Archive for December, 2013

A Holiday Guide for Writers

There are certain things I need to stay sane and healthy. These include:

  1. Proper sleep and diet
  2. Exercise
  3. Some minimal socializing
  4. Writing
  5. Reading
  6. Music

There are other things that are unnecessary for my health and sanity, although I do enjoy them, in small doses. Some of them are:

  1. Baking cookies
  2. Shopping
  3. Cooking Christmas dinner
  4. Holiday Decorating
  5. Gift Wrapping
  6. Parties and large social gatherings in general
  7. Sending Christmas cards

All of these holiday activities take time, and when time runs short, some activities are sacrificed–including items from the list of things I need to stay sane and healthy. Exercise suffers. I eat too many high-fat carbs. I don’t have enough alone time. Maybe I let the holidays mess with my writing schedule, or I read less. Let’s face it…I do all of the above in order to create the Christmas I want.

The first things to go from my sane ‘n’ healthy list are exercise and writing. Exercise…because it takes time, and I am lazy. Writing, because it takes time, and effort, and I’m lazy. Sleep, on the other hand, only requires lying down. Reading and listening to music are passive enjoyments.

Writing and exercise are the first to go, and I suffer from their lack.

I haven’t had much luck with the exercise, but I am determined to make a stand on the writing. It seems to me that there are certain things I can do. And here, I don’t need a bunch of numbers. I need only one rule: that my scheduled daily writing time be honored. This is it, and that is all there is to my Holiday Guide for Writers.

Taking the distractions of the season in reverse order: I am not sure I’ll get cards out this year. Fewer and fewer people send them. If I do send them, they may go out late. This is okay. This is a decision. As for parties, I keep them few and with people I want to spend precious time with. I am done with obligations, mostly. I will go with store gift wrap and bags with tissue paper whenever possible. Decorating? Yeah, that’s my favorite. I’ll spend a little extra time on that. For the rest of it, Christmas dinner will get served, my loved ones will have presents to open, and yes, the cookies will be baked. It will be fine, it will be enough. I will let the rest of the season take care of itself.

I am recycling this photo from a post from last year. Saves time! Helps allow me to stick to my writing schedule!

I am recycling this photo from a post from last year. Saves time! Helps allow me to stick to my writing schedule! (Link to previous post below.)

Writers: Do what you need to to stick to your writing schedule during this festive season, and stay sane and healthy.


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Questions About the Question Mark

The question mark is my favorite punctuation mark.

Days before my seventh birthday, I went to Santa Monica Hospital to have my tonsils out. Parts of the experience stand out clearly in memory. For instance, I remember being carried into the operating room by the doctor. I remember a mask being placed over my face. I remember being told to count backwards. And I remember a dream.

I’ve had general anesthetic a few times since, but don’t ever remember any dreams. This one time, though, I did.

I dreamed of question marks, dancing around me, and I dreamed of them jumping off a cliff. It wasn’t a nightmare exactly, but I found it disturbing. I have continued to find question marks menacing, somehow. What is it they want from me, exactly, and do they expect me to have answers?

Of course, I’m joking, a little bit. I experience no uneasiness at all at a question mark at the end of a sentence. Do you know where I left my keys? is not disturbing. Even Is there any meaning to life? ignites no particular emotion. It’s when the question mark stands out there all on its own that I get a bit twitchy.

There’s something about the wiggly insistence of the mark itself. It conjures uncertainty and instability. It suggests that there’s no end to possible questions, that no answer will ever be enough.

The recent flurry of Dr. Who programming reminded me of my uneasy relationship with question marks, where they appear on vests and shirt collars in the various incarnations of the Doctor. I also recall the music group from the sixties, ? and the Mysterians, how I never liked that name. I do not even like the way it alphabetizes in my iTunes library.

My research into the origins of the question mark was disappointing. I expected (hoped) I might find it had some occult origin, but in fact, its beginnings–while subject to debate–are mundane and practical. I was astonished to learn that, while used around the world in non-western languages such as Japanese and Chinese, some languages use other symbols to indicate an interrogative. Armenian uses something that looks like a backwards, flattened, cursive “a.”  Arabic uses a question mark, but it’s turned around to accommodate  right-to-left text. Three vertical dots indicate the interrogative in Ethiopic. Coptic uses a small square. None of these do it for me; they are thoroughly unsatisfying interrogatives.

The question mark looks just as questionable in right -to-left text.

The question mark looks just as questionable in right -to-left text. (Source: Wikipedia)

This “backwards” version of the question mark has another use I was previously unaware of, that of a percontation mark, for a rhetorical question, or to denote irony or sarcasm. I would have thought the sarcasm and irony uses would be recent innovations, but no, they date from the 19th century, according to my online research.

I suppose there are other symbols that spur feelings, for instance, $, or perhaps @, if you’re into Twitter or email addresses. For me, it’s the question mark, all the way. Periods put me to sleep. Semicolons make me feel smug. Exclamation marks annoy. Only question marks make me want to know what’s up.

Perhaps the scariest question marks of all.

Perhaps the scariest question marks of all.


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