BEST OF’S


Female hands typing on white computer keyboard

A few weeks back I celebrated the 500th posting on my blog. Since then I’ve been going back and retrieving those that I think actually had something to say and said it reasonably well. I am considering compiling them into a book  Maybe I’ll buy a copy. I’ve even thought of a working title: “Stories My Fingers Wrote.”  Huh? Bear with me…

One does not wake up one morning and decide that he or she is a writer. Nope, doesn’t happen that way. Most times the decision is made for you and it is just a matter of time when it dawns on you. For some, the big reveal comes early in life and they begin banging out best-seller after best-seller. I suspect Stephen King is likely one of these people. For others it comes later. I am in that group, at least as a writer of books, but certainly not best-sellers. I wrote other things throughout my career, but it wasn’t until I retired that I began to poop out books, as many as one a year initially.

I think the concept of sitting down at a typewriter or computer keyboard and transferring thoughts residing in your brain onto a piece of paper in the form of an organized arrangement of letters is…well, it’s pretty remarkable. And if you write fiction the concept is all the more sensational since that often involves the exposure of one’s usually hidden, deeply personal thoughts. Some writers handle this latter process without any inhibitions. For others, it’s like reaching in shoulder high to adjust the position of a breached calf attempting to escape its mother’s womb and join the world of the living. It a procedure that inevitably gets messy, challenging and always draining.

Try this, if you will: find a quiet moment and sit yourself down at a keyboard, or take pen in hand if you are of the vintage sort, and proceed to write. Write what? Well, not the meaning of life, that’s for sure. No, what I want you to write is more daunting than that. I want you to write a lurid sex scene. You may show some discretion in your descriptiveness, but the details and images should pretty much be present and accounted for. So, go ahead! Have at it!

When I was confronted with this challenge I have to admit I found it hard to handle. The book I was writing at the time, ANCHOR, demanded a sex scene. Not just a stereotypical quickie moment of spontaneous combustion hidden away in a office storeroom—and no, that never happened to me. What I had to write was a scene that involved, a no-holds-barred, very sensuous session between a man and a women. And all I could think about was the fact that my family—my own children and their children—and my best friends would no doubt be reading what I wrote. How embarrassing is that? It was the only time I felt any relief from the fact that my parents were no longer with us. But what about the other people? No surprise there. Some of them did eventually offer feedback, most of them making the “whodda thunk” kind of comment. I guess they assumed I was a highly sheltered, innocent and unworldly soul unexposed to contemporary realities.  They thought me hidden away somewhere wrapped up in my blankie…with my teddy bear.

The point can be made that some writing is very emotional and it involves the whole being, body and soul. For me, the body part is made up of ten digits extending from my hands. Yes, I truly believe that my fingers are an integral part of my writing process. They pound every letter of every word onto the keyboard as the impulses stream down from my brain, traveling through my neck, then taking a hard turn left or right and proceeding around my shoulders, down my arms, through my wrists and then knuckle by knuckle until each pulse finally arrives at its destination. Here a decision is made as to upon which key shall the fingertip place itself and then apply downward pressure.  I swear that at this very moment in the writing process, my fingers—not my brain—are the determinant of what winds up on paper. I know this is true because at this moment my thoughts are always well past what my fingers are typing. And besides, why else would there be typos and misspellings?

So it is with this revelation of realizing my fingers have much to do with how and what I write, that I awaken each morning well aware that I am a writer.   It is a gift that I willingly unwrap and put to use. And at those times when I am stalled or my memory is amiss, I take comfort knowing the resolution—the answer—is right there…it’s on my fingertips.

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PICTURES WORTH A GAZILLION WORDS


SafetyPatrol

Lucky me! I have some spectacular pictures from times past—family times. The one thing I have learned from them is critical. If you have family pictures, have the people in them identified as soon as possible and make sure each picture is labeled. The unlucky me has a huge stack of pictures with no identities. It’s a hardship because I know many of the pictures must be family members; I just don’t know who’s who.

When it comes to family pictures everything is relative, pun intended. If you are not a member of the tribe you will not be enthusiastic about having to sit through someone’s slide show of family vacations or celebrations. That said, I hope you are only moderately bored as I put some of my ancestors on display. I may have shown one or two of these previously. I’ve picked just a few, and the more interesting ones at that.

First, the classic picture above taken on school steps. It is the school’s Safety Patrol of 1926. The school is the John Greenleaf Whittier elementary school in Philadelphia. It opened in 1913 and closed 100 years later, but remains on the National Registry of Historic Places. I just found a new home for this visual gem. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is eager to have it and I have mailed it off to them.  It’s better off in the Society’s collection than sitting another few decades in a storage box. Oh, did I mention that’s my mother in the second row down from the top, second young lady from the right with the lace collar and black bow down the front of her dress. She was 12 at the time. Her parents must have been proud. In fact, here they are (below left) on their wedding day in 1904, Louis and Hanna.

And while my mother’s parents where getting settled in their new life together, my father’s father, Edward W. Sr., was lookin’ mighty dapper as he held up telephone poles on some of Baltimore’s finest street corners.

I am not sure why my grandfather was alone on the corner. It certainly wasn’t from a lack of relatives. Among the herd of aunts and uncles he had was Aunt May, who gets my vote for the one family picture, above all others, that belongs in the Smithsonian. She was a train caller during World War I, subbing for a man who would normally hold such a position back then. Aunt May dutifully showed up at the station each day to call out the train arrivals and departures. She had a face only a distant great, great nephew would appreciate. Choo-choo Chaboggie!

MayKuhn6-27 copy

And last BNL, is a holiday shot of two brothers talking to the boss, making sure he knows exactly what they want for Christmas in 1953. Paul is the older lad and the especially adorable younger sibling is ah…eh….yeah, that’s me, age 8.

PaulMarcXmasx                                              Don’t you just love a tweed overcoat!

*****

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Burrowing Owls Dig Florida


IMG_7360smafphoto

So things are a little rough for you right now, huh? Well, more than likely things could be worse. Take the burrowing owls of Broward County here in South Florida. Their homes are literally being plowed over or bulldozed under by that great American plight known as “development.” Be it urban or suburban, commercial or residential, the land that has served as home to the owls is being claimed and they’re not included in the deal.

Quite coincidentally, Saturday evening I was over in a park just up the street from my home. My mission: get a few photographs of the burrowing owls that inhabit about a half dozen roped-off areas in the park. The very next morning there’s a headline story about them in Sunday’s Sun-Sentinel newspaper. Well, it’s not the first time I’ve been scooped.

There are a good number of burrowing owls in Florida, thanks to the drainage of wetlands that has taken place over the past half-century. While this provided a welcoming environment to the burrowing owl, what the state giveth, the state is taking away.  Development of many of these drained areas has now threatened the owls residency in the sunshine state. Legislators have in the past, and continue now to pass legislation restricting blatant destruction of the owls’ habitat.

IMG_7313twosomeThey are pretty unique as owls go. First, they live in the ground, not up in trees or in the hayloft of barns. Their homes can reach as much as 8-feet down under. The park near my home has roped off each roost. The owls are pretty used to having humans around and they don’t skitter easily as long as you stay out of their roped area. They are cute little creatures and a for-sure attraction for children, especially when these owls turn their heads to look around. Their heads seem to swivel 360 degrees like the turret on R2-D2. They eat mostly bugs and other tiny thingies.  Area hawks that swoop in from the nearby Everglades eat them.IMG_7335single

If you are into wildlife, South Florida has much to offer. And it’s all practically in your face.  You can pick a topic or an animal and no doubt instantly go strutting off on a nature walk to find it. But be careful what you wish for…’dars alligators out there! Many creatures, large and small, tame and not-so-tame have found a permanent home here. Others, like the burrowing owl may have to relocate, assuming developers continue not to give a hoot.

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HOW GOES THE SLEEP?


newsanchor

Since I have devoted several postings to my sleep disorder, people almost always ask how goes it. So I thought I’d do a brief update on the innovative procedure I had done several months ago as discussed here several times on my blog.  But first a quick background paragraph for any newcomers.

I suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Many people share my disorder. When the body sleeps the muscles relax. As my tongue relaxes it drops down and closes off my airway. Soon, my brain realizes it’s not getting any fresh oxygen and it wakes me up so I start breathing again. Hence I fall asleep only to be awaken soon after. The cycle repeats throughout the night depriving me of quality sleep. Man with sleep apnea using a CPAP machine in bed.The common relief for OSA is a mask worn on the face called CPAP (see victim on the right). It’s hooked up to a  pump that keeps an airflow going through the nostrils and eventually down into the lungs. It works fine keeping the airway open, but many people find the mask and airflow so annoying and uncomfortable that they cannot sleep while wearing it. For these people, me included, there is a new technology modeled after the pacemaker that heart patients have had success with. It’s call Inspire and if you want information about it, go to https://www.inspiresleep.com. This process involves a module being embedded under the skin in the upper right chest. Two leads are hooked up to this module. One goes to the lungs, the other to the base of the tongue. The patient activates the system with an external remote control. In short, it sends stimulants to the muscle at the base of the tongue and constantly moves it out of the airway. It is so new that I am only the 32nd person in Florida to have the Inspire implant “installed.” After the implant surgery there is a period of adjustment to determine the amount of stimulant an individual patient needs. Okay, that’s as brief as I can be in offering some background of the issue. I am sure you can google OSA and get lots more.

My Inspire unit was activated on June 9th and the adjustment process continues. The trick is to determine a setting that stimulates the tongue enough to clear the airway, but not so much that it wakes you up. I have quickly learned that an independently moving tongue can wake you up and keep you up. I haven’t found “my” setting yet so the Inspire system is still a process of trial and error for me. However, the unit has improved my sleeping in two ways: I am sleeping in longer “chunks” than previously so it must be working to some degree in reducing the number of times my air passage is closed down. And, two, I seem to be more restful and still when I am asleep. This is according to the wife and the fact that the bed isn’t blown apart by the time morning comes.

The main issue that keeps the Inspire system from being an “overnight” success story for me is that through the years of being up so much during the normal sleep cycle, I have developed a good strong case of insomnia. Inspire has no effect on this.

So battling the insomnia is my new challenge. If I can force myself to stay in bed and fight the restlessness it may give the implant the environment it needs to help me sleep for much longer periods of time. I guess you could say I am a work in progress…but that’s been the case all my life. I will opt for the in-progress status assuming that having achieved a work-completed status probably means funeral arrangements are being made…and that’s a longer period of sleep than I really want.

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A GRASS FROM THE PAST


ARCHIVEGRASSFour years ago, in July, I posted a piece on Marc’s Blog very similar to an edition I just posted prior to this one (about growing grass, the lawn type) …but I didn’t remember anything about the earlier posting until I stumbled upon it today.  It’s a good follow-up to my current dilemma of attempting to grow grass which, btw, doesn’t seem to be progressing very well.  Anyway, here’s the posting fresh out of the archives…

 

GRASS…THE GREAT EQUALIZER!

grass

The closest I come to being a serial killer is attempting to raise a bunch of potted plants on my back porch.  I confess, I am not good at growing things except whiskers.  Especially lacking are my skills for growing grass.  NO, not that kind.  The kind that covers the ground around my house. That is why I live in a community that has a homeowners’ association.  They take care of the grass.  I take care of my house.  It’ a good deal.

My friend, Ron, however, doesn’t have such a deal.  His homeowners’ association consists of one associate–him.  So Ron has to deal with things like lawn mowers, edgers, fertilizers and weed killers.  It’s enough to make a man…well, it makes him suburban.  Explain what that means, willyuh Ron…

*****

I AM NOT MY LAWN

By Ron Carmean, Contributing Editor

 A few years ago, my wife and I moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia.  Houses were attractive, neighbors appeared friendly and the developers had left a significant amount of trees and grass. Usually, in such a setting, the trees were removed, then the area is named Whispering Willows or Maple Grove –without a tree in sight.

As time passed, I noticed the properties around us had lawns that could double for a PGA putting green.  Men put in more time with their lawns than with their children.  Chemicals from large trucks covered every inch of lawn with “growth producing substances.”  (We kept our dog away, just in case.)

Mowing grass was practically an Olympic event.  At least once a week, men saddled up their riding mowers and the race was on.  Who would finish first?  Of course, neatness counted, too.  Some men clipped the edges of their lawn, while on their knees, with tools looking suspiciously like scissors.  One go-around was not enough.  These people were serious.  At least a second cutting was necessary.

Then the borders were addressed.  Flowers, bushes, miniature Christmas trees were tended to next.  Mother Nature was no match for these groundskeepers.  Suburban men meant to improve on God’s handiwork.

When done, they rode over their handiwork a third time to collect clippings.  Most bagged them as the law required.  But one lone wolf turned up his nose at such regulations and poured his excess grass down a sewer.

In comparison, our grass looked at us with a sad, half-green, half-brown stare.  A lawn expert told us why.  Our property was “down hill from the surrounding homes.”  When rain hit their grounds, it flowed to us.  We had puddles the size of kiddie pools.  Top soil was eroded with every rain fall.  In some places, the most shallow tree roots were exposed.  Not a pleasant site, and as daylight disappeared, tripping and spraining or breaking an angle was a constant concern.  I thought of posting a sign: “No strolling after dark.”  But why point out the obvious. Beneath what remaining grass we had was clay—apparently it doesn’t absorb water quickly or efficiently.

Undeterred, we seeded our grounds and cut it regularly—not  too much, not too little.  The end result of our labors: another half-green, half-brown stare…but cut to the ideal height.

Six months into our occupation, my wife and I, at the supermarket, overheard women talking about properties in our vicinity.  One said: “You can tell so much about people just from the condition of their lawn.  If the outside isn’t well-kept, you know the inside is just as bad.”  I thought: “Wait a minute.  I’m a nice guy.  I treat people fairly.  I keep our home in good condition.  But I can’t get blood from a stone, or grow green grass under our conditions.  Besides, I am not my lawn.   Can’t you see that?” But these women had come to a different conclusion.  Plus, they lived up stream from us.  I bit my tongue. I still have the teeth marks.

*****

I wonder if Ron remembers that New Christy Minstrels ditty…

Green, green,
It’s green they say,
On the far side of the hill.
Green, green,
I’m going away to where
The grass is greener still.

 *****

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MY ELUSIVE 10 SQ. FEET OF GREENERY


grazingasI am grass challenged. Now, right off the bat I suppose I better clarify that I am talking about the grass that grows in the lawn outside your house, or the grass that’s in the neighborhood park, or the grass on the golf course where people putter around Saturday morning. Yeah, that grass…not the smokin’ kind. Okay, are we all on the same page now?

Rosemarie and I have moved around a good bit as we pursued opportunities during our working years. We owned about a half dozen houses in four different states. Some came with a lawn we had to care for, others came with landscaping services provided by a homeowners’ association.

I was never a gardener to any great extent, except to have a respectable vegetable patch in one or two backyards. I never paid much attention to the lawn…until we moved into a house in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Here was a neighborhood loaded with lawn fanatics. If you thought the lawn next to your house was incredibly plush and finely manicured, in all likelihood the next one up was even better, maybe at golf course standards.

So, it was in Jersey that it all started. We had a corner lot so the grass was expansive, facing two streets. I noticed the first summer that our lawn was nowhere near as nice as ANY on the block. In fact, I was surprised I didn’t get threatening messages painted on the garage door. Consequently, I became a weekend weed warrior. I spent Saturdays at the hardware purchasing grass-growing concoctions and the gear needed to apply them. Then on Sunday I’d spend the day doing just that–spreading growth hormones over my entire 1/8 acre of heaven. Some weekends I’d rent machines that dragged me along with them blade-by-blade while the lawn was thatched, pierced, irrigated, rape and pillaged. And how did it all turn out?  Well, let’s just say the Joneses never had to worry about me keepin’ up with them.

Then one morning I walked outside and there’s a lake. Yep, a lake. It’s right where the lawn used to be. Is it raining? No. Did one of those street cleaner rigs drive my and soak my lawn? No. Was the sprinkler system left on? No.  Hmmm.  Hey, just maybe…did an underground pipe break? Ahhhh, yeah.

So out come the plumbers, nicknamed Rench and Plunger. They start digging, looking for the pipe with the leak. Two days and one backhoe later, the culprit cylinder is located…after no less than six grave-sized holes, 4-6 feet deep have been dug into my ugly lawn. At last, I have a lawn that’s really like no other in the entire neighborhood!

beingreenFast Forward to 2017. We’ve been in our Florida home over 20 years now. A huge landscaping company takes care of cutting the grass for the entire community. I can plant shrubs and flowers and patch up any grass areas that don’t have grass. Over the years I have done enough patching to probably cover at least 9 holes of grass at nearby Doral/Trump Country Club. I am at it again this year. I laid beautiful sod back in June, closing in some flower beds and replenishing bald spots and a whole run along the one side of the house. Who was I kidding?  It’s all dead now.  So yesterday I decided I’d give it one more try. After all, grass is item #8 on my bucket list. It reads as follows: “grow at least one ten-foot square area of grass that lives and needs regular cutting for at least two years.”

greengreenhill

LAWNThis time I spread fresh top soil in all the bald spots.  Then I tenderly sprinkle “enhanced” grass seed on top of it and complete the process with a gentle soaking. Then, to keep the landscapers from mowing it down to the root level (like they did my sod) I decided to stake out my claim with bright pink tape in hopes they will keep their tractors and weed wackers away until the new seed has had a chance to settle in and grow.  I guess time will tell.   I am not optimistic.  After all, I have become accustomed to living where the grass is always…browner?
layme

*********

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BITE ME


NBA

I bite my nails. There I said it. Maybe there should be an NBA for me to attend each week. No, not the National Basketball Association…I was referring to Nail Biters Anonymous, if such a thing exists. We could have weekly meetings and people who bit their nails could attend and confess their sins and tell why they eat themselves. Maybe that would help some people break this nasty habit…maybe me!

I’ve been biting my nails as long as I can remember. And I can remember biting my nails as long ago as elementary school—that’s over 60 years. I wonder how long my nails would be today if I had never chewed them off.

I don’t know why I bite my nails. I googled that question and got a lot of answers–none of them were pretty but they do offer something to nibble on. Some experts say nail biting is a bad habit, as simple as that. Other explanations are less charitable. Nail biters can be linked to all kinds of psycho-cases: people who suffer from OCD, perfectionists, stressed out emotional wrecks, bored or restless people and so on. Then there’s the speculation that nail biters are people who are into self-mutilation with links to inward hostility. Sigmund Freud said people who bite their nails are experiencing “arrested psychosexual development.” Freud, as usual, says the habit is an oral fixation that can be linked to prolonged breastfeeding, under-or-over-feeding or just resulting from your basic sinister mother-child relationship.

I’d hate to think I’m harboring any of these kinds of feelings and that’s why I bite my nails. I just think it’s a habit and somehow I can’t conquer it. That’s why I think there should be a more outward approach like a Nail Biters Anonymous or at least maybe an annual convention that nail biters could attend. There’d be seminars they could learn from, workshops offering some practical remedies…maybe even a big competition of sorts where nail biters could challenge each other, eventually whittling down to one final champion …I bet some of those match-ups would be real nail-biters.

Yeah, I know, that was not appropriate. But what may be, is to end this posting with an excerpt from Never Goose a Moose!  That’s the first children’s book I wrote (available at amazon.com). It’s a compilation of whimsical poems featuring a variety of things children should never do…an perhaps some of us grownups too. One of the never-do’s is titled “Never Poke Fingers in Places They’re Not Meant To Go” and it goes like this…

FINGSTUCJ

Never poke fingers in places they’re not meant to go.
Just poke around a few places and you’ll soon know.
Fingers shouldn’t go into spaces where they don’t fit.
They easily get stuck there, and there you’ll sit.
You’ll have to use soap or grease and lots of pull
Stuck fingers in a hole can be as stubborn as a bull.
You can use your fingers to point things out or help grip and squeeze,
But don’t poke them in your ears and especially in your nose–puh-leeze!
Fingers are great to scratch an itch or massage a back.
They can strum a guitar, hold a crayon or open a snack.
Fingers push buttons, flick switches and line things up in a row.
Fingers are great…just don’t poke them in places they’re not meant to go!

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COMING TO TERMS


WordsWordsWords

I am not a grammar Nazi by any stretch of the sentence. Anyone who’s read my blog a few times will agree with that. But, But every once in a while something comes along that rustles my leaves into a bonfire. I can even get like totally exasperated over it if I let myself.  What particularly gets me upset is when no one else seems to give the slightest damn about it…like I’m all alone out here and I can’t help but get a little paranoid thinking there’s something wrong with me since no one else seems to have noticed anything.

The last time this happened was maybe 20-30 years ago when all of a sudden when it was announced that when a person had disappeared everyone began saying that he or she went missing. I had never before heard the term “went missing.”   Either a person was reported missing, he was missing or he disappeared or he wound up missing….but never before had I heard the term went missing.  All of a sudden that was, and still is, the ONLY way that describes someone who is missing…meanwhile, I was the only one in the United States of America who asked from where or from whom did this new terminology take hold.  Usually a person went somewhere, a place, a known place. “Where’d you go?”  “Oh, I went to the store,” or “I went to Cincinnatti,” or “I went to the bathroom.”  Did you ever hear “Hey, where’d you go?”  “Oh, I went missing? But it’s okay now, I’m back from missing. I went only for a short visit.”   To this day I cannot bring myself to say someone “went” missing. Nope, not me. Don’t go there.

At first I thought it may be a regional thing. There’s a lot of that in the Pennsylvania/New Jersey/New York corridor. People who live in that area go to the shore…In Florida, where I live, we go to the beach. In the northeast a stuffed Italian sandwich takes on various names—it could be a hoagie, a hero, a grinder or a sub.  I’m sure you could stack a pile of meandering names used to describe the same things too, but I’ve stalled enough.

What is this latest grammar oddity that has my skin crawling every time I hear it…and I have been hearing it almost hourly all this past week ever since it was announced that various members of the President’s family/White House staff attended a meeting with some Russians. Note I said “attended” a meeting…because that’s what you do when you go to a meeting. It’s the same thing if you were at a meeting or you were present at a meeting . I have attended many meetings in my lifetime. I bet you have too. In fact we’ve all gone to a meeting from time to time. Sometimes if we were the host of the meeting it could be said that we held a meeting.

But now, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, it’s unanimous:  we are no longer present at a meeting, nor do we attend, or go to a meeting. Now, like it or not, all of us take a meeting. That’s right, going to or attending a meeting has been replaced by the term “taking a meeting.” This is something I have never heard before this past week…never. Am I the only one? I don’t get it.

If you take a meeting don’t you have to do something with it. If I take a piece of chocolate I then put it in my mouth. If I take something off the shelf, I’ll usually do something with it…but what do I when I take a meeting. “Hey, did you take that meeting on the new company policy?”     “Yeah I took it and I’m not giving it back.”    “Oh, I thought maybe you took it to Cincinnati.”

So okay, maybe this is much to do about nothing. I just find it curious how it’s me who seems to have never heard of these kinds of changes in our language. Whack! They come upon me suddenly. And mind you, I am a great believer in the concept that language is fluid and it can change and go in any direction it’s speakers want it to. What is important is that whatever words are used, they must effectively communicate the same context to everyone. Gee, I wish we could all take a meeting to discuss this. But I don’t know where to take the meeting. I think maybe…it went missing.

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ONE MORE TIME!


reruns

I bet you’ve done this: you come across a box or album full of years’ old photographs and you are immediately captured. Whatever you were doing at the time, stops…and there you sit, sifting through one picture at a time and verbalizing your memories for each. Well, the same thing happened to me, of sorts, when I found myself reading old postings I wrote for my blog.

Like old photos, old writings are remembered, but not in detail. That’s what makes them interesting because you are now seeing them more objectively than you did during your original pass-by.  Now, much of the content seems new, some of it is incredibly impressive to you…and just as much is not!  It is with that in mind that I will feature some summer reruns over the next week or so…past writings that appeared on my blog from a few years back.

These postings still have life and if I don’t remember them all that much, well certainly they’ll appear brand new to you. Brand new, in most cases, is a good thing. So, without further ado, here’s the first rerun.  It’s targeted to writers, but not to worry, if you only write an occasional post-it note to stick on the fridge, it may still have something to make that chore easier…

SOUND WRITING!WriteSound

Posted on December 4, 2012

On the alleged presumption that I am a legitimate professional writer, based on the fact that I have been paid for my writing and that I do have published work, I suppose this blog could be considered a credible source for information or advice about writing.  All this is a bit quizzical to me since I spend much of my time reading blogs by other writers with the specific intent of securing credible information or advice about writing.  I guess it makes no nevermind who is the source or the sourcee, as long as useful information is disseminated.  With that in mind, I offer up what I think is a useful presentation if you are a new writer.  The topic: writing with sound in mind…in other words, learning to listen to what you write.

Writing with sound in mind means putting your thoughts down more in a style of how you would say them as opposed to how you would write them.  I have a leg up in this area since I worked most of my life in radio.  I’ve done a ton of writing for radio, everything from news and feature writing, to promotional announcements and commercials.  Writing for radio is a little different from writing for print.  Interestingly enough, the process is not a two-way street.  Writing for sound works when transposed to print and can even improve it, but writing for print does not always sound good.  Whether you’re writing for print or for a presentation you have to make at your next meeting, here are some things to consider when writing for sound…

Grammar Doesn’t Count

Writing for sound can actually enhance a print document.  It will make dialogue read more naturally and it can improve things like pace and comprehension.  The first major hump to get over when you write for sound is learning how not to be overly concerned with structure—and that usually means grammar in the traditional sense.

Listen a little more intently the next time you have a conversation with someone.  You will notice that a good bit of the communication going back and forth is in the form of phrases or fragments and not in complete, properly constructed sentences.  If your conversation has been pretty much routine, the two of you will have had no problem in completely understanding each other.  If you were to transcribe verbatim what the two of you said, your high school English teacher would bleed red ink profusely all over your paper.  The point is, to be effective and functional, written communication does not always have to be perfectly structured.  It works quite well when the words are written in the same pattern as they would be when said.  Sometimes editors, especially those reared in the print media, need to loosen up.

Shorter is Better

When you write for sound, breathing becomes a factor.  Long drawn out sentences just don’t work.  If you want to sound like a smooth, articulate speaker, you need to learn how to control your breathing as you speak.  Short sentences help a lot since you can pace your air flow without having to gasp in the middle of a thought.  This last sentence is a good example—it’s about as long as you’d want to write for sound.  You’ll hear what I am saying by simply going back and reading the sentence out loud.  Most people should be able to get to the last word with no difficulty, but any words beyond that may need a breath of fresh air.  Short sentences read faster, are more easily understood and pace thoughts more rapidly.  They work especially well if you are describing a lot of action.  Listen to the play-by-play announcer the next time there’s a touchdown or home run or a three-point basket.  Yep, you’ll hear short sentences…in fact, more likely, short phrases.  None of these are written down, but if they were they’d be easily understood, said or read.

Keep it Simple

Some writers like to impress people with their extensive knowledge of the language.  When I have to read something with a dictionary on standby, it’s certainly not for pleasure.  Few of us, other than some lawyers, high-techie types or the pseudo-intellectuals we occasionally run into, speak in complex terms.  Any seasoned manager or military leader will tell you it is not easy communicating effectively so that everyone absolutely, positively understands and translates every thought in exactly the same way.  Good luck with that!

Using “big words” only exacerbates the problem.  “Exacerbates” is a good example.  It is a word that not everyone truly understands and it is often mispronounced as “exasperates.”  Like many, it is a really good-to-the-point descriptive word, but it can easily jam up the sound.  Unless your role is to educate, words are best kept simple when passing through the lips.  Save the more complex usage for when they’re landing on paper.

Attribution

What he says or she says is important to any conversation.  But where you place the “he says” or “she says” is more critical when writing for sound.  Ever notice when you are reading a magazine or newspaper article and you come across a long statement that is being quoted, at the very end is “…according to one source at the Pentagon.”  This attribution is necessary so you know who made the statement.  In print it is easily tacked onto the end of the quote with little disruption.  However, if you read that sentence out loud, the attribution at the end usually sounds clumsy.  When writing for sound, put the attribution at the front of the sentence, or break the sentence somewhere inside and place it there.  Examples:

The President said, “The troops will come home when both sides have

assured us there will be no further hostile activity.”

Or…

“The troops will come home,” the President said, “when both sides have

assured us there will be no further hostile activity.”

Hear What You Write

One last thought is the one I started with:  listen to what you write.  In order to do this, you have to read your work out loud, or have someone read it out loud to you.  If you walk into a newspaper newsroom you will notice the normal clacking of keyboards as reporters type away.  Walk into a newsroom at a radio or television station and you may hear one thing more—a sort of muttering sound here and there around the room.  That’s the sound of reporters reading back—out loud—to themselves what they have written.  It’s the only way you can tell how your writing sounds.  If you stumble while reading it, run out of breath, or it just doesn’t sound right, you will know immediately that something needs editing.  On the other hand, if it sounds good, your writing will not only read well out loud, it will likewise read well off the page.

Well, I hope there was something here worth your while.  Now go run off and start planning that audio book you’ve always wanted to do.

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NEGATIVE ENERGY


angryface

I made one of my rare appearances in my thinking chair out on the back patio yesterday. Of course, I got to thinking and this time I had the negatives—a bunch of those everyday petty things roared up in my face and it was time to vent. Even the ducks who know I’m always good for a few slices of bread, waddled back into the canal and swam off. So here they are, my life’s little annoyances…at least those for this week.

First, My phone: It constantly changes the way it does things. I assume this is a result of all the updates that it sees to be downloading almost weekly. I am a creature of habit. Once I learn the procedure for doing something, don’t go changing it unless you’re going to supply a cheat sheet for dummies that explains what’s been changed and how things work now. This point also applies to all those updates that my computer gulps down, it seems, on a daily basis. Which leads me to…

Microsoft Word: Bring back the old version—like the one for the year 2000. Yeah, people should be able to buy the version they want and then stick with it. Word has become so over-produced that it has lost its ease of functionality. Simple things are now hidden where once they were right there in your face. I find myself often taking a time-out for frustrating searches trying to figure out how to do things I always did easily, like telling Word not to capitalize every first-word on a line. I still haven’t found how to do that.

Next peeve:  please please please STOP being so greedy you American businesses. Why must every element in life that allows space or time somewhere in its construction be consumed by your advertisements. Why is it I cannot land on a website seeking information or entertainment without having you popping some advertisement in my face. Why must everything be sponsored. Ever listen to a baseball broadcast?   Everything that happens is sponsored nowadays: pitching changes, home runs, stolen bases, whatever. I suspect all those broken bats will soon be sponsored. I can hear it now: “That broken bat was brought to you by Guerilla Glue, use it once and you’ll be stuck on it forever.” Some day, I just know it, you’ll go to a movie theater to watch the latest Hollywood flick and it’ll have 2-3 commercial breaks in it….it’s just a matter of time when the dollar potential hits the tipping point when product and audience be damned, let’s make another buck off this puppy.

And speaking of baseball…my Cubs were in town last month and I went to buy tickets so I’d have some place appropriate to wear my Cubs gear. Well, after I tallied up the cost I decided we’d be benched at home and watch the game on my computer as usual. First I needed decent seats. My wife and I can’t do the nosebleed section because—guess what–our noses would bleed, plus we can’t see much over 50 feet nowadays. Next was parking. It was too late to apply for a home equity loan to cover that. Then, if we each ate a hotdog, fries and a drink that was like 30+ bucks (no exaggeration!). The night would have run me something close to $150. Call me thrifty but that’s a bit much for an everyday baseball game and, besides, I’d be supporting those $50 million salaries they give the players these days.

And last, but not the least of my rants….those bastards finally discovered my cell phone number.   Now, when the land line isn’t ringing every two minutes, I am hammered constantly on my cell phone with robot calls and live idiots who want to sell me something in which I have absolutely no interest in buying…and if I did, I would not buy it from one of these jerks. My phones are my private property. I pay for them and their use. It should be unlawful for anyone to have access to them without my permission. When I am President, that will be law. Trust me. It’s be terrific.  I will make the phone …great again.

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