Writing

Misusing “around” is making us sound dishonest

Here’s an imprecision in the language that I’d like to call out for deletion: using “around” when we really mean “about,” “in support of,” “relating to,” or any other more forceful preposition.

Around is precise when it is used to describe a physical location. “Let’s all gather around the campfire” invites us to position ourselves on all sides of it. “She was hanging around the neighborhood” means she was both anywhere and nowhere in particular, but somewhere close by.

“Let’s make sure the discussion is around the topic of leadership,” however, means nothing.

That sentence could invite us to revile leadership or praise it. Using “around” to describe notions rather than places is vague in a way that is only useful to propagandists, whose job is often not to say anything substantive, but to say something merely because something has to be said. Propagandists really do speak “around” issues, the same way that soldiers patrol a neighborhood or thieves case a joint. We’re there for strategic reasons. We hang around an issue, both anywhere and nowhere in particular, but somewhere close by.

When I spotted “around” used in The New York Times by a journalist in a piece that purported to clarify the public conversation I was dismayed. Newspapers and magazines should never speak “around” anything. They speak candidly about certain issues to certain audiences with moral authority. The phrase is “speaking truth to power,” not “speaking truth around power.”

We have enough circumlocution (literally “speaking around”) of the truth these days. Let’s expunge it from the only sources of truth we have left, i.e. newspapers and magazines. If we only have enough courage or clarity to speak around something, maybe its better to stay quest until we have the force of mind to speak about it.

For the Commonplace Book: Annie Dillard

Before private libraries and long before the invention of the search function, people used to copy important passages into notebooks called “commonplace books.” I’m not so old fashioned that I keep a written one, but I do have a tag in my files called commonplace book. I click on it for inspiration, so I thought I’d share some of the quotes with you, in the hopes you’ll be similarly inspired.

I read this quote years ago in The Artists Way by Julia Cameron and it has echoed in my mind ever since. It’s less of an inspiration and more of a challenge. We all carry a vision of our future selves with us, usually one that’s better off than we are today, one with more purpose from day to day, more money, more fulfillment, etc. And somehow the days we live, or are forced to live, never quite seem to add up to that future self, do they?

To me, this quote is about the small heralding of big things. Relationships are nourished and great ambitions are shaped one day, one hour, one minute at a time.

What will you do with the next one?

The view from my keyboard, Tuesday October 2nd, 2018

It’s not often these days that I get to write in places that aren’t my office, but today is one of them. Some deadlines converged unexpectedly and in order to meet them I need to be in a place where my co-workers can’t find me. Since my co-workers are in the habit of opening up the doors of conference rooms where I am working alone, in a corner, in the dark, with headphones on, that means fleeing the office entirely.

New York does many things poorly (square footage, being roach-free, public transit, politeness, smelling good, etc.) but one thing it does well is neat little street level cafés to work in, like Irving Farm Coffee Roasters, where I am alternately typing these words, and gazing out over my screen at the humanity loitering, ambling, stumbling, strutting, and zipping by. Venturing out into the world for my working day keeps me lively in a way that writing in my garret doesn’t.

And if you’re wondering what’s in the mug to the right of my computer, it’s a cup of Earl Gray, naturally.

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Note the classic combo of red brick facade and black iron fire escape over my little window.

Quote from Joss Whedon on the use of creative writing

I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I am afraid of. -Joss Whedon

After about an hour of reading, I slip into a trance in which the revelations of the story are capable of thrilling me. One of the unexpected joys of writing for me is that, after an hour or two of it, I get the same thrills but from my own mind. This happens whenever I am working on a complex project, whether it’s for a client or for me. After solitary work, I am a bit more the master of my subject, my mind, and myself.