Category Archives: Writing

Reach Out, Touch Base, Get Back, and Other Jargon

Remember when “get back” and “touch base” were part of most business conversations?  “I’ll get back to you as soon as I touch base with my supervisor.” What did that mean?

I don’t know. I have to ask my boss.

“I touched base with him last night at the Top of the Mark.”

We talked about business for five minutes so I can deduct it as an expense.

Thankfully, get back has moved out of the spotlight and touch base has hit its last inning and retired with put it on the back burner.

But “reach out,” the new kid on the block, is even more annoying. “I just wanted to reach out to you about a business opportunity.”

I need money for my new venture.

Or, “I’m reaching out to let you know that we were not able to gather the needed quantity of signatures to have that proposition added to the California election ballot.”

The people we hired to get the signatures didn’t do their jobs.

How about this one? “I’ll reach out to him as soon as I can.” This is a brother to back burner.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines reach as a noun. That resource also confirms out is an adverb. It means away from. So why do we say “I reached out to . . .” when we mean toward?

These phrases create a quandary for wordsmiths. I’ll get back to you after I touch base with a couple of other editors and reach out to my circle of grammarians.

 

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Editing, Rants and Raves, Writing

Shades of Gray

I dream in color. Only once did I dream in black and white. The absence of color jolted me awake. I don’t remember the dream—only the starkness.

I climbed out of bed and bolted to the bathroom mirror. All I saw was a disheveled white hair above snowflakes splattered across gray pajamas. What happened to color? Then I noticed the red drawstring. Whew! I returned to bed and snuggled under a purple rose patterned comforter with the assurance that the only place absent of color was my dream.

My mother’s hair was called jet black in the twentieth century. Following present writing trends, I would have to call it coal, ebony, jet, licorice, onyx, or raven. When it grayed then lightened in her advanced age, it was would have been designated as salt and pepper before it turned white. Today, a wordsmith might describe the silvery strands as argent.

I imaged blogging about my her hair or my black and white dream using synonyms. Licorice and lily or licorice and magnolia sounded like a southern writer’s work-in-progress title. Blending licorice and snow gave me shudders. I searched for wider options. Licorice and pearl? Nope. Coal and oyster? Ugh! Raven and milk. Definitely not. Ink and ice. Not so bad, but still nondescript compared to a color palette created from my HP printer in less time than trying to remember the drab dream.

Writing, like dreams, needs color. I experimented with azure, sapphire, cobalt, or indigo for shades of blue. I splashed crimson, scarlet, ruby, carmine, and magenta as stronger shades of red. I daubed flecks of gold, flaxen, lemon, and mustard for yellow. I skipped Princely Purple aka Ultra Violet (yes, it’s two words), Pantone’s color of the year.

CMYK printers diminish the value of black by designating it as K, supposedly for key color.  Digging for truth during the California political campaigns is a good time to advocate for writers to join me in a revolution to return to plain color names like red and blue and yellow. Writing advisors may tell me how to shape my novels, but like my dream, all blog posts can’t be CMYK, PMS, or RGB. Some words are like shades of gray paint—rich, warm, soft, airy, wispy, or charcoal. Other words must be bold statements in black and white.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Blogging, Rants and Raves, Writing

Brussels Sprouts Duel

Brussels sprouts stumps me. Not what they are—I microwave the loose, fresh balls in a Pampered Chef steamer. A tip of the pan to drain the liquid through the perforated lid, a couple of grinds of Trader Joe’s Rainbow Peppercorns or sprinkles of dried Parmesan (don’t tell my cardiologist), and the sprouts go from microwave to the table in less than five minutes. The trouble came when the fresh, full stalks at Trader Joe’s beckoned me. I bought one without the slightest inkling of how to cook them in the natural state. At home, I left the stalk on the kitchen countertop and searched online for a recipe.

Most of the recipes capitalized the “B” in Brussels as though a proper noun like the city in Belgium where this vegetable was once said to originate. Microsoft Word spell check agreed with chefs—a red underline for any chef who dared spell the word with a lowercase “b.” I chose an easy oven recipe. While they cooked, I was plagued by the proper capitalization for the green knobs that dance in my head.

The green stalk waited while my inner editor led me to Chicago Manual of Style 17th Edition. I hefted the 3-lb., 1144-page book to a comfortable reading level. A search of the 129-page index referenced Section 8.61. There it was—lowercased brussels sprouts. CMOS added a disclaimer,

Although some of the terms in this paragraph and the examples that follow are capitalized in Webster’s, Chicago prefers to lowercase them in their nonliteral use.

Merriam-Webster and Chicago Manual of Style duel over the use of capital B like Brussels, Belgium (literal), or lowercase “b” as in the vegetable (nonliteral). On my next grocery shopping trip, I skipped the sprouts and bought broccoli (lowercase “b”). It was great, ready in three minutes from the same Pampered Chef pan. And broccoli is packed with multiple vitamins that outduel the basic C and K in brussels sprouts.

P.S. Brussels sprouts, although a plural sound, takes a singular verb. That’s another editing puzzle.

Disclaimer: Neither Trader Joe’s nor Pampered Chef is aware of my blog unless an individual team member stumbles across it while searching for a recipe.

2 Comments

Filed under Events, Publishing, Writing

On the Bench

A bench is defined as a long seat, a pew, or a worktable. It has a seat portion and may have a backrest. A pew, with or without arms, is a long bench with back support. A worktable is a surface to create or repair. When a person sits at a bench, the bench becomes a workstation. When a person sits on a bench, it’s a place of rest or time out. But when a judge sits on the bench, it means he’s been appointed to serve as a justice in a specific jurisdiction.

When bench shifts to an action verb, it takes on new meanings. If a player in sports has been benched, that means out of action from an accident, poor performance, or breaking the rules. Breaking the rules doesn’t disqualify a writer. That’s clear by reading bestselling novels. What about a writer who is out of action? If a physical time-out, the mind still churns with ideas for the next great novel. Benched for poor performance? That’s self-inflicted.

That happened to me. Writing blogs cure-alls said to take a break. If I can’t write, I am taking a break. Next, they suggested I sit in a quiet place to meditate and empty my thoughts. I tried that. My mind whirled with a to-do list. I moved on to writing prompts. “I’m sorry I missed our coffee date, but I . . .” That inspired several excuses but no story.

A second prompt, “You’re walking down a dark street when you realize you’re being followed. What do you do?” That produced a one-word story. Run! What if your assailant has a gun? I understand weapons, so that produced a longer narrative. Run faster.

I write short story memoirs. My kinfolk were farmhands—a few landowners, others paid laborers—until the mid-twentieth century. A few facts live on in marriage licenses, probates, real estate, and religious documents. Day-to-day survival crowded their lives with little time to leave a written legacy.  That provoked a question, “What would I write if I knew I only had a short time to live?”

I remember a conversation with my oldest sister after the oncologist numbered her days. When asked about her wishes for a memorial service, she said, “Skip the funeral. Go to lunch.”

Now there’s a writing prompt that moved me off the bench and back into action.

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Memoir, Writing

Chasing Rabbit Trails

I checked my email before tackling revisions of my mystery novel in progress. I received a request from a genealogy group to be a speaker about identifying family photos from the mid-to-late 1800s. Before I chose an optional date, I checked to see if my PowerPoint file survived the transfer to my new computer last fall. I watched the full presentation. All there, but the majority of the photos were from a later period. Mysterious Mary, a name I had dubbed Mary Dragoo years before when I learned that she was buried in Alamo Cemetery, would be a perfect example of a working woman in the Antebellum and Victorian time periods.  I scrolled through my family photos. “No results” proved to be a minor sidetrack—the first rabbit trail of the day.

I left my computer long enough to review my handwritten notes from my visit to find her unmarked gravesite in Alamo Cemetery. Gone missing. Mysterious Mary continues to be elusive. Back at my computer, I looked for the article I wrote when I first discovered that she lived in Contra Costa County in the nineteenth century. No file. Sidetrack #2.

I emailed my twin, our family history researcher, about the missing photo.  I added more information. Sidetrack #3.

She sent me the picture jpg and my original Word article from 2007. I read it to refresh my memories of my original search for Mysterious Mary and her family. I stopped at the paragraph where I mentioned that Mary’s grandson and his spouse are buried in Roselawn Cemetery a couple of miles from me. I hadn’t visited either cemetery recently. Back online for a Find A Grave search. The Roselawn posting mentioned that the memorial manager, a direct descendant, has no information on the man’s wife. An easy challenge for me from memories of visiting her gravesite. I clicked the link to share that information with the manager. Sidetrack #4.

I received an error code. The memorial manager can’t be reached. I contacted Find A Grave with the details and requested webmaster intervention. Sidetrack #5.

Next step: Update my speaker bio to include previous presentations on U.S. Civil War and Victorian period costumes. My empty stomach growls—a signal for a timeout for lunch. Sidetrack #6.

From the table into the open living room, Green yarn of a hat I’m knitting beckons me to my easy chair for a break from research. Sidetrack #7.

Ah, seven, often referred to as the perfect number. The stately oak trees from my framed print of Oak Alley Plantation, first named Bon Séjour (pleasant sojourn), remind me that no journey is wasted. I hurry back to my computer to accept the invitation from the genealogy group. This time, I’ll stay away from rabbit trails.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Events, Memoir, Writing

Imagination and Inspiration

The opportunities of man are limited only by his imagination. But so few have imagination that there are ten thousand fiddlers to one composer.

~Charles F. Kettering, 1876-1958

Mr. Kettering was an American engineer, patent holder, and businessman, yet painter Howard Behrens quoted Kettering’s thoughts on inspiration.

In Lani Longshore’s blog post, Cityscape in Felt, she credited a Howard Behrens San Francisco cityscape painting as her needlework inspiration.

A framed Bellagio Promenade painting hangs above my sofa. I glance at it while I read or knit in my Lazy Boy chair. It has soothed me often, but it’s never inspired me to write—until now.

Paintings are collectibles—even more valuable if signed. The serenity of Promenade caught my eye while browsing in a resale shop. The oversized matted and framed serigraph under glass fills the wall above my sofa with prominence—no need for additional eye catchers. It hung above the couch for years before I noticed “Behrens” in black in the lower right corner. Wait! This is a famous artist.  This could be a collectible.

But mine isn’t canvas, so I gave it no more thought until a duplicate calmed me as I sat paper gowned, waiting in a medical exam room. The frame was more elegant than mine. The title and author’s name in bold black three-inch letters beneath the scene was a declaration not on my print, but the signature was the same. Later, at home, Lani’s blog inspired me to postpone knitting and write.

One of the Google icons for International Women’s Day features knitting. After I post this blog, I’ll relax with knitting while I seek inspiration from my Behrens’ print to spin a yarn with words. 

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Events, Writing

To Do List

My mother went about her daily chores of cooking, housecleaning, feeding the chickens, gathering eggs, vegetable gardening, and sewing during the day. In leisure evenings after her chores were finished, she crocheted and read her Bible—her favorite pastimes. She created meals without a cookbook or printed recipes. She crocheted intricate patterns and made rag rugs by looking at a project completed by others. The one thing never seen in her hand was a To-Do list.

My father carried a notebook in his work shirt pocket and a stub pencil in the special slot next to it. He made lists and documented his work tasks and accomplishments. Everything from earnings as a gardener and weighing his filled cotton sack at the hanging scales. He listed everything from paid utility bills to grocery shopping. Nothing escaped that tiny notebook. While Mama crocheted in the evenings and listened to the Chuck Wagon Gang or the Carter Family singing gospel tunes, he sat at the kitchen table and transferred information from his pocket notebook into a sturdy ledger. He moistened the tip of his indelible pencil and wrote everything in purple ink. Then he joined Mama in the living room in time to hear a preacher broadcasting from the comfort of Rosarita Beach in Baja California who always ended with a plea for money to keep him on the air.

In my early working days, I made project lists with deadlines and dates accomplished. Then office computerization made that chore easier. At home, I continued making grocery lists but opted for adding events to my personal computer Outlook calendar. Years later I stopped making lists except for grocery shopping, relying on my memory.

In December, I returned to a daily handwritten To-Do List to practice for the New Year. I’ve accomplished more in the first three days of 2018 than I could have imagined. I still keep events, medical appointments, and other important information on my computer. This year, I’ve added a pocket calendar and softcover ledger to my purse. My father would be proud of my efforts, but no doubt he would be puzzled when I shred my printed receipts for groceries and other routine purchases and trust online sources to record the dates and amounts instead of writing them in my journal. He might question blog, an unknown word in his lifetime.

If I complain that my novel writing hasn’t improved with the To-Do book, I can imagine him saying, “Girl, it is not on your list.”

10 Comments

Filed under Memoir, Writing