On the Origin of Silly

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I mentioned the other day that my wife and I try to be careful about the words we use around our kids. Not that we sound like sailors when we aren’t around them, but even some innocent words (like ‘stupid’) sound wrong coming from the mouths of our children. So we do a fair amount of language substitution.

One of our most popular substitute words is ‘Silly’.

“You’re just being silly,” I might say when I mean that someone is acting in a undesireable way. It doesn’t get much more G-rated than that.

But the origin of the word ‘Silly’ is even more innocent than its current meaning. In fact, one of the many meanings that silly has had over the years meant ‘innocent’.

It all started with Seely, which was synonymous with ‘happy’ back in the 1100’s. It soon took on baggage and shifted meaning from ‘happy’ to ‘pious’ to ‘innocent’ to ‘harmless’ before becoming associated with ‘pitiable’ in the 13th century. From there, it all went downhill. Silly soon meant ‘lacking in reason, feeble in mind, and foolish’. By the 1800’s, it could mean ‘stunned by a blow’ as in ‘knocked silly’.

So what started out as happiness eventually became evidence of a head-injury. I feel like there’s a lesson in there about pessimism choosing to believe that happy people must have something wrong with them, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Until next time, don’t worry, be silly.

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The Worlds Inside Our Heads

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When I write, I visualize my characters as well as their surroundings. I know that in the world of my Thom & Tom series, that when you open the front door of the treehouse in which the titular characters live, the kitchen will be on the right and the bedrooms will be on the left. There’s a couch along the back wall of the living room opposite an old-style boxy television that sits on the floor. The walls are made of wood, such as one might see in a child’s treehouse, unadorned by either paint or plaster.

But you might never guess the layout of their treehouse from any of my stories. For one thing, as an author, I don’t need to tell you the layout of every building or room in order for you to create a mental picture. Isn’t it cool how our brains fill in the details for us?

For example:

Joan unlocked the door and stepped inside her dark apartment. She hated working late, though not as much as she hated spending time alone in her bed, tossing and turning as she begged sleep to numb her loneliness.

Dropping her purse on the chair near the door, she made her way to the kitchen for a cup of tea. She decided that tea would help her mood. Maybe not as much as a meaningful relationship with another human being, but still, tea was good.

“Maybe I need a pet,” she said aloud to the No One who lived with her.

Joan refused to admit that she talked to herself. Instead, she spoke to No One. Somehow, it helped, like late work nights and tea.

Okay, that was an impromptu little scene, but could you see Joan? Were you visualizing her apartment? Where was her bedroom? Where was the kitchen? What did the chair near the door look like?

Whether you realized it or not, your brain was probably filling in these details for you. You might even have developed a good sense of what Joan looked like, though absolutely no clues about her appearance were given.

And now I’m curious. Let’s do an experiment.

If you read today’s post, would you please comment with a few details that you saw in Joan’s scene? Let’s see how closely we visualized the story.

On Toy Story and Bad Language

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My youngest daughter just turned two, and as kids are wont to do, she received a trove of delightful gifts. Among them was the movie Toy Story.

It’s a quality film that I can’t believe is almost 20 years old. As we watched, I started to believe its age more and more as I realized how much of the film I had forgotten.

It’s funny what things will jump out at you when you watch something as an adult, and much more so when you are watching as a parent. You notice things like violence, insults, even borderline bad words.

Now, I feel that I should mention that Toy Story is solidly rated G, and there isn’t anything objectionable about the content of the film. But while there aren’t any dirty bits, there are still things that I wouldn’t want my kids to repeat. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the situation that arose about a half hour after turning the movie off for the night.

My girls were in their shared room, playing when they should have been sleeping, when my wife and I heard my oldest daughter loudly say, “You are stupid!” to my youngest daughter.

“What did you just say?!”my wife and I asked simultaneously.

My oldest daughter back-pedaled. She knew that she had done something or said something that she shouldn’t have, but even she was unsure of what it was. After a few minutes of trying to convince her that we weren’t mad, but that we just wanted to talk about what she said, she finally told us that she said “stupid.”

Okay, before you call me a prude for being concerned over an innocuous word like “stupid,” let me say that the word isn’t even the issue here. The fact that the word is an insult is what’s at hand. In our house, we work very hard to only build each other up. About the worst things that we will say to one another is “You are acting like a turkey,” and “You’re being silly.”

So, to hear one of my daughters tear the other one down was an icy slap in the face. We just don’t do that. It is never helpful to insult someone, whether you have just cause or not.

After my wife explained all of this to my oldest daughter, she apologized to her little sister and told her that she was pretty (totally unprompted!).

In a way, I’m glad that the incident happened, because life is messy and I can’t shelter my daughters from being exposed to bad words, insults, and violence. But I can teach them that we have a choice in how we respond to those things, in whether or not we will act that way.

I am Handsome.

My wife was talking to our girls about names. We don’t want our kids to call us by our names or anything, but it might be handy if we ever got separated and some authority figure asked them for the information.

“Do you know what Mommy’s name is?”asked my wife.

“Is it ‘Mommy’?”asked my oldest daughter.

“Nope,” said my wife. “That’s what you call me. It’s a title that only you and your sister get to call me. My name is DeAnne. That’s what other people call me.”

“Oh,” said my daughter.

“Do you know what Daddy’s name is?” asked my wife.

“Is it ‘Daddy'”?” asked my daughter.

“Nope,” said my wife. “That’s what you get to call him because he’s your dad.”

“Is it ‘Handsome’?” she asked.

My wife chuckled.

“Nope,” she said. “That’s just what Mommy calls him. That’s not his name. Other people call him ‘Josh’.”

This snapshot of life in the Mosey household is brought to you by Dapper Dan Men’s Pomade.

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Friday 5 | Click-worthy Links

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Here are 5 more places online worth checking out:

  1. It can be easy to say that we don’t have time to read. Maybe the problem is that we don’t have a place to read, to shut out the world outside and enter to world inside a book. To this end, perhaps a bar is right for you.
  2. Some people like pristine beaches with white sand. When the choice is between that or a beach with Lego toys washing ashore, I know which one I’d rather. (Thanks Bob for the link)
  3. You know that fact about eating spiders in your sleep? Well, I guess some facts aren’t what they used to be.
  4. The Adventures of a Middle-Aged Harry Potter! *Irreverent material warning*
  5. For the writers among us, have you ever wondering what goes on behind the scenes of a book marketing campaign. Prepare to have your mind blown.

Enjoy!

100 Word Challenge | Do You Have To Make That Noise?

Sheila was crying again.

As her cubicle mate of two years, Jon was sick of it. Sheila was a terminally shy soul, a human doormat, apt to crying jags.

“Sheila,” he said over her sniffles. “Do you have to make that noise? I know that you are going through some nasty stuff right now. Between your boyfriend breaking things off and Jackie from sales being a witch to you, I get it.”

Her crying was louder now, forcing Jon to raise his voice.

“If you want things to change, you’ve got to speak up!”

“Jon,” sobbed Shelia. “Your chair is on my toe!”

“Oh,” said Jon. “Sorry.”

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Book Review | Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Once I got rolling on the book reviews, I’m having trouble stopping. Forgive me.

9780375714573I picked up Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis recently on the recommendation of various graphic novelists whom I admire. I knew nothing of the plot previous to my reading, so I was once again pleasantly thrust into an unknown world. The world of Persepolis is our own, albeit part of the world where my ignorance reigns supreme.

Set in and among the Iran’s Islamic Revolution, we join the author on an autobiographical journey of her childhood. By reading Satrapi’s tale, I have discovered that the Iran of today is far removed from the Iran of yesteryear, which bore more resemblance to America’s hippie years than anything else. Yet today, the Iran of the current affairs and news stories is one marked by nuclear scandals and Islamic terrorist threats. How could such drastic change happen within one lifetime?

Satrapi brings sensitivity and even humor into the darkest places as she recounts her family’s struggles and heartaches in Iran. She helped me understand America’s role in the Islamic Revolution, how in many ways, we are responsible for the threats we now face.

Persepolis is a quick read, but one that stays with you long after the reading. And I would encourage anyone who wishes to be more conversant with the events of the Middle East to pick up a copy and learn from it.

Jot IV – Mark Your Calendars

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My writers group, The Weaklings, met recently to discuss the next Jot Writers Mini-Conference. I thought I’d tell you what we know so far.

Jot IV or Jot 4 (which one do you like better?) will take place on Friday, September 12th at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids, MI from 7pm – 11pm. The price, as it has always been, will be nothing. The value will be considerably more (hopefully).

At the moment, only a few of our speakers have been confirmed. We’ll have veteran Jot speaker and editor at Discovery House Publishers, Andrew Rogers, and we just signed on blogger and Houzz.com writer, Alison Hodgson. We have two more speakers that we’re still bullying into agreements, so stay tuned for those.

For past attendees, we’re excited to announce that Baker Book House has agreed to expand the stage area of the store to accommodate our ever-growing audience. We’re still trying to figure out what to do with parking. I know that a few people couldn’t find spots at Jot 3 so they turned around. Maybe it would be good for a few of you to carpool. Make a writing friend and come together.

Last, we are excited to announce that we are expanding our workshops. Matthew Landrum, poetry editor for Structo Magazine, will again lead a workshop on poetry. I’ll be leading a blogging workshop. And we have a third workshop that I’ll announce at a later date. All the workshops will run simultaneously after the main presentations.

If you’ve never been to a Jot Mini-Conference before, here’s what you need to know. We’ve tried to condense the writers conference experience into one night. We make it short because we know that writers have full-time jobs and families and that time is a limited resource. And we make it free because we know how expensive most writers conferences are. And if those things aren’t unique enough, we also incorporate some writing time into the evening so you can practice what you’ve learned right away.

The goals of Jot and the motto are the same: Meet. Write. Learn.

Mark your calendars now and we’ll see you on September 12th!

PS – I’ve decided that the Jot logo is in sore need of an update. Would you like a chance to vote on designs or submit your own? Tell me in the comments below.

I am a Character.

I was in most of the plays and musicals during my junior and senior years of high school. So, in case I wasn’t nerdy enough by being in every band class we had, there’s always that.

Anyway, after the final performance of each stage production, we always had a cast party. One of the fun bits at the cast party was doing improvisational acting games. “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” was popular on television back then and we stole a lot of ideas from there.

the-cw-resurrects-whose-line-is-it-anywayIn one of those games, contestants pulled a character from a hat and the moderator gave them a situation to act out. The goal was to act in such a way that others could guess who or what your character was. The character suggestions were mostly made up of famous people (like Elvis or Michael Jackson or President Bill Clinton) or specific vocations (Garbage Collector or Mechanic or a Mischievous Gargoyle at the Top of Notre Dame Cathedral Who Keeps Coming Alive to Cause Trouble).

And then there was me. Someone had written my name as one of the characters to be acted out.

And the person who pulled my name, the person who had to act out “Josh Mosey” had their character guessed within thirty seconds of acting. I had no idea that I was so idiosyncratic.

I still don’t know whether I should be honored or offended that I was a character. I also wonder whether time has smoothed my edges and made me more like the rest of society or whether I would still be a recognizable character for someone to pull out of a hat. And if I am still a character, would the actions that a person would do to imitate me be good ones or annoying ones?

Have you ever wanted someone to act like you? How would they act? What would they say?