Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sonnet 73 for Proofreaders

If Shakespeare had been a proofreader for a Fortune 500 company, he might have reworked his Sonnet 73 into something a bit like the one I played with below. Having just finished a big project and had some time to think about my relationship with my copywriting team, I particularly enjoyed crafting this parody.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
when copydecks, or few, or many, do pile
upon my desk which drowns in work of old
and books of syntax, grammar, and style.

In me thou fears red-penned corrections:
"Please rewrite this!", "insert", "stet", and "delete",
"transpose", "spell out", and other suggestions,
which trusty copywriters must complete.

In me thou seest the yearning and desire
for king's English mellifluous and right.
Of perfect punctuation, I'll not tire.
For flawless composition, I do fight.

This thou tolerates, which makes my heart grow warm
For thee, writers, and work that thou perform.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Neo-Verb or Noun Redux

According to the 2005 Miriam Webster Dictionary and a few other sources, the word impact has now graduated from noun to verb, and it is accepted both in formal and informal speech. Old school academics poo-poo this notion, and even I, this very week at work, deleted impact from four instances of usage as a verb, and then recommended appropriate substitutions. I think, however, that I should be more understanding of the trend. After all, aren't writers supposed to embrace with creative spirit the ever-adaptability of words, much less the very enthusiasm of using impact to describe with passion the action of hitting something forcefully?

Considering this development, I began to ponder other nouns that could benefit from growth--from the name of an object to the suggestion of movement. Walking about the office this afternoon, I could only find nouns that had already become action verbs: squirrel, suit, tile, pen, tag. (And if you are wondering, yes, I can see squirrels from my office window. No, they don't wear suits.)

But then, on my desk, I found it--a noun just clamoring to become a verb for the very first time. Words, I explained to the department administrative assistant (Weren't these ladies once called secretaries? See the change?) develop and alter in meaning with every advancement in technology and business. And here was the perfect example: my Jawbone (or for those of you that have one of its kin, a Bluetooth.) Note the use of it as a new verb in the sentence below:

Jane couldn't respond to the begging vagrant because she was deeply jawboned in conversation with her mother.

Do you see what this implies here? What the wireless earpiece has done to our culture? Suggestions to contribute to this post are not just welcomed, but requested. And to my wonderful friend David at 80 West: This means you in particular!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Boys, Snot Rockets, and Date-Making at the DZ

Jujubee and I sat at the drop zone for a large sweltering chunk of Saturday afternoon. We watched planes load, take off, and land between shifts of skydivers swooping to earth only yards from our shelter. In the intolerable heat, 100 degrees plus a heat index that increased the aura of that sun-bake to a bloody 120, we parked ourselves fairly comfortably: under a tent, in deck chairs, with our feet plunged in a baby pool that we had filled with ice and water. Of all that amused us and inspired our conversation that day were men, certain ones at the DZ in particular. Let me elaborate:

At one point, one of the packers came over to ask my step-daughter on a date, except his manner of delivery was all convoluted. It took me a while to figure out what was going on. His statement to her was that the last time he had made plans, she had "flaked out on him" and he wanted to make sure that this time he wasn't wasting his money buying her a ticket to a concert that she might not attend. "Good Lord!" I announced. "That is not how you ask a girl out!" And then after he left our tent:

"Good Lord! Did you lead him to think you were going on a date?" But before I could chastise her, she explained their conversation from the previous week, I understood, and then set back and announced how glad I was not to be young and dating. It's all too hard to manage. Expectations, hearts broken, wishes led astray. Marriage, for all its problems, is so much better than dating. Watching young folk do the delicate dance is exhausting.

To Jujubee's credit, I see her point about young men. This same packer came over later and borrowed our pool to help recover from heat exhaustion. He plummeted his face into the ice water and we leaned forward to drizzle his arms and the back of his neck with cool relief. When he leaned up, he shook his head like a dog spraying us with the cold, blew his nose into his fingers, threw the snot-wad onto the ground, dipped a bottle into our baby pool, and washed his hands with water from the bottle. I was so shocked, I couldn't speak. My girl, though, didn't miss a beat.

"Dude," she cracked, "did you just blow a snot rocket?"
"Yeah," he answered.
"Tsk. I am so disappointed."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Taboo Tattoo

The other day, Jujubee and her cousin were headed out for an evening of fun, but before she left, she paused to tremble and fidget a bit in the hallway.

"I am going to throw up!" She cried urgently. "I cannot hold a secret!" And at that she turned to show me what I so hoped was someone's beautiful Sharpie art on the back side of her shoulder. Juju had come home with her fourth tattoo. She is nineteen. I called out her full name, the standard cry of disapproving parents, and then after telling her she was going to turn into the tattoo lady at the circus, stated that at least she didn't violate the big three.

We sat around for a few moments discussing the big three: pregnancy, drugs, and jail. Every parent reading this column completely understands this (some more than others). Of course, there is nothing worse than violating all three at the same time (many times, I have known a person to hit two out of three simultaneously, but never the full trifecta).

My husband and I mused about this later. Wisely, he had decided to refrain from saying anything that might cause her to feel angst or resentment, but worried that she might end up like the artfully and heavily etched  Queequeg from Moby Dick, that professional opportunity might be hindered if her artwork were too visible, that she might later come to regret her choice, et cetera--all the normal concerns a parent has. His daughter is well aware of his feelings, as discussions have taken place about this in the past.

"You know," I said, "this doesn't change how much we love her." Frankly even if she had violated the big three, we would still feel the same. We love her, all of her joyfully good qualities outweighing the fact that she just went and inked herself again.

Her tattoo has a story, and she described to us the reasons for the three birds in flight on her shoulder. Significant relationships seem to happen in threes, she said. And she named some of them: her, her sister, and her mother; her father, me, and her; and others. Seems sweet to me, that among her threes, all of which are about love, I have a place among them, represented in permanence on one of the most beautiful bare shoulders in the world.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"No Poo in the Office!" and Other Rules

Starting a new job has reminded me of all the critical lessons I have learned in former offices. For the sake of conserving time (working longer hours for someone else has cut into my creative time at home), let's just review the big three:

1. No poo in the office.
I never knew this was such a transgression, but apparently, in small offices where the restroom is located off the lobby, easing your bowels there may more noticeably perfume public areas. The first and only time I heard this rule was from one of my favorite managers so far, Ahmad, who in his slight Persian accent, would sing out, "No poo! There is no poo in the office!" One co-worker was so self-conscious about this that she would break into one of those deathly anus-clenching sweats trying to contain the urge as she ran out of the office to a gas station down the street. I grew so tired of watching what would one day be a catastrophic episode that I bought us each a bottle of some poo-be-gone product. You pump a few drops into the bowl before you go-- et voila! No trace of poo-scent. I still hear Ahmad in my head sometimes. He had other rules, such as no food at our desks, which I can understand, and no cold food at catered events, which I couldn't understand, but "No poo!" was my all-time favorite just because I loved hearing him say it.

2. Give the boss his space.
I worked for a man who was so tired of being bothered by staff during his lunch hour, that he would sit in the teacher lounge for his lunch and lock the teachers out--nevermind that the only grown-up potties were located in the teacher lounge and many of us were realllly reluctant to use the ones the middle schoolers were using. This guy did things like this to drive the point home, denying us privileges (or rights) when he felt we had overstepped various boundaries. His locking the lounge was done in conjunction with a lecture that he never bothered us on our lunch hour. I remember thinking about that during our first week of lock-down when he would locate me for work reasons during MY lunch time, but I was good and kept quiet about it. Needless to say, teachers quickly learned to give him private time at lunch, and ultimately we were allowed back into the breakroom.

3. Be punctual--but be reasonable about it.
A good friend of mine would get busted for this at a nanny job in the same way I once did years ago: Due to be back from lunch at 12:30 one day, I was yelled at for returning to my desk at... 12:32. No kidding. This man was such a control-freak that when he banned us from working over-time, I began to check into work fifteen minutes early and leave fifteen after the hour at the end of the day to accrue overtime discreetly. Very passive aggressive--but two and a half hours of overtime made a big difference in my little paycheck. He was a loathsome character who ran us into the ground. In the end, I got my revenge. I quit, turned him into his supervisor for his crazy behavior, and he was fired shortly thereafter. Years have passed, but I am still conscious to the minute about time at the office. Most of all though, I am conscious of crazy bosses.

Having a desk in an office building has reminded me of all the joys and pitfalls of working with others, but so far, my new office is a pleasant environment where I am, shockingly enough, valued. Adjusting to the fact that the rules aren't hard and fast in this new office is a bit of a shock, but I am acclimating. And as I gain more confidence in the new environment, and crawl out of my cubicle more, there will be stories to tell here. So far, what I do have to say about it is all good.

And we can poo. We can poo in the office.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In the Order of Importance

 Last night, my four-year-old son called from his vacation with step-family in Puerto Rico and asked immediately to speak to the dog. When he learned that she was unavailable (outside taking care of important dog business), he then asked for his step-father.

"Did you hear that?" I asked Jujubee. "Where am I on that list?"
"Well," she said, "notice he didn't ask for Chester."

Nice to know I share the bottom rung with the family rabbit.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Rabbit Rebukes

"When you're happy, I'm happy!" said my husband this week.
"Well, when you're happy, I'm happy, too!" I responded, and then I added, "But when Chester is happy, ain't nobody happy."
"Do you think he's that much of a curmudgeon?" asked my husband.
"Yes," I said, "Absolutely."

How the family rabbit came to bear such irascibility, I don't know. He has preferences about everything, and should I not know them innately, he shuns my presence by pointing his furry rear end my way and harrumphing or other such behavior. For example, later this week my husband was slicing and bagging fresh okra for the freezer. In the process, he came across a particularly hard pod. Knowing that my rabbit enjoys fresh veggies and that the tougher varieties are good for keeping his teeth in good health, I brought the okra to him. He did not like it. He even tried to hide it, and ultimately, as I retrieved it and threw it away, he gave me the silent treatment.

A day or two passed and then Chester lightened up... a little. I mused about this with my husband.
"He's speaking to me again!" I said eagerly.
"F you doesn't count," my husband replied. Point made.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

My Condolences: Burying a Horse

My husband's supervisor, an exceptionally sweet man, recently had to euthanize and then bury one of his horses. She was a 1200 pound cross-breed of clydesdale, thoroughbred, and quarter horse that he had acquired more as an accidental favor to someone. "She was really cute," he said wistfully, the silence and uneasy shifting in his chair following that statement indicating his sorrow, discomfort, and the momentary need to regroup. "What was so terrible was the ordeal of it all--burying her."

While I don't own a horse and never have, I have certainly been around the barn for enough traumatizing stories. A good friend of mine once had about 13 acres in central Mississippi. She said that they would leave the body out at the end of her land in the woods and let nature take over the work of disposing remains. My husband's boss said he learned next time to walk the animal to the edge of a five foot deep hole where it would be buried, as maneuvering 1200 pounds of lifeless flesh into the truck bed or cradle of a backhoe claw (or whatever had been used) was just enormous quantities of heartbreaking work. Of course, however, there are many times when there is no way to physically prepare ahead of time for the loss.

I cannot imagine having to say goodbye to such an outstanding creature much less having to walk the animal to her final destination, both of us knowing what was to come (and yes, they always know). Being there for the moment when life flickered out of those soulful equine eyes is sorrowful enough. My sincerest condolences to this gentle, gentle man that parted with his lovely creature last week.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Price Above Rubies

My daughter said to me recently that her father had a nice, pretty, new (new to him) BMW and she wanted to know why I couldn't buy one. "We live differently," I said. Well, she added with a bit of resentment, it seemed that her dad and step-mom had everything they wanted.

"Why, no! No, they don't!" I told her.
"What do you mean?"
"They don't have you and your brother. You two live with me. Daddy gets to see you for visits, but you live here. I really have everything I really need, and you and your brother are my riches."

This is not the first time that I have had this conversation with her. She is young, and therefore unwisely measures wealth in tangible items such as fancy gadgets and luxury automobiles. We live far more simply than her father--this house has one television set. No one here owns an iPad. Our cars are each as old as our youngest children (about 5 and 11). I complain that I would like a new truck with one of those fancy DVD players that come mounted to the ceiling, but really, the truck runs well, so why not keep it going. While this isn't to say that I wouldn't mind a giftcard to a clothes store or bookstore or greater financial freedom, I am pretty happy knowing that we live within our means. Our long term goal, which can only be attained by continual financial caution, is homeownership. But aggravations of renting aside, this home or any home is only that because of one thing: the family that lives in it.

One day, my daughter will come to understand that, like the wonderful proverb from the Bible states about a good wife, she and her brother have a price above rubies. They are my greatest wealth, everything I have has been vested in them. I feel that reward every time my son bounds down the front sidewalk and leaps into my arms singing my name. And I feel it again when I bend over the sleeping form of my pre-teen daughter and remember how she has changed since her precious, pudgy infancy. I know it for sure when I see my step-children embrace my birth-children.

Richness, yes. For all the needs and wants in the world, these days, I am a wealthy woman.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

No Pantyhose Required

This past Friday, I started a new job (and my old one will now be sandwiched into the night shift at home). I am a proofreader working as a temp employee for a large firm. I have never worked for a corporation this large, and had always assumed such positions in well-established and grand firms came with a strict dress code. "If it's anything like Capital One," said my husband who had visited that office for a project recently, "there won't be a tie in sight."

For a liberal person, I find straying from conservative office-dress code to be a bit of a shock. After all, I grew up with stories of ladies wearing white gloves to go shopping on Canal Street and lived in the no-show era. The no-show era, as I term it, describes a time when it was considered in poor taste to have visible slips or bra straps, visible bobby pins, and visible toes--we weren't allowed to wear flip-flop style sandals anywhere except the beach. My mother always insisted on pantyhose, telling us that women who wore high heels without them were White trash (Yes, Mom, you did say that--don't make me call my sister to back me up!). In those days, even open-toe shoes required pantyhose, with the distasteful seam tucked uncomfortably under your toes. Simply stated, we were raised to dress. If Sundays required ironed skirts, camis and slips, stockings or hose, and styled hair, work was the weekday extension of churchy dress code. I even remember my mother objecting when we wanted to wear jeans to church; she herself was allowed to wear pants to work only on Mondays (which, in the museum world where she still works, is a house-cleaning and organization day).

Times have certainly changed. With advances in technology, all things to make our life more convenient and comfortable, so have we adapted the more convenient and comfortable method of dressing for work. Of course, I despise pantyhose, knowing that it was conceived by some man to torture American women. And I don't for one second miss the feeling of my toes curling against the pull of exceptionally rigorous and gut-squeezing nylon action. I don't miss the red line across my stomach where the hose attempted to cut me in half after lunch. And in particular, I do not at all miss how easily those things ran and were ruined. The expense of keeping my legs glazed with form-fitting plastic-based threads was ridiculous.

I can gladly say goodbye to the hose, but I still find casual Friday in an already business casual office to be a bit of surprise. This past Friday, a woman sailed past me on the stairs in her Bermuda shorts and flip flops. I just cannot go there, even in a former office where jeans were the norm, I still made sure that on a jeans day, the rest of me looked mighty polished. Maybe those norms die hard.

So this morning at the office, I checked my reflection. My make-up was understated and my jewelry complimented my sleeveless dress, which once-upon-a-time was a no-no as well. Feeling pretty and put-together, In my high-heeled open-toe sandals (no hose, thank you), I swished down the hall where I spotted a man with wildly waving hair splayed Einstein-like from his forehead and face, the hair in a thin halo down across his shoulders and back. Maybe he has a rock band on the weekends. Maybe he is the new model for anti-corporate-conformity in a corporate-comfort setting.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

By the time many of you read this, my children will be either en route to see their father or there already. At the end of weekend, I will return to a sorrowfully quiet house. I have spent the last two weeks taking advantage of a very slow work schedule in order to indulge my children with the classic pastimes of summer--sleeping late, playing outside under the shade, visiting the ice cream shop, swimming, running through the sprinkler, enjoying friends, and touring both my original hometown and the children's current one. So far, despite fatigue, a little  irritation from noisy play, and a little chaos, the summer has been a wondrous one.

This week, we read a favorite tale, The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. You know this one--the story of the bull in Spain who does not want to fight, but instead, is content to sit under a cork tree and smell the flowers. We laughed over my trying to pronounce the word banderilleros and cozied tightly together on the couch, for once no child fighting or complaining. And then last night, we enjoyed the movies. My kids watched Cars on the big screen as they ate popcorn and wiggled in their seats. I tuned out the plot line completely and instead listened to the kids' giggling. We walked the neighborhood with our big fluffy husky and played with our rabbit. In the afternoons, my daughter, no kidding, would heat up a cup of coffee for me as I painted the kids' toes (Tiny likes his clear and sparkly) or ironed clothes. In a big step toward teaching responsibility and independence, I allowed my daughter greater freedom to visit her favorite sections of the stores where we shop, my presence no longer right around the corner or aisle, but further away. I taught her how to scramble an egg this week. And my son, between the careful guidance of his sister and I, learned how to swim underwater at a big pool on the local army base. Yes, this week wasn't just wondrous. It was, as Jujubee once said, an epic summer.

And all good things must come... to change. I started working in a large corporate office this week as a temp proofreader. While I hope this becomes a regular full-time assignment, I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn and work with a new team in a new environment (and get paid in a timely manner, thank you). So, perhaps I will dwell less on the absence of my children and allow myself to sink into the world of work with less distraction. Jujubee comes home soon, and she will pepper our evenings with art projects and experimental vegan cooking. I foresee some trips to the beach and to see her sister. Last year, the big girls were my saving grace--I would have gone crazy without them because I had never experienced my own children being far from home that long. This summer, I am a bit more prepared, but still apprehensive. At least this time, when I get those last hugs and kisses, when the warmth of little bodies leaves my skin in that one awful moment, I will be able to be so thankful for the memory-eternal sweetness of these last few weeks.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Tale of Two Poops

Several years ago, I was a teacher's aide in a Montessori classroom. Children cleaned up their messes by themselves regardless of the kind of disasters they might have made. There were occasions that I did not appreciate this. Apparently, however, those lessons--the lesson of cleaning up after yourself literally and metaphorically--were critical.

One afternoon, Daniel, a language-delayed three-year-old, was being particularly difficult. I cannot remember what he did specifically, but before I could really discipline him, he began to run away from me in the play yard. I have a rule. I don't chase children. I catch those buggers the next time they come around, which they always do. The boy was furious with me for not chasing him, and, due to his slow use of speech, resorted to a non-verbal method of showing his rage. He stood in front of me when I caught him after that first bratty pass, pulled the crotch of his shorts to the side, and took a dump right there on the play ground. I was about twenty-four years old, fairly new to this concept of belligerent shitting, and came unglued. I called my supervisor to come over and collect the kid. She announced that Daniel would have to clean up his mess and that my job was to guard the pile so that no other kid would come mess with it. I was outside guarding the poo when I noticed the boy had made two sizable dollops--not just the one exclusively for me, but a random dump on the way into the building. I straddled myself between the two piles, my arms stretched out to close the distance, while small children whirled around me.

"Stay away from that!" I would say repeatedly. A cluster of teachers on the playground thought this was uproarious, but I was less than impressed. And I couldn't figure out how a small child would neatly clean up his own feces--especially due to the rather loose hershey-kiss shaped bombs left behind. Precious time was being lost and my job protecting the poo was getting harder and harder.

"What is that?" asked Emmanuel, the sweetest boy in my class.
"Don't touch it!" I ordered. "This is very dirty dirt." Emmanuel squatted down before I could intervene further and took up a handful of poo. At this point, I think I began shrieking. Another teacher took over poo-patrol while I marched Emmanuel into the building and supervised his handwashing. Complete hysteria overswept the teachers on the playground. I still was not laughing.

Finally, little Daniel came outside with plastic bags over his hands and cleaned up as much poop as he could. Later, my supervisor told me that this had been nothing. Once, she said, she had a student take a dump by the front door of the school. She said the pile was so large she had thought a horse had done it. She had asked the child why. The answer: I had to go.

I still remember the first and last name of this kid that pooped on my watch those years ago. So today, I decided to conduct a Google search for him. He popped right up on a Myspace page--about 18 years old now and still living in that same town. He is now a skateboarding self-professed Christian rocker. Even at his stunning height of 6'1", he still looks much like the little kid I remember. No, I did not message the boy, some things left better decomposing in the dirt so to speak. He is a child I am thankful for having taught because I can always say about my son that at least Tiny has never done "that". Frankly, having had the trouble we did with Daniel when he was a challenging squirt in the classroom, I found his Myspace page reassuring: not only did he survive childhood, but he had friends, interests, and what appeared to be a pleasant life. More hope for the future, no matter what poop my kids throw at me.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Farewell for the Wee Folk

I can't write much lately because my children have been home from school, but in a few days, they will be gone for the summer. I am quite sad about this today, because while their distracting noise makes task completion of any sort difficult around here, once they are gone, so will be the giggles, the cuddles, the story-telling, the comfort of their presence, and the simple silliness that is a part of childrearing.

This past week, I nursed my son's feet to health after they had been sliced up on rocks at the beach. Three times a day, I checked for infection in the cuts between his tiny toes, cleaned them, medicated them, and applied fresh bandages. His toes are one of my favorite things about him because of they are bumply. On both feet, the second toe's joint to the foot sits higher than it should, making the foot from the bottom sometimes appear as though he has four little toes, not five. My doctor called it a birth defect; I think it's the cutest birth defect I have ever seen. With my son sitting in front of me this week, his legs straight between us as I doctored his feet, I would playfully poke his wayward second toe back into line. Tiny would laugh as he wiggled his toes so that the second one would pop back up into its original place. And then we would do it again. I love how things with children can be so sweet.

And so this summer, even though I need the break and plan to work on various projects, I will miss Tiny and his toes, his sister and her stories about the pictures she draws, and their hugs and kisses. Twice this summer, I will travel down to their father's to visit with them. They will return as a kindergartener and a middle schooler, with Tiny's toes being less tiny by then.

Wish them a safe summer and a safe return. Wish me peace of mind in the meantime.

Friday, July 1, 2011

New Orleans, This June 2011

From the moment of our arrival last week, we absorbed ourselves in the multi-sensory experience that is life in New Orleans: the perfume of river rich soil, dampness, life teeming among the constantly brewing and spreading green growth of tree, vine, and flower; the humidity that mists our hair and graces our skin; the color that thrives everywhere--the blossoms of crepe myrtles reflected in the aftermath of an afternoon rainstorm, ripple-less puddles holding still and perfect to mirror pink petals and twisting, cream-colored trunks. On the levee, we listened to the engines of tugboats groan and roar against the strain of moving barges upriver. Herons, cranes, and pelicans called to one another as they broke into the open sky from the sanctuary near the river edge. Here beyond levee and river bank, ancient cottages with delicately carved scrollwork and filigree lean into one another under the weight of Louisiana sun, paint colors burning against pale blue sky, and yards flanked with emerald palmetto, frond, and fern with bursting purple, pink, blue, and white blooms in shapes of every kind tucked between. Sidewalk heaves away from the wandering roots of oak and magnolia. Cemetery walls cradle fern in  the cracks of white-washed stucco and brick. Shade and mottled light lessens the burden of afternoon sun. Clean-lined and playfully modern architecture sparkles like diamonds where old cottages gave way to the fatal surge of water six years ago.

This is the city I remember, the one that saturates the senses. New Orleans with her full skirts, heavily hued, breathing against the sultry wet air that river, lake, and gulf sweep her with. Tendrils of vine curl about her waist and flowers twist throughout her hair. Faulkner once described her as aging gracefully in the dark, but I see her as rebuilding her prime years once again, fostering newness with the break of spring into summer.