Archive for » November, 2009 «

Nov
25
  1. Handwritten (or personal e-mail) note asking you to submit more
  2. Personal scribble (or added line on an e-mail) on a form rejection asking you to submit more
  3. Note with critique but not asking you to resubmit
  4. Handwritten note (or personal e-mail) saying he/she likes your work
  5. Personal scribble (or added line on an e-mail) on a form rejection saying he/she likes your work
  6. Notification that your work is wonderful but the market has died
  7. A request that you not send more work because you don’t understand the market
  8. A request that you not send more work until you learn enough to be ready to submit
  9. A note (or added line on an e-mail) on a form rejection with vitriolic rejection of your writing ability, subject matter or style
  10. A note (or added line on an e-mail) insulting you personally
  11. Form rejection letter (or e-mail)
  12. Web link to a spreadsheet with the word “decline” beside your name
  13. A red NO scribbled on your query letter
  14. A red NO scribbled on someone else’s query letter
  15. A red NO scribbled on a query letter you sent, but not to that person
  16. Just your query letter
  17. Your query letter stained with what you hope is coffee
  18. Your empty SASE
  19. Silence
Category: writing  Tags:  17 Comments
Nov
19

Balance is not my strong suit. I’m often running late because I’m trying to finish eight things at once. I live by multiple to-do lists (that I often ignore). And I tip over a lot. Balance and I are barely on speaking terms, though we do make a show of having a relationship for birthdays and holidays.

It’s only been over the last year or so that I’ve decided balance is not all it’s cracked up to be. No matter how hard I try (and I do) I’m just not able to bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan … besides my husband isn’t the type to just have a mental break and forget he’s a man. Don’t get me wrong, I am seriously impressed with people who can achieve balance. You know, those women (yeah, I know there’s men doing it too, but I’m not really striving to be like them, OK?) who manage to be at all the school functions, make brownies, send out handmade Christmas cards, look like models and run their own businesses. I’m not one of them. I’m more the type they make fun of because I forget to take my slippers off before driving my son the four blocks to school. I’m the one who brings Ho-Ho’s to the potluck and uses preprinted labels on my store-bought Christmas cards – when I remember to send them before St. Patrick’s Day.

My goal is no longer balance (where’s my 12-step program?). Instead of trying to give the four major areas of my life (fiction writer, owner of a writing services biz, mother, wife) each 25% of my passion all the time, I’m working at giving each 100%, but in small doses. I want to be 100% lost in a story when I’m writing a novel. I want to be 100% accessible and committed to a client when I’m writing his nonfic book. I want to be 100% present when I’m playing with my son. And I want my husband to know 100% of how I feel about him, with or without bacon.

None of that even includes my other roles: friend, aunt, daughter, citizen, rabble-rouser, teacher, student, sister, mentor, mentee, cheerleader, environmentalist, virtual-whatever, awkward maker of small talk, let alone just the me who lives only in my head. I’m not doing the math to see how fragmented that level of balance would be. Math is even harder than the elusive balance. Instead I’m going to keep working on my little moments of 100%s. And I am going to feel good about every 100%, rather than averaging in my failures. Some equations cannot be balanced. Or maybe it’s just that the math is beyond me. Regardless, I’m making it easy and just concentrating on moments. Because if I totally screw it up, there’ll be another one right behind it, and maybe I’ll get that one right.

Category: Musings  Tags:  9 Comments
Nov
12

Last week, Jason and I had our parent/teacher meeting with Joe’s teacher, Miss D. She told us how very smart Joe is and how advanced his reading is, and we talked about ways we can start working on some fourth grade learning, now, while he’s still in third grade. She gave us all the words he’s supposed to know at the end of next year. He knows them already.

Miss D. casually mentioned that Joe obviously reads a lot. But that’s not true. Not in the way she means, at least. The only book reading Joe does (to my dismay) is what’s required for school. But while we were talking, I thought about it, and actually he does read a lot. Hours every day. But not books. Or comics even. No, what Joe reads is the TV.

About a decade ago, I was at a hotel, hanging out during the day while Jason was in meetings, and in trying to master the indecipherable television remote I accidentally turned on the Closed Captioning. Before I could figure out how to turn it off I was hooked. I was so excited at being able to read the television that that’s all I did all day. I loved being able to see the differences between what the news put as placeholders versus what the actual interview subjects said. I loved being able to see when an actor went off script. I loved how football games turned the Closed Captioning into gibberish because the announcers just talked too damn fast. And I loved the accidentally hilarious typos (like the time CC told me that Oprah loved bestiality).

Jason just thought it was funny that I hadn’t seen CC before.

Not long after that fateful trip we decided to buy a new TV. (This was a momentous occasion because we don’t replace our major appliances until they threaten to electrocute, drown or smoke us out of the house.) Jason knew what size he wanted, what brand – I just wanted one with Closed Captioning.

Then we decided to have a baby. Surely it was bad to raise a child with the TV on as much as we had it on.

We had lots of grand ideas about how to raise a child back then.

For the first year after Joe was born, he didn’t watch TV. He heard it because I’d watch reruns of ER, Judging Amy or Dawson’s Creek while feeding him, or he’d hang out with Jason and I, being adorable while we sneaked peeks at Buffy or Friends.

Then Grandma bought him a little TV with a built-in VCR so he could watch Veggie Tales.

At first, we tried to limit his viewing. But as he got older he noticed when the TV was off. If it was on, he was oblivious. He’d play his little creative games and wander the house on adventures. But as soon as the TV went off, even if he was in another room, he’d run to it with excessive concern.

In a typical act of lazy parenting we slowly gave up the time limits on TV. But we decided to have the CC on, so at least there’d be a reading component to all the learning programs he was watching. It was the ideal excuse.

But that educational-viewing-only morphed into SpongeBob and Wizards of Waverly Place and Phineas and Ferb and the whole kid/tween array of programming designed to convince kids that they need more toys, more sugar and more games. Some of these shows are just insipid; others I find myself watching even when Joe’s not here. But what they all have in common is Closed Captioning. We never turn it off.

When Joe first started recognizing words, it was on the TV. He loves the descriptions of sounds (“jazzy instrumental,” “ominous pounding,” “sigh”) and he uses such descriptive terms in his writing. Now as his viewing grows more sophisticated and he gets more interested in how stories are told, we talk about exposition and dialog in terms of how CC differentiates between the two. He asks about accents. We compare interpretations of themes and guess at the endings of stories. We brainstorm other actions characters could take to avoid negative consequences. We point out when characters make choices that lead to positive consequences. If Joe doesn’t like an ending he’ll rewrite it. We discuss the sarcasm of House and debate what’s really happening in Flash Forward. And if the music is scary and the words aren’t, Joe will ask us to mute and keep reading.

Through TV, we’ve discussed homosexuality, the death penalty, god, bullies, politics and lots and lots about puppies. He asks questions; we pause the show and discuss (gotta love DVR). He now points out typos. His favorite thing on TV is “The Word” on The Colbert Report because the words in the blue box tell a different story than what Colbert says.

We DVR shows and watch them without commercials. We watch shows live with commercials. And we discuss how advertising works, examining the words they use and the images they show.

All this is not to say that a steady stream of TV is a good thing for kids. I’ve learned from The Doctors and CNN that this is most certainly not so.

All this is just to say that in our laziness, Jason and I found a way to incorporate something good into what is arguably a bad habit. We’ve figured out which shows to watch with Joe and which not to. We DVR questionable shows and skim them before we let him watch them with us. We ask him questions and encourage him to ask us his own.

But mostly, this is all just an excuse to brag about my son being the best reader in his class.

Nov
05

Back in middle school, Mrs. Williams tried to force my young mind to shape itself around the proper use of language. But I was going to be a writer, dammit, and I didn’t need such conformity handed down by the man (even if she was a woman). Mrs. Williams mimeographed countless handouts on gerunds, base words, modifiers, infinitives, verb tenses and more I dutifully put in a three-ring binder. That binder was filled with illustrations, language maps, sentences parsed and diagrammed, stories, jokes, cartoons, tip and tricks – a culmination of her decades of teaching and reading and simply loving the English language in all its complexity. As she lectured I doodled on the cover of that stark white binder. (I don’t actually remember ever opening that binder. Through reading, I’d picked up enough familiarity with language to pass all the tests, even if I didn’t rightly know what a gerund was.)

On the last day of school some classmates and I emptied those binders and had ourselves a nice bonfire, the sparks carrying bits of her lovingly collected bits of knowledge across the busted chain link fence to the roofs of trailers next door. I cracked wise about the pages making better kindling than teaching.

Now, some 30 years later, my dreams of being a novelist haven’t quite panned out the way I planned, and I’m making my living ghost writing and editing for other people. My artistic pretentiousness doesn’t get me jobs, let alone checks. What brings me work is speed and precision – and that includes a passable understanding of grammar.

A few years back I heard that Mrs. Williams was still at Traner Middle School (a fact that did not compute, seeing as I thought her in her 60s back in my day). She’d been forced into retirement and had taken up volunteering in the lunch room just to continue being around students. Her name has always brought a queasy feeling of guilt and embarrassment over how much I could’ve learned and the ego that declared such learning irrelevant.

My editing has been accompanied by much scurrying as I’ve tried to learn basic English grammar as an adult. I’ve read dozens of books on the subject, followed blogs, listened to pod casts, read articles. But my default writing is still instinctual and partnering those instincts with actual knowledge has been an arduous, time-consuming task. I still find myself sometimes rewriting a sentence to avoid looking up a rule I know I should have down by now. And when I get called on a change, I go to my books so I can use the proper terms rather than babble about “yanno, when you have a to-be word followed by a word with an ing at the end?”

Despite all that, I type too fast, think too sloppily and tend toward typos that are still words – just the wrong ones. Anything you read of mine will have mistakes. I’m sure my editing overlooks errors as well. I’ve accepted this; it keeps the perfectionism at bay.

But, still and all, I wish I’d paid more attention in Mrs. Williams’ grammar class. I wish I’d savored her insights and experience. I wish I’d appreciated her patience in trying to beat is with the knowledge stick. I wish to hell I’d kept that white binder (doodles and all). And I hope I have a chance to tell her that one day.

Still, there are at least nine grammar rules that my brain just slips right over just about every time:

  1. Lay vs. Lie. I blame Bob Dylan and “Lay Lady Lay.” Dylan didn’t get it right, and he did just fine (and this argument might carry some weight if I were as good as Dylan).
  2. Affect vs. Effect. I can remember affectation because I’ve had a few, but past that? Um.
  3. When to use an ellipsis and when to use an em-dash when it comes to dialog. I know one is for when someone trails off; the other is for when the speaker is interrupted. As for which is which …
  4. Misplaced Modifiers. No freaking clue. I never realize I had modifiers, let alone left one by my car keys.
  5. Split Infinitives. My infinitives are most definitely swingers. Perhaps they could have a key party and pick up some of those modifiers I misplaced.
  6. Bad vs. Badly as an adjective. I have looked this up many times. I’ve heard it debated on TV. I feel bad about rejecting the ly at the end. I don’t like it. It sounds … weird to me. Perhaps that’s why I choose not to see any solidarity among the grammarians on this one.
  7. Whether or not it’s okay to start a sentence with and or but. I know this is a bad thing if I were writing a high school English paper or perhaps a scientific article. But for more casual writing? I like it.
  8. Compound Modifiers. I believe that any time you have two words that talk about the word that comes next and the first of those words in the description does not have an ly ending I’m supposed to use a hyphen between the first two. But if that’s true, why do my documents look like they’re edging toward a fill-in-the-blanks puzzle when I do it? Perhaps I have too many words hooking up at that key party.
  9. Commas after introductory clauses (that’s right, I used clause). How much is too much of an introduction before I need that comma? Is it just a matter of style? I know I tend to use commas like a teenage girl at a makeup sample counter, but I’m sure there are rules that could rein that in (and improve my skin).

All that confessed, here are my favorite grammar books. I do not mean my recommendations as rather dubious compliments (considering how many times I have to keep looking things up), but rather as high praise (considering how many times I go back to these particular tomes).

Category: 9, writing  6 Comments
Cindie Geddes

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