In America, I do not stand out. In a country that has prided itself on being a “melting pot” for many years, the vast spectrum of skin tones, hair and eye colors, heights, and weights means that I am just another blue-eyed, dirty blonde-haired, slightly tall, average-framed, pale-skinned woman. There are thousands more like me. It’s an interesting oxymoron: because everyone is so different, your differences largely go unnoticed.
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My dad, Walt, is indisputably one of the coolest people I know. In honor of his upcoming birthday, and to embarrass him mercilessly, here are a few of his best neologisms* and colorful phrases.
1) Happy Horse Shit: A frivolous thing or event.
Example: “Spas? I’m not into any of that happy horse shit.”
2) Nickel Shit: A minor or irrelevant thing. “I told him I didn’t have time to deal with his nickel shit.”
3) No Jump for a Show Dog: Words of encouragement about something that requires little effort due to a person’s level of expertise or talent. “Hey you’ll get that job Cyn. It’s no jump for a show dog.”
4) WallyWendyCyndiMistyMaxHeidiSnoopy: The names of all of his children and past pets combined into a single word, said when he forgets one of his children’s names.
5) Nothing’s illegal until you get caught.: A kindness offered during our youth when one of his children were caught doing something they shouldn’t be doing. Usually followed by a punishment.
6) Warsh/Rinsch: “Wash” and “rinse”… (he’s from Ohio, but no one else from Ohio I know says this…). Derivation unknown.
7) Go like hell: To move fast or get out of the way. “You’re late. Just get in the car and go like hell.”
8) Shit Box: Annoyed reference to a small child or cat. “Tell that little shit box to get over here.” “Get that shit box out of the house.”
9) Crumbgrabber: Kind reference to a small child. “Her little crumbgrabber is alright.”
10) Hammered horse shit: The state or condition of ill being, often caused by traveling or overindulgence. “I only had two glasses of wine last night and I feel like hammered horse shit.”
Happy Birthday Dad. You’re the best.
* Look it up, Dad. ;p
There was a time, not so long ago, when Gus was my best friend.
He wore loud, polyester button-downs and a stretchy gold watch and always, always wore a hat when he went out of the house. He’d come visit from Akron and stay with us when I was little, and my favorite time was each morning watching him shave. It was a deliberate ritual worthy of study: stretchy watch off, wash face, foam face, get to work with the razor. At just six years old I had become obsessed with men’s shaving, the confidence and masculine potency of it all was awe-inspiring. The sound of the blade scraping foam off his face gave me chills. The morning ritual.
Everything Gus did had a ritual to it: researching stocks, walking laps for exercise, shopping at the discount market for canned salmon and dented corn soup. We’d sit at their plastic-clad kitchen table and get drunk, which pissed off my grandmother to no end, but we pretty much pretended she wasn’t there, which wasn’t rude because she seemed to prefer it that way. Any time I’d teeter up to offer to chop or clear anything, she’d mutter the same thing by rote: “Sit with him. Talk. He’s waited all day to see you so you go.” So I did. And we talked.
Herman Melville. The Crash of 1929. Judge Judy. Sputnik. How the cleaning lady spent too much time arranging the fringe on the living room rug. What Papua New Guinea was like during the war.
He’d tell me I was too smart to be a teacher and I ought to do something practical. Business, or banking, or maybe if I could get the writing thing going I could do that too, but only on the side. He discouraged me from getting married and said I was better off going to college and learning how to think right, not to let someone else do my thinking for me. Sometimes I listened, usually I didn’t, but he taught me my first lessons in questioning power and not being afraid to disagree with anyone I didn’t think was right. He believed in calling people on their shit, especially fancy folks, especially folks who seemed too sure that they knew what they were talking about. Coincidences are meaningless. Can you check the facts you’re being told? What’s the worst case scenario?
For him it was getting cancer. As a post-war building inspector he inhaled asbestos daily, and by the time he entered the new millennium his lungs were hardening like coral. Soon he was trapped in a housing that betrayed him daily. I’d visit often, but we didn’t drink like we did in years past. Instead we talked about treatments and inhalers and what he regretted most in life. “At eighty,” he weezed, “at eighty, they should just take you out back and shoot you. Because. This? Just isn’t right.” His arms grew thin and blackened with blood and when I hugged him goodbye he wound around them me so tight I’d lose my breath but I didn’t mind. Neither of us wanted to be the first to let go.
Watch who you love in this world. Study them often, be enthralled with their rituals, remember the things that fascinate you about them. Time passes when you’re not looking.
My friend and fellow writer Steve shared the most inspiring/hysterical collection of student writing I have seen in quite some time. Number seven is personal favorite:
“The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.”
From the blog, House of Figs. Enjoy!
I love my job. No really. Creative, fun, brainy, usually deadline driven, what’s not to love? But there are, occasionally, times when I would rather give myself an orbital fracture with a Uniball than to sit in front of my keyboard. The kicker for these especially disheartening moments is that it’s not about a lack of effort, or willingness. It’s that I can’t. I just can’t. I wrote a few weeks ago about inspiration, but after thinking about it, often times being inspired isn’t enough. Sure it helps get me in the right direction, but more sophisticated projects require a fair amount of brain work, which my brain may or may not be willing to process on-demand.
writer’s block (noun)
a usually temporary condition in which a writer finds it impossible to proceed with the writing of a novel, play, or other work.
At first I try. But its bad, all of it, no matter what. It’s flat, or trite, or been done before. I can honestly say that there’s truly nothing more frustrating than spending several hours writing pure drivel. Without a speck of hope. Like panning for gold all day and pulling up nothing but gravel.
I can’t help you, really, because I don’t know what causes it, or why it goes away, but here are some exercises you could try*:
1) Think of something you love (or really dislike) and write about it with a contrary opinion.
2) Write about the light coming through your window. (Or in SF, write about the fog).
3) Choose a color (green!) and go for a fifteen-minute walk. Find green as many times as you can. Then go home and write about green for fifteen minutes.
4) If you suspect you’re being lazy (not blocked, per se) , just set a timer and free write as much as you can without thinking about spelling, grammar, being cute or clever… just let it rip. Timers work with housework too.
* These are from Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, one of my many books on the subject.
Writer’s block is now in Wikipedia, why I’m not exactly sure, but it has some moments in popular culture. I omitted the super-queso mentions:
The film Barton Fink, the title character while working on a script for a wrestling picture types one sentence and is then unable to write anymore and is consumed by a terrible case of writer’s block that causes him to descend into madness. (The Coen Brothers wrote the script for Barton Fink in a matter of weeks to take their minds off Miller’s Crossing, another screenplay that caused them writer’s block due to the complex plot.)
Pearl Jam vocalist Eddie Vedder suffered from writer’s block during the recording of Pearl Jam’s 2000 album, Binaural. He banned himself from playing guitar until he came up with more lyrics, and a hidden track of typewriter sound effects was added to the album entitled “Writer’s Block”.
In Adaptation, the main character, Charlie Kaufman, suffers severe writer’s block when he is unable to write the screenplay for The Orchid Thief.
I’m editing all day (read: I’m off the hook for now), but I’m getting ready to work on some creative stuff during the holidays. We’ll see what happens…
Sad but true: As a writer, grammar fails always make me giggle. It’s lexical Schadenfreude and I’m super guilty of it. Now there are some considered moderately passable, given the general state of the English language in the U.S. (word choice or subject-verb agreement boo-boos). Yes I may wince, but I let it go because no one else will notice and I look like a prissy nerd. Okay okay. I get it.
But when high-ranking universities have advertisements soliciting M.B.A. students have these kinds of errors, I take photos. Blurry photos, but yes. Photos. I take them (sorry the BART was moving…).
Now I know it’s hard to see, so let me transcribe the last sentence for you:
“All business programs are part-time and designed for busy working professionals who seek the knowledge and skills to accelerate their career.”
I read this the other night and winced so hard. Really, Top-Ranking-University-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless? Their career? All busy working professionals share a single career? That’s one crowded cubicle.
Somebody over there needs a lesson in number agreement, and possibly, a proofreader.
I know what you’re thinking. “Cyn– no one is going to notice that. It’s a small error… not a grammar fail. RELAX Popper.”
No. I will not relax. This is not victorious scribe plastered onto a windshield for a tailgate party by a Zima-infused* frat boy. This is an ad campaign–an expensive ad campaign– for a top-ranking M.B.A. program by a UNIVERSITY. Big difference. I’ll write about grammar fails and context another time because that is a topic altogether different.
I know what your thinking. “Cyn– everyone makes typos. YOU make typos in this silly blog, and you’re a writer!”
Yes. That’s true. I do. Because I’m fallible and this is a work/life blog. Mistakes get made. Commas, occasionally, get spliced. But when a client is creating a thousands-of-dollars campaign, and I’m in charge of the copy, it’s a different story. If after a series of rewrites and revisions I’m not sure about a grammar bit or a style choice, I look it up or consult a fellow editor. For large projects I might even bring in a second proofreader. Whatever it takes to make sure that the client’s image is congruent with the branding. That might not even require a “carping grammarian”... but if it does, I become one. (Bonus geek points if you know who came up with “carping grammarian”).
And for an academic client… really. What else can I say? Students pay a huge tuition to ensure they get a good education. Tee hee.
Okay I’m done.
* Does Zima still exist?
No I won’t bust out with the Grease soundtrack, but for my student peeps, this time of the year is all about Back to School, preparing for SATs, and dealing with all of the woo ha that comes with Making the Grade. So parents, students: here’s a head’s up for you.
As a teacher I know—it’s not easy to manage a social life, deal with family stuff, and crank out the work that’s going to earn an acceptance letter from Cal. Working at Elite has taught me that there are a lot of kids who treat their education like a job. They start in the wee hours of the morning with basketball practice, rock classes all day, go to after-school volunteer projects and violin lessons, then relax at the end of the day with four hours of homework. Being an Ivy League candidate: it’s not for sissies.
Elite has an awesome program to help students get through the scary world of SAT prep. They also have shorter sessions available for personal statement work and focused tutoring. I’m hopelessly devoted to Elite (ha! sorry…) because they don’t teach test “tricks…they show you smart strategies and yes, kick a kid’s brain into high-gear, SAT mode. They also do a ton of research on SAT content, so students have a much better idea of what they can expect.
Now if I could only roll to class in a Pink Lady jacket… no no, that’s too much to ask.