Showing posts with label covid. Show all posts
Showing posts with label covid. Show all posts

Sunday, June 5, 2022

What George Orwell Has to Say About Words


What George Orwell Has To Say About It

Freedom of the Press and Words Count
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
You may know me as “The Frugal Book Promoter”…or novelist. . .or poet. But because this year is shaping up to be an especially difficult year worldwide, maybe you won’t mind if I stray a bit from my usual topics to talk to you about topics that that have been in the news recently—namely freedom of the press and the importance of words?
Not long in the past during the height of the Covid pandemic, the White House issued a list of words the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shouldn’t use. That was unprecedented. It bothered me then and it bothers me even more now that Covid keeps reoccurring but some of the other major problems we face have exacerbated. We are lucky that as writers it has been relatively easy to isolate ourselves. That has made me even more appreciative of the importance of words in my life and, I hope, has done the same for you..
The LA Times (Tuesday, Jan 16, 2020 page B2) used this as a lead for the story on this repression of words, all the more surprising because the United States is known for its respect for words, both spoken and written:
“’It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.’ George Orwell writes
in the fifth chapter of his dystopian novel, 1985.”
I love the novel the Times chose to quote, but I have always been too optimistic to give its dystopian theme much credence. But here we are with four public health experts from Emory University in Atlanta saying that if the CDC actually obeys the White House order to avoid certain words and phrases and that by doing so, it “squanders [the agency’s] limited resources.” Other agencies were also “forbidden” to use words like “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science based.” In some cases, the administration’s budget office suggested alternative terms which is a subtle way of saying they are not only telling them what words to avoid, but telling us what words they would like to them to use. I can only hope that this administration will return to honor the constitution’s freedom of speech and press intentions.
Then in a recent Sierra Club magazine (sources do count for us writers!), I learn that the US climate office was told not to use the terms “climate change,” “emissions reduction,” or “Paris agreement.” Seems someone was trying to control what we write about, maybe trying to control how we think.
Times also reported that in addition to our concepts of free speech and free press, gagging like this violates The Plain Writing Act of 2010 that requires all federal agencies “improve the effectiveness and accountability to the public by promoting clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.”
We writers should be thankful for that “plain writing” encouragement! But as writers, we should all be worried—even on the lookout—for anything that limits our use of words.
As an example, we’ve been encouraged to use only Merry Christmas as a holiday greeting for decades. I’d hate to lose alternative greetings. As a courtesy, I’ve always reserved Merry Christmas for people I know to be Christian, Happy Hanukkah for those I know to be Jewish. Have a great Kwanza for the black people I know celebrate it but not those for whom I am unsure. Ramadan? Well, I’ve never had occasion to use it (sorry!), but if I did I would be equally careful to abide by the traditions of the person involved.
There are others, but generally, “Happy holidays,” is a polite way to be inclusive when we don’t know the situations or do know that in a diverse population I may be addressing a few people who are members of each group with a few atheists to boot. That is a very small example of how important words are, and how important it is we have access to all the ones we find in a dictionary (and some we don’t). For clarity. So that we can. . . ahem, obey the Plain Writing Act. Now there’s a government proclamation I can get my teeth, molars, and incisors into!
Before I assure that I don’t get too blasé, I occasionally revisit the date that it was written. 2010! Perhaps we need a reminder of the importance of clarity in our communication more often than we think we should. Is it time again? And can we write clearly if words—precious words that came about presumably because they served a purpose—are denied us? And do we pay no attention when other entities use words to color the way we think. That will always be with us. It is part of the price we pay for free speech issues. We can refuse to be taken in by it. Always on the lookout.



Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books for writers including USA Book News’ winner The Frugal Book Promoter now in its third edition from Victor Volkman’s Modern History Press and The Frugal Editor scheduled for release in its third edition in 2022. An instructor for UCLA Extension's renowned Writers Program for nearly a decade, she believes in entering (and shouting out!) contests and anthologies as an excellent way to separate our writing from the hundreds of thousands of books that get published each year. Two of her favorite awards are Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment given by members of the California Legislature and “Women Who Make Life Happen,” given by the Pasadena Weekly newspaper. She is also an award-winning poet and novelist and she loves passing along the tricks of the trade she learned from marketing those so-called hard-to-promote genres. She recommends Dr. Frank Lutz’s Words that Work to her writing friends and those who want to understand more about the power of words-both the positives and negatives. Learn more and find tons of free resources on her website at

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Personal Essays: A New-Found Interest in the Time of Covid

Exploring Personal Essays
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Do you subscribe to Writers’ Digest’s newsletter? Once upon a time—maybe as far back as the 50s or 60s—that magazine got delivered to my mailbox. When I was living in New York City, I didn’t miss an issue because I could pick it up at the corner newsstands. Today, though I don’t always open their mail, it is comforting to see it in my e-mail box. Since I started writing to publish, it has occasionally served me well.  Their magazine named my SharingwithWriters blog to their 101 Best Websites list one year. My move-loved poetry book, Imperfect Echoes, earned an honorable mention in one of their contests. I keep reading it (and entering contests)  to keep up with the industry I love.
Recently I noticed an essay contest. I don’t remember ever seeing a RD essay contest! And then I noticed they were offering a webinar on writing personal essays. That was new to me in the context of creative writing, too, though I started writing as a journalist as was surely familiar with them. And then I ran across this letter I recently sent to my grandkids who live in Colorado accompanied by a very heavy box of Childcraft books. (It went book rate, of course!)
 It occurred to me that my #WritersontheMove audience might enjoy my little trip back to my childhood and maybe even tell me how I might change it to become a “personal essay.” You know, what it needs to become a personal essay.  


Literature in the Time of Covid
To Travis, Sarah, Lance, James, and Alexa:
Lance, (my husband, your Papa Lance) is on a book-buying, book-sharing roll. Perhaps because he is more or less glued to his computer in this time of Covid-19, that is to say, glued to for shopping and entertainment. Perhaps it is because we are cloistered and therefore keep finding nooks and crannies in the house we’ve lived in for fifty-three years that beg to be tidied and—maybe—decide some of our treasures would be better off given to another generation. Naturally, many of those are…well, books!
That brings me to Childcraft. It strikes me as the perfect thing to have around the house during our Covid isolation. After all, it served my brother and me quite well before we had what we now call TV!
It is a series of twelve encyclopedia-size books covering everything from nursery rhymes to child psychology, meant—I assumed—for my mom and dad. I had two favorites. The one full of fairy tales—everything from Grimm to Hans Christian Anderson. They were illustrated with drawing that were colored almost as if they had been painted in pastels. Quite different from the full color children’s books you have today.
There were two other books, big and flat. Just large enough to act as a base for all the others to sit on in our bookcase.  They were full of “real” stuff like industrial machines, musical instruments, and African animals. They were more like our real color photographs of today, too.
These books are copyrighted 1945. Your Grandma Birdie bought them from a door-to-door salesman—maybe the same one who sold things like encyclopedias back in those days. I was in the 3rd or 4th grade when they had little money, but she managed by paying a little each month. She called payments like that “will call.”  
These books did not molder away on a shelf. She read them to my brother and me often. We also played games using the intaglio imprints on the covers that illustrated what was within each volume. She had us cover our eyes and she would put her hand over one of the images and we were to tell her which one she was hiding. It was a little like playing peek-a-boo. Who was hiding, Jack-Be-Nimble or Little Miss Muffet?
I followed her example with our children and perhaps with our grandson, Travis, (your dad) who was often at our house. That Childcraft set probably made fifteen moves with us, from state to state, as our lives changed. When you open the box, you will see they have been well (lovingly!) used, but they are still in good shape, made of sturdy materials, slick paper, solid printing as books were made in those days when publishing was treasured, publishing was king, publishing didn’t think so much about its bottom line as about the value of books.
We had libraries back then, of course, but Childcraft was our own library. We didn’t have to hike through the snow of winter or the heat of summer to find something great to read. Our library was to be used, to be read, to be saved and now to be passed along to the third generation.
Great Grandma Carolyn
More About the Contributor:
Carolyn Howard-Johnson was an instructor for UCLA Extension's renowned Writers Program for nearly a decade. She believes in contests and reading literary journals as excellent ways to learn more about craft and branding writing careers. Her favorite awards are Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment given by members of the California Legislature, “San Gabriel Valley Women Who Make Life Happen” given by the Pasadena Weekly, and an award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing given by Glendale’s Character and Ethics Committee. She has been publishing poetry and fiction for years and loves passing along the tricks of the trade she learned from marketing those so-called hard-to-promote genres with her acclaimed HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers.
Carolyn is a frequent contributor to Karen Cioffi’s respected #WritersontheMove blog. 

The Benefits of Working with a Writing Coach

Suzanne Lieurance It’s no secret that top athletes in any professional sport work with a personal coach at one time or another during their ...