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Thread: My Literary Identity Crisis

  1. #1

    My Literary Identity Crisis

    I grew up with a language in which "pssst" is enough to call someone's attention and pointing at something with pouted lips is enough a direction and in a culture where children can perceive the reprimand of staring eyes, women can say a lot with their silence, and men can express their anger through sulking. My world before was that of silence and minimalism. Now that I live in the West, where noise and chaos are the norms, my world is of confusion, dilemma, and crisis. It shows in my writings.

    The Uses of Preposition "on" and "in"

    Among native English speakers, it is easy for them to pick one. I assume it is due to habitual usage or generational learning. For me, I have to think hard and long. It's not that I am not confident with my grammar. The preposition "on" is just a two-letter word, but my understanding and use of it in my writings speaks a lot.

    Example:

    "Weeds grow in the birds' droppings."

    The preposition used in the example adheres to the existing grammatical rule, but it does not represent my feelings and thoughts. I used "in" to be passive to grammar-conscious traditionalists because I wanted the image to be seen more than the form in my works.

    Yes, I'm a maker of images who uses words or a textual painter, to be exact. All art forms convey beauty, and beauty is an image. Even listening to Bach is putting ourselves in his world that we imagine to be beautiful.

    Going back to that pesky preposition, "in", to me, suggests stability, root, strength. There's no way weeds can survive in the birds' droppings. I initially used "on" to imply that the weeds' existence was superficial and fleeting as "on" denotes or connotes surface.

    There are languages whose words and meanings have different depths and surfaces. One of those is my native language. We don't eat rice; we cook them. Before rice becomes what it is, it is a grain first. When we grind the rice, it becomes a different thing with a different term with a different function.

    The Essence of "The"

    One of the things I'm fearful of is to wake up one day and find out that everyone feels and thinks the same and everything looks and sounds alike. I very much agree to the bathroom graffiti I once read:

    "You laugh at me because I'm different, but I laugh at you because you're all the same."

    You can change "laugh" with "fear" since obnoxious arrogance is not a nature of my bone.

    Example:

    "I hide beside the stairs
    Where weeds grow
    in the birds' droppings."

    The article "the", at least in my writings, avoids sameness and generalities. In the example above, I decided to use "the" because weeds growing in droppings pooped by any or all kinds of birds was not my idea. I wanted to write about the birds that frequented the abandoned stairs and left their reminders that they came to visit again. Yes, it is too long a hidden text for an article. Also, I did not use "the" before "weeds," because the latter were insignificant. I did not have a story to tell about weeds. As a matter of fact, I don't know about them, nor do I excitedly expect them to grow. They scare me. Weeds are all the same- they are not flowers.

    This is not a justification but a wondering of a writer who asks: which is inadequate, the syntax, grammar, and rules of the West or myself who finds it hard to free herself from her roots?
    Last edited by miyako73; 05-05-2012 at 03:21 PM.
    "You laugh at me because I'm different, I laugh at you because you're all the same."

    --Jonathan Davis

  2. #2
    Hi, Miyako! Nice to see you posting around here again. You've been posting a lot and the stuff I've seen has been pretty artful and interesting, as expected.
    Quote Originally Posted by miyako73 View Post
    Going back to that pesky preposition, "in", to me, suggests stability, root, strength. There's no way weeds can survive in the birds' droppings. I initially used "on" to imply that the weeds' existence was superficial and fleeting as "on" denotes or connotes surface.
    I don't think "on" would be worth criticizing as "incorrect" usage in a poem in this case--that would seem pretty nit-picky to me. But, in regards to the different depths of meaning you next mention: "weeds" (in English, at least) have a particularly strong association with the idea of tenacity. So, beyond the in/on matter, I think it might be a little unorthodox to use it as an image suggesting a "fleeting" aspect of something. That might be beside the point though, and again, I really hope no one took you too strongly to task about using "on" in that case, I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see it there or put out by its use (as long as the pile of droppings can be imagined large enough to host weeds, I guess).

    Quote Originally Posted by miyako73 View Post
    Example:

    "I hide beside the stairs
    Where weeds grow
    in the birds' droppings."

    The article "the", at least in my writings, avoids sameness and generalities. In the example above, I decided to use "the" because weeds growing in droppings pooped by any or all kinds of birds was not my idea. I wanted to write about the birds that frequented the abandoned stairs and left their reminders that they came to visit again. Yes, it is too long a hidden text for an article. Also, I did not use "the" before "weeds," because the latter were insignificant. I did not have a story to tell about weeds. As a matter of fact, I don't know about them, nor do I excitedly expect them to grow. They scare me. Weeds are all the same- they are not flowers.

    This is not a justification but a wondering of a writer who asks: which is inadequate, the syntax, grammar, and rules of the West or myself who finds it hard to free herself from her roots?
    Your use of "the" before "birds' droppings", and the decision to omit "the" before "weeds", are both completely right, and show a completely standard (but at the same time, creative and interesting) application of the definite article. It would be ridiculous if anyone were to criticize those choices, and the choices have exactly the effect you intend.

    Of course, there might be a larger mission for your OP, and I don't mean to just zoom in and offer a couple opinions on a couple specifics, as if you were simply asking about syntax/grammar. I can't really add much to your own musings about the literary identity crisis you describe. To me, it seems you are aware of and interested in the issue of "correct" English grammar, and that's enough.  がんばってください! (I hope the "!" isn't too much there...) Though I do think it must be a little annoying to face a problem that really is, once you've gotten where you are, pretty much 100% about "habitual usage" (despite the often interesting histories and logic behind those habits), as you say. I used to know quite well a woman who was fluent in five languages, but had 100% fluency in none of them--imagine that... The habits take time, and the grip of the roots--well, you'll probably find ways to more reliably make use of them in ways that serve your work, and keep growing new roots besides.
    Last edited by billl; 05-05-2012 at 06:26 PM. Reason: "definite" "ridiculous IF"

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by billl View Post
    Hi, Miyako! Nice to see you posting around here again. You've been posting a lot and the stuff I've seen has been pretty artful and interesting, as expected.

    I don't think "on" would be worth criticizing as "incorrect" usage in a poem in this case--that would seem pretty nit-picky to me. But, in regards to the different depths of meaning you next mention: "weeds" (in English, at least) have a particularly strong association with the idea of tenacity. So, beyond the in/on matter, I think it might be a little unorthodox to use it as an image suggesting a "fleeting" aspect of something. That might be beside the point though, and again, I really hope no one took you too strongly to task about using "on" in that case, I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see it there or put out by its use (as long as the pile of droppings can be imagined large enough to host weeds, I guess).



    Your use of "the" before "birds' droppings", and the decision to omit "the" before "weeds", are both completely right, and show a completely standard (but at the same time, creative and interesting) application of the definite article. It would be ridiculous if anyone were to criticize those choices, and the choices have exactly the effect you intend.

    Of course, there might be a larger mission for your OP, and I don't mean to just zoom in and offer a couple opinions on a couple specifics, as if you were simply asking about syntax/grammar. I can't really add much to your own musings about the literary identity crisis you describe. To me, it seems you are aware of and interested in the issue of "correct" English grammar, and that's enough.  がんばってください! (I hope the "!" isn't too much there...) Though I do think it must be a little annoying to face a problem that really is, once you've gotten where you are, pretty much 100% about "habitual usage" (despite the often interesting histories and logic behind those habits), as you say. I used to know quite well a woman who was fluent in five languages, but had 100% fluency in none of them--imagine that... The habits take time, and the grip of the roots--well, you'll probably find ways to more reliably make use of them in ways that serve your work, and keep growing new roots besides.
    Thanks, Bill, for your wonderful advice.

    Living here in the US for a decade has made me realize that when I talk to my American friends, there are instances when they misunderstand my very simple statements. They are on the literalist side, if not paranoid. When I asked, "How're your parents?" one friend responded with a question, "Why did you ask?" then finally answered "They're not sick or anything." Asians have this thing about filial loyalty to family. It is common among us to send our regards to our friends' folks. I don't think he got that.

    The same problem manifests in my writings once in awhile. I once wrote in my poetry class, "The dusk sweats/ the sugary scent/ of the yellowing mangoes." During reaction time, they questioned my use of "the yellowing mangoes" because they only thought of them as fruits without considering Asian symbolisms and motifs where mangoes can suggest season, childhood, courting, sensuality, etc.

    I knew "weeds" are persistent and strong in symbolism; that's why I used the word. I also tried to use "weeds" in a manner that their existence was superficial and fleeting to subtly compare them to loneliness that could be strong and persistent but temporary.
    Last edited by miyako73; 05-06-2012 at 03:48 AM.
    "You laugh at me because I'm different, I laugh at you because you're all the same."

    --Jonathan Davis

  4. #4
    confidentially pleased cacian's Avatar
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    Hi miyako may I ask where you grew up?
    it may never try
    but when it does it sigh
    it is just that
    good
    it fly

  5. #5
    I grew up in a remote village in the Philippines.
    "You laugh at me because I'm different, I laugh at you because you're all the same."

    --Jonathan Davis

  6. #6
    confidentially pleased cacian's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by miyako73 View Post
    I grew up in a remote village in the Philippines.
    I see. I have no knowledge of the Philippines language but I agree about the prepositions in English they are a handful.
    it may never try
    but when it does it sigh
    it is just that
    good
    it fly

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by miyako73 View Post
    I grew up in a remote village in the Philippines.
    Ugh, part of me was worrying if it was too big of an assumption to go from the name "Miyako" to figuring the original country/language would be Japanese. I'm very sorry about that, Miyako.

  8. #8
    smug & self-satisfied Atomic's Avatar
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    Thank you for your posts, Miyako. They are brimming with insights. Evidently, you have worked very hard on your English. You speak it better than some native speakers I know.

    Here in Ireland, it's not unheard of to ask how people's families are doing. Why just five minutes ago, I asked my best friend how her aunt was! Perhaps that's not the case in the U.S. Or maybe it's strictly an individual matter.

    Symnbolism differs from culture to culture, but if a poet writes of yellowing mangoes, the reader should be intelligent enough to discern its importance. Based on the three lines you wrote, the mangoes serve more than just an aesthetic function. Maybe mangoes are seen as less 'literary' outside Asia, but all symbols are ultimately universal, and it's the responsibility of the reader to make what they will of it. There is no need to change the symbol based on the readers familiarity with it if it serves the poem as a whole.

    Do not be discouraged; and don't let lingual misunderstandings dampen your writing style. In fact, as english is your second language, any unconventional or foreighn imagery you command will be an asset. Do your best!

  9. #9
    dark desire dark desire's Avatar
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    Something really beautiful there.

    I don't know what you write about but I have a feeling if you can write about these problems that you are facing, it will make for beautiful pieces. Many will agree that your posts here are poetic themselves. The problems you are facing are your very identity, I will say do not lose them, please never become a weed. You belong to a tradition to which this world has lost sensibilities. Do not try to adapt too much. If you will bend too much in front of the rules, you will never feel that you own the English language.

    Write a poem about using in/on. Write another about not being understood when you used 'yellowing mangoes' symbolically. These crises symbolizes you. Many Indian writers have discovered their own languages. Arundhati Roy (Booker Prize winner) has been particularly acclaimed for her innovations with the English language.

    Language is a construct and not a concrete reality. Their's is no more substantial than yours. The book on the following link

    http://www.amazon.com/Roland-Barthes...7102123&sr=1-1

    will take you a long way in understanding this. I pray that the beauty you bring from your rural culture does not get crushed under the noise that you are experiencing for 10 years now.
    Being taken literally, is like being sent to hell LITERALLY.

    “It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.”
    ― Oscar Wilde

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