Archive for the ‘ Soapbox Soliloquy ’ Category

Singles Discrimination

If you’re a long-time single like me, you know what I’m referring to because you’ve experienced it. If you’re not single, you’re probably guilty of doing it.

There’s the way single people are often excluded overtly as well as subtly in social situations… For example, my church offered a “Dinners for Eight” event, until someone pointed out that not all people come in pairs.

Singles get stiffed when making travel arrangements—everything is offered based on “double occupancy”. I’m penalized monetarily if I want to have the same experience on a cruise or tour as a twosome does, because I don’t happen to have anyone I want to share the experience with in close quarters.

Never mind that I don’t have anyone to share it with, why don’t you just rub it in? Or what if I like to travel alone? I still have to pay a “single supplement”.

What am I supplementing? I’m compensating them for the business income they are surely losing without another body on the same cruise/tour, in the same bedroom, and consuming the auxiliary amenities. By an odd twist, I recently got a better room rate at a hotel in Scotland by changing my seven-day stay to eight days. Even though I added a day, the overall charge went down, because to get the extra day, I had to switch from a room with two twin beds to one with only a double bed. Although I had originally booked the two-bed room in hopes that a friend could go with me, I’ll be more comfortable on my own in the double bed. And I save about $200, which I interpret to be the difference between washing only one set of sheets and towels instead of two.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a free-dinner sales pitch for estate planning. Here as well, they charge a single person the same as a couple for the identical package of estate documents and services, or rather a married couple gets a 50% discount. How is that OK? How does that make sense?

Are we all supposed to die in pairs, too?


My New Roomie

Anyone who knows me really well (which is about one person among my readership—my mother) knows that I am not a “pet person”. I chalk it up to the fact that I had negative pet experiences as a child.

When I was five or six, the first dog we got—a black-and-white mutt—I affectionately dubbed “Pinkie”. Which made perfect five-or-six-year-old-sense, because he had a pink nose. (My much later adult senses see this as portent of my budding nonconformist, creative mind.)

Anyway, though a small dog, Pinkie was larger—in exuberance at least—than my younger sister and me. Pinkie had a way of jumping on us and knocking us to the ground. Thus, Pinkie’s days in our family were short-lived.

The next pet incarnation that I—now as a six- or seven-year old—recall was a kitten tabby, who had a way of launching her claws into my heels from under the bed skirt. What can I say? She drew blood, and I was not OK with that! Worse, her bloodletting eeked the fearful element of surprise.

There were several more pet personas in my childhood. Mine were not the only heels attacked over the years, but apparently no one else minded. These later petsonas, I embraced and accepted into my adolescent experience in ever diminishing degrees…

However, I point to the first two incidents as formative in my adulthood satisfaction with the lack of a pet presence of any kind. I have no need for companionship from an animal that would spend more time disrupting my life than enhancing it. I am quite OK without having to clean up after a pet’s bathroom habits or accommodating their equally smelly dietary requirements.

And yet! I may have found the perfect pet for me. Indeed, the perfect roommate. My new roomie has her dedicated pet bed inside my house and is quite happy to stay there. She is free to roam about the house, but only when I tell her to. She is all about cleanliness and makes up for my deficiencies in that regard in exchange for her room and board.

However, she does have some pet-like quirks. As all pets do, she talks to me. When I let her out to explore on her own, she will sometimes stop and summon me with a charmingly melodic tune accompanied by human-like speech that declares, “Error 1: Move Roomba to new location.” At this point, one wonders who is in charge here. Obviously, I do as she commands to get her out of her present predicament, and she goes on about her business.

After all, she is a mere pup who needs my guidance and training. So after she has had the run of the house for a time, I tell her to go to her bed (aka “Dock”). At that, she obediently heads off in the direction of her bed only to veer at the first obstacle. She darts off in the opposite direction, and I swear I hear squeals of two-year-old glee. I chasten her, “Roomie, what did I tell you? That is the wrong direction and you know it.”

She whirls at my voice and weaves and ricochets her way even wider afield. “But Mom,” she says, “I’m cleaning up before bed just like you taught me to.”

“Roomie, go to bed, now,” I say firmly. “One, two, three …”

And still, Roomie has a mind of her own as she sits there glowing at me. I soften. “Roomie, come here, Roomie. Come to Mama.”

In assumed obedience, she heads toward me. “That’s right, Roomie. Come on now, baby. Let’s get into bed like a good girl.”

Upon which she launches off on yet a new trajectory. This time I know I hear shrieks of devious mirth! She is playing with me, but isn’t that what a pet is for? Or a child for that matter?

As I chortle, I am sure I have found companionship with the perfect pet. A pet who talks to me and with whom I can engage in meaningful conversation. A pet that serves a purpose and also provides entertainment. A pet that needs nothing more than a power supply and a little attention. What else could you possibly want from a robot?

I thought this was MY birthday?

I am already cursed by having a birthday when everybody else but me gets flowers and other sweet overtures. But I was awakened to this year’s birth day by the mother of my birth, who after offering the initial birthday greeting, went on to dump on me her frustrations with her obstinate husband of the day before. OK, that’s no different from any other time we talk… But this is my birthday! After going on a bit about that, her parting sentiment was about how one of my sisters is going back to work Monday after being on leave, and she’s sure she’s going to be fired.

Happy Birthday, Paula.

Later I had lunch with that same sister. I have to give her major points for arranging several days in advance of today to buy me lunch. I am entirely grateful for her thoughtfulness in this gesture, knowing that her finances don’t really allow for such an extravagance.

But she, too, used our time together to dump on me about her problems. Dredging up her hurts from a past marriage, from her childhood!, and from her present-day work situation (that she thinks she’s going to be fired from).

Happy Birthday, Paula.

She didn’t ask me anything about what’s going on with me since we last talked (and we don’t talk often due to constraints on her end). I had to interject a thing or two from my own frustrations. But it seemed pointless. My problems don’t come close to hers (thank God).

Surely, this is not what I get for MY birthday?! I want do-overs!

When I got home, I found that the mail brought no birthday greetings at all. However, I noticed that a flower pot on the porch had been moved. Hm, I know I didn’t do that…

Upon investigating, I saw the reason. The pot had been moved to help camouflage a greeting card and protect it from blowing away or being otherwise vanished from my porch.

With good reason. The card was from my step-brother, who had gone out of his way to stop by on MY birthday, and it included a $100 bill.

I haven’t heard from the other two siblings (yet?). But the contrast among the various things I was “given” by my family today is striking! There are too many inferences, implications, and analyses rife to go off on here…

But all that aside, it’s my birthday, and I rather prefer the gift that came with no burdens attached. I would have preferred it, even if it came with no money at all. On My birthday.

It’s only one day. It’s supposed to be mine.

Recycling My Last Post

I’m told that my last post, Time to Recycle the English Language, did not come across at all as I intended. Indeed, the complete lack of response was telling. It was a joke, people! But I guess I did a lousy job of making that obvious, and I’ve been so embarrassed at my failure that I haven’t dared to opine to this tough audience again. Until now.

Because I discovered something that makes me think maybe it wasn’t a joking matter after all. Merriam-Webster has confessed that they do remove words from the dictionary! My idea wasn’t so far-fetched.

If you use to look up words, then you’re familiar with the annoying if not informative talking head editors in the video clips called “Ask the Editor.” (You know – the ones that make the page take so long to load…) In each of these spots, one of Merriam-Webster’s editors expounds on some topic related to words, their usage, their history, and all sorts of obscure facts about them.

Recently, I caught Peter Sokolowski, M-W Editor-at-Large, in a piece titled, “Why Words Get Cut from the Dictionary.” What was that? You mean, uh, I was right? He began by saying, “What happened to snollygoster, hodad, frutescent, and more?” and went on to say, “To make room for new words, some obsolete words need to be removed.” (I told you we were running out of space in the English vocabulary!)

He gave the following reasons for “cutting” a word: “the thing a word names has long ceased to be used” (especially in the case of nouns) “or the word itself has become dated.” (Didn’t I tell you that “thrice” was useless?)

He continued, “Most words that are dropped are scientific or technical terms.” (Hm, scientists have been known to make up a new word for the original made-up term.) “Terms made up of two or more words are especially vulnerable.” (keypunch?)

But “thee and thou remain because Shakespeare and the Bible are still a part of our current linguistic culture.” Sigh. I guess that means thrice has also been saved from the editor’s sword. Well, snollygoster!


P.S. It appears that M-W has also removed, cut, deleted, archived the video upon which I sought to save face here. I promise, I did not make this up! But now, you probably think this post is the real joke…

Time to Recycle the English Language

According to a May 19, 2014 article in Time magazine, Merriam-Webster “revealed 150 new words that will be added to its collegiate dictionary this year, ranging from ‘hashtag’ and ‘catfish’ to ‘dubstep’ and ‘crowdfunding,’ most of which speak to some intersection of pop culture, technology and the Internet.”

Never mind my personal opinion as to the usefulness of these new words, I wonder, can our collective vocabulary handle any more “new” words? Do we really need more words?! Do we not have enough already with which to express ourselves? Can we not communicate clearly and intelligently with all the words we already have?

I fear that our English language vocabulary is the ultimate representation of text bloat. It conjures up images of “The Blob” that never stops growing and consumes all of us in its insidious infiltration of our culture. We cannot stop it nor run from it.

Yeah, I guess we don’t have any choice about the constant ooze of new words into our language given that “pop culture, technology, and the Internet” will continue to intersect and branch and morph. So what’s to be done? How are we to cope without being overrun by our own verbosity?

I have a solution, radical though it may be. I propose that we declare the ~1.5 million entries now contained in Merriam-Webster Unabridged as critical mass. That should be adequate, don’t you think?

But because the populace—not just the word nerds among us—will not be happy if they are no longer allowed to make up words because they don’t know how to use the ones they already have, my plan is this. For every batch of new words that M-W gives credence to, they must reduce the lexicon by the same number of words.

Think about it. We must contain the blob. But we will use a measured, systematic approach. Just as M-W accepts for consideration submissions of new words from the masses (“user-submitted words”), M-W will also accept nominations for words to be removed from the dictionary. I mean, can’t you think of a number of words that you haven’t thought of in years? When was the last time you used or heard the word “thrice” for example? Indeed it seems pretty useless these days. I’ll go first. I nominate “thrice” for deletion!

But sure as the word disappears silently, someone will go looking for it and raise a stink because they can’t find it. So in my plan, I propose an interim phase before words are collectively forgotten for good. Let’s archive them first. We move the nominated and M-W approved words subject to deletion to an Archive folder for a specified period while we get used to the idea of speaking, writing, and composing poetry without them. In Blob terms, we put them on ice, which proved to be the only way to stop the menace. This also provides saving grace just in case we change our minds about a particular word we just can’t part with. However, everyone knows that once you put something in Archive, you can never find it again anyway.

So as agreed, when the archive period is up, the words will be unceremoniously swept into the Recycle Bin by a process that runs during the night. I’m guessing we won’t miss them at all. We’ll just make up new ones.

Confession: I have a Fine Arts degree

The time has come. With much trepidation, I am outing myself. I am divulging a professional secret that I have kept closely guarded from my colleagues in Technical Communications and even more so from colleagues outside of TechCom.

Never mind that almost every one of my generation came into technical communications from some other discipline by default. That is common knowledge. But for many, those disciplines were English, Engineering, Computer Science. Something that logically lent itself to the transition. How does one command credibility as a TechCom professional with an Art degree as academic background? What could be more frivolous?

Well, TechCom is my “third career.” The third incarnation of my professional self. But I earned a BFA in Fabric Design. There, I said it.

What the heck does one do with that? And more to the point, does anyone even know what it is? I’m still proud to say that I was privileged to work in my chosen field as a designer. I designed carpet for a major manufacturer. I actually got to use my degree to make a living!

My second career move was involuntary. I started the layoff roller coaster early in my professional life. I moved or fell into computer graphics pretty much at its inception. I cannot say that my Fine Arts degree was of much help in this field, but I can’t say that it wasn’t either.

And when I finally moved into Technical Writing, I was sure that my resume looked like I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. There was no plan to it at all! But it began to feel right. And as I embraced that strange reality, I was surprised to see how it all fits together. It does make sense!

I am a writer now. I am an editor. But that does not mean that I’m not still creative! It doesn’t mean that my artistic ability and training aren’t brought into what I do everyday.

My canvas is still the same blank page.

Only my tools have changed. Words are my tool of choice. My skill is expressed in my very own unique combination and molding of words to my own device. Both professionally and personally.

To those with a limited perception of what Art is, I assert:

I am a writer and I have an Art degree.

I have an Art degree and I am a writer.

Does Using an Android Make You One?

Does owning a BlackBerry make you a fruitcake? Does a smartphone render you stupid? In my experience, the answer is, Yes.

I can say that because I do not own one of those things. I just have the misfortune of being on the receiving end of the snippets that are supposed to pass as human discourse these days. I’ve concluded that these devices make it easy for intelligent people to communicate with a startling lack of intelligence.

As a writer and editor of the English language and a purist to boot, I never succumbed to the shorthand of IM and text messaging. I prefer to converse in complete sentences with complete words. Words, not numbers that sound like words. And I think about the words I write. The context in which I write them conveys as much as the words themselves.

But today’s abbreviated communication style seems to mean that not only do people write in symbols and snippets, they read that way, too. They read only what few lines of a message can be crammed into a tiny display, without regard for the fact that there could be a lot more to it. There might just be context, if only you’d keep reading!

Context is a valuable thing when responding to a message. If you don’t understand the context, how can you respond intelligently? My answer to that one? You can’t. At least I haven’t experienced it very often.

Related to context is the fact that there could also be an attachment to the message. In fact, the context of the message might be in the attachment itself.

But I gather that these diminutive devices cannot open attachments or access URLs? If the blame actually belongs on the lazy user who doesn’t review the message context before responding, then please don’t tell me. I’m giving them a bit of an out here!

Miscommunicase in point: A lot of my relatives were born in July—three of J.L. Robertson’s children, two children’s spouses, and two grandchildren (my generation). This past July I sent an email to the family to remind and to remember the four among the seven who are no longer with us. Then my question was, “What is it about July?”

One quick-witted cousin did the math and responded, “The real question is… what’s the deal with October?!?” OK, but I didn’t mean to go there. Still, what did I expect from this redheaded jokester? At least his response was good-natured.

But my father is among the ones who are no longer with us. On his birthday, I posted a tribute to him on my blog and sent the link to the same list of relatives. This message read simply:

“In memory of Paul A. Robertson born July 22, 1924’s-birthday/

Actually, because it was on the same topic of July birthdays, I just forwarded the email I’d sent earlier with the new message and link appended. That was my first mistake, because what had been a joking matter before, now turned to serious expression of emotion.

This time I included a cousin who I’d inadvertently left out when I sent the first message. Second mistake! You kinda can’t blame her for not having the context of the first email. On the other hand, imagine my dismay when all she responded to was the first email without mention of my father.

“Maybe the question should be ‘What was with October??!!’”

Really? How insensitive is that? Was that really her response to my blog post?

After immediately rejecting her message by way of sending it to the Trash, I thought, “No, I really don’t think she meant to be insensitive.” She must not have read the blog post.

I located the message in the Trash, and responded to it, “Did you read my blog?”

She replied, “No, just the email.”

And after that was the telltale tag: “Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry”.

Her email stayed in the Trash.

But in an attempt to give her another chance, while making it clear that I felt she’d responded inappropriately: “Sorry you were left off of the original email on the 7th to which you responded. Please read today’s blog post when you can and then reply? Thanks.”

To which she responded, “I got the e-mail!”

But she still didn’t “get” it.

Nor did I.

How much better might this exchange have gone, if this highly intelligent and always busy person had waited until she could read the post that was the real subject of the email? How easily could I have avoided it, if I’d just sent it in an entirely new message? Had I been lazy myself in not doing that?

Or was I merely providing context? Context that went unsipped, though a simple prompt led straight to water.

Does someone else’s use of an Android, BB, or smartphone make even the receiver dimwitted?! Have I unknowingly been infected? I’m sure I’ve been affected.

In many cases, the quality of communication I receive in email exchanges is frustrating enough. To think that these devices foster further degradation in mutual understanding, is a source of great anguish!

Earlier this year, a friend figured out how to use his work computer as a wireless hotspot for his Android. Or was it the other way around? I don’t know!

Anyway, I started getting emails from him that were auto-signed:
“- Mitch
From the Android”


After one particularly confusing exchange with Mitch and/or his Android, I unleashed my frustration on him, “It just proves my point as to why I dislike handheld devices for communication meant for a much larger screen. So there. Are you sure it shouldn’t be:
“From the Android
– Mitch”

His reply showed that he understood he had been properly zinged
and that he forgave me anyway. “It is SO good to have friends with whom we can joust and jest.”

If only I could maintain my sense of humor with all the rest of the droids out there…

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