© 2008 -- 2011 the Grandpa at The Word Mechanic. All rights reserved.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Boring Cuisine

I saw a sign today that said "If you are what you eat, don't eat boring foods."

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

S and I began reading the TE Lawrence book Seven Pillars of Wisdom last night. In the introduction, Lawrence states that what we are about to read is a highly subjective account of the Arab revolt and that he has placed himself -- without apology -- in the middle of the narrative in a way that does not necessarily conform to reality. He goes on to say that others, some of whom he has not even mentioned, would tell the story differently. But this is his story, and when the others are ready, they can tell theirs.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Changing Horses in Midstream

It's funny how sometimes you think you're doing something very clever, and then it turns out you're far from original. Writers face that problem all the time. The idea is to get beyond it. Well, I'm attempting to do so now. Hence forward, I will no longer be known as the Ink Monkey, but rather the Grandpa.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Happy Holiday

I just tried to post today's entry. A complaint about holidays. I got anerror message instead and the post is gone.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Burnout is an interesting word. I asked someone the other day what they thought of the blog and the answer was it looks like someone who is tired and burned out. I'll have to think about that. Maybe I'll change the focus of the blog.

Monday, May 19, 2008

When Cars Go Bad

Actual Radio Tease: Man shot dead by own car!

That's funny. Jay Leno has published tons of these. This one our cousin told us about. We laughed. Recalled others that we've heard or seen. But I cringed, too. Someone who is paid to use words, whose job it is to get information across, didn't think or didn't bother to check what was being said.

Here's a term I came across in a piece I was editing last week: Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR, sed rate). This was on a Web page designed to help consumers with a particular health issue understand the types of procedures and tests they would be going through in the process of being diagnosed and treated. The idea behind such pages is the more a person knows and the more a person actively seeks information about his or her condition, the more proactive that person will be in terms of health care and management of his or her condition. The page was written by a writer who supposedly is expert at writing for health consumers. She even has coauthored several books that she often lists as sources. It was edited by an in-house editor, and reviewed by an MD who also writes material for health consumers. All this before it got to me.

Now if leaving a phrase such as "erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR, sed rate)" unexplained was an isolated occurrence in the document, there'd be no real problem. Editors are there to work with professionals and disarm such potential hazards. But it wasn't isolated. It was typical of the entire article.

When a news anchor proclaims someone's car has murdered its owner, or when the patient educator has said I'm going to throw terms at you that will make you stop reading, my thought is neither person bothered to think about the audience. And if that's the case, I wonder how much thought either one gave to the content.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Two things I do not do for money

What do I do that is not for money? I write poetry. I'd like to make money at poetry. I've sold some books. I've been paid for doing readings. I've even been paid for publishing poems in journals. But that's not why I write poetry. I'd like to say I make money so I can write poetry, but that's not true either. Not entirely. I do choose the work I do so that I may have the chance to write poetry. And sometimes, it works.

But that's not all. Some of the things I get paid for, I actually do not for the money I make. For instance, I'm an advocate for accessible health information and for clear communication between professionals and non professionals about information that the non professional needs. So in the magazine I edit, I include a regular column about health communication. I've edited patient education and patient information materials to make them more accessible to the intended audience. I've written material for health professionals about active listening or about patient centered communication. I've conducted seminars and workshops for publishing professionals about readability--what it is and what it isn't--and how to achieve it. Sometimes, I get paid pretty well for these things, yes. But sometimes I apply the principles of accessibility even when doing so is not part of the contract, and sometimes I've consulted for free on ways to make materials more understandable. I do that, because like poetry, I believe it's important.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I often see something in people's faces when I say I write and edit for a living. "Wow, how nice that must be," or, "I've always wanted to write," or, "So you can do that from home, right?" My former wife, when I told her I was quitting my teaching job to write full time said, "So, a life-long dream come true."

Other times, I get, "I could never do it. Not enough discipline. I'd be watching soaps and taking long naps if tried it."

Here's the scoop, though. You don't watch soaps (or in my case it would have been syndicated reruns of old sit com's) or take long naps if you're worried about where your next check is coming from. And, yeah, there are times it actually is nice to work at home and working for myself sure beats working at someone else's pleasure. But most of the time, it's isolating and just plain lonely and the hours are long and I actually get a little agoraphobic because I think I'm forgetting how to interact with other people. And the work--the work I do for money--gets monotonous.

But it is a dream come true. I have gotten to write poetry, even published a book. What I do isn't all for money.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

This blog is about language. The way language is used and misused. But it's about more. It's about my life-long involvement with language. Part memoir. Part theory. Part pulpit.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Even when I do my own prose -- the prose I get paid for -- what I do is take what other people wrote and reshape it for a new audience. I do a lot of contract work, mainly for health publications. So I spend a lot of time reading journals, distilling the information in them, and passing it on to another audience. Sometimes to health consumers, sometimes to clinicians. The clients I write for aren't interested in my opinions. And they aren't particularly interested in my voice. What they want is x number of words, at x reading level, with every statement documented from a reliable source and presented according to their particular style sheet. For doing this I get paid pretty well -- a lot more than I ever made as a teacher. This isn't my phrase, but I wish I had come up with it. Another freelancer who does work very similar to what I do, calls herself a writing whore. I prefer the term mechanic, but I know what she's talking about.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I'd prefer to think of myself as a language engineer -- or even a language designer. After all, an engineer or a designer is better than a mechanic. I know it doesn't seem like it when you pay to get your car out of the garage. But the guy that designed your car -- I'll lay you odds -- lives in a bigger house than the guy who changed your oil and replaced your air filter.