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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Like Evelyn Waugh ...ON ACID!!1!

  Favorite Canadian (or is that Canadienne?) and blogger Eva has started regularly sharing the stats on how people get to her blog. I don't get that much traffic, but I will share the more interesting ones when they appear. I'm calling this one "Ahmed, you got some 'splainin' to do!"

  On to new business, I've been thinking a bit lately about how we communicate. Written communication has its advantages over oral/aural, but there are a few disadvantages as well. At first thought, that is, let's have a look. I'm specifically thinking of emails/forums/texts/memos/greeting cards versus human to human speech, although anything written down belongs with the former. If it's written down, it's not subject to your nor anyone else's ability to recall it; you can look it over again and again to be sure exactly what has been said written. So you'd think it would be easier for people to not make asses of themselves by correcting you on things that you have written correctly, but it doesn't work like that.

  Some study I read somewhere long ago estimated that we actually comprehend one out of every four words. Essentially, we're all skimming, even when we think we're not. Add to that the insatiable urge a lot of people have to correct someone, anyone, even someone they'll never meet, which causes them to froth and foam all over their keyboards as they feverishly tap out their correction, "Nope, sorry, wrong answer. There were 5 (five) count 'em, five red shirt crew members that both appeared more than once and never died. I'll list them by first appearance episode..." Since you had actually written that four male and one female red shirt crew members had appeared more than once and never died; you were in complete agreement with your corrector, but on the internet the facts almost never get in the way. The rabble-rouser only saw 'four' and the adrenaline and ritalin-deficiency did the rest.

   This is an advantage only for those that prefer to comment about things they actually do have some knowledge of, or good reference bookmarks about them in their browser. It's a bane for those that seek to make a big deal out of your error until it is exposed as a non-error, at which point you or whomever pointed out your original correctness will be informed how big a deal it isn't by the miscreant.

   The advantage of spoken conversation is that inflection can be used to a great extent, but this is actually not so much an advantage as a crutch. Using inflection, accents, hand gestures, figures of speech that don't translate well to the written word; these are all ways of avoiding broadening our vocabularies so that we can say what we mean. Even great conversational tools like sarcasm and baby talk are nearly impossible to match in text, leaving us to find actual words to write what we want to convey. I know someone that says "You know what I'm sayin'?" every other sentence. I suppose it's good that she realizes that no, of course not, no one knows what she's saying, but it's kind of sad too. I have no idea how she would communicate in print. And yes, I was being sarcastic about sarcasm and baby talk being great conversational tools, but you might not know for sure if not for this sentence, would you?

   Written communication has the 'locked vault' aspect as well, which really can't be beaten for accuracy. When you write it, it's still only in your head until you allow someone else to read it. You can change any or all of it, so what, it belongs to you. You can't exactly practice what your saying in conversation, just your opening line. Okay, I've practiced give and take conversations several lines deep, but I'm anal-retentive like that, and a caffeine junkie. You have to be quick and keep your options open because people rarely respond exactly as you thought they would, especially women. These seeming disadvantages to the written word, no winking or nudging, no imitating of well-known celebrity/character voices when you type, these tend to strengthen our abilities to communicate rather than hinder them. If you have to get your point across without the easy tools you (hopefully) will learn to use the ones you have better, more efficiently.

  Title time, this is where I throw the man-fur out the window and buy a man-purse, somehow tying all this together with the half of a thought that I had when I started. Help me help you. Please let's all stop saying/writing things just because we know people know what we mean to say and it's so much easier than thinking of the right thing to say. If you have to put j/k after it, then just don't do it at all. If the idiom makes no sense in type then don't use it. If you have to leave a detailed note about what you're referencing then it's best to drop the whole thing. Like all the Seinfeld and Arrested Development chestnuts I drop around this blog, if you know what I'm sayin'.

  And for crepes' sake STOP saying "on acid" to describe things, it's lame. I was a teenager in southern California in the 80s, so I've taken LSD and mushrooms on a number of occasions, I think 'Get High' was my eighth period class first semester of 10th grade. Perhaps it is because of those experiences that my mind has been adequately expanded to the point that I can choose words to describe what I want to express, I don't know. If you've never done these or other hallucinogens then you're probably more likely to describe "Peewee's Playhouse" as 'Captain Kangaroo ON ACID!!1!', but believe me, everyone knows that. Not because you haven't had your mind expanded or any such nonsense, but because anyone who has tripped isn't going to consider using the reference where it doesn't apply. Neither am I suggesting that you head to the park and score some windowpane so you can use the reference, I'm saying that the reference is virtually meaningless and very lazy writing. Besides, there is a generation of recreational pharmaceuticals that came of prominence after my chemical retirement, why not reference things as 'like Larry King ...ON GBH !!1!', I won't bitch about it being an inappropriate reference because I won't notice. I might bitch that I don't get it, but there really is no pleasing me. Not that you'd try, just sayin'.

Duty Freebie: The Elements of Style is online, who'd a thunk that such a handy guide to better writing would be available on the internets, yet here it is. Bookmark it, and just for fun; look for the three rules that I know I've broken in the last few paragraphs. Don't tell me though, I'll just end up editing my post to make you look wrong for correcting me.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Rest In Peace

Victor was pronounced brain dead this morning and they plan to remove him from life support ... well, about now I think. I guess I should mention that I haven't referred to Victor before and it is an alias but the picture is of him. His cousin Isabel is a coworker and friend, I've mentioned her before, that's not really important. What happened was, sometime around 11 or so on Monday Isabel got a call that he had been airlifted from home to the nearby hospital. Something about him not breathing when he was checked on, I gradually accumulated details as the day wore on. Overdose, unfortunately not a surprise.
It is starting to affect me now. I knew he was gone as far as the person everyone knew when the doctors were telling them that he had brain damage, they didn't expect him to wake up, still wasn't breathing on his own, etc. What I didn't know until yesterday was that they had called an ambulance for him six hours or so earlier and he had refused to go. He was an adult, they couldn't force him, and I have no problem with that. He died of playing with prescription meds, and I would love to have had a moment with him if I had known it was getting that bad, but I'm okay with that too. I don't have an "If only I had" scenario that is going to keep me awake at night. I was friendly with the kid, but really had only spoken with him a few times. I remember him showing me a bag of weed he was particularly happy about, and I was able to appreciate by smell that it was certainly a very nice bag of weed, but my being sober for 8 years and almost 20 years older than him, we weren't exactly Frick and Frack. I do wish I had tried to talk to him about how bad he was looking the last couple of times I saw him, but I'm giving myself a pass on the guilt, well, mostly.
What is starting to get to me now is how his family is going to suffer for a long time over how he died. He was living with his parents, only 19; and his Mother was the one that called the ambulance. She is going to be 'If only I had'-ing herself for the rest of her life. People can, (and hopefully will), tell her that she couldn't make him go against his will. They will tell her that it wasn't her fault, that there was nothing she could have done, but she won't believe them. Nobody that loses someone under these kind of circumstances ever completely forgives themselves, it's just not human nature to detach like that. Even the ones that go on Orpah and say they do, and she hugs them and tells them what an inspiration they are to the rest of us - they can't completely forgive themselves. But that's okay, sometimes we have to fake it 'til we make it, to borrow an old 12-step chestnut. And most of the time that fakin' never gets all the way to makin' it, that's okay too. It will get better, eventually, and they will go on with their lives, even if there will always be a shadow across even the very best of days. This particular family has a lot of guilt that is certainly justified, not limited to whose prescription meds he had nor whom he learned such behavior from, but I wouldn't wish any of what they are going through on my worst enemy.

Duty Freebie: Lady cabdriver over at Heard in my Cab tells of her experiences driving people around. Funny, sad, weird, it's the real deal.