Object Lessons: Rantings of a Lone Pamphleteer
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So, What Do You Do?

Sometimes people ask me what it is I do as a Proposal Editor (not often, but it does come up). Well, mostly I try to clean up the language with a light hand, using standard Proofreading marks. It’s a skill and an art, touching the sentences here and there, tightening language with a tweak or two that will pass under the engineers’ noses without offending them.

It’s a tough job, but I actually enjoy it. It’s funny, sometimes, the things they come up with. But those LOL sentences are rare, stretched across thousands of pages, between which I fix comma splices, eliminate strings of prepositions, copy acronyms, and ensure subject-verb agreement. Mostly, I make these little green marks (authors here use red) all over the page as neatly as I can.

This morning, joking via email with Jon, I came up with an example of the type of proposal language I regularly see. He’d mentioned going down to the Hampton’s breakfast buffet before it closed. I replied:

“Though the breakfast buffet sponsored by Hampton Inn and Suites (HIaN) closes at 10, recent visitors leaving directly at 10 in the a.m. yesterday, together with the successful procurement of nourishment in the form of Otis Meyer muffins and fresh unpeeled bananas, proved the effectiveness, if not the efficiency, of the HiaN’s included-breakfast sponsorship program.”

If you’ve ever “been on a Prop.,” that should sound familiar. If you haven’t, take my word on it, it’s a hoot.

I really enjoy editing. Nitpicking is a favorite pastime, and I feel like I’m good at it. Years in fiction workshops honed the editing skills I use so frequently now. Don’t forget that Prop. editing is a niche that pays really well.

There are problems, even when I edit with "the mildest words I know," I run into a stubborn “author” who believes his (or, more rarely, her) work is perfect-as-written, and that all I should be doing is checking for acronyms and pasting little gold stars on it. I have never bought any little gold stars, much less been inclined to hand them out. Anyway, I ran into such an author today.

Not to go off on a rant, but WHAT is it with engineering types who think that the complexity of their content justifies bad writing? Today, I asked for clarification on a sentence that was really obscure, and the guy said “See, now, you're jut over-reading. It makes perfect sense. It's a fine engineering sentence.”

I thought (but did NOT say): "No, it's English, attempting to convey engineering concepts. It needs a verb."

I just cleaned it up as well as I could without changing it too much. So be it.

But seriously, why do engineers think that because the technology is hard to understand, therefore the English should be too? Why be inaccessible? Why justify the inaccessibility, except to keep themselves above, apart, and validate expensive educations?


I came REALLY close to cutting him down. I could have, too. I had all those clear, concise, biting sentences (see above) in my head, ready for my tongue, the second he laughed me off. (It's good to know good English.)

But I didn't. I'm a wimp.... you're reading the work of a wimp. Did you know?

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Even on Mars…

From the AP, a story on the malfunctioning Rover states:

"Spirit, the first of the $820 million twin rovers sent to Mars to determine if it was once a wetter world capable of sustaining life, began to malfunction on Wednesday, nearly three weeks after landing on the planet's Gusev Crater....

"Engineers believe some sort of underlying hardware problem triggered the crisis that has wreaked havoc with Spirit's software and forced the rover to reboot its computer more than 60 times."

Somehow, that makes me feel better when my earth-bound computer has to be rebooted, and rebooted, and rebooted, and rebooted, and rebooted, and rebooted, and rebooted....

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What'll I do, when I am far away?

and oh, so blue, what'll I do?

Not too blue, except when I come in from the cold. It's 19 degrees here and dropping fast, but it feels like 2.

I'm hopeful that the workflow will be good today, but am losing hope that I will be able to spend any time with my hubby this weekend. Looks like I'll be working crazy hours after pens-down at midnight tonight .

I've been spending time researching Democratic candidates. I liked Clark around the edges, which is as far as I knew him, but his lack of experience (he has never held any political office) and his militarism (former General) chills me down to lukewarm. Dean's interesting, but as a doctor who's wife is a doctor, I feel sure he is one of the wealthy beneficiaries of Bush's tax cut that he so consistently (and hypocritically) derides. Seriously, he's worth like $4 million. I have a philosophical objection to voting for millionares.

I was batting around the idea of voting for Al Sharpton, mainly because I've been thinking a lot lately of real-world comedy, or comedy that crosses the fourth wall into real-life situations, a-la Andy Kaufman, or Adaptation. It's like a fourth-world of comedy, the tesseract of jokes crossing from the Improv to daily life. (I'm fascinated by the concept.) Voting for Sharpton would be a literal joke inserted into real life.

After snapping back from critically considering Comedic Reality (CR) to Actual Reality (AR), I started doing research.

Enter VR.

[Internet's a great thing, blah blah blah.]

But I found the one I was looking for. Kucinich, a liberal Democrat with experience, a vegan and environmentalist, a believer in at-cost power for the masses, he seems to be the one for me.

And there can be only one.

I'll continue to read up on the various candidates, most of whom look to me like they were cookie-cut out of cream cheese (especially Dean). I've taken a quiz on SelectSmart.com to match me up with my ideal candidate. I'm fascinated that the quiz matched me to Kucinich at 72% (the highest score anyone got for my political views), followed by the Green Party candidate (unannounced, but probably Nader again) at 69%. Fourth is Dean at 63% (eeeewwww). Last, my consistent match every voting year, the Socialist candidate, currently Walt Brown. Other candidates came in at less than 50%. Bush squeaked by in 13th place at a 19% match, beating out the lowewst-ranked Constitution candidate with just a 13% match.

I'm with Kucinich unless I find out he's a bum. I may even volunteer for his campaign. But don't take my word for it. Try measuring your interests and political priorities on SelectSmart.com.

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Working Hard, or Hardly Working

Well, I'm still busy busy in Rhode Island. Between the 12-hour days and the snow that keeps falling, I still haven't seen any of the Island. Work varies between swamped and bored stiff. Web access helps with the boredom.... Right now it's sauna-hot in here, because another office reportedly turned on their heat, and ours went up in synch. Even with two fans going, I'm boiling. Clammy hands. I'm just glad that I wore a short-sleeved shirt and left the long-johns at the hotel, in deference to the warmer weather today. In fact, it's warm enough to snow, as one writer put it.

Still, it's exciting that Jon's coming to see me this weekend, though I suspect all we'll get to do is watch each other sleep. Better than nothing, I suppose.

He's coming up for his birthday, which we've spent together since 2001. We both take our little rituals seriously, our traditions that date back to our first date, and try to keep them going. I hope his plane's not delayed, because then we'll have missed it.

Ever have a moment that makes you cringe? They feed us dinner nightly here (I suspect so that we won't be tempted, or justified, in leaving even for an hour), and one employee was describing the pasta dish as "little round stuff with sauce." I supplied "penne rigate." Then, I felt bad for butting in, and apologized by explaining that, as an editor, I supply words and can't seem to stop myself.

Cringing comes soon. Bear with me.

We were also trying to determine if the mystery meat next to the meatballs was chicken or veal. I came around the table and checked it out, and the group agreed that it was chicken. It was only when I had my chosen piece on my plate that I realized I'd cut in line. I apologized profusely, and an author quipped: "You're an editor. You didn't cut in, you inserted."


It seems, too, that I'll be heading home earlier than expected, and may even be able to make it to bookclub, which is nice, because I actually read the 500+ page Poisonwood Bible, and enjoyed the psychological study of mother and daughters forced into a missionary trip to Africa. Each character is vivacious and fully realized, each with her own distinctive voice. It's interesting to see their personalities and lives develop over 30 years, from their two years in Congo through the creation of Zaire. Fascinating and highly recommended, if you've got the time.

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I'm having trouble getting used to this Rhode Island accent.

I am sitting at my desk (with internet-capable computer), and a lady just came by, calling out "Kinky, anybody want it kinky?"

Or so I thought.

Actually, there's a New Orleans *King Cake* in the kitchen to share.

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I got my Travelin' Shoes

I spoke to an author today, who is working on the same proposal I am. He noted that he'd been away from home more days than not this year. It took me a second to realize we're only 18 days into the year. (What can I say? I'm gullible.) Still, it was a little chilling, because it's true of me as well, and I hadn't realized until that joking comment.

I've been home a mere 5 nights this year. Whew! I spent 9 nights in NC, and have been here 3 nights already. Again, whew!

The wind, it seems, is blowing me around almost as much as when I was a child. Gathering airline miles and making money is all well and good, but I'm longing for home, and alone.

Still, I'm comfortable, if chilly, here in RI. Aquidneck Island is lovely, full of gothic mansions formerly populated by Astors and Vanderbilts, now museums open to the public. Seaside at every turn, the quaint villages that dot the island still do not fill it. Long stretches of road and farmland remain unpopulated, charming. At least, I've read it's lovely. With the hours I've been working, I haven't seen much during daylight.

I can heartily recommend the Hampton Inn, Middletown. The staff is friendly, the hotel new. I'm impressed with the quality of the place, and it's nice to know that the bedspread has no more than two months' worth of dirt. (Most hotels reportedly only wash bedspreads once a year. Blankets once a month.)

The job is good. Long hours, but I'm getting plenty of sleep, and without any responsibilities but taking care of myself and getting to work, well... it's pretty boring, actually. I've almost too much time to myself, and am so used to spending my time on cleaning and renovations and other homey things, that, when I've hours to face, alone in my king suite with wet bar and free Internet, what should be like a mini-vacation is more of a shock. There are these blank moments when I have to stop and think of how to fill the next, seconds passing during which all I feel are my empty, frosty hands.

Then I head to the computer, or a little bit of sorting Acronyms, or laying out my clothes, or straightening before answering emails... any of the many little chores that fill my free time, and make me feel not quite so far from home.

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