But is the ditch digger socialized?

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Twenty years ago I thought I’d like to homeschool. I tossed the decision at my husband and he immediately tossed it back in my lap.
“You’ll be doing all the work. I’ll support you, whatever you decide.”
That is pretty much the reaction we got from both sides of the family.
“Go for it. We support you.”

 

 

Cashiers at Sam’s Club, on the other hand, were confused when I had my young sons in their store in the middle of a school day.
“Is that even legal?”
My cousin, on the  board of a small Christian school, felt betrayed.
“We lose a few more families to homeschooling and we’ll need to close our doors.’

The conversations in those early years from my husband’s co-workers ran along these lines:
“Is your wife crazy?”
“A little.”
“How can she expect them to learn anything?”
She has her teaching degree.”
“Oh.That’s OK then. But what about socialization?”

I told my husband that nothing—NOTHING—I learned in my education classes prepared me to teach at the kitchen table, but he was grateful for the degree. It kept people off his back.

Our sons got older. People would look at them with pity.
“I’m sure they benefit from one-on-one attention. But what about sports and all that stuff?”
We would respond with grace. Hopefully.
“Well, they do swimming and tennis and golf and softball and baseball with community rec, and they are part of a homeschool soccer team and basketball team and a homeschool choir and a homeschool art class.”
“Oh. That’s all right then. But what about socialization?”

Eventually I graduated all of three boys. Now people say,
“So you homeschooled all the way through? Hmmm. Brave woman. What are they doing now?”
“Well, I have one mechanical engineer and one contractor/businessman and one finishing a degree in secondary ed.” I hasten to add, “and they are all very socialized.”
Polite smiles and a little relief greet this. “Well then. That’s OK.”
I have not raised sawed-off shotgun toting social misfits after all. More importantly, they are doing jobs that MATTER. Engineering? Impressive. Entrepreneur? Admirable. English teacher-to-be? Noble.

Sometimes, just occasionally, my grace is edged out by pugnaciousness. I speculate what would happen if I answered the ‘What are they doing now?’ question as follows:
Well, I raised a ditch digger and a garbage collector and a janitor and I am so proud of them! The ditch digger digs the best ditches because someone has to dig ditches. The garbage collector is a prince among garbage collectors and considers his work a service to his fellow man. The janitor rejoices that he has control over one little section of creation and can make it shine and function as it was meant to.”

My puzzled imaginary questioner says:
“But I’ve met your boys. They seem more…gifted than that.”
“Oh, they are! They are gifted with grace. With godliness. With humility. They have the gift of caring about their coworkers and neighbors and family and friends and complete strangers.”

The hypothetical interrogator continues, slowly now, because I am apparently a bit dim:
“Yes, of course. But I meant talents that can be used to make society better. To be productive.”

“You mean”— (my internal combatant is getting snotty here)— “talent is only measured by its monetary compensation? One’s talent must be bartered for a fat paycheck? A prestigious job? Both? Who says our gifts are given to make us wealthy, or even to change the world? Can’t our gifts just enrich our little sphere and whoever is in it? Can’t our talents help us do any job better, no matter how menial our culture considers it?
“My boys aren’t defined as only a ditch digger and a garbage collector and a janitor. They know that every shovel they lift and every trash bag they grab and every toilet they clean is part of Kingdom work because they do it to honor their King and serve their fellow man.”

Of course, God doesn’t allow me to remain contrary and truculent, even in my imagination, for long. We don’t live in a society that completely grasps homeschooling.
That is OK.
It isn’t OK that homeschooling parents—any parents—believe they are only successful if they raise ‘successful’ children.

In the end it isn’t the power or prestige or the paycheck that imbues any profession with nobility.
A truly successful job is the one that serves others and honors God and is done with all one’s might.

And it never hurts to throw in a smidgen of socialization.

The Frankenstein Next Door

Say you are a tall, willowy brunette with peaches and cream skin, cornflower blue eyes and an upturned little nose. When you laugh, the listener is reminded of merry children romping through a meadow, performing catch-and-release on butterflies. The average person would gaze upon you and say, “Ah. She is a package deal. Can’t imagine changing a thing.’

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How a fiction writer sees the world

Unless your observer is a writer of fiction. You will be scrutinized and your pleasing internal and external parts assessed as this Dr. Frankenstein of the literary world prepares to operate. The scalpel comes out and the dissection begins. Your limpid blue eyes will be tossed in a corner atop your pert nose, and your flawless complexion cast aside willy-nilly with your chestnut locks.

All the author really wants from you is your laugh.

It will be tucked under the pseudo-surgeon’s arm, hauled to his/her latest novel-in-progress and injected into someone’s great aunt. Or a vegetarian nun. Or the mad serial killer who duped everyone with her tinkling giggle.

The diabolical nature of the fiction writer is no respecter of persons or property. A neighbor child’s Spiderman boots will be handed over to a socially misfit detective. The novelist’s sweet grandmother, who uses ginger as the secret ingredient in her blue ribbon tuna casserole, may have it snatched away, only to be credited to an Albanian dictator. The college basketball star’s loose limbs, warm brown eyes and honeydew popsicle addiction could wind up in a haughty socialite’s cocker spaniel.

Writers hoard their ill-gotten plunder to use when (or if) they see fit. They stockpile dozens of eyes in all colors, shapes and luminosities, every conceivable nose, mouth and ear form, hair in every hue from the heavens above or earth beneath. They stash a massive variety of body types, strides, voices, hobbies, and clothing. You might be horrified to find your Great-Uncle Joe’s suspenders hanging next to your retired pastor’s false teeth and your librarian’s sensible shoes parked by your mail carrier’s misheard lyrics of ‘Blinded by the Light.’

Or, worse. You recognize your penchant for examining the ear wax you’ve extracted with the tip of your pinky. And the author has given it the soap-and-water phobic hermit with 98 cats.
No one is safe from this Frankenstein of a creator who slinks here and sidles there, ruthlessly collecting bits of this one and parts of that one and a soupçon from someone else. All to be force-fed into the lifeless character languishing in the writer’s imagination. A few complex maneuvers, some mishing and mashing and a huge jolt of imaginative electricity and . . . The Creature. Is. ALIVE.

Like Frankenstein, the novelist may take one look at their resulting wretch and run screaming in horror. Writing fiction is harrowing, folks. Please refrain from gathering the townfolk and setting upon your local author with torches and pitchforks. Remember. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely ‘coincidental.’

Wildely Tart

 

 

SONY DSC“Paradoxically though it may seem, it is none the less true that life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”
― Oscar Wilde

If dear Oscar could see art these days he may have added to the above little aphorism:
“and heaven help us all.’

Let’s start with an assumption: TV is a 21st century artform. (Work with me here)
And let’s, given the 21st century’s fascination with word smash-ups,
call this merger of
TV and art
‘Tart.’
(For purposes of this article we refer almost solely to the manifestation of Tart called ‘dramas’ since comedies make few attempts at portraying life realistically and ‘reality shows’ are so divorced from reality as to be classified ‘science fiction.’

Life, imitating Tart, would mean;

-the most dangerous job, bar none, is security guard. When, on TV cop shows, do security guards ever not get killed?

-when thieves or snoops sneak into a house, they will find it perfectly tidy, bed made, dishes done, paperwork filed and fridge shelves polished to a Turtle Wax glow.

-anyone trying to hack into someone’s (crumb-free) computer will need no more than 5 tries to figure out the private password.

-law enforcement comes to a house looking for a suspect/witness/person of interest. After 2 quick knocks and an ‘Anybody home?’ bellow they will enter via the (usually) unlatched door. And they never, ever, consider that the suspect/witness/P.O.I could be in the loo/lavatory/restroom.

-once in, there is a 98% chance they will find a dead body. Perhaps the loo was the best place to be after all.

-those desiring  a dangerous job but preferring to avoid the 100% mortality rate of the security guard profession, might consider law enforcement. Guaranteed job security (unless your network contract is up) and thrills that come from being shot, concussed, bruised, kidnapped, and compromised. Applicants should have a deep secret in their past and/or family member(s) killed by someone evil. Must be willing to devote all free time and several seasons tracking this evildoer.

-great coworkers abound, who love each other so much that they spend major holidays with each other instead of extended family.

-serial killers are more common than mudhens.

-those leaping from 2nd/3rd story windows to escape any given serial killer will land in the back of a dump truck filled with something soft and buoyant. When this cushiony substance is impacted by the escapee’s weight, a chain of dump truck events is triggered. These include the ignition turning over, gears being engaged and the unsuspecting truck chauffeuring the escapee to safety.

-cars (built according to Tart specifications) will explode on impact. Any impact.

-cars (built according to Tart specifications) self-steer. As miles of scenery whirl merrily past, the driver can chat, face-to face, with the front seat passenger.

-victim-types will go alone to a deserted spot to meet an avowed enemy, this in spite of the decades of disastrous consequences experienced by predecessor (and deceased) Tarts who did the same thing.

-anyone put in the witness protection program because something that shouldn’t have been seen was seen, will have a teenage offspring along. The offspring WILL climb out a window to meet friends and endanger themselves, the family, and national security.

-innocent types, on the run from gangsters in a city of 5 million people, will bump into them when turning a corner.

-a sports team of out of shape, clueless non-athletic, lovable quirky loser-types, in less than one season, will improve to the extent that they will beat the buff, haughty, talented jockkids who have been training in this sport since the cradle.

-pregnant women will deliver a spotless 15 pound infant after 30 minutes of labor, anywhere but a hospital and by anyone but a doctor.

And finally, because Tart is where we gain wisdom and comfort and joy—

-when one is in the midst of deepest despair and self-doubt and failure, a wise sage will offer those remarkable, magical, those life-changing words, (or what we like to call the
SweetTart):
“I believe in you. Now you must believe in yourself.”

Too bad the tragic Oscar Wilde didn’t have Tart around to imitate.

Synecdoches, Synecdo-don’ts

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Next time some literary snob type tells you, in a world-weary sort of tone:
“ I suppose you don’t know what a synecdoche is,”
You can answer:
“Everybody knows that. Synecdoches form images in our minds with a convenient sort of shorthand. They help create our understanding of the entirety via a glimpse of only one part. So there.”

‘Synecdoche’ possibly isn’t one of your top 100 daily words.
(But if you want to haul it out at your next party make sure you pronounce it right.
Sort of like Schenectady)
Your synecdoche-comprehension is, however, perfect.
If I told you I got a ‘new set of wheels’ you wouldn’t congratulate me on a tire purchase.
You’d know I was talking about my (mythical) new car.
You celebrate with bubbly, sign your John Hancock, count heads and pay with plastic and you are a MASTER of the synecdoche.
‘All hands on deck’ demands more than just hands, but isn’t it so much more fun than asking all competent personnel to come topside? A Romeo and Juliet couple is headed no place good and if someone calls you Charlie Brown they don’t necessarily mean you are well-drawn.

Charlie Brown carries the burden of all lovable losers on his narrow shoulders. He can handle it. He’s made of ink, for goodness’ sake. A Venus is a synecdoche for lovely women while a Jane Eyre-type is plain but will get the blind bigamist in the end. It’s OK. The originals aren’t real. Elmer Fudd can be a stand-in for cartoon hapless hunters but don’t think for a moment he represents the whole of the real world of hunters.

With all that said, let’s check your synecdoche prowess.
‘Single mother’ What pops into your head?
How about ‘Homeschooler?’
‘Young black male?’
Is your brain ready to explode with the millions of different single moms, homeschoolers and young black men?
Are you shouting,
“Is that Tuesday Prude crazy? How can one single mom possibly stand for all single mothers? How can one homeschooled kid or young black male create our understanding of the whole?”
You know it isn’t possible.
Not everyone has your grasp of the obvious.
Some will take a hard-working single mother and use her to convince us that ‘single mother’ is synonymous for ‘hard-working.’
Someone whose identity has been stolen by a single mother will use her as a synecdoche for every single mother.
Kids schooled at home are kids. Some neatly dressed who call adults m’am or sir, some with Supreme Court-level comprehension of the Constitution, some playing video games all day in their pajamas. But there are folks out there—really, I have met them—who assume that the single homeschooler they’ve had access to must represent all those who are homeschooled.

Wisecracking Will Smith-type rascals, noble George Washington Carvers/Martin Luther King Jrs, or hardened African American gang members are incapable of helping us comprehend that entire elusive classification of ‘young black male.’
One single mom can’t represent all single moms. No woman can bear that burden. Since homeschooled kids are as varied as otherly-schooled youngsters it would be an impossible waste of energy to find one synecdoche for the whole.
Young black men, like young black women (or whatever hue or gender) face enough challenges. They barely know themselves. Heaven forbid one of them function as stand-in for everyone in their bracket.

Synecdoches make great figures of speech but lousy stereotypes.
Like literary device elitists, they must be kept firmly in their place.

Writing without widgets

falling_rocks
I am a rock. I am an island.
(Simon and Garfunkel ‘I am a Rock’)

That is me. An rock of oblivion and an island of inflexibility
standing firm in the raging torrent of social media.
Here’s the thing about rocks and islands.
We don’t stand firm because we are strong
and steadfast and resolute.
We are stuck.
Have you ever seen an island pull up stakes to follow the crowd?
And rocks. Not known for trendiness.

Several years ago I thought it would be fun to start writing a book.
Once I got some impetus going I thought it would be fun to finish it.
What could be more fun than finishing a book?
Submitting it to a publisher!
Oh! Oh!
And then getting it published!
Having family and friends buy it!
This rolling stone was gathering no moss.

Until, in a parallel universe—the actual one—I came to realize that the rolling, moss-shedding author
was a temporary illusion.
The real me is the unmoving rocky island with roots to the center of the earth.
An atoll (there are very few synonyms for ‘island’) who is learning that writers eventually  run out of family and friends to purchase one’s book. The glorious ‘I am a published author’ ride
hits the rocks.
And one needs to
PROMOTE.

Promotion is double horror for a rock and an island:
One needs to be confident and outgoing. Creative and fearless. Rocks are not known for these qualities. We prefer to blend into the scenery and have people sit on us.

And one needs to have moved from newspaper interviews/genteel bookstore readings and into Twitter feeds and author pages and likes on Facebook and blog widgets and avatars and all the things islands just can’t cope with.

But the world of social media and self-promotion is lapping at my rocky shores.
I’ve cajoled and convinced everyone I know to buy my book and I can’t make new friends or relatives fast enough to generate glowing book sales.

So I’ll do what I can to appear that I am busily promoting, without actually moving.

*************
I wrote a book folks! A suspense/romance mystery!
It’s called ‘Winter Watch’ and my real name (really) is Anita Klumpers
Publisher: Prism Book Group
Available in paperback and ebook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords
and various other online sites.
*************
There.
That didn’t hurt a bit.
But my editor is heading this way with a few sticks of TNT.
My island days are numbered.
Look for bits and pieces of my rocky self bobbing along in the social media world,
gasping out tweets and hanging onto a widget for dear life.

Lily-Livered Literary Devices

Real life wreaks havoc with perfectly good literary devices.
In the hands of professionals, these devices make the world of literature a finer place.
When rank amateurs throw them around, the term ‘verbal abuse’ takes on a whole new meaning.

The simile, saying something is like something else, requires an imaginative mind and clarity of expression:
He uttered a sound much like a bull dog swallowing a pork chop whose dimensions it has underestimated. (PG Wodehouse)
Let an American teens get hold of it and the simile turns into:
‘I was like, just standing there and he, like, winked at me and I, like, died!’

When Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote, “I like humanity, but I loathe persons.” she was brilliantly employing an oxymoron.
When we speak of government intelligence or peacekeeping force or media integrity or red licorice we just use one word in the phrase to cancel out the other.

Anthropomorphism, attributing human characteristics to animals (sometimes interchangeable with personification) raises our consciousness with totalitarian critters in ‘Animal Farm’ or raises an entire generation of anti-hunting protestors with ‘Bambi.’
Now, commercials try to work up sympathy for lonely cleaning products pining for love in attics. Movies like ‘Toy Story’ and ‘Brave Little Toaster’ convince us that we can’t throw out broken plastic playthings or obsolete appliances because they have feelings too. That just raises my blood pressure.

Euphemisms. Ah. A way to take something prosaic, unpleasant or distressing and make it palatable.
Lucy wasn’t pregnant in ‘I Love Lucy.’ She was expecting. Sometimes women in the 1950’s were in the family way or on the nest or visited by the stork but they were NEVER pregnant.
‘The Godfather’ movies made threatening the life of another sound positively appealing by ‘making someone an offer they can’t refuse.’
See how clever these euphemisms are?
Compare them to the politician who has lied, cheated and stolen. Will he admit to lying, cheating etc? No. He will admit that ‘mistakes were made.’
Collateral damage, friendly fire and enhanced interrogation all have a pleasant ring to them.
Someone had the bright idea to call  taxes ‘revenue enhancements.’
See how clever those euphemisms are?

Portmanteau is that fun little device that joins 2 words to make a new word. Lewis Carroll combined ‘lithe’ and ‘slimy’ to make the great word slithy in Jabberwocky. Smog? I can handle that. Motel? Very clever. How can human beings who come up with a delight called brunch also have infomercials and Brangelina and TomKat?

Invective. If you have ever read the comment section on YouTube videos, blogs, opinion columns,  etc., you’ve probably run across invective. Invective is that nasty, spiteful, lewd, venom-dripping-from-each-word sort of response Internet trolls like to use. Like real trolls, these scourges of social media have a limited vocabulary and use the same 4 letter words over and over and over.
Compare invective in the hands of a master. Shakespeare’s King Lear addresses his faithless daughter’s servant as such: “A knave, a rascal, an eater of broken meats; a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy worsted-stocking knave; a lily-livered, action-taking, whoreson, glass-gazing, super-serviceable, finical rogue; one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a bawd in way of good service, and art nothing but the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander, and the son and heir to a mongrel bitch: one whom I will beat into clamorous whining if thou deni’st the least syllable of thy addition.”(William Shakespeare “King Lear”, II.2)
Maybe when Internet trolls start using words like ‘ beggardly’ and ‘lily-livered’ and ‘filthy worsted-stocking knave’ we can take them more seriously.

GOING GRAY

SONY DSCPeople of a certain delicate age, we decided last time out, don’t really forget stuff. We just misplace it for a time.
This week we face another conundrum. Why do decisions that were once clear-cut now have more angles than a 10th grade geometry book? When did snap judgements expand to Supreme Court-deliberation length?
Why does a final, rock solid decision continuously elude me?

Something else is going on here. It isn’t only the sheer amount of stuff shoved into my memory bank.
It’s the filter.
My filter assigns virtue to incoming information.
Like my hair, the filter is getting gray and brittle.
Another scourge of middle age.

My grandsons are infants. The world is white to them. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, centers around their needs. A nuclear explosion could erupt in the next town and they would demand a diaper change. Naptime can’t wait for important phone calls to end and they really have no use for Mommy’s migraine when their little tummies rumble. The world is straightforward and monochrome. It is responsible for making them happy and keeping them safe. All is white.

By the time these little ones hit their teenage stride something remarkable will have happened.
Another color, another dimension, will have gradually crept into their ‘me’ world.
Black takes its place along white.
Now, while still wanting to fulfill their own pleasures and needs, these blossoming youth comprehend that some things are bad. They will begin assessing data and assigning colors.
Is this good or bad? Black or is it white?
Decision making over all that info takes more time. They no longer see just a white spotlight focussed on their own needs. They see the dark of wrong, bad, evil. Their brains have more information to process. Not only are they working with more experience to apply to the info. They have to make a judgement call.
Black or white?
Life isn’t entirely simple.
But it still is sort of simple. Rarely in the idealistic absolutes of youth do black and white puddle together into ambiguity.

Here at the tail end of middle age, black and white are no longer the primary colors used by my brain to file information, make an application and deduce, “This is bad. That is good. She is evil. He is pure. Do this. Don’t do that.”

Grayness has set in. So few of the decisions are easy. Implications abound. While some actions I observe are overtly evil or obviously good, I have learned (oh, blast that experience!) that quick verdicts are not always easy to make.
Judgment calls require the sifting of acquired wisdom and accumulated experience and hits and misses. We are so much slower than we used to be because our filter has so much more to sort. Lean chicken or marbled steak? Spankings or time outs? Liberal Republican or conservative Democrat? What does ‘in the world but not of it’ look like? Will the shabby man begging for spare change spend it on liquor? How can one tired finite mind figure this all out?

Humans and situations and issues are complex. People can do bad things with good intentions. Charitable actions can have self-serving motives, honorable nations can fight dishonorable wars and every story doesn’t have 2 sides. It might have a dozen.

There are absolutes in the world. I respect them but understand that fallible humans have trouble living those absolutes absolutely. I respect justice but crave mercy. The gray filter of my mind has seen the dark recesses of my heart struggle with the brightness of Good. It reminds me how foolhardy and hypocritical a rush to judgement can be.
At the same time my brittle, tired filter longs for the day when I won’t have to analyze, appraise and critique myself or others or issues or events.

Someday, my gray filter won’t be needed. All will be White. And I’ll have eternity to enjoy the chicken AND the steak.