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Category Archives: Autodidacticism

Frozen Pizza Is A Very Bad Bargain

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We will limit this thought experiment to an average $4 or $5 frozen pizza to be had at the local rialto. This pizza will weigh in at about 1 pound. Let’s not complicate matters right now with talk of delivery and takeout style pizzas, which are really just magnified versions of the average cheapo monstrosity from the frozen food aisle.

For your 4-5 bucks, you get one stodgy pound of food with anywhere from one to two thousand calories. On average this pizza will have five ingredients: crust, sauce, cheese, and a meat or two. These are empty calories! The large amounts of fat and sodium insanity make this it an inefficient and poor quality source of protein.

Compare this with the scores of whole natural foods to be had for roughly a dollar per pound or less! Lentils are $1.08 per pound near me. Cabbage, squash, onions, and more can all be had for $1 per pound or less.

I’ve heard the argument that, of course, people only eat pizza because it tastes good! Which isn’t really true. America’s dietary habits say otherwise. I had a housemate once in the most liberal, hippie city in my state, and he ate a pizza almost every day. It seems to be the combo of succulent flavor and high calories that makes pizza so satisfying.

It all comes down to this: should the problem of malnutrition be solved before the issue of taste is considered? It takes a certain kind of weltschmerz to say no to that question, the same kind which instigates the purchase of cigarettes and lottery tickets every day. It’s probably the cigarettes which cause the ageustia which causes the need for such strong flavors anyway. Hellfire!

I wanted to make a snarky comment here about how ironic it is that I’m blathering about the basics of the produce section of the grocery store, but honestly. . . I don’t know enough about the produce section or the iron contents of its foods to do so. You don’t like my puns? Well maybe if you donated, my puns wouldn’t be so horrendous, and my logic so specious.

Photo Mar 18, 8 48 30 PM

One Dish Of Lentil Chow, 800-900 Calories, For $1.20 Or Less!

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Here’s a step-by-step photo how-to documenting the process I go through daily to cook the frugal and tasty and healthy meal that has come to represent almost 50% of my diet. This dish saved me from my college culinary life which was dominated by fish sticks, ramen, and popcorn! I call this dish lentil chow, and it keeps me hale and hearty. It’s based off of a “rice pilaf” recipe I found on Jacob Lund Fisker’s Early Retirement Extreme blog. I got sketched out while reading about arsenic in rice online once though. Maybe it was BS but I haven’t had rice since. Yes, I have tried this dish with bacon, and let it be said that it was good.

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I get my green lentils at Wally World near my house because they’re the cheapest around at $1.08 per pound. You can also order them online at Sam’s club by the big-ole-bucket. Red lentils are harder to find, and in my experience they can get a lot mushier when you cook with them. You have to be sure to sift through your lentils with your fingers and examine them because once in a blue moon you might encounter a pebble or something. . . it was alarming when it happened to me, but you get used to that sort of thing when you’re eating cheap, earthy foods. I’ll use about one and two thirds of that little cup of lentils you see there for this recipe.

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I like sweet yellow onions. Onions are cheap and pretty good for you, and they’re probably even better for you if you don’t cook them so like I do. I use one each time I cook this. I always discard the outer layer after cutting off the ends, chop it into about 5 cylindrical slices (not from pole to pole as some people do), then slice off little wedges from those larger slices until the whole onion is chopped to bits.

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I put those bits of onion into a pot or pan and add a good amount of extra virgin olive oil. Pompeian claims they don’t rest on their laurels, and I do like the price and decent taste.

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That’s where I set my burner for cooking the onions in the olive oil.

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This is an alternative and by no means mandatory little sub plot to our cooking story that you are living out vicariously through me. The vegetable you see here is Bok Choy. Use one stalk for a dish as an alternative to an onion or simply to add to the onion.

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Bok choy tends to be dirty so I rinse it under running water and rub off all the dirt with my thumb. I rip off the green, leafy parts before chopping the stalk up as the green parts are edible but don’t fare so well in the boiling oil. After it’s chopped cook the pieces with the onion slices in the olive oil.

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Once the onions (and perhaps bok choy) are looking this colour after cooking in the oil a while, you’re ready to progress to the next stage.

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I add about one and a half or more of these glasses of water to the olive oil and browned onions.

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Then I add one and a half (or more if I’m especially hungry) of these little cups of lentils to the water and stir it up a bit. Let the stuff simmer/bubble for a while, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and uneven cooking.

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Meanwhile, the cats and I cast lots to determine how exactly I shall season my dish. Just kidding about the molasses.

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This is not done.

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This is where I consider it done and cut it off. Sometimes if I’m lucky I’ll get the bottom layer to crisp a bit. . . I like the texture it gives to the dish. You can let it go longer and add more water if you keep stirring the stuff in order to let the lentils get softer.

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Then I pop it into my favourite bowl with my favourite seasoning and use my favourite spoon to chow down.

I did some rough calculations, and here’s what I figured for the calories and prices of a bowl of the stuff like you see above:

  • Lentils: 40 cents, 420 calories
  • Water and electricity: 10 cents
  • Olive oil: 25 cents, 360 calories
  • Onion: 25 cents, 50 calories
  • Bok Choy Stalk: 15 cents, 50 calories
  • Seasoning: 5 cents, 5 calories
  • Total: $1.20, 800-900 healthy, toothsome calories

If this post and the dish described within it enriched your life, consider donating to my own little lentil, onion, and olive oil fund! Believe me. . . if Paypal took lentils I would take them ;-).

Photo Mar 18, 8 48 30 PM

Lesson, The Seventh: Repetition As A Vice

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Some would cast aspersions regarding my lifestyle—- I mean writing style, especially pertaining to practices of repetition. I do harbor a penchant and affinity for simpler figures of speech and rhetoric which fall under the more general category of “repetitio.” It’s funny how all of my attempts at pronouncing Latin words come out sounding like the spells in Harry Potter.

These detractors also entertain animadversions concerning the broader, meta practice of spaced repetition with flashcards. This criticism isn’t an historically new form of criticism. This criticism has been around since ancient times.

Certain flavors of Christianity have it out for vain repetition in prayer. Current criticism of repetition is just a new manifestation or form of the old criticism. Please note that I’m not making an historical, evolutionary argument here. This is just a convenient comparison. Religion was a major predecessor to science as far as understanding the world. Therefore, as prayer was and is a way of practicing those understandings, so SRS flashcarding is in some ways a similar form of practice, but for science and other kinds of narratives.

My point is that spaced repetition is like private repetitive prayer, but not in vain! Does it feel like I’ve gone off the deep end with this one? I hope not. It’s not similar in the emotional, superstitious, wanting senses. It is similar in the sense of calculatedly engaging with a broader culture in private, and it allows you more precision as to how and which cultures and language you wish to practice.

I took my work, cut it down into this bite-sized, abridged version, and have decided to make it freely available in various places o’er the Interwebz. Permit me to be blunt: I worked really hard on the full version, and it will soon be is available in sundry formats in various places including Amazon, Smashwords, and Udemy. Especially since a lot of good stuff got cut out in order to make this abridged version possible, I urge you to give the full version your serious consideration.

Photo Mar 18, 8 48 30 PM

Lesson, The Sixth: Style Analysis

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Let’s talk about creative processes above and beyond spaced repetition and reference list-making. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to go down in the annals of spaced repetition as not just another sarcastic know-it-all but a sarcastic know-it-all who actually created something beautiful other than his autobiography and spaced repetition deck.

The first rule is never pollute your main reference lists with ideas relevant only to a particular creative project. You may fill out and add to a version of those lists created a la copy and paste, but never adulterate your main, home base reference lists, as tempting as it may be. The fill-in and add-concrete-details-to copies are very useful near the beginning of a creative project. Each abstract item on your list, be it a rhetorical term, figure of speech, trope, or even vocabulary word has the potential to infuse a part of your work with value.

Another thing you can do with fill-in-and-add-concrete-details-to copies of your original reference lists is use them to analyze other people’s works. You could go through a novel for example and with your epic list in hand, keep track of two things.

1) The frequency of usage of different tropes, figures, etc. How often?

2) The flow and “how” or higher order of usage of these things. This is stuff like, how are such elements used independently and in tandem?

By asking such questions, you can essentially create a deductive blueprint that helps you come to a greater understanding of other creative works, which will in turn socially inform your own endeavors.

This is where you will reap the benefits of drawing your education from diverse resources as opposed to one specific source. Some works will resist analysis by certain ideas or types of rhetoric, so the more ideas you have at your disposal the more you can potentially understand.

I’m going to completely depart from this discussion and talk about something else right now. The following is a personal thesis based on an idea that to my knowledge originated within the works of The Handsome Blogger, His Majesty, Khatzumoto.

Don’t ask me for a page number, but out of deference we’ll call this Khatzumoto’s Law of Exposure Count: the believability or verisimilitude of any idea or thought is rooted and based for humans in how often they have been exposed to it. This obviously applies to propaganda, but it goes far, far deeper than that. The deepest of the deep.

The argument here, if we are being realistic, is not that humans are entirely incapable of logical deduction. That’s just stupid. The point is that humans are not infallible, and this a cognitive keystone.

I say cognitive keystone instead of key cognitive weakness for a reason. Calling this element of our psychology a weakness is too narrow an appellation. This determinant of our thinking patterns is manipulable, so within the ambit of human social interaction it is a potential weakness (think fast food commercials on cartoon channels), but not a necessary one. You may use this to your benefit!

In case you haven’t guessed at this point, one of the things I am hinting at is spaced repetition.

But there are more uses, and that is what I am getting at. The main theme of this whole, macrologic rant on rhetoric and words and ideas is, let’s be honest, vanity. You, we, I are, am interested in influencing other human beings with our words and ideas — and there is a hazy boundary, to be sure — and we have so far awkwardly circumvented one of the most important parts: humor.

More importantly, that pleasurable emotion behind humor. We want to experience it and aspire to cause others to experience it. A strange breed we are. We love this feeling so much that we even want our pets to experience it. Anyone who owns a fairly frisky feline knows what I am saying!

And how shall we service our non-serious emotions without an understanding of their nature? Many do so in ignorance, but methinks it will please the audience if we pontificate a smidgen of meta-insight. Wallace Chafe, a respected, academic linguist sheds light on the subject in his book, The Importance of Not Being Earnest. His thesis revolves around an emotion that gushes forth in circumstances appropriately termed believable, or even persuasive, illogicality. Something that is 100% insane may not provoke so much as a giggle, but if such an insane idea bares even a slight modicum of semblance with rational human thought, it may trigger an eruption of euphoria and cacophony in all those within earshot. Khatzumoto’s Law is applicable here because, especially for verbal humor, a major determinant of “semblance with rational human thought” seems to be exposure count, which really makes you wonder how our culture of mass media has affected our senses of humor.

It is not just this emotion. You need other types of emotional euphoria and activity. World building in the context of fictional literature is a noble task, but so often people populate their fictional worlds with everything but the emotions that people so want to experience. Trust in your reader’s empathy, that they will be able to connect with the feelings of your characters and narrators.

This is the great thing about rhetoric and tropes. Many rhetorical devices describe and give a name to prototypical circumstances that are familiar to most human beings regardless of native language. These circumstances often reliably elicit a similar kind of feeling, emotion, sentiment in people, and so a catalog of rhetorical terms and tropes is as much a listing of certain situations, circumstances, and behaviors as it is a listing of human emotions.

I once read in the book Impro by Keith Johnstone and a commentary on that text on the online learning community LessWrong that people are constantly in a battle of sorts with one another over self-esteem or status. People are constantly trying to raise and lower each other’s self-esteem, and of course we all want to feel some sort of esteem pertaining to ourselves. In many ways, a catalog of rhetorical devices and figures of speech is like a catalog of different ways to engage with and participate in this endemic, human struggle over esteem.

Socrates said you must be both knowledgeable about your subject and benevolent. I like to think this has to do with the similarity between the words author and authoritative, the latter of which means having the weight of authority; peremptory and dictatorial. The reason why writing with a good style is hard is because, as the author, you have pretty much unchecked power over your reader’s perceptions, whether you like it or not. Since you’re a dictator no matter your natural disposition, it pays to think things through thoroughly and craft your benevolence.

Consider for a moment the mathematics of imagination for the purposes of art and storytelling. Let us use the example of a fictional, well-written series that takes on average 40 hours for the average adult reader to complete. We have already spoken of a novel as a set of instructions for someone’s imagination, and that concept will aid us here.

Compare the arbitrary 40 hour figure with a rough estimate of how many hours of raw imagining you have put into your own work. On top of that, consider the fact that not every second, minute, hour of raw imagination directly translates into a second, minute, hour of experience for a reader, especially if you yourself are not one of the muses. On the contrary, it is likely that the final 40 hour figure is a small percentage of the original amount of raw imagination that was required to provide that experience for a reader. And since this isn’t an exact science, who could really pinpoint the exact conversion rate? Maybe it’s 1 part experience to every 4 parts raw imagination, or maybe it’s more like 1 part experience to every 100 parts raw imagination.

Clearly, I am not a math teacher; the goal isn’t to get you to start taking such inane calculations literally. This line of thinking is just a tool to help you understand why your own story might suck, a suspicion with which many (myself included!) are beset in the early stages of a creative endeavor. The exciting thing about spaced repetition is that it has the potential to fuel both the imagination and writing parts of the creative process.

There is an abundance of material on how to write, but understandably little has been written about how to imagine. This is a fundamental faculty and tool of the human mind. If you think you don’t know how to, then that means you’ve just forgotten. The commonly expressed difficulty of putting the breaks on the wandering mind for the purposes of meditation is evidence of this. Sit quietly, alone, and try to escape your initial state of mind or circumstances with whatever psychological flights available.

Populate your imagination with people, places, emotions, and more. If you take a look at the task of creating a work of art that allows people feelings of pleasure and escape from the earlier expressed mathematical perspective, it is likely that the form of your imagining doesn’t matter so much as the quantity. You often hear creative writers speak of world-building, but few are probably willing to spend several hundred or even thousand hours in a world entirely of their imagination. If you look at it like that, it seems like your goal isn’t to keep trying to imagine something wonderful so much as trying to imagine something that you don’t get sick of.

A word on the actual practice of writing. Let us imagine that a random person in the street found your writings or audio recordings (I have affectionately – some would say pathologically – dubbed my unedited ones “The Author Files”) or notes whether or not they were edited and before you ever intentionally showed them to other people. What would be your reaction if that person started to disseminate your texts? In various places on the web; Facebook? Reddit? Torrents? Quoting it all over Twitter? Random blogs? If they mailed copies to your parents, grandparents, in-laws, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, your boss, even to your favorite writers that you respect most, naming you as the author, how would you feel? What if it ended up being quoted in court or during some kind of political campaign – how would you feel? This line of thinking is the ultimate way to test whether you are ready to release your text into the wild.

Someone said (there’s that damn amnesia again!) books aren’t completed by their authors, but gotten sick of and abandoned. I’d like to extend that metaphor… writing ages like wine before you start giving it away to people. At first you might be excited but it still probably sucks. Then it gets better, and if you’ve got the patience to wait a good while, eventually it’ll taste really good. Of course, you don’t want to hang onto it so long that it grows stale.

I took my work, cut it down into this bite-sized, abridged version, and have decided to make it freely available in various places o’er the Interwebz. Permit me to be blunt: I worked really hard on the full version, and it will soon be is available in sundry formats in various places including Amazon, Smashwords, and Udemy. Especially since a lot of good stuff got cut out in order to make this abridged version possible, I urge you to give the full version your serious consideration.

Photo Mar 18, 8 48 30 PM

Lesson, The Fifth: Bonus Round

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This is gonna be a bonus round for this series. To make a long and slightly (actually) pathetic story brief and way less embarrassing, your noble and lovely and let’s-be-honest-kinda-vulgar master of ceremonies (c’est moi!) once self-published a self-help ebook a long time ago in an Internet galaxy far, far away. It was, as painful as ’tis for me to admit this, a book about charisma. I know right? What business do I of all of the people on this planet have writing a book on charisma? I’m too much of a fake wag to be thought of as seriously charismatic! Shall we wax fashionably risque? Let us attempt to reclaim a politically loaded dysphemism; from now on, we’ll (that’s me and the queen) refer to fake wags as fags. Or perhaps “phony wags as phags” for the weak of stomach.

For now I’m going to avoid any further commenting on that topic like any crafty incumbent and move on to the one important idea that came out of that book; and that is, yes, that’s right, you guessed it, a flashcard type. We’re going to affectionately dub this flashcard format “Charisma Cards,” but as you’ll see these kinds of flashcards don’t always have a lot to do with charisma, especially if I’m making them! There! Now you can call me sophomoric, but no one can call me a morosoph.

The unifying principle of this format of learning is — and I’m not even that sure I realized this at the time of publishing that initial e-tome — it’s juxtaposition. Juxtaposition is the name of the game here. You can make these cards out of any kind of source material, though my favorites for cultural reasons are movies, TV shows, and books. Basically, take a look at all of the flashcard formats I’ve introduced to you so far. You have various methods of learning vocabulary, rhetorical figures and figures of speech, tropes, and storytelling patterns. Now it turns out that you’ll still occasionally come across defiant, yet interesting language and communication in the stuff you’re reading and watching and listening to. This is interesting stuff that resists being pegged as fit for one of the other flashcard types. It’s resistant, but you’re still drawn to how clever or interesting it is, and so you still want to give it as an offering to Mother Mnemosyne. If something still retains its je ne sais quoi mystique after analyzing it with every last member of the rhetorical bestiary, then you’ve got a candidate charisma card.

See the full version of this text or my earlier ebook for more details. I took my work, cut it down into this bite-sized, abridged version, and have decided to make it freely available in various places o’er the Interwebz. Permit me to be blunt: I worked really hard on the full version, and it will soon be is available in sundry formats in various places including Amazon, Smashwords, and Udemy. Especially since a lot of good stuff got cut out in order to make this abridged version possible, I urge you to give the full version your serious consideration.

Photo Mar 18, 8 48 30 PM

Lesson, The Fourth: Tropes and Story Patterns

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I am going to preface everything I say from here on out by saying that I am going to use the word “trope” in ways that are very untraditional, and some might even say incorrectly. Yet here will I appeal to that great authority and goddess of language which is prevailing patterns of usage, and claim that my usage of the word is indeed correct, simply based on the existence of so many other people actively using the word in this way (***cough***tvtropes.org***cough***). I trust that you, my trusty myrmidons, are not yet grown tired of my style of melodramatic communication.

I’m going to make a brief analogy to the world of coding and programming computers to hopefully kind of get you to understand the broad subject of tropes and story patterns and plot devices. Hopefully, some of you will be excited by my taking a discipline like literature that has been traditionally thought of as more esoteric and mystical, and comparing that with something as concrete as computer programming.

Essentially, tropes, story patterns, and plot devices are to the humanities what code libraries and maybe even functions are to programming. Before I go any further with this analogy, I should stress that I’m not an expert in computer programming. At all harhar. But I think it’s a useful way of thinking about literature. At this point we’ve covered things like vocabulary, grammar, and effective ways of messing around with those grammar rules and language patterns with human languages. Now we’re ready to move on to the level of stories themselves, and that’s where this analogy comes in. If you are a computer programmer, after learning the basic syntax, structure, rules, and functions or “vocabulary” if you will of a programming language, you’ll want to start making your own full-fledged, bona fide program — like a game.

To go slightly further with this analogy, this is also where you tend to hear the “practice practice practice” advice in both the world of coding and writing; well, I would argue that preparation in the form of effective memory training is practice, albeit slightly different practice, though just as if not more effective and efficient than traditional forms of practicing like writing endless essays or simple computer programs.

The process of using spaced repetition flashcards and software to practice certain interesting language patterns is analogous to deliberately imitating the style of your favorite writers and speakers. Imitation eventually gives way to some kind of creativity in many cases, and I’d like to argue that spaced repetition is a way to accelerate that traditional process.

Anyway, back to our gay metaphor—- I mean game metaphor ;-). You can write your whole game from scratch, and it’d take you a long time, but it’s theoretically possible to figure it out, and it could work. Still, this might be a huge waste of time and effort to figure it out all by your stinkin’ self because other programmers have likely already solved a lot of problems in their code that are similar to the problems that you’ll encounter while making your own game. So why waste your time coming up with and deriving your own solutions from the language’s basic rules, syntax, and vocabulary, when you can simply “borrow” so to speak a bit of code from a code library that is available for your language?

And indeed programmers do this all the time. And if you have a coding background, I’m sure you’re absolutely thrilled with my crude butchery of the details of your profession or hobby. But I think you know what I’m trying to say. When you’re writing or crafting a story with human language, a computer is not what you’re trying to influence. Influencing a human being is the direct purpose of storytelling.

If a computer program is a set of instructions for a computer, then maybe you could make the argument that a novel is a set of instructions for someone’s imagination. Such a set of instructions is like any other: a tool, so you should treat it like any other. In growing your story or novel, remember that the magnitude of your focus is far more important than the individual qualities of its constitution.

In a way very similar to coding, the bards and storytellers of the world have long shared themes, devices, strategies, and storytelling elements amongst themselves. Of course copyright infringement isn’t really where you want to be, but you can’t copyright an idea…only the expression of it. Perhaps even thanks to coding, you might say, these tropes and devices have been indexed and analyzed in various ways for your perusal.

Don’t ever let yourself fall into the trap of nit-picking the faults of one source of rhetorical figures, tropes and story patterns to the point of discounting that source completely. You can find faults, maybe a lot of them, with wikis online, but you can also find faults with literary journals and other sources within academia.

Take a higher level class with the right professor at a University, and you’ll be awed at how they destroy and demolish books in lecture that would otherwise strike you as pretty well-written books. And sometimes, an academic article or book will have been written by someone who is just about as unknown to you as a random editor or contributor on a wiki.

This is also where you’ll begin to see a major benefit of actually memorizing stuff instead of just knowing where it’s located in the library or on the Internet so you can look it up whenever you want. Tropes aren’t like figures of speech that operate on the level of spelling…they’re more like vocabulary. There are thousands upon thousands upon thousands upon thousands upon tens of thousands of these abstract patterns called tropes. To really come up with and successfully implement a creative combination of tropes…you’re going to need more than a database that’s indexed by a computer or search engine. You’re going to need a database that’s indexed by your brain!

Your brain can be actively aware of as long a chain of individual tropes as you want if you’re reading them for the first time on the Internet, but only one at a time if you haven’t memorized them yet (and, ahem, I’m looking at you TVTropers. Anyone who’s ever used that site knows what I’m talking about. Two minutes on that site and fifty tabs open). But if you have memorized thousands of tropes, your peripheral consciousness, that part of your mind that’s always riddled with an agglomeration of semi-active ideas lurking around and shifting to provide context to whatever you’re actively doing or thinking; that part of your mind can be aware of any number of unique and random trope elements that you’ve already committed to memory.

Also, here I will warn you, just as with computer programming, a working knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, style, and tropes is not the only thing that you need to come up with a creative story. And of course, access to a comprehensive library of tropes or code is no excuse for not coming up with your own ideas. A programmer with an encyclopedic knowledge of computer code can still write a dull and uninteresting program that people don’t really care about. And honestly, the greater his body of knowledge, the greater the time he could waste in doing so. In that sense, computer programming is just as much about influencing people as storytelling. When all is said and done, you still need a process for turning what you’ve put into your mind into something that other people’s minds will love, and that’s really a lecture for another day. So for now, let’s focus on tropes.

First, let’s talk about tropes and their names. Just like figures of speech or vocabulary, you’re probably going Jeez Dave why do I have to memorize the names. Well, let’s talk about that. Some tropes, just like the majority of figures of speech, have Latin names, and Latin is always good to know because it impresses people and makes you seem….smart and important. Har har har.

But no really. Knowing the names of tropes is useful for the same reason that it’s useful to know the names of figures of speech and obscure words. It allows you to refer to a complex or lengthy thought in one blow, and that’ll be useful in the limited realm of your memory, both long term and short term. There are academic names and terms for tropes….and there are silly, outrageous, and maybe even offensive trope names found in places like TVTropes.

Tropes are useful for knowing for really two specific reasons. Well maybe three if you count any increased appreciation for literature that you experience from knowing them. First, and perhaps most obviously, a detailed knowledge of tropes might spur your mind into some creative association between disparate tropes or ideas that already exist. Knowledge of existing tropes might even inspire you to create a new trope that doesn’t already exist. Second, once you’ve already come up with ideas and plot lines and characters and whatnot, a comprehensive knowledge of tropes can help you figure out where you’ve gone wrong. It can help you figure out where a part of your story is stale, stereotypical, or stuffy.

Some people will say you’re a hack if you only use existing tropes and ideas…the path of true literature is that of those who create new tropes and plot devices and situations. Ha ha. Yeah. Maybe. If that’s true, then Shakespeare was a hack. I’m sorry, but I’m gonna have to call Bullwinkle on this one. This overlooks the reactive nature of the literary field. I can’t even give any examples here because there are so many examples of fantastic literature that have been created solely or mostly by using already existing tropes. I think the real purpose of most literature is just hedonism. It’s some kind of pleasure. In fact, the pleasure and escape offered by good literature is and should be similar to that offered by drugs. I think you’ll have more fun, other people will have more fun, and you’ll probably make more money if you just write something that’s….fun, in some way.

So you can see, there are a variety of options at your disposal here, and it’ll probably take a bit of experimentation and experience before you settle on a style that suits you. Within reason, try a funner style that results in you doing more flashcards rather than a stricter style that results in less cards over the life time of the deck. Personally…it took me until about 3-4000 flashcards before I really hit my stride and developed my style as far as flashcard creation.

I took my work, cut it down into this bite-sized, abridged version, and have decided to make it freely available in various places o’er the Interwebz. Permit me to be blunt: I worked really hard on the full version, and it will soon be is available in sundry formats in various places including Amazon, Smashwords, and Udemy. Especially since a lot of good stuff got cut out in order to make this abridged version possible, I urge you to give the full version your serious consideration.

Photo Mar 18, 8 48 30 PM

Lesson, The Third: Figures of Speech, Rhetorical Devices, and Wordplay

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There is a very good reason to learn and memorize figures of speech and rhetorical devices, and that reason is….you already use them. It’s natural for human beings to use language creatively. The fact is that your day-to-day writing and speech are already replete with rhetorical devices and figures. If you don’t already know them in an academic sense, it’s probably a little difficult for you to envision this in your mind, but once you start learning them and committing these abstract patterns to memory you’ll start to remember particular manifestations of these figures and devices that have stood out to you all on their own in the past while you were reading or watching movies or what have you. The advantage of actually explicitly learning all of these devices is that it really speeds up the natural acquisition process…and kind of takes away that intimidating mysterious quality that well-written texts filled with figures sometimes have. Learning the figures will often transform that je ne sais quoi mystique of a good writer or interlocutor into more of a je sais quoi mystique.

You might not know this…or maybe you do, but every time you turns on the television or cracks open a book, or surfs the Internetz…you are awash in rhetoric, which has to make you want to be aware of the patterns instead of just passively soaking it in all the time. Most likely, even Shakespeare explicitly studied rhetorical devices when he was in grammar school. Once you have these patterns rooted in your memory, it’ll be easier for you to notice them in your reading, and it’ll make those manifestations particular of those figures in your reading more meaningful. Also, it’ll help balance out your writing.

Anyway, avoid thinking of figures of speech and rhetorical devices as things reserved for serious literature like Shakespeare or the dusty old tomes of literature sitting in your local library. You’ll be very surprised by the places you’ll find them. You find them everywhere, from TV advertising to text messages from frenemies (is that trendy enough for you?) to the dialogue in your favorite Super Mario Bros. Game. They’re a way of making language memorable, and so you’ll find that they’ll be very useful in a diverse panoply of domains.

It’s kind of a shame that studying these figures has fallen out of fashion of late. At one time these figures were practically exalted as a gift from God because they allowed you to essentially work out a whole litany of versions of the same content — a useful kind of tool if everything you write on the first try isn’t worth its weight in gold. Of course people have strayed away from that now, whether it’s at school or at work.

Indeed there are rhetorical terms that deal with stylistic excess and annoyances, so it’s not a one-sided thing. My advice is to thoroughly learn the best tricks that both sides have to offer; learn how to spin wacky phrases with the best of them, but also learn how to ruthlessly cut through the schlock and trash that’s present in your drafts. Think of it like war…you don’t want to just learn how all of your allies think. Ya gotta get inside the heads of your worst enemies too!

What I’m thinking of here are texts like the AP or MLA style guides and boox like Strunk and White. Such works are definitely on the opposite end of the spectrum from some of the rarer figures of speech, rhetoric, and tropes, but an active acquaintance with them might turn out to be the difference between delightfully figured speech and speech that is malignantly misfigured.

Use an SRS and start making reference lists. Just the fact of you deliberately trying to use the figures in your writing or speech will not make your writing or speech necessarily better. What it will DO, is give you a concrete number of things to try, and that is very useful in going from the first draft to the final. Let’s say you put together some sort of monograph or essay on a particular topic, and over the course of drafting and writing you cast in all 400 sentences using figures of speech, style guides, and rhetoric. Of course, this is a simplistic example, but I’m a simplistic man. So fantastic job, but there’s no guarantee that your final work will make an excellent impression if you just hit the publish button right away. Here’s my proposal: Set your fresh corpus of sentences aside for a period of time, and upon your reunion, take out your editor’s knife and cut away the unnecessary excess, the fat, the adipocere until you are left with the bare bones of value in your work.

This is probably a good place to talk about the empire that has been constructed in our culture by a horrible group of people called the grammar Nazis. Not coincidentally, many of them work for state sponsored institutions. I jest bien sur….typically people fall into one or two camps when it comes to grammar. Either you’re in the camp of people who concentrate strictly on the explicit rules of grammar (I think we can safely dub this the concentration camp!), or you just say “suck it” and pretty much do whatever you want.

Now if you’re a native speaker with a decent handle on the language, it doesn’t matter so much because the important standard patterns of the language are already ingrained in your mind. However, if you’re learning a new language, these figures of speech and rhetoric probably aren’t going to be so useful until you’ve learned the language to near-native fluency.

Let me give you an example. Take the figure called “asyndeton” I’m sure I’m butchering the pronunciation of this really old word. Asyndeton refers to the act of omitting a conjunction. Now there are lots of situations where it would be an interesting move to omit a conjunction, but unless you explicitly know when you’re supposed to have a conjunction, how do you know that you’re even omitting one? So you have to kind of pay homage to and recognize the reliance on prevailing grammatical patterns that these figures have.

When you’re learning these devices, there are several ways that you’ll want to learn them. You’ll want to acquire the ability to spit out the name, mentally or verbally, of a figure of speech when prompted with its definition and/or examples. Here are a few examples:

Front: Figures of Speech: Thou thy *worldy* task hast done, Home art gone, and *ta’en* thy wages.

Back: syncope

In this example, I put asterisks around the segments of the sentence that I wanted to draw attention to, but some flashcard software will allow you to italicize these bits instead. Whatever works for you.

Front: Figures of Speech: direct exposure of an adversary’s faults:

Back: categoria

(anyone who has ever watched the anime Bleach has witnessed this one over and over again!)

You’ll have the option to learn multiple names for these phenomena as many of them have several names, but I typically only learn one name. You’ll also want to acquire the ability to spit out the definition or pattern of the figure of speech when prompted with the name of the figure of speech.

Let me emphasize that knowing the names of these figures is very worthwhile! Don’t write them off as technicalities that aren’t worth your time. Knowing the names of these figures is indeed a part of the foundation of the ability to manipulate them.

A language, in a way, is itself a system of labels. And language itself is perhaps humanity’s most powerful tool through which it has accomplished things, ah w-one of the most powerful tools. We manipulate one another and our environment in ways that our primate cousins haven’t even dreamed of, and language is a big part of that.

There’s some manic anti-memorization phobia that’s caught on in the rhetoric world. “Don’t bother memorizing the names!” Well honestly, if the names aren’t for knowing then what on god’s green girth are they for? This isn’t Diary of a Wimpy Rhetoric Student. Eat your Wheaties and start your reps!

What makes these figures exciting is their relevance not just in classical literature that you might or might not be bored with. These figures are incredibly relevant whether you’re working with the vocabulary of Jane Austen or a businessman in Manhattan. Really, they’re a way to use and make any vocabulary exciting and memorable.

There is a school of thought that says grammar rules are for the most part only useful to know explicitly after you are already fluent in a language. The argument goes that it is futile to try to write an essay in a new language by trying to derive the proper patterns from vocabulary lists and grammar rules, and I can personally attest that this calculating sort of approach to language acquisition is just as unnatural as it is institutionalized I mean popular. Instead, grammatical knowledge is mostly useful after fluency as a way to correct oneself.

Rhetorical patterns and concepts are very similar to grammar. If you get out a list of them and say you’re going to use xyz figures four times each in a specific order… what you end up with might be really interesting, but there’s a good chance that it won’t be or that it will in entirely the wrong way. An unwaivering dedication to using certain figures in a certain order a specific number of times no matter the collateral damage bore by the ideas in your work, is very much like setting foot in a wood working shop and saying you’re going to use a staple gun, nails, a socket wrench, a hammer, a lathe, a saw, a vice grip, and a screw driver in exactly that order ten times no matter what it takes. If you’re a genius you could end up with an exhibit fit for the Guggenheim! But the chances are great that you’ll end up with a product with no discernible value whatsoever other than firewood or kindling (perhaps we can reserve the latter term for crappy, self-pubbed kindle ebooks? was that hitting a little too close to home?). Figures of speech and rhetoric are tools, and nothing more.

So you do need some higher order governing your work, and a knowledge of real life, of tropes, and of story patterns might aid you in that endeavor. You can think of such a deep and intricate knowledge of life and storytelling as similar to the kind of fluency that lends itself nicely to the usage of grammar as a corrective mechanism.

I took my work, cut it down into this bite-sized, abridged version, and have decided to make it freely available in various places o’er the Interwebz. Permit me to be blunt: I worked really hard on the full version, and it will soon be is available in sundry formats in various places including Amazon, Smashwords, and Udemy. Especially since a lot of good stuff got cut out in order to make this abridged version possible, I urge you to give the full version your serious consideration.

Photo Mar 18, 8 48 30 PM