The Importance of Expression in Writing

Something that I’ve noticed about writing is that a lot of people have quite a bit of trouble writing down what they’re actually feeling. Or in other words, they have difficulty expressing themselves in written format. It makes sense, of course, since the vast majority of context is given through intonation, facial expressions, and a million other tiny things that our eyes and ears pick up on when we’re interacting with someone in person. For example, an “I’m fine” can mean quite an array of things, depending on the situation.

And therein lies the problem: how do we add tone in a seemingly toneless medium? Emoticons and the odd “lol” or “haha” work wonders in non-formal situation, but quickly fall apart when you’re writing for any serious situation. So what can we do?

Well, in literature, there’s this thing called, not surprisingly, the tone. It is, as you might have already figured out, the way that authors will convey those subtle differences that are otherwise lost in written speech, and it is generally done through word choice. And oh boy is word choice important! It’s what makes the difference between a phrase that seems cold and distant when you actually meant it to be fun and casual.

For example, let’s say you’re describing your night out to a friend over email. You can tell it as is, by saying something like, “I went out for food at the Thai place at noon, but the food was bad. After that, I went home with my friend to play some pool.”but that come out as being really formal and distant, like a business person doing a dull presentation. It can even make it look as if you didn’t have a good time, when you actually mean otherwise.

With a little bit of proper word choice, the problem can be easily solved. If you said, “We got really darn hungry, so we went to that new Thai place by the XYZ street, but oh gosh was that a mistake! The food was horrible! Thankfully, we went to play some relaxing pool after.” With a few extra words, it’s pretty clear that the tone is nice and relaxed, and it’s clear that you had a good time, regardless of the horrible food. The key words here are things like “darn” or “oh gosh”, which are always reserved for causal conversation, and they likewise always change your tone to a more casual one. Even using the word “horrible” instead of a more bland term like “bad” has an impact on your tone. After all, using the more neutral terms will make your tone seem more formal.

Of course, not every situation will be as easy as the example that I gave above, but being conscious of what words and their connotation will really go far when it comes to improving your tone. Hopefully it’ll help get your message across without a lot of headache and confusing. Now, word choice isn’t the only thing that dictates tone, but it is the biggest one.


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Being a Teacher

Well, I finally found my calling in life, and I can happily say that I am now a High School teacher. Sure, the pay isn’t exactly stellar, and some of the students that I have had the honour, or dishonour, of teaching during my first 2 years were not exactly the most respectful individuals, but I have to say that I am loving my job.

I can’t pinpoint exactly why I love teaching so much, but there was one moment that stuck out to me, and make me realize that this is a career to live for. Just last month, an old student of mine (now graduated) messaged me on Facebook, and simply said “Thanks for helping me out, you really made a difference”. Those ten words made me feel things that I’ve honestly never felt before. I actually did something for someone. I made a difference, even if it’s just a small one. Just… wow.

But that got me thinking: why are there so many students that complain about “bad” teachers? I mean, I’m still new to the profession, but from all the feed back that my students give me, it seems like the majority of teachers that they’ve had were simply not doing their jobs correctly. I mean, it can’t possibly be because they don’t understand the material that they’re teaching, since every teacher has, at the very least, a university undergraduate degree. And from my experiences talking with the other teachers, they, for the most part at least, seem like pretty decent individuals.

So I asked some of the students that very question, and the resounding answer that I got was this: the “bad” teachers simply can’t be bothered to actually teach. And I can understand that. I’ve seen weak students struggle with the most basic of concepts, and there have been times where I wanted to scream and shout at them: What do you mean you can’t tell the difference between a metaphor and a simile? It’s so obvious! How can you possibly misinterpret the most simple of poems?! And yes, when students are obviously lying to you to get out of not doing their homework, or purposefully try to annoy you, it does make it hard to care about them. The amount of stuff you have to put up with when you’re a teacher is just insane.

But at the end of the day, when I’m not quite so stressed out, and when I can review my earlier classes with a clear head, I start to realize that the vast majority of my students do want to learn. They are respectful, and they do actually care about you as a teacher. So I don’t let the few disruptive students ruin my enjoyment of the career, and the enjoyment of the twenty plus others that are there to actually learn. In fact, I look at it like a challenge: how can I make my classes better so that even the most disruptive students can appreciate even a little bit of what I have to offer?

And for English at least, it’s not that difficult. When I’m discussing a difficult topic, I start things off with concepts that they’re familiar with. I’ve learned to use analogies to slowly ease into hard topics. For example, when I’m teaching students about topic sentences and thesis statements, I’ll start off with a subject that most of the class will understand, like the latest movie or video game. I’ll ask them questions that they can answer, like why this particular movie was a success, or why this game works the way it does, and from those responses, I can start to build an entire essay out of their responses and arguments (the students really get heated up when they’re discussing something they actually care about). From that point on, it’s not too tough to transition their ideas about familiar concepts to foreign ones.

So really, trying to figure out what my students like and what I can do to adapt their likes and dislikes into, frankly, dull reading material is one of the fun parts about teaching an English course. It’s also one that a lot of teachers don’t try to do. They don’t engage the students, and they don’t try to see things in their perspectives, and that’s what I think ultimately leads to a “bad” teacher.

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Some thoughts on Gender

It seems that nowadays, at some kind of subconscious level, everything seems to revolve around the concept of gender. There’s the obvious examples of the feminists who are struggling to achieve gender equality, and likewise the bigots who are fighting just as hard to “put those women in their place”, but even excluding these extreme outliers you can see cases of gender differences everywhere. There’s the notion that pink and frilly is for girls, and that the cooler, bluer colour is made for the boys, or how girls love to gossip about which celebrity is sleeping with whom, or how so-and-so is an absolute slut, while the men will spend hours talking about how awesome it is for a group of fully grown, testosterone filled men to crash into each other over an oddly shaped ball, all the while downing beer at an alarming rate. These stereotypes persist everywhere, from the sexualisation of women in the media (that’ll set the feminists back a few decades) to showing how simple men are with their love of the carnal things in life, like sex, violence and video games.

So it makes this sexually disembodied voice to think: what if I were the opposite gender? What if I were to be born not as I am now, but rather, born into the strange culture and alien world of the opposite sex? Would I be different than how I am now? If I were a boy, would some part of my brain somehow rewire itself into loving beer, while cheering on some sports team that I’ll probably not really care about with my “bros“? Will I spend hours upon hours playing some video game, which, if you really think about it, could have been used for much better things? Will my brain magically shut off at the sight of breasts the way so many women imagine it to be?
And if I were a girl, would some inner urge arise within me to follow my fellow females whenever one of them wanted to go to the washroom? Would I impulsively feel the need to purchase more shoes that I can ever feasibly wear, even if this one design that I feel like I need to buy is slightly different than the pair I already have at home? Would I cake on makeup in a sad attempt to look like something else; a vain attempt to appease the eyes of this guy I really like, but in reality it just makes me look fake. Or would I still be me?

But of course all these things are just stereotypes, things that I’m sure that you and I know are not true for the opposite sex. We don’t really think that all women are lying, deceptive bitches who’s only ploy in life is to use men in whatever nefarious plan they want to employ, and we don’t really think that all men are just misogynistic pigs who think with their penises, hoping to fuck that one pretty blonde they had their eyes on; I’m sure we don’t believe in any of those hundreds upon thousands of other stereotypes that exist for the genders. But they’re there!

We can’t just ignore these notions because we know that they’re stereotypes, because I know that somewhere deep inside you and I is a place where we believe in some – not all – of these things. We inevitably categorize the other sex into pre-existing stereotypes, and it is inevitable because we don’t, and we never will, really know how the other gender behaves; we won’t know how they think. For example, how can you know what women really talk about when they’re alone? Or what the men talk about when they’re only between men? Sure you might have overheard many conversations like these in your everyday life, but how can simply hearing it be the same as actually experiencing it!

So surely, surely, I would still be same person that I am regardless of whether I have a penis or a set of breasts, because I know that these stereotypes don’t exist for my own sex! If I were a girl I’d know those stereotypes about women are full of rubbish, and likewise if I were a guy I’d know those things they say about men are nothing more than uninformed garbage. Of course there’s going to be the differences in testosterone and estrogen, so maybe I’ll be a little bit more demure if I were a girl, or a maybe I’ll be a little more outgoing if I were a guy, and sure my sexual interests may change, but apart from that I’d still be me, right? Well, sometimes I think otherwise.

I mean, sure we all know that stereotypes are nonsense, but that doesn’t mean that they’re no less powerful because of it. In some ways, these are the first things that the opposite gender turn to when dealing with their opposite sex. It’ll influence mothers and fathers, and even if you have an absolutely egalitarian family you’ll still be influenced by your peers and the media. If I were born a girl I’ll be forced to understand the subculture of other girls in order to survive, to not be a social pariah, and that’s the same if I were a boy. What that means I don’t know; maybe it means that I’ll start to follow the fashion sense of other little girls in preschool to make friends even if I don’t like that particular trend, or maybe I’ll actively become more rough in play to fit in with the other little boys in order to avoid being bullied.

And even if I can magically skip all of these peer pressures, if I lived in a virtual bubble away from the influences of everything, I think that deep down, some of these stereotypical behaviours and trends for whatever gender I am will surface. After all, why else would these seemingly universal stereotypes exist in the first place?

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Guide To Uncreative Writing

Step One:
Take a pre-existing text. Never create. Never produce. Do not think.

Step Two:
Simplify the pre-existing text line by line to its simplest form. Remove metaphors. Remove similes. Remove creativity. Do not think.

        Eg. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Becomes, Shall I compare you to summer?
Becomes, Compare you to summer?
Becomes, You are summer?
Becomes, You are good?

Step Three: Repeat Step Two for remainder of pre-existing text. Do not think.

        Eg. Shakespeare becomes,
        You are good?
        No, you are better
        Than trees
        And short days
        And Sun is too hot

Step Four: If pre-existing work is too long, simplify it all into one line. Do not think.

        Eg. The Raven becomes,
        No more.

Step Five. Repeat processes One through Four ad nauseam. Remember: Never create. Never think. Do not make. Only reproduce until nothing is left to reproduce. Do not think. 

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I Hate Middlemarch!

Ok, I’m proud to say that I have finally finished reading all 700 odd pages of George Eliot’s classic, Middlemarch, and I can only say one thing about it: I absolutely hated every single moment of it! If it wasn’t a required text for one of my classes I swear I would have thrown the damned thing out the window, and then go downstairs to retrieve it only to throw it out again. I mean, it’s just… UGH! 

But I digress, and before I start explaining why I hated the book so much, I should also explain why it’s so critically acclaimed and why many people actually liked the darn thing. Yes, I understand that it’s well written, it has unbelievably believable characters and settings, the plots and subplots and such are all flushed out and fluid, and heck, it depicts the lives of people from a tight-knit community in the late 1800’s perfectly. So yes, I’ll give Eliot credit where credit’s due, but by god does it not appeal to modern, male audiences. 

It’s like the writer had a list of all the things that a modern male of about 18-25 hates, and decided to write a book using everything that was listed there. What does it have? 

Long, overly long descriptions of things that I don’t care about? Check!
I mean, sure I like knowing the scenery and such in great detail, especially at a historical perspective, but did you really have to describe the “labyrinthine” mind of some old fart for a page and a half? Really?

Several female protagonists that is impossible for my demographic to connect with? Check!  
It’s a fact that males enjoy reading about other males (there’s a study done on it, but I can’t remember which one), and it shows. All the “guy” novels and movies portray tough, manly men and whatnot to entice the male audience to read/watch the piece. What men don’t want to read about are domestic issues that women deal with, especially outdated domestic issues during a time where women were still suppressed. I don’t feel for the characters, I don’t care about them. I just… no! 

Incredibly drawn out, lengthy and obtuse ways of writing? Check! 
This one I can’t fault the author, since most 19th century literature read like this, but there’s a reason why authors don’ t write like this anymore! Modern people, especially the youths (and I’m not saying that’s the case for everyone), spoiled with the internet, and texts and such, just don’t have the time or attention span to dredge through pages upon pages of lengthy descriptions and dialogue about seemingly nothing. Or at least I don’t have the attention span to do so.

And lastly, the novel is really, really, reallllllllllllly long!
This one is also no fault of the author, since it’s originally published in many small books/parts. However, in its current, complete state, it’s a really long book. Like, almost 800 pages long. A bagillion words long. If it were interesting, like Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire is, I wouldn’t have minded much, but it isn’t. So call me juvenile, but I hate it for being so tediously long. 

I think that the main thing that made the work so unreadable for me was that the novel was just plain boring. Absolutely boring! I don’t mind if a novel is offensive or perverse (Fifty Shades of Gray), or badly written (Twilight), or deal with controversial topics (Lolita), but what I absolutely cannot stand is if something is boring! I read fictional books to be entertained! If I wanted dull, lifeless books I’d read a textbook or two. And I think that’s precisely why so many males hated the thing so much, because Eliot’s Middlemarch was ultimately boring for them. 

Disagree with me if you want, but this is just my personal (and the opinions of many a fellow male sufferers) thought. I’m just happy that I’m done reading it! 

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The Witch

The Witch

“Do you not hate them?” A familiar voice asks.

“No.” I answer.

“How can you not hate those who have wronged you so? In a few short moments your life will come to its end, burned at the stake because of their ignorance, because one man condemned you when you chose not to help satisfy his lust.”

“He has wronged me,” I answer, “but I do not hate him for his actions, just as I cannot hate the society that allows him to make such accusations.”

“Why do you take the high road? Why do you not burn with anger at the injustices of this inhumane society that you live in?”

“Because this is just how we are.” I answer, “People are prone to hatred and violence, they are petty and selfish, but not everyone is so. If my death will satisfy their urges of the savage; if it will help the future learn from their mistake, then I shall die without remorse.”

“But you can still retain your life. If you change your mind and allow yourself to be used by your accuser, you can still live another day.”

“I will not stain my soul for the promise of life.” I answer.

“Then you die for nothing. You die as a Witch.”

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Eight Seconds

Eight Seconds

In those eight precious seconds I saw:

A street filled to the brim with people, individuals and groups alike, all walking and driving along past each other in a sea of chaotic colour and fluid motions like a huge, living organism, but each individual is oblivious of wonders of actions of their neighbours who makes all life possible.

An army of construction workers, each doing their own thing, pounding and welding in that empire of bitter steel and wires atop mounds of disjointed mud and earth, working around the clock to finish the monument that will define them.

A group of teens, huddled together in a circle, talking about passing fads and fashions while all around them time itself stands still, for in their eyes, nothing can stop this moment.

Several men in business attires, all waiting in silence beside dozens of their kin, all of them staring into the vast, empty sky with hazy eyes.

A couple embracing each other, lost to the world while others ignore their existence.

A mother soothing her crying daughter, sheltered beneath a tree.

And finally, a familiar voice that asks,

“Where are your wings?”

– – –

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