¶ I saw an advertisement for a class offering to “improve your writing in one day,” and this advertisement included the phrase “make your writing more impactful.” This has inspired me to offer my own, FREE writing improvement instruction, right now. It won’t even take a day. Here:
1. NEVER USE THE WORD “IMPACTFUL”
There you go. Class dismissed!
¶ I probably shouldn’t admit this online, but I am afraid of my phone at work. It has a screen and far too many buttons and one time I was trying to see who had called and pressed what I thought might be the button for that and the phone talked at me loudly in its Lady Robot voice until I snatched at the receiver and quickly hung it up again to make it stop. So far the phone hasn’t been an issue, because everything happens over email or intra-company IM, but probably I am going to have to figure out how it works at some point, right? Don’t get me wrong, I can make calls (it only took me a few tries—shhh!), but I haven’t set up my voicemail or anything. If I could just have a private moment to figure it out, I am sure I could, but the fact that it talks at you so very loudly when you press buttons make me disinclined to try. Who thought that was a good idea? Maybe I am old fashioned, but I believe inanimate objects should speak only when they are spoken to.
¶ Parenthood has so much to offer, especially in the area of new ways to feel like an idiot. Simone asked me a while ago whether monkey tails have bones. This is the sort of thing children are always asking. In no other area of my life am I expected to have such a wide-ranging command of trivia. And perhaps this seems like an easy question, because yes, of course monkey tails have bones! Well, good for you. I was less certain, I guess because monkey tails are so…bendy? They curl them around branches and—I mean, this is why Simone asked in the first place. Monkey tails don’t LOOK like they have bones. But I figured they must, probably, so I looked it up discreetly on my phone and then was able to report with authority that yes, monkey tails have bones. I explained with ill-earned confidence to Simone that it was like the chain of my necklace, in that each individual link is made of a hard, inflexible substance, but when you put them all together they make something which can move as sinuously as string. Or as a snake, which also has bones (I am 99.9% sure on this), and which I probably should have thought of in the first place. The point is, I feel like parenthood has significantly undermined my faith in my own cleverness. There are so many things that I am certain I know, right up until Simone asks me about them—one example being the old classic, “Why is the sky blue?” For the record, I OBVIOUSLY know why the sky is blue. It is something about how the light…spectrum…and only the blue part is reflected, or wavelengths or something. For reasons you may be able to discern, Simone was unimpressed with my explanation, and I was made unpleasantly aware that maybe a little refresher course in All The Information I Thought I’d Already Learned is in order.
¶ Sometimes I wish there were a market for my time-wasting skills, as they are prodigious. Do you have extra time and no way to waste it? I can help! I recently spent an embarrassingly lengthy period trying to remember a certain series of books I loved when I was about Simone’s age. In the days before the Internet, there would have been little hope of wasting a significant amount of time on this, unless I actually went out and combed used bookstores, and at least then I’d have gotten some exercise. But in this gilded (or chromed, anyway) age, I was able to spend hours of valuable leisure time on the project. I Googled the parts I could remember (“children’s book two girls grocery store,” and many similarly useless iterations), and then a few days later remembered in a flash that the girls had been maybe? possibly? been called “M& M,” and then I found the books online (“Meet M&M” and “M& M and the Big Bag” are the two I best recall) and then I spent further time locating the editions I remembered, with the correct illustrations. It was not unlike the DAYS I once devoted to searching out particularly nice copies of the various Ramona books with the original illustrations. The covers have changed rather a lot over time, which was bad enough, but at least they all contained the original illustrations by Louis Day. The newest version changed even this to make Ramona look more contemporary, which saddened me, as she no longer resembled Ramona. Ramona as illustrated by Louis Day was timelessly kid-like, and anyway, there are plenty of details in the books that place Ramona squarely in an earlier time, and also let’s give children a little bit of credit, please. This is a common peeve of mine, and has been since I was a child—a child who deeply resented being underestimated and pandered to (I was, truly, a delight).
Take Chuck E. Cheese: why did he need to be made over into a douchey, backwards-hat-wearing skater mouse? When I was a child, Chuck E. Cheese wore a vest and a small bowler hat with a flower stuck in the brim. This may surprise some of my more youthful readers, but in my time small bowler hats with flowers stuck in the brim were not actually de rigeur among the younger (or any) set. No one was confused by this, or assumed Chuck E. Cheese’s arcade was a venue only appropriate for olde-timey vaudevillian types. Also? He is a cartoon mouse. Why the concern with verisimilitude between fictional characters and the children they are marketed to?
(I do understand the reasons behind this, by the way, I just fail to find them compelling.)
¶ Semi-relatedly, Simone is at last able to read. I was very determinedly hands-off about this–we’ve read together since she was a baby, and she’s been READY to read for a long while, but I didn’t want to push her because I want her to LOVE reading and books, not only because it was the source of around 85% of my childhood joy but also because genuinely loving reading and doing so much of it is, I firmly believe, why I am able to write, and I believe just as firmly that a general facility with language will make life easier and richer for anyone. But I won’t lie, I was a little unsure of whether she should have been reading already, I suppose because I was reading 300-page books by second grade and it just seemed unlikely that a person could go from not reading anything to reading practically everything in a couple of years–I mean, is that really how it happens? It is nearly as improbable as a sleeping lump of newborn turning into a small walking person in the that amount of time, but I am trying to have faith.
Simone has a truly extraordinary memory, which means a lot of reading, for her, is just memorizing words, which she then notices all over the place. It makes driving fun because I will be shepherding us carefully through a blizzard and suddenly she will shout “THIS!” because she sees it on a billboard, and I struggle to regain control of the vehicle. The most difficult part, though, of having a new reader is answering her questions about the inconsistencies of English pronunciation, because the English language is just terrible. Simone will learn a little rule, and proudly sound something out using said rule, and inevitably I will have to inform her that in this particular case it is pronounced entirely differently. Why? Well, because English is just LIKE that, that’s why. It drives me mad, so I can only imagine how annoying she finds it. When there IS a reason other than “English; preposterousness of,” it is usually related to etymology (I first typed entomology, but it is very seldom related to that), and explaining to Simone that some word is pronounced in an entirely unintuitive and patently ridiculous way because it is from GREEK or something is not helpful at all. In short, Simone is learning to read, which is a miracle.