Thursday, January 17, 2013

Honorable Mention: It's a Grave New World

Plural Determiner 'several' can't modify singular noun 'cat'

 Hey! Now that I am an honorable-mention-style writer, my words carry grave, new responsibility.  

   So I've revised my New Year’s Resolution (stop serving popcorn as a vegetable) and I'm going to clean up this blog, quick -- before more people discover it slogging about in the spring thaw.
    And honestly? I’m afraid that if I’m not careful, my honorable mention will revert back to dishonored-unmentionables -- and I have enough hand-washing to do, thank you.
   But before I go off to pre-treat something, I want to improve my writing, unearth fresh material, and above all, to stop writing about writing a blog.

   I want to start writing about editing.

   The first stop in any writer’s odyssey to excellence is email, in order to solicit critiques from every stranger we know, but importantly, to do this in a HUGE way.  The bigger the Distribution List, the better.
   For me this includes upwards of 238 distant but kindly relatives and even more-distant acquaintances from around the world and from every facet of my life:  a third-cousin in Indiana, my veterinarian, Publisher’s Clearinghouse. They all wait excitedly to render advice and God knows I need it.
   I can get downright irreverent when allowed, day after day, to abuse modifiers and switch tenses with reckless abandon. Once, I became unscrupulous and started mixing metaphors with gin. 
    The worst was when a Traveling Pink Beauty Consultant found me cross-dressing my first person in a flimsy Barbie sarong.   She appreciated the pink hue, but was otherwise horrified.
   “Nobody told me this was wrong,” I sniffed. “I THOUGHT I needed help. Oh... in the den you’ll find a bald hamster I keep locked in a nominative case.”
    If it were not for the wisdom of countless email-volunteers, I wouldn’t be teetering at the precipice of literary domination today. And had I not received composition-advice from countless sage professors back in college, I would not be swallowing a colorful array of oral psychotropics, either.
   Back then, I didn’t feel I needed email-advice... partly because email wasn’t invented, but mostly because I lived by this theory that professors are often paid money to advise student-writers. My favorite tuition-driven pearl included a phrase I heard a lot.  “Carolyn. When I read your essays, I say, ‘So what?’”
    The ‘So what?’ technique stopped me in my tracks, so I could reflect on how to improve, and so my professors could get some rest. So effective was this technique that, years later, I shared it with my own writing students when I became an English teacher.
   But I learned in short order that writers under the age of 10 burst into tears when their work is critiqued.  Or graded.  Or read.  
   Most of my teaching-colleagues never even came into the same room as their students’ writing.  They simply encouraged student writers by regularly issuing to them Skittles – approximately fourteen Skittles per sentence fragment.          
   Of course, I am dating myself.  Today, it is fourteen Michelle Obama Pencils to replace the Skittles Our First Lady (who art not a nutritionist) thoughtfully made a felony.
    My professors would also prattle on about how I had to ‘get out of my navel.’  This is something all writers do once they discover no one is interested in things they write about. Things like, ‘Guess what I found on my baseboard this morning?’ or, ‘My kid said a funny thing.’ 
   I was taught that the only way to correct this was to write scintillating lies called “fiction” using The Third Person.
   I’d always confused this with The Third Reich, which is why I wasn’t writing in it.  But out of deference to my professors I tried The Third Person.
   My fiction began, “A little boy named Joe lived in a cottage with two parents and his pet frog named Ribbit.”  The accolades were so deafening, I, technically, could not hear them.
   But an even better navel-fleeing technique was to remain in the first person, as in “my baseboard was covered with my son’s leaking mouse-corpse,” but to write about subjects with reader appeal. 
   Leaking corpses hold little appeal, but I was once able to strike a universal chord in a campus expose, ‘What About Spit?’  My paparazzi team and I scoured every stairwell and cement-walkway capturing action-shots of expectorant. We told our story through captions.
   One professor liked it so much he referred me to the works of the dead poet Walt Whitman, that I might note similarities in our styles! But this was an abberation. His colleagues insisted that simple fiction was better than pictorial truth about floor spit.  (They also wrote the parable, ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in George Bush,’ made into a Michael Moore film that won a Caldecott Award.)
   That covers advice from writing instructors.

   I’d now like to drone on about how typographical errors, omissions and other common crime reduce readability even more than writers intend.  So along with writing simple, appealing lies, I might try to proofread my own blog posts.
    I have never done this.  Usually I send my manuscripts to that 238-Person Distribution List and they edit for misspellings, ensuring there is at least one per line, then I send the work through Spelling and Grammar Check. 
   There, omissions and misspelled words lose all importance because entire phrases are randomly lopped off.  I never know by what.  My guess is a helicopter rotor.  I always fear the CIA might confiscate suspicious fragments that Grammar Check suggests, thinking they are code.  You wrote the fragment, ‘Over the vagabond.’ Try this: ‘Over the vagabond and through the wood, to grandmother’s house we go.’” Meanwhile spell check is busy noting that the word vagabond does not exist.  “Did you mean ‘vagina’?” 
   “Yes, I did,” and off I go, encrypting my way to a Safe House or federal penitentiary.   
   Frankly, I love that my posts are imperfect.  This keeps me ensconced in a low visibility ‘safe-zone’ which wins any manuscript I send to magazines the enviable treatment of being flung from executive assistants’ open windows into driving rains which shred it before editors have the pleasure of spitting on it (then having me write about spit).  So… hmm.  

  I guess  maybe I am planning to make pretty much no spring-cleaning changes to my blog, after all.  Because when I read my posts' imperfections, I say, ‘So what?’
   Although now that I have reminisced about my prose fiction, Ribbit The Frog, I might write a sequel, Joe and Ribbit Return (Ribbit is dead, but Joe comes back).
   Hey, look!  Spell-check is replacing Ribbit with Rabbit, noting no capital “R” is required, and Grammar Check is offering great encryption:  Try this, “The dead rabbit writes frog a sequel.”
   Wait. That’s not code.  Grammar check is writing a FABLE!  You know, I’m going to let it press on here -- I think it’s got a great concept.   Something Fan Fiction might pick up an option on. 
    Did you mean, “Some option up on which Fan Fiction might pick?’  Yes, yes, I did. Also, the hawk flies at midnight, and John has a long moustache.    *wink-wink
   (Grammar Check and I are well on our way to our own Caldecott Award and film expose by Michael Moore.  Wish us luck!) 

My Writing Won An AWARD!!! (No, really!)

 Wow, so I just received an email asking me to please acknowledge that I had won an award.  What??  
   Back on November 30th, at the final hour, I submitted a piece to the Soul-Making Keats  Competition in California at the suggestion of Kathryn Handley, a gifted novelist who published Birds Of Paradise, A Novel, and A World Of Love and Envy, along with short stories, flash fiction and poetry. (Check her out on Amazon or at     
   I am tossing my 'Honorable' piece out to you. It may have a familiar smack about it, as it appeared eons ago (52 days) under a different title, for disguise. The honorable version goes by the name, 'Mommy's First Blog' and has far fewer modifiers and other common crime than the one that appeared forty-four posts ago, (back then I labored with an archaic coal-fired computer). 
  Enjoy MOMMY'S FIRST BLOG enhanced with photography and GREAT thanks to the judges and creators of the Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition for their exceptional work not just sharing, but connecting so many unique voices from around the world!  
xo  Carolyn Given  
Late-1950s model, Carolyn's Black Beauty 900

Mommy's First Blog
  I am far from being the master of my own technology.  Like techno-phobs before me, I watch my offspring master their devices, then when I feel ready, I ask them to teach me what they know (in small bytes).
  Frankly, I am unsure I will ever be ready for a 4G Smartphone or any type of ‘tablet’—yet here I am, launching a blog.

   When my kids were little, I wrote humor columns for several years. But just when blogging got popular, I became employed as an English teacher so my writing was set aside.
   Fortunately, after eleven years the economy tanked and the charter schools I worked for struggled, so I have been gainfully unemployed for the last several months.  Here I am, asking my offspring to teach me to blog. 
   Remarkably, it is at this juncture that I look with nostalgia at mankind’s earliest version of blogging:  the cordless telephone.  It was the first technology where ‘data’ was transmitted without the use of cords.
   Oh, alright, it wasn’t.  There were other ‘wireless transmissions‘ like… aboriginal drumming, or photography.  Maybe radio.  And television.  Likely, the walkie-talkie and WMD so let me rephrase: it was the first technology I personally used to transmit information to another person without being connected to a cord.
   Today I rarely use telephones in any historically-sanctioned way (to talk to someone using my voice).  In fact, last month I literally severed our landline with shears then cancelled the house account.
   In the last ten years, I’ve communicated largely by upsetting ex-bosses with context-free emails, and most recently, mis-texting.  I am the only person I know who labors over a text message at the rate of nine letters per minute until both thumb-calluses thump, only to receive instant and multiple phone calls with angry voices at the other end. “Mom, stop texting with made-up shorthand.  I mean, what does this even MEAN? Gt L rng-sx b/c 241’ ?” 
   “Honey, it means I got Leah running socks because the sale was two-for-one.”
   All of this leads me, quite regularly, to shut off my cellular phone.
   Aberrant behavior for me.  So I had to ask myself, “Where did you leave your roots?” because back in my previous life, I was a proficient phone-a-holic.
   I now wish to use as Oral History this blog to preserve my phoning culture:  I wish to document what it was like to use a cordless telephone, or what I consider ‘My First Real Blog.’
   It was June of 1995 when my husband brought home our first cordless phone.  It was a Father’s Day gift to himself.  He was tired of getting strung up in phone cords stretched like tightrope through the house. And when someone hung up, the cord whirled back to the cradle from Recoil-Tension and smucked him in the face.
   (Remember those ‘whip’ sounds you heard in Kung Fu movies when the protagonist spin-kicked the bad guy? That was a phone cord retracting.  Whooh-Whooh-Whooh, THWAP.)
   I’d always insisted on a fifty-foot cord.  That way, I kept conversations going from any location and lashed my family to shreds.
   Tragically, phone cords weren’t very durable. After stretching fifty-feet out to one hundred countless times per day, the receiver got choked to the cradle by a fist-sized knot.  Slinkies lived longer.
   My husband added up how much money we’d spent on replacement cords.  He said it was enough to buy a bass boat.  It was actually enough to buy a cellular phone for my mini-van and a three-carat diamond waterfall ring with a concealed speaker-phone inside.
   How I marveled at the hi-tech advances the telephone had made! Remember how Cro Magnon women had to speak into rocks with pinecones pressed to their ears?  I mean, why not give birth AWAKE?  Or make crust with rolling pins?
   I guess the technology was pretty archaic when I was a child.  My very first telephone was a classic late 50s model, the Black Beauty 900: a sleek, formidable desk phone featuring resilient rotary dial-action and a thick, strapping shank of black cord.  You could use the receiver as a bludgeoning device and subdue cat burglars and whales.  No one needed home security systems as long as they owned a phone.
   But how I loved that cordless!  Though I admit, it was disappointing when we couldn’t use it right away.  All six of us circled the phone every hour to watch the battery charge.
   “Do you think it’s ready yet?” my teenager panted, flexing his dialing finger.
    It took twelve hours to take a charge.  None of us slept that night. 
    The next morning was like Christmas Day.  I raced down the stairs to find the kids already awake, taking turns dialing Peru from the street.
   “That’s MINE!” I shouted from the dining room window.  “Bring it here!”
   “But we just reached the Embassy in Lima!”
   “Hang UP.”
   By 5:00 AM I had left a message on every answering machine I knew. “Guess where I am?  I am standing on my DECK talking to you on a CORDLESS PHONE! Call me.”
   “Hi! I am talking to you from my neighbor’s lawn tuned to frequency 8.  Pick up your phone!  You can hear Francine and Bart moaning over their baby monitor.”
   After six weeks with my cordless, I received the Civilian Cord Free Phonist Award from AT&T.  This was a special honor. The level of proficiency required for the phoning arts is not widely recognized. AT&T projected that my Cord-Free Phone Bill would reach five digits by 1996: a record for private citizens.
   They also had my pushbutton dexterity studied by Swiss Geneticists.  I was so adept at hitting mute, no one heard me snap the kids with old phone cords when they made the cat walk-the-plank to the pool.  Callers thought I lived alone.
   Speaking of callers, I was always the ‘fifth’ at WAAF, due to redial precision timing, about which Blue Angels Stunt Jets fantasized.
   And to this day no one can call-wait like I can.  I ‘click’ off one caller, speed-talk the intruder away, then return to the first call before they know I was gone.
   “Yes, Mr. Hamburgh, our son required several stitches from the boulder located at the foot of your Wonder Burger slide that collided with his skull this morning.  He’s in pain, but there was no concu—“     -   b-e-e-p
   (‘—hey, babe – three stiches – yes, milk and eggs.’)
  “—ssion.  The Xray says he’s fine so our lawyer will not need -- what do you mean your boulder’s damaged?”
   It was determined by the Geneticists that I possess a special chromosome.  It’s the same one that gives CPAs the power to mach-speed their fingers over adding machines without looking.  Gifted Dialists do this, too. (We’re also good with things like beer can tops.  And triggers.)
  Unfortunately, we also possess an Amnesia-Gene that prevents us from knowing where we left the cordless phone.  This causes mild anxiety where we kick down doors and convulse from delirium tremens and get handcuffed and spirited by ambulance to a center for Phone Abuse.
   In summer of ’95, Dr. Hattivan told me I was in denial.
    “ADDICT!” I spat, wiping my nose with my sleeve. “I’m no addict.  I USE my phone, I’m not addicted.  Was Jane Goddall addicted to gorillas?  Was John Glenn addicted to space?  No, we are dedicated, committed professionals!  GET ME A PHONE SO I CAN … BE COMMITTED.  I want to call… for pizza.  Pick a number, any number, I want – just to touch a phone.  How about the jack?  Could you please show me a phone pole from my window bars?  Please?”
   After thirty days of aversion-therapy, I hated telephones.  Each time my cordless rang, I went to answer the door.  When I finally reprogrammed myself to lift the receiver when the doorbell buzzed, most people stopped phoning completely.
   If they did phone, I was mystified by things they called to say.  “Hi!” they would say, “What are you doing?” they would say.
   “Right now I am talking to you.  What do you want?”
   “Nothing.  Just checkin in.  So, how ya been?”
   “Fine.  Is there a reason for this call or do you like invading my privacy?”
   “Uhh—oh! I get it! I’ve called at a ‘bad time.’ (muffled giggle) Why don’t  I  c-a-l-l   b-a-c-k   L-A-T-E-R!”
   “You live next door.  Why don’t you come over to visit?”
   “Umm…now?  Well.  Thanks anyway, but—I’m just not that progressive.” –click—
   People changed during my rehabilitation.
   Phew, you know, starting this blog with a cordless retrospective was therapeutic. It’s not that I’m tech-phobic because I am inept!  It is because I am in recovery!
   As long as someone can shake these words onto my pilot blog for me, then also my daily blogs thereafter, I think I’m gonna like blogging.