Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver

Upstream: Selected EssaysUpstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver passed away on 17 January, 2019. One of the many people to pay tribute to her in the following days was Maria Popova. Ms. Popova mentioned an essay entitled “Staying Alive” in Upstream: Selected Essays wherein Mary Oliver cites reading as having saved her.

It seems like the notion of being saved by certain activities related to her profession was a common theme for Mary Oliver. During her 2015 interview with On Being’s Krista Tippett, Mary Oliver cites poetry has having saved her.

Listening to Mary Oliver being interviewed, or reading her essays, one hears an unpretentious neighbor lady who would be a joy to know but who would also cherish her personal space and privacy. She wrote of dogs, foxes, turtles, owls, spiders. She wrote about coming across three codfish on a Cape Cod beach, apparently left there by a someone who caught them but then decided not to take them home. Mary Oliver did take them home and prepared them for her dinner. She also took home an injured seagull, nursed it as well as she could, then wrote of its remaining days in vivid, frank detail.

Upstream also put me in mind of Out Walking: Reflections on Our Place in the Natural World by John Leax. Now I need to read more of their poetry.

Thanks for stopping by.

Pat

Promises to Keep

Spend enough time on interstate highways and you are likely to see a semitrailer bearing the slogan “Helping the World Keep Promises.” The slogan is the registered trademark of Old Dominion Freight Lines. The people who came up with the slogan deserves whatever reward they received for that piece of work. It’s a clever reminder that Old Dominion is successful when the customer is successful.

As 2019 begins we are may find ourselves making resolutions—essentially promises to ourselves. We will also hear a lot about promises in the long months between now and the next U.S. elections. The fortunes of politicians rise and fall with the voting public’s perceptions of how well they have kept their promises or how well they will be able to keep them in the future.

Freelancers are promise makers and promise keepers. Our fortunes rise and fall with our clients’ perceptions of how well we are able to deliver the quality of work that is promised on the schedule that is promised. As someone who has also hired and supervised many freelancers, I know how hard freelancers work to keep their promises. I’ve needed to extend clemency on a few occasions when a freelancer has run into difficulties. On even fewer occasions I’ve needed to pick up the pieces resulting from a complete failure.

May all the freelancers whom I have the pleasure to know be successful in gaining opportunities to make promises in 2019. May you be wise and courageous in the challenges you accept. May you be successful in keeping promises, both to your clients and to yourselves. Finally, may your clients show their appreciation of your work with both praise and just compensation.

Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous 2019.

Photo by Natubico [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

What Is Editing As We Grow Older?

Although I’ve spent several decades helping to publish other people’s work, I’m still relatively new to copyediting other people’s work as a way of earning a living. That means that I have to be aware of several realities.

The first is that, having reached a certain age, I am inclined to believe that my opinions and preferences are more entitled to respect and deference now than they once were. My opinions and preferences don’t matter, however. What the writer has to say, and how readily the audience can understand what the writer has to say, matter.

The second is related to the first. The writer whose work I am editing is probably an acknowledged expert, even though the work may include passages that are less than optimal or that conjure up Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins. Recently I read an article entitled “Vikings cleared the forests, now Iceland is bringing them back.” My first thought was to dismiss the article and the writer because the antecedent of “them” is ambiguous. But hold on! This writer has had her work published in The New York Times and National Geographic. She knows what she’s doing. Any reasonable person would know that Icelanders aren’t looking to have Nordic raiders brought back to their shores in shackles. Iceland is bringing back the forests. The same dissonance that first prompted me to dismiss the article probably drew in many readers who were rewarded with a smart, encouraging, and informative read.

The third reality is that communication and language have evolved and continue to evolve. In some media some forms of expression that once were considered unacceptable are now not only acceptable but used widely. Profanity is one such form of expression. I’m not a censor, although I have stopped reading one or two books and stopped watching some movies because of gratuitous profanity. I will probably question the use of profanity when I come across it in an editing assignment, but if the client insists that it is appropriate for the piece and the audience, then I need to accept that.

If you are an editor, what are the realities that keep your chosen profession interesting and challenging? If you hire editors, what do you wish editors understood better about your content?

Thank you for stopping by and reading. Whatever challenges and realities your next editing project presents, I’d welcome the opportunity to be considered for it. Best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous 2019!

Pat

Taking a Different Tack

On our honeymoon my wife and I stayed at a resort that had Sunfish® sailboats available for guest use, so we decided to try sailing. (Actually I must have had to convince my new bride to try sailing. I had nearly drowned her once while we were still dating when our canoe capsized in rapids on the upper Delaware River.) We set off from the beach into a long, narrow inlet. With the breeze at our backs we reached the other end of the inlet in a few minutes.

sunfish sailboat
A Sunfish® sailboat. Source: Oliver McCloud from New York City, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Returning to the resort took much longer. With the breeze blowing into our faces we had to zigzag back and forth across the narrow inlet to move in the direction of the resort. We tipped over several times en route, but eventually we made it back to the safety of the beach. We survived; our marriage survived; and we’ve spent many hours on the water since then in canoes, kayaks, and rowboats, but never again in a small sailboat.

The process of turning a sailing vessel so that it can sail against the wind is known as tacking. According to Merriam-Webster, the use of the word “tack” in that sense began in the early seventeenth century. The figurative use of the verb “tack” to mean change direction, or of the noun “tack” to mean a change in direction, began in the late seventeenth century.

Listening to a weekly interview show recently I heard the person being interviewed use the phrase “take a different tact.” No doubt most listeners would understand what he meant—to change direction—and even listeners who know that the word he should have used is “tack” would not not think ill of the speaker for using an incorrect word.

Editors notice such things, however, and we know that subtle errors such as that can mean the difference between good writing and excellent writing. If you want your writing to be excellent, hire a professional editor.

Thank you for stopping by!

Pat

Buy Locally, Give Locally

Thanksgiving is followed quickly by two important days: Small Business Saturday (Saturday, 24 November, 2018) and Giving Tuesday (Tuesday, 27 November, 2018). For Giving Tuesday in particular I would like to highlight some of the small nonprofit organizations that I’ve had contact with this year.

I haven’t donated to or volunteered with all of these organizations. In fact I’ve volunteered with only two, three if you count playing in the Bloomfield Civic Band as volunteering. The point is to encourage you to think about the charitable organizations in your own local area and support them on Giving Tuesday and throughout the year.

If you support a local organization and would like to give them a plug, please leave a comment, and I will add them to this list. You will see several organizations located someplace other than northern New Jersey, which is where I am located. They are small local organizations have been supported by family members and friends. I look forward to hearing from you with a shout out to your favorite nonprofit.

Urban Farming, Sustainable Agriculture

Environment

Autism Awareness and Advocacy

Services for the Homeless and Other Neighbors in Need

Welfare of At-Risk Moms and Children

Music Education and Performing Arts

Miscellaneous

  • Friends of the (your town name here) Public Library

From Andy Walsh  (Mostly Pittsburgh Area)

  • Light of Life Rescue Mission serves the needs of the homeless and others in the Pittsburgh North Side community where I work; in fact, their newest facility will be going up where I used to park.
    https://www.lightoflife.org/
  • The Watson Institute provides services for many individuals and families with special needs, including those with autism spectrum diagnoses. The organization has a rich history, having previously served polio patients and working with Jonas Salk in developing the vaccine.
    https://www.thewatsoninstitute.org/

Final Thoughts

Whether the enterprise is caring for the environment, caring for people who have fallen on hard times, or meeting any one of dozens of other needs, private individuals and small organizations will have a significant role in helping others face the challenges of 2019. This Giving Tuesday I hope we can all stretch our imaginations and our budgets a little to stand in the gap.

Thank you for stopping by!

Pat

Why Is The Catcher in the Rye a Classic?

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was recently ranked thirtieth out of one hundred books featured in the PBS series “The Great American Read.” It is one of the many books included in the PBS list that I had not read prior to the airing of the series, so I added it to my list. It wasn’t long before I began to understand why it was controversial and even banned by some authorities when it was first published, but in a world where a book entitled Swearing Is Good for You exists, the language and sexual references of Catcher in the Rye seem tame.

Having satisfied my curiosity about why The Catcher in the Rye was controversial, I wonder why it is considered a classic and why it would make it onto the PBS list. I have my thoughts, but rather than share them (read: bore readers with them), I thought I would ask anyone who happens to stumble on this post. What makes The Catcher in the Rye a classic?

You would make my day, my week, and possibly my month if you would take two minutes to leave a brief comment here with your thoughts.

Thank you for stopping by!

Pat

What Value Do You Place on Editorial Services?

How do you view editorial services? Do you view publication project management, copyediting, and quality-assurance activities as commodities to be purchased from the lowest bidder or even as dispensable? Or do you see quality editorial services as adding value to your publications and internal documents? Your answer can make a big difference is the quality of your publications.

Two recently published books that I read illustrate this. Both are  works of nonfiction published by small academic publishers. One, which retails for $35.00, contains misspelled words, misplaced punctuation, and other errors. The author is a friend and a careful writer. If the manuscript was copyedited at all, it appears the copyeditor may have actually introduced errors.

The second book retails for $20.00 and is very clean. The author is a family member. I read a draft of the manuscript last summer and it was clean then, but the final version apparently was carefully edited and proofed. I believe the difference between these two books reflects different philosophies toward, and value attributed to, editorial services.

What value do you place on editorial services? I’d welcome your inquiries on any project, large or small, for which you need such services.

Will “The Great American Read” Encourage Better American Writing?

Three cheers to PBS for producing  “The Great American Read” and fostering interest in and discussion about great literature. Think what you might about some of the choices, none of the one hundred books on the list has achieved its popularity in spite of having been poorly written or edited. Each might be considered a master class in good writing within its genre. Even a book whose narrative style is intentionally informal, such as The Catcher in the Rye, is an example of good writing and good storytelling.

Nothing I write will ever make it into a national list of favorites, but that doesn’t excuse shoddy technique, poor grammar, or ill-chosen words. Think (again) what you might in this postmodern, post-truth era, but I believe that anything that is worth writing should be written well. That includes, heaven help me, tweets and text messages. Although I’m not the voracious reader that I should be, I try to choose reading material that will help me polish my own communication while introducing me to new ideas, new characters, and new adventures.

What about you? As of this writing there are still five more new episodes of “The Great American Read” to be aired and the first two can be streamed from pbs.org. Check out the list of one hundred books. See if there is one that you haven’t read but that look interesting. Borrow a copy from your local library, and see if it doesn’t plant some thoughts on how you can better communicate.  Post your thoughts here if you feel so inclined. If you want help polishing your communication, consider hiring a professional editor. I might be able to help you find one.

Thanks for stopping by!

Pat

A Second Pair of Eyes

A Second Pair of Eyes

A home-improvement contractor drove down our street and stopped in front of our house recently. He was offering free estimates for driveway sealing. I was not in the market for his services, and so I declined the estimate, but I took a business card to be polite.

Everything on the card is spelled properly, but there are several errors in spacing and punctuation. This contractor isn’t offering AP-English tutoring or résumé-writing services, so why should it matter that there are a few errors on his business card? Any small business owner knows that first impressions are important. Regardless of the service that you are offering, the materials that you use to promote your business should give the impression that you are a professional.

Have a second pair of eyes look at your promotional material and even your internal documents that clients don’t see. Those eyes don’t need to belong to a professional editor or proofreader. A detail-oriented family member or friend may catch any errors and may do it for free. If you don’t have ready access to a smart family member or friend, or if the job is too large to ask someone to do for free, hire a professional editor.

I’ve worked in educational publishing for over thirty years. I have experience with the Chicago Manual of Style. I can work with your organization’s house style sheet as well, or even help you create one! I work in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, PDF, and WordPress. Send me a message if you have a document, online or print, that needs a second pair of eyes. Thank you!