Where Seldom is Heard the Perfect Word

Home, home on the range…

I ran across a blog post listing the ten most commonly misused words. In one person’s opinion, at least.

I can agree with some of these, like travesty and bemused. One of the words, conversate, I’d never heard of. No great loss, I guess, as it turns out it’s not even a real word.

I confess I don’t fully understand ironic. The post says it means “contrary to what you might expect;” it doesn’t mean “a funny coincidence.” But can’t a funny coincidence be contrary to what you might expect?  Because I’m a little fuzzy as to its meaning, I avoid using the word at all.

Apparently I don’t understand what rebut means, either, because, according to the blogger, refute does not mean rebut, but rather, to disprove with evidence. But as far as I knew, that’s what a rebuttal is.

And redundant? Since when does that not mean repetitive? Could you say that again? Because I’m not sure I understand.

Confusing, much?
Confusing, much?

Many times, it’s important to use the precise word and use it correctly. For instance, when you’re giving directions and you want the driver to turn left, you don’t want to say right by accident. If you mean intestinal flu, don’t malapropriately call it intentional. It can be embarrassing to confuse unanimous with anonymous. And speaking of embarrassing, make sure you don’t mistype it embracing.

Yes, word choices matter. I delight in a well-crafted sentence, a vivid metaphor, or a clever pun. But really, isn’t the purpose of words to convey a thought? And if the “wrong” word gets the point across without confusion, how can we be so sure it’s wrong?

Let’s take the word literally. Personally, I’ve taken it and thrown it away with ironic. But some people pepper their speech with it like a teenager punctuates his with “like.” (I blogged about this here, if I may be so redundant as to link to that post.) Because it can mean one thing in one instance and the exact opposite in another, why waste your breath with it? Better to just say what you literally mean.

And then there’s irregardless, which apparently has the same meaning as its little sibling regardless. Similarly, inflammable and its shorter twin, flammable might not look the same, but they work at the same fire department.

file3411262411364Sometimes the perfect word isn’t a word at all. My favorite example of this was coined by my son when he was a year and a half old. We were at the house of a friend, who was babysitting. The child was in a playpen, and as we passed by, she dropped her pacifier. When it fell outside the playpen, she started to cry. My son picked it up and handed it to her. “There,” he said. “That should happify her.”

And it did. And I knew exactly what he meant.

And by the way, if you think that was a sophisticated thing for an 18-month-old to say, you’re right. He started talking very early — and then, apparently, decided speech was overrated, because nowadays he’s known for his reticence. But that’s okay. Whatever happifies him.





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The Write Attitude

file0001410812034Why do we do this to ourselves, we writers?

I recently participated in a discussion about whether or not, for a Christian, writing is a “calling.” I’m not sure of the definition of the word, but whether or not it’s a calling, in my case, writing is certainly a compulsion.

Some famous author (I forget which one) is quoted as saying that if you’re really a writer, you have no choice; you write because you can’t not write. I suppose it’s the same for any art form, but I have no experience with any other. True, I’ve been known to work out my creative proclivities in other ways as well, like playing the French horn (or piano or guitar), cooking, or gardening. But like a rubber ball, I keep bouncing back to writing.

I lately haven’t been blogging much about writing, however, because I’ve stepped backfile0002113684817 from it a bit in recent months. It’s always a struggle to find the time to separate yourself from “the real world” and immerse yourself in the story you’re creating — especially when you’re supposed to also be promoting the ones that are already published. But sometimes the humdrum’s hum becomes an insistent roar, to where we have to put that manuscript on the digital shelf for a bit and tend to nitty gritties of life.

But the dust has settled now, and Books 3 and 4 in my Gannah series are trying to dig their way out of my computer to go scampering around the world. The fact is, I’m as itchy to free them as they are to get out. So I’ve been recently making further revisions to #3, sending #4 through my wonderful critique group, and exploring self-publishing options. I will keep you apprised of developments, but it’s my goal to release the rest of the series this year.

So, if you were left hanging at the end of Words in the Wind (it’s been a long time since that came out — do you still remember it?), take heart: you’ll be able to pick up where you left off before you get too much older. And if you’ve been with this story in the stars since the beginning, I think you’ll be satisfied with the tale’s conclusion in the fourth book in the series.

At least, I’m satisfied. I love the way it wraps up. No, I don’t love it, I love-love-LOVE IT! That’s why I’m so eager to share it with y’all.

2014-02-20 16.32.10At the same time, I have another story simmering on the back burner of my brain. Before long the lid is going to start jiggling and I’ll have to lift it to let out the steam. It’s exciting to start a new story, but it’s scary at the same time. I love the Gannah series so much, I’m afraid anything else I write will be a disappointment.

I’ve been learning a lot, however, and I figure that’s got help me with the next project. Writing these last two books has taught me, among other things, that speed and flow don’t always add up to the best result. What I mean is this: I drafted Book #3 in six months. I spent the next few months working on revisions, and when it was finished, I was pretty happy with it — not to mention proud of myself for how quickly and efficiently I’d completed it.

Book #4, on the other hand, was absolute agony from the first chapter to the last. I don’t think I wrote a single paragraph that flowed easily; I labored over every sentence. But now that I’m completing the revisions, I find myself amazed at times. Did I really write this? Where did that idea come from? I don’t remember having thought of that, but it’s fabulous.

So I guess the lesson is this: sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s difficult. But when it’s tough, that’s when you need to get excited, not discouraged, and keep trudging on. Because what you’re dragging behind you like a dead weight might just end up being your best work ever.


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Saturday Situation Report: Snowy With a Chance of Snow

Our backyard Thursday morning
Our backyard Thursday morning

My recent blog posts have not been cancelled because of the weather. The reason I haven’t been posting is because I’m bone lazy. However, the weather lately has been so noteworthy, I thought I’d make the effort to note it.

I took this pic (to the left) through my kitchen window Thursday morning. By the time the snow finished falling, we had about 10 inches of fresh fluffy stuff on top of what remained from previous snows. In case you’re wondering, that round thing in the foreground is a little patio table.

2014-02-15 11.14.14
View from the front door.

It warmed up a bit yesterday, and the snow started to melt, making the beginnings of a slushy, puddly mess. The sloppies didn’t progress very far, though, because it snowed again last night and this morning. It hasn’t quite buried our mailbox yet, but it’s working on it. (See it sticking up from the snowbank in the lower right quadrant of the shot to the right?)

About all that shrubbery to the left of the driveway, as well as the little stack of firewood in the first shot: we had some trees cut down this fall. Craig cut and stacked the trunks and large branches and plans to sell the firewood after it’s cured for a year, as we no longer have a wood burner.

We do have a gas fireplace, and we’ve used it a couple of times. But being in the living room, it makes the front of the house too warm while the rest of the house gets too cold. The ideal place for a wood burner would be the basement, so the heat could radiate up and warm the whole house.

Craig and our son Art (whom Craig put to work the last time Art and Jennie visited) dragged the remainder of the tree rubble from the backyard and piled it in the front, awaiting the man with the chipper. But then it got cold and snowed, got colder and snowed more, dumped some freezing rain on top of that, and then snowed a few more times, and… As you can see, even if the man with the chipper were to come now, he wouldn’t be able to do anything because the branches are all frozen to the ground. Which means that mess will have to remain in the front yard until spring.

I took this shot in 1995 (96?) in New Philadelphia, Ohio, when it got down to almost 30 below zero F, so I could prove in the future that I didn't make it up.
1995, New Philadelphia, Ohio, with the temperature almost -30 F. I took the photo so I could prove it in later years. The thermometer is a little hard to read, but if you can enlarge the photo you might be able to see it better. And yes, that old back door was badly in need of paint. Our house back then was pretty much of a wreck everywhere.

Funny thing about pictures of snow: everybody takes them but nobody cares to see them. Do you know how many photos of snow I threw out when sorting through my parents’ old pics? Photos of snow, and of flowers, autumn trees, and all sorts of things that are beautiful to see but can’t be satisfactorily captured in a photo? I don’t know how many, but it was a lot. I don’t usually take pics like that, but I did this time to illustrate this post. Nobody cares about the snow, but people do like images in blog posts.

One thing Craig has always liked best about winter is ice fishing. In Ohio, there were several winters when he wasn’t able to fish because it wasn’t cold enough for long enough at a stretch. (As you can see from the photo above left, the winter of 1995-96 was an exception.)

This A few fish year the weather’s been perfect for fishing, but what with the work we’ve been doing in the house as well as having to learn the places to fish around here, he only went out for the first time this past Wednesday.

In Maryland, there’s a limit of 15 on the number of bluegills you can catch in a day. This came as a surprise, because in Ohio, you could catch them by the bucketful. Which is what Craig used to do. I took these pictures of him fishing on our pond in Jefferson, Ohio, along with a portion of his catch.Fishing thru the ice I’m not sure of the exact year, but it was  somewhere between 1979 and 1983. Fun fact: he still wears that same pair of felt-lined boots when he goes ice fishing.

Wednesday afternoon, he fished on Lake Habeeb at Rocky Gap State Park and caught his limit fairly quickly. We ate some for supper on Thursday and I froze the rest for another meal. Yum! He’s hoping winter holds on long enough that he can fill the freezer.

Just about everyone else is longing for that mythical event called spring. Though we’re not seeing any signs of it yet beyond the days increasing in length and ticking by on the calendar, Craig andOnce upon a garden I are thinking about gardening. We have enough backyard under all that snow that there’s space to put in a small garden. But the soil in these parts is very rocky, and we expect it will be difficult to prepare the ground. Raised beds would be a good solution, but expensive. We’re not sure how we’ll deal with the situation, but we do know we won’t be gardening on the scale we did in Ohio.

As a reminder that spring is, in fact, on the way, I’ve added another flash-from-the-past photo, probably taken sometime in the late 1990s. That’s our youngest daughter, Rustie, in the background, not a scarecrow.

Next time I post, I plan to talk about writing, since this was originally supposed to be a writing blog. I hope it’s not spring by the time I get around to it.

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