Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Misunderstood Words

On a recent flight, the annoying teenage girl in front of me was looking at the safety information card that can be found in the seat pocket in front of you.  I glanced at it and saw what I thought were special instructions for a "Tall Exit."  At once amused and outraged, I pulled out my own card and looked at it again.  Then I snapped a picture of it, thinking, Wow, so now tall people can't even escape from a plane the normal way?

It wasn't until I put my camera away that I noticed it actually said, "Tail Exit."

That's why I love the written word.  You can read something over and over again and it may not be until the third time that you finally get it.  When it's written down, you have time to mull it over to make sure you're understanding the message, which you don't always have a chance to do with spoken conversations.  That's also why I never liked text messages.  There's still plenty of opportunity for misunderstanding, but the immediacy encourages you not to think about things first.  Then of course you have the results of the miscommunication right there in front of you to read over again.  And again.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Spelling Words

When I was younger (think college), I couldn't spell the word privilege to save my life.  For whatever reason, I just couldn't learn the order of the letters.  I had to look it up every single time.  Finally, one day I decided to learn it, for once and for all, and I did.  It was simple, once I actually tried.

There's an epidemic of the privilege situation going on, and it spans the globe.  Working at a publishing company, I read a lot of proposals and descriptions of books claiming they were indispensable.  But they were actually indispensible.  The first few times I thought nothing of it, because I wasn't sure how to spell that word.  But then when I saw it written the other (right) way, I figured it was just another American/British English spelling difference.  So I looked it up, only to find that -ible doesn't even exist.

Since that revelation, I've come across the word countless times, and there was always a 60/40 split, wrong to right.  So now I'm just stumped.  Is this all a big conspiracy to get me to think I'm spelling the word correctly but really I'm wrong?  Or are entire countries unaware of the word's proper spelling?  Honestly I'm not sure which it is.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Safe Word

For a construction site?  Sure.  For life?  No way.  Safety=safety.  That's it.

I could have remained at my job and been incredibly safe.  Now that I have no job, I'm terrified and unsure and feel anything but safe.  But I still think it was the right decision.  While it definitely could end up being the stupidest thing I've ever done, it could also end up being the best.  Had I stayed, I know for a fact it would not have been the best thing I've ever done.  So for me, risk=possibility.  And that's the most beautiful word I can think of right now.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Inhuman Words

It's finally happened--my worst fear--computers are taking over the world.  How do I know?  They can now decipher CAPTCHA codes.  So now computers are more human-like than I am.  It's only a matter of time before they start doing other things better than I can: cooking, singing, installing air conditioners.  I know, there are probably robots who already do these things, but I don't have time to think about it, okay?  I'm putting all of my energy into resetting my password:

Upside down word--no way to know which order you want.
Cut-off sideways letters, nice one.
It's Greek to me.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lucrative Words

Next week when I'm officially unemployed, if I go sit by this sign -

- is that technically considered "looking for work"?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sweet Words

I'm not a designer, nor can I think of a situation in my past, present, or near future when I would need to create Lorem Ipsum for anything.  So maybe I should be a bit ashamed to admit that I just spent five minutes generating dessert-related nonsense filler text using Cupcake Ipsum.  But I'm not.  Because Jelly lollipop ice cream cheesecake chocolate.  And Croissant candy canes caramels chocolate bar croissant cookie gummi bears

And also, I discovered a dessert I didn't know existed: faworki.  So it was totally worth my time.

Friday, October 21, 2011

3 Little Words

I quit, yo.

Okay, so maybe I didn't actually use any of those words except the first one in my resignation, but trust me, the sentiment got across.  People keep asking me how I feel, and to be honest, it feels the same.  I should feel terrified (because I don't have another job lined up), excited (because the future is unknown), and relieved (because I've been wanting to do this for a long time).  But so far I just feel like I'm still going to work each day and still have a steady paycheck for the next two-ish weeks.  So, normal.

Deep down, though, where all of my secret thoughts are stored--to only be released when I write, because otherwise the words just don't come--I'm ecstatic.  A part of my heart that's been dead for five years, or at the very least in hibernation, is stirring.  It's about to come alive (or wake up...I really should have stuck to one metaphor) and it is terrifying and exciting and relieving. 

For the next few days, when I think about what I've accomplished, well, I don't even have to think.  I quit, yo.  These three little words are huge.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Apologetic Words

I'm sorry to everyone I've ever offended by making fun of their terrible grammar or spelling.  Why?  Read this.

Did you read it?  Are you done laughing?  Okay, well, although I agree that the letter is hilarious, the outcome of the note--in case you missed it, that would be toilets installed on India's trains--is least to people with tiny bladders.  Anyone?  Anyone else out there?  I can't be the only one.

So again, I'm sorry.  Apparently you can get your point across without a good grasp of how to use words.

Note: This doesn't mean I'm going to stop making fun of people's terrible grammar or spelling.  Only when they're writing about toilets.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Words Have No Meaning

I've been reluctant to write about the Occupy Wall Street Movement (in fear that the one person who accidentally found my blog somehow might discover this post and never come back again).  At first I thought I didn't fully understand it.  Then I received a random email from someone asking me to occupy Times Square, and it still didn't make any sense.  So this weekend, after walking past the group in Zuccotti Park, I said to my boyfriend--who already knows I'm clueless--"This is a dumb question, but what exactly do they want?"

Apparently, it's not clear to anyone.  While the movement's words get thrown around a lot, these people aren't specifically asking for anything.  The closest I could find on the website is that it "aims to expose how the richest 1% of people are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future."

So it's about exposure.  Well, mission accomplished.  What now?  To me, it seems like the equivalent of standing up in front of the class and shouting, "Ew!  Billy just picked his nose and ate it!"  People are looking.  You have our attention.  So now what do you want us to do?

Maybe I'm ignorant.  Probably I'm ignorant.  But as much as I love words, I realize they're always going to be inanimate if there's no meaning behind them--you know, unless you use cool special effects.  So I guess I'm just waiting to find out what that meaning is.  Or see a really cool laser light show.  Now that's something I would support.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Words of Wisdom

Put on your coat; you're going to catch cold.
--said the fruit stand guy to me, after he finished asking about all of the grocery stores in a two block radius, which included Gristedes, Food Emporium, and the new arrival, Fairway.  It was his first day on the job so he wanted to check out the competition.

I've been briefly enamored by various fruit stand guys in the past (most memorable is the one who asked me where I'd been after I returned from a short absence due to a trip to Ohio), so this is nothing new.  But for some reason it always makes me inordinately happy when everyday, regular people are randomly nice to me.  It's probably because I have a hard time getting outside my own head and whatever random indignity is being replayed inside as proof that the world hates me for long enough to be randomly nice to everyday, regular people until they speak to me first.  One day I'd like to be the fruit stand guy to someone else.  It seems simple enough, but I know--at least for me--the words don't come so easily.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reading Words: Half Empty

Half Empty
David Rakoff, 2010

Continuing on my nonfiction kick (which I have never, ever been on before, by the way), I started reading this book with the kind of glee only a true pessimist could appreciate.  "Hahaha," I thought to myself--or maybe I said it out loud--"This is going to be good."  And it was.  Rakoff's sardonic attitude toward his life's trials (some silly and some grave, regardless of your attitude) is extremely comforting to people like me, and people with a perpetually rosy outlook on life probably couldn't help finding some of it at least slightly amusing as well.

Unfortunately, I couldn't finish the book because I noticed on Saturday that it was overdue at the library and you can't renew overdue books.  I could have kept it till Monday, but then I would owe 50 cents vs. the 25 I owed already, and I had just paid off my last library debt.  It wasn't the money, you understand, but really just the principle of the thing, so I skimmed the second half and dejectedly parted with the book.

So I'll leave you with my favorite quote from the pages I can still read on Amazon: "Pessimists are born, true, but they can also be made."  Delightful.

Monday, October 10, 2011

It's a Word! It's a Plane! It's...

...strange skywriting!

Watching these words sloooooowly appear yesterday (by the time one was finished, the previous one had almost completely faded away), I was thinking how I could very easily turn them into a metaphor for the writer's career.  You do something that catches people's attention, so they stick around to see what will happen next.  After a while, though, they have a decision to make.  Does your audience remain loyal to you or shrug and decide the payoff can't possibly be worth the agonizing time wasted waiting for something more?  The lucky (and hopefully, in most cases, talented) planes keep their viewers captive regardless of how long they have to wait, and that's because they know that what's coming after will be worth it.  But what about when the words are brand new, in a patch of sky people don't usually look at?  Who stays to see the end?

Anyway, I won't use that metaphor because it's a little too obvious for my taste, but I will say that these words took a very long time to appear and I gave up before the entire message materialized.  Twice.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Right Words, Right Time

People say everything happens for a reason.  I think that's true, but most of the time, that reason is simply that a human being did something to make it happen.

Last year, it was my dream to get a creative writing MFA.  I couldn't think of anything better than spending two years with nothing else to focus on but writing, and I couldn't think of any other practical way to do that than by getting an MFA.  For whatever reason (it probably had something to do with the fact that I only applied to four top schools and had absolutely nothing to show for my so-called destiny to become a writer...but who can say for sure?), I didn't get in.  I was secretly devastated, even though I'd told everyone I'd never expected to get in.

Fast forward to now.  I am a New York Times-published writer.  Would it have happened if I had gotten into an MFA program?  Probably not, or at least not at this point.  But do I think fate had anything to do with this?  Nope.  I did it all on my own.  And honestly, it feels a lot better that way. 

(And even if fate did help out a little, no way am I sharing my glory with that lazy bastard.  You hear that, fate?  You can't just ignore me for 27 years and then swoop in and expect to share the by-line.)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Last Words

Steve Jobs' 2005 commencement address at Stanford has been passed around all day today as if it contained his last dying words, and rightly so.  It's compelling stuff.  The quote that almost had me in tears at my desk was:
I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
My emotional fragility aside, it's an easy concept to read or hear and respond to with, "Yeah!  I'm going to do that!  I'm going to quit my job if it's not making me happy and devote myself to what I love!  Immediately!" But Jobs might as well have said, "あなたが好きであることをしてください" (which is allegedly "do what you love" in Japanese...but don't go getting it tattooed onto yourself or anything, because it could actually mean, "do me in the lovely bathroom").  To me, that speech was in a foreign language.  For those of us who have been raised in a "do what you have to do" world, the entire concept of doing what you love simply because you love it is extremely difficult to comprehend.  It doesn't even seem like a real option, let alone something an actual human being could do without detrimental consequences.  That's how little it registers with my life experience up until this point.  

I hate my MacBook with a passion and wish it would finish literally falling apart so I could get rid of it.  But Jobs knew what he was talking about in that speech, I think.  And I think it's time I start learning to speak the language.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Perplexing Words

I had so many questions after seeing this sign:
  1. Why was this guy asleep in his car?
  2. Why was this guy so deeply asleep in his car that he couldn't hear/feel someone taking something from the vehicle?
  3. Out of the important things he mentions he wants back (journal, magic stones, sacred items), which is the one worth $100?
  4. What is the LAW OF THREE?  (I've since figured it out.  I think.)
  5. Is that the proper use of "whomever"?  (No.)

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Reading Words: Committed

Elizabeth Gilbert, 2010

I read the book that came before this one, Eat, Pray, Love.  I thought there was something horribly wrong with me when I wasn't terribly enamored with either the writing (it was good, but it didn't blow me away) or the story (I just couldn't get past the idea that the author was being paid to write about these soul-discovering experiences, and that had to somehow make them less authentic, right?  Or else I was just jealous that she got to travel around the world in the name of research...).

So I'm happy to report that this book I enjoyed immensely.  In fact, I think this informal study on the institution of marriage (based on the author's extensive research on the subject) should be required reading for anyone contemplating marriage--or for anyone who doesn't even want to think about getting married.  (I have been both of these people at various times in my life.)  It's refreshing to read musings about marriage from someone who isn't completely blinded by white dresses and flower girls, and yet at the same time does manage to cheerlead a little bit for the practice, despite her best efforts.

One of the most interesting things, to me, is the book's subtitle.  In the version I read, the original hardback, the cover proclaims, "A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage."  Yet the paperback cover has erased that message and instead tells us the book is, simply, "A Love Story."  I guess the initial subtitle wasn't uplifting enough for all those girls who couldn't possibly understand how someone could be skeptical about getting that ring and living happily ever after.  Personally, I like the original better.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fighting Words

I would never claim to be a grammar expert.  Fine, that's not true; I would claim that, but I would be wrong.  Maybe.  However, I've been around long enough to have certain grammar/spelling pet peeves, and the it's/its phenomenon is right up there at the top of my list.  If I had a penny for every time I saw a sign--some obviously professionally done and others not so high-budget--with the it's/its error, I'd have over 57 pennies.  Which wouldn't be enough to buy much, but it would be heavy.  And I'd be angry about having to carry around so many pennies.

Still, the quickest way to start a fight with me is not to make the it's/its mistake.  It's to accuse me of not knowing the proper way to use those words.  Don't believe someone could get so mad about something so seemingly trivial?  Well, then explain how, when I thought about this old blog post today, my fists instinctively clenched.  I'm not saying it's a good thing.  I don't think I could find even one person who'd say it's a good thing.  But it's the truth.  In all its glory.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An Undeniable Way With Words

Few writers (if any) have ever used made-up words as fluently as Dr. Seuss. For that reason and many others--including a little book called The Lorax, my personal favorite--I was delighted to see that I hadn't yet read all the doctor had prescribed.

Turns out there's a brand new collection of rarely read stories (available today, but sold out on Amazon till Friday).  I won't even try to pretend I'm just buying it for my nephew.

Monday, September 26, 2011

How to Self-Publish Words

I can't tell you how many times I've thought about self-publishing...because I can't count that high.  At the rate I'm going, I wouldn't be at all surprised if one day I dove head-first into that world (well, based on my diving abilities, I guess it would have to be more like a belly-flop, but that doesn't sound nearly as fun).  In case you're getting ready to take the plunge, check out these 25 things you should know before you even dip your toes in.

By the time I got down to #25, I was thinking maybe I didn't really want to go in the water anyway because it looks pretty cold and it might be nicer to just sit on the edge for a while.  But I'm glad I read the article because that still sounds better than jumping off the high dive, blindfolded, into a pool of sharks.  (I'm not a fan of seafood.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

In Between Words

Happy National Punctuation Day!  I'm sure you're as excited about it as I am.  To celebrate, why don't you visit the links below and have some fun with punctuation?  Or don't.  I don't care how you spend the day as long as you don't spend it sticking extra apostrophes in everywhere and omitting periods.  That's just not cool, buddy.

How Cake Wrecks celebrates!

How The Oatmeal celebrates!

How you can celebrate!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Long Overdue Words

When I opened my mailbox today and saw an envelope with my address written in my handwriting, for a second there I was very intrigued.  Did I send myself a letter from the future?  That would be so cool (and kind of scary).  But no.  It was a rejection letter from a publishing company for a book proposal I had sent in...over a year earlier.
We very much appreciate the submisison of your book idea to Sourcebooks.  Like most publishing houses, we receive several thousand solicited and unsolicited book ideas and manuscripts every year.  However, we publish fewer than 200 titles per year.  As a result, we are forced to reject the vast majority of the books submitted.
 I work in publishing.  I understand completely what the letter actually means:
We do not appreciate the submission of your book idea to Sourcebooks at all.  Unlike most publishing houses, we still haven't taken out that clause about accepting unsolicited manuscripts, so we receive thousands of piles of crap every year.  However, we only publish the books that have been pitched by agents, or that have previously been blogs.  As a result, we decided to let your submission get lost until our diligent summer intern found it and we were forced to do the right thing by responding.
I actually did appreciate the other rejection letters I got in a timely manner--and again, I work in publishing, so I say a few months is timely.  But sorry, Sourcebooks, 13 months is not.  So don't be surprised if, when I become a professional writer with an agent, I am forced to not submit anything to you.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Best Way to Have Words

My new next-door neighbor plays his music loudly and the bass pounds right through the wall.  My boyfriend suggested I write him a note, but I told him that was a terrible, passive-aggressive, and slightly creepy idea, and that it would be more effective to just go talk to the guy.  So I did, and it was quiet for 3 days before the banging began again.

The next time I talked to my neighbor about the noise, it was quiet for two weeks.  Now it's started again.  I don't know if it's his bad memory, or that he's convinced he's playing his music quietly, or that he just really wants to drive me crazy, but if it's the last one, it's working.

So I'm starting to reconsider the note idea, but I think it's probably too late to go with my boyfriend's original suggestion:
Dear neighbor:
Your music is too loud.
From: an anonymous neighbor in your building (but I won't tell you who)
I don't know, I just think he'd figure out who wrote it.  Although, if his memory really is that bad, maybe not.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reading Words: You Don't Love This Man

You Don't Love This Man
Dan DeWeese, 2011

I always cringe a little when I hear, "Write what you know," because I feel like there are probably many wonderful stories we're missing out on about the things people don't know.  But "Read what you know"--that I can get behind.  Words mean so much more to me when they feel like they were written to me, or about someone just like me.

So why, when I read this book, did I feel the whole time that it was baring my own soul?  I'm not a middle-aged man.  I didn't get a girl pregnant at age 17.  My daughter isn't getting married to my old friend.  Yet somehow, I felt the slow, numbing thought process of a man who is looking back on his life and wondering not how he got to where he is today, but whether another outcome could have been possible.

I know why, of course.  It's because good writers can make you feel however they want to; in this case, I'm a divorced father who isn't sure he's doing a very good job at his life.  Depressing concept, sure, but a pretty enjoyable read.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Numbers are Words, Too

Even though it's been happening ever since I've been aware of my senses, it always surprises me that we can have such a strong association related to a certain smell.  It's the same way with songs.  When I hear "You Shook Me All Night Long," I'm instantly transported back to the Homecoming dance, senior year of high school, where my soon-to-be-boyfriend and I danced together to that song.

So even though it shouldn't surprise me that it surprises me, it's a little awe-inspiring to realize that two simple numbers can stir up such powerful emotions in an entire country.  I wasn't in NYC for 9/11, but I was today, and although I know I could never really comprehend the feelings that were felt that day, because of the shared memories conjured up by the mere mention of the date, I feel I can almost understand the terror, disbelief, and horrible grief so many people experienced.  Luckily for me, no one I knew was directly affected by those attacks, but because of the everlasting effects of that day 10 years ago, the numbers will forever have an effect on us all.  Words are powerful.  But the emotions they inspire are even stronger.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Use Your Words

But use them wisely. Otherwise, you'll end up posting a sign like this:

One thing we can all agree on: Must be fail.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Words as Weapons

Everyone knows the pen is mightier than the sword, but did you know that silkscreen is mightier than the smart parent?  I know it sounds crazy, but it must be true.  Why else would the entire country be in such an uproar over the words on a shirt sold at JCPenney?  Clearly it's because those words proclaiming that pretty girls shouldn't (can't?  Depends on which rant you're reading) do homework are dangerous to women everywhere.   I mean, I get it.  First you put a harmless saying on a shirt and expect people to just choose not to buy it if they don't support its message.  What's next?  Letting people write whatever they want online in blogs? 

We can't expect young girls to have someone in their lives--who buys their clothes--who could counteract the most offensive phrase ever displayed on a shirt by telling their daughters, "Actually, sweetie, you can be both smart and pretty, even though this shirt I'm not going to let you wear says otherwise."  That would be asking too much of parents; they're busy people.  I'm surprised at you, JCPenney.  You really should know better.