Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!When we remember the past year, we realize our lives are comfortable - almost to the point of the mundane.  We didn't travel much - a couple local trips mostly - and stayed at home doing ordinary things. The best part of our lives is seeing the good things that happen to the people we love.Our highlights first:
  • Ann joined a couple of groups and has made a lot of new friends.  She is now a member of the local Tent of the Daughters of Union Veterans.  Actually, she’s a great-granddaughter of a Civil War soldier.
  • She also found a group of people who have become hearing impaired as adults, and is learning American Sign.  One of the highlights of the group is their karaoke parties.
  • Bill has taken a leap and started a small publishing house, Ramsfield Press.  The press sponsors six writing contests a year, with cash prizes and publication.  The first short story, “Cat Lady,” by Mary VanSwol, is published at www.Ramsfieldpress.com.  In the works is a cookbook/anthology of food writing with a planned release date set for the fall.  And the press is looking for good narrative fiction, if you have a book to submit.
  • Bill also joined the Board of Directors of Foundation 153, which raises money to award grants for special projects to teachers in Homewood Elementary School District 153.  In our fall cycle of grants we awarded over $17,000!

The milestones of our lives include
  • Dyed in the wool Blackhawks hockey fans Ann and Bill watched their team win the 2010 Stanley Cup!
  • Grandson David returned from  his semester in Ecuador and will graduate from Beloit College next May.
  • Grandson Jonathan is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a view of Lake Michigan from his dorm room.  He is majoring in television production, working in university security, and learning a lot.
  • Son Derek married the love of his life early this year in a fairy tale hot air balloon elopement.  He and lovely bride Jo are the proud parents of year old Ella and Gavin William, born in November.
  • Daughter Shannon became engaged to Ray, a wonderful, kind man.  They plan a May wedding, at which Bill (with his internet ordination) will officiate.

We couldn’t be happier for Shannon and Derek!  What joy they and all our other chosen family, Tim, Karen, Greyson and Alexa, Theresa, Rochelle, Pegi, and Margaret, bring to our lives.We wish you the peace and joy of the Christmas season, and good health and prosperity for the coming year.
 
 
I enjoy television - too much - but what I like best are the shows on On Demand because I can watch them without commercials or having to stop and zip through the commercials if I use the DVR.One of the shows Ann and I both enjoy is Undercover Boss.  

It’s really a pretty cheesy formula:  The corporate giant gathers his administrative staff and tells them he’s going undercover in the company to find out what is really going on and how people feel.  He frequently pretends to be laid-off construction worker looking for a new career.  

He lives in cheap bed-bug ridden motels for a week, drives a crappy rental car, and samples menial jobs in his company while a television crew films him "trying entry level jobs for a new reality program."While he is working at his menial, entry-level job, he invariably talks to the immediate supervisor and finds out that she is a single mom who can’t afford a baby sitter because her work schedule is spotty.  

Or that the supervisor has cancer and only three months left to live but wants to give it all to the company.  

Or that the supervisor is doing the work of three executives and loves it, but gets paid only minimum wage and is docked if s/he takes more than three minutes to pee on a break.  

Or . . . You get the idea.

Occasionally, there’s a supervisor who takes advantage of the employees.

The Undercover Boss is suitably impressed with the staff, and after he gets back to international headquarters, summons these supervisors in stretch limos while their adrenaline kicks in and they start to sweat.  They are overjoyed to see their old friend of one day doing so well for himself, and they weep when he tells them

[Wait a second, this is where the Undercover Boss becomes American Evita.]

They weep when he tells them that he is setting up trust funds for their college educations, or getting medical care for their sick children, or buying them a new house, or firing them because they embody what used to be the corporate culture and now they don’t, so Get lost, Asshole.

This is all very well and good, and we all have a cathartic cry.  

But, and this is a giant but, the benefits don’t accrue universally.  

In Peronist Argentina (and I get my history from history as well as Andrew Lloyd-Weber), Eva Peron, a.k.a. Evita, went around dispensing charity at random.  My grandsons’s mother went to an Evita elementary school when she was a child living in Argentina.  

It was a beautiful building, but there was no money for roads and infrastructure, so it wasn’t practical.

The Undercover Bosses - and Dr. Phil, and Oprah, and myriad other celebrity do-gooders - act randomly, and I wonder if anything in corporate culture truly changes.  

There’s never follow up of a year later, and this particular show hasn’t been on long enough to produce five-year follow ups.

Now, let me change my direction slightly.

It is my belief that anyone who comments on Education in America, from the President of these United States down the food chain to the legislators who create school law, the lawyers who push mainstreaming (which I am not against let it be known), the parents who criticize teachers, the administrators who haven’t been in a classroom for years, the guidance counselors - some of whom have never been in a classroom - the fans who criticize coaches, the custodians who know better than the teachers and tell their friends. 

ANYONE who comments on Education in America ought to emulate Undercover Boss and take a month off to teach.  
To really teach.Every year.

They must create original lesson plans, have a full teaching load, keep discipline, bandage wounded egos, go to all the meetings and stay awake, arrive early, stay late, deal with parents who email twice a day, show up sober (yeah, I watch Mad Men, too) and generally work toward being the Zen teacher they think all teachers should be.  

In the meantime, they should live on a salary comparable to a new teacher's, deal with their family problems, balance the checkbook, keep the car and the yard in order, and explain to their children why they can’t afford to do the kinds of things television advocates.

Let these people become the Undercover Bosses we seem to idolize.  Let them understand the real problems of education and come up with real solutions to help kids learn.  We don’t need No Child Left Behind.  We don’t need Education Reform.  We don’t need people who are totally out of touch with the classroom telling the professionals how to teach or what to teach.

For a change, Let’s let the professionals do their jobs and let the naysayers just Back Off Jack.

And if they aren't willing to do that, they should head straight for the Slap Room.


And while I’m ranting, let me say something about parochial education of yore, where fifty kids learned to read, there were never any discipline problems, and the teachers earned just enough to get by on a thousand calories a day because they put their hearts and souls into teaching.

Parochial school could kick out kids who didn’t or couldn’t achieve.  

Parochial schools allowed teachers to whack kids up the side of the head or on the knuckles if they stepped out of line.  

Parochial schools had nuns who were supported by the Church and didn’t need salaries.  

You get the drift.  Those kids learned, true.  If they didn’t drop out, if they didn’t get kicked out, and if the parents continued to pay for - and enforce the rules of - parochial education.

As always feel free to comment below. I welcome your insights.
 
 
I would like to start a new writing group populated with serious writers.

I am willing to meet on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday evenings; or the group could meet mornings, afternoons or on weekends.

By serious writers, I mean people who write on a regular basis and think carefully about what they write, as well as what they  read.  Serious writers read widely.  Serious writers write regularly.  Serious writers welcome critique, listen to it despite the pain - and then decide thoughtfully what to do with the critique.  Serious writers write from the heart, but don't end up with Roses are red poetry.

Serious writers do not need to be specifically educated or trained in writing.  Nor do they need to be professional writers.  They do not need to be any specific age or gender.  Serious writers do not need to write only in prose.  Or in fiction.  All genres are welcome.

I have been in groups with well-intentioned writers who don't take time to write, and who think anything - Anything - someone else writes is good.  Comments that involve the sentences, "Oh, that's really good.  I like it" are not really helpful to any writer. 
 
More helpful are comments like, "That character is well written, but is almost too good to be true.  What flaws does s/he have?"  or  "I think you have too much explanation at the beginning.  Look at the paragraph that begins, 'She stepped from the bathroom with the towel held in front of her.  The lights came on and twenty acquaintances screamed, "Surprise!"  The towel fell from her . . .'  Start there.  It really pulls me in."  Or,  "You end this too quickly.  It's almost as if you got tired of writing.  If you draw the ending out by adding . . ."  Or, "The fight scenes are clear and have great energy, but the love scenes feel as if you're embarrassed to write them.  They need more authenticity."

Critique does not mean focusing only on the negative.  Good writers need to hear what they are doing well too.  In the examples I provided above, I tried to show the positives.

I have, of course, a selfish reason for wanting to start a writing group:  I want clear, thoughtful feedback on my own writing, and I'm willing to provide the same kind of feedback to my compatriots.

A writing group provides discipline, something most writers - including me - need.  Having a monthly meeting with a deadline keeps us honest.

Writing is a lonely occupation.  We sit by ourselves with our computer or typewriter or pad and pencil.  The blank screen or page stares at us, and we strive to fill it.  We write, we rewrite, we edit, and we rewrite yet again before we are satisfied we have a worthy first draft.  Then the work begins.

If you'd like to be a part of a writers group, pleas comment below or contact me at the bottom of my LINKS page.
 
 
Consider these ten questions and answer them in comments, below.  Thanks!
1.  How often do you write?  (every day, only week days, when you find the time, , etc.)
2.  Do you write early, during the day, at night, what?
3.  Do you write in the same place?
4.  Where do you write?  (at the kitchen table, in your home office, your work office, the coffee shop, or?)
5.  Do you require silence to think or do you work best in a noisy situation?
6.  How do you manage interruptions?
7.  Do you have a specific goal each day?  (a number of words, lines, pages, etc.)  What is your goal?
8.  Are you able to keep to a schedule or do you break your routine?  Why?
9.  Do you have an informal proofreader or editor?
10.  Do you exchange pages with a group or partner?
 

Acronyms

08/01/2010

3 Comments

 
Most of the people I know speak in shorthand.  We use inside jokes with our close friends or turn a person's name into an act, like pulling a Brenda, whatever that means.  In our texting, something I haven't mastered yet, writing emails or on social networks we use computerese shorthand.

Often we use acronyms without even knowing it.  An acronym is a word formed with the first letters of the phrase it stands for.

Thus,
AIDS is Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome, radar stands for RAdio Detection And Ranging, scuba stands for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus and snafu, originally a military term, stands for Situation Normal, All Fucked Up.  Pardon my crudity, but them's the facts, ma'am.

Lately, we have been inundated with a "new" language that I'm dubbing computerese shorthand.  Groups of letters like
OMG (oh, my God!), C U (see you),  and lol (laughing out loud; this comes with many variations like rotflmao) are merely groups of letters and don't create words - at least not words generally pronounceable in English.

I hear from employers and teachers that computerese shorthand is ruining the language, that because of it no one can spell any more and that the art of writing is lost.

What tripe they spout!  I taught high school English for thirty-three years beginning in 1968, and found that writing and spelling have never been easy disciplines, especially in English, since printing began in England in 1476.  (The first Western movable type was used by Guttenberg in 1450, but the Koreans used it in the Thirteenth Century.)  In English to use George Bernard Shaw's famous spelling example,
ghoti spells fish.  GH as in enouGH, O as in wOmen, and TI as in acTIon.

Computerese shorthand is nothing new.  I used to teach my students what we called notehand back when I taught, and earlier I used it when I was in college in the middle Sixties.  I'm sure I was not the first.  It was a pretty simple alternative to Gregg shorthand, which requires specialized training.  In fact, I can remember when I was in high school and riding the city bus seeing ads for business schools that used notehand to attract riders' attention.  
F U cn rd ths, U cn gt * jb S * secrtry.  These days we don't have secretaries; instead we have executive assistants.  These days, notehand abounds on license plates.  Seven letters maximum send a message like my friend Wanda's plate:  WNDAFUL.

Simple abbreviations like using an
x instead of writing times, or B4 instead of before, or a v instead of of were part of the lessons.  At one point I could take practically verbatim notes of meetings or lectures.  My notehand is really rusty at this point, and there's little I need to take notes of. 

But back to acronyms.  We seem to be inundated with them lately.  One of my favorites is BUDWEISER:  Because You Deserve What Every Individual Should Ever Receive.  Karma rules and this could be a blessing as well as a curse.  I suspect it's used as a curse most frequently.


PETA seems to govern everything we do, although pet ownership in the United States is at an all time high.  AIDS ended the first phase of the sexual revolution.  And a whole lot of people I know have BLOGS.  MADD helps SADD in its anti-drinking and driving mission.

I'm sure you can think of many of them, and here's an assignment, should you choose to take it:  In the
comment box at the top of this blog, please tell me your favorite acronym, what it stands for, and where you found it.  If you made it up, so much the better.

 
 
Mark Twain, in his Adam's Diary, talks about how the names of things came to be.  Adam, of course, credits (or blames) Eve, whom he resents for taking over his privacy and independence.


On Tuesday, the second day, Adam writes: Been examining the great waterfall.  it is the finest thing on the estate, I think.  The new creature calls it Niagara Falls - why, I am sure I do not know.  Says it LOOKS like Niagara Falls.  that is not a reason, it is mere waywardness and imbecility.  I get no chance to name anything myself.


And then on Friday, he says, The naming goes recklessly on, in spite of anything I an do.  I had a very good name for the estate, and it was musical and pretty - GARDEN OF EDEN.


I find Twain usually amusing, and this section of the Diaries especially so.


All this leads up to the naming of things, and especially characters in my writing.


In my recently re-issured novel Family Plot, I knew there would be fifteen children, so I named them alphabetically.  I thought this was humorous, but very few people commented on it.  Maybe it was too subtle.


I also collect names.  In Oliver, Oliver, which I am shopping with publishers currently, I named the main character's step-grandfather Darko Andric.  I picked that name up when were in London with one of our grandsons - our present for his twelfth birthday.


We were riding the top of a London bus, and as usual I had my notebook out.  As I recall I found Darko's name as the owner of a pub on Oxford Street.


i also find names at cemeteries.  In Family Plot Dimple Deribus' fist name was on a tombstone in the old section of the graveyard where my in-laws are buried.  I found the name Lovely, Dimple's mother in Family Plot, there also.


Deribus, their last name, was the name of my Ohio grandparents' neighbor when I was a young adult.  My Grandma Roxie, who sat on her front porch and perused the neighborhood, though Mrs. Deribus was a scandal.  The poor old lady wore a shabby house dress most of the day, and would pull weeds from her garden in front of her home.  when she bent over, my grandmother could "see all the way to London."


Mrs. Deribus got dressed up every evening and then someone wold drive up and honk, and she'd rush out to the car.  "She's going to play Bunko again," my Grandma Roxie would comment.  I don't know exactly what Bunko is, but I suspect it's pretty innocuous.  My grandmother didn't intend to be funny, but she frequently was.  And those summer evenings on her front porch provided me with a great name.


Also in Family Plot is a character named Bob Burgwald.  This man is a member of our parish and I have permission to use his name - a signed release, in fact.  If someone wanted to use my name in a novel, as long as I the character wasn't a terrible villain, I'd be flattered.


As far as names go, I have tried to 'friend' every Bill Moser on Facebook.  So far I have about twenty friends with my name or a variation.  We're probably related.


A couple weeks ago, when we went to a Memorial Party for a dear friend who had died, we sat at the dinner table next to a charming lady who has a lawyer cousin with the last name Moser in California.  Are we related?


I honestly don't know, but it's very possible.  My Moser grandparents were divorced in the 1920's.  My grandfather died shortly before my birth and I never met his side of the family.


Which brings me to genealogy.  I open the very comprehensive book of genealogy that my father created, point my finger, and choose a name.  One of my favorites is Longnecker, but I have to be careful which character gets that name because of possible connotations.  A character who sits on the front porch and peruses the neighborhood might be a good choice.


Please feel free to comment on this post, and to let me know how you choose names for your characters if your write.


And if you're interested in buying my recently re-issued Family Plot you can order it at bn.com and amazon.com as well as your favorite indie bookstore.