“Omit Needless Words”

If you don’t recognize that quote, you are dead to me you have some reading to do.

The Elements of Style. Strunk and White.

Legend has it my Grandfather would give a copy to every new associate at “the firm,” and make them prove they’d read it. If their writing didn’t reflect that they had, I’m sure they heard about it. Grandpa was a severe guy.

If you are of the millenial, 240 character ilk, then the most you’ll take in is that quote up there should be enough.  If you need a little more specificity, allow me to share the best blogging advice I have yet received: “800 words, max.”

I’ve written about wanting to give you, the blog reader, a reason to read. Even if I’m blathering about myself and my life and my, little erm,… issues, I mostly want it to be a good read for you.

I think of this blog as a type of what used to be called a “column.” In olden days, there were these things called “newspapers,” that had words printed in ink on paper (as opposed to pixels on a glowing screen) that got delivered to your front stoop (oh, please, you must know what a front stoop is? Chicago? New York? Anyone?) that you would pick up, take inside, and sit down in your comfy chair with your cup of homemade coffee (from an appliance known as a “percolator”) to read. Or to wait until your Dad had finished reading it, and then read it. At least the funnies. (OK, comics. They were in their own section of the paper, in color on Sundays, and were known as “comic strips,” because they were usually no more than 8 frames (pictures) of situation and punchline – some just one frame – as opposed to your coveted, collectable “comic books” or newer (AAAK!) “graphic novels.”)

In these things called newspapers were pieces written by writers like Erma Bombeck (I loved her) or Mike Royko, or even Bob Greene (whose tenure as a columnist didn’t end well) that would provide a little humor, or insight, or a reason for outrage, or an offbeat story not otherwise covered, usually in 800 words, max.

So I think of this blog as my own little independent “column.” (Newspapers had physical “columns” which also could be used to measure the length and width of a story appearing in them – “half a column” was a short report – two columns a longer piece with more detail. I’m not a journalist and never was trained as one. I’m sure it shows. I’m just an ex-newspaper reader who takes her news in pixels instead of pages. Waaah.)

But that “800 words” advice came to me from a real journalist.

Yesterday’s post, “Humble, or Humble Pie?” started out at more than 1200 words. I worked on that sucker for three hours to get it down to 800 words and still convey what I wanted it to say.

The late actor Jack Lemmon famously told a story (and told it and told it and told it) about how director George Cukor coached his performance on film by doing take after take, each time saying, “Less, Jack, less, a little less.”

“Less is more,” right?

File this one under “unsolicited advice,” but no matter how interested I am in you or your blog post, I just can’t read it if it goes a long way over 800 words. I wouldn’t expect you to read mine if I carried on much past that. I’ve gone back and revised old posts to shorten them up for that reason.

Longer stuff is for longer reads, like books. Actual physical books, which, mercifully, have not been done in by pixels. Yay. Long live the heft and feel of a hardback, and the delicious, musty, book-y smell of a library filled with them. Rah.

“What do you read, my lord?”

“Words, words, words.”

Can’t get enough of them, and even enough of them are often not enough, I know, Hamlet, baby.

But for blogs (or “columns”), I’ll take them 800 at a time.

Or less, less.

Here endeth the lesson.

Coming in at 693 words, I remain,

Your long-winded but working on it,

Ridiculouswoman

Humble — or Humble Pie?

Haven’t read “Charlotte’s Web?”  There’s no help for you. But alright, already…

SPOILER ALERT…..

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Charlotte dies in the end.

We started “movie night,” to get used to watching TV in the basement, but also as an excuse to eat popcorn (which, contrary to old diet advice, is NOT a great snack, even unbuttered, because it is made of CORN and CORN is all CARBS and CARBS turn into SUGAR and SUGAR is EVIL, which doesn’t keep us from eating it…but you knew that already. I digress.)

My daughter chose “Charlotte’s Web.”  It had amazing animatronics,  or whatever the technology of making live animals look like they are talking is called.

She watched the whole thing, from beginning to end.  The first time she had ever watched any movie, with me, all the way through.

Probably because I said no popcorn unless she did, but still.

Add to that, two scenes:

First, kindly country doctor calms down Mom, who worries that her daughter Fern believes she can talk to animals.

Circa 1950-something doctor explains, “it’s a phase. She’ll grow out of it.”

Wow. Now, that Mom would walk out with a costly psychopharmacopia and her wonderful, imaginative, magical kid would be drugged into submission, stat. GAAAH!

(But, Fern can talk to animals. So can Doctor Doolittle. So can I. You should hear the conversations I have with Sophie cat at feeding time. She says “Mah-AAAAHHHHM, MAHaaaaaaaahmm Mahm! Mahm MAAAAAAAAHM!” exactly like a whiny, Midwestern toddler. And horses read my mind. But I digress. Again).

Second: Charlotte explains to Wilbur the pig that she has made her “magnum opus,” an egg sac, is languishing, and will die, as all living things do, when their time is up.

My daughter next to me on the couch, holding her now-empty bowl of popcorn, perfectly still, listening.

Thinking about her Dad. (Yes. I converse with cats, silently talk to horses that read my mind, and listen to my daughter think.)

It was the best explanation of death yet offered her, given in Charlotte’s gentle voice.

Sniff. Sob.

Before she died, Charlotte wove one last word into her web, after “some pig,” “terrific,” and “radiant,” trying to literally save Wilbur’s bacon, so he can be a spring pig who lives to see the winter snow:

“Humble.”

Humility.  You let others have the spotlight. You do good deeds without reward or recognition. You are nice, to people and animals (animals are easier). You never think you are better than they.

You do what you have to do without complaint, gratefully.

Stress and caregiving imposed several career setbacks over the years. I did what I had to do.  Worked two jobs for a while – 18 hour days — as a headset monkey in a call center (OK, that was snarky, but it was a call center) and in retail at a mall-based department store, a/k/a the 12th circle of  hell. I did it to buy food, pay bills and provide health insurance, not always succeeding at all three simultaneously.

The headset monkey employer asked applicants to complete an “optional” assessment.   Optional! No pressure here, desperate applicants! Invasive, offensive, personal questions that had nothing to do with job skills, but allegedly could “predict success.”

Our situation was dire.

I sucked it up, filled it out, and took the job.

That was not humility.

That was humiliation.

It just happened again.

While completing an online application that did a good job of pre-populating fields off my uploaded resume, WHAM – another “assessment.” This one, required.

I don’t mind skills-based tests that show you can do things related to the job.

But I do mind having to “strongly agree” or “somewhat disagree” about tossing litter on the street, doing things I didn’t tell others about, obeying the law, or whether I’m a happy person.

During this “assessment,” my sweet daughter wrapped a blanket around me.

She startled me.  I missed a question. I barked at her.

For this stupid, invasive, offensive, inappropriately personal “assessment.”

If your job application makes me snap at my kid, you know where you can put your job.

Yep. Just as high up in there as you can get it.

Another place used a questionnaire that essentially asked “when did you stop beating your spouse?,”  assuming applicants drink and do drugs on the job, fight with each other, and steal things.

I aspire to be humble, but I’m saying no to humiliation.

I have faith. I believe things will work out. Same day, I got a call for a job more suited to me.  I will turn the other cheek (meaning offer the cheek of an equal, not the cheek of an inferior) and never be humiliated like that again.

Trying to regain some dignity and be especially nice to my daughter, I remain,

Your mad-I-completed-the-thing and hoping-they-shove-my-answers-high-up-there-with-the-job,

Ridiculouswoman

Retreat – or, Duck and Cover

In elementary school, we had “disaster drills.” We were instructed to get under our desks and cover our heads.

This was supposed to protect us from apocalyptic horrors.

For mere tornadoes, we were marched into an inner hallway in the building, to sit on the floor facing the wall, with our arms over our heads and our heads on our knees.

We sat through a few really vicious storms that way, and survived.

I’m suddenly undergoing a burst of “nesting” – rearranging furniture, buying furniture I can’t afford, planning to paint again, trying to finally finish this house, so that we might actually have people over, to use those holiday-themed guest towels.

The result so far has been some really pleasant together time for my daughter and me, with a cozy fire and no TV (moved to the basement, in a nice finished room, but it will take time to get used to that; I bought myself cheap TV and set it up in what I am calling my “boudoir.” I have always wanted a “boudoir,” and I’m almost done with it. Just need some decent drapes and a chaise to recline –  fetchingly  – on.)

Wait – who am I kidding about guests? And who the hell is ever going to see me reclining fetchingly? We don’t have guests. Neither one of us really wants them, unless they are related to us, and even then, we take them one, or two maximum, at a time.

As for anyone else in my “boudoir,” well, dream on.

So much for “New Year’s Revolutions” . I was going to open up my Facebook page to “friends of friends” and change my LinkedIn page to describe what I want to be.

HA. Today I posted that I’m quitting Facebook. The politics have started again. I can’t take it. It brings out the worst in me – the opposite of what I’m trying to be.

Duck and cover. Sound the retreat.

Hide in the rearranged, redecorated, slightly nicer cocoon.

I need an actual, real job, that pays a living wage and provides health insurance.

I’m not going to get one this way.

But my job search is laughable. It has become painfully obvious that even in an allegedly tight labor market, no one is impressed by my very lengthy resume, pockmarked with caregiving gaps and peppered with short-term failures between too-long stays at high-stress, high paying jobs. Or maybe it’s just bad old (OLD – HA) age discrimination.

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Dont tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –
To an admiring Bog!”

-Emily Dickinson (according to Wikipedia, that’s the closest transcription of what she actually wrote – when it was first published, the editor changed “advertise” to “banish us” and “June” to ‘”day.” WTF?)

“Put yourself out there, something will come along.”

HA. Frog, meet bog.

“The Soul selects her own Society –
Then – shuts the Door –
On her divine Majority –
Obtrude no more

Unmoved – she notes the Chariots – pausing –
At her low Gate –
Unmoved – an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat –

I’ve known her – from an ample nation –
Choose One –
Then – close the Valves of her attention –
Like Stone”

– Emily again – and editors again screwed around with her punctuation and word choices – many versions say, “To her divine Majority present no more” but I’m sure “On her…Obtrude” is right because it’s just more – Emily-ish. (Dashes, HA.) The few analyses I found claim it is about limiting socializing to just a few companions, but to me it is about choosing one’s own company over socializing with anyone at all.  The One chosen was the self. Buzz off world, leave me alone. Quit bugging me. Get off my lawn. She likes her own society. Valves of attention closed. Like a kid with their fingers in their ears, yelling, “I’m not listening.” Nothing will change her mind. Stone. Unmoved and unmovable.

I’m no Emily Dickinson and I don’t want to be as unmovable as stone, but periodic retreat is a thing with me. Maybe it’s the OCD, maybe it’s grief, or fear – of running out of money, of not being a good enough parent, of nothing good ever happening again. Of boring you with boring me. Of aging and seeing my mother’s face in the mirror. Of a small, meaningless life, heading for a big birthday in June, sans even the admiring bog.

Maybe it’s this endless sloppy winter and spring nowhere in sight.

Maybe I’m just “tired of being strong.” (Connie Nielsen in Gladiator)

Is there any value in retreat?

Cocoons become chrysalides from which beauties emerge.

Let’s hope so. We’ll see.

Until then I remain,

Your confused, withdrawing, backpeddling, solitary, guestless and unfetching,

Ridiculouswoman