True Grit

Memory Makers Masquerading as Cats

I love blog posts about the magic of ordinary days. You know the ones that expound upon the grit in our daily lives as if it’s some sort of fairy dust sprinkled over us that makes everything perfect and wonderful. This blog post is about the true nature of grit.

If you have ever owned cats or know anything about their personalities, you know they are thieving, little devils. They develop weird passions for things like pens, pencils, Q-tips, etc. Basically, anything they can swipe off a table, out of a cubby in a bathroom cabinet, or from the trash. My three cats (Henry, Simon, and Freddie) crave pencils especially if I’ve placed an eraser cap on the end. They usually chew off the eraser that comes with a pencil (I have found gnarled pieces of metal left as evidence of their handiwork) necessitating the addition of an eraser cap. I believe they work in concert to ensure this happens, and then they celebrate by waiting until I go to bed to work the pencil out of the jar in the living room, the wire spiral of my notebook, or from the side of my laptop cooling station.

Looking for one of my lost pencils is what prompted this blog post. I was on my hands and knees in the kitchen with the three offenders watching my progress as I laid my head parallel to the floor to peer beneath the printer table. I spied a popcorn kernel, and my mind flooded with memories of teaching Joshua how to make popcorn on the stove. I retrieved the kernel and sat back on my knees as I recalled what a great day that was and how many more like it we’ve had since. But I didn’t find the pencil.

I looked into the corners of the fireplace mantel also in the kitchen. A two by three piece of grey Lego was wedged behind the antique wood. It has been years since my kid played with Legos. He started by building every kit according to instructions, but his best creations were those he made up without the benefit of a pattern. The Titanic with a removable panel to simulate destruction by an iceberg, the Iron Giant, a mask similar to that worn by General Grievous, an M1 Garand that ejected the clip, a three-level ship longer than my kitchen table, and a working crossbow were among my favorites. Still no pencil.

Under the stove I found a cap from a bottle of Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. How my cats managed to get the bottle cap was beyond me, but its discovery prompted the memory of a wonderful, teen-free evening spent with my husband. The night was outrageously hot and the light beverage tasted delicious and refreshing. Husband and I felt like newly-weds again as we whiled away hours in each other’s company doing absolutely nothing and loving every moment. Again, no pencil.

I crawled all over the house looking for my pencil. I could have simply used another one, but it was a matter of principle now. The cats trailed me with mild interest, and I swear they nodded their heads toward their litterbox as if suggesting I look there. Little creeps.

Every room received a thorough search, and along the way tidbits of stuff located beneath furniture or in corners prompted memories of the past twenty five years. At times I fretted over scuffed baseboards and the scars of puppy-chewed carpet, a house that looks quite “lived in” and the realization that I need to sweep more often than I already do! (A wise friend once said, “If you have pets, you’re going to have pet hair.”) But every inch of every room in our home offered up life that was and still is sound and stable. I cast a glance at my cats who sat just out of reach watching me. Their smug faces seemed to say, “You’re welcome.”

I eventually found my pencil inside the cooling station where a clumsy paw had pushed it in an effort to snag it off the table. I threaten to beat their hides every time one of my pencils goes missing, but I have to admit the process of looking for it adds to my memories most positively. Someday—hopefully not in the near future—my broken heart will reminisce Henry, Simon, and Freddie, and I’ll be most appreciative for the days they decided to steal my pencils.

God Gives Us Teenagers Because He Loves Us

I have a theory. I’ve been sitting on it for about six years, keeping it to myself as I mulled it over and tested it. I experience it in daily life especially when interacting with my teenager. It goes like this: I ask Joshua to do something, and he responds with “Oh joy, oh rapture” to let me know that he is not going to enjoy what I’ve asked him to do. I already knew that what I requested of him wasn’t meant to produce pleasure, but nevertheless, it needs to be done. A voice in my head whispers, “Kind of like I told you (insert request here) needs to be done.”

Another example is when Joshua asks me for something, and the answer is no.  I usually follow up with a tactfully pointed out, “Why would I spend money on (insert desired objection) when you don’t appreciate what I’ve already given you?” And the gentle voice in my heart says, “Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”

Then there are the times when I give Joshua instructions for completing a task, and he does it wrong because he doesn’t listen and/or doesn’t care about the outcome. It takes him twice as long to finish (insert task here) and often things end up broken. I say, “Why didn’t you do it the way I told you the first time?” and the loving but firm voice speaking to my will sighs, “Exactly, beloved.”

My theory: God gives us teenagers to let us know what it’s like for Him when dealing with us. If I hadn’t heard His voice every single time I corrected Joshua, I would never have come to this conclusion. And because I’m the adult, the parent, the smart one who has lived more than twice as long as my child, I have it all together and nailed it the first time, right? Wrong.

I’ve grumbled, complained, whined, begged, pleaded, made deals, and sulked my way through life just like a teenager. God—being the great parent that He is—never backed down. Discipline and guidance came my way whether I wanted it or not. The lessons flowed from God to me to Josh, and still I didn’t catch on.

Until one day last week when I had a moment of brilliant insight. I had been moping because I received my first rejection notice concerning the novel I’m currently querying. Instead up getting right back up in the saddle and sending out another query, I sat in a chair at the kitchen table and sulked. It was a most unproductive day until my teenager came home. While Joshua may be a sluggard when it comes to picking up the dirty socks on his bedroom floor, he’s a drill sergeant when it comes to my writing.

“How many queries did you send out?” he asked. No “Hello, Mother, how are you? It sure is wonderful to see you.”

“None,” I replied.

“Get up.”

“What?”

“Get over to the laptop and send out a query letter.”

“I don’t want to.”

Without further comment, Joshua pulled out the chair with me in it, used a karate hold on me that put my arm behind my back, and led me to the computer at the other end of the table. Before you become upset thinking that he hurt me, please be assured that we laughed throughout the whole process. No bullying was involved as my son strong-armed me out of the doldrums and into positive energies. It worked.

Here’s the key: I knew better than to resist the karate hold because it was a real one he learned on his way to becoming a red belt. It didn’t hurt at all when Joshua helped me from the chair and gave the instruction to get back to work. If I had pushed or leaned in any direction against the hold, it would have been painful, and that’s when it hit me. God’s instructions only hurt when I resist them.

Finally, I’ve learned my lesson. Will I always apply it to my life perfectly? Probably not, but that doesn’t let me off the hook from trying. Just as I expect Joshua to strive for new levels of maturity in his life so, too, am I expected to stop behaving like a child, grow up, and pass the lesson forward.

The Extra Space

My mother insisted I learn how to type when I was in high school. Since I didn’t plan on becoming a secretary, I failed to see the necessity of the class. She assured me that no matter what field of study I ended up pursuing, I would never regret learning how to type. When I think about all the reports and papers I typed in high school, the subpoenas, notices, and letters I typed as an office manager of a court reporting firm, and the short stories, flash fiction, novels, and blog posts I type as a writer, well, I’m glad I listened to Mom.

I learned on different models of electric typewriters in high school. They were very high tech at the time. The college I attended also used electric typewriters, but it wasn’t long into my education that the school transitioned to computers. Imagine how thrilled we students were. From that day forward, technology has progressed to the point where I’m now typing on a laptop. Things sure do change rapidly.

But one thing did not. My brain and fingers were trained to hit the space bar two times after any punctuation ending a sentence and after a colon. I’ve done it for thirty years, and no one ever said boo about it. Until recently.

It was pointed out to me that I needed to stop this practice. I failed to see the urgency of retraining my brain and fingers, so I continued to let the memory ingrained in my ten digits go about business as usual. Another person pointed out that my long-practiced habit may be viewed as a problem when submitting my work for publication.

I’m going to forgo my thoughts on how this minor detail could cause a major upset in the lives of those who would publish my writing and go straight to helping anyone who may still be placing the extra space after their punctuation. And in case you were wondering, the reason this has changed is because every letter among the fonts one can employee these days receives an appropriate amount of space negating the need for two spaces at the end of a sentence that used to improve readability. Below is an example of what I’m talking about.

The monospaced font required the extra space. Proportional fonts do not.

Correcting the problem is easy. If I can learn to retrain my fingers to hit the space bar once after punctuation, so can you. As for the documents you already have saved on your computer, there’s a quick fix for that, too.

Open your document

On the Home tab, in the Editing group, choose Replace. Or press Ctrl + H on your keyboard.

In the Find what box, type a period and two spaces

In the Replace with box, type a period and one space

Choose Find Next and click Replace All

Every instance of two spaces after a period will be corrected to only one space. The same steps can be used to remove the extra space after question marks, colons, and exclamation points.

I hope this was helpful to anyone out there who may still be placing two spaces after a period. In closing, let me say one small thing: yes, using two spaces after punctuation may reveal a person’s age, but that does not give anyone the right to point out what has now become an error with anything but tact and grace.

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.”

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