Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Superstition: The Hyper Pen

Last night I was thumbing through my Dickshunnary of Antonyms and Synonyms tring to find an acceptable replacement for "spell."
I won't say why.
Book kept coughing out "charm," as first choice.
That word always makes me think of Kipling's Kim, warts, and certain schools for tatty-headed, self-conscious young ladies - in that order.
In my meandering way, my mind detoured to superstitions, fore and fivewarnings and the like.
My mother had a few.
Never give an empty purse, handbag, wallet - said recepticle must always contain a penny.
A bird in the house meant a death.
A knife must always be paid for: even as a gift - cue the penny again - lest the relationship be cut.
Never leave a knife, blade up on the counter - means a quarrel.
Something tells me those last two superstitions, at least, have about a thousand years or two of cultural experience behind them and aren't just idle. Even if the explanation does confuse cause and effect in the usual folk-lorish way.
Hauling myself out of exploring that endless - though fascinating - rabbit hole, sneezing twice, dusting myself off and pulling the odd twig out of my hair, I wondered about superstitions related to writing.
Couldn't think of any.
Moved like a ferret from the sublime to the particular.
Individual superstitions and fetishes and forewarnings.
Do writers have them?
My nose twitched.
Ritualistic preparations?
Psychic intimations?
Arcane convictions?
Wards against calamity?
Tell me your secrets from the shadow world.

Barge-arse: A person with a rotund behind; low; ca 1870 >; whence barge-arsed. [ would lay odds that this term is actually older]
Barges: Imitation breasts; proletarian; c. 1884 >; which arrived from France and prevaled for about four years ... from their likeness to the wide prow of canal -barges. [ The practice of enhancement itself is very old]
Bark at the moon: to agitate, or to clamour uselessly; 17th - 20th c., coll.; standard English in 19th- 20th c.; used with against, 15th -17th c., and Standard after 1550, having been previously colloquial.


Tsavo Leone said...

I suppose my only consession to ritualism is to read through my previous day's work (is that apostraphe correctly placed, since I am talking about the work of the previous day, thereby suggesting ownership?), editing as I do so, and then attempt to continue in the same vein.

Previously I would break off from writing at the end of a chapter, partake of a mug of tea and a nicotine nail, then go back to work, having used the time away to mull over what was to come in literary terms.

Sorry, no sacrificed virgins, no lucky charms or pendants, no ritual dance, recitation or potion to be imbibed...

Sela Carsen said...

It's just as well, Tsavo. Those virgins are in short supply these days.

ivan said...

Yeah. Virgins. No photo available.
In any event, there are times in your life when you are something of a virgin sturgeon. So little contact that you sort of let fly in the general direction of anything female in hopes that she'll throw an egg out.
Whee, have I got issues. Saucy fellow!
Oh yeah. They call it superstition, as in the old R&B song.
I know for sure I'm going to get something published when I hear old Tudor songs, like Greensleeves going thrugh my head. Why this is so I don't know, But somehow Henry
VIII's treatment of Anne Bolyin sort of brings to mind publishers' treatment of me and since the song is a protest against ill treatment, it somehow signal finall acceptance.
If I have a script out and it will be accepted I hear that medieval tune all right. Every time. Call it some sort of spell. I don't know. The feeling is also accompanied by the image of a dusty book, an old manuscript really, out of Tudor England.
I probably had too good an English course, but I'm still not sure if I spelled Bolyin right.
Anyway, yeah. We're all superstitious as hell.

Gabriele C. said...

Well, the knock on wood three times thing stuk since my childhood, but that's about all. Black cats can cross the alley in whatever direction. :-)

In my fiction, I have some superstitions founded in culture. All my tribal characters bury or burn hair and nails they cut off (though I show it only once), and spit to avert evil. The Selgovae don't like Horatius black stallion because black horses are a result of sophisticated breeding and very rare in the ponies of the tribes.

I deliberately keep all those superstitions and druid stuff vague because it's not the subject of my novel.

And no dreaming scenes. :-)

Erik Ivan James said...

I won't pick up a penny that is laying tails-up. If it is on the floor in my house or office, I'll leave it there until something causes it to flip over to heads-up, then pick it up. Fortunately, my wife is not as f**ked up as I am so she'll pick them up when she vacuums.

Bernita said...

I'm dull that way too, Tsavo, a clear difference between rountine and ritual, except I wonder if coffee conforms to "potion."

Not in fiction, Sela.

That's really interesting, Ivan. As well as cool, neat and intriguing.
The accepted spelling now is usually "Boleyn", but at the time the name had the usual phonetic variants: "Bullen" being only one.Just claim you're doing that, Ivan.

Hmm, Gabriele, that's a good question - the use of superstition in one's fiction, whether as part of the culture/world building or as a recognizable cultural omen.

Bernita said...

Why, Erik? What's the rationale?
Is this a general thing or specifically related to writing?

Dennie McDonald said...

I don't know if it's superstition, but I have to have the H/H first and last name BEFORE I can write more than a page - I cannot/will not move past that until firmly in place.

Unlike Tsavo, I will not stop at the end of a chapter - I heard a write once suggest you stop in the middle so you feel compelled to open the file back up the next day (though, as I haven't written in weeeks, I may need to reconsider that one)

and no matter where I am writting, I must have certain things within arms reach (gum, dictionary, chocloate, five or six pens, oodles of paper and music) whether I use any or not - can't write w/o it. You should see my purse!

Bernita said...

I wouldn't call needing a name superstitious, Dennie. I would call it an automatic good writerly function. If the character is going to come across with any degree of realism s/he must first have identity in the writer's mind - and that usually means a name.
The dictionary, pens, and stuff I would also call foresight - but of the practical, not the psychic kind.

R.J. Baker said...

Jeeze, it's hard enough for me to write without superstitions. I guess if there are any I haven't heard of them.

I have heard that it better to write and edit in two different places, stickly for frame of mind reasons.

I don't really follow any of the strange wive's tales, but my luck, as of late, has been pretty bad. So maybe I should start. ; )

ali said...

Always say 'bless you' after you sneeze. Because, as everyone knows, your soul shoots out your nose when you sneeze, and if someone doesn't say 'bless you' the fairies will steal it. So you have to say bless you, or get someone else to do it for you.

I don't have any writing superstitions, though. I agree with Dennie, though, about where to stop - in the middle so it's easy to start again.

alexandra said...

No superstitions here, but I do try to keep to some semblance of a routine so that I have clear periods for writing uninterrupted.

Other than that, I throw salt over my shoulder every hour, never have new shoes up on the table and always have a black cat on hand just in case and yes, the odd virgin as well but that's purely to massage my tired shoulders. ;-)

Bernita said...

I can't bring any to mind either, J.B., other than personal fetishes.
Don't think the dictum about "writing a million words" really falls under the classification.

There goes Alexandra, assaulting virgins again...

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Because of faith, I have nothing to fear except...every morning I put the plastic shield on my keyboard before I come over here!

Whether it's hysterically funny or jaw-dropping shocking....I snort coffee!

Bernita said...

Then Bonnie, according to Is.21;5 "anoints the shield."

I always liked that one, Ali, especially because inspite of fairies or evil spirits or whatever, it was a way for the sneezee to tell the sneezor that s/he sympathized.

Rick said...

No interesting writerly superstitions to report, beyond kissing a query letter or ms before sending it off.

Ivan, you had an authentically Tudor-looking spelling of "Boleyn" there; as Bernita says, they were pretty free-form in those days. But I'm bothered by your hearing Greensleeves and visualizing Tudor-era books ... shouldn't I be the one doing that, considering my milieu?

(I'm a regular on a forum dealing with SF warfare, and another regular poster has the last name Boleyn - always odd to see that!)

Regarding character names, I initially referred to the King of Aquitaine's long-since-fallen mistress as Diane de XXX. After wrestling for a while and coming up with nothing, she ended up in the submitted version as Diane de Triéxe. :)

Bernita - the word "barge" poses its own problem for me! In Tudor times it had quite a different meaning, an oared pleasure-craft (an admiral's personal boat is still called a barge), or even a light naval vessel. But how can I call a ship the Great Barge without provoking an unintended laugh?

A similar problem with "hulk," which in the 16th c. meant a type of merchant ship, not a worn-out hull (much less a superhero). I've resorted to the deliberate off-spelling "holk."

Sandra Ruttan said...

I know some people who feel that if you talk about a submission before you hear back, you've jinxed it.

I know some believe that if you show work before it's done, it'll never be completed.

They are, of course, insane.

And I have to say that when the phone company offered me the 2666 exchange, I took it, because I thought it would be easy for people to remember.

It hasn't stopped me from getting some success in my writing, but maybe that's because I sold my soul...Bwahahahahaha!

Bernita said...

Rick, sometimes chewing over those frigging details frig away more time than writing three chapters.
The names of two late 16th century merchant vessels which stuck in my mind, from geneology, other than the Mayflower. One was "The Spotted Cow" and the other "The Golden Beaver."
Your "holk" solution is quite acceptable and quite clever. You could always call it The Great Ship, I suppose, thinking of the much earlier White Ship, but I'm sure you solved that irritation easily.

ivan said...

Yeah funny thing.
I can play Greensleeves on a guitar
and one of my Toff friends said,
"What the hell is a little Russian like you doing playing Greensleeves?
I am not Russian, though next door.
The chameleon instinct takes many forms.
Like Telus?
F*ck, I am mobile.

Bernita said...

Yeah, thank you, Sandra, jinxes - the negative side of the coin.
People look for the outside agent for cause - either of their failure or for another's success.

And the 666 thing - or so I read somewhere - is based on a mis-reading or mis-calculation of something.

Rick said...

Bernita - The most amusing ship name of that era is one of Henry VIII's ships, the Grand Mistress. I assume the intended meaning was "Boss Lady" rather than "Paramour," but still!

Bernita said...

Of course it meant Lady of... mistress of the seas and all that.
From Old French "maistresse" > the Latin magister - master - so I read.
Having power or ownership, the female head of a household. Mrs. is a corruption of it.
Fascinating how words change and develop. Don't get me started on the current slang (mis)use of "Nimrod!"

M. G. Tarquini said...

an acceptable replacement for "spell."

I thought you meant as in 'to spell a word.'

How badly does it show that I don't read fantasy?

Stuff like that reminds me of that old song, 'You say toe-MAY-toe and I say toe-MAH-toe...'

Rick said...

Bernita - Which brings to mind yet another language complication. "Mistress" is the normal period form of address for a gentlewoman, but it can't escape its modern connotation, especially since my book has its share of mistresses in that sense as well. ;) (And the synologous period is too late for "leman.")

Incidentally, in the last few years I've noticed more frequent use of "mistress" in salacious news stories and the like - when I was younger, it seemed nearly an archaism, hardly ever used in a contemporary context.

M G - Speaking of word meanings, you stumbled over a fascinating one: the double meaning of "spell" as a basic writing skill and a magical incantation. Which says quite a bit about how writing was once regarded!

Another example is "glamour," which derives from the Welsh rendition of grammar. In medieval Welsh it was used for a magical mist, then got into English, ultimately with the meaning we use now. (Also the only familiar word that ends in -our instead of -or in US usage.)

Bernita said...

It may show that you never read fairy tales as a kid, Mindy.

Erik Ivan James said...

It's just a personal superstition. If a penny is picked up while tails-up = bad luck. Heads-up = good luck. It has absolutely nothing to do with writing.:)

Bonnie Calhoun said...

You're right, Bernita..about the 666 thing. It's a mis-transliteration of the a bible passage on the identity of the antichrist.

The Greek was translated back to Hebrew, and in Hebrew a letter also has a numeric value, so instead of the three letters, they made it the number!

M. G. Tarquini said...

It may show that you never read fairy tales as a kid, Mindy.

Au contraire, m'ami.

Rick, I thought about that when I realized to what Bernita referred. Found it interesting.

ivan said...

Look, Gram. Fairies!

Tsavo Leone said...

Based on everything said so far I think we need to invent our own little mantra...

Before we know it, it will have spread to all the writers of the world and then we can begin our voodoo hex so that only we get punlished!

Bonnie, if you wish to abstain we shall consider you an honourary member : )

Sela, they're not that hard to find - you just have to know where to look! : )

ivan said...

By the way you spelled honourary, I knew you were British or Canuck, and now that I have checked, you're a Yorkshireman--John Braine country. He still alive? Successful cuss anyway.
Not sure it was Braine--some writer who cited Lancanshire men just coming back from a funeral.
"Went to Bill's funeral. We had a good laugh!"
Lord, life must be hard on your neighbours out there in Beatle country. So sarcastic.
Just thought I'd stir up the War of the Roses all over again. Bernita's
roots in Midlands? Says she's old United Empire Loyalist.
I'm more like that Polish guy Stashiu, as in Stashiu of Liberty--give us your tired, your poor, etc.
(Staten Island reject).

Bernita said...

Ivan, if genealogy is to be believed past a certain point, like Bishops's Transcripts, I had ancestors from over half the bloody country.
The Wars of the Roses? Pshaw...you find you have guys from both sides of that mess and in the middle as well.

ivan said...

Kinda like John of Gaunt.
My kind of dude.
He no dragon fighter.

For The Trees said...

(slack-jawed, he finishes reading the 600-page novel known as "Comments" on a random post at Bernita's...)

I use a very old ritual involving a carefully prepared potion. There are days when I cannot get to my desk chair without having to get out mortar and pestle, to grind up some of the precious beans, to make a gruel so dark and bitter. I usually try to grind up quite a few days' worth, so I'm not stuck being too damn ritualistic every friggin' morning. Then I charge the pot with a measure of the black powder, and ram it all home. Casually but with firm resolve I light the fire beneath the pot.

And in a few moments, there's coffee. Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life, At Last I've Found You!!

I make up 12 cups' worth at a time, and use a travel mug big enough to hold at least three of those "cups" at a time. Then I come into my Sanctum Scriptorum, pour the mixture into the bottle, plug in the rubber tubing and invert the bottle. Slowly and carefully sliding the needle into my vein, I sit quietly as my computer boots up and then I feel it: the faint and familiar fizz of caffeine hitting my blood stream.

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH! And another morning's ritual is complete.

ivan said...

For the trees:
There's magic realism (I've seen some before on film) and then there's magic.
This is magic.
A writer.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Excuse me while I wipe my own off the monitor, Forrest.


Bonnie Calhoun said...

Voodoo...what do you...LOL...know about voodoo...LOL...I think your barking up my folks alley...LOL...yuo'd better watch out...LOL...if you don't know how to protect yourself...LOL...it will come back on ya'..LOL

I do like the mortar and pestle for the coffee beans. :-)

Lisa S. said...

Wierd rituals?

Scissors - for some reason the blades must be closed if not in use. Open scissors laying around weird me out.

Cutlery- If you drop a knife a man will visit you, if you drop a fork a woman will visit you, if you drop a spoon a child will visit you.

Mirrors - Hand-mirrors must be placed mirror side down if one sided and not in use. if double sided just put it away or under something. I have no problem with wall mirrors though.

Just quirks...only quirks...that's what I tell myself.

ivan said...

Waycool, Bonnie.
I been to Haiti. Saw some folklorica Voodoo.
Noticed when I came to glass shards on top of whiskey glasses, the guys would avoid stepping on them, while the girls just stepped right onto the wicked razor-sharp points. Girls braver than the boys? Yet no obvious signs of damage to heeel or toe.
It is my firm belief that all music, all culture and all religion springs from West Senegal, certaintly the source of
cool old Led Zepplin, the Black Icons of my fiction and very probably, the Grateful Dead. And Madagascar Slim. I really dig him. Syncopation is everything, but what syncopation? My music teacher: Note, then an "and". Note and another "and." Been playing guitar for a long time,but I can't quite get it.
Can't switch from blues to jazz. Ain't in me.
But I can fake old Lambert, Hendrix and Ross.
Comin' home.......

Bernita said...

For the Trees is ye olde alchemist.
Myself, I have a kitchen slave/apprentice do that grinding and mortaring.

Lisa, that mirror thingy has ancient roots.But scissors just makes sense.

Another one of my mother's, Bonnie, was no book should ever be put atop the Bible.To this day, I don't.

Vodun, Santeria, Macumba,Palo Mayombe, Abaqua, take your pick, Ivan.

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