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Saturday, September 18, 2021

My Inner Editor’s Irritation (Over Admittedly Little Things)

In the early pages of The Midnight Library, a bestselling novel by Matt Haig, I screech to a frustrated halt on page 8. The character Neil “joined his hands together and made a steeple of his index fingers, which he placed under his chin, as if he was Confucius….” But he is clearly not the long-dead Chinese philosopher, so the subjunctive is called for in the sentence, which should read “as if he were Confucius,” and I’m mildly annoyed. 


A couple more flubbed opportunities to use the subjunctive correctly come along – and then, suddenly, on page 16, the author snaps into his grammar garb: “As Nora escaped the shop, she wished there were nothing but doors ahead of her…,” and I want to cheer! Too soon! We return to ragged error at the very next grammatical crossroads.


Then on page 25, a new demon rears its head. As Nora enters and begins to explore the magical Midnight Library, she is staggered by her surroundings. 


She turned down one of the aisles and stopped to gaze in bafflement at the seemingly endless amount of books


And once more my inner copyeditor screams out in pain. No, no, no! It is the number of books that astounds our Nora! Books can be counted, as can people. (A “large number of people” assembled for the event, not a “large amount of people.”) Sugar is measured in amounts (teaspoons, cups, pounds, etc.), as is sand and gravel -- also liquids, such as water or milk – and I have to say here that even the Word grammar-checker (not always my best friend) caught this blunder, double-underlining the word ‘amount’ in that sentence quoted.


And this is Viking, a Penguin Random House imprint, Viking, founded in 1925, that calls itself “a legendary imprint” on its own web pageI will continue reading the story but hope not to be amazed by the copyeditors’ oversights on page after page.

Of course, if I were seriously editing my own copy here for publication between hard covers, I'd eliminate this blizzard of italics. And that quote set in the middle of the page that's only two lines long, rather than three lines, is a boo-boo, too. A blog, however, is much more casual, more apt to let the author's voice go unedited.

Postscript: I finished the book and enjoyed it despite its flaws -- and despite having seen well in advance how it was going to end.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

If This Offends You, Too Bad

I have completely had it with snark. 


A prime example of what I mean by snark is saying that so-and-so (someone with whom you disagree) “drank the Kool-Aid.” This is supposed to be clever, but what are you really saying? 


Just this (my translation): “You are so gullible! You’d fall for anything! How can anyone be so stupid?” In other words, it is neither a counter-argument nor a rebuttal. It’s nothing but an insult. 


And before you or I go any further on this road, let me say that I’ve heard it from opposing sides of almost every current argument in our country, and I detest the expression and its message regardless of any position taken by the speaker. Masks, medicine, religion, patriotism, politics, science – in all these arenas and more, snark rears its ugly smarter-than-thou head. What does a speaker hope to accomplish with snark? Hope to change someone’s mind? Not gonna happen. Just want to vent your feelings? Yeah, you’re doing that, I guess, but aren’t you still stuck with those same feelings after you’ve put someone else down? Desire to show you’ve “taken a stand”? You could take a stand and still express it -- if not with empathy for those who disagree – in an open, welcoming manner. 


Just my thoughts. If being snarky makes you feel smarter, you’ll keep doing it. Just know that if you’re already on my side of an argument, I’m embarrassed by having you next to me, and if you’re part of my opposition -- on any topic -- you’re not winning my heart.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

If I Were Really, Really Paranoid


Ah, yes, paranoia. For something as serious as genuine paranoia is, we toss the word around pretty casually. "Did that guy give me a really weird look?" "Oh, don't be so paranoid!" I'm going in a different direction today, though....

To continue: I am not saying that conspiracies absolutely do not exist, just that they are rarer than theories of conspiracies and therefore usually not the best explanation but one we should resist until evidence becomes overwhelming. Think Occam's razor. A conspiracy is never a simple explanation (but the world is not always simple, is it?), if only because (1) it involves many people, and (2) it depends on their keeping their mouths shut. A ring of bank robbers may conspire to commit a crime, but if one is caught and offered a deal for informing on the others, chances are good he'll take the deal. A group of Wall Street crooks may conspire to game the system for their own advantage, but if even one of them discovers a conscience, they can all go tumbling down. And, of course, discovery after the fact is pretty common. 

So just to be clear, I'm not launching any conspiracy theories here. I'm only saying that if I were really, really paranoid I would think, for example, that all these protests and lawsuits against masks in schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19 were really a conspiracy to drive school teachers out of the profession, scare parents into pulling their kids out of school, and destroy public education

For another example, if I were really, really paranoid I would think that all these election recounts and recalls (like the one in California) are not expressions of doubt in the process at all but merely an underground campaign -- a conspiracy -- to bankrupt state coffers and destroy government by the people

But here's the thing: we don't need organized groups of conspirators to bring about these consequences. There doesn't have to be any kind of conspiracy at all. It only takes enough people taking action without thinking about likely unintended consequences. Sometimes (and this is scary) the very action people take to prevent a certain outcome increases the odds that it will happen. 

Is there a right-wing conspiracy to destroy public education and government by the people (or only the U.S. postal service)? Or is it just that those very real dangers would be "side effects" rather than the "cure" they hope to achieve?

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Instead of Victory, Defeat, or Compromise, or, Beyond Robert's Rules


My first two years in graduate school, one of my best friends was a woman from one of Africa’s oldest countries. She and I were roughly the same age (that is, older than most of our fellow students), and both of us were mothers, but in many other ways our lives, including our undergraduate educations, had been different. She had read philosophers I had not yet encountered, and vice versa. Consequently, we had wonderful long talks on every conceivable subject.


Once on a long road trip (we were traveling to a philosophy conference), I realized that our philosophical arguments took a form somewhat unusual for those in our discipline, even students. We would start on opposite sides of an issue, taking polar positions, but it was rare (if it ever happened at all) that one of us would triumph over the other. Listening closely and questioning just as closely, repeatedly one of us would concede a point to the other until, resolved on agreement, we had come to a third position neither of us had held or even initially considered.


Why don’t I call this compromise? 


Because neither of us gave up anything we cherished. What each gave up along the way were some of our original, contingently held beliefs that had come to be recognized, in the course of mutual exploration, as inferior -- or at least inadequate -- to support a respective initial position. There was no “Oh, all right then!” about it. No giving up in defeat. Both of us were more than satisfied with what we achieved by our newly constructed final position. And this happened over and over. 


Another feature I should mention is that our initially opposed positions were much simpler than the final position we constructed in agreement. Over and over, we realized that the question was “more complicated” than either of us had realized before we explored it together. 


I keep thinking about these arguments -- or explorations, or discussions, or conversations, or whatever you want to call them -- as those graduate school experiences may relate to hotly contended political issues, local and national. We human beings, it seems, want so badly for questions to have simple answers: yes or no, right or wrong, win or lose, this or that. What if the best outcome isn’t majority rule (one side winning and the other losing) or compromise (both sides getting some of what they want and giving up other parts) but a whole new position or solution or plan?


One local Northport issue is that of short-term rentals: Allow or disallow? I like what one Northporter has suggested: “‘Perhaps this is an opportunity to craft ‘a more perfect union,’ a Northport Neighbors type paradigm.”


Another issue is the RV park/campground: For or against? Personally, I like the idea but am concerned about the size. Here again, another Northporter suggested a third choice: smaller overall development, with fewer RV sites, more tent sites, a few rental cabins insulated and heated so they would work in winter as well as summer, cross-country trails – in short, fewer people and a lower environmental impact. Sounded good to me.


Rarely does one size fit all, and local control means each community working out what best fits their wants and needs.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Life in a Small Village: Errors of Youth and Age

“It’s a public street! Anyone can park there all day, and it's not illegal!” 


True, but parking in front of someone else’s business all day, rather than parking in one of the several lots around the village, can be a serious inconvenience to the business owner and to his or her customers or clients. Actions can be inconsiderate without being illegal.


Many errors of youth result from inexperience. The young, after all, have never been old! On the other hand, errors of age can easily result from forgetting what it was like to be young. 


If we explain calmly and gently, in a friendly manner, to a young person why something they’re doing is working against us, aren’t we more likely to find a receptive audience? All too often, though, an offended old person simply launches instead into a tirade about the inconsiderateness of youth. (A perennial topic throughout human history!)


Will a gentle correction really work? Not always, of course. It seems to be human nature that most of us -- at any age -- are embarrassed to be wrong about anything or to hurt someone unwittingly, and embarrassment easily gives rise to defensiveness that comes out in anger. But isn’t the angry “correction” much more likely to be met with defensive anger? 


In a small village, pretty much everything becomes personal after a while, and just as happens in a family, daily proximity alone can sometimes be an irritant. Consideration for each other can be a soothing ointment and keep us all happier if we apply it more often. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Jobs OR Housing? – That Makes No Sense


About a month ago, a letter to the editor of the Leelanau Enterprise observed that the “Share the Bay” signs were a clever ploy on the part of the developer’s publicity campaign for the RV park/campground. I checked with Rachel Dean, the person I was pretty sure had come up with the slogan herself, in hopes she would write to the Enterprise to correct the wrong assumption, but she was simply amused that her idea had been taken -- mistaken, that is – as part of a commercial publicity campaign. 


The facts are these: Rachel came up with the slogan, ordered the signs, paid for them herself, and everyone who took a sign reimbursed her for it. It was a totally local, grassroots movement. 


Did the letter-writer make a “reasonable assumption”? That’s what he said in his defense when I stopped him on the sidewalk to give him the scoop, because I don’t like “misinformation” circulating in our community. Community, in fact, is the key issue as he sees it, and he finds the slogan, on the other side of the “Share the Bay” signs, “Build our community,” to be a wrongful use of the term. He says community means people who put down roots and commit to a place, not “transients” (his word). 


In the course of our brief conversation, I learned that the letter-writer thinks affordable housing would be a better use of the property in question. He says we need affordable housing for (his examples) “firefighters and teachers.” Well, county firefighters are all volunteer: they have other jobs, or they don’t live here. As for teachers, we won’t need teachers much longer if the school keeps shrinking, as it will continue to do without other kinds of jobs.


What I see, from having lived and run a business here for 28 years and having spent many a long, cold winter here (working a variety of part-time jobs over the years to pay my winter bookstore bills) is that Leelanau County’s economy has always been seasonal. Agriculture and tourism: that’s the basic economy. Because of farming and summer people and tourists, we have schools and libraries and retail and other businesses. And summer people and tourists provide jobs by keeping businesses in business. Even year-round jobs exist because the seasonal economy carries so many businesses through the calendar year.


How long would Northport have a grocery store without “transients”? (That’s a peculiar term to apply to tourists, anyway, isn’t it? And where do “summer people” fit into the equation?) Omena’s post office would have disappeared long ago, had it not been for the old Solley’s bookstore, and believe me, bookstores in these little seasonal villages – Northport, Leland, Suttons Bay, Glen Arbor -- only survive because summer business is good to us!


(A former landlord of mine told me years ago, “The key to a seasonal business is to keep it seasonal.” Lately I have begun taking what I call “seasonal retirement,” and at my age I make no apologies for that. My two younger sisters and most of my friends are fully retired. I’m not. And, as I’ve already said, I have spent many winters right here and know whereof I speak.)


One of the keys to a viable local community, it seems to me, is understanding its basic economy. Yes, we do need year-round local housing for workers, seasonal and otherwise, but we also need the jobs that seasonal visitors bring. Affordable housing without jobs isn’t going to have many takers. A Habitat house in Cherry Home for a woman whose job was in Traverse City couldn’t hold her long. Financially, it doesn’t work.


Another key is listening to what local people say they need, rather than coming in from the outside to tell them what’s good for them. Many of the supporters for the RV park/campground remember the old Timber Shores campground because they worked there, and some of their children worked there. They remember how much positive impact the campground had on the community they’ve lived in for two or three generations. 


I live out in the township, not in the village, and I’ll be far away when winter comes, but my bookstore is now launched into its 29th year, and I can’t imagine moving it out of Northport. This is my home. I would not want to cast a deciding vote on the RV park/campground issue, and I am as concerned as anyone else that it be properly run, if it happens, to prevent any negative consequences for Grand Traverse Bay. Trying to force a choice between jobs and housing, though? That’s a non-starter. 


And if the choice were. Between a campground and condos, I’d vote for the campground any day of the week.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Mom and Pop Show: Mom Shops for Things for the Dog

Pop: Okay, how much did you spend?

Mom: Never mind!


Pop: Right around forty-five dollars?


Mom: Right around there.


Pop: No, no “around there”! How much?


Mom: Fifty-four dollars.


Pop: Okay. I regard it as an investment.


Mom (astonished): You do?


Pop: Sure. Now he won’t have to chew all our things. 


(Mom thinks silently: Yeah, as long as we put our things out of his reach….)