Friday, January 23, 2015

What Is The Truth of the Matter: Part II

My curiosity about how truth functions in writing is insatiable—so much so that last year I wrote a blog post about it. The blog starts with a question that has plagued me from the moment I first came across it…here is me quoting myself:

“Taped to the refrigerator in my grandmother’s kitchen there is a piece of paper marked with a question:
                                                 What is the truth of the matter?”

The first time I saw it I remember thinking how appropriately deep it was for someone like her. I thought about what it said about her as a person, and about the kinds of people who would ask her about it, or try to answer it, and all the conclusions I could draw about someone who would write a question like that on a piece of paper and tape it to their refrigerator…but in the end the question only led to more questions.
           
The contemporary literary landscape has created a struggle for the working writer, who is torn between the blurring lines of genre boundaries, and the traditional rules that have been put in place to compartmentalize their forms. Historically, the rules of writing have followed the black and white sensibility that a text must be classified as is either factual or fictional…However, there exists today a debate in the non-fiction community about whether truth and fact are always identical, or if there exists a flexibility somewhere—an emotional truth that can be separated from factual truth.

It is fair to state that both poets and prose writers can reveal absolute truths about the human condition and emotional exploration without the concern that any image, character or action that is presented in their work is or is not a recollection of fact or the authors’ organic fabrication. Conversely, journalists are depended on to report the facts, unadulterated and wholly (though they often don’t), and non-fiction writers—biographers, memoirists, and essayists are under constant scrutiny—waiting, post-publication, to be lambasted by readers for the slightest skew or embellishment. So is it fair to say that these rules must be followed in order to create valid examples of texts in each genre? Are novels based in truth less credible because the author chose not to create an entirely fabricated world? Is the memoirist a fraud for conveying an interpretation of his or her own memory that cannot be corroborated?

I find this rigid divide problematic, both as a reader and a writer. As a reader, I want to believe that the author—regardless of genre or theme—is passionate about his or her work, and this passion—if it is to be believed—must come from a place of authority that should emanate from the work that has been created. This authority would most likely stem from a place of personal experience…of retrospection and recollection of a moment, a feeling, a place that has affected the writer enough for it to become an inspiration for their work.

In 2006, Oprah Winfrey chose James Frey’s memoir, A Million Little Pieces, as an Oprah’s Book Club selection. Three months later, reports exposed parts of his book as being exaggerated—most notably that his account of his 87day stint in prison was no more than a few hours. In a live, on air interview, Oprah Winfrey chastised Frey for his embellishments, saying "I feel duped, but more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers." It was a literary event great enough to merit a re-evaluation of the terms of memoir writing.
What the New York Times coined as, “The Frey Effect” set off alarm bells for publishers and agents alike, some of which had once encouraged authors to turn novels into hot-selling memoirs. New York Literary Agent Christy Fletcher told the New York Times, ''The decision to take on a memoir was always based on how good is the writing and how good is the story, that's not enough any more.''

If a fact cannot be corroborated on a work that is defined as non-fiction, does the “larger truth” that in offered within the text lose it’s legitimacy as well? In the case of James Frey, the line between aesthetic enhancement and outright fabrication was not toed so much as sprinted over. But would the outrage of his readership been as high if he had said he was in jail for 8 days instead of 87? And would the entire message that comes out of A Million Little Pieces come undone without including the narrative of a three-month stay in prison? The Frey Effect is not a consequence of poor authorship, so much as improper representation. If Oprah’s producers had done fact checking of their own, they would have discovered that Frey had shopped the book out as both a novel and a memoir prior to publication—a clear indication that the book was at least partially fictive. Regardless of who is to blame for the misclassification, the fact that the book had an audience at all is based on what Times book critic Michiko Kakutani calls, ''a case about how much value contemporary culture places on the very idea of truth.''

Our job as writers is not to define truth for our readers, but for ourselves. We must accept the fuzziness of our memories, and acknowledge that our perception of things is as unique and personal as our own genetic code. I wrote once that these truths that writers use in their work are “a repackaged retelling of what it means to be human.” That each individual detail, no matter how unique, is just each writers way of converting their truth into some universal truth…and I again recalled the piece of paper taped to my grandmothers’ refrigerator door.

A few months ago I sent her some pages of my retelling of her life, and the life I was living as I wrote it. Along with the manuscript I attached a note that said, …what is the truth of the matter? She responded, via voicemail, something that will most assuredly make into the next set of pages:

“There is no such thing as truth. My truth is not your truth. The truth is the seed that you put in the ground and it grows. Life has no purpose; life is an experience. What you learn is through experiencing life, your life, and that is what you write. That is the truth. That is life, and you cannot stop it.”



Nico Cassanetti likes to write. She has written for Life|Style Magazine, Muses & Visionaries, Abramsbooks.com, TheFasterTimes.com and reviewed great literary works on index cards for her staff picks while working at an independent bookstore in Brooklyn. She lives in South Florida and should probably quit smoking.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Year I Stopped Writing



When does a writer cease being a writer?

For the last year and a half, I've lived in Portland, Oregon, working as a social media and communications specialist for a small business. I've written more professional copy in the last year than I did in my final year of graduate school in 2013. I also journaled more and read more books in 2014 than any other year of my life (including that one angsty year in sixth grade when I filled an entire Five Star notebook).

Yet, this is the first "complete" piece of creative writing I've written all year. The first piece of writing I've refined, edited, polished, and submitted somewhere to live and be read outside the covers of my journal. The first piece of original writing since my graduate thesis.

Sure, there was that old lyric essay I cleaned up, re-labeled as fiction, and submitted to a handful of journals. I wrote that first draft in 2011. Does editing, re-purposing count as writing? I'm not sure.   

As far as any new, original pieces by Renee Long? Nada. My first year and a half outside the MFA has been dry. But somehow, I don't feel too guilt-ridden about this drought.

I won’t label my experience with the ugly term some writers use (the dreaded “W.B.”). I suppose I’m experiencing heart sickness. Losing my ability (or drive, or desire, or motivation) to write feels like a best friend has left for a distant place with no phone or internet service.

I miss this friend: the days spent at the beach, the nights out dancing, the afternoons cooking and drinking wine together, the long, important talks where you share only the most vulnerable parts of yourself.

Yet I feel this long time apart serves some purpose. It is some crucial, painful experience I have to go through to grow. To thrive without resting on the crutch of my best friend.

One benefit I’ve found from this “long away,” this drought, is I have been fully present in my experiences here in Oregon. I felt the warmth of sweet driftwood on my skin while I watched the sun set behind coastal cliffs. I dove naked beneath an icy, blue lake in the forest of Mount Hood. On my birthday, I saw glittering spouts of gray whales migrating south to Baja for the winter.

For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel an itch to immediately capture these experiences in writing. Until now, of course. To me, the urge to exploit a moment for the sake of art never felt great…and this year, it was a relief for the writer-itch to fade for a while.  

I am still a writer, and I miss my long-distance friend. Sometimes, when I am reading or taking notes, it's like I receive a postcard—a glimpse into her life in the "away," and I am reminded how much I love and crave creative writing—how it fills me.

But those glimpses never replace the act of writing: the peace, the release, the high. The delight of mining a line of poetry or prose from the innermost parts of myself. This is how I see my writing: a best friend spending an extended period of time abroad. Away for the time being.

My friend will return one day. For now, my other close (but not quite as fulfilling) companions—reading and free journaling—keep me company, keep my mind sane. And when my desire to create more returns, when I am ready to write something worthy of jumping out of my journal for other eyes to see, I'll be glad. And we'll slip into old habits of friendship, develop new rituals. Grow. Learn.

I’m not sure what brought on this drought. I imagine it was the drastic life changes that occurred over the past two years: graduating from my MFA program, finding myself outside of a classroom for the first time in 20 years, moving 3,000 miles across the country. Whatever it was, I’m grateful for the respite. I’m grateful to know I am still a writer. I am grateful for the unexpected ways life re-arranges our hearts, and we still somehow survive.





Renee Long is a writer, editor, (sometimes) teacher, and novice yogi living in Portland, Oregon. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing Fiction from FAU. Her work has been published in Rock & Sling and Tiger’s Eye: A Journal of Poetry. She is the blog editor for Ruminate Magazine and has a mild obsession with orca whales.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Why the MFA Program is Like Notting Hill

   When Julia Roberts walks into Hugh Grant’s travel bookshop in the movie Notting Hill, Grant immediately (though, yes, with hesitancy) recognizes who has entered his store. As Roberts traces the spines of books on Turkey and Istanbul, and Grant watches from behind the counter, it’s clear that both Roberts with her straight American teeth and Grant with his small British charm come to represent something of an irresistible exoticism to each other. Roberts is first seen adorned (and disguised) beneath a black beret, black jacket, and dark sunglasses. She/it appears a mystery, but fails to mask her well-known identity. Both she and Grant are alluring without having to be hypnotic. He is charming, funny, and handsome. She is strong, successful, and beautiful. To each other, they represent different but closely related fantasies. To me, they represent how I first envisioned an MFA program.
            During a recent date, I told an academic figure—one whose career is rooted more in administration than teaching—that the writer will always be considered romantic. Though perhaps not romantic in nature, the writer is situated in a dwindling genre of human being. The writer is the lead in a romance movie, thought of sitting by candlelight at his study desk writing about lost love, in Starbucks too busy typing on his Macbook to wipe the tears away from his five o’clock shadow, saturated in romantic ideas in pursuit of an idealized romantic absolution. He is, at the root of everything, invested both in a job that he has been told will probably not make him any money or bring about any fame, and a love interest whom he has been told simply isn’t good enough for him. Yet, he pursues them. He lives and breathes (wait for it) passion.
            When the writer first learns that he can develop his craft within upper-level academia, strolling through the same land as doctors, engineers, and physicists, he latches onto the idea of closing in on the chase of literary success.  Dr. Poet. Master of Prosody. Lord of the Haiku. When Roberts locates herself in the same intimate, dusty world of Grant’s, she has become less of a fantasy and more of a realistic possibility. Grant quickly learns though, after experiencing more of Roberts within her hectic artistic and romantic environments, that the dream of their relationship will inevitably perish underneath their opposing lifestyles. It is, however, while Roberts witnesses the birthday celebration of Grant’s younger sister that she recognizes what she ultimately wants. Against all prohibiting factors, she wants to have, to be more like, and to be loved by Grant.
Not too long after I started the MFA program, I had a different experience. I wanted to remove myself from the twenty other writers who were sitting at the same dinner table and, like me, also questioning the point of acquiring an MFA degree. I looked around the table and interrogated my position. How was this environment going to benefit my writing and development of a writerly identity? I thought a significant, positive thing about enrolling in an MFA was being surrounded by other writers who are desperately and passionately in love with writing, but it seemed many others were also in need of validation that they were still in love with their art.
When Roberts’ boyfriend—a younger Alec Baldwin—travels to the city unannounced, the romance between Grant and Roberts suffers. The reality of Roberts’ American boyfriend interrupts the spontaneous, whimsical relationship at bloom between Roberts and Grant, and this causes us to question the line between fantasy and reality. I felt a similar damage when my writing—which was, for the most part is, and should always be given full attention during time enrolled in an MFA program—fell behind the overwhelming shadows of other “responsibilities.” Yes, many of these responsibilities were related to my development and refinement as a writer, but seemingly for the purpose of fear-driven career preparation and the satisfaction of credit requirements. It took a while, under the overwhelming anxiety of being told that there isn’t a market for poetry anymore beyond tabling at readings and conferences, and that I only have a 5% - 10% chance of landing a solid university teaching position unless I dedicate the next five to six years acquiring a PhD or (by the grace of God) getting a book or two published, to recognize my view of these “responsibilities” as opportunities.
 It has seemed recently as if Baldwin flew in and stood in the way of my romantic perception of what I wanted the MFA (and for that matter, my future) to be—the dedication of three years of my life to my craft. I came to feel that I had instead given up three years I could have more actively spent on my craft outside academia—beyond teaching composition courses, grading first-year papers, and taking theory courses I had little interest in—for a degree that would simply make me eligible for one of the few professions in which a poet is typically found: teaching. Alec, however, is only realistic. He illustrates that romance (and the MFA program) is more layered and complex than one may take it for. He helps us realize that every choice is an opportunity for something better, and that the MFA is going to be whatever one chooses to see it as. Three years of lying naked on a shag rug in front of a fireplace writing prose poems isn’t as romantic if this same hypothetical MFA student isn’t also teaching essay writing to hundreds of college freshmen, studying other forms of writing and communication, and involving himself in the editorial workings of a literary publication or governmental workings of a student organization. If he sees the MFA degree as three years of opportunities to fully dedicate himself to his writing, the writings of others, and the larger literary world, then he might better imagine the future for Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant.
I find myself now, in the middle of my MFA career, on the cusp of my thesis—ready but not yet able to transfer my attention back to the romance of being a writer, back to seeing the MFA degree for its fullest potential. I feel as if I am standing, admittedly and confessingly hurting, in front of the once-incredibly idealized romantic notion I had of the MFA, hearing it ask me to love it again. And as it asks—hair flopped, eyes wide, ready to accept me back into its arms—how long I plan on staying, I keep finding myself repeating “indefinitely.”



James White is a second year student in the MFA in Creative Writing, Poetry program. He is excited to graduate from the program with a few manuscripts in tow, with which he will entice a handsome NY businessman-turned-lumberjack named Ethan during a writer's retreat in New Hampshire. James will read his poetry to Ethan as he chops firewood, and the two will die holding hands like the old married couple in Titanic.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Blog Goes On Break, But Before That, It Offers Suggestions About Life You May Want To Take Heed Of

Hi. Guess what? You've survived the Fall semester. And not only have you survived it, now you get a break full of lights and holidays and sweater weather. Pretty good stuff, I think. But before you burrow into your (softest, warmest, coziest) bed and hibernate for several weeks, I want to tell you something.

Me. The blog. Not me, Mary. Not me a person sitting at a computer trying to think of how to tell you this. Me, the blog, full of wisdom and authority. That me.

Use the break to write.

Sounds simple, right? And you're probably already planning to do this, but listen. Things will get in the way. You'll get into a fight with your sister over French toast. You'll lose the keys to your car and lock yourself out of your house. You'll get a terrible haircut and feel compelled to hide your shame cuddled up in bed with a book or a video game or a movie.

So I'm suggesting a date. With yourself, with your writing. A time, a place, an amount of time or of words. And keep your date each day. Take that time for yourself, even if it means writing something like: This is stupid. I can't think of anything to write - why is that blog so bossy! Why am I even listening to a blog? What am I doing with my life? How can I make amends for the French toast thing... Right? Because eventually you'll get somewhere good. Somewhere necessary, at least. Such is the nature of writing. I don't know about you, but as a blog, I rarely know where I'm going until I get there. I mean, there might be a vague goal shimmering somewhere off in the distance, but it isn't always there, and sometimes I don't even make it there anyway. I end up someplace else, someplace unintended and inconceivable before I get there- there's something kind of magical about that, you know?

So write. Each day. Think of it as self care. Or if you hate that, think of it as talent care. Life care. Care care.

Okay, I've made my point as forcefully as I am able. Now I'm giving you some writing prompts. Feel free to use them on those days you sit down and find yourself with a b-l-a-n-k page and a b-l-a-n-k mind. Remember you can always go back and revise during those times as well.

Winter writing prompts:

1) Things get messy with the French toast
2) A poem is a machine
3) Your character forgets everything s/he wanted
4) Your character got one thing wrong
5) Just confess - everyone knows you did it
6) A story travels through time
7) Everything is a conversation
8) How to start a bad habit
9) There are infinite ways to be born
10) Research the background of a product you use every day or can't live without

There are more. You can look them up online, there are books of prompts, and you can write prompts for each other. Get together and read your stuff. Invite Mary - I understand she loves readings.


The blog is your trusty blog, home to the musings of past, present, and (possibly?) future MFA students in FAU's Creative Writing Program. Follow us on Facebook. Contact us at mfa@fau.edu. 


Monday, November 24, 2014

Double-blind

Writers have a unique power that if not used for good can have everlasting consequences. Right now I have you hooked; you keep reading because you want me to tell you what I have to say. This is the power I speak of. You as the reader trust me. You've never met me. I could be an escaped goldfish from a mad scientist’s lab, but you think I’m a good person. You believe I have something important I need to say. You believe I won’t lead you astray. Readers go into a story with blind trust, the instinct to believe what the narrator is saying. This is a noble instinct. Something poetic could be said about the inherent good in people as seen by their immediate need to believe or trust in something or someone they’ve never met. Look at politics. We want to believe politicians all the time. Some of us do.

When a reader encounters an unreliable narrator, there is a fascination with being beguiled or lead to believe a very limited point of view. Perhaps right now you think of an unreliable narrator as a criminal or evil person. However, the truth is that everyone thinks they are the good guys despite what they do or say. Hitler thought he was doing everyone a favor. He was deluded and evil in his methodology and thinking, but the point is that unreliable narrators usually think they are on the right side of history. They honestly believe they are correct. This is what makes them so good at deceiving; they believe, so we then believe. We now have the perfect recipe for crafting an unreliable narrator: the trust of the reader and the narrator’s desire to be right. Stephen King writes that “the trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool.” In this case, the writer creating the narrator is the liar and the innocent is the reader. This is also a limited view of what an unreliable narrator is, so let’s broaden the definition.

One of the most attractive qualities about the use of an unreliable narrator is that they are shape shifters. They come in many different forms. Imagine the Harry Potter novels rewritten through the point of view of a Death Eater or The Catcher in the Rye as told by Holden’s parents. We would see Harry as a vile creature who keeps trying to thwart Voldemort’s plan to bring harmony to the wizarding world, and Holden would just be a whiney child who hates life. Point of view is one of the most important parts of the story. The point of view shapes the lens through which we see the world of the story.

So, should a child be considered an unreliable narrator? Yes, because they have a limited worldview. Holden Caulfield is considered unreliable because he believes the world is out to get him and he hates everyone. In the novel Room by Emma Donoghue, the narrator is a five year-old named Jack who has been locked in one room with his mother for his entire life. His unreliability is unintentional, but he is unreliable nonetheless. Lolita is perhaps the most famous example and uses an unreliable narrator that tries to cloud the immoral and justify his actions. In Gone Girl the reader encounters two conflicting points of view without knowing which to believe. When the trustworthy perspective is eventually revealed, we can still see how the unreliable character feels his or her actions are completely justified. There are also instances of perception being altered by drugs and alcohol. These narrators aren’t intentionally unreliable, but they don’t know better because they are inebriated. This raises a larger question: can any narrator—particularly a first person narrator—be reliable?

Now, you have journeyed with me for almost 700 words and you want to trust what I’ve just told you. Could I have made everything up because I hit a deadline and needed something to write? Could I have copied everything I needed from Wikipedia and passed it along as my own? The truth is, you can’t know. But you want to believe me because why would a narrator lie to you?




Scott Rachesky is a first year MFA fiction candidate at FAU. Aside from singing Carmina Burana in community choir, being a photographer, solving imaginary murders,  and raising Unipegs, he enjoys to write…go figure. His writerly influences include Chuck Palahniuk, Jennifer Egan, Lori Moore, and Joseph Heller. Some people have described his writing style as similar to F. Scott Fitzgerald, but he doesn’t believe those people and thinks they only make the connection because of the shared name of Scott.


Monday, November 17, 2014

Rejected!

For me, the most striking moment during the "Writing and Publishing Your First Book" panel was when Julie Marie Wade talked about her Tupperware boxes of rejections. She said the acceptance letters filled a modest box she could keep on her desk, while the rejections were stacked from floor to ceiling in one of her closets.

I love that image.

Not because I love to think of Julie Marie Wade being rejected (I'm sure I don't have to tell you what a phenomenal writer she is), but because it makes real for me one of the most worrisome/mundane aspects of being a writer. Funny, isn't it? How much terror and despair are both intense and boring, a sharp sting and an unfocused, dazed stare. Rejections. Yes, I have a lot of them. Many, many more than acceptances.

Jaswinder Bolina said something that also stuck with me. He said you have to figure out what success means for you. That when you write to someone else's ideas of success, you betray yourself. And that can never actually be success.

And Jamie Poissant's comments about his manuscript and the rounds it had to make before finally being accepted encouraged me.

Basically, it was a wonderful evening and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. It left me thinking about my own work. My own feelings about this stuff.

Look, the thing is, I have these two manuscripts, right? One is a collection of mostly experimental short stories, and one is a hybrid text of poetry and art, and I've been working on them for five and two years respectively. In the meantime, I've also managed to rack up over six pages of Submittable rejections (each page has like 40 submissions). Okay, so eleven of those are acceptances, and something like 10 are listed as "in progress," but still. The vast majority (as vast as is the night sky) are denials.

Rejections.

And! Julie Marie Wade said she gets something like 200 rejections a year. Which, okay, so I'm only talking Submittable, which means I have other rejections/acceptances, but not that many. I need to up my game. Anyway.

These rejections are my virtual closet full of boxes containing the evidence that my work wasn't right for whichever publication I sent it to; that they, in fact, did not want it, and I will tell you this - it's hard not to make the jump to they, in fact, did not want me.

The thing is though - that voice that whispers to you that you're not good enough? That says each rejection is just more proof that you will never be a "real" (whatever that is) writer? That voice is bullshit. It is! It takes years to hone your craft. Our crafts. And we'll see each other struggle, succeed, and fail and fail and fail. It's our job as writers (and especially as a part of a writing community) to find joy for other's successes and sorrow for their failures. This will help us deal with our own rejections and successes. Because success is sweet, but it is a short-lived sweetness, lemme tell you. It's like Juicy Fruit Gum™.

So, listen. Your peers - their success and failures - they cannot diminish you. Or me. Or us. They can only make us better. Each piece, like each writer, its own interconnected ecosystem. I mean, and this is totally Donne, but. Well. Wait. It's worth a reminder. Here is John Donne:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man 
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; 
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as 
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine 
own were; any man's death diminishes me, 
because I am involved in mankind. 
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Your friends' successes are your own. As are their failures. And that can make a closet full of rejection letters feel more like a wardrobe into a whole other world.



MR Sheffield is an alumna of FAU's Creative Writing MFA program as well as the graduate advisor for English. Her work has been published or is forthcoming from Pank, The Florida Review, Fiction Southeast, and other publications. Email her (msheffi3@fau.edu) with all your advising questions.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Words Words Words Words!

A friend studying the indigenous people of the Chiapas region in Mexico reports that in the  Tzotzil language there, the word for word is the same as the word for struggle. Hmm.
     What writer doesn’t struggle each day to unearth the good word, the right word, the sculpted or edgy;  tufted or twangling; the flawless gem to take its place in the mosaic we see in our minds?
       We trawl for the perfect verb. Scour horizons for the dead-on noun. Beat our feet on the mud hoping the adjective we’ve been stalking will bubble up from the goo. Bubble, burble, bauble, bosh, scrim, scram, scrum, flapdoodle, flummoxed, umber, ululate. Acres of choices, the misfits, or almost fits so many, the perfect fits, so few.   
            “Word: (n.) …A single distinct conceptual unit of language, comprising inflected and variant forms.”
            “Struggle :( n.) …a determined effort under difficulties…a very difficult task.”
            Difficult indeed.
            Is our hero sizzled, soused, blotto or shickered?
             Did he drink from a flask, a flagon, or a stein?
            Is he an oaf, or a galoot?
            In a 2013 New Yorker piece, the nonfiction stylist John McPhee (In Suspect Terrain; Coming into the Country) describes his system for finding “le mot juste,” that elusive word:    “You draw a box not only around any word that does not seem quite right but also around words that fulfill their assignment but seem to present opportunity. While the word inside the box may be perfectly O.K., there is likely to be an even better word for this situation, a word right smack on the button, and why don’t you try to find such a word?”  This is the crux of the struggle: The “better word.”  Scamper, scurry; scuttle, or scud?  McPhee warns against leaning on “the scattershot wad from a thesaurus.” Go to the dictionary, instead, he advises (my own favorite, the Online Etymology Dictionary).
       Indeed, words can be similar, synonymous, meaning “having the same or nearly the same meaning as another word.” The differences, however, can be epic. Each word, no matter how small or remote, comes with its own root system, reaching down to Latin or Old Norse, Middle English or Creole or Old German and more, tangles of associations breathing life into how our word will resonate on the page. “Oaf,” for example (this from the Online Etymology Dictionary), dates from the 17th Century, “originally ‘a changeling; a foolish child left by the fairies’…from a Scandinavian source such as Norwegian alfrr ‘silly person,” in old Norse “elft.” Hence, ‘a misbegotten, deformed idiot.’”
            “Galoot” (also from Online Etymology)  means “‘awkward or boorish man,’ 1812, nautical, ‘raw recruit, green hand,’ apparently originally a sailor’s contemptuous word for soldiers or marines… Dictionary of American Slang proposes galut, Sierra Leone Creole form of galeoto, ‘galley slave.’”
        Is the right-word struggle harder for eco-writers than it is for others? Probably not.  Unless you consider the eco-writer’s need to wrestle with science and the habits of the natural world.  In other words, we have to overthrow the science, replacing it with the poetic. Again, from eco-poet McPhee, in Annals of the Former World:  
            “When the climbers in 1953 planted their flags on the highest mountain, they set them in   snow over the             skeletons of creatures that had lived in the warm clear ocean that India,      moving north, blanked out. Possibly as much as twenty thousand feet below the             seafloor, the skeletal remains had turned into rock. His one fact is a treatise in itself on                     the movements of the surface of the earth.”
        Not a jot of science. Just words, boxes drawn around them, dictionaries consulted, and the end, a journalistic flambé.
          William Carlos Williams, in his opus “Paterson,” has the last word on words:
            “It is dangerous to leave written that which is badly written. A chance word, upon paper,             may destroy the world. Watch carefully and erase, while the power is still yours, I say to          myself, for all that is put down, once it escapes, may rot its way into a thousand minds,         the corn becomes a black smut, and all libraries, of necessity, be burned to the ground as        a consequence.”
       Corn becomes a “black smut?”  What is he talking  about …? -- but wait. The second definition of  smut is  “a fungal disease of grains in which parts of the ear change to black powder.”  

            Bejabbers!

Mary Ann Hogan received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from FAU in 2013. She currently teaches writing at Palm Beach State College, Boca Raton campus. She is also nonfiction editor at Little Curlew Press. This blog post was originally published at Little Curlew Press.