Tag Archives: Words

Sandboxes Aren’t Just for Kids — Writing as Pure Creation

When we were kids, there was the sandbox, filled with toys and friends. We’d build things, destroy things, and then start all over. It didn’t matter how small it was, or how quickly we could dig to the bottom of the box. We had total power over the sand.

Then, when we reached our 20s, we played computer games, and that sandbox we had as little kids showed up again, this time complete with a monitor and a mouse. It didn’t matter if we weren’t running the fastest machine out there because, once we put the disc of The Sims or Roller Coaster Tycoon into the CD-ROM drive, we were kings once again. We had total control and could create anything we wanted. A roller coaster that crashed every time? Why not? Two neighbors who hate each other at first and then fall in love and raise a family? All in the span of an hour? Sure.

But those sandboxes have limits and rules. You need a computer to play the game, or the box in which to actually put the sand.

When we put words on paper or, in the modern world, on a screen, the power comes rushing back. But there are no strings attached this time, no rules to play by, and no objective to beat. We just have pure creation.

At first, there is only darkness. But with four words, “let there be light,” we can see each other. Do you see what I did there? I wrote some words and changed the environment.

Writing is creation and change wrapped up in one simple action. By putting words down, an environment is changed. An environment that can be visited again and again both by writer and reader. Our imaginations are linked by the cyclical act of writing and reading. I can envision something and write it down, and you can see it.

Writing is the ultimate sandbox. We carry over what we learned from our previous sandboxes. Instead of Sims to play god with, we create fleshed-out characters with lives of their own. Instead of sandcastles, we build stories. And while we still can find a certain satisfaction in destroying a story, we know it’s more enjoyable to share it with others.

But we’re not kids anymore, and real life doesn’t have the same rules computer games did. Just because we write something doesn’t mean we get paid in points or dollars. All that freedom and expression isn’t guaranteed to put food on the table.

I got the chance to major in writing. But I found that, after four years of writing classes, I began to lose sight of the sandbox. Each semester, I had to adjust to a new professor with different rules of what was acceptable and what was not. Some assignments were pretty open-ended, while others were quite exact. Sometimes, writing for a grade wasn’t fun.

Luckily, I discovered National Novel Writing Month.

“NaNoWriMo,” as insiders call it, has as its main goal pure creation. Participants are tasked with writing 50,000 words in 30 days. It doesn’t matter how bad those words are because, by December 1, there are 50,000 more words than there were on November 1. This is a competition, but you’re not up against the other writers. You’re up against yourself for bragging rights. Can you silence your inner editor long enough to reach the goal?

November 2011 was exhilarating. I created with total freedom, something I hadn’t felt in a long time. I mostly wrote by the seat of my pants. There wasn’t any outlining beforehand. I just set off with an idea and started writing. I was creating again, and this time I didn’t have to cater to professors or assignments. Finally, I was writing something that was wholly my own.

I found my sandbox again. And I’m never losing sight of it this time.

–My contribution to Before You Quit Writing Read This!, a collaboration by The Literati Writers and available on Amazon right now.


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Lost in Translation

No, this isn’t about the movie.  I’ve been in Munich for a month now. In class I’m only using German. I have some friends from my program that only speak German outside of class too. Then I have friends that only speak English outside of class.

There’s a sign in JYM that says we must only speak German. The alternatives are Bayrisch (local dialect) Afghanisch and Shakespearean. But we use English anyway among ourselves. We have to speak German to the staff. Some of use have no problem with it, while others avoid speaking to the staff because their German is bad.

I’ve realized that I’m frustrated with my German. I’m so expressive with my English because it’s my Muttersprache (mother tongue) and I want to say the things I say in English in German too. But I’m not there yet. It sounds impressive when I say I’ve studied German for over 6 years. Problem is I was forced to take a year and half off, (No German was offered) and for the last year I’ve only met with my German professors one hour a week! So when we had a placement test, I tested into the middle of the pack with my listening comprehension being the worst out of Grammar, writing and reading comprehension.

But I love it here. And most of the Germans I’ve encountered smile/are amused when they hear me speak German. They’re nice about how bad/American it sounds. Most of them will speak English to me (especially in the Tourist areas) but I try to only speak German back.

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I’ve been thinking recently about the different levels of swear words. There are some swears that have grown so accepted that they are said on Prime Time, specially the 8-10 pm slots, the ones the kids would be most likely watching.

I’ve grown up in a nearly swear-free household. My father only rarely swears and my mother nearly never swears. She raised us with the idea that certain words were vulgar and not allowed in the house. As I’ve grown up, I’ve only allowed myself one concession- much to my mother’s chagrin – which is the word crap. My inner-teenager rebelled when my mother said I shouldn’t use crap because it was vulgar; though it’s listed as vulgar in the dictionary.

I feel like there is several levels of vulgarity and swears. At the bottom of the ladder, there’s crap, and damn. Next up is probably shit. Bitch also gets thrown around on TV a lot. I’ve always thought both bitch and bastard were swears but you hear them on TV.


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Female vs. Woman

In another Words column from the Boston Globe, the question of female versus woman arose when Christa Kelleher, research director at UMass Boston’s Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy, e-mailed to ask which word went with politicians. Was it okay to say woman senator or female senator (or both)?

The column brings up an interesting point and that is female as a noun is fine in contemporary language, but the adjective has come by a negative connotation and is avoided by most people these days. So when we say female senator, it’s using female the noun, not the adjective. Nouns can pull double duty as adjectives, like cat food, bubble wrap etc.

The idea that there might be a difference  between female and woman, reminds me of the difference between sex and gender. I learned in freshmen year, there’s a huge difference between those two words. But is there a huge difference between female and woman? I don’t think so, other than the rules of a noun and an adjective in terms of their use. I looked up female in the Oxford English Dictionary (Hofstra has a subscription) and a lot of the definitions somehow included female.  The same went for woman (which is also a verb but not an adjective) but it didn’t seem as many definitions had female included.

As the article points out, the idea that we distinguish between man senators and woman senators (or at least highlight the ones that are female with a woman/female label in front of Senator) doesn’t transfer over to judges. Maybe because we don’t usually elect judges. We want to applaud ourselves for electing a diverse candidate. (Black President anyone?) And in the end, there isn’t a distinction between a female senator and a woman senator, as both words are proper English. So why bother even saying woman/female senator then?

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‘Meep’ follow up

A column from the Ideas section of the Boston Globe follows up on the story about the Danvers High school banning the word meep.   ( Which I wrote a blog post about a month ago)

Meep has been used many ways as slang. The column says that Urbandictionary has 71 entries for it!

A word is only as powerful as people says it is. So why am I still hung up about the principal banning the word? Maybe because by banning it, he gave it more power than it had before. I don’t really know…  but I found the ending of the column to be really interesting:

All words mean only what we all collectively agree they should mean, no more and no less. In Danvers, meep came to mean: “We’ll obey your rules when we feel like it.” And that, in the end, made it a dirty word.

~Erin McKean

When I take that in to consideration, banning the word makes more sense. It was never about the word (the school was quoted to not banning the word for the sake of the word itself) but what it stood for. In effect, they banned the word for its definition.

It’s just a little surreal to see meep on a list of words that should not be spoken at school with the likes of real four letter words and other swear words.


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