October 30, 2013 § 19 Comments
Like you, I am prone to attacks of the Whatifs.
Last night, while I lay thinking here,
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow taller?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems swell, and then
The nighttime Whatifs strike again!
- Shel Silverstein, “WHATIF” from A Light in the Attic
My Whatifs used to be things like, “Whatif I forget my lines in the Mother Goose play?” or “Whatif I ruin my marriage?” Then it was, “Whatif my kids hate me?” or worse, “Whatif our kids hate to read?”
Now, though, now there is a Whatif that has burrowed deeper than an earwig, has tunneled through my eardrum and my temporal lobe, and has embedded itself in my anterior insula, the worry spot in my brain: Whatif my eyes fail me in my old age and I can no longer read in bed at night?
I found a funny little meme on Pinterest the other day, “You know you’re a book lover when… you read until your eyes can’t focus.” At first I laughed, and then I wanted to cry. These days it can be as few as five minutes before the words begin to wiggle and my eyes can’t pin them down to read them. All the new aches and pains of my aging body don’t bother me that much, and when my hair grays I’ll just be one of those free-spirit women with long silver hair. But my eyes? I need my eyes for reading.
When we lived in Minnesota, I owned a soap company, and I worked on the computer all day long, editing photographs for my Etsy shop or writing blog posts for my business, and when the time came at night to lay down in bed and read, I couldn’t. Letters multiplied, an “A” becoming “AA,” but overlapping in a way I can’t recreate with my keyboard. I would squint, and blink, and rub my sockets, trying to tame the text and failing. I thought maybe my eyes were tired from working on the computer, so I took time off from the screen. But then I’d lay in bed and my vision would still go blurry, and I couldn’t read my fiction, and it was devastating to me because for all my life I’ve read before I go to bed.
I went to see the eye doctor, and after a suite of tests, after an hour and a half at the opthamologist’s office, I came to find out that my eyes are fine. He recommended that I not buy the reading glasses that I looked at at Barnes & Noble, turning that spinner around, admiring the pink leopard print frames, wondering which lens strength I might need. He said that those could weaken my eye sight if I got them too early, that my eyes would use the readers as a crutch.
“Well then what is wrong?” I asked. “Because my eyes aren’t working right, and it’s not okay with me. I read at night. I have to be able to read at night.”
And he told me, “You are an insufficient blinker.”
“When you blink your eyes, you don’t close them all the way,” he told me. “Also, when you, or me, or anyone, works at the computer, we tend to blink less frequently – we stare wide-eyed at the screen.”
“Sooooo, how does that make my sight blurry at night when I try to read?” Get with it, here, doc.
“Your eyes are drying out,” he said. “You need to blink more.”
“You’ll have to remind yourself to blink, and make sure you blink completely – close your eyes all the way when you blink.” He pulled a small white bottle out of his crisp white pocket. “And you can use these artificial tears.”
Now, around this same time, I closed my soap business and got a job at Barnes & Noble. When I interviewed there, it was obvious they wanted me to get behind the Nook, their e-reader. I pretended I was interested so I could get the job, but really I was one of those people who said, “I want a real book, I like the way they smell, I want to turn the pages.” I was anti-e-reader all the way, but I didn’t tell the manager that.
On my very first shift, when I trained on the Nook, and I saw that you could change the size of the font (ie make it giant for my granny eyes), I saw all my problems solved. I turned to my trainer and said, Holy crap I want one of these.
So I got one. My parents gave me a Nook Color that year for my birthday. And lo and behold, when I read at night, I can enlarge the font and I can SEE without it getting blurry. I don’t have to close one eye to force single vision, I don’t have to use eye drops to read. Angels sang, and my reading and eye problems were solved. For a minute.
The problem is that I still read physical books. Not every book I want to read is available as a digital title from the library, and we’ve already covered the topic of me not buying books, font-adjustable e-book or otherwise. And even with my ability to supersize the e-reader font, I still sometimes struggle with double vision.
So what do I do about my eyes? I know audio books are the latest rage in the book world – all my favorite book podcasts are sponsored by audible.com and audiobooks.com – so there’s that option. I don’t doubt that audio books are a fabulous solution for daytime reading, but at night? Am I really going to lie in bed next to my husband with headphones on, shutting him out, reading a book with my eyes closed? That makes me feel kind of weird.
Fortunately, for now, despite this litany on the failure of my eyesight, my vision is often fine. Even though I obsess about the future of my nighttime reading life, most nights I read without a problem. And when there is trouble? I have started gathering data about the days my eyes flake out. There appear to be two factors that affect them. The first is how late I go to bed: the later I snuggle in, the blurrier the words on the page. That can be easily fixed – we can watch one episode of Scandal instead of two, and I’ll be in bed by 9:30, eyes in fine form.
The second is not so simple. The second is alcohol. That’s a sad choice to have to make, the choice between literature and the zing of gin tingling my tounge. Some days deserve a drink. Some days it’s a tough call. Some days I have to ask myself, will it be The Great Gatsby, or will it be a gin sling? Will I read Papa Hemingway, or will I drink a Papa Doble? Those days I think I’m invincible, I think I can still hang like a 25 year old, and I do them both. And then, after five minutes with my book, the words begin to wiggle and my eyes can’t pin them down to read them, and I worry, Whatif I go blind? Whatif my eyes fail me in my old age and I can no longer read in bed at night?
June 7, 2013 § 3 Comments
Today is the anniversary of my first post, One Last Move, on June 7, 2012 on Butterfly Mind. In that first post, and in many subsequent ones, I wrote about trying to find my way as an at-home mom when our children both went off to elementary school, leaving me alone in quiet, not for minutes but for hours, for the first time in 9 years. I didn’t know if I should pursue a new career, and if so, what would I do? Who would I be? A young friend in Blacksburg commented on one such searching post:
“For your main line of work, I would follow whatever you naturally gravitate toward when you feel the need to be productive.”
How very wise he was. Thank you Phil. You were right. I gravitate towards words when I want to be productive, and I did not see that at the time. When I thumb through old diaries, I realize I’ve gravitated towards writing all along. Every couple of years I express in those private pages my desire to be a writer. A desire that seemed so impractical and unattainable, I never gave it credence. Until this blog. Now, I’m building a writing practice, laying a foundation so that when the kids grow up and move away, I can move forward into a writing career. If that’s still what I want to do ten years from now.
To celebrate my first anniversary, I thought I’d serve up the year’s most popular posts. For those of you who have been around since the beginning, thank you. I am grateful for your support. For those of you who are new here, welcome. Perhaps this run-down will give you an idea of where to start and what to expect on Butterfly Mind. Thanks to all of you for your readership, and enjoy.
Top humor post: Lost Balls
Top memoir post: A Small Thing My Dad Never Knew
Top graph(s): Snow Day Fatigue
Top photo essay: When nature is allowed to be nature
Top book review: Wild: A Book Review in Four Words
Top parenting (and most popular overall) post: Dear Diary,
June 4, 2013 § 10 Comments
One morning, when the kids were 5 and 7, and I was standing at the chopping block cutting crusts off sandwiches, I heard our son say to his little sister, “Do you know the ‘D’ word?”
He and our daughter slurped cereal at the kitchen table a few feet behind me. I paused imperceptibly, remained facing forward, and wrestled gently with a plastic sandwich bag, taming it into quiet, unrustling submission. Where was he going with this? I tried to remain silent so I could hear our daughter’s response.
“D-U-M?” She said.
I relaxed, smiled to myself, and stuffed the bagged sandwiches into lunch boxes. I pulled the rinsed strawberries towards me from the far corner of the board and patted them dry.
“What about the ’S’ word?” he asked. I stiffened.
My shoulders softened. How precious that she was spelling the “bad words” out instead of saying them. I sliced berries and pretended I wasn’t listening.
Our son was quiet a moment, probably chewing his mini-wheats. I dared not look lest I give myself away. “What about the ‘H’ word?” he asked.
Oh my goodness, be still my heart. Did I teach them this, that “hate” is a bad word? If so, major mom kudos to me. I tucked the strawberries next to the sandwiches and smiled smugly to myself about my parenting skills. Our son asked, just as I was about to zip up a lunch box, “Do you know the ‘F’ word?” I busied myself with wiping the board instead of securing the noisy zipper.
“F-A-T?” our daughter asked.
I could feel our son smiling. I chuckled, too. “Nooooo…”
Wait. What could it be if not “fat” or “fart?” Well, obviously you and I know what it could be, but if the kids didn’t know the “D,” “S,” or “H” words, how on earth would they know the “F” word?
“I don’t know,” our daughter said. “What is it?”
“F-U-K,” our 7 year old son said.
Oh my God. He knows. He knows! How does he know this?!
Okay, act casual. I folded my cloth, picked up a lunch box, and took a deep breath.
“Hey baby,” I said, turning my body toward them at last, nonchalantly sealing the lunch box, not freaking out. Not correcting his spelling. “Where did you hear that word?” We don’t say that word around the kids. Maybe he heard it on the bus. There were fifth graders on the bus, and he was only in second grade. The big kids must have talked about it. That’s how he knew it was a bad word. Surely second graders weren’t talking about it. Surely.
His sister lost interest and cleaned up her bowl. He shrugged and said, “I dunno.”
This conversation could go anywhere. Why it’s a bad word, why kids shouldn’t say it, who is offended by it, why some people use it, whether their dad and I ever use it. How much do I say? I decided: as little as possible. “You know not to use that word, right?”
“I know,” he said, and slurped the last spoonful of cereal milk. “I don’t even know what it means.”
Well, that’s good. “Okay, if you have any questions, you can ask me. For now I’ll just tell you it’s a word that is very offensive to a lot of people, and children should not use it, especially since you don’t know what it means.”
“Okay Mom.” He got up and brought his bowl to the sink.
“Here’s your lunch box, buddy.” I kissed him on the top of his head, patted his back, and sent him off to brush his teeth. I collapsed in a kitchen chair and realized the baby years, which I’d thought were awfully trying, were hard in a physically demanding, bone exhausting, I’m-responsible-for-this-baby’s-every-need kind of way. But the elementary school years? Those are hard in a completely different way. They are demanding in an intellectual, emotional, I’m-responsible-for-helping-this-child-navigate-the-weirdness-of-life-and-become-a-decent-human-being kind of way.
With the kids’ births I thought, Now it begins. We navigated sleep deprivation and the endless repetition of diapering, feeding, clothing, cleaning. But after that morning’s dialogue – “Do you know the ‘F’ word?” – and facing the strain of trying to know the right thing to do, to react swiftly and intelligently, to be a responsible adult even when I thought the whole exchange was funny, I knew this stage of parenting was different than simply keeping our kids alive. As I’ve thought with countless turning points that came before (walking, talking) and will come after (puberty, rebelling), that morning after our “F-U-K” conversation, when I realized our kids would one day lose their innocence, I thought, Now this wild ride really begins.
May 30, 2013 § 11 Comments
Dangling prepositions, also known as “preposition stranding,” are not, in fact, grammatically incorrect.
Let me say that again. Or let Mike Vuolo say it in Slate magazine’s inaugural, deliciously dorky Lexicon Valley podcast episode, “A Sin of Which None is Guilty:”
“It really is one of the biggest myths in the English language, this idea that we’re not supposed to end sentences with prepositions.”
What?! Where have I been all these years?
This is possibly the most deeply-ingrained grammatical rule I remember (besides split infinitives), and is the rule I chide myself about in my own writing and edit mentally when I read someone else’s work. It’s the rule that jars me both when it’s broken (because I get stuck on a sentence’s grammatical incorrectness) and when it is adhered to (because “for what this butterfly mind is made” sounds so unnatural). While I feel not a shred of remorse over a writing a sentence fragment to facilitate pacing or punch, or a run-on sentence to create rhythm, I agonize over leaving a preposition dangling. I feel guilty for stranding it.
It turns out that the question of dangling prepositions is a common topic of conversation in grammar circles (yes, I just said grammar circles), and often tops the list of frequently asked questions about the English language. Slate magazine felt so strongly about it that they launched their Lexicon Valley podcast with it, and Grammar Girl, endorsed by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 best websites for writers, addresses it not only in her Top Ten Grammar Myths, but in its very own Ending a Sentence with a Preposition post as well.
So what’s the deal? Why are we slapped with the metaphorical ruler on our metaphorical knuckles over and over again for this mythical rule? Apparently, according the Grumpy Grammarian John McWhorter, in a piece in The New Republic, “this fake grammar rule [has] a particular distinction: Its legendary smackdown is as well known as the rule itself.”
Whoa. A grammar smackdown.
The smackdown boils down to this: in the 1670s, about half a decade after Shakespeare, a poet/playwright, John Drydon, was trying to distinguish himself in the new age of England’s post-puritanical reopening of theater. He wanted to say, “Hey, we don’t need those old guys, Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. Look at me! I’m John Drydon. I’ve got something to say.” And then he criticized Ben Jonson, writing, “The preposition in the end of the sentence, [is] a common fault with him.” As Mike and Bob at Lexicon Valley point out, “This is the first really clear statement of anyone having specific trouble with prepositions at the end of a sentence.”
After Drydon, the “rule” was popularized by men of the cloth who also fancied themselves language scholars. First was Robert Lowth, a Bishop in London’s Church of England in his A Short Introduction to English Grammar. He suggested there that grabbing onto those prepositions and snuggling them safely inside the sentence was “more graceful” than dangling them at the end. And then in the 1860s, Henry Alford, in his The Queen’s English, wrote, “There is a peculiar use of prepositions which is allowable in moderation but must not be too often resorted to. It is the placing them at the end of a sentence, as I have just done in the words ‘resorted to.’”
And the tradition carried on from there. Now, before we go crazy and start hanging prepositions off every available sentence-cliff, it is recommended by Henry Alford and others that, as with all super fun things, the dangling preposition be used in moderation. The “rule” is widely believed as grammatical dogma, and as Grammer Girl advises:
“When you’re writing a cover letter to a potential employer, don’t end a sentence with a preposition. The person reading the letter could see it as an error.”
You and I can smile smugly as we tuck our prepositions in for those unlearned employers. Because as the Grumpy Grammarian quotes Kingsley Amis, the dangling preposition rule is “one of those fancied prohibitions dear to ignorant slobs.”
Thanks to the gloriously geeky Lexicon Valley, I am not an ignorant slob anymore. And now, neither are you.
P.S. If your favorite grammar joke looks like this,
Poor ignorant slob: “Where’s it at?”
Grammar police: “Behind the ‘at.’”
have no fear. According to Grammar Girl’s Top Ten Grammar Myths “Where are you at?” is still technically wrong. She says, “You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition when the sentence would mean the same thing if you left off the preposition. That means “Where are you at?” is wrong because “Where are you?” means the same thing.” In other words, you can still use your nerdalicious comeback, “Behind the ‘at’.” Unless that comeback is grammatically wrong. Which is quite possibly the case. If anyone has insight on this, please comment with your reasoning below.
We all learned you’re not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition. But from where did this alleged rule come? And why does it encumber us with such labored sentences as the one preceding this? In the first episode of Slate’s new language program Lexicon Valley, producer Mike Vuolo and On the Media co-host Bob Garfield explore the history of the terminal preposition rule, and whether there are good reasons to follow it.
Addendum to original post (added 5/31/13):
If it is still hard for you to believe that this “DO NOT END A SENTENCE PREPOSITION” rule is wrong – and believe me, I understand the difficulty in getting over this rule – if you really can’t bear to leave those ‘at’s and ‘in’s hanging without concrete, fact-checked, externally edited, published-in-print proof that it is okay to strand your prepositions, I give you the usage note for the “preposition” entry in The American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Houghton Mifflin Company:
prep · o · si · tion…
Usage Note: The doctrine that a preposition may not be used to end a sentence has become one of the most venerated maxims of schoolroom grammatical lore. However, English syntax allows and sometimes requires final placement of the preposition. Such placement is the only possible one in a sentence such as That depends on what you believe in. · Even sticklers for the traditional rule can have no grounds for criticizing sentences such as Where will she end up? or It’s the most curious book I’ve ever run across. In these examples, up and across are used as adverbs, not prepositions.
May 24, 2013 § 1 Comment
I am happy to report that I got some revisions done today. Enough, in fact, that I decided to reward myself, not with ice cream or cupcakes, but with search engine terms. Sometimes, when I’m avoiding writing but want to pretend like I’m doing something productive for my blog, I check my stats to see how folks are finding my site. And often, I am rewarded with some pretty hilarious stuff. Hilarious not because someone typed these terms into their search engine (searching for euchre cartoons is perfectly normal. I’ve done it too), but because the search engine pointed them here. To my blog. Where I have actually written about some of these things.
Aside: To those of you searching for information about men and socks (and there are more of you than are listed here), Welcome!
Here are my top ten favorite search engine terms that have brought folks to Butterfly Mind (*asterisked terms indicate subjects I have written about):
10. *Men and their socks
9. *Euchre cartoons
8. *Freaking out I can’t exercise on vacation
7. With his socks on
6. Three or more guys on a couch with socks
5. *Dental drilling agony
4. *I had a facelift and now i have one hell of a headache
3. *My left side mouth is bit numb and drooling
2. *Hibernating bears farts
And (drumroll), the best search term of all, which I did not write about, but was so funny I had to create it (because I couldn’t find a satisfactory result when I Googled the term):
1. Farting goat Venn diagram
So for the person out there who is searching for a farting goat Venn diagram, I’m not sure in what context you were researching farting goats, but after investigating goat farts on the internet, here’s what I’ve got for you:
Because I didn’t know much about farting goats, I have to give credit where credit is due and thank the Homesteading Today livestock forum. Their Farting Goats??? thread informed me of the sneeze/fart combo move (aka the Snart). From that thread I also learned that goats fart and queef when they are “prego” (and “it is disgusting”), goats do pass gas and “freshly burped up cud is just as bad,” and that one homesteader’s horses love “the buck/fart/gallop combo.”
But my favorite line from the thread, the line that wiggled it’s way into my heart and was the ultimate inspiration for the Venn Diagram, was this:
“Little Black usually garbs up a cud, then sneezes and farts at the same time. Then bless his heart, he looks at us like..what?!?!?”
I think I need to hang out with more homesteaders.