Monday, February 27, 2017

Another House I Won't Be Moving Into...

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 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?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sneaky Ways to Get More Prayer into Lent…and into Your Life

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?  :-)

Fortunately, 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?

2. Driving 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 digits.)

Other prayers:
1. Have one minute? Say these:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“Jesus, Mary, Joseph, I love you; save souls.”
“We adore You, O Christ, and we bless You--because by Your Holy Cross, You have redeemed the world.”
And, of 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 stuff.

3. Grace before meals should be a habit already, but if it’s not, you can start. Grace AFTER your meal? Extra points!

4. First 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!)

5. The 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 won’t mind.)

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!

7. Another 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 still blessed.

Have a great Lent!


Friday, February 24, 2017

Word Wrestle #5 - Some Fun for a Change!

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.


Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The "Nineveh 90" Takes NERVE.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking'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) 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.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

No Rants, Just Write (ing)

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.

Watch this blog for more updates as we go!


Friday, February 17, 2017

Word Wrestle #4: Spell Check is NOT Your Friend.

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.


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" 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 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 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.
And in order.

Class dismissed!


Thursday, February 16, 2017

For Better, For Worse...

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. 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,

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

It's Happening Again...

...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?


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

And I Don't Have a Job in Advertising...Why? (part 1)

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!


Monday, February 13, 2017

The Catholic Country Writer Chick...? Part 3

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 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 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.


Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Catholic Country Writer Chick....? Part 2

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.

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 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!


Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Catholic Country Writer Chick...? Part 1

I admit, I'm as guilty of this as the next suburban kid: we go to a Tim McGraw concert, once upon a time, and when he asks, "Are there any country boys and girls here?" we all scream in the affirmative. Even if we're sitting in the Rosemont Horizon, a scant couple of miles from O'Hare, we can hear the planes going over, and the traffic jam going out of the arena will be a nightmare of the kind that people are grateful to AVOID in truly rural parts.

Yeah, we're country boys and girls. NOT.

Until some of us...are.

For over 10 years, I lived in what many people will call the "country." Heck, I'll even call it the country, especially since at least one of those residences had a true rural address:  3614 W 1000 N. Yes. A house, in the midst of cornfields and woods, plopped on the side of a county road and between two other county roads. For a long time, I dreamed of living in a place like that. 

Was it great? Yes and no.

But I discovered some interesting things about myself in the process...and about what "living in the country" is actually about.

And surprisingly, when I left it, I was ready to go. Which was a revelation to a girl who always thought she'd love nothing better than the Wide Open Spaces. 

Did I love it when I was there? Yes. In part.

I LOVED the fact that when I got out of the car at night, all I saw in the sky were STARS.

I LOVED the endless silence, broken only by the howling of coyotes at night or the rustle of cornstalks by day. Did you know that the wind through cornstalks makes a unique sound, not unlike waves washing up on a shore? I didn't, until I took daily morning walks next to cornfields and heard it for myself. And the sound is sheer heaven.

I LOVED the fact that our local deer had a predictable route through which they'd walk, and pretty much a predictable time of day when you could see them.

I LOVED the critters. Well, most of them. Except the flies (but they were a problem mainly because our landlord kept HORSES less than 100 feet from our back door. Yeah. You get the picture.)....but most everything else. I didn't even mind the field mice, since I got to know so many of them up close and personal. Yup. 

I LOVED the vista of open fields around me, a sure antidote for feeling closed in anywhere. I even used to breathe more easily once we got out of "town" and into the open spaces. It was as if something released inside me once I broke free of the grid of houses and cars.

But there were also things I HATED about it, things I never encountered in suburbs or in town.

I HATED the flies and endless other bugs that would go after me on my walks. Unless you went out literally before the sun was at 10 o'clock, you risked getting dive-bombed from late spring well into the autumn months. Wearing a hat and insect repellent, yet still feeling deer flies bouncing off you, is not a pleasant way to enjoy a walk. Or sit outside. Or barbecue.

I HATED the smells. No, I don't mean the normal "farm" smells of manure and the like. But wilderness--as in untended country fields--gets all kinds of decay going on in it. If it's swampy, you'll smell that. If there's a dead animal, you'll smell that. If there's anything the least big stagnant, you'll smell it. It's the unspoken other side to no traffic or "city" pollution in the air. But that doesn't make it perfume!

I HATED (sometimes) the unrelenting clarity of the place I was in. We had almost no shade around our house, and when you went outside in sunny weather, you were literally blinded by how bright the sun could be off nothing but cornfield, pavement, and a white garage. I hadn't experienced that level of searing brightness before, probably because there were more trees and buildings to shield me from it. In our particular setting, however, it was an unexpected irritant, especially in the summertime when the brightness was accompanied by baking HEAT.

And I HATED the fact that so many people who lived in the country seemed to have no respect for it. Making it beautiful? Some of them did that in the immediate area around their homes (some didn't--more on that in a minute). But once it got beyond the back door, some of them just plain apparently didn't CARE.

In the process of experiencing that, I discovered something about myself. And it's come home to roost in a whole other way since we're back in Illinois.

I'll continue that in part 2!


Friday, February 10, 2017

This Week's Wrestle: Copywriting versus Copyrighting versus Copy Editing versus...

Yeah. I need some anti-hair-pulling-out medicine on this one. 
I cannot tell you how many times I've been through the job boards and read from some author wannabe: 

I've written a book and I need a copywriter to edit it and correct the spelling and grammar, in some cases reword a sentence or two where it doesn't make sense...

And so on. And so forth. And so CLUELESS. 
As are the ones who want all the services given above--and want to get them from a copyrighter.

Or a copywritter, which may be the worst of all. Although all three are pretty bad.

So let's set the record straight. 

1. A copywriter writes copy. Specifically, sales-oriented copy. Such as the volumes of  "junk" you get in the mail all the time, wanting you to buy, take a course in, or attend something. 
A copywriter DOES NOT edit books. No, not even the "copy" in said books. 
The person who does that is a copy editor, a line editor, a substantive editor, or...
There's a recurring theme here. Can you spot it?
Yep. There's nothing in those titles about writer.
So if you are looking for book, article, blog post, or journal want a copy editor. Not a copywriter.

You also don't want a copywriter if you want someone to write the book FOR you.
That's a ghostwriter. NOT a copywriter. 
While it's possible to find good copywriters who can also ghostwrite for you, it's not easy. Nor is it particularly recommended, as they tend to be two different skill sets--not to mention two different mindsets.
So if you're looking for someone to be a co-author, to interview you for a book manuscript, or to take transcriptions and organize them into a book...generally, you're NOT looking for a copywriter. The tools and weapons to do that kind of work aren't in most of their arsenals--and, it must be said, most true copywriters I know don't even want that kind of work.

2. A copywriter has nothing to do with copyright. 
Copyright has to do with protecting your intellectual property. It's the process by which you declare that something is YOUR work and no one else's.
The person who does that is YOU. Not anybody else, strictly speaking. Even registering your work with the Copyright Office doesn't mean they're doing the copyrighting; they're merely documenting what YOU already possess--which is ownership of certain said material as of a certain said date. 
So if you are looking for copy editing, you don't want a copyrighter.  
Nor are you looking for a copyrighter if you want copy written

3. Copywritting is the kind of jaw-dropping request that leaves a potential editor or writer scratching his/her head. You see, using that word makes it impossible to tell what kind of help you need with that request--other than the obvious, which is spelling help. (And no, you don't get that from the legendary "spell check" on your computer. In the next segment of this feature, we'll talk about why not.) If English isn't your first language, this is somewhat forgivable. If you're supposedly a native, however, it's not. No. Not even once. Ever. 

(Although if you apologize because you're not a good speller elsewhere in the job's somewhat easier to take. But not much.)

In reality, you may actually want real live copywriting work done. Until we get past the spelling hurdle, we won't know for sure--although in my experience, what follows that word in most job ads, once again, isn't a request for "copywriting" at all. It's usually a variation on "I need an editor." (With which the Catholic Writer Chick concurs.)

So, let's review.

There's only one thing a "copywriter" does for you: write sales or marketing COPY.
This can be letters, memos, brochures, e-mail series, presentations, or catalog descriptions. 
Yes, copywriters do work in the book industry: as back-cover, jacket flap, or promotional/PR/press release writers. 
But that is where their connection to a book begins...and ends.

So please...if you've written a book and want help with the "copy" on the page...
ask for an editor.
Not a copywriter.
OR a copyrighter., let's not even go there


My hairline will thank you.


Friday, February 03, 2017

This Week's Word Wrestle: The Dreaded Apostrophe

The poor apostrophe!
Just THINKING about the many ways I've seen this abused sets my teeth on edge, as it does to anyone with a modicum of proficiency in the English language.

For those of you who don't have that, here are a few simple rules.

1. Plurals are never made with apostrophes. EVER. EVER. EVER.
In other words, if you see (as I saw this week on a choral schedule sign) "solo's" indicating that the group was going to talk about people auditioning for SOLOS, and you have to physically restrain yourself from getting up and rubbing out the apostrophe on the white board (as I did), you're not being "picky" or "pedantic" or "fussy." You're being literate. Congratulations to you. You know better than probably 90 percent of the allegedly English-speaking population out there. (The foreigners I know for whom English is a second language, by and large, get this right. Go figure.)

2. Plural possessives put the apostrophe after the s. Not before it.
In other words, if you're going to visit the Johnson family, you're going to the "Johnsons'," not the "Johnson's." If only one Johnson lives there, you might be able to get away with the second construction. On the other hand, if only one lives there--say, Abby Johnson--you're probably saying, "I'm going to Abby's house," not, "I'm going to Johnson's."  If you're a young man and you commonly call your friends by their last name, you could say the latter...but it would still be more correct to use the former, since your friend Johnson probably hasn't banished the rest of the family from "his" house forever and taken sole possession of it. Get it?

3. It's WOMEN'S clothing, but LADIES' attire.
It's CHILDREN'S clothing, but CHILD's play.
It's MENSWEAR, but MEN'S conference.

Yes, there are irregularities here and there. Deal with them.

4. Finally, speaking of the "conference" example above...

Maybe it's just me, but it seems more correct to place an apostrophe in that "possessive," even though it's largely omitted. Things like "writers conference," although considered technically fine...grate my teeth. Is it a conference of writers? Yes. Is it a conference designed for writers? Yes. If those things are true, don't the writers, in effect, own it? So in that case, to my way of thinking, the term should read "writers' conference." (And, no, not "writer's conference"...unless, again, only one writer is there or "owns" it or goes to it. Which makes it a really, really, really small conference.)

5. Most of all...just remember. Please. Remember.

I fully expect many of you to be traveling with Sharpies now, ready to jump on and correct those illiterately-produced signs, memos, and other nonsensical notices that say things like "Buy one, get one free on Friday's," or "Tomato's on sale today," or "All permission slip's due tomorrow."

They're everywhere. You know it, and I know it. Do your part. 
Me, I have to go take a Valium now.

Happy Friday!