Disillusioned!

I’ve heard that you shouldn’t believe everything you read, so maybe this article isn’t true. Maybe this lady doesn’t really post five-star reviews on Amazon for stuff she’s never tried. The article is fiction — or at least distortion of the facts.

But maybe it is true. Maybe she does. And maybe there are dozens of others like her?

If today’s writing challenge were the word Dismayed, Dishonest, False, or even Phony, I’d have an easier time launching into this. But the Ragtag Daily Prompt word today is PASSAGE.

Well then, I’ve just made a swift passage from credulity to incredulity.

When I turn on my computer in the morning I get a selection of interesting news articles to choose from. This morning BuzzFeed News offered an intriguing headline about  someone who writes fake reviews of products and posts them on Amazon. READ IT HERE.

Those of us who write and have books listed on Amazon know how important reviews are. Potential readers scan the lists of books in their genre and decide — often based on reviews left by other readers — whether the book is worth their reading time. And I know there was a time when friends, relatives, and fans of this particular writer would load Amazon with glowing reviews. At times, having read the book myself, I’d shake my head and scroll down a page, where I’d see more honest reviews. “Poorly written,” “needs editing,” “grammar mistakes and typos,” “limp characters.”

Amazon has weeded out a lot of these reviews by ruling that only VERIFIED PURCHASERS may review and NO REVIEWS IN EXCHANGE FOR a free book or an equally glowing review of the other writer’s book. There was a time when small companies could make a profit by selling reviews to authors. Now the rule is NO PAID REVIEWS.

But I gather from the article I’ve just read that there are loopholes and some people are finding quite lucrative ones. Free products and even financial reimbursements from the advertiser, lots of freebies that make good gifts for friends.

While she may make some negative comments, the Reviewer in this article gives five-star reviews on all products, not matter what she actually thinks of them — or if she even tries them. But one day a co-worker asked about a product she’d reviewed and she admitted this is simply a way to get freebies and make a bit on the side. The coworker was disappointed that the review wasn’t honest.

“I definitely feel like I have to keep it a secret from people who have strong morals,” the Reviewer told the article writer.

She admits that for safety reasons she’s afraid to try some electrical devices from lands afar, but gives them a good review anyway. Her boyfriend’s a chemist and has discovered toxic ingredients in some skin care products, so she’s leery of trying them.

According to the article, a lot of her business is with small businesses in China—often claiming to be family-owned. Companies want to get their products taken seriously on Amazon and some are willing to cheat to do it, reimbursing purchasers and even paying a small fee. Sadly, where not-quite-honest people are looking for some small passage through the tangle of rules, they will find it somehow.

Oh, buyer beware!

Haiku: A Quick History

Haiku & Senryu History

from comments by Alan Summers,
compiled by Christine Goodnough

Most people who know about haiku think of masters like Basho and his famous poem about the frog jumping into the pond. Or the tender-hearted, melancholic Issa who knew so much sorrow in his life. Haiku master Alan Summers, who has spent decades studying this form of poetry, offers the following background for this style of poetry.

Are haiku verses all about nature?

Pre-haiku, as written by Basho et al, were seasonal poems, more than being nature poems. They might be about a human society celebration, the coming of age of boys, children, or Matsuri, which are holidays, religious days or farming events.

When haiku came about, in the 1890s, it was caught in the old medieval mindset, but on the edge of the 20th century, when trains and factories were starting to be built. So I think of haiku, which really came into its own just before WWII and post-WWII, reflecting the industrial revolution and huge changes in human society.

The intimate relationship with the seasons, coming from the pre-Industrial Revolution era when people were super-aware of the slightest shift into the next part of a season, meant that folks would write little postcards with a seasonal reference. Sometimes this was just a note or a hello, and not always poetry. But when haikai poetry came about, the common and popular and normal practice of mentioning the change in a season in conversation, gossip, or greeting cards, also became part of the tiny haikai poems.

In the shift toward haiku, just before the 20th century, writers often used the seasonal ‘mention’ although post-WWII when the industrial revolution morphed into the various technological leaps in warfare and general manufacture, different topics would be added. Of course, as they moved into computer technology and robotics, these would be naturally added.

So nature, or natural history, is often part of a haikai verse in some aspect, but this is only part of the body of haikai poetry.

When Shiki did his reformation of haiku and tanka, little changed for a decade or two, then those society-changing world wars we seem to love for some reason, shifted haiku into its own genre, away from the chains of the medieval hokku and earlier haikai verses penned by Basho et al.

Haiku has been known in the West almost as long as in Japan, interestingly enough. The French were the very earliest to pen haiku very early on in the 20th Century.

See: Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years (W. W. Norton 2013)
ed. Jim Kacian, Philip Rowland, Allan Burns; plus Introduction by Billy Collins
Click here for link.

What is senryu?

This was another verse from the big group poem collaboration called Renga, which spawned both hokku (similar to haiku) and the verse named after its most successful propagator.

Senryu was the nickname or pen-name of a poet who was famous for this particular style of verse in the group poetry writing activity called renga, and later, under Basho, the increasingly popular renku. Both renga and renku are the most complicated and intricate poems in the world, with more rules than you could shake a stick at!

Senryu verses were sometimes written to mock the growing haiku writers and, before haiku came about, the various haikai verse writers who wrote hokku.

A good test of what makes the verse a senryu: CLICK HERE.

For more reading, check out these articles & free books:

To learn more about the various forms of Japanese poetry, check out Call of the Page

Why haiku is different and Basho never wrote them in English: Click Here

More than one fold in the paper: Kire, kigo, and the vertical axis of meaning in haiku: Click Here

Free eBook:
Senryū: An Application to be a) human
by Alan Summers

Free eBook:
Kaneko Tohta:Selected Haiku With Notes and Commentary – Part 2 – 1961–2012

There are also a number of online haiku journals where you can find great examples of Japanese poetry:
Troutswirl, cattails, The Heron’s Nest, Wales Haiku Journal, etc.

The Life Cycle of Water

It’s been a long time since I thought of Dutch puck disease, but I read a news article this morning that jogged my memory, so I’ll tell you about it.

Dutch Puck Disease: From Beetle to Humbug

Back in the early 70s most Canadians had heard of the invasion of an elm bark beetle and the fungal infection, Dutch Elm disease, that was devastating our elm population. Cities were doing what they could to protect their beautiful shade trees, sadly, without much success.

Around 1972 some wit at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation got the idea to do a send-up on the story and the idea went over. So they made a mini documentary about the dreaded “Dutch puck disease” destroying Canada’s hockey-puck producing trees.

A narrator warned that this posed a dire threat to Canada’s favorite sport. Cameras showed scenes of devastation: shriveled and deformed hockey pucks hanging from the branches of wasted-looking trees. They even persuaded hockey great, Bobby Orr, to give an interview about the scourge. He almost managed a straight face as he said, “This is terrible! I can’t score goals if there are no pucks.”

They filmed a few man-on-the-street interviews, including one of an incredulous young lady exclaiming, “They do?! Hockey pucks grow on trees?”

From Spring to Bottle:
Big companies process for profit.

Apparently conservationists are trying to stop the Swiss company, Nestlé, from draining some California streams to bottle water. Protesters claim the giant Swiss corporation is actually drying up creeks by taking so much water out and making huge profits selling it back as bottled water.

There’s likely reason for concern, but one needs to exercise care to get the whole picture, not just the attention-grabbing headline. A person could make the same case against farmers irrigating crops. All summer long, “big corporate farms” draw water from the underground supply, pay next-to-nothing for it, irrigate their crops, sell their produce “pre-packaged” to consumers in the form of veggies, and pocket the profits. All the while, you could argue, depleting the nation’s underground water supply. Nestlé is accused of taking water from the streams, paying nothing for it, bottling and selling it as “safe pure water,” and pocketing the profits. The question is being asked: “Is this a crime, or is it business?”

As with Dutch Puck Disease, headlines, news stories, and especially documentaries can be manipulated to sound sensationally dire and point fingers. And people can be gullible: “If it’s on the news it must be true.” However, readers need to examine the facts carefully and ponder the validity of statements like the following:
“At its current pace, the world will run out of freshwater before oil,” Brabeck said. Apparently Brabeck is suggesting “privatization” as a possible answer.

Private companies — or the government? What blessings or woes would privatization bring? Communism was supposed to be wonderful, too.

People here in North America are very concerned about the environment and it’s so easy to raise a scare story. But let’s consider the logistics behind our water supply (the sky) and the possibility of drying up springs, streams and rivers.

We can’t squeeze more prehistoric animals to produce more oil, but water’s a different kettle of fish. I’m thinking the world will “run out” of fresh water when the clouds stop dumping it on us.

You can syphon off water at its source so the folks downstream get almost none. You can dam a flowing water source and even change its course so one area gets a stream and another area gets none. But mankind has not yet been able to dry up the clouds.

From Gush to Flush: The Life Cycle of Water

Every day the sun draws zillions of tons of water vapor from the ocean, lakes, rivers, etc. If we could shut off the sun we could prevent all this water vapor loss. But…

By some miraculous process, this vapor gathers into clouds that drift across the earth’s surface and, at a given signal, pour their contents wherever they happen to be. Drizzle, rain, hail, spit or snow it down on us. Topography, like mountain ranges, and a cooler land mass (as in hurricanes) influence where the clouds will empty out. However, in the past human attempts to redirect rainfall to dry areas (cloud seeding) have often met with grief.

A free gift from heaven, precipitation falls where it wills. It fills mountain streams, rivers, lakes, soaks into the land, replenishes underground springs. Water is absorbed by tree roots and drawn up into leaves that give off water vapor. Farmers draw from underground aquifers to irrigate their land. Cities draw water from said sources and people use it.

We water our gardens and lawns and the water is drawn up through plant roots and later evaporated by the wind. Thus it finds its way back into the cycle. As we hoe the garden or mow the lawn we sweat, and the breeze dries us off, whisking the moisture into the atmosphere to rejoin some cloud somewhere. Just think where all your sweat may travel.

People drink the water, replenish their cells, and urinate the excess. Our bodies are an amazing filtration system. Whether bottled water, tap water, or beverage, we drink it, filter it, and flush it. Really, we should should all do our part and drink lots so we can put more water back into the recycling system. 🙂

Conserve Water: Don’t Bathe

Just think. Every morning all across the continent people use zillions of tons of water to shower and bathe. My washing machine is chugging away as I write this. If we’d stop all this bathing and laundry we’d waste so much less water.

Thankfully, water is never used up. Household water runs down the drain, into the city’s waste disposal system, and — hopefully filtered — back into the rivers and reservoirs. Directly or indirectly it finds its way back into the ocean to begin another cycle of evaporation and precipitation.

We need to treat all natural systems with care, including our water sources, but conservationists shouldn’t resort to fear tactics. Big corporations may well be greedy; it kind-of goes with the territory. Bottling companies make a mega-buck profit selling their goods, and some may be diverting some streams, but they don’t actually destroy the water.

The company can’t keep taking water that isn’t there. If there’s no water in said streams, it’s more likely because there hasn’t been sufficient rainfall in that area to replenish them. At this time the folks in southern Quebec would gladly share theirs, but alas! We’ve not yet found a way to redirect clouds.

In my understanding, the system of evaporation and precipitation was in place when man arrived and will continue to replenish the springs, streams, lakes, and rivers until the end of time. We can dam it, redirect it, and pollute the “container,” but we can’t use it up.

Hockey pucks don’t grow on trees, either. The game goes on.

End of an Era

Good afternoon, everyone.

Here I stand on the tail-tip of August, looking into September and watching the odd yellow leaf drift down. I should write one more blog post before the month is up. Call it a farewell to summer.

I can hardly believe that it’s almost September and the hummingbirds are still with us! Yesterday there was only one, but we’re seeing two around this morning. But then, the nights have been warmer than they often are, so maybe less of a warning to them that it’s time to head south. I do enjoy seeing the little scrappers and will miss them. A couple of orioles were here at our feeder last week, but they’ve obviously left already.

I don’t know just why I’ve been so lazy about writing and posting this month. I’ve got lots of things I want to write about, but for some reason writing hasn’t happened much this summer. A few days ago I got a hinting sort of e-mail from Word Press, something about maintaining an upbeat blog and faithful readers by posting regularly. It offered a few suggestions for things to write about. I’ve gotten this before, and wonder if they have a little widget in their system that automatically fires this e-mail off to slackers? “Blip. This person hasn’t posted for a week. Send reminder. Ping.”

In today’s lingo you’d say I have “time management issues.” I’ve been doing some online genealogical research this past week, plus some sewing, reading, bird-watching. We took a day last week to visit a sort-of relative in Regina, and took our granddaughters along to visit the natural history museum there. That trip led me to dig into the Forsyth genealogy; though I’m not a Forsyth myself I call them cousins. The uncle and aunt who raised me, whom I called Mom & Dad since I was a toddler, were Fred & Myrtle Forsyth. Grandpa Forsyth, an orphaned young miner from Glasgow, Scotland, came to Canada in 1902.

I’m feeling a general lack of energy lately and intend to make some changes health-wise this coming month. I just read an article on Pocket about a lady who decided to drink a gallon of water every day and how it helped her general well being. Click here to read. I do have a big glass of water first thing every morning, as I have to take my thyroid med…so that’s one positive. But mainly I need to establish some inflexible writing habits. Perhaps commit to following one of the many daily prompts?

One day I was on the Merriam-Webster Dictionary site and happened on lists of words that first appeared in print back in… and there were a number of dates. I was quite surprised at all the modern-sounding words that were around already in the 1600s. Here are some from 1650:

additive,   bizarre
demagogue,  empower/ment
infatuation,  instantaneous
microscope,  non-compliance
plausibility,  ostracize
self-deception,  witticism

Even as early as 1550 you might call someone over-scrupulous, a good communicator, a people-pleaser, or a blockhead. You could commend the duke’s epicurian tastes or complain about hazardous waste in the village, fill out a ballot or send your little Goldilocks to public school, where he may complain about the brutality of his caliginous teacher.

Modern English has been around a long time!

The Wearing of Beards

In my childhood I don’t think I ever saw a man with a beard, other than “Santa Claus.” Yeah, this dates me. Pre-1960. Hippies with long straggly beards and hair, worn in rebellion against the Establishment, didn’t come to Canada until I was in my teens.

Beatniks there were, but they hung out in far-off American cities, so I had very little idea about their appearance. My dad and his friends, of average Canadian farm folk background, would have considered a beard a disgrace to a man — an odd reversal of natural circumstance. Older men we’ve talked with, whose memories go back to small-town life in the 30s and 40’s, remember beards being ridiculed and young men who wore them being tormented.

When I did hear the word when I was young, it was usually associated with mumbling. If she couldn’t hear his reply, Mom might say, “Dad’s mumbling in his beard again.” I think they even accused me of mumbling into my beard a time or two. I suppose that’s a cliche now?

In my teens I did see some older men with beards, and decided that a neatly-trimmed beard or goatee looks quite distinguished.

Today, in contrast, beards seem to be everywhere. Or “shadow beards.” Look at book covers and magazines: most of the males I see have the three-day-stubble look; some might have a neatly trimmed beard. But clean-shaven men seem to be in the minority in photos. Plus, Amish romances are very popular; on those covers, beards are a given.

As an adult, starting to learn about church and religion, I discovered there’s a Bible-based reason for men wearing beards. Different religious groups (including the one we’ve joined) teach that this natural male-female distinction has been instituted by our Creator for a reason and men should maintain this natural order. This would include Orthodox and Hasidic Jews, Muslims, the Amish, several Mennonite groups, Old German Baptists and others I’m not familiar with.

Jewish and Christian groups refer back to the Mosaic law where “Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.” (Leviticus 19:27) Some Jewish groups take this “corners” to mean “sideburns,” so they let theirs grow into what looks like long ringlets.

The Amish take it to mean, don’t trim your beard at all. However, coming from Europe where army officers had a lot of pride in their elaborate moustaches, the Amish have rejected moustaches as vanity. So, while Amish men have beards, they don’t wear moustaches. Looking at images on Wikki, I see the Old Order German Baptists must share this thinking. Both groups do cut their hair, but more in the style of the Quakers. (When they came to America and settled in Pennsylvania the Amish adopted a lot of the Quaker styles, like the broad-brimmed hat and plain coat.)

Our church believes “the beard” is a symbol of the sexual distinction, one that should not be removed. However, we aren’t living under the Mosaic Law now, so the Church doesn’t take this “not marring” as a rigid law. Our men believe in being all-round neat, and trim their hair and beards to look tidy.

And thus ends my quick overview in response to Fandango’s word for today: BEARD

When Two Adjectives Go Walking…

As I wrote in my last post, I’ve spent a fair bit of time this past week over at Critique Circle reading and commenting on various stories posted there. Of course this brings thoughts about improving one’s writing — which will now spill into this post.

I’ve posted my own story and gotten seven critiques. WONDERFUL! Being critiqued has been good for me. For one thing, I’ve had to go back to grammar books and other published authors to study up on the acceptable use of commas. Tricky little things. When it comes to separating clauses, there seems to be no uniform rule of, “Yes, one here,” or “No, none there.”

One of the things I often note in my critiques is the overuse and/or duplication of adjectives. Some genres tolerate more descriptive adjectives than others, but I do like the advice I once heard from some well known writer:
“Imagine you’re buying your story words for $1 each. You won’t want to buy more than you need.”

If you had to pay for words, you’d want to make sure each word is doing its job. You won’t want to pay for a bunch that need others to lean against because they don’t say enough on their own.

Mark Twain: “When you see an adjective, kill it.”

I’ve modified this bloodthirsty ink-thirsty version and adopted this maxim:
“When two adjectives go walking, flatten one.”
A little less gruesome, don’t you think?

Last year my husband enrolled in the Jerry Jenkins School of Writing and we both benefited from his lessons on “Becoming a Ferocious Self-Editor.” He gives demonstrations along with explanations, taking the first page of someone’s story and hacking it to pieces showing how it can be tightened.

When it comes to adjectives, he quotes another writing guru — sorry, I forget who — saying: “One plus one equals one-half.”
The idea being: when you use two adjectives, you weaken the effectiveness of both. Choose the most powerful and cut the other.

For example: The neat, tidy little cottage sat at the edge of a tenebrous, spooky forest.
I’d go with tidy, which means neat. A cottage is automatically little, so cut that, too.
Tenebrous means dark or murky — and dark murky places usually are spooky. Spooky places are usually dark and shadowy. Pick one or the other — preferably the one most people will understand.

Tom was a pompous, dictatorial boss who loved nothing better than ordering his cowering underlings around.
Dictatorial means ordering others around. Don’t throw this word away, though. Chances are, it will fit in nicely elsewhere.

Raiva was a loquacious chatterbox, always running on at the mouth.”
Here you have not only and adjective repeating the noun, but an adverb clause saying the same thing.
I’ve cut loquacious. Erudites like big, fancy words but the average reader may get a bit (cut qualifiers, too) ticked off if they have to stop and look up loquacious in the dictionary. A few fancies may be okay, but don’t make a practice of throwing in humongous, supposedly-impressive words.

I just read a piece which included the word pulchritudinous. My first thought was “ornery” but I decided to look it up and be sure. According to vocabulary.com:
“Even though it looks (and sounds) like it would describe a disease or a bad attitude, pulchritudinous actually describes a person of breathtaking, heartbreaking…beauty.”

Most readers will guess. They’ll read “Joe had a contentious nature.” And they’ll think, hmm… Sounds like content. Must be Joe’s easy-going.” If you do use an unusual word, give the reader a clue in the context.

But I digress. Let’s get back to Raiva the blab. Cutting the excess, all we have left is, She was a chatterbox. Or, Raiva was always running off at the mouth.

Instead of telling this fact, we could show it like so:
Pam and Bev sat in Bev’s living room drinking coffee when they saw Raiva coming to the door.
Pam nudged Bev’s arm and said, “Here comes Miss Mouthpiece.”
Bev rolled her eyes. “Gossip, her specialty.”
(Or, “Advice her specialty,” depending on which impression you want to convey. And check if it needs a comma after Advice. Or not?)