Monk, Hyacinth and Jonathan Franzen

Mum and I have a saying, “Monk.” We both know what it means. There was a TV show about an obssessive compulsive ex-detective called Adrian Monk. It’s hard to be a homicide detective when you can’t stand dirt or blood or bodily fluids, hence he is now an ex-detective, yet he ‘consults’, which means he solves the case. The humour comes from the ‘fish out of water’ scenario and sometimes it is genuinely funny. The reason we use “Monk” is because it’s a code word. It means I am becoming too fixated on something. I’m a person who gives all or nothing.

As an example, I’ve never gardened in my life before and now I’ve fallen in love with growing things. It’s hot and humid here right now so you have to do things early. After breakfast I fed the plants we planted yesterday with a liquid solution of ‘blood and bone’ and then I planted a dozen ‘bizzy-lizzies’ under the shady shrubs where others of their kind are thriving, then I put more stones into the little garden we have decided to turn into a bit of a ‘stone garden’. The ferns seem to love it. Meanwhile Mum read the paper and said, “Monk.”

Another code we have is “mind the pedestrian.” This comes from “Keeping up Appearances”, a British situational comedy. When the husband, long-suffering Richard, is driving, his wife, Hyacinth, says “mind the pedestrian, Richard” and he says, “minding the pedestrian.” When I reach my limit of front seat driving advice, I say “mind the pedestrian” and Mum knows that I can see that car up there and that there is no-one coming.

I think more relationships would benefit from code words. They express a point of view without causing a confrontation about it. Of course they only work if the people know what they mean. I usually answer Mum with “I know, Monk” and keep doing whatever it is I’m doing.

Lucas and I played Santa games yesterday. One of us had to be asleep on the sofa and the other crept around and ate cookies and milk and fed a carrot to the reindeer and left presents behind (usually on the tummy of the sleeping one). The ‘santa’ was also ‘mummy’ and had to tell a story or sing a song when the sleeping one had a bad dream. My story wasn’t nearly as good as his song about Santa. The two best bits were the bite marks in the carrot which I felt I better explain in case Gemma thought someone in the supermarket had bitten the carrot and put it back….and when I asked ‘what does Santa say’? I was told he says, “Ho Ho Ho’ and “Cock a doodle do.” Because it’s Christmas Day! I can see we will play this game quite a bit over the next three weeks.

And so to “Famous Writers Tips” for today, forgive me for not giving you a number, I’ve forgotten how many we’ve done. Today’s tips come from Jonathan Franzen:

1 The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.

2 Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.

3 Never use the word “then” as a conjunction – we have “and” for this purpose. Substituting “then” is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.

4 Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.

5 When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.

6 The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than “The Metamorphosis”.

7 You see more sitting still than chasing after.

8 It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.

9 Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.

10 You have to love before you can be relentless.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. M. C. V. Egan (@M_C_V_Egan)
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 11:23:31

    Here in South Florida in our home we use the phrase “don’t be so Monkish”. My husband was on a business trip in L.A. sometime in mid-October and he phoned us so excited to say he saw Tony Shaloub (Adrian Monk) who gave him a Monkish smile and wave.


  2. jmt4159
    Dec 06, 2011 @ 11:40:52

    Aha, so we’re not the only ones! It plays on one of our classic channels here and it is a favourite when we catch it. I think he plays the role so well, his timing is superb.


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