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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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skills

So, back in February, before the whole quarantine happened…….

……I went to the movies, hoping a little cinematic entertainment would be just the ticket to stop over-thinking (it usually does the trick).

While standing in line, I engaged in conversation with the two couples standing in line ahead of me. The four of them were going to see The Invisible Man, starring Elizabeth Moss of A Handmaid’s Tale (the film is a great twist on the HG Wells classic novel).  I was planning to indulge my inner nerd and see Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey (it was a fun romp – Margot Robbie kicks ass, as do her fantabulous cast-mates).

As we talked, I noted on the marquee that Parasite (2019) was also playing, but at a much later time than was convenient for me.  An older couple behind me went into a tirade about how awful it was, that it should have just gotten best Foreign Film, that they didn’t get understand any of it and that – get this – it had SUBTITLES.

“It’s from South Korea,” I said, thinking I had just stepped into some kind of Twilight Zone alter-verse.  I mean, what were they expecting from a foreign film?  Badly dubbed English?  They waved aside the nationality of the film and continued to snark.

And all I could think was, “Wow, what a missed opportunity.  They had gone to see a film set in a culture and country that operates on a completely different system of beliefs, ideas and views than ours.  And all they got out of it was that they had to READ.  It offended them on some level that they were expected to engage their minds, instead of being fed mindless entertainment that is pre-designed to push specific emotional buttons.”

I turned away mid-snark, unwilling to even point out that foreign films are a way to experience that which is unfamiliar to us, much like fiction allows us to inhabit the lives of those who are different from us.

The arts are supposed to push our minds out of the comfort zone and see the bigger picture that lies before us, either by speculating about how technology (medicine, mechanical) may come to pass or by reflecting what is, as Parasite (2019) did – class conflict, social inequality and wealth disparity.

Mary Shelley (essentially the mother of modern science fiction), HG Welles and Jules Verne took what they saw before them and speculated on what might be.  Director Bong Joon-ho (who co-wrote the script with Han Jin-wan) took what he saw before him and reflected it back to his country specifically and to the world at large.

English is not the only spoken language in America (the oldest languages spoken here belong to the First Nations, if they survive at all, thanks to white colonialism), nor is it the only language spoken in the world.  In other countries, one is expected to not only be fluent in their native tongue, but to also have at least a solid grasp of more than one non-native language (English being one of them).

It would behoove the American people to get their collective heads out of the bubble they seem to believe we live in and realize we are not an isolated nation (though that seems to fast becoming a reality).   Learning another language is not only good for the brain, but it shows interest in something utterly foreign to us – the language is not separate from the country it originates from.  By learning another language, we open the door to a world we would not normally see – from music and literature, to art and cinema, adding a language that is new to you will only enrich your life as it is.

Unfortunately, few see it as what it really is  – a ticket to parts unknown and a gift.

So, I’ve been brushing up on my editing skills…..

…….by looking over the first chapter of an acquaintance’s novel.  It’s been a while and I was more than a little nervous, because it’s different editing the work of someone you know (even slightly) than the work of someone you don’t know.

There’s that added pressure of not wanting to hurt or bruise feelings as you go through their words and say, “That sentence strikes a nice image, but take out ten words” or “Reduce that paragraph to two or three lines”.  But you gird your loins and you wade in and you do your best to give them clear, concise notes on how to excavate the story buried underneath a mountain of words, like an archaeologist sifts through dirt to find the relics.

Because that’s how I view a completed manuscript – as an archaeological site that is pristine and untouched.  Editing is the tool used to dig and sift and brush away the excess to unearth what lies beneath.  Michaelangelo had a similar point of view – he didn’t carve the statue of David out of marble, he simply whittled away at the excess, freeing what was already inside the slab.

My own experiences with the editor of my Novel Now Finished taught me a lot as I prepared to go over that first chapter.  And I discovered that I still have that skill to edit, to offer notes and suggestions.  It was rusty from disuse, but there, and the notes I made for my acquaintance helped him enormously.  I feel confident in that skill again.  And I plan to move forward and keep doing it.  Not only am I working on a marketable skill, but it helps me to improve my own writing.

Complementary skills, writing and editing.  And useful.

Suggested reading:
On Writing by Stephen King

So, I love to watch scary movies……

…….and the spookier, the better, like Carnival of Souls (1962), The Haunting (1963), or Suspiria (1977). Haunting, surreal, these films engage your imagination and get under your skin. They’re scary because you’re emotionally involved with the characters and you root for them to escape until the very end.

Suspiria is an interesting film because the actors spoke their native language (English, German and Italian). Since they knew the script, they simply responded as if they understood. When the film went into post-production, the German and Italian languages were dubbed into English. The film would be dubbed in other languages for release in foreign markets.

I also discovered Japanese horror films, starting with Ringu (after seeing the American remake, The Ring) and then Ju-on (The Grudge). I was delighted – they are surreal and spooky and go in directions you don’t quite expect. Nor are the stories wrapped up in a tidy bow – there are loose ends that don’t get explained and an unsettling feeling that even happiness has an underlying sense of sorrow.

From my experience, Japanese horror films have an ambiguity to them that modern American horror films do not. I find that ambiguity fascinating, which is present in The Haunting – is the house haunted or is it Eleanor? – because with each viewing, you feel closer to uncovering the answer to the question, even as it ends. This kind of story-telling isn’t as present in American horror as it used to be, and I wish it would make a come-back.

Because I enjoy their horror films, I want to learn Japanese. This is due to the fact that a lot can get lost in translation. There may not be an English equivalent to specific word, so the line or meaning gets changed. Language is important – emphasis on the wrong syllable or vowel, and it can turn a compliment into an insult. One word can have multiple meanings, depending on context.

Thus, learning the language. Besides, it’s good for the brain, it’s a useful skill (because you never know when you’ll need it) and it makes it easier when traveling to a country where that language is spoken.

🙂

A small portion of my foreign language dictionary collection.
A small portion of my foreign language dictionary collection.

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