Grammar. It’s a pain in the ass. Under normal circumstances I would have just left it at that, but I feel a certain obligation to pad out the topic and bump up the word count somewhat. It’s not something that comes particularly naturally to me. I assume we were taught it at school, but I have no memory of it, which is a shame as I remember countless hours of Welsh lessons which is of no use to me unless a situation arises where I need to count from one to ten in a language other than English.
I imagine someone who has a better grasp of grammar, and generally more intelligent, would be able to craft a clever post highlighting the ways in which grammar and punctuation can imply various meanings. However I am neither of those people, so instead I’ll just resort to plagiarism and bitching.
As would be expected, grammar has a tendency to crop up quite a lot in writing, especially when you’re not very good at it. In an attempt to address this issue, I’ve invested in a few books and rely heavily on Google to help clear the waters. This can present its own problems though, as it just serves to highlight how little you know about a language you’ve spent the best part of thirty years unknowingly butchering.
Take the book ‘My Grammar and I (or should that be “me”?)’, an incredibly useful reference book, written with a very down to earth view of the complications of English grammar. An example of this is its opening quote: ‘[It is] impossible at the present juncture to teach English grammar in schools for the simple reason that no one knows exactly what it is’ Government Report, 1921.
It makes for a terrible evening read when you’re trying to negotiate sentences such as: ‘A participle is a non-finite form of a verb used with an auxiliary verb to form some compound tenses. It can also be used in noun, adjectival and adverbial phrases.’ Having read this several times I am still no clearer to understanding what exactly it means.
So as much as I try to learn and apply the grammar rules to negotiate this minefield, it’s not helped by the fact that I’m also terrible at spelling. The word ‘grammar’ is used nine times in this post, and I have attempted to spelt it with an ‘er’ for every one of those times. Nothing like building a house on faulty foundations for a long, sustainable future.
As an excuse to get out of the house a bit, and away from the distractions of needy dogs, Redbull TV and over-elaborate lunches, I frequently write at an area known as Community 101. Provided by the helpful people at BNZ bank, the space has been set up for people who need somewhere to work that isn’t the office, or the library, or the garage, or anywhere else that may be considered a place of grind. For the princely sum of $0, you are provided with a desk (c/w comfy seat), power sockets, Wi-Fi, printing services and smashing tea and coffee making facilities. It also allows as a means for networking with other people in the same solitary position. I guess it’s a bit like a well-funded orphanage for easily distracted, lonely professionals. Plus, if nothing else, it’s a useful alternative to sitting on the sofa, with the laptop resting on my lap, wondering what impact the battery radiation will have on my long term fertility.
In recent weeks I’ve been working on another writing outlet, that of attempting to self-publish an e-book. There’s just a small matter of actually writing a book to publish, which is where the Community 101 comes in. I think the final word count of the e-book is technically pushing it into Novella territory, as opposed to a short story or dabble, but I’m trying to steer clear of that term during conversation (obviously referring to it on a post that goes up on the internet is totally fine). Similar to my earlier concerns about pretentiousness when it comes to writing, saying I’m penning a novella is definitely beret wearing, espresso drinking territory. And I can’t afford a type writer.
Anyway, the reason I bring this all up is because there was a slight disconnect on Friday morning when I was using the area. The smiling, working people around me, networking away, and Justine Timberlake’s ‘Got That Feeling in my Body’ playing on the speakers, was in slight contrast to the horror scene I was attempting to put together, involving a psychopath repeatedly beating a dead teenagers face with a rock – the scene makes more sense in context. The point being that I had to replace Justin’s fun time tune by listening to a band called Decapitated to balance things out a bit – the song ‘Kill this Cult‘ rocks if anyone is interested. Worked a treat if anyone finds themselves in a similar situation. You’re welcome.
‘So, what is it that you do?’
‘Oh, I’m a, er, freelance writer… I guess’
‘Cool. What sort of stuff do you write?’
‘Ah, well, um, all sorts really. Like, stories and stuff…’
This has generally been the exchange for the past couple of weeks, when the inevitable subject of what I actually do for a living comes up when meeting new people. I used to be able to say that I was an engineer, which swiftly killed the conversation. We would then stare at each other in an awkward silence before I broke, and attempted to show an interest in the average day of a curtains salesman. Some professions are just more fascinating than others. I have a mate who is an animator, and another who is an alpine guide, and I used to talk about their professions to other people, vicariously living through their careers. I’d be referred to as the guy who knows an animator, as opposed to the guy who is an engineer.
However, now that I refer to myself a writer (which for some reason can have an air of pretentiousness about it. Sometimes I lead with ‘dog biscuit maker’. That’s not a euphemism by the way, it is something I do on the side while try to decide what to write about) it’s a subject that people are curious about, yet I don’t really have a great deal of further information to hold up my end of the conversation. As I’m currently in the process of dabbling, experimenting and skiing, in an attempt to establish a niche, there’s nothing concrete to elaborate on, resulting in a bit of a mumbled fade out.
Similar to the expectation while I was an engineer that I should have an interest in cars, and/or have a large adjustable spanner on my person all times, there also seems to be an assumption that I should be carrying around a pad and pencil, for feverishly scribbling down details and minuting all conversations. Putting aside the fact that a phone will suffice these days, this has now been mentioned on so many occasions that I’m starting to think that is what I should be doing, as opposed to relying on my significantly diminishing memory. Which may explain why all my stories seem to end in a car chases and explosions.
This weekend was my first attempt at selling strangers homemade dog biscuits face to face. Unlike the veil of social media, or getting shops to sell them on my behalf, this time I actually had to make eye contact, read body language, build rapport, and generally mill around in the cold for hours on a chilly Sunday morning.
As I stood, feeling the cold slowly moving up through my shoes and into my feet, I started to think about how niche my product actually was. For a start, the punter – embracing market speak – really needs to have a dog. Secondly, said punter has to have an inclination to feed said dog a mysterious new food. This is about where my excellent sales skills should step in, to convince said punter that said new mysterious new food is the best thing said dog has ever had. I may be complicating this a little, but you get the idea.
The first ‘proper’ job I ever had was selling cutlery in a department store in Cardiff, Wales. I was desperately hoping I would be able to draw on this honed sales technique: creating a need, mirroring body language, creepily using their first name unnecessarily in sentences ‘That’s right Pete it is’ etc.
That was until I remembered that I sucked at selling cutlery. Long story short, I sold two bags. Apparently it was a slow day for everyone, which made me feel a bit better. The majority of the day was spent staring out into the void, watching a guy with a small dog circle the market, mentally willing him to come over in my direction – he did in the end, lovely guy, second sale of the day, Whoo! – and trying to get Michael Jackson’s ‘Black or White’ song out of my head, which was stuck on repeat for some unknown reason.
All that aside, I’m still chalking it up as a success. I managed to get my arse in gear and sort the stall out for future endeavours. And when factoring in the $10 that some random lady, for no reason that I could make out, gave me towards the cost of the stall, I roughly broke even. Plus, that random lady reminded me of the kindness of strangers, which was probably worth the mornings effort alone.
‘Well, the thing is, we’ve not got much space… and we normally limit it to grown produce… and I’m not sure if that’s overly suitable… and did I mention that we’re limited for space. So, you know… not sure if it would fit with – ‘
‘Is this just another way of saying that dog biscuits aren’t suitable’ I asked
This wasn’t a good start. Mindful that I really should get making more of an effort to get the dog biscuits into the markets, I thought as a starting point I’d contact the local weekend market near where I live. The exchange didn’t exactly go as I had hoped.
Not to worry, I thought, I might still be able to sell them at the dog park. I opened up my email, and read the response from the council,
“Applications are considered on a case by case basis, and in this case your application to trade at Halswell Dog Park has been rejected”
Not the most productive start to a Monday morning I thought, as I walked Rusty down to the vet to get his leg looked at.
The previous day we had gone looking for snow at Mt. Potts in Hakatere Conservation Park, on the outskirts of Canterbury.
‘I’ll bring Oshy and Rusty’ I helpfully informed my mates who were coming too. Who doesn’t love a barking, unpredictable animal running around, trying to grasp the concept of snow, when you’re attempting to snowboard? I’ll tell you who, most of my mates.
As you may have guessed, it didn’t go overly well. The snowboard went into the back of Rusty’s leg, spilling blood everywhere. The surrounding, pure white snow did nothing to help the situation, as it kind of amplified the crimson tint of the blood, making it look as if there had been some epic battle on the mountain side. Luckily we had a first aid kit, and were able to temporarily patch him up until his visit to the vet today.
Several stitches, two dressings and one cone of shame later, the vet bill arrived. My heart sank. It’s going to take a lot of dog biscuits to sort this out I thought to myself.
‘Still, a bit of drama to write about for the Dog Tails entry aye Rusty’ I said, looking over at a despondent dog, his drooping head buried within the plastic cone. ‘Well Oshy enjoyed himself anyway’.
‘Always keep your receipts’, this was the only advice my mate could give me when I was considering becoming self-employed while living in the UK. He didn’t really know why I had to keep the receipts, but it was vitally important that I kept my receipts.
This was the only bit of prior knowledge I had when I embarked on my new career. Up until about a month ago, I had spent the best part of 10 years working for several engineering consultancies. However, the time had come to hang up my adjustable spanner and dungarees, and try my hand at that classic craft, as old as the spoken word itself, of Story Teller, Imagination Weaver, Fantasy Fulfiller… and seller of dog biscuits on the side to make ends meet.
This blog is an account of this new career direction. Documenting the highs and inevitable lows of a struggling writer’s predictable descent into alcoholism, loneliness and clichés. Hopefully a bit more entertaining that it depressingly sounds, and ideally shorter than 500 words, it may serve as your mid-week escapism for five minutes.
‘And the dog biscuits…?’ I hear your mumble, as you lose interest and close the blog entry.
Well, I’m mindful that even if the writing goes brilliantly well, it still doesn’t pay a great deal more than if I was just working for free, so something was needed to fill the financial gap. Although it could be argued that my original engineering job filled this void nicely, it’s not as interesting as making dog biscuits in my kitchen several times a week. Who wants to hear about spread sheets and engineering projects, when they could be reading about how I spent last weekend standing in the freezing cold, at the entrance to the local dog park trying to sell biscuits to reluctant dog owners.
Whether there is much of a cross over between people who are interested in dogs and struggling writers is yet to be seen, and will most likely be demonstrated via how many people continue to read past the blog title and the number of ‘Likes’ I get.
‘OK, that clears up the dog biscuits. But what was the relevance of the receipts bit at the start? Plus, I’m really not a fan of this assumption that you know what your readers are thinking’.
Well, the receipts bit was meant to be a set up for a story about my first trip as a writer, and how I made a point of keeping my receipts, but then lost them. The anecdote sounded better in my head. Thankfully I was approaching the maximum word count to prevent me dragging it out any further. Maybe the struggling writer status is justified.
(And yes, I am aware that in the past I said that I never liked blogs, but then I also said I’d never get a pet. But 1 cat, 2 dogs and a blog later, here we are)