The Looming Spectre of Christmas Presents

That time of year is coming around again . . . the Northern Hemisphere Midwinter Holiday (exported to the Southern Hemisphere by transplanted Northern Hemisphereans), in which we celebrate, among numerous other things, the fact that the sun has come back for another year.  I never fully appreciated that aspect of the season when I was a young thing growing up in Florida, or even in Texas; it took moving up to live cheek-by-jowl with the 45th parallel to show me just why so many different cultures thought that the winter solstice was a thing to celebrate.  Right now, we’re in the tight and rapid end of the downward spiral, with night closing in at 4PM or even earlier, and the sense of relief when the days start getting longer again is, believe me, immediate and intense.

So we celebrate our midwinter holidays with good food and good drink and the exchange of gifts, and that brings us to one of the perennial worries of the season:  what to give to the other people in your life.

If one of the other people in your life is a writer, I can help you with that.  From now until the 26th of December, you can buy your writer friend the gift of a line-edit and critique from Dr. Doyle’s Editorial and Critique Services for the seasonal sale price of $1000.00, to be redeemed at the time of the recipient’s choice.

Sample December Gift Certificate

The gift purchase comes with a .pdf certificate suitable for printing out and presenting to the recipient in the wrapper or envelope of your choice.  The holiday in question can be customized for the recipient, as well.

(And if the recipient of the gift happens to be you, that’s fine, too – this has been a rough year, and we need to be kind to ourselves as well as to others.)

Peeve of the Day

Because a peeve is like an itch that you just have to scratch….

Exactly like, in this case.

Itch, the noun, is a physical sensation:

Starched clothing against the skin can cause an annoying itch. 

Itch, the verb, is the act of feeling that sensation:

Joe’s skin itches where his starched collar rubs against his neck.

The verb for what the starched collar is doing against Joe’s skin, on the other hand, is scratch:

Joe’s starched collar scratches the skin of his neck.

Scratch is also the verb for what Joe does to relieve the annoyance:

Joe scratches the itch caused by the starched collar rubbing against his skin.

The starched collar, on the other hand, does not itch Joe’s skin.  It scratches it.  Which makes it itch.  Which makes Joe scratch it.

Get it?  Good.

 

A Linguistic Conundrum for the Season

If you celebrate Thanksgiving with a traditional roast turkey, do you serve it with dressing, or with stuffing?

Butterball (the turkey people, the same ones who run the feast-saving turkey hotline every year) have a page devoted to that very question.  Turns out, as I suspected, that dressing is mostly Southern, and mostly cooked outside the turkey rather than in, while stuffing is more Northeastern, and is usually cooked (unsurprisingly) inside the bird.   My Southern roots show up in this:  In my native dialect, it’s dressing, and gets cooked in a separate dish, the better to have enough of it left over for breakfast the next morning.

(What?  You’ve never had leftover dressing for a post-Thanksgiving breakfast?  You’re missing something good.)

Now that we’ve settled that question, we can move on to which method of preparing green beans is the proper and canonical one:  Are they slow-cooked with bacon and a generous amount of salt, or are they cooked quickly and left unsalted so as to retain their crunch?

When Winter Hits the North Country, It Hits Hard

Or, what our driveway looked like yesterday morning:

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And it snowed some more, after that.  And it’s snowing now.

In weather like this, there really isn’t much to do except stay inside at the computer and listen to the chatter of the road crews on the office scanner work on the various projects currently in hand.

(This is also why the very next editing gig that comes in has got “studded snow tires” already written on its metaphorical forehead.)

The Work That Binds Us Together

This is, of course, National Novel Writing Month – which really ought to be called International Novel Writing Month, as the map on its web page shows.

In a month that’s been full of bad news from all over, and much unhappiness and partisan animosity, I find looking at that map to be immensely consoling – because whatever else may be going on, there are people all over the world striving to do the same difficult but rewarding thing, and cheering each other on as they go.  The 1,994  writers hard at work in Chicago are doing their bit; so are the 8,046 in Chile and the 39 in Kenya, the 127 in Latvia and the 756 in India . . . and all the rest, all around the globe, working on their individual acts of subcreation.

(Shameless self-promotion time:  If, after you’re finished with your project, you should happen to want it gone over with an editorial/critical eye, please imagine me making a discreet gesture toward the “Editorial Services” link just beneath the header.)

Random Thoughts for a Random Sort of Day

Or, bits of loose mental fluff that were never enough to make a whole post by themselves:

The thing about obsolete tools for critical argument is that nobody ever bothers to box them up and put them away after acquiring a shiny new set. Instead, they’re left lying around out in public where untrained amateurs can pick them up and use them for god-knows-what.

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I’m not sure whether the Cult of the Western Canon is the result of the tendency of (mostly male) literary critics to turn everything into a dick-measuring contest an emergent property of the patriarchal nature of western institutions of higher learning, or the natural consequence of there only being room in a two-semester survey course for so many books.

(It’s always a bit unsettling to open a new edition of a familiar anthology textbook, and see which authors have been thrown out of the lifeboat in order to take aboard someone new.)

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There are times when I’m convinced that the only two states in the life of a freelancer are the state of too much work and the state of not enough money. What’s pure hell is when they both hit at the same time. Theoretical speculation suggests that the simultaneous state of too much money and not enough work must also exist; but I don’t know of any freelancer who’s ever actually achieved it.

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If you want characters to generate plot and conflict, they need to have shadows in them to hide stuff and angular bits to catch on things.