Epigrammar

A comma belongs between each of your great thoughts;
Otherwise folks might confuse your “is” with their “oughts.”

Verbs make the world go ’round, ’tis true,
But for their acts, nouns are the glue.

To end a sentence, a preposition is more
Apropos than something else you could use it for.

“Every day” is an everyday phrase,
But using it rightly earns you great praise.

The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.
Why that matters is just too hard to ‘splain.

“If Ogden Nash could see me now,” I said,
“He’d tell me, ‘Write about a cow instead!”

Metered verse constrains the form of these words,
If only we could trim these thoughts by thirds.

On the Side: Takin’ Care of Business

Marginally profitable side businesses are the stock-in-trade of young families.

The ongoing race between month and money always comes down to a nose, so we cheat, dressing the one up like a halloween witch and hoping the judges don’t notice.

At different times this has taken the form of landscape design (me), editing college papers, resumes, and sundry writings of others (me, though usually quid pro quo), summer daycare (Rachel), non-profit office temporary help (Rachel), tutoring in a homeschool co-up (Rachel, also quid pro quo so our kids can attend), selling insurance (Rachel), and selling books (Rachel, currently). Whatever it takes to pad the bottom line so the bills don’t outpace the savings.

My latest venture came to me by a friend’s suggestion. He found a service that does (for a small feFlower Checkere) what I can’t seem to stop doing everywhere I go–telling people just what kind of plant they happen to be looking at. A few e-mails later, and I found myself working ad hoc on the back end of a Czech web business: FlowerChecker.

The basic premise involves a purchased app (there is also a free version now) in which users buy credits to redeem for positive ID from uploaded images of plants they’ve encountered. The fun comes in from the fact that there is no sophisticated, algorithmic database analysis running the show. Rather, FlowerChecker is a good old-fashioned mechanical Turk, with dozens of botany nerds (like myself) on the back end debating IDs and resolving requests. Each of us gets a small cut of the company’s earnings for completed requests weekly. Seriously, try it out sometime.

Beyond that, through a friend of a friend, I’ve been engaged in editing a medical text for missionary/rural doctors in the developing world. Freelancing will land you in all kinds of projects. This one has plenty of long words, grotesque illustrations, and helpful information, but it’s a privilege to help out with ministry in this way. Getting
paid a little for my time and effort is nice as well.

The blogging and other writing work are footing the bill for all this fun, sacrificing their Dollartime for the good of the group, but balance and routine will return in their season.

So the march goes on, and every little bit helps. Momma dollar and Poppa dollar are hard at work on the multiplication process as we speak.

Canticum Vitae

By what mystery does a man become alive?
With whose grace and power does his heart drum “alive”?

Strive. Flail. Drive. Rail. Keep afloat amid the wreckage.
Not one day can we add to keep the sum alive.

Sin and sorrow; today, tomorrow, tear and burn
Thought, sinew, bone, barely leaving some alive.

Love and mercy, justice, thanks and praise demanded
To be real, not a burdened, sallow bum alive.

Out of hope, out of joy, out of peace, out of strength;
A soul cannot remain on but a crumb alive.

Dare he remove the shroud, nameless horror beheld?
Stare it down, be still found with those who come alive?

Despair never keeps him who dies to be reborn.
Death’s defeater knows who to wrest you from alive.

Character Development: A Bit of Self Disclosure

Blissful ignorance is a bridge too far.

I’m not a “critical observer of human nature” or anything so overwrought, I simply fail to see the simple side of things. Forgetting anything is difficult as well. This is neither a learned skill nor acquired taste, just a piece of my personality with which I’ve made peace. It doesn’t show off (too much) to the general public, though it has been known to drive my wife crazy on occasion (interviewed separately, she may up the frequency). Mostly it makes for a “normal” life with a few more details to liven up each scene. It’s a blessing…and a curse.

My radar is always up. Seeing more than I need to function leads to an informational and emotional overload which often results in awkwardness. It is surprisingly difficult to have a bland conversation when you are attuned to so many signals and every phrase (at least in your mind) is freighted with hidden meanings. I am quite introverted, but even some who know me well are surprised to discover this, since I tend to respond to that overload by talking too much rather than by retreating into myself.

Compartmentalizing inputs and outputs seldom works either. I soak up whatever happens nearby and start carrying it, and all these things refuse to stay put, dissolving mental barriers to slosh together in one central tank. Don’t ask me to start anything new if there are unresolved issues afloat.

Now, where was I?

Now, where was I?

None of this is in any way unique to me, I see it in other friends and family members, too. When my daughter exhibits this same bent, I remind her to stop worrying or to focus on the task, though I fear she comes by the trait honestly.

All this risks sounding like an old trope, parading out stereotypes of writers standing aloof from routine experience, sifting minutiae into meaning. Indeed, seeing and storing complexity is probably the root of my desire to write. To get all the swirling complexities out of my head, I fling them at paper. That’s the first step at least…truth be told, editing comes easier to me than writing, so polishing up those ramblings into legible prose is the better part of the work.

The funny thing, though, is that these quirks (habits?) often work against any decent writing. Controlling the flow is sometimes a battle against Niagara. What usually comes out is light on meaning and long on words–following a coherent thread through rambling asides does not come easy. That is, of course, if anything comes out at all. An all-too-common result is that I talk myself out of writing anything at all while wrestling through ideas.

The bottom line for “overinterpreters” like me is discipline. I keep telling myself that the difference between writers and non-writers is that writers write. Sometimes you just have to sit down and do it. I seldom regret this, and often find the solutions to the questions jostling in my head flowing out as I type. As for the rest of life, I really can’t thank my wife enough for keeping me grounded. She is loyal and patient to a fault, but takes no guff from me when I let my anxious wanderings stand in for making a decision and taking action.

So why post this here (“He said, suddenly acutely aware of the number of first-person pronouns throughout this site”)? I’m not sure. I suppose somebody like this might make a good character in a story someday, and he’ll always be my default narrator. Perhaps also I am hedging against anyone losing interest in my blog if it goes for a spell un-updated. I can always just post a link back to this piece as explanation. The words are inbound, they’re just trying to come up for air.