Monday, April 23, 2018

Increasing Your Vocabulary

My husband and I have this running joke that if we played a drinking game for the first -- and only the first-- five minutes of any news segment, anywhere in America, we'd be under the table in two.

Why? Because this drinking game is based on the repeated use of the word "impact."

It's okay if you can hate me now. Because after this post, you will notice this word EVERYWHERE and how overused it is.

I get it. The word is impactful. It makes a point. Pulls a punch. But ... it's beyond this, my friends. It's overwhelmingly beyond this now. I also understand that each decade has it's colloquial and trendy words. Totally understand that.

I can dig that, yo.

But, there's an all-out assault on this word. And most of the time, it's used incorrectly. Do you know what the word impact means? Per Merriam-Webster, it means
1.
  a.: to fix firmly by or as if my packing or wedging
  b.: to press together

2.
  a.: to have a direct effect or impact on : impinge on
  b.: to strike forcefully

So, an asteroid impacts the earth, or the train impacted the car on the tracks. These both fill the "fix firmly" portion and the "pressed together" portion. 

It's the second meaning, to "have a direct effect " (isn't it hilarious that they use the work impact to describe impact. I'm confused. Could a dictionary not come up with a better definition?)

I still think it's a buzz word of today, that is highly overused. Highly. We've got other synonyms like affect, impress, influence, result, outcome ... and most of these are not used. 

It also got me wondering, Was this word used regularly, say fifty years ago? I thought not. I thought that it had to be something from today. But just yesterday, I picked up C.S. Lewis' book A Grief Observed  and began reading it again. (This book is phenomenal.)



I came to the 12th page and saw the word. Wow. There it was! But surely, this was an anomaly. It probably wouldn't be used again.

But, he did use it again on page 18.


There it was. What?  Okay. I think I can figure this out.

C.S. Lewis was a scholar. He used this word where appropriate, and these two spots were appropriate. He does, however, use myriad of other words. And that is the key to this over-using word mess. Look at page 19, he uses the word effect. Hello. He didn't use the word impact! And he could have. It would have fit just fine.


So, what am I saying? I'm saying a scholar can get away with using this word twice in six pages. And I'm okay with it. I'm not okay with the media, Facebook posts galore, and everyone I know or meet, use this word and not think it's overused.

I'm sure there are other overused words. Literally, obsessed, and legit come to mind. But again, these are trendy. 

What words are you over-hearing? As a writer, if you don't want to hear them, don't write them. If it annoys you, odds are high it will annoy someone else. It's important to watch what you're writing since people are reading what you are writing. 

I'm totally grammar-policing this but in a vocabulary-policing sort of way.

Now, about that drinking game...

-HJS

Monday, March 12, 2018

Seasonal Seasons

Life is full of seasons, even in sunny northern California.

Which is remarkable.

Maybe we don't get all that cold here in Sacramento, but some mornings are below freezing and I know for a fact we'll have days this summer hovering close to 110 degrees.

But, life is full of emotional and spiritual seasons, too. Change, growth, loss, newfound passions, love, or jobs.  All of this is -- and will be -- a part of our lives, whether we like it or not and whether we admit it or not.

The latest season of mine has felt difficult, for lack of better wording. Maybe the hardest it's been since I had a my first born, over seventeen years ago.  Back then, I felt alone and was dealing with a huge responsibility that I knew nothing about -- raising a child!

Today, there's me pursuing writing, which is always a constant struggle (Am I good enough?)

There's me wondering how I let go of my son who will be graduating high school next year. (I don't want to let go.)

There's me dealing with things all women go through, like comparison or "not being enough," in any and all categories. (I'm getting old!)

There's marriage. There's kids. There's work. There's life. There's emotions. There's heartbreak. There's loneliness. There's so many things we deal with. And there's many things people think I don't have to deal with because I don't talk about them.

But, they're there. They're always there.

And I deal with things some women don't have to deal with. Thin-shaming, being one of them. I've never talked about this, and I may never again, but ladies ... this is a real thing. Stop putting down thin women just because you don't look like them.

Appearance is another issue. Women assume I have a perfect life solely based on the way I look.

I'm not kidding.

I was literally told the other day by a woman, "You are pretty. You must have a perfect life."

I wanted to laugh. Then cry. Are you kidding me? So, because you think I look perfect, I have a perfect life? Oh, the irony. And hilarity. And bewilderment.

Do you know how many people women -- or men -- won't talk to me because of the way I look? Most days, I feel alone more than anything. But I know most people feel this way. We all have things we deal with that creates an illusion of isolation from the rest of everyone.

But, it's an illusion. Because we're never really alone.

This morning's walk with the pup put me right back in the perfect frame-of-mind. When I'm in nature, I feel one with God. I see him everywhere, full and in color, from the tips of the trees, to the herons flying, to the neighbors I say hi to. He's everywhere.

And I know I'm not alone, by any means. He's walking right next to me. He'll never leave or forsake me, and now more than ever, I'm leaning in to that. And there's my puppy. My furry best friend who's a constant, loving companion. What more do I need?

Seasons are seasonal. Some start out amazing and end in turmoil. Some begin with sorrow and end joy-filled. The real trick is to look for hope, stay grateful, and watch things change for our good despite our circumstances.

And remember, anything is possible for us who believe it is. (Mark 9:23).

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Neighbors and Short Stories

My neighbors, whom I've not met, just moved in across the street. I've no idea where they're from and was out of town when the moving trucks unloaded their things, and I don't even know if I've seen their cars. I don't know if anyone is there, actually.

But yesterday, they (I still didn't see them) set out some things for donation (they just appeared). The kind that is to be picked up by a truck, free of charge, to be resold for "reasonable" prices at a thrift store. So, someone must live there.

My new neighbors missed the truck by a half hour. I saw it winding down our street as I left at 7:49 to take my sons to school. And when I got back, a baby walker and a few bags sat by the curb. It was a little sad to see the forlorn baby walker without a baby in it, as though the baby just upped and walked away on his own.

It made me want to walk over to my new neighbors and meet them and tell them, "Hey, you're too late! You have to haul your stuff in until next time." But again, I didn't know them yet. And I suppose that wasn't the nicest way to welcome them to the neighborhood.

I definitely didn't know if they had a toddler (I assumed it was a toddler, hence the baby walker donation). But then I wondered if there was a baby. Or maybe it no longer lived there. Or maybe it was like Hemingway's short (short) story "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn."

And so I went inside, hiding my eyes from the walker not wanting to know the truth and also wondering if I'd ever meet my neighbors, now that I've ruined my whole thought process over them.

I failed as a kind, neighborly neighbor.

But, I did get a good story out of it. Which I guess is a nice by product of my laziness. And being a writer.

**That whole short story of Hemingway's is an urban legend. There is no substantive evidence to prove he ever wrote it. That aside, and giving him the benefit of the doubt, have you ever tried writing a short story like Hemingway's? Like ten words or less? It's the whole idea behind flash fiction, which I adore because I think with words, especially in writing good words, less is more.**

Here's my attempt: "New neighbors. Say Hello. You'll feel better." What do you think?

Unlike Hemingway's, this story is all true.

-HJS

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Marking the Page │ Bookmarks

You know what I find hilarious? Bookmarks. Not the concept of a  bookmark itself, but what we use to mark our book's page.

I remember reading an article once about libraries and the bookmarks the librarians find with all the returned books. Banana peels, toilet paper, pens. You name it, they are the lucky recipients of it.

The bookmark is as individual as the person using it, as much as the book choice of each person.

And as a vintager, one who buys, sells and wears vintage, I also pick up used and -- sometimes vintage -- books. Because, second-hand books are the best invention ever.

The bookmarks I find in said books are comical. If not insightful.

For example, here's one from a middle-grade read. And I have a few questions: Was the reader reading this in the kitchen? Why the torn Ziploc box bit? Why not a plastic bag? Or was the Ziploc box headed out to the recycling? A foil or plastic wrap bookmark would've been great, too.

























Then there's this book mark, from a favorite book called Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Side note: This book, if you're a writer, is an absolute must in your "how to" writing arsenal. I laughed more from this book than any I've ever read. And it was written 25 years ago. (I'm a little slow). All I could hear was the haunting voice of Garrison Keillor; the style, the humor, except with an even more authentic, feminine touch. (If you're a mom, you're as authentic as they get). I think both she and Keillor frequent Lake Wobegon and drink deep from the water -- I need that water in my life.

Anyway, this bookmark is a Post-It note and here are my thoughts: Post-It notes add up, you know. They aren't cheap. So, this bookmark was a deliberate thing. She was investing in her reading (I say she, but it could've easily been a he reading it). Yes, as the note says, being in print is an achievement. It is validation. But what else? Isn't that what it says, on the Post-It? What else did the note-taker want to know? I guess I'll never know.


But, I suppose I'm not  much better at my choices for bookmarking. Take a look at this book mark, currently in use. Yes, a nail file. I was filing my nails, this was on my nightstand. It was the closest thing to me when I needed to mark the page. So, clearly book marks are what's convenient. I think this one is rather ingenious. Because every time I read, I can do some filing. Two birds, my friends. Two birds.

And then, there's my legitimate bookmark. A mark that is designated and intended to mark a book's page. This one is from Washington D. C, and quoted by the famous Thomas Jefferson, "I cannot live without books." 

Side note: This book here is my book, which is why it's covered in such elegant scribble. This is a fantastic theological/apologetic book called "The Reason for God; Believe in an age of Skepticism," by Timothy Keller.  I have to read it slowly, though, almost as though I'm just learning to read ... it's that thought-provoking. Much like all of C.S Lewis' works.


Read on, my friends. and be creative with your bookmarks. You never know who's going to come across yours one day and wonder why you chose what you chose.

The weirder the bookmark, the better, in my humble opinion. Let me know in the comments below what you use. I'd love some new ideas. The water bill isn't ideal, you see... 

-HJS