Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Waters Blue

This morning I was prancing through the text of the first volume of my autobiography, in preparation for its printing in a month or so. As I was reviewing the material that I had written about my childhood in Belmont Shores, California, I came across a passage that I had written in connection with a poem that I had included. For some odd reason, it moved me deeply, so much so that I desire to share it today. At the heart of the matter are the feelings that I have for the ocean and why I loved to sit on the shore listening to the surf, or why I enjoy sailing instead of simply riding in a powered boat. First, the introduction to the poem, then the poem (actually lyrics to a song), and finally my explanation as to why the sea and things like unto it appeal to me.

At the creation of the earth, there were two kinds of waters mentioned, the waters above the earth and the waters beneath the sky. Water has ever been the symbol of cleansing and life, of solitary journeying, and of the joining with the infinite. I believe that life is such a solitary journey fraught with storm and eminent danger, but only for this life. We set sail from a distant shore to make our way into mortality and hope one day to return home to friends and family. We sight each other's sails from time to time and even sail along side, but the craft is ours alone, no one can take the helm for us. If we lose our way, the waters of the world have no consolation; where we have been is no more; the only sure waters are above us, by which and through which we will finally navigate if we are ever to find home.

Waters Blue

I used to sail with friends from shore to shore
but never left behind an open door
and then I set my face against the wind
and have not seen my friends again
the waters carried me beyond the sun
to things I'd never seen nor heard of
and now I ride a cresting wave alone
and watch for the sweet hills of my home

Waters blue, waters to look into
trying to get myself through
waters pale, waters reflecting my sail
waters erasing my trail back to you

Times and time again to drift away
the winds and oceans have no soul
drifting tempest tossed from sea to sea
roll all there is to life from me
in this darkness of the wind swept tide
my soul is yearning for a beacon
a star or sunshine flooding through the night
to show me where to find my light

Waters blue, waters to look into
trying to get myself through
waters pale, waters reflecting my sail
waters erasing my trail back to you

Some say there is no harbor we can find
where we can shelter from the wind
this world's an endless waste is what they say
and so they drown in their own way
but I see the harbor shining blue and free
of all the storms of life surrounding
and soon the sails will signal waiting eyes
and arms that sweep away goodbyes

Waters blue, waters to look into
trying to get myself through
waters pale, waters reflecting my sail
waters erasing my trail back to you

9 October 1979

Anthropologists and other social scientists, in order to define the evolutionary development of mankind, suggest that our fascination with the sea hearkens back through our racial subconsciousness to when our far distant ancestors first fearfully emerged from the seas to pursue a new course of life upon the terra firma. In evolutionary terms, I suppose that the sea might be construed to be the original Garden from whence we cast ourselves out in our attempt to bring into being an advancement of life. The sea then becomes our mother from whose womb we have all sprung. Were I a secular humanist, this would all seem quite prosaic to me. Others in the scientific world, students of human development, suggest that the beginning of life within the literal womb of every child's mother is what draws us to the ocean. The sea then becomes a surrogate mother rather than a literal one; one to which we long to return because only there can we partially regain what we once enjoyed in full: peace and comfort.

In terms of my own self-analysis, I do not believe that it is the splash of amniotic fluid that draws me to the ocean, nor is it the genetic echoes of primordial waves upon ancient beaches upon which my ancestors slid. I am drawn to the ocean for two reasons. The primary one does involve a remembrance; one which involved a gentle time with loving parents. The second comes from the same time frame: a young boy filled with the wonder of the ever-expanding vastness of his world. It is the surprise of the immensity of the horizon that affects me the most when I crest that last hill before the shore. I am always astonished. A similar effect took place within me as I drove down Paseo del Norte in north Albuquerque in the early evening looking westward. Albuquerque, I have said many times, has the most magnificent sunsets in the world. It is not just the coloring, which is inspiring, but the fact that one cannot, even with perfect peripheral vision, take in the horizon all at once. It is too broad a view for human sight.

Were I dissecting my own emotional viscera, I would say that this love of the sea, the overwhelming vastness of the sea, hearkens back to a far earlier time than anthropologists and geologists imagine. It is a time before the foundations of the earth were laid, when my spirit looked upon the infinity of space and the eternity of time and I decided that this vastness would be my abode forever. The ocean is a faint representation of home, but one which most men have forgotten entirely. In their attempt to explain their undeniable feelings at such wonders, they have imagined for themselves scientific mythologies of inordinate complexity. It is my conviction that our sense of beauty, eternal and infinite, is but one of the many aesthetic senses that passed through the veil with us as we came into mortality. I, for one, am grateful for that link with my destiny.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Infinite Regression

Many years ago, James Taylor wrote an environmentalist song called “Traffic Jam”. I suppose that it is cute in its own way, but I never really like the musicality of the piece. There was, however, a verse that really captured my imagination. I include the previous verse just to give you an idea where the narrative of the song was going.

Well, I left my job about 5 o'clock,
It took 15 minutes go three blocks—
Just in time to stand in line,
With the freeway looking like a parking lot.


Now, I almost had a heart attack—
Looking in my rear view mirror.
I saw myself the next car back,
Looking in the rear view mirror,
'Bout to have a heart attack.

It is to be imagined that JT was also in the third, fourth, (and so forth) car looking in his rear view mirror, “Bout to have a heart attack”. That effect is called “infinite regression”.

When I was a little boy, I read a short story about a man who was sitting in his den reading a novel. The novel was about a man sitting in his den reading a novel about a man who was reading a novel, and so forth. In the novel, the man reading the novel was about to be assassinated by a murderer who had just come in through the door behind the chair. The first man reading the book then hears the floor squeak behind him. Again, the effect was “infinite regression”. The intent of the story was to chill the person reading the short story and ultimately look behind himself for the murderer. I know that the story was written by a prominent writer, but I just can’t remember who it was. I remember, however, that in the pulp science fiction magazine where I first read it, the cover was illustrated with a series of identical pictures of men reading a book, infinitely regressing.

I am in the midst of reading the complete fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, purportedly the master of 20th Century horror stories. There is no question that Lovecraft had an inventive genius, but his style of writing decidedly draws attention to itself. It is as if H.P. thought of three words, like “charnel”, “gibbous”, and “lugubrious”, and then opened a thesaurus in order to come up with every possible permutation of those three words. These would all be strung together for a distance of 5000 words or so while telling a dark tale. As he got older, Lovecraft became less addicted to that process and his stories became a little more moderated.

At the end of the first third of the book, however, H.P. Lovecraft produced a lovely little story that has to do with our topic. It is called “The Silver Key”. It is about ten pages long in my edition. Lovecraft wrote the short story in the fall of 1926 and had it published in January 1929. In tone, it differs greatly from everything that he had written prior to those dates.

The protagonist is a fellow named Randolph Carter. The opening sentence of the story is: “When Randolph Carter was thirty he lost the key of the gate of dreams.” The rest of the story has to do with how Carter tried to deal with the loss of his imagination. Frankly, it is a rather long diatribe about the ineffectual nature of every other genre of fiction and philosophy. Carter spends the next twenty years of his life trying to find a replacement for that which he had lost. One night he had a dream in which his dead grandfather came to him in a vision and reminded him of a box in the attic. Randolph immediately retires to the attic, finds the hideous box, and opens it to find a great silver key. A short time later, Carter decides to visit the old house of his youth, where he had been raised by his great aunt Martha and his great uncle Christopher. He drives to the hill upon which the house had been built and walks the path toward the top. Along the way he hears the voice Benijah Corey, his uncle’s hired hand calling for him. Eventually the two meet, and Randolph is taken to the house to be greeted by his long lost relatives.

What is hinted at, is that the fifty-year old Randolph has become a ten-year old boy again, equipped with the silver key by which he is able to open the gate of dreams which was located somewhere on his uncle’s property. The fellow grows up again, and for the next twenty years enjoys all of the benefits of the key and domain that it opened to him. The assumption is that this has been repeated several times and the boy/man has become essentially immortal. This effect might be termed “infinitely progressive”, yet it is in reality merely a loop.

All of these things produce another effect, a disassociation from reality, that reality is not really what it seems to be, that we are part of a mechanism that is far more complex and convoluted than we might suppose. Lovecraft’s perception of “reality” is extremely black and bleak, the attempted comprehension of which, he suggests, can bring nothing but madness. The stories and lyrics that use the infinite regression technique are merely playing for a short burst of startled, emotional reaction from their audience.

This manner of writing does little to improve the human condition. It does, instead, inspire fear of the unknown, insists on the insignificance of the human creature, and that the universe is, in the end, a capricious and unbridled thing which has no concern for creation.

Coleridge wrote that one of the necessities for writing and reading Romantic literature was the “willing suspension of disbelief”, that the reader must assume that the world that the author is creating has a reality worth exploring. While that approach has merit up to a point, there have been and continue to be great abuses of that principle by which men of our age have become cynical and selfish, believing in the world of their own creation and having no compunction against forcing others to believe in it too. Most of the world’s ills can be traced to these idiosyncratic assertions of “reality”.

What is absent in all of this is the truth, a truth that states that there is a “reality” that does govern all that we see, experience, and understand. What is not generally known is that that truth is benevolent, kind, compassionate, and willing to do whatever is possible to bring happiness and joy into the hearts and minds of the inhabitants of the earth.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

AMS Redux

I finished “The Unbearable Lightness of Scones” last night. It has taken a while because I generally only read a chapter a day. This pedestrian method, however, is completely consistent with the author’s intent and style, inasmuch as the book was originally published in serial form in the daily newspaper “The Scotsman” located in Edinburgh, Scotland. The title, as delightful as it is, derives from a single page toward the end of the book on which there is a 15-line discussion between three of the characters about the “sturdiness” of Big Lou’s scones. It is merely an aside that has little or no bearing on the rest of the story. It is as if Alexander McCall Smith came up with an utterly compelling phrase and then had to employ it in some fashion in the narrative, and was so tickled with the result that he used it for the title of the whole book.

I am not criticizing this approach in any fashion. That is what frequently happens to me. The last paper I delivered at Brigham Young University was an essay about Benjamin Whorf and Edward Sapir’s theory about cultural and language as reflected in the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. I called it “A Thousand Words for Sand: Benjamin Whorf, Edward Sapir, and the Planet Arrakis”. In the fifty minute presentation, I think that I spent no more than 35 seconds saying anything about Frank Herbert or his masterpiece “Dune”. I don’t think that many in the audience were overly distressed; only four girls of the 200 persons in the audience walked out. Richard Hatch of Battlestar Galactica fame was across the hall making his presentation. Who can compete with the Adama kid?

Other than the title, I was particularly impressed with McCall Smith’s ability to get inside the minds of his characters, keeping them distinct and on-target. Of particular note in this novel was his portrayal of Cyril, the gold-tooth dog of Angus Lordies. In the same chapter wherein the sturdy scones appeared, Cyril finds himself laying down under the table where Angus and his friend Matthew are drinking their coffee in Big Lou’s bistro:

But when Cyril awoke from his brief nap, the problem that confronted him was not one of understanding what was being said over the table, but what he saw underneath, down at dog level, close to the floor. For there before him, only inches away, were Matthew’s ankles; half clad in socks, half exposed. It was a sight of which Cyril had dreamed, and in some of his dreams he had acted. This was Cyril’s temptation, and it was an immensely strong one. Indeed, had Mephistopheles himself concocted a challenge for Cyril, he could not have come up with a stronger, more tempting enticement. Matthew’s ankles were Sirens, and they beckoned from the rocks of his ruination.

He could not resist. For years he had gazed upon these ankles and restrained himself. But now he knew that he could do that no longer. His life would soon be over; dogs did not last all that long, and he wanted to do this before he passed beyond all temptation. So, suddenly, and without giving Matthew any warning, Cyril moved forward and nipped Matthew’s right ankle; not too hard – he liked Matthew – but enough for Matthew to give a start and look down.

Cyril looked up, his jaws still loosely fixed around the ankle; he looked up into Matthew’s surprised eyes. This was the end; Cyril knew there would be shouting and he would be beaten with a rolled up copy of The Scotsman. He would be in disgrace, perhaps forever. This was truly the end.

Matthew stared at Cyril. He opened his mouth, ready to say something, to shout out in outrage even, but he did not. He looked down upon Cyril and then, reaching down, he gently pushed him away. He did not want Cyril to be punished. He said nothing.

Thus we forgive one another; thus reconciliation and healing begin.

What a delightful way to present a lesson as old as civilization.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Do You Know the Swim?

I just watched "2012" for the second time. The scenes of Malibu sliding into the Pacific were spectacular. All the time I was watching the movie, I had a song going through my mind. You may or may not remember it. The Jamaicans have the right approach to disasters that you can do nothing about. Be sure to turn off my Dance Card before you start the non-video.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Where’s the Lost and Found?

Okay, I have made the dive into the vagaries, the misconceptions, and the mythologies of one of the iconic television programs of all time. I have been watching “Lost”, but I’m not... lost, that is.

The first season turned up on my doorstep as the result of one of my daughters saying, “Dad! You have to do this!”

I replied, “I don’t have to do this. I have lots of other things to watch, and since, as you have pointed out to me many times before, my mind is dribbling out of my ears at an increasing rate, all of old stuff will be new to me. Onward and upward to ‘Farscape’!”

“No, no, no! Try it! You’ll like it!”

Actually, I tried it for two reasons. First, I really did want something new to watch and, second, I was tired of all of the mysterious talk at the dinner table and in the neighborhood about the stuff that is going on in the final season. So I began with season one.

I had, prior to these past couple of weeks, seen portions of about three episodes, but none of those momentary glances really gave me any idea what was going on with the various characters or the situation that they were in. Now after having watched all but the second half of “Exodus”, the season finale, I have a few observations to make. Doing so, I know that I will be ridiculed by the fans, that I have no clue, that “You just wait! You’ll see that I am right in the end!” I don’t care. I am responding to what I have seen so far, all future mysteries aside.

First, I like the photography. Shooting the series in Hawaii was a good choice. Watching each episode in high definition DVDs on a good 37 inch screen has been delightful. I, not the original fans, am getting the full impact of what was intended by J.J. Abrams and the boys because I am seeing it in a better venue. Hawaii has enough variety that the scenery can become a part of the story line. I find that as helpful as the music at times.

Second, the story-line and the dialogue are well-crafted and, amazingly enough, almost believable. The little flashbacks into the lives of the survivors is a nice touch, showing that the characters were already “Lost” long before the plane fell apart. But that is all part of the charisma of the show. We as the audience are fundamentally just voyeurs; we really want to know all of the little secrets that everyone has. I like the fact that the writers have gone to great lengths to have the individual life-bubbles bump each other in the background. Sometimes, if you look away from the screen for an instant, some little connection would be lost. I suspect that this is why the DVDs have sold like hotcakes.

Thirdly, it is clear that the casting department went to great lengths to have the speaking characters be as physically diverse as they could be. There is no mistaking Hurley for Sun. It was a fun moment when Dominic Monaghan showed up as Charlie. As I watched him stand beside all of the other actors in the show, I realized that he really is no bigger than a hobbit. Go Merry! Drink some more of that Entwash back at the cave! The appearance of Danielle Rousseau, her intriguing accent, sent me back to my “Babylon 5” days, when Mira Furlan played Delenn using her same dulcet Croatian tones. I have to say, however, that in the last week I have seen four people that could pass for Hurley; none were moving as fast as Jorge Garcia can.

With regard to the underlying mythological aspects of the show, I have failed to see anything that is usually attributed to the superstructure of the storyline, and I know a great deal about the mythologies of the world. Perhaps they show up later. For the benefit of anyone who reads this piece, I have to add that when a “novum” is presented, an unexplained event, and its source is never related to the real world, the reader or viewer is engaged in fantasy. When the “novum” is explained in believable terms, the audience is in the middle of a mystery. When the “novum” is explained as an extension of current technology, but a technology that does not yet exist in the real world, then we are enjoying science fiction. By the end of this final season, I am quite certain that some one of the fans, perhaps many, is going to be disappointed as to how the real genre falls out. In the meantime, I will go on to season two, knowing that people are not going to fuss with me a lot.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

All the Right B Movies

I have always liked watching films…., even the bad ones…., especially the bad ones. When my father brought home our first television set, a nine-inch round screen device, I could not get enough. In the Los Angeles area, we had four or five stations. My particular favorite was Channel 9, KCAL, if I remember correctly. One of their early programming ploys was “The Movie of the Week”. What was meant by the title was that the same movie would be shown every night at 7:00 PM for seven days in a row. That is how I managed to memorize the complete dialog of “Godzilla” starring Raymond Burr. The film was made in 1956 and apparently went straight to television from the theaters. Here are the opening lines as spoken by Burr:

“This is Tokyo. Once a city of six million people. What has happened here was caused by a force which up until a few days ago was entirely beyond the scope of Man's imagination. Tokyo, a smoldering memorial to the unknown, an unknown which at this very moment still prevails and could at any time lash out with its terrible destruction anywhere else in the world. There were once many people here who could've told of what they saw... now there are only a few. My name is Steve Martin. I am a foreign correspondent for United World News. I was headed for an assignment in Cairo, when I stopped off in Tokyo for a social; but it turned out to be a visit to the living HELL of another world.”

Godzilla ravages Tokyo but eventually is destroyed by a special formula that looks like Alka-Seltzer while it is working, and dissolves Godzilla as if he had been attacked by a billion Piranha fish. Sound familiar? This formula has been followed by almost every science fiction film ever since. The interesting thing is that the environmental community was influential in producing this film as well. Godzilla was the product of atomic bomb testing. In fact every monster film in the 1950 was a product of atomic bomb testing.

Godzilla was a “B” movie. The term is similar to the categories for records when they were released as “singles”. The “A” side of a record was the hit, the song that was being played on all of the radio stations across the country. The “B” side was just a filler song; sometimes good, usually not. When we went to the movies as kids, there was usually a double feature. The “A” movies was generally something like “Gone With the Wind”; the “B” movie was something like “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, reportedly the worst film ever made (I own it on DVD, and it is). The most impressive “B” movie I ever saw in the theater was “Blood of Dracula”. I watched it with some of my cousins in Brea, California, while our parents went off to somewhere more entertaining. I had nightmares about “Blood of Dracula” for years. When Nancy Perkins (played by Sandra Harrison) transformed into a vampire I nearly lost my lunch, my breakfast, and every meal that I had eaten the previous week.

Some critics suggest that most of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies were of the “A” variety. While others may quibble about it, I have to say that my personal experience with his “Psycho” was of the “B” movie variety. I was home on leave from the military, visiting with my cousins in Imperial Valley, California. Mike Waddington and his twin sisters, Jan and Jean, are some of my favorite people in all of the world. When they suggested that we go see the new Hitchcock movie I was game. I remember sitting in the theater in Brawley, my cousins on either side of me, the tension of the movie increasing in a geometric function, until the heroine decided that the bright thing to do was to go down the stairs to the basement. I could tell that that was a bad idea. I knew this because I had seen a lot of “B” movies; I knew this because the music told me so. I decided that that was as good a time to go to the bathroom as there ever would be. I took my time, but Alfred had my number. As I walked by into the darkened screening room, Lila Crane (played by Vera Miles) was just turning the rocking chair around with Norman Bates’ mother in it. I am afraid that I was just a little unnerved.

I bring all of this up because of my little foray with “B” movies this week. I was at Wal-Mart shopping for something, when I stopped at the DVD section. There were two movies I had never heard of before. The first was “Lost City Raiders”. The cover contained a picture of the Statue of Liberty mostly underwater with fire coming from the torch, the Brooklyn Bridge broken and mostly submerged, and divers swimming with the sharks. But it starred James Brolin and Ben Cross, so I thought, “Well, this has to be a “B” movie (my ‘favert’) and it has the added attraction of having people who can actually act”. I was wrong on both counts. It was a “C” movie and the film had 98 minutes of non-acting. The only thing that saved it was the special effects. At the heart of the matter was environmentalism, global warming plus the world really offending God. My capacity for suspending my disbelief (which is extraordinary in any event) was expanded to new heights of fancy.

The second film was “Inalienable”. How could you miss with folks like Richard Hatch, Courtney Peldon, Marina Sirtis, Erick Avari, and Walter Koenig? A “B” movie it was, however, with bells on. I should have expected exactly what I got when I saw that dear old Ensign Chekov had written and produced the thing. All I need to say is that Richard Hatch gives birth to an alien boy with six tentacles and the government finds out about it. After watching all 106 minutes of the movie, I said to myself, “Hmmmm, Walter seems to have some unresolved family issues”.

Now, having given my review on these two beasties, do I regret having watched them? Heavens, no! I now own the three worst films ever made in the history of cinematography. What could be better than that? I know! I’ll start with the first season of “Farscape”! No? Maybe “Earth: Final Conflict”, then…. Perhaps, “Alien Nation”….? “Space 1999”…? the possibilities are endless!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Mortification of Words

Mortification is a great word. It is the consummate expression of embarrassment coupled with a wish to die. For me, the great piler-up-of-words, mortification comes when one of those delectable morphemes that I have so carefully chosen proves to be egregiously misspelled.

I have actually felt this way was since I was a boy. I wanted everything that I wrote to be correct and fully comprehensible. Often I would ask my mother, my father, or someone else close to me, “How do you spell this word?” Invariably the response was, “Look it up in the dictionary; that is what it is for”. As I look back on it, there could have been no stupider response to my request than that one. The last time I checked, the dictionary was arranged alphabetically. In order to find the word, you actually had to know how to spell it. If you wanted to find the word “psychosis”, yet knew nothing about the abomination known as the “silent p”, you could spend an enormous amount of time flailing about in the "C" and "S" sections, trying to find the thing. A dictionary is primarily a repository for meaning, not spelling, and even then the meaning is dependent upon the year in which the dictionary was published. Let me give you an example.

The words “tempest” and “storm” are clearly related words, almost synonyms. In fact, in my Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (Unabridged), each word is used to define the other. In Noah Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), however, there is a distinct difference between “storm” and “tempest”, the former being a blustery weather pattern unaccompanied by precipitation. That is to say, if there is rain, hail, sleet, or snow, you have no “storm” but a “tempest”. Thus, “rainstorms”, “hailstorms”, and “snowstorms” were all considered lexical abominations in 1829. How the mighty are fallen!

But I digress.

So the counsel to resort to the dictionary in order to discover the correct spelling of a word fell on deaf ears. What to do? I grew up in an era of pencils. There were no ball point pens to speak of, and the school administrators no longer trusted the students with inkwells and quills. We had places for them in our desks, but we never used them. I suppose that there were legions of young girls with black-tipped pigtails who all grew up to be school teachers and then demanded pencils for the boys as soon as they became available. The use of pencils and the demand for hand-written assignments provided a wonderful loophole for those of us who were orthographically challenged.

My hand-writing has been almost illegible since the 1st grade. My teachers insisted that I write all of my letters between the light blue lines printed on the worksheets that they gave to me. I cannot recall the exact problem that I had, but I failed miserably and each corrective measure that my teachers took only made matters worse. By the time I was in sixth grade, the educational system had given up on me and I was commonly known as “Scrawl-boy” throughout the rest of the time that I attended the Chino Unified School District. I used this to my advantage. As I was composing my assignment, if I happened upon a word that I did not know how to spell, I caused my handwriting to become just a little more “scrawlly”, thus leaving the teacher to decide whether I had actually misspelled the word or if she was simply incapable of reading my hand. Interestingly enough, most of my teachers assumed that I knew what I was doing. Even more interesting is the fact that the ruse worked until I was almost finished with college.

The other side of the loophole of the pencil-scrawl syndrome was the nature of the medium. The only time I ever had my feet held to the lexical fire was in ten-grade English. We had weekly vocabulary tests the object of which was to demonstrate that we knew how to spell the ten words given to us at the beginning of the week. My friend Billy and I sat in the front seats of the two left-hand rows of the classroom. After the quiz, the teacher would say, “Okay, exchange papers with the person next to you and correct each other’s spelling”. Billy and I did EXACTLY that, using the erasers cleverly placed at the ends of our pencils (we had the same first-grade teacher; no serious forgery was necessary). As a result, we were considered the best spellers in the class, until the time came for the annual spelling bee.

Obviously, there came a time when these deceptions would no longer work. Upper division classes in college required typed papers. My Master’s thesis could not be written in pencil. My Doctoral program required a major publishable tome. I passed through a thousand hells trying to catch up.

Today I am somewhat noted for my vocabulary. My colleagues at Utah Valley State University frequently referred to me as the “Word Maven” and I would oblige them by posting a “Word for the Week” on the wall outside of my office. The practice apparently had some entertainment value inasmuch as the corridor was frequently packed with spectators trying to improve their semantic agility. The down side of this increased facility with the English language is that my spell-checker (the modern equivalent to my friend Billy and his eraser) is frequently confounded by my word choice, desiring to change perfectly good words into contextual gibberish. I keep my eye on the little villain. From time to time an editor will chide me for the use of a word. Most of the time I simply fire back a scathing retort, declaring in no uncertain terms that I am not in the practice of “dumbing-down” my prose.

Even so, I find myself mortified from time to time. A week or so ago, I prepared a manuscript to be reviewed in a refereed competition. I originally wrote the text many years ago, but decided that it would serve well under the circumstances. I had read the manuscript repeated times and felt that the narrative was error-free. I printed the text, stuffed it into the manila envelope, scrawled the editor’s name on the cover, and set it aside to be posted. For whatever reason, I decided to reread the file on the computer and found another five errors. Admittedly they were minor typographical problems which would probably not be noticed by anyone reading the piece, but I was horrified. I made the corrections on the computer, reprinted the paper, opened the envelope and exchanged the pages. I can hardly wait for the reply.

For those of you who will now parse my blogs in order to uncover mortifications, I wish you luck. It’s a waste of time. I have ways of dealing with those who think to grab me by the chin-hairs. I will ultimately refer you to Webster’s Third REALLY New International Dictionary (Unabridged, 2014), wherein the supposed misspelling will appear in all of its glory.