why a letter gets to be a word…and why it’s the only letter which merits such status. It’s not like you use it that way when writing words. Zedoo. Zedest. Zedydeco. Zedeitgeist. Zedodiac.

No. you don’t do that. That would be dumb. So why call it that in the first place?

On top of that, you English you, poor little “z” is already underused and unloved. So why are you trying to take away some of its action? Why organise? Why characterise? Why specialise and recognise? These words have a sexy little zzzzzz to them. Why diminish them with that stuffy old “s”? Don’t get me wrong, “s” is one of my favorite letters. Also one of the most used. I guess I’m an alphabet socialist. Redistribute the spelling so everyone gets an equal share. (But you know, I don’t support the “z” for “s” swap. Bratz. Those dolls suck.)

We could talk about the additional “u” in words where you don’t hear it, but what’s the point?

As someone trying to make my life out of words, these things are kind of a big deal to me. It never occurred to me that doing a creative writing Masters in England would stifle my creativity in ENGLISH. But it is. My three American classmates  and I (one quarter of the course) were told to line up our words with the British way of thinking. Spelling, grammar. But that feels so disingenuous. I am an American writer. My story is American. Not British. To write “favourite” and “colour” – that’s not who I am. It feels like I’m trying too hard to fit in.

I deal with this a lot, in every day conversations, choosing my words: do I say my American word, or do I try to use the British equivalent, with sounds harsh or tacky or ingratiating coming out of my mouth? But when it comes to my writing…I’m trying to be creative. I’m not writing an academic thesis. I’m writing a book. It may be nonfiction, but it’s going to be the inner workings of my mind, a first person narrative, a memoir. And my first person “I” double quotes everything (even my air quotes are double) and recogniZes the value of that alphabetical “caboose.” if i chose to do the entire book in lowercase letters that would be my creative prerogative because i’m trying to express myself in a unique and accurate way.

So I might be putting my battle gear on. I’m gonna fight for my Americanisms, because no matter how much I love this country I currently live in, it is not mine. To write like it is would make me look like an arse (see? Doesn’t that sound lame coming from me?)

“ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ”! Game on. I never thought the English would be my foes, but sometimes you just have to stand up for what you believe is right.

(Also, standard letterhead paper here is 8.3in x 11.7in. Can’t we all just get along?!?)

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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