Occasionally, when I write a book review, people pick on it. I know, right? Like, what's with THAT? Seriously, however...I got picked on for taking an author to task for using the construction, "I should of," "I would of," and such. I don't believe I even was the only one to ream this person out for that construction, but one particularly persnickety reader blasted me for that, among other things she thought were "obnoxious" about my review. (Note: when someone starts out their comment by saying, "What an obnoxious review," you're probably not going to get much credit from them. Just sayin'.) Her contention? "This is how people talk. So you should write it that way." My response? "It may sound like how people talk. But it's still not how a literate writer should write it." In truth, when we say, "I should've done ____," we often do make the words sound like "should of." It's sloppy. But, then, a lot of people's conversation is sloppy. The point is, however, that many things that sound a certain way in speech don't get written that way in prose, and this is one of those that should NOT. It's wrong. It's wrong, no matter if it's in dialogue or not. What the speaker is saying is "I should have," in a contraction form. That contraction is never formed with the word of. If that's how you're forming it because you're too lazy to get it right, you ought to be called out on it. You form that speech pattern with an apostrophe and the "ve" at the end. For should've. For would've. For could've. And no, this isn't being needlessly pedantic. And no, it's not even being needlessly precise. It's simply trying to write the English language the way the language is normally read. If you put in "should of," you're putting a preposition in as part of a verb, a preposition that needs an object. A noun. Not a verb. So if you say, "I should of come," not only does it sound like you're an idiot...it'll stop an intelligent reader every time. They'll stumble over it. (Note I said an intelligent reader. Since half the population writes this and doesn't seem to know it's wrong in the first place, you may not get a reaction from them at all. But that's not whom I write for, and I trust it's not whom you're writing for, either.) Bottom line? It doesn't matter whether it "sounds" like that in speech or not. In WRITING, it still has to be written to reflect what the person is actually saying. Which is, "I would have," "I should have," "I could have," and so on. Frankly? If you're going to mess around with that contraction, then do it with a recognized slang form of the words: woulda, shoulda, and coulda. Everyone knows those. Everyone recognizes them. And slang, boys and girls, is vastly better than illiteracy. And an author--any author--has gotta know better. (heh heh) Just use an apostrophe and a "ve"...and no one gets hurt. Is that so much to ask? Janny
Having just discovered this, yet again, being misused in fiction...let's talk about being ORNERY. Yeah. I know. This space for laughing. All personality-themed barbs aside, however, let's truly talk about "ornery." What is IS...and what it AIN'T. And what it ISN'T...is anything funny. Several years ago, I first encountered an author I otherwise like very much using the word "ornery" repeatedly when she should have used words like "spunky" or "sassy" or the like. She had characters teasing each other and giving each other "ornery grins." Well, if she saw someone truly giving an ornery GRIN, she saw someone with a split personality. Because, boys and girls, that's NOT what "ornery" means. It doesn't mean "smart-aleck." It doesn't mean "sassy." It doesn't mean "daring" or "joking" or "teasing." It means, in a word, NASTY. The definition lists synonyms like "grouchy or grumpy," "cantankerous," and even "bad- or ill-tempered," "waspish," and "irascible." The KINDEST term for it in any dictionary I can find is a secondary definition as "stubborn." Now, in the context that this author used it, she did not mean ANY of the things above, with the possibly exception of "stubborn." However, since nothing else in the instances she mentioned had anything to do with someone being stubborn...I can only assume she had acquired some regional misapplication of the word that resulted in using the word wrong-- one that no one had ever bothered to query, so much as correct. Not even her editors. And that made ME ornery to see, frankly. All of which points back to something the CWC says with annoying and even ornery regularity: Whatever word you choose to use...make SURE you're using it right. Even if you think you know already, LOOK IT UP. Even if you're "sure" you know what it means, because everyone in your extended family says it that way, LOOK IT UP. And, for heaven's sake, if you're only approximately sure what it means, or you're not really sure at all...PLEASE. LOOK. IT. UP. There's no excuse for using a wrong word like this, over and over, in clear conveyance that you don't know what you're talking about. There's even less reason for an editor to let it pass by. You're never, ever, EVER going to give someone an "ornery grin." Unless you have elastic capabilities to both your face and your temperament that, frankly, would be a little scary in real life. And misusing "ornery" around this friendly editor...will NOT make her smile. Which will result in a red mark on your manuscript, and not make YOU smile, either. Use lots of words in your writing. Use all kinds of them. There are something like 600,000 words in the English language, and more are being added every day. So don't be shy. Dig right in and use 'em. Just please, please, please, please-I-BEG-you... USE THEM RIGHT. (And they wonder why I drink.) Don't be ornery about it...but do be picky. If you're going to call yourself an author, picky is one of the first, last, and consistent things you ought to be anyway. And lazy, quite frankly, is not. Learn the difference. Thoughts? Janny
FINALLY! No, this isn't a case of actual felines tripping the light fantastic...it's much better. It's the Northwestern Wildcats finally breaking into the NCAA Tournament, for the first time in 78 YEARS. And yeah, it's kind of a big deal. GO CATS!
OK, you may be wondering what "begging" has to do with a good old-fashioned Wrestle. You won't wonder long, though, if you find it as irritating as I do to hear the phrase "begs the question" used the WRONG way. ALL THE TIME. By people who ought to know better. Think about it. You can't go for more than a few days--or hours, depending on how much writing you read and commenting you listen to--without hearing some journalist, when presenting a query, say, "Of course, this begs the question..." And then they proceed to ASK said question. If this doesn't set your teeth on edge, you're either unfamiliar with one of the basic definitions of rhetoric and logic...or you think that "begging the question" is the same as "presenting" or "bringing up" a question. Guess what? IT'S NOT. Not only is it not the same thing...it doesn't even come close to MEANING the same thing. Basic logic lesson time. "Begging the question," according to wiser minds among us, is defined as: Any form of argument where the conclusion is assumed in one of the premises. Many people use the phrase “begging the question” incorrectly when they use it to mean, “prompts one to ask the question." That is NOT the correct usage. Begging the question is a form of circular reasoning.
(H/T to Logically Fallacious for this concise definition. Without swear words or anything. Better than I could do.) Note that this "begging the question" aspect is a) considered an errant form of argument, and b) weak thinking on display. What it attempts to do is use a conclusion in order to argue its own premise. In other words, in shorthand, it's: Claim X assumes X is true. Therefore, claim X is true. The example on Logically Fallacious is, "Paranormal activity is real because I have experienced what could only be called paranormal activity." In order to say that anything "could only be called paranormal activity," one first has to acknowledge that paranormal activity is, in fact, a real thing. But that doesn't PROVE that it is...because in order to label your experience as such, you have to already accept as true that the thing exists and can be identified as such. Are your eyes crossing yet? Suffice to say that "begging the question" is a phenomenon that leaves a question, in fact, still unanswered--not something that presents or prompts a question. So the next time you hear someone say, "This begs the question, 'How were you able to see that purple cow, anyway?'".... Well, you probably know the response to that. Most of us have always said we'd rather SEE than BE one. Old rhymes aside, if you're brave enough, you'll also point out that the purple cow question isn't begging anything. Nor does the cow do any begging. And then, if your audience is truly paying attention...you can BEG them to stop misusing this phrase. And tell them why they're misusing it. You will strike a needed blow for logic and clear expression. And the purple cow will thank you. Milk it! Janny
Leave it to Chicks on the Right, one of my favorite places, to channel this wonderfulness. Actually, one more thing should probably be said. LEARN YOUR HISTORY. Because Hitler, as almost no one seems to want to point out, was a liberal socialist. Three guesses what both Obama and Hillary are. 'nuff said.
Okay...This is actually starting to get a bit scary. What's with people writing stories nowadays in which the tenses are all mixed up--not only in the same paragraph, but sometimes in the same SENTENCE? I've just finished skimming a potential editing project in which the author actually used past, present, and future in one sentence. And, no, they weren't talking about time travel. This was supposedly normal narrative. When I first encountered this, I thought it was a couple of clients with bad habits and/or bad instruction. However, it's become so rampant now that I can no longer assume that. The only thing I CAN assume, therefore...is that NO ONE is teaching verb tenses in school anymore. I don't mean sketching around them, touching on them briefly, and then going on to "more interesting" things in the language. I mean NOT TEACHING THEM AT ALL. If this is the case, WHY and HOW did this happen? Please don't get me wrong. Slang is one thing. Informal, casual speech is one thing. But when I see a narrative sentence that says something like, "She and her brother had never ventured out of the safe area in their lives, so they don't know what they experience when they will..." and so on? This makes a reader's head hurt. Which strikes me, oh, I don't know, as something YOU DON'T WANT TO DO? It's not DIFFICULT to learn verb tenses. In English. No. Really. It's not. In fact, it used to be common sense. It used to be that you couldn't get out of school without nailing these things. But now, it's basic error I see in manuscript after manuscript from people who think they're writing books, even people who claim those books HAVE BEEN EDITED ALREADY. By whom? The legendary 100 monkeys with computers, allegedly writing Shakespeare? This isn't a matter of pedantry. It's not a matter of being "picky." It's a matter of communicating clearly what you mean. And it should worry people who call themselves writers, above all. Because in this age of people taking every single word you say or write, pouncing on it, and giving it their OWN spin to paint you in negative terms...why would you be content writing anything that a) makes you look stupid, or b) is completely unintelligible? I suppose the upside is that if everyone is equally stupid, they won't do you any lasting damage. But I'm not in a position where I'd recommend anyone take that chance. The up side, I suppose, is that editors will be getting more work than ever. The down side, however, is that that work should be aimed at higher levels than needing to correct what should have been basic, fourth-grade grammar. I'm an editor. Not an elementary school teacher. I'm willing to do my job...but, apparently, there are a swackload of others who are not willing or able to do THEIRS. And so it continues. Pardon me while I go take a painkiller now. Or, maybe, six. Thoughts? Janny
Just went to see another potential "landing spot" for us yesterday. And, once again, have remembered why one should always take a real estate description with a shaker of salt. This house's selling point, beginning and ending, it its location. It is right ON the lake, with a splendid view that, the owner tells me, features full sunsets. It has a nice deck to watch said sunsets, it has a fireplace, and it has just big enough of a yard to have space to garden without TOO much mowing to take up time and energy. What it doesn't have, however, is much beyond that. Which includes not really having "three bedrooms," among other things. There IS a main-floor bedroom. Positioned in an odd spot between the kitchen and the expansive living room (with the sliding doors that look out on the lake). And it's small. But it's not nearly as tiny as the two upper "bedrooms," which are basically loft spaces beneath a slanting roof. In both of them, if I walked more than six feet across the space, I would bump my head on the ceiling. And I am NOT tall. I took one look and knew that bookcases, not to mention my desk, wouldn't even begin to fit in either of them...which kind of nixes the idea of having the office upstairs, which is what a bedroom will be used for regardless of where we end up. But the crowning achievement of this space was, in fact, what the owner called a "working kitchen." Which should have been called "a kitchen that should be a work in progress." From the front door of the home, it's what you step into immediately. To your left is a fridge. Immediately kitty-corner from the fridge are the full-size washer and dryer. Then, there's some cabinetry, and behind you is the counter with the sink. But by far the most interesting feature of this kitchen was...er...the stove. Which is wedged up against a wall that juts out, covering a tiny alcove...which contains the water heater. In an alcove. Not a closet. Not a separate space. Just kind of "set in" there, with a stove jammed up against it. And the entire space couldn't have been more than eight feet deep. To say that would be an unworkable kitchen, for someone like me, would be putting it kindly. Anyone who moves into this house can't possibly have "foodie" in their makeup. The arrangement doesn't give a real cook room to move, much less to create anything. And if you're doing laundry at the same time someone's trying to open the fridge...? Ah, well. If I had that location, I'd tear down the cottage and start over. The location is absolutely, positively, the only thing about this place that would draw someone in. But a family with actual children? Not enough space. A single, or maybe a couple who had no home office and basically no furniture, would be fine in it. If they didn't want to cook. At all. Ever. :-) It is to sigh. But it is also to move on and work at finding the next place to land--which is still on the agenda. A place big enough to store all our stuff, hopefully still WITH a water connection. Oh, and at a low price. Yeah, I know. But I've never been accused of dreaming small. Ever. So we press on! How's your garden grow? Janny
We’re told in
Scripture to “pray without ceasing,” but when you actually think about trying
to DO that, it can seem…well…a little tricky. Especially if you close your eyes
when you pray, you DON’T want to do it when you’re driving. Right? :-)
there are lots of little ways to “sneak prayer in” painlessly, even into a very
busy life. For those of us entering Lent this week, this would be terrific to
start on Wednesday (or even before) and find yourself firmly committed to six
weeks later. Talk about a great new habit to form!
Here are a
few I’ve discovered over the past several months…
1. In the time
it takes me to blow-dry my hair in the morning, I can say ONE complete decade
of the Rosary. Yep. Ten Hail Marys, just like that. (If you use extra conditioner
or style your hair, you’ll have time for the Glory Be AND the Fatima Prayer,
too.) And if you go to the gym like I do and end up with your hair wet MORE
than once a day…guess what?
somewhere? If your trip will take more than 15-20 minutes, you can pray a whole
5-decade Rosary behind the wheel. Turn off the radio and jump right in the
moment you start the engine, and before you get to your destination, you’ll
have accomplished a heck of a lot. You can use either use a finger rosary to
keep count of the prayers or--wonder of wonders!--use your HANDS to count off
the Hail Marys. (You knew there had to be a good reason our hands have ten
1. Have one
minute? Say these:
Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Joseph, I love you; save souls.”
You, O Christ, and we bless You--because by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed
course, the Sign of the Cross is good anytime, anywhere.
2. Have five
minutes? Say the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. It goes by fast, but it’s powerful
3. Grace before
meals should be a habit already, but if it’s not, you can start. Grace AFTER
your meal? Extra points!
thing in the morning: “Lord, make me a blessing to someone today.” (Word of
warning: when you pray this, be prepared for what may happen!)
Angelus is designed for 6 AM, 12 noon, and 6 PM, but if you can’t say it all
three times, lunchtime’s an ideal time—whenever your “lunch break” falls. (Mary
6. One of my
favorite prayers is St. Teresa of Calcutta’s “quick novena”: the Memorare, said
nine times in a row. Mother used to have her nuns pray one set for whatever
their need was, and immediately follow it with a second set in thanksgiving.
Try it and see what happens!
one I love was a favorite of both Venerable Solanus Casey and St. Pio: “Deo
Gratias” (“Thanks be to God.”). Fr. Solanus used to tell all he spoke with, “Thank
God ahead of time.” You might find yourself uttering this after you see the
results of asking to be a blessing!
And these are
just a start. I’m sure, once you begin, you’ll think of lots more.
Specifically in Lent, many people try to get to daily Mass, and many more
attend Stations of the Cross. Both of those are excellent, and if your work
schedule allows them, go for it. But for all the rest of us who can’t always make
those structured worship opportunities—grab a minute, say a prayer, and you’re
Yes, I know the purpose of Word Wrestle allegedly was to help you navigate through grammar, use the right word for the right purpose, and generally avoid hacking off the CWC (which, as you know, can have dire consequences). But this week? Let's combine two of our favorite things, word wrestling and commercials, for a bit of a grin. There's a Bud Light ad on Blackhawks radio that has my new favorite commercial line: "Will Bud Light make your team play better? No. Because that's not how beer works." Every time I hear that, I crack up. It's delivered in a perfectly straightforward style, by a spokesman who's clearly enamored of beer...but who also knows its place. :-) Bud Light isn't the best beer in the world. Some people think it's not really "beer" at all (I'm looking at you, IPA-micro-brewery-fans-of-beers-with-stuff-in-them-God-probably-never-intended-beer-to-contain). Some people claim it's undrinkable, watered-down, and generally otherwise not worth using for much other than, maybe, cleaning out the garbage disposal. That's not MY opinion, necessarily...but it's some people's. But the beauty of this company's product--and its ads--is that it doesn't CARE. It's just out to put the beer in your mind as an option for "the big game," and give you a smile or two. And this isn't the first time Bud Light has come out with commercials that are actually witty. Which, IMHO, puts them head-and-shoulders above about 98% of the advertising out there. Although beer doesn't make our writing better--because, again, THAT's not how beer works, either--there are plenty of things beer DOES work quite well to do. On a hot day, at a baseball game, very few things taste better. In the meantime, there's at least one ad out there that I can actually enjoy--every single time. And that's something any agency ought to get kudos for. Thoughts? Janny
For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about...it's this. It's a challenge to all of us to employ an extra "layer" to our prayers for this world, and specifically for this country, for the Church, and for our culture. And yeah, it's HARD. Which is why I'm doing just parts of it. But I refuse to let perfectionism be the enemy of the effort--or, in the old saying, "letting the best be the enemy of the good." I've been able to make several sacrifices over the past week and a half, some of which were easier than others. :-) And, no, I will NOT be doing just bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays...because I'm hypoglycemic, and that's asking for trouble. And no, I will NOT surrender every bit of TV sports I watch...because sports is about all I watch on TV. That being said, the Blackhawks are playing tonight, as is Northwestern...and I'm not watching either one. And yeah, it feels hard. (But I'm recording it to watch on Sunday when we can relax the penance a bit....! LOL) This has, I have to say, been freeing in many ways. As in, I'm spending more time WRITING now than I did before, even a few short weeks ago. As in, I'm actually not missing all the commercials (although they DO give me some lovely fodder for this blog!). As in, I'm discovering once again how nice peace can be. Not that I didn't know it already, but with this tinnitus diagnosis, I haven't been able to find peace much in complete silence (because my silence isn't complete anymore)...so I've had music on more. And a great deal of this, we were already doing. Going to confession once a month, at least. Praying the Rosary every day. Watching a minimum of TV as a rule anyway: we don't do news, we don't do sitcoms, we don't do reality shows. We do sports, and the occasional Food Network and HGTV, some EWTN...and that's about IT anyway. So I suspect we were already focusing on things that detached us from the world, and already cutting down on distractions. This is just helping us refine that a bit, and go a little bit of an extra mile or two to see if we can add additional penances to our prayers and help atone for the rampant sin that is all around us, everywhere--even among Christians who think they know better. More to come, I suspect. But if you're looking for an excellent way to segue into Lent, and nab a few extra blessings in the process...check it out. Whatever you do, it'll be more than you did before...and you WILL be blessed for it. Thoughts? Janny
Much as I know you're all enjoying the snarkiness of Ms. Mentor and her Word Wrestling...I have to confess now to being distracted, in the best possible way. I am writing. And writing. And writing. On MY BROTHER'S KEEPER. Yes, it's going slowly in one sense. I'm still feeling my way through a plot I've already streamlined in my head, distilling it to pure essential parts that ought to pack a correspondingly powerful emotional punch. I'm pulling out the emo as far as I can get it, and then I'm going to pull it out some more. And by then, the balance of plot and feelings ought to be about right. :-) (hah!) Part of what's doing this is sheer determination on my part. Part of it is a new spiritual exercise in which we're engaged. And part, it must be said, is due to a present I've given myself: a masterclass taught by one of the luminary authors of our time, and one, I will admit, who inspires me by his sheer success alone. (Not to mention creating Alex Cross.) I've only listened to the first couple of lessons here--the beauty of this being that I can progress at exactly the pace I want to, and I can keep these around forever. But just listening to Mr. Patterson talk is firing me up. Inspiring me, if you will. Because he says so much of what I believe about writing, what I feel about it, and what I needed to hear from someone who doesn't go all "academic" or artsy-fartsy on you. He sells like crazy, like we all want to, and I want to know how he does it. Every step of it. In the process, I can reaffirm that I, too, CAN do this thing. Which is a priceless thing to remember...and very easy to forget. So I'm busy. If you need me, e-mail me. Or text me. But don't be surprised if it takes a little bit for me to answer you. Right now, I'm spending some quality time with some people I really like: Doug, Julia, Abby...and James Patterson. Yeah. Watch this blog for more updates as we go! Janny
Last week, we talked about how to get good spelling and grammar help--which is to run what you write through the real-life pair of eyes of someone who knows how to do these things correctly. And, as you know, there is also a way to get bad help. That comes from applications that promise to do "spell-checks" and "grammar checks." And they're everywhere. Today, however, we're just going to talk about the Microsoft Word version of it. Which ought to be called a perversion of it. I don't know why one of the world's superpower-corporations couldn't get this right. They've had years and years, and versions and versions and VERSIONS of Windows, in which to figure out that whoever wrote that original version of Word's Spelling and Grammar Check was a complete imbecile. Yet it has never been fixed. Not by one iota. So I cannot say this enough: DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES USE WORD'S SPELLING AND GRAMMAR CHECK AS YOUR PROOFREADER. I found out why when I ran a document through the Grammar Check, once upon a time, with the honest intention of seeing if it would, in fact, catch bad grammar. If it would, in fact, catch sentences that don't make sense because the wrong WORD is in them. If it would, in fact, catch things like putting "hers" where you mean "his" or "her" where you mean "him," or similar things that are RIGHT in the strict spelling sense, but complete and utter gibberish in terms of meaning. I'm here to tell you, unfortunately, that Grammar Check can't find any of those. It can't tell sentence sense. It can't tell when you've accidentally put the wrong gender in a sentence. And it can hardly tell when you've said "hardly" but meant "heartily." In short, it's not a Grammar Check at all, in that it will not correct ERRORS of that sort. But what it DOES do, boys and girls, are things like this: --Where you have a sentence that says a phrase like "your children" or "your career" or "your school"...it will query that and suggest "you're." --Where you have a sentence like "She didn't know if she dared," it will query that and suggest putting in a question mark. --And probably the worst and most egregious offense of all...Where you have a sentence that says "It's a problem," it will query it and suggest you change to "Its." And where you say, "Its nature is to be incorrect most of the time," it will absolutely bear that sentiment out--by querying and suggesting "It's." I don't have hard figures on this. I don't have statistics. If someone does, I'd love to see them. But I'd be willing to guess, off the top of my head, that Word's Spelling and Grammar Check will take something that's already correct and tell you to make it wrong approximately 88 percent of the time. And the rest of the time, it won't find the wrong word or the nonsensical sentence. Because if the words are all spelled right...it can't read enough to actually check the GRAMMAR and tell you the sentence is wrong. Which means that while, as a raw spelling (and repeated-word) checker, it has some limited capability...as a Grammar Check, it's a complete fraud. And yes, I'm prepared to stand behind that. Because I've seen many instances of what results when writers lean on it. And that, boys and girls, is awful. Spare us awful writing. Either use reverse dictionaries to help you spell a word you "know" but can't "spell"...use regular dictionaries to make sure you're using the right word...use someone like Strunk and White to get some of the grammar gremlins out of the way... ...or best yet--use a really, really good editor, and all these things will be seen to. Properly. Decently. And in order. Class dismissed! Thoughts? Janny
I'm committing to a new (old) book. See the sidebar for progress on the resurrection of MY BROTHER'S KEEPER, a "Fabulous Five" contest winner once upon a time...and a book that's always been close to my heart (as only a book about two basketball players could be). Problem is, it's been through umpty-ump-plus-one too many revisions, reversions, remakes, and retools, until the original STORY has been lost in the shuffle. But...no more. I hope. I'm going into Intensive Care (not to be confused with where our hero may end up) of my own to get this book Up and Running Again, starting with Write-a-Thon's SPRINT tonight. Stay tuned! More to come, Janny
...or maybe I should say NOT happening again. Here it is Wednesday afternoon, and my e-mail is as silent as a tomb. My Skype is quiet. My clients aren't talking to me. I've reached out to THEM, but...nothing. So I can only come to the conclusion, as I have before, that somehow, someone's figured out a way to make a living WITHOUT WORKING A LICK PAST WEDNESDAY NOON. (I'd say "past Tuesday," as I did before--but technically, I DID a small job this morning.) Let me in on the secret, wouldya? SMH, Janny
You know you do it. You talk back to the TV or the radio when an ad comes on that you think is stupid. Or, as many people do during the Super Bowl ad blitz, you "rate" the ones you think are good and pan the rest. On that subject, does anyone remember when Super Bowl ads were actually good? When they were funny? When they were memorable? When they didn't feel the need to PREACH at their audience? (And does anyone find it ironic that Super Bowl ads will frequently preach at their audience about some "social justice" or "moral" issue, and then segue right to a Super Bowl halftime show that drags the bottom of the moral barrel, is subject to "wardrobe malfunctions" that you swear were planned, or that is so banal that you can't even watch it?) But...I digress. And I DO talk back to the TV and the radio. For different reasons, depending on the ad. There's at least one ad that I DESPISE because it paints women as total idiots about their cars. You know the one. It's where you hear a series of dings and the woman says, "Oh, that's your gas gauge. And that's your tire pressure thingy. And that's your oil whatchamacallit." They're INDICATORS, sweetie. Or WARNING LIGHTS. And if you don't know enough to call them that instead of "thingies," someone needs to take away your car keys. But there are others that, while I don't despise them for their portrayal of human beings as idiots (there are far too many of those to enumerate here), I find myself talking back to every time because the writing on them is HOPELESSLY awful. As in bad. As in incorrect, to the point where they don't even make sense. My favorite nonsensical one is a bank ad (they're frequently bank ads, come to think of it) where the narrator is talking about people who run their own businesses. Entrepreneurs, if you will. And he says, "And you know that when you run your own business, no day is ever the same. And if it is, you know something's wrong." Yeah, something's wrong, all right. WITH THAT SENTENCE. Can you pick out what it is? Post it in the comments! Janny
Okay, right out of the gate here, let me say I never thought this would be a three-part essay. (!) Of course, since it's well known I take "10,000 words to say hello," I guess I probably should have expected it. But still. I could have left this one long, rambling experience...but then who would read it? (Okay, not that too many people read the blog anyway, but I'm trying to CORRECT that, not perpetuate it. Just sayin'.) When we last left our CWC, then, she was experiencing a cognitive disconnect. From the point of view of a girl who always thought she was "country," the actual in-your-face manifestation of what living in the country apparently meant to different people was a disappointment...to put it mildly. But the important thing to realize at that point is where the disconnect comes from: simply, it's because the perception of what something is like doesn't fit its reality, at least not in enough ways and places to overlook the rest. And that's where the "two different paths" idea comes in. Our country girl, upon seeing evidence that not everyone lived in the country the way SHE would live in the country...had one of two ways she could go. She could choose to ignore the bad stuff, overlook it, and focus on only what was beautiful. Or, she could decide that the ugly was part of the package that she'd never escape, and realign her future choices accordingly. As it turns out, I've made that kind of decision before. When I lived in the city, I encountered equally high instances of sheer ugliness. Yes, the city is beautiful in many aspects: Chicago's lakefront parks, museums, theaters, etc., are wonderful venues, usually pure pleasure, and make the city's appearance sparkle like a jewel. Unfortunately, however, an equal part of the "city" is truly ugly. And I'm not even talking obvious ugliness like gang crime, crack houses, or the like. I'm talking about the "flip side" of places that, on one level, are stunningly beautiful. Like the size of the rats that supposedly live in the recesses of all those glowing buildings. (Yeah, I don't want to think much about that, either.) Like the smell of underground transportation tunnels. Do some people use them as bathrooms? Undeniably. Is that, unfortunately, part of the everyday experience for city commuters and dwellers? Also undeniably. Or even things that aren't as nasty as those, but are shabby nonetheless. Like buildings that need paint. Or re-tuckpointing. Or broken windows redone. Or even, heaven help us, just some soap and water once in awhile. Like structures that have been "let go." Like graffiti in places where you really don't want to see it (which is pretty much anywhere). Even little tiny things like dirty windows on commuter trains. (Yes, I know keeping those windows clean and scratch-free would probably be a monumental task. But people are out of work...and those windows are despicably dirty most of the time. Seems to me this is a job, for someone, waiting to happen.) When I lived in the city, I got to feast my eyes, ears, and nose on lots of things I would have rather not seen, heard, or smelled. But I also knew that that was "part of" living where getting around was pretty easy, where the city's resources were at my fingertips, etc. As one of my friends expresses the "side effects" of any decision, "You get what comes with it." So for the time I lived there, I tried as best I could not to focus on the shabby. To look for beauty anywhere I could find it, and concentrate on that. That, however, was a surprisingly arduous task. Because determining not to look at something, not to dwell on something, or to "ignore" something takes as much energy as--or more than--just letting it "wash over" you in awareness but not attention. (I actually kind of envy people who can do that. I, of the hyperacuitive nature, cannot.) Eventually, I got tired of saying, "Yeah, the roaches in the laundry room are big, but at least they're not in my apartment." And things of that nature. In other words...I got tired of "yeah but...at least." Which is a polite way of saying I got tired of making excuses and living with them. Eventually, this second path also occurred to me in Indiana. I got tired of pretending that a shabby building didn't hurt my eyes to look at. I got tired of seeing people with more tattoos than teeth. I got tired of the rusted vehicles, the junky yards, the bedraggled dogs, and the tangled barbed wire. I got tired of struggling to pay rent to people who basically considered us "serfs" on their "estate" and didn't hesitate to convey that in all kinds of ways. And I got really, really tired of limited choices. Despite myself, I began to realize that I MISSED the suburbs. I MISSED the endless streets of stores, services, restaurants, and entertainment. Yeah, I knew there'd be traffic with it. And sometimes that traffic was INSANE. But for the opportunities that came with that traffic? I realized that I could, in fact, make that tradeoff. And even be grateful for it. Fast forward a year, to where we are now--on the shores of a lake, in a tiny TINY place to live that can't hold half of our stuff. Part of a CONDO, of all things, something I swore I'd never live in. (I despise communal living, as a whole.) But all the things that should be driving "the country girl" absolutely NUTS...somehow are not. Because as lousy as our country living experience was, that's how nice this place is for us. We have a tiny TINY yard outside, so we can plant things. The communal living aspects of this are actually a lot less intrusive than I expected. Have we had some noise problems? Yeah. A couple of times. But largely...not enough to want to run screaming away. The condo association people take care of things almost instantly, as does our landlord. And neither of them is unpleasant in any way to deal with. Still, there's the lack of space. We really, really want more space--and need it, so we don't have to store half our things and pay every month for that "privilege." So we went looking at a country place. On 3 acres, with a full basement that could hold all of our storage and save us that rental money. The landlord seemed like he'd be nice enough...but he lived ON SITE, in a house not too far from the rental property. Red flag #1. The house had no gas in it, was all-electric...because it was so out of the way the gas company wouldn't even COME OUT there to run a line to it. Since I'm a foodie, I want a gas stove. Period. Red flag #2. In front of our house was a dilapidated shed that held the snowplow/tractor that the owner would use for snow removal and/or lawn mowing. It was, quite frankly, an eyesore. Red flag #3. The home was close to PM's work, but not close to anything else we regularly use. We'd have to find new stores for grocery shopping, and the gym would be a half-hour drive. Red flag #4. And the house itself was dark. Unattractive. Taking "rustic" to a level I wasn't prepared to deal with--things like a disreputable-looking fan next to the wood stove that had replaced the lovely fireplace in the living room, and paneled walls that made the place both darker and less colorful than it needed to be. It was dirty, which also made appreciating it difficult. Yet I still toyed with the idea of us moving there. Until I came to my senses. The ONLY things that would turn the key for this place for me would be the 3 acres with the pond, the everyday presence of wildlife, and the peace and quiet that that would basically guarantee...and the storage space in a basically well-kept basement...if you didn't count the lack of a hand rail on the stairs and having to duck the low-hanging ceiling over them. (And we're not tall, either. :-) ) Yet it was still an interesting decision. For a few hours, hours I can attribute only to a pesky optimism on my part that, while opening opportunities on its good side, has brought me into more than one disaster on its bad side. And I recognized a potential bad side disaster decision before I made it. Finally. And I realized that the "country" was no longer where I, in my heart of hearts, lived anymore. Nor would I probably ever truly want to live there again. The sole exception to that might be a rolling estate in someplace like Long Grove, with acreage around you--and a handy paved highway, rolling through manicured grounds and estates, to drive to the conveniences that wouldn't be far away. :-) However, if you check out Long Grove and places of its ilk, you know it's going to be a little while before we get there. In the meantime, I've gained knowledge that money can't buy. And a new confidence and perspective about looking before I leap. Fortunately, we're not in a position where we HAVE to "leap" anywhere. Where we are will do. We'll have to figure out how to make it work better for importing the rest of our books, but the remainder of things in storage would largely be stored in some capacity anyway: boxes of photos, memorabilia, and Christmas decorations. Those would be tucked onto shelves somewhere in a basement or a garage, no matter WHERE we lived. So for right now? The Catholic Writer Chick is a suburban girl. And she's probably going to be one for the rest of her life. It's a surprise--but how you like to live isn't always how you TELL yourself you "ought" to live, either. And I'm just beginning to forgive myself for accepting that as the truism it is. It could take awhile to fully integrate the fact that, at my heart, I'm not REALLY a "country girl." But I think being able to drive 10 minutes down the road and get anything my heart desires, being able to walk to the gym if I have to, and being able to look out on a lake every day might make that integration a whole lot easier. It's also serving as a really, really good yardstick against which to measure ANY decision to change our lifestyle in the near future. And that's peace of mind that's even better than the sound of waving cornstalks in the wind. For now, it's enough. Thoughts? Janny
When we last left our heroine, she was ruminating about bucolic parts. If you need to, stop and get a dictionary and look that up. :-) I'll wait. So...onward. I've always known I crave beauty. I crave order, care, and neatness. I love manicured lawns and flowerbeds, orchards of trees, cornfields neatly planted in rows. I quickly learned, however, what I do NOT love. And much of what I learned not to love was the unbridled, untamed "country" itself. The dilapidated barns falling down right next to houses. The rusted tractors or vehicles up on blocks. The houses sorely needing paint (not to mention shoring up). Places littered with dog poop, or scattered tools, or abandoned equipment, or rattletrap appliances, sagging couches used as porch furniture, or the like. The animals allowed to run loose, across highways, without warning. And the aforementioned strange decay that happens when open land isn't cared for in some way. The SHABBINESS of uncared-for isn't attractive. City OR country. Merely being surrounded by green doesn't make one better looking than the other. We had some company visit us from Chicago while we still lived in town, and they remarked about how CLEAN the town streets looked. And they were right: for the most part, our town streets were well-kept, and people generally picked up after themselves. You really didn't get a lot of trash in the curbs or elsewhere. Part of that may have been extremely good civil services, but part of it no doubt was "town" people acting like "town" people and tidying up. Not so in the country. And that first surprised, then repulsed, me. At least some of the country kids around us had apparently grown up believing that all that uninhabited green space meant they could pretty much throw anything they wanted anywhere they wanted, because no one would see it anyway. And they did. I saw more trash along country roads than I ever saw in town, lots of it things you should have carried home to put in a garbage can--or at least not left in a stream bed, in a cornfield, or in the woods. Not to mention the bonfires. Now, let's get something straight. I LOVE fires. Fireplaces, wood stoves, campfires, Homecoming bonfires. But when we're talking country fires, we're talking about another beast entirely from your normal campfire, or even your normal bonfire for a special occasion. At least in the instance where we lived, the people who owned the land had bonfires regularly--in which they'd literally burn ANYTHING. The bonfires were, in effect, incinerators for junk. I saw furniture on the pile. I saw old tires. I saw METAL objects. (What part of "metal doesn't burn" did these bumpkins not "get" in science class?) I saw things that made me wonder how soon they were going to cause a real problem by setting afire something that would either explode and start a wildfire, or fill the air with poison. Legitimate, real, chemical poison. I was baffled by the thoughtlessness of people who'd grown up in nature and yet didn't know any better than to toss anything they could think of on a bonfire, light it up, and then see what was left when the thing burned itself out. And one thing that no one mentions is that that "burnout" usually happened in the wee hours of the morning. Because, you see, bonfires aren't really any FUN until after 10:30 or 11:00 at night. So that's when they start. And when they end? Well, my husband used to pull in from work about 12:30, and they were more often than not still going strong when he'd drive by. Did they cause a disturbance? Well...let's just say if you didn't want to hear country music coming in the bedroom window from a quarter-mile away, you kept the window shut. Yes, at 11:30 at night. Yes, on a weekday. Forget about calling police on something like that. Not only do town police have no jurisdiction; county sheriffs have no ordinance. Trust me. I know. So let's just say "country living" became a melange of things I never expected it to be. Part of this, of course, was because I lived with some really inconsiderate "neighbors" who happened to own the property on which our rental house sat, lived in a mansion at the back of it with their sons, and didn't believe ANYONE had the right to tell them what they could do on their property. No doubt all country people wouldn't have been like that. All the town people certainly weren't. :-)
But unfortunately, it brought home to me something I knew already--that the idyllic country life isn't as beautiful as it's painted in the magazines. Not even close. And that, to me, is a problem...one that is now changing my mind about living in the country EVER again. Call me a ninny. Call me a sissy. But to me, there's nothing beautiful about 6-foot thistles. There's nothing endearing about milkweed taller than your head, or nettles so thick you can't walk three feet off a road to see something without getting torn to shreds. All too often in the real rural areas where real country people live, you'll be hard put to find the pastoral "country beauty" that lured me for so long. To me, it's not beautiful at all to see tangled branches, vines, rusty and sagging barbed wire, and endless miles of swaying noxious weeds. It doesn't even inspire peaceful thoughts, because peace, to me, is order. The country places I loved, when I found them, looked like well-kept manor homes. Estates, if you will. If a person had a place like that, I both envied and admired it. THAT, to me, was what the country should look like. The place you lived should, in other words, look like SOMEONE LIVED THERE. Like someone CARED what it looked like. In all too many instances, you honestly couldn't tell. Or what you could, in fact, tell was that no one cared enough to repair things, to keep them maintained, or to do any of it right. And that's not idyllic or attractive. It's depressing. It's creepy. And all too often, THAT's what "real country" looks like. So when you encounter a fundamental disconnect like that, what do you do? Well, you can go a couple of ways. We'll talk about the choice between them in Part 3! Janny