Rewind to the Future

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times:  there are advancements to technology, but they aren’t always advancements to the quality of our lives.  Yet every day I find myself more dependent on some form of technology, and I must admit that a few have become quite the convenience.  Take my laptop, for example.

About six years ago, my parents surprised us with a laptop because our son had reached the stage of his schooling where he needed one to complete his homework.  Then there was the fact that the school insisted communication with students and parents be conducted mostly, if not solely, via e-mail and homework sites.  We had an old desktop model, but it just wasn’t cutting it anymore.

Since the generous gifting of the laptop, I have come to enjoy it for online banking, communicating with friends (although I still argue that social media makes people who once met for socializing somewhat lazy), watching movies, and my favorite, ripping CDs into custom-made playlists.  And then one horrific day, the DVD/CD drive thingy stopped working.

At first I couldn’t open it.  Not even with the cool trick using a paperclip the guy at the store showed me.  And when I placed a DVD or CD inside and shut the drawer, the laptop no longer read it.  Imagine my dismay.  My playlists would grow no more, and worse, it may be time to look for another laptop.

There was the option of an external drive, but even the sales clerk thought the price his employer was charging to be a little outrageous.  He suggested I try shopping online if I absolutely needed one.  At least he didn’t try to sell me a laptop I wasn’t prepared to buy at the moment.  Our finances aren’t ready for that commitment yet.

I’m not exactly technologically challenged, but I’m not savvy either.  Perhaps with all this streaming, DVDs and CDs were going by the wayside.  One day while running errands, I consulted our in-house IT geek also known as our son.  When I posed this thought to him, he agreed that an external drive would simply be a convenience for old-schoolers like me.

“You could rip all your CDs, Mom.  They even have external connections for those other things you and Dad have.”

“What other things?”

He cupped his left hand with a U-shaped slot between his thumb and fingers and inserted his other flattened hand inside, mimicking something.

“You know, those square things.”

Images of 3.5-inch floppy disks sprang to mind, but they had nothing to do with our discussion.

“What things, Joshua?”

Again, and with much exasperation on his part, he mimicked some bizarre function by rotating his index fingers in circles going the same direction.

“Those things that are square and go ‘round and ‘round.”

“You mean…cassettes?”

Let the laughter begin.  I rarely get one up on this kid these days.  He’s a titch smug from time to time with all he knows technologically, so when I have the opportunity to laugh (and I’m talking Precious Pup, wheezing type laughter as I’m driving) I take it.  Joshua is a good sport, though, and after turning beet red, he joined in the hilarity.  Still, he’ll never know the satisfaction of saving a favorite cassette from destruction by rewinding it with a pencil.

Baring My Writer’s Soul – Part 25

The life of a writer is a long and lonely path fraught with amazing highs and debilitating lows.  You have to be more than a little crazy to continue the journey, and if you can channel that craziness into passion, you’ll succeed.  Keep in mind that your success is not measured by your status in the world of publishing and/or how much money you make at writing.  If you’re writing, you are a writer.

The great part about writing is that every now and then you’ll make a connection with someone who thinks and feels exactly the way you do about the writing life.  When that happens, you’ll experience a surge of encouragement that keeps you going despite your belief that writers play it close to the vest, no one wants to read what you’ve written, you’ll never be published, or whatever the voices of doubt are whispering in your ear.

It would be so easy to hoard the energy you feel when you strike gold and make that all important connection that leads to a writing relationship.  A better thing to do is be the inspiration someone else needs by providing the shoulders for them to stand on even if that means you’re giving back to the person who just encouraged you.

Such was my experience recently with a fellow writer turned great friend.  We met to discuss her upcoming interview on another fellow writer’s blog, but the discussion turned personal as we shared our beliefs, experiences, fears, and desires for our writing lives.  It was incredible, but the writing high didn’t stop there.

I’d forgotten that my husband had attached a love note proclaiming his support for my writing to the cover of my laptop, and I inadvertently shared his sweet message with all of Starbucks.  A young man who had noticed the sign approached me to inquire about my writing.  We had a lovely conversation during which he shared his aspirations for writing.  I responded with the positive statements I’d received when I began my journey.  By the time we shook hands and wished each other a Merry Christmas, I was jittery with excitement.

It would be wonderful if every day in the life of a writer could be like this especially since staying positive is quite a challenge.  My personal goal is to continue seeking such instances as well as providing them.  More and more I’m encountering this sentiment across social media, so I know I’m on the right track.  Giving back, paying it forward, or whatever you choose to call it will never be wasted when the investment in is another person.

Write Happy!

Where Are We Going With This?

The other day I banged out a sentence on the ole laptop and paused when my son interrupted my thought process to ask a question.  When I returned my attention to the sentence, one word in particular caught my attention.  My head tilted as I assessed the word, questioned the spelling.  Strangely enough, the obnoxious red squiggles Microsoft Word is so found of hadn’t appeared, so I assumed I’d spelled it correctly.  Still, something didn’t look quite right.  Or perhaps I should say spot-on.

Perhaps you’ve guessed by now that I spelled the word in question, travelling/traveling, as if I was writing for our friends across the pond.  I mentioned before in How Reading Taught Me to Misspell Words that I’ve been tripped up by the British spelling preferences.  Usually, Word catches them.  Not so this time.

I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that travelling and traveling are both verbs meaning to go from one place to another, as on a trip or journeyThis isn’t a case of a second or third definition.  In fact, the two spellings can be used interchangeably.  What’s more, what I’m about to tell you applies to travelled/traveled and traveller/traveler.

So what’s the difference, you ask?  There isn’t one.  Today’s The Weight of Words is another example of British versus American spelling preferences.  British writers employ the double L version of the word and American writers go for the single L spelling.  No big deal if you’re jotting off a note to someone or a private letter.  But if you’re writing a larger work for a particular audience or about Brits or Americans specifically, it might be wise to use a spelling your intended readers will not think is a mistake.

A tidbit of research uncovered the reason behind the differences in spellings:

Each word has its own unique history, but the primary mover and shaker in this transatlantic drama is the nineteenth century American lexicographer Noah Webster, he of dictionary fame.  According to “A History of English Spelling” (Manchester University, 2011) by D.G. Scragg, Webster’s dictionary of 1828 is largely responsible for standardizing the accepted spelling of American English.

Before 1828, many words, such as humor (or humour), defense (or defence) and fiber (or fibre), had two acceptable spellings on both sides of the pond, because they were introduced in England via both Latin and French, which used different spellings.  Webster picked his preferred forms (the former ones in each example above), justifying his choices in various ways, but partly on nationalist grounds:  he wanted American spelling to be distinct from, and (in his opinion) superior to, British spelling.

I can appreciate Mr. Webster’s patriotism, but sometimes I wish he’d chosen another way to express it rather than in different spellings.

~~~~~

Wolchover, Natalie. “Why Do Brits and Americans Spell Words Differently?” LiveScience, Purch, 17 Apr. 2012, http://www.livescience.com/33844-british-american-word-spelling.html.

Applications

I keep stealing glances at our teenager as we sit at the laptop, and I’m trying not to snatch the mouse away or jump on the keyboard because I know I’m a faster typist.  Today, our son is applying for his first job.  Many of his friends are already working and driving, but we allowed Joshua to go a little longer without pursuing either.  For one, he didn’t express an interest in driving like we expected him to.  His father wasn’t too upset because he wasn’t looking forward to the jump in insurance rates.

For the other, we didn’t push him to get a part-time job as soon as he turned sixteen because we wanted him to focus solely on school and Boy Scouts.  We wanted, and were able, to extend him the luxury of a little more time to stay young, if not little, in a world that is demanding he grow up fast.

We’ve come a long way since the days of Lightning Juice and This Mothering Stuff is Hard.  Sometimes it seemed like a blur, and at other times the moments ground by painfully slow.  But Josh has taken an interest in his own life lately now that Scouting is winding down and his senior year approaches.  So, I sit beside this young man whose most recent goal is to grow tall enough that he can fit my head under his chin the way I did to him when he was little.

This young man with a square jaw reminiscent of his Grandfather Smith when he was a young marine.  This young man who has been cutting grass on the gargantuan riding lawnmower since he was eleven and a half.  This young man who cracks us both up when he types “Cuz i neds a jub” in the “Why do you want to work here?” section of the online application.  This young man who started shaving the peach fuzz that quickly turned into the stubble I feel when I kiss his cheek.  This young man who can play ‘Jingle Bells’ doing arm farts.  This young man who wants to earn enough money this summer to put a dent in his upcoming post-high school education and pay for his car insurance.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Now the things we want for Joshua are giving way to the things he wants for himself.  Of course our desires for our son will always be for his benefit, but we’ll yield to him more and more as he shows maturity.  And we’ll be there for the times he doesn’t, guiding him back to the right path.

I often wonder if we did enough, laid a strong foundation for him.  Only time will tell, but for right this moment, while he’s still a goofy teen, while we’re pulling our hair out when he’s sassy and driving us crazy, I’ll store up these memories for the day he heads out on his own.

Farm Implements Useful to Writing

Sometimes, writing a blog post to share with all the world is like tap dancing on the stage alone when you took piano lessons: your mistakes will be obvious and glaring. Thankfully, Word catches the majority of them, but there are days when almighty Word isn’t enough. That’s when we turn to our Google search bar, right?

I’m going to extend myself some grace here and admit that I’ve gone back to correct mistakes I spotted after major editing, proofreading, and posting. With all that being said, what tripped me up most recently was another dual spelling. Word didn’t issue the customary red squiggles when I typed it, but I kept staring at my laptop because something didn’t look quite right. You have to love the contrary English language.

Farm Implements Useful for WritingToday’s The Weight of Words focuses on plow vs. plough. Locale factors in to this one with American and Canadian speakers of English preferring plow as the spelling for the farm implement and the related verbs. Our British and Australian neighbors prefer plough. In either case, the word is pronounced the same. Although I do think it would be hilarious if plough was pronounced the same as rough.

Three’s a Crowd

Three's a CrowdTwo words that are similar are enough to drive this writer crazy, but when there are three that actually give me pause concerning spelling, definition, and usage, well, that’s when the ole Google search bar gets quite a workout on my laptop. Today’s The Weight of Words focuses on eminent vs. imminent vs. immanent.

And by the way, I don’t really use my Google search bar to look up words. That’s what Grammarist is for. Per the website:

Someone or something that is eminent is of high rank, noteworthy, distinguished, or prominent. An accomplished world leader and a respected intellectual, for instance, are eminent.

Something that is imminent is (1) very near or (2) impending. For example, when the weather forecast calls for a 100% chance of thunderstorms, we might say that storms are imminent.

Something that is immanent exists within or is inherent to something else. The word is often used in reference to spiritual or otherwise nonmaterial things. For example, a spiritual person might say that God’s power is immanent to the natural world.

Though the three adjectives are not exact homophones, they are similar enough to engender occasional confusion. Immanent in particular is very often used in place of imminent in popular usage, and imminent and eminent are also frequently mixed up.

Clear as mud? Now go forth and use them!

Gold Plated

The following short story was based on the visual writing prompt of the swamp.  While everyone in my writing circle wrote lovely stories, mostly fantasy, that would delight readers of any genre, I took one look at the picture and decided upon a different tale.  I’ll withhold my comments on why I wrote what I did until after you’ve read this piece.  I want your unbiased opinion toward the story, so please be sure to leave feedback in the comments section.


Golden Swamp

Gold Plated

Zach stomped into the clearing and threw his book bag on the ground with all the force he could muster. He proceeded to kick it hard, heedless of the laptop inside. Two more kicks landed the black canvas satchel on the edge of the marsh.

Frickin’ parents,” he screamed, straining his chest with the force.  It was the closest his upbringing would allow him to swearing.

He collapsed on the damp leaves, his legs crossed awkwardly beneath him, the sound of blood rushing in his ears, and sat perfectly still until his heart stopped racing and his ragged breathing slowed.

Feelings of self-pity began to sting Zach’s eyes, but he refused to indulge in tears. Instead, he stood to retrieve his book bag from the water. Soggy homework, folders, and the papers he had stolen that morning from his father’s desk were removed and littered across the forest floor. He inspected his laptop for damage. Moisture hadn’t seeped into the computer case which had been shielded between his algebra and chemistry books. The books had not fared so well; water leached an inch into the pages, darkening the edges all around.

“Whatever,” he mumbled, stuffing the laptop and ruined books back into the bag.

Zach slung the bag over his shoulder and took several deep breaths. For the first time, he observed his surroundings. The beauty of the golden foliage sickened him.

“Looks like freakin’ King Midas has been here. Too bad it’s so wet. This place would look great going up in flames.”

His mouth curled upward in a lopsided sneer, and his fingers caressed the lighter in his pocket.

The blaze would have been spectacular. Even though there wouldn’t be any witnesses, these events had a way of producing detailed accounts. People would be enraged when their forest succumbed to destruction at the hands of an unknown arsonist. They would swear they had seen the culprit and go so far as to describe him. Ripped jeans, a dark hoodie, both arms tatted up, and multiple piercings would be just a few of the descriptors they used when speaking with the local media about the tragedy. They would mention the exact brand of designer sneakers worn when the vandalism took place. Someone would inevitably mention that drugs were involved…probably.

The worst liars would make subtle remarks that cast aspersions on the perpetrator’s possible ethnicity.

Zach sighed, his anger spent. He brushed leaf litter from the front of his school blazer and swiped the sides of his mud-crusted dress shoes in a patch of grass. Then he pulled his iPhone from his pocket to check the time. He still had an hour before he had to meet Kevin at the library to study for the AP Chemistry test.

One more deep breath enabled him to set out for home where his parents, oblivious to his delayed arrival, would be absorbed in their own pursuits. The scent of decaying leaves reminded him of a smell somewhere between the cherry tobacco in his father’s pipe and his mother’s compost heap. A small flame of resentment flared in his heart, but Zach refused to let it take hold.

“Let ‘em divorce,” he said. “See if I care.”

The Three Baers

Stacey Baer closed the door of the cab as a sheet of rain slammed the side of the vehicle. Victory over the weather cheered her considerably until she saw the congested roads ahead. She groaned and opened her brief case removing a small laptop. The long trip home would be well spent marking portions of the deposition she took today. As she worked, her cell phone rang.

“Baer,” she answered.

“Stacey, it’s Doug.”

“So help me God, if you cancel on me—”

“Babe, this dinner is just as important to me as it is to you.”

“Obviously not, Douglas.”

“I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

He hung up without waiting for her reply, trusting that she would give him another chance. Whether or not she forgave him wasn’t his concern.

Stacey tried not to obsess about being stood up again. Instead, she turned her thoughts to dinner and the fact that nothing had been defrosted. Perhaps there was still a carton of Chinese in the fridge. Forty-five minutes later, she unlocked the door to her apartment and walked into the smell of cooking.

“Mom?” she called.

“In here, honey,” Golda Baer replied.

Stacey found her mother in the kitchen pulling a roast chicken from the oven. A platter of latkes and bowl of warm applesauce had been paced in the middle of the table.

“Grab some plates and pour the wine,” Golda said.

“Mom, what are you doing?”

“Making dinner, what does it look like?”

“Doug and I made reservations at Piatto.”

“Well, he called and cancelled your dinner plans.”

“Did you listen to my messages again?”

“No, I answered the phone when he called. Now sit down and let’s eat.”

Stacey slammed her briefcase and purse on the countertop. “Mom, I love you, but you cannot keep making these intrusions into my life. I gave you a key to my apartment for emergencies.”

“This is an emergency. I’m trying to feed my unmarried daughter who always eats alone, and when she does eat, it’s takeout.”

“Yes, well, I really just want you to leave,” Stacey said. “Mom, did you hear me? Please put down the chicken and go.”

“I don’t understand this. I just want to have dinner with my daughter.”

“You don’t respect me or my choices, so… ”

“What? You choose to be single and take every meal by yourself? That’s not healthy. I’m being kicked out because you chose a putz for a boyfriend?”

Stacey walked to the door and opened it. She couldn’t look at her mother when Golda passed.

– – – – –

Theo Baer tapped decorative finish nails into the chair he was reupholstering. He heard the door to his workshop open and his mother call out Hello.

“Over here, Ma,” he said with nails held between his lips.

“Theo, what on earth are you doing?” Golda asked.

“Finishing this chair, what does it look like?”

Golda harrumphed. “That old thing? I thought it had been thrown on the trash heap years ago.”

“Do you remember the chair?”

“Of course I remember it. How could I forget the chair your father died in?”

“Yes, well, I thought you would remember it as the chair he spent so much time in while he was alive,” Theo said.

“I remember he watched endless baseball in that chair while I raised you kids.”

“And he read bedtime stories to me and the girls every night,” Theo offered weakly. “I wanted to surprise you by fixing it up.”

“Oh, you surprised me all right.  Surprised me by leaving a perfectly good job as a stock broker to become a carpenter. I should have named you after he whose name shall not be mentioned. How do you expect to support your family playing at this?” Golda gestured to Theo’s saw-dusted covered clothes. “Besides, that fabric is the wrong color.”

“What do you mean? I took a swatch of the old fabric with me to choose. It is twenty years old. I did the best I could.”

Golda waved her hands to dismiss her son’s comment. “That’s not the point. Green was never the right color for that chair to begin with. You should have asked me and I could have told you blue would have been a much better choice.”

“Well, I‘m asking you now, Ma, to please—just leave.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“What wrong? Ma, I can’t take your constant criticism anymore. Or your disappointment. Nancy totally supports my decision to take over Dad’s furniture business.”

“Nancy gave up grad school to open a flower shop,” Golda said.

“Please, Ma, make sure the door latches on the way out.”

– – – – –

Gwen Baer was exhausted after a night of grading test papers. She turned back the covers and was about to slip into bed when she heard the doorbell ringing insistently. With a groan, she dragged herself downstairs to the front door.

“Momma, what are you doing here at this hour of the night?”

Golda brushed past her youngest daughter and looked around. “Are you alone?”

“Of course I am. Who did you expect to find here?”

“Well certainly not your husband.”

“Ex-husband, Momma. Rick is my ex now,” Gwen sighed.

“You didn’t waste any time relegating him to that role, now did you?”

“What did you expect? We are divorced.”

“Never mind. I came by to make sure you made it home okay.”

“You can see that I did.”

“This neighborhood isn’t so good, Gwenie.”

“Momma, we’ve been over this several times. I couldn’t afford the house I shared with Rick after the divorce.”

“But you can afford to go out every night?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’ve been getting reports at temple that you’ve been burning the midnight oil and not coming home. They tell me you’ve been sleeping around.” Golda whispered the last two words.

Gwen laughed. “So a few old biddies at temple have been gossiping about me? What do I care?”

“You should care about your reputation, little girl. Come home once in a while and sleep in your own bed.”

“Good grief, Momma, you make me sound like a slut.”

Golda shrugged and whined an I don’t know in her throat.

“I’m just saying that a fast girl won’t be looked at twice by a suitable man. You do want a husband, don’t you?”

“No, Momma. I just got rid of a husband who cheated on me all six years of our marriage. Being a good girl didn’t save our relationship,” Gwen said.

“That’s no reason to go sleeping with so many other men.”

“Who said I was? No, forget it. I don’t want to know.”

“And why is your nightgown so short? Who are you trying to catch, Gwenie?”

Gwen grasped handfuls of her hair and screamed through clenched teeth. “That’s it, Momma, you have to go. Now, please.”

“Is someone upstairs, honey?”

“No. I just need you to go and take your judgmental condemnation with you.”

Gwen stormed back upstairs without waiting to make sure her mother had left.

– – – – –

Golda sat on the subway alone, her handbag clutched on her lap. She crunched a peppermint, and then searched her purse for a comb to rake through her hair.

Two teenage boys shared the car with her. Their pants were low on their hips exposing plaid boxers, their expensive sneakers unlaced. Every other word out of their mouth was a swear word.

“Hey—quit that cussing,” Golda snapped.

“Mind your own business, old woman.”

“I tried to mind it, but they didn’t want to hear what I had to say.”

She rambled on and on about her unappreciative children until the boys became annoyed. They shook their heads at the crazy old lady talking to herself. She was such an easy target sitting on the seat alone, not paying attention. They mugged her for four dollars and a gold Timex watch.

As Golda sat in the now empty subway car, stunned and bruised from being roughed up, she wondered what the hell was wrong with kids these days. Their parents ought to be ashamed at the way they disrespected their elders. Why Golda herself would have died if her own three children had ever behaved in such a fashion.

She pulled her cellphone from her inner coat pocket. Little monsters didn’t think to check there, she thought. Stacey’s number was dialed first, and then Theo and Gwen were conferenced in.

“I’m making brisket and honey cake for dinner on Friday. Be there at 5:30 on the dot.”

Three voices chorused Yes, Mom, and then she hung up.

“They’re good kids,” Golda said to her own reflection across the aisle. “They just need some direction.”

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