Words hover out of reach

macro-1834138_1920bWords hover out of reach
like dragonflies
on a hot summer day,
fleeting glimpses
in shimmer and haze.
The mind drifts
from passing thought
to passing thought
to yet another.
Eyes see fear
in clouded eyes
and look away,
witnessing their own future
as a fading memory.
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Knives and hammers are irrelevant when the topic is death by gunfire

Denver Post columnist Jon Caldara left out some important numbers in his attempt to trivialize the role of rifles in U.S. mass murders and to mock the growing outrage that millions of Americans feel over our monstrous epidemic of death by gunfire.

boy-958478_1920bHe accuses people of focusing on and misunderstanding assault rifles, as if those details were all-important, while entirely missing the much larger picture of this nation’s gun fetish himself. He points out that rifles were used in only a tiny fraction of last year’s 11,004 homicides by firearm (So what?) and he completely ignores some 20,000 or so other gunfire deaths.

It’s true that there is no media sizzle in the deaths of one or two people at a time. To our eternal shame, most of the 93 individual deaths per day by gun are not newsworthy on a national scale because we are so used to them and there are just too damn many of them.

Caldara can rest assured that a single mass murder by knife, blunt instrument or hammer would make the national news. There would be sizzle, but those murders would still be irrelevant to guns.

Robert E. Lee as tragic figure?

Not too long ago I started following more conservatives on Twitter and reading—or trying to read—articles that might help me understand them better.

This article caught my attention today, in no small part because of my recent renewal of interest in the song that it features:

The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

I’ve always liked the song but had never before reflected very deeply on its meaning. It is moving and tragic and, as that article in The American Conservative said, it is sad. I re-read the quote from a Wikipedia page that the writer cited just a couple of days ago.

The AC article was interesting but ultimately a disappointment as it tries to get the reader to sympathize with Southerners and their “shame-honor” culture. I was buying it all until this part of the article:

Robert E. Lee embodies the tragedy of the American South: he was the best military man in America — remember that Lincoln offered him command of the Union Army — and wanted to keep the Union together.

Never mind that others say Lee’s flaws and bad decisions were key to the defeat of the Confederacy. Never mind that he so wanted to keep the Union together than he went to war to destroy it. He “wept tears of blood” over the decision, the article says. How many shed real blood in those years and how many died in that war?

To position Lee as the embodiment of that tragedy is a grievous insult to the memory of the millions of enslaved human beings that he and his army fought to keep enslaved.

While touching and sad, the AC article’s portrayal of white Southerners as helplessly and hopelessly loyal to family and place by virtue of their Scots-Irish cultural heritage reads like a lame excuse for owning slaves and going to war to keep them. My own Irish roots are rather deep, but I have never heard anyone in my extended family, or anyone else for that matter, lionize Irishmen who killed innocents with car bombs the way Lee has been idolized in the land of cotton.

Lee made his choice, and calling it honorable is to pervert the very meaning of the word.

But, the song…

Again and again in recent weeks I’ve watched and listened to the video that turned up in the AC article, the one of The Band performing the song about “the night.” I don’t see it as glorifying the rebels or Lee or even the war, although I understand why some might. It is about terrible loss in more than one sense and, if anything, a reflection of the tragedy that is war.

I always wonder about the seven words one of the musicians says just before the music starts:

“It’s not like it used to be.”

In some ways it is, in some ways it isn’t.

Imagine there are mountains

Imagine a bull moose, shy and alone, just out of sight to the left, the east. There is no fog to the south, just pine-covered rock piles, gap-toothed hills blocking your view in the near distance beyond the meadows. More distant, through the gaps and barely visible, untold miles away in the sunshine, there are mountains.

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Near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. August 2017

Critical word for writers and editors: Why?

As an editor, I like to know that writers use their words deliberately.

If I know that the writer picked her words intentionally rather than carelessly, I can do a better job of editing.

question-mark-2123969_1280Many sentences that I encounter employ words in a way that my high school English teachers would have considered incorrect, ungrammatical or even immoral (I’m not kidding).

A stickler by nature and training, I revise or suggest improvements to stuff that other people write. More and more frequently, I ask a question that other editors and writers might find useful: Why?

Why did you choose present tense rather than past?

Why did you spell “colour” that way?

Why can’t I find a verb in what you’re trying to pass off as a sentence?

Did you really mean “their pronouns” or should it be “my pronouns”?

Present tense might be the preferred style, depending on the context. “Colour” may or may not be a typo. The missing verb? A quirk, maybe, or a simple mistake.

Pronouns are more complicated than you might think, as I’ve learned in recent years. My pronouns, for example: he/his/him. Few of my readers need to know that, but the concept of gender-neutral pronouns and inclusive language can be critical in some writing and conversation.

“Why?” can help the writer improve. The answers can be surprising and even educational, for writer and editor.

Takeaways

  • Writers: Choose your words carefully.
  • Editors: Ask why.