Happy Halloween!

I am finding that it is easier to say I’m going to wear a costume today than it is to find things in my closet that are costume-y. For everyday life, that is probably a good thing. For Halloween? Not so much. I do have a graveyard of dresses, skirts, blouses, and shoes that would theoretically come together as a pretty good witch/pirate/fairy godmother…that is, if they actually still fit. But that is why they are a graveyard – they are memorializing a younger, smaller time. You know, the “if I only lost 5 or 10 pounds, they’d be perfect again” clothes. Oh, the shoes fit…they are just character shoes from the musicals I was in when I was in high school. Yes. Nineteen years ago. Though I am finding the distinction between 19 and 20 to be very important. Even better, the shoes may be 19 years old, but high school graduation was only eighteen years ago. So I’m really young still. Practically a baby. Really. Please?

This pitiful begging is actually a reversal for me…okay not the begging itself, but the reason behind it: As a child, all I wanted was to be grown up. I was certain that as soon as I reached the magical, mature, advanced age of 18 (go ahead, laugh), I would instantly be in control of all aspects of my life. (I know…still laughing.) Adulthood has been, at least based on the expectations of my six-year-old self, a bit of a let-down. I am still responsible for and to all kinds of people and things and I still lack complete independence. In addition, I still have to give up all the fun stuff I got to do as a kid. Except on Halloween. Halloween is still about playing dress-up and eating too much candy. So what if I have to buy the candy now? I still get to eat it! And now I get to watch a couple more little people get excited about the gateway holiday. Dressing up, gorging on ridiculous amounts of candy, ineptly carving large squash, and convincing ourselves that we’re scared of plastic, light-up yard art – what’s not to like about October 31st? To say nothing of the fact that the passing of Halloween is the surest sign that the holiday season is here…just check out the stores: turkeys and Santas are duking it out for retail supremacy as I write this! So, I’ll find something that vaguely resembles a costume and I’ll take two not-so-little people around to the neighbors to be cute and beg for candy while my husband stays home and gives ours (but only some of it – we need some too!) to other cuties. Then we’ll all consume way too much sugar! Hooray! We are not, however, dressing up the dog or the cats…much to one child’s disappointment…a line much be drawn somewhere.

If it’s not one pet, it’s another…or a kid.

Saturday was a good day for us. The boy’s soccer team won, UGA beat Florida for the second straight year, and it was cold enough to make chili. It was a perfect fall day in the Tisdale house. I was on the phone with one of my dearest friends when the day went downhill. Our 11 year-old cranky cat attempted suicide by German Shepherd. Yeah. Really. Isn’t that what every cat does? Wimsey saw our friend walking his pet and decided that as long as Seamus was restrained anyway, it would be a good time to attack him. Wimsey weighs in at about 11 pounds…Seamus? I’d guess 80 or so. There is good news, however. Seamus lives in a house with a 2 year-old boy and a 7 month old girl, so he has some experience with ignoring ridiculous challenges to his alpha supremacy. Wimsey was tenacious in his attack, so Seamus shook him around a bit after the third lunge, at which point our friend was able to separate them and take the victorious canine home. He called us and we went on a neighborhood cat-hunt for the foolish feline. We didn’t find him…he’s better at evasion than he is at frontal attacks, it seems. After about three hours, which we spent alternately praying for and cursing the ludicrous creature, he came home of his own accord. He has been a bit stiff and is REALLY pissed off, but the vet confirmed for us today that he escaped the ill-advised attempt on his own life with no serious injuries. Which is good, because in the meantime, the other cat, inappropriately named Angel, has had an “accident” on a bath mat, the dog barfed in his crate, and one of the children had a “stomach incident” on bedclothes that were washed just four days ago. It’s a good thing I love my washer and dryer…and an even better thing that I love my pets. The kiddo gets special kudos: she took care of herself because she didn’t want to wake us up. In fact, her father did find her awake, while he was dealing with the aforementioned dog: she was watching tv in the playroom, and he, very sympathetically, told her to go to bed. He totally missed the whole “I threw up a minute ago” thing. I had her all ready for school today before that particular gem came out…. Then we found the dirty blanket…then we felt sick too…. Nothing good happens at 3:30 in the morning. Though the child has been assured that her loving parents want to help her when she’s sick – even if it is in the middle of the night. Parenthood…it’s a glamorous calling!

Autumnal Meditations

Does it count as a meditation when it is whizzing around in your head so fast that you barely catch of glimpse of the thought? Is it truly autumnal if it has nothing to do with the season, but does happen to occur in the fall? No matter. I liked the title. I’m going with it. And I do love fall…and thinking…and, you know, sharing….

I remember standing on the high dive at the public pool in Gainesville, Florida when I was about 10. I’ve never been a dare-devil and I don’t really like heights, but I was a good swimmer and my friends were jumping off the high board, so I decided to do so as well. I got to the top, then to the end of the springboard, and then…then I began to wonder if jumping was really the best way down. I looked down, then out (I’m pretty sure I could see all the way to the Atlantic ocean 75 miles away, it was so high), then back at the ladder. Where my friends were. That’s how I feel now. I’m pretty sure I have the skills I need. I’m also pretty sure that I want to do it. But the water is a long way down. And a book is a really big undertaking. Yeah. A book. I know. Now that I’ve written down what could pass for an intention, I really have to do it, don’t I? Because peer pressure is what got me off the diving board too. I jumped. I wasn’t the most graceful diver – in fact, I didn’t dive at all, but I also didn’t make a fool of myself. I didn’t ever learn to like the high dive…and maybe the book thing won’t work out either. But I feel compelled to try. So, right now I’m standing on a bouncy plank of fiberglass trying to determine what terrible woes can befall a few fictional people I’m in the process of getting to know. Or maybe the woes won’t be terrible. People are easy for me, but plot? …not so much. And unlike on a diving board, the fall is going to take a long time once the actual jumping takes place.

And in the meantime…things are weird here. They’re good: don’t get me wrong, things are going well. The kids are doing well in and enjoying school and their respective activities. We all have friends in the neighborhood, at church, and in the community in general. We’ve had a few disappointments this fall, but they haven’t been tragedies, and we’ve been okay. So why weird? I’m not sure I even know. Oh look, I came up with another line from a book to describe it. I “sit here…with a tremendous sense of things brewing.” (Elswyth Thane’s Dawn’s Early Light, if you’re interested.) I’ve, in turn, been very excited, very nervous, very hurt, and very angry. But mostly excited. Because something is brewing in me and it hasn’t been in a long time. The brew-less years were good too, in their way, but they were hard. They were about getting somewhere and enjoying the journey, but they weren’t about getting anything done. They were about getting things started: adulthood, careers, lives in new places, parenthood, lives of children, you name it! And I’m sure lots of things will continue to get started…and I hope that none of those things will be over anytime soon…. But I would like to at least finish a task. I love that I have time to work on things that aren’t about kids or housework. I might even enjoy having a clean house again, because it might stay that way for longer than the 10 seconds that it used to take Hurricane Kiddo to come undo whatever I’d done. Of course, grocery shopping and laundry are still never finished, but I’ll take what I can get! And I get to work on something other. Something that isn’t about the needs or agendas of anyone else. I’m doing something long-term, and only because I want to. I’ve never even had that kind of job. I always took whatever job was available because I didn’t know what I wanted to do anyway. It’s another step on the “Adult Road.” I always thought that being a grown-up would happen all at once, but the reality is that being an adult happens one day at a time, just like everything else. So weird…but good.

And, incidentally, it isn’t one book…it’s two. One is just me and isn’t even fully conceived of yet, much less in the writing stages, but the other one…. I’m editing a book for Kalos Press (check us out on facebook, if you’re interested) that is a collection of essays by Christians about their personal struggles with infertility, miscarriage, infant loss, and/or adoption. I am honored to be a part of the project and have been so moved by the journeys I’m reading about. Shameless plug: if you have a story you’d like to share, email me at lydia@kalospress.org; I’d love to hear from you! Also, check out the other titles already available…they’re worth your time!

 

An Etymological Conundrum

Has anyone else ever wondered why “cripple” is a horrible thing to call someone, but “invalid” isn’t? Perhaps I should look up the etymology of cripple…. Thank goodness for Wordnik (if you haven’t tried it, you should!) – apparently it comes from the Old English crypel. Thanks…that clears it right up. Obviously, that is much more objectively offensive than being referred to as “lacking force, weight, or cogency.” I’m not advocating that we start calling people names that will offend them simply because I disagree with the way in which the language has evolved. In fact, it seems better not to call people names of any sort at all. I don’t want to be labeled based on a physical characteristic, and I don’t imagine anyone else does either. But. If we’re determined to be politically correct about everything, couldn’t we demonize a word that already has negative connotations? Or better yet, let’s not demonize words. What did they ever do to you anyway?

Why do you read?

I currently have a child in fourth grade, and a big part of his reading and writing curriculum is “purpose.” He is being taught, as many or all of us have been, that pieces are written either to persuade, instruct, explain or entertain. I guess that’s more or less true…though most written works do more than one at a time. As I read the short pieces that are used to demonstrate and test this lesson, I often wonder which kind of writing is my favorite.

Okay. I don’t wonder. I actually stand there thinking, “I really only want to read the entertaining kind.” I like to learn new things, but I don’t really want to be told what I have to do or even what I ought to do. I’m a bit on the rebellious, independent side…for those of you who hadn’t noticed…all none of you. So, instructional books or articles are right out. Persuasive ones make me argumentative, but since there is no one to actually argue into submission, those are no fun either. Explanatory pieces have their place…I read those when I want to know how to do something. But that’s a task, not a diversion. I want to read a narrative about interesting people doing interesting things. Yes. I am a literary hedonist. And a lazy one at that: I like to be able to read quickly. I read almost no non-fiction. Notable exceptions: the Bible, dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopedias, and the occasional biography or memoir. Yep. If it’s about words or people, I’m likely to get lost in it even if it is, gasp, true. (As an aside, I don’t want to argue about the veracity of the Bible, ‘kay? Lots of people already do that. This isn’t the place.)

So. What is this the place for? Well, for me to point out my own true story, of course! I read fiction about fantastic creatures and mythical beings, about inscrutable mysteries solved by intrepid men and women, and about improbably attractive, wealthy people meeting impossibly perfect soul-mates and resolving implausibly ridiculous conflicts. What do I write? Nonfiction. Seriously. How did this happen? I feel like Anne Shirley in the L.M. Montgomery stories: I only want to write dramatic fictional masterpieces. I only manage to write amusing vignettes from my own life. And…she did it so much better than I do. I am as chagrined as she was. (As another aside, if my vignettes aren’t amusing…well, just don’t tell me. I’m sensitive.) I am finding, though, that writing begets writing. So maybe. Someday. If you ever see a book by Lydia Wyn…or, if it’s a really embarrassing book, Wyn Vacheresse…. There…two pen names outed and ruined.

But, really, why do you read? If you write too, do you write things that you would want to read? If not, whew! If so, what is wrong with me?

A simple word nerd digression

This started out as a part of the previous post…but it’s really just silly and if you don’t like diction, grammar and English engineering, feel free to skip it!

Yep, English engineering, that’s what this is about. I live in a town full of engineers and thought of myself as out of place in my liberal arts-ness…until one of those engineers looked at me and said, “You’re an English engineer.” It wasn’t a compliment, I don’t think…. So, let’s define terms, because that’s what engineers do. I am not an engineer from England. Or an anything else from England…except a descendant by way of several generations. I AM, however, one who analyzes, explains, defines and uses the English language to build things. I build sentences, paragraphs, arguments, stories, and explanations…lots of explanations. I take them apart and rebuild them in a better, truer form. And I love to do it. There is so much room for creativity and humor, for imagination and pathos, even for horror and grief in the construction of life with words.

But it is also easy to screw up. Here’s the fun part: I have a blood-thirsty example of how many ways you can use English correctly and incorrectly and still communicate exactly what you mean…as long as what you mean to do is describe a bloody death. (I might possibly be grinning maniacally in my nerdy little head!)

For the grammarians: this is about how nouns become verbs even when we already have perfectly good verbs to describe what said nouns are used for:

1. Say you want your murderer (in your nascent mystery novel, of course) to have a gun. What does he (this time it’s a he) do with it? He shoots someone. Or he guns him down.

2. A knife? He stabs the hapless victim…or knifes her.

3. Guillotine…this one goes both ways: The French revolutionaries decapitated the aristocrats, then began guillotining each other. OR you could say they all died of decapitation by guillotine. Of course, this book is more of a historical suspense spy novel….

4. Rope…be careful here, it’s not what you think! No one died by roping…calves survive the experience at rodeos all the time. AND, despite what I’ve seen in many recent historical novels…the pirate was NOT hung. He was hanged. I promise. It’s true. The pirate may very well have hung his cutlass (with which he does many nefarious things to people) on a peg, but when he was captured by the British East India Company, they hanged him. If you write, or even edit, a pirate novel…get it right.

Thanks for humoring me. Enjoy your English engineering!

Lost in translation

I have long held that most relational problems are rooted in poor communication. It is quite possible that this belief is wholly self-serving…because I love to communicate. I love words in any form and use them ruthlessly and nearly incessantly. If I’m quiet, I’m probably reading, writing, or talking to myself. Or maybe even doing a cross-word puzzle. Those are fun too. But if people are around…well, I’m rarely being quiet in that case. I am open to most any form of communication, especially if I am the one speaking: dialogue, monologue, diatribe, debate, discussion, lecture and most especially conversation. I don’t do little chats often or well. Small talk and I have barely a passing acquaintance. I have been told on numerous occasions by numerous people that the conversations they have with me are “strange.” It must be me, because I always think the conversations in question are perfectly normal. So we should be able to use this wonderful tool, this flexible, descriptive, evolving language, to accurately and effectively know each other. And the only thing I find more endlessly fascinating than language? People. Individually and as a whole, people are amazing. We are similar enough to seem generally familiar, but different enough to be easily distinguishable and wholly unique. The only characteristic of people that I universally have a hard time finding interesting enough to remember from one meeting to the next is…well, this is embarrassing…first names. I know…it’s horrible! People want to be known and remembered and don’t really care that I can recall our conversation because I have forgotten their NAME.

But I digress. Because I was supposed to be going on about how ineffective communication hurts relationships. Because it does! We talk and talk (or don’t) and we even listen and listen (or really don’t), but even when we do, we are often speaking different languages.  I try really hard to say exactly what I mean in the most precise detail possible…and totally lose people because of the sheer volume of words that I throw at them. I also answer questions about how I’m doing by explaining how I feel about how I’m doing. I absolutely overwhelm people. And then I wonder why they don’t understand what I meant to say…because I worked so hard to be clear. My reliance on exclamations and italics might also be mildly distracting…. But that’s not the point either. The point is: we all have to work to understand and be understood. We need to know when to talk, when to listen, when to forgive, and when to let go and even when to shut up. We can never guarantee that someone else will understand what we mean because we can’t even ensure that they understand what we say (or write, for that matter). Language is fluid and flexible and there are many ways to says things and just as many ways to interpret what has been said. We all spend time translating and we all make mistakes with our translations. So yes…problems are rooted in poor communication…and sometimes we can’t make the communication any less poor…. So then what? Do we quit trying to know each other? Or quit trying to talk to each other? I hope not. I hope we listen, talk, love and have patience. And, most importantly, forgive when we inevitably screw up. And I will try to remember your name…the first time.