Category Archives: writing

What’s Your Favorite Emoji?

What’s Your favorite emoji?

At a holiday gathering, I asked family members if they ever have a hard time finding the right emoji.

They all said no, and looked at me as if I were crazy. But I do find emojis lacking at times.

I use these little faces and pictures quite often in texts and emails. They’re fun, a quick way to add a smile to the communication. Or a teary eye, or a thoughtful frown. I use the smiley more often than anything. A smile at the end of a text can mean I like you, I’m happy, etc. I sometimes substitute a smile emoji for an exclamation point, which I am inclined to overuse.

Sometimes I just can’t find the appropriate emoji. I scan through, but I don’t find an emoji conveying frustration, hope, overwhelmed-ness, joy, or “Ick.” On the other hand, there are some that I never use, because I just don’t like them—the red devil, for example.

And there are quite a few emojis that I don’t understand. There’s one with a big smile and a tear in one eye, another with a big smile and tears coming out of both eyes. Are they the same, to different degrees? Or is the first one happy-sad, the second laughing till you cry? And what about the one with two blue paths going down the face; what are those paths?

I rarely use the ones with a big mouthful of teeth—too aggressive. I don’t know whether they’re super-friendly or friendly-angry.

Sometimes an emoji really works for me. If I’m confused, I like the upside-down face. If I’m excited, I can use a happy smile and a party favor and a woman dancing flamenco. Other times, I can’t find an emoji that expresses the feeling I want to convey. Then it’s time for the last resort–words.

Do you have a favorite emoji? Or other thoughts on emojis? I’d love to hear them.

How Do You Like My Hashtags?

I just posted something on Facebook and included several hashtags. This is new for me. I had to go back and edit them when I realized you don’t put any spaces between the words!

How weird is that?  And why?

Well anyway, I did it, and I can’t believe it.  These things go against the conventions of the English language as I’ve known them, and taught them.

And yet . . . I am fascinated by hashtags, and all the changes in the language that have resulted from our use of technological devices.  I have changed along with everyone else.

On texts, for example, I don’t always use periods or capital letters.  Yes, I feel guilty–but I’m in a hurry, so why bother?  Does it really matter?

I still use complete sentences, with punctuation, in my emails.  Well, except I’ve noticed lately how often I omit the subject pronoun in my sentences:  “Got your email.  Hope you’re doing well.  Don’t have time right now for a long reply.”  Emoji emoji, send.

And now hashtags are occurring naturally to me, in the same way that new words heard by young children begin to pop naturally out of their mouths, or new slang expressions, after you’ve heard them used for a while, are suddenly not only used by you, but seem like the only possible way to express that thought or feeling.

I’ve observed people’s hashtags for a while now on Facebook; I’ve been intrigued and entertained by them.  There’s something very amusing about a short narrative with a hashtag or two attached, like afterthoughts or side remarks.

So today I tried it myself, and I’m not sure how well I did, but I liked doing it!

#alwaysalinguist #nevertooold




I remember a scene from a movie in the late 1950s. I think it was A Summer Place, with Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue as two teenagers in love.  She kept repeating the word “fiction,” making it sound sexy and provocative as she moved closer to him, staring into his blue eyes.
I too have intense feelings about the word “fiction.” They’re not sexual feelings, but they might be considered flirtatious. I have flirted with that genre many times—but I’ve never been able to make it mine.  Although I read fiction almost exclusively, I can’t write it.

I published a short story once. I consider that beginner’s luck. I was in a class with a very good teacher and writer who had connections. He liked my story, and he got it published in a literary  magazine called Turnstile, now defunct.   (I just noticed, as I photographed it for you, that I was in the company of writer Paul Auster, whose work I love.  At that time, I didn’t know who he was)

Turnstile 001Turnstile 003

But after that one thrilling moment thirty years ago, the well went dry. I tried to write more stories, took classes and workshops, read books and listened to fiction writers talk about their craft.
My conclusion: I didn’t have it. I didn’t find it easy or natural to write fiction. The seed of a story might occur to me, but when I tried to write it, it died on the vine. I constantly eavesdropped on people in restaurants and mentally filled in the details of their lives, but I wasn’t able to put interesting characters on the page. Mine were wooden. They didn’t take on a life of their own, as the characters of real writers did. They didn’t surprise me with their antics, create plot twists I hadn’t anticipated.
These were the experiences of real fiction writers; I had heard them say it many times. I didn’t have those experiences.
Once I bawled after a weekend fiction workshop when my “story,” hastily composed the night before in an uninspiring dormitory room, submitted the next morning on Xerox copies of handwritten notebook pages, was critiqued.

Others before me had written lively, finished, delightful stories with witty dialogue and evocative scenes. Mine was more of a ramble.  Theirs were met with delight, enthusiasm, and detailed comments. Mine elicited awkward silence, punctuated by attempts to discover a plot or theme in that tangled forest of verbiage.
In grade school, I used to cry when I didn’t win a spelling bee. This happened to me again, that Sunday in Iowa City when I submitted my Really Shitty First Draft (see Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, below).

Artist's Way and Bird by Bird 003

After that, I was done with fiction.
I stick to short essays. I usually feel good during the writing of those, and even revision is fun; I know what I’m doing and am making something I like.
But I still wish I could write fiction.


Writing Tip #2–Write Every Day!

the notebook I like to use for morning pages

I’ve been doing it religiously for twenty years, writing every day, first thing in the morning. Fueled with a cup of coffee, I do my morning pages, as described/prescribed by Julia Cameron in her wonderful, rich book on jump-starting creativity, The Artist’s Way.

It’s so simple, I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. You buy a notebook specifically and solely for this practice, and you write three pages. It really doesn’t matter what you write; you’re just filling the pages.

I usually dive right in with what happened yesterday, how I feel this morning, what I’m going to do today. I make lists, all kinds of them. When I was still working as a teacher, I often figured out my lesson plans while writing in the morning. Now I’m tutoring once a week and I mull over that, in writing. Sometimes I copy things—a poem, an inspiring quote. I vent when I’m angry, talk to myself when I’m afraid.

I write whatever I want. It can be very interesting to see what comes out, and perhaps even more interesting to observe the voice on the page, which changes. I sometimes sound uptight and controlled, other times relaxed and free, depending on the day, the mood, the moon sign. Wit and humor slip out. Things I didn’t know I knew.

But here’s the really beautiful part: Sometimes I write something. I mean, amid this collage of words and feelings, sometimes something comes out whole—a poem, an essay, an article.   It’s just my morning pages, so I have nothing to lose. I don’t have to be perfect. I’m just playing, really, experimenting, filling the page. And I surprise myself.

I have written so many things in this way, as part of the writing that I’m already doing, no pressure. It’s so much easier and more fun than staring at a blank page with gritted teeth, saying, “I’ve got to write this.”

It’s magic—but you have to do it every day. Consistency is the key. And by the way, when you are writing, because you are writing, you have every right to call yourself a writer!

Writing Tip #1 – Don’t Keep Anything That Makes You Cringe

I don’t have a lot of writing tips, just as I don’t have a huge number of writing successes. But I do have some (of both), and my first tip is: Don’t keep anything that makes you cringe.

It sounds obvious, but I think it bears repeating. Don’t keep any words, sentences, or paragraphs in your piece that you don’t really like, but are hoping someone else will. I’ve done it, and it was a big mistake. I’ve left something in that gave me just a small twinge of embarrassment, but I thought, oh well, no one will notice—or maybe they’ll like it.

Of course, that was the one in a million that got published, and I had to see my stupid words again and again. It was painful.

It’s different with a blog, of course. If you wake up in the middle of the night and think, “Why did I say that?” you can get up, go to your computer, and quickly delete your idiocy, as if it never existed. Whew!

But I’m talking about things you can’t control—print magazines and books, websites that don’t belong to you.

If you don’t feel right about it, if it makes you squirm even the teeniest, tiniest bit, get rid of it—now.
Otherwise the piece will be published, and the offending quote will be boxed by the editors and highlighted in large, bold print. Someone will mock you to your face with it, and others will do it behind your back. You will cringe, and cringe, and cringe.

Take it out!

I’ve Got to Rein in My Punctuation!

punctuation : seamless background with punctuation marks Illustration

Lately I’ve realized how much I use exclamation points, especially in texts, but also in emails and letters. (Yes, I actually wrote a letter yesterday, by hand, with a pen.) I was tempted to put an exclamation point at the end of that statement, but as I said, I’m trying to rein it in. They don’t mean as much when you use them at the end of every other sentence.

My daughter recently pointed out that we both use a lot of them in our texts. She said that when she doesn’t use exclamation marks, her texts seem angry or bored. I knew what she meant. I then tried to write a few with just periods. It was hard!

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve noticed that I’m avoiding not only exclamations, but also dashes. They are another of my punctuation addictions that have to be modified, or curtailed, or abstained from completely. Dashes somehow have become indispensable to me, and it actually hurts, right now, not to use them. This piece would be peppered with dashes if I were not trying consciously to avoid them.

It’s interesting, the way new means of communication are changing our ways of communicating. Besides using btw, lol, and omg, I find, for example, that I now use ellipses more than I ever have, because ending a thread with a period seems rude and abrupt. Ellipses are softer; they seem to indicate a gentler goodbye. We don’t really have words or grammatical structures in English that do this, although maybe in the time of Jane Austen, of more leisurely letter-writing, they did. I’m thinking of long, periodic sentences expressing polite goodbyes along with tender sentiments. Am I wrong?

I am pretty sure that in Korean, which I have studied, albeit haphazardly, there is a structure that allows for a less stark departing comment.

Another thing I use all the time is parentheses. They come in so handy as a way of fencing in digressions, and I have a lot of those.

My writing has become too casual. What if I just went back to commas, periods, and question marks?  It’s an interesting exercise, to try to write without one’s habitual punctuation excesses. I can feel myself taking alternative routes to achieving the same, or similar effects.

I also have a consistent habit of using semicolons, which is annoying to some people. At least, so far, I haven’t taken up the habit of overusing caps and bold. But—as has been explained above—I am not perfect (and never will be)! Bye for now. . . .