Righter writing

I’ve been hold­ing the pen (and be­fore that, the pen­cil and cray­on) in­cor­rect­ly for as long as I’ve been writ­ing. As such, my hand­writ­ing is pret­ty ter­ri­ble and I’ve al­ways been prone to hand cramp­ing. Various teach­ers and at least a cou­ple of par­ents have tried to cor­rect this over the years, but I’ve al­ways just ig­nored them and gone on writ­ing as I pleased. I found my way eas­i­er and more com­fort­able, al­though the com­fort would on­ly last for the first few minutes.

I’m not sure what hap­pened, but about a month ago I was sit­ting at my desk and I de­cid­ed that I was go­ing to start hold­ing the pen cor­rect­ly. At first it was a dif­fi­cult, frus­trat­ing and un­com­fort­ably con­scious process, and I would some­times for­get to do so, but I made sure to cor­rect my­self as soon as I re­mem­bered. I soon found it easy enough to do with chunki­er pens (like most of my foun­tain pens), but now I’m able to do it well enough on days I car­ry some­thing thin­ner (like a Parker Jotter).

Consequently, I’m writ­ing a bit more slow­ly and de­lib­er­ate­ly now, and while my hand­writ­ing hasn’t re­al­ly changed at all, the new hand po­si­tion has be­come au­to­mat­ic — I now just pick up the pen and hold it cor­rect­ly. Since I still pre­fer to do much of my dai­ly think­ing ink-on-dead-tree-style, this small change con­tributes sig­nif­i­cant­ly to my qual­i­ty of life, as I trade short-term com­fort for long-term comfort.

“Next up is cor­rect­ing my sit­ting pos­ture,” he writes, slouch­ing terribly.

The word calamity makes me smile (and now I know why)

Words are spe­cial things to me, and when I was a small­er geek and would try to fig­ure out the mean­ing of un­known words, I would of­ten form a men­tal im­age of a word’s mean­ing based on, of­ten times, an­oth­er word it sound­ed like (re­gard­less of whether the two words ac­tu­al­ly had any­thing to do with each oth­er). Sometimes, I’d ac­tu­al­ly use con­text to help de­ci­pher the mean­ing of the mys­tery word, but that wouldn’t al­ways lead me to the right answer.

From time to time, I’d be un­able to shed this first im­pres­sion of a word, which would stick with me even af­ter I would learn the word’s ac­tu­al mean­ing. I’d have these false im­ages some­times pop in­to my mind when I’d hear the word it­self used else­where, even know­ing full well what it re­al­ly means.

So when I found my­self, in more re­cent years, find­ing the word calami­ty to be, of all things, bizarrely amus­ing, I be­gan to se­ri­ous­ly ques­tion how this could be. It’s not like I find calami­ties them­selves fun­ny. And the word is not one I hear used much on a day-to-day ba­sis, and it cer­tain­ly isn’t one used to de­scribe things that are sup­posed to be fun­ny. It’s not near­ly as well-used as its syn­onyms cat­a­stro­phe, dis­as­ter, or even tragedy. So why would I find it dif­fi­cult to sup­press a smirk when hear­ing or read­ing about some­thing that some­one de­scribed as calamitous?

Here’s what tru­ly brought my strange re­la­tion­ship with the word to a head: I used to work for a com­pa­ny with pret­ty strong ties to the Philippines, so when the rather dead­ly Typhoon Ondoy (a.k.a. Ketsana) rolled through the coun­try dur­ing my time em­ployed there, the storm, and its ef­fects, were more than just the head­line or two that they may have been to most Americans. Reading pret­ty ex­ten­sive­ly about the storm, both through news re­ports and first­hand ac­counts from many of our cus­tomers, I no­ticed, a hand­ful of times, many pinoys us­ing calami­ty to de­scribe what had hap­pened there. To what we owe their word choice is not some­thing I un­der­stand or am re­al­ly con­cerned with, ac­tu­al­ly. More im­por­tant was the in­vol­un­tary smirk­ing ef­fect the word had on me.

That I could find my­self amused by some­thing so strange, in the face of tales and pho­tos of death and de­struc­tion, was some­thing I found un­set­tling, so I lat­er thought hard about where this feel­ing like­ly came from. I can’t quite re­mem­ber how I made the con­nec­tion, but it even­tu­al­ly hit me.

That cute lit­tle guy to the right is Calamity Coyote, a char­ac­ter from the early-90s an­i­mat­ed tele­vi­sion se­ries Tiny Toon Adventures, a show that may not have made as last­ing an im­pres­sion on me as oth­ers from the era did, but is one I def­i­nite­ly re­mem­ber watch­ing. (I re­mem­ber the theme song very well, for what that’s worth.) Calamity is al­so a rel­a­tive of Wile E. Coyote, or something.

Lacking any oth­er con­text to ex­plain to my single-digit-aged self the mean­ing of the word calami­ty, I must have as­sumed that it meant… well, some­thing fun­ny! Because, you know, the show was made up of fun­ny char­ac­ters do­ing fun­ny things, so this un­known word must mean some­thing funny.

It makes per­fect sense to me, and feels like the ex­pla­na­tion, the true cre­ation myth I’ve been look­ing for. I can’t imag­ine where else a younger Everett would have come across that word, and it’s not one I’ve seen enough times in the in­ter­ven­ing years, mak­ing this one of those wrong de­f­i­n­i­tions I still just can’t forget.

Do you have any words that have a spe­cial mean­ing to you, one that’s com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent than what the word re­al­ly means? Or per­haps that even tick­le your fun­ny bone in an equal­ly ir­ra­tional way? (I re­al­ly do want to know.)

It’s fear, mostly.

Inc. Magazine: Why Is Business Writing So Awful?

When you write like every­one else and sound like every­one else and act like every­one else, you’re say­ing, “Our prod­ucts are like every­one else’s, too.” Or think of it this way: Would you go to a din­ner par­ty and just re­peat what the per­son to the right of you is say­ing all night long? Would that be in­ter­est­ing to any­body? So why are so many busi­ness­es say­ing the same things at the biggest par­ty on the plan­et —  the marketplace?

Fear, most­ly.

(via Ryan)

How to kick your own ass

So last night I was let­ting my mind wan­der while sit­ting around play­ing some Cave Story,1 try­ing to de­cide whether I should blog the sto­ry of how I learned the word “res­i­dence” (yes, these are the things you think about when you are me), when I had a fun­ny thought. Yes, a sec­ond one.

It went a bit like “Everett, you could share bits like that on your blog, but you do re­al­ize that in do­ing so, you’re can­ni­bal­iz­ing con­tent that you could be sav­ing up for the mem­oir you may one day write, right?”

I chuck­led at the thought and con­clud­ed that the sto­ry of how I learned the word “res­i­dence” may not, af­ter all, make for that great a blog post. But in an­oth­er mo­ment of in­sight, I took my sec­ondary thought to its log­i­cal con­clu­sion: if I were se­ri­ous about con­sid­er­ing writ­ing a mem­oir (and I wasn’t), per­haps at this point in my life I should wor­ry more about who would even want to read such a book.

That’s not to put down my life and those who have played a role in shap­ing it, but… sor­ry you guys, I just don’t think it would make a com­pelling book. And a life spent sit­ting around won­der­ing if I should write a book about my life seems even fur­ther away from a life worth writ­ing about.

I won­dered if maybe this prin­ci­ple (one wor­ry­ing more about some po­ten­tial fu­ture, at the ex­pense of the present, which could be bet­ter used to get one to their de­sired fu­ture) is some­thing that a lot of peo­ple do, some­thing that has broad­er im­pli­ca­tions than some hy­po­thet­i­cal, self-indulgent tome. Consider the ex­am­ple of rel­a­tive­ly not-well-off peo­ple who op­pose that which would be ben­e­fi­cial to them, by, say, hav­ing po­lit­i­cal lean­ings that do more for those who are much bet­ter off than they are. Why would they do this? Do they ac­tu­al­ly think they’re like­ly to be in that oth­er class some­day? Planning on win­ning the lot­tery, much?

It’s one thing to plan for the fu­ture. But it’s an­oth­er to fetishize some out­come that, be re­al with your­self, is un­like­ly to hap­pen… and is all the less like­ly, yet, if you sit around day­dream­ing about it.

  1. Awesome, awe­some game. Free down­load here for Windows/Mac/Linux/etc. or buy it for $12 on WiiWare.