Phrases and misspellings to expunge forever

Mike Shea has a nice list of phrases to be avoided (as well as writing rules from Orwell and Struck & White) here. Among my pet peeves on his list are “on steriods,” “think outside the box,” and “talk offline.” (But I have no idea what “goat rope” refers to.)

Herewith, a few of my additions, culled from everyday readings of stuff on the Web:

  • (anything) from hell Even Matt Groening is tired of this one

  • may or may not Just say may!

  • impact as a verb

  • loose for lose Why is this the most common misspelling I see nowadays? Lazy typing?

  • alot for a lot But this lamentable misspelling has been around for years

  • peak or peek when the writer means pique

  • pour when the writer means pore As in “I poured over the pages” – what did you pour – milk?

  • “ping so-and-so,” when the speaker means “contact” or “call”

  • “Well,…” at the beginning of a sentence Way overused by journalists and columnists for the last several years

Nice phrases

These are some phrases that have passed my way that have struck me, for whatever reason.

  • constructive novelty

  • serious fun (a phrase used by one of Liz’s professors)

  • productively idle/idly productive (haven’t decided which I like better)

  • effortless effort


I have a mild idea what some of them mean. “Serious fun” is my favorite.

Personal Inventories and Piggy Banks

Whilst reading through some collections of old David Allen essays I’ve culled from his newsletter, I ran across one intriguing nugget that went something like this: Every now and then, take a top-to-bottom inventory of your assets, your processes, your systems. Everything from the shirts in your drawer to the way you pay your bills and so on.

As I moved through my routines, I evaluated what traveled through my hands. I got rid of some old clothes, piled up all the magazines in my closets into one big pile (I remember that big pile when I’m tempted to buy a new magazine).

And of all things, I re-evaluated my need for my battery-powered automatically sorting loose-change bank. I’ve had banks like this in one form or another for nearly 10 years; it made it awfully fun to save my spare change. I got the coin wrappers from the bank and happily rolled my pennies, dime, nickels, and quarters until I had about $20 or so. Then I’d put them in a little ziploc, take them to bank, and exchange them for folding money.

That’s usually when the process got troubled: if I didn’t make it to the bank that day, I was left hauling around a little bag of heavy change everywhere. Then, when I joined the credit union, I discovered that they wanted my account number written on every roll before they’d cash them. And sometimes going by the bank (a bank different from my credit union) that would cash them without any quibbles meant disrupting my workday schedule so I could get to the bank before it closed. (And bring them inside please! No coin rolls allowed in the drive-through lanes.)

But what else to do?

Well, after several years of walking past that green Coinstar machine at the Harris Teeter, I decided to try it. It wasn’t without its problems: so many people have used it that the buttons don’t respond so niftily and so I kept trying different ways of pressing them to get them to take, and Coinstar takes about 8 cents on the dollar or something like that for its trouble.

But you know what? It works. Since I go to HT every Sunday morning to do the weekly grocery shopping, I wasn’t travelling out of my way. The receipt that’s dispensed can be exchanged for cash at the register or (what I discovered on my last trip) I can put it toward my grocery bill. Talk about convenience–no more wrestling coins into wrappers, driving to the bank, waiting in line. It’s worth whatever minimal charge Coinstar takes to make that little nothing routine run much more smoothly.

The coin bank was donated last week along with the clothes. Now I have a nice-sized jelly jar that holds my loose change and I’m enjoying a lot more space on the top of my bureau. Such a tiny thing, but it feels good to get something right.

In case you needed another reason to join the ACLU

The Transportation Security Administration maintains “no-fly lists” of people whose names match those of suspected terrorists. As this article reports, the now officially brain-dead TSA maintains lists that include babies under 2 years old.

As someone with a very common name, I’m sensitive to these issues. Especially since I recently had to fight a stubborn and stupid background check company that got my records mixed up with those of a convicted criminal.

Well-known people like Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and David Nelson, who starred in the sitcom “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” also have been stopped at airports because their names match those on the lists.

The insidious thing about the TSA is that it’s a black box: what’s the criteria for putting names on the list? It’s important to know that your name never comes off that list; more information is added that supposedly lets you board a plane, but to the best of my knowledge, your name is never taken off the list.

I remember reading recently about a critic of this government’s also-brain-dead executive branch who found his name on a no-fly list, which effectively grounded him. Retaliation? Who can say? The TSA is not telling how it compiles or maintains its lists.

This safety paranoia has got to go. Gore Vidal has often said that governments need enemies to keep them in power and to keep the military-industrial complex well-funded–what better enemy for this modern age than one you can’t see? During the Watergate hearings, Sam Ervin said, with disbelief, about Richard Nixon, “He’s afraid of freedom.” I would say, this country’s administration (and its loyal, unquestioning bureaucratic drones) is also afraid of freedom.

Here’s a quote from Stephen Fry’s novel Making History, one of the few passages that struck me as admirable in that lamentably bad book.

If there is a word to describe our age, it must be Security, or to put it another way, Insecurity. From the neurotic insecurity of Freud, by the way of the insecurities of the Kaiser, the Fuhrer, Eisenhower, and Stalin, right up to the terrors of the citizens of the modern world –
THEY ARE OUT THERE
The enemy. They will break into your car, burgle your house, molest your children, consign you to hellfire, murder you for drug money, force you to face Mecca, infect your blood, outlaw your sexual preferences, erode your pension, pollute your beaches, censor your thoughts, steal your ideas, poison your air, threaten your values, use foul language on your television, destroy your security. Keep them away! Lock them out! Hide them from sight! Bury them!

And no, the irony is not lost on me that I do not fear “them,” as much as I fear my government’s actions toward innocent people. As the saying goes, who watches the watchmen?

(Link to the article courtesy of Core Dump.)

The Dalai Lama Shower

I saw the following originally in Thirty Thousand Days, the newsletter for The To Do Institute. Given that we’re in one of our periodic droughts (down 5.5. inches from normal), it seemed a good time to post this. I don’t have the original article (which I think appeared in one of the Dalai Lama’s books), but I’ve adapted his process for my ablutions.

  1. Turn on the shower and rinse. Turn off water.
  2. Soap your body.
  3. Turn on water to rinse. Turn off water.
  4. Shampoo.
  5. Turn on water to rinse. Turn off water.
  6. Shave. Quickly rinse the razor as needed under the faucet.
  7. Turn on water to rinse. Turn off water.

(originally posted in 2005-08-14, updated for micro.blog)

Doomsday Algorithm

I’ve loved this little trick for years: the Doomsday Algorithm, a creation of Dr. John Conway, he who gave us the game of Life.

The Doomsday algorithm gives you the day of the week for any date, based on the last day of February.

Lots of great links at the bottom of the page, too.

Links
The Game of Life - in Java, with a link to the Wikipedia entry on the Game of Life

Being jealous of myself

I was listening to The Splendid Table show on the drive home from the grocery store yesterday. Lynne Rosetto Kasper was introducing a guest who splits her time between her farm in Provence and writing and teaching in Paris. Lynne closed with, “And yes, we’re jealous.”

And I thought, “Well, gosh Lynne, people might be jealous of the life you lead.”

And I thought, “What makes me envious of my friends who live in other places that seem to me exotic: Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, Vienna. Or even those who live in my own town yet who lead such a seductively energetic life?”

And then I thought: “What could I do that would make someone want to live my life?”

And then I hit on the big thought: “What could I do that would make me envious of my life? Were I to take a look at my life from the outside, what would make me go, ‘Gosh, I’d love to be able to do that’?” The trick being, though, that I’d be doing it.

This is related somewhat to my working through Mark Forster’s book How to Make Your Dreams Come True, in which he suggests an exercise in which your future self, who has attained all that you want to attain, counsels your present self. The dialogues you write between these two personas help you over time to build a bridge betwewn now and the future.

Related to that: Liz and I compared notes last night at supper that, here we are in culturally rich Durham, and we’ve never been to the documentary film festival, haven’t been to the ADF in years, haven’t been to the Blues Festival ever, and haven’t been to the Eno Festival in years. Thinks: could there be clues to my dilemma here?

So a thought experiment is in order. I’ll be interested to see what comes out of it.

Checklist for fiction writing

Back in the days of iron men and wooden computers, I was a denizen of Compuserve. I loved the OzWin software that let me download tons of forum threads quickly via my dial-up connection, I loved downloading all the software, I carefully tended my forum messages – all long gone now. The Web, Compuserve’s abysmal software upgrades and the general unusability of its forums, and less desire to want to read and keep tons of forum messages related to now-defunct software all contributed to my dropping Compuserve and moving my online life to the Web.

(I’m still trying to control my blog reading and random surfing … New times, new conditions, same old problems.)

Anyway - I remember in the Compuserve Writers Forum a gadfly named Alex Keegan who ran a private writers group. They had developed something called The Grid that they used to critique against every story the members submitted. I found a copy of it here. The goal is to score over 130+; a description of the grid system is here.

As part of my Moleskine harvest, I wrote down the following list of things I’d like to remind myself of or check myself against when critiquing my stories:

character
setting
dialogue
tone
interest
conflict
advancement of plot
sensual hooks
energy
transitions
narrative
pace
backstory

Quote - Barbara Holland

I read to Liz before she goes to bed, and lately, we’ve settled on memoirs. The first was a joyous treat, Milking the Moon. Tonight, we just finished Barbara Holland’s When All The World Was Young.

These quotes are from the end of the book, where at 18, after being turned out of her family’s house and dwelling in deep depression, she gets a job at Hecht’s department store in Washington, DC, and her life takes a sharp turn to happiness. The time is the early 1950s.

***

It was an era of lavish employment. Since then, the Personnel Department, with its echo of “personal,” has been replaced by Human Resources, with its echo of iron ore, petroleum, and other profit potentials, but those were softer days…

[She describes how companies in that era kept on incompetent employees, provided free access to a doctor, and other perks.] Cynics might say that this corporate kindliness was designed to forestall the unions–which it did–but kindness is kindness and I lapped it up like a stray cat. Starting out in this generous atmosphere shaped my whole working life as a lark: jobs should be fun and bosses gentle, if not this one, then the next; plenty more where this one came from. Nobody nowadays expects to have fun at work. They want to get rich instead, but I could see from the start that the two were probably incompatible; too much pay would mean taking the work seriously. Believing it was important. The less money I needed to make, the more elbow room I’d have for fun. I held firm to this resolve through good times and bum times…

…Virginia Woolf, speaking from a different world, said what we needed, what women needed, was “a room of one’s own” and a modest allowance so we wouldn’t be distracted by money wories. But under what guarantee? What happens when our benefactor whimsically cancels the lease on our room and cuts off our funds? No, Mrs. Woolf. A job, Mrs. Woolf.