Escapism fail

A lot of my colleagues are escaping from the dreary dystopia of current affairs into writing their own fictional worlds. More power to them. I’m having trouble getting back on the path. Especially in this last month, having put my back out to the extent that I can’t bear to sit up unless I’ve taken the muscle relaxants that turn my brain to mush.

First I couldn’t write.

Then I couldn’t read new fiction by other writers; it felt like too much emotional effort to get involved with new characters and situations. Instead, I’ve been reading Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. Again. This time I’m reading them in German translation, which not only improves my vocabulary but forces me to slow down so that I appreciate anew the finer points of dialogue and plotting.

To keep my brain from chewing itself up, I’ve been escaping into the Duolingo series of Czech lessons, which are little bite-sized bits of syntax and vocabulary that entertain me in, I think, the way that crossword puzzles entertain more normal people.

But the strange collection of sentences offered in these puzzles is pushing me back to fiction. I find it almost impossible to type things like “I am looking for my aunt’s bear” or “We do not know whether we are brothers,” without starting to imagine the fictional world in which somebody would actually say these things.

And when I was looking for a picture to illustrate this post, the internet offered me, “My children are Americans.”

So they are.

And I need to write stories that will help them remember that… while also figuring out the mysteries of the long-lost brothers and the missing bear of my aunt.

In the long run, I can’t escape fiction.

37 comments

  1. So your aunt is a shapeshifter sort of like a Selkie in that she needs a “coat” to put on in order to change forms. And someone has stolen her bear coat, preventing her from shifting into her most useful combat form, just as a major war is about to descend on your land…

    You live in a world where “brother” is most often used in the academic sense, two apprentices of the same sorcerer. Your master disappeared some years ago, and you’ve been looking for him. Recently you’ve found a man your own age with a very similar style of magic, but you haven’t yet proven that he was taught by your master….

    Damn it, I have a very full schedule this year, I have to get through 8000 words today, and I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS.

    More importantly, hope that your back feels better and that your brain gets back in gear. If for no other reason than the selfish one that I’m running low on Margaret Ball books to read…

  2. I’ve been working a lot of projects to keep my brain occupied. Now that I’m back in school, I have to put aside a lot of them for school-and I like my projects more than school!

    Novel writing has hit a few bumps, but I will be getting over those bumps as much as I can.

    Trying out some new novels on Kindle, some are just “UGH” bad and I want to find the author-who seems to be doing very well, if the sales numbers are right-and slap the concept of decent plotting and fewer obviously snide and “clever” world-building into them.

    And, household chores. Never ends.

    1. Oh, the UGH novels! You know it’s actually sad, I think many of these are perpetrated by wannabe novelists who haven’t yet learned their trade – worse, they haven’t even learned enough to know that they haven’t – and by putting out these sloppy beginner efforts they’re poisoning their own well, because I do not forget the names of authors who failed so egregiously. So that even if after 5 or 10 or 15 books they attain some measure of skill, it’ll be too late for the audience they want to attract.

      Really, I read a lot of first novels – well, I start reading a lot of first novels – that make me want to put an arm around the author’s shoulders and say, “Now, dear, let Auntie Margaret make you a cup of tea and explain why you’re not ready to hit the Publish button yet.”

      1. It’s one of the reasons why I was so nervous about my first novel. I mean, Jim Butcher can release two….okay first books for Dresden Files, and make it somehow (I really think the series starts with book #3), but when this is your Very First Novel…it’s scary. I don’t want to be an “UGH!” writer or be known for just doing one kind of genre work. And, you get nervous that you can make the other kinds of mistakes.

        But, I can look through my copy of the book and go “I did pretty good.” So, that’s a good thing.

        I know that I haven’t made the worst mistakes, but I will probably have to do more advertising and making efforts to get people to look at my story. And, write faster on the sequel.

  3. Indeed the household chores never end. I am wondering if I can afford a “yard guy.” I certainly could use the help. That and a maid…

  4. I’m starting stories like mad. Skipping from one to another, finishing none. I’ve got _five_ that I’m actively writing on and four more that are semi-abandoned. If I can’t finish at least one pretty soon there’s going to be a big hole in my publishing record.

    1. Oh, finish them all, one of these days I expect to be able to read fiction again and I’d love to have a bunch of your stories waiting for me.

  5. Margaret — I’ve been having a lot of muscle tightness/back pain/leg pain, and got advised to try magnesium supplements. I tried it, and it made a big difference. Fairly quickly. Because apparently I’m not eating enough foods that contain it.

    I gather from the medical sites that you don’t want to take really powerful muscle relaxants and really large amounts of magnesium at the same time, though! So maybe ask your doctor or be careful, and check interactions with other stuff you take.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, but I’m 99% sure this isn’t a magnesium deficiency, it’s a common sense deficiency. It started with an extremely awkward attempt to avoid falling that, ok, saved my knees but wrenched my lower back sideways. Agonizing the first week, painful the next week, now with the help of muscle relaxants and ice packs down to “Don’t do that again. Ever.”

      There are days when I suspect that walking on two legs was a serious evolutionary mistake. Our backs really aren’t designed for it.

      1. I injured my back a few years ago exercising. In decades of exercise, I never learned what the physical therapist told me (she also correctly diagnosed me when the doctor did not until after the MRI).

        If you bend forward, you need to bend backwards.

        It’s very odd to bend backwards because it’s not a normal movement but it saved my back. I still can’t do certain movements because of the damaged disk in my spine, but I’m much better now.

  6. I once had a friend named Stefan, a unique, brilliant fellow who spoke just about every language spoken in Europe, who told me that true mastery of a language occurs when you start to laugh at its puns. I never came near that level of mastery in any of the languages I studied. I’ve yearned for it, vainly, ever since Stefan first described it…but I think it would require actual immersion in the language and its surrounding culture, and that would involve a huge investment of time, among other things.

    English-language puns have been a source of fiction ideas for me. What sort of ideas might arise from puns in other tongues? Would they differ greatly from those that occur in English? A source of new, unexplored motifs, perhaps? What if the language in question were Hungarian, which the pro linguists claim bears no discernible relationship to any other known language?

    Say! There’s an idea: a Galactic Federation of races united by an artificial language that’s native to none of them. Admission to the Federation and its attendant benefits requires that the candidate race pass a test: some fraction of its representatives must endure a pun-intensive monologue by some Galactic Johnny Carson figure and laugh / groan at all the right moments. I can just see the examiners shaking their sense-organ clusters over some failed candidacy:

    First examiner: “They just don’t get it.”
    Second examiner: “Maybe you had to be there.”

    Now, would Mankind actually want to be a member of this gang?

    1. Darn you to Heck, Francis. Now I’ve got a plot element for that Planet Texas thing pestering me. Arrrrgh, get it away! Do Not Need!

  7. What if the language in question were Hungarian, which the pro linguists claim bears no discernible relationship to any other known language?

    That’s not true. Hungarian is related to Finnish and Estonian. Not particularly closely related, mind you, but close enough that the linguists can recognize them as part of the same family.

      1. I could be the one in error here, but Wikipedia at least still claims that there is a Finno-Ugric language family. Take that for what it’s worth.

        1. When I started studying linguistics, “Finno-Ugric” was a thing. When I fled academia screaming, “Finno-Ugric” was a mistake. In the subsequent years there’s been plenty of time for the switch to flip back and forth many times as each academic generation has to revile the previous generation. I don’t know where the switch is positioned now. The arguments for grouping the languages never much impressed me, though. As I recall, they were based mainly on structure. “Hungarian is an agglutinative language. So is Finnish. Therefore…”

          There does seem to be evidence for lumping a number of Baltic languages into a single category of Finnic languages, but things get a great deal shakier when you try to add Hungarian.

          At various times they tried to jam Turkish and Korean into that same category. Oh, and Basque. No two of these languages are even close to mutually comprehensible and I never even saw a list of putative cognates between any two of them. I can offhand think of more cognates between English and Hindi than between Finnish and Hungarian. So I’m still dubious about the claim that these two languages are related, but I’d be open to argument from anybody offering evidence to support the grouping.

          1. Fair enough. I’m speaking as someone who learned enough Hungarian to walk into a grocery store in Budapest and walk out with the things she meant to buy (and it was really hilarious watching some of my classmates who didn’t reach that level and saying things like, “Um, you do know that ‘tejföl’ does not mean ‘yogurt,’ right?”). My language teacher told me that it was related to Finnish, a language I don’t think I’ve even heard spoken, and I had no reason to disbelieve.

            1. That’s about my level of Hungarian too, plus or minus some songs and a few remarkably filthy expressions that I try to substitute for English four-letter words when my knees hurt, because I really don’t want to hear my grandchildren’s piping little voices repeating those kind of words.

  8. Regarding your Aunt’s bear: Her bear is an escapee from a top-secret government lab which enhanced its strength, endurance, and intelligence. The bear escaped before the lab personnel discovered just how intelligent the bear was. They tracked down the bear, captured, and now are taking it back to the lab. Hence the need to search for your aunt’s bear.

  9. It’s my aunt, and I say her bear is a shape-changing alien visitor who finds it safer to masquerade as a member of a protected species. Unfortunately, taking on the form of a bear is affecting his behavior. The neighbors are really upset about having their garbage cans constantly overturned, and some of them carry guns…

      1. I could make a long, long list of Duolingo sentences that work as story prompts. Today I got “Although they do not know us, they hate us.” Although that’s kind of depressing.
        The list gets even longer and more interesting if you include my mistakes.
        “Laska” is love and “lisky” is fox, and if you get mixed up, you find yourself typing “Our fox will endure forever.”
        “Svetry” is sweaters and “sestry” is sisters and no, the sentence did NOT mean “She is waiting to buy two sisters.”

        1. Our fox will endure forever…

          I see that one being a HFY universe story. There’s a statue, quite heroic, of a bunch of humans and foxes and weapons at the spaceport. Because, you see, the humans met these small, frail but cute and clever aliens who were rapidly losing a war, and decided to “save the vixens.”
          And proceeded to pound the hell out of the opposition, until there was nothing to mark their existence but a crater filled with ashes and broken dreams.
          The natives were a little confused why the humans said “This is what happens when we give a flying f*ck.”, as the translation software rendered it ‘flying fox.’ But, as it goes, when the translated answer to “why did you destroy us?” was “Because we’re all out of fox”, well, the sculptor’s rendition was a little less human and little more creative, to give them all the fox they lacked.

          So their fox may endure forever…

          1. Oh, I love that one! I wish somebody would organize the anthology. I’d be happy to provide many more prompts.

        2. My sister, who learned Castilian Spanish first, had to think a minute when her Spanish teacher in the USA said:
          “Se cazan los zorros” – wait, I didn’t know foxes got married? (In Castilian Spanish, z is said “th”, but in Mexico, it’s said like “s”, so casar (to marry) and cazar (to hunt) sound the same).

          And then there’s always fun with “false friends”; for example, the Spanish word for embarrassed IS NOT embarazado! (It’s doubly embarrassing if a women messes this one up!) And let’s not get into Asian languages with tones….you can make sentences in Chinese with the same base word but in different tones…

          1. And then there’s always fun with “false friends”; for example, the Spanish word for embarrassed IS NOT embarazado! (It’s doubly embarrassing if a women messes this one up!)

            As one of my Spanish teachers said, if you thought you were embarrassed BEFORE you said that, you’ll be really embarrassed afterwards.

            Another good one in Spanish is la papa (the potato) vs. el Papa (the Pope). Don’t screw up the article on that one!

            1. Now you’re running into regional differences again….that’s not a problem in Spain, because potatoes are patatas.
              From what I’ve heard, other regional differences include:
              – Dropping final s (Andulucia)
              – Differences in how fast you speak
              – Swear words (supposedly in Argentina, every other word is a swear word. And I’ve heard some casual insults in Spain will get you in a fight in some South American countries).

              Actually, regional differences are a another big fun area. “Official” European languages are the language of the capitol or dominant region / class (think “BBC” English vs cockney; Prussian German vs Bavarian or Schleswig-Holstein; Parisian French vs southern French), or for that matter, China – Sichuan has its own dialect, supposedly as you travel away from Shanghai every 20 miles or so there’s a different dialect (probably less so now).

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