Less is More

I just finished reading a blog post by Martha Kennedy with this same title. She starts out with a terse bit of editing wisdom from author Truman Capote: “I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.”

I heartily agree with what she says. Less is more. Author Jerry Jenkins stresses this over and over in his writing course: “Don’t use two adjectives; one is enough. Better yet, choose a stronger action verb.” Adverbs have similarly fallen out of style, I hear.

Mark Twain once gave wannabe writers similar advice, with a wry wit in the delivery: “When you see an adjective, kill it.”

Awhile back I read a book that reminded me of his quip. A good story, but the author seems to over-use adjectives and adverbs, often as a way to pat characters on the back.
– Jill generously gave him a huge slice of pie.
– Jack unselfishly offered to drive them to the mall.
– He appreciated Jill’s considerate offer to look after his sister.
– Jack sighed appreciatively after Jill’s extremely satisfying dinner.
– Jill admired Jack’s dashing good looks.
– Jack’s humble way of suggesting…
– Jack found Jill extremely attractive.
– Jack’s unstinting effort to find the owner pleased Jill immensely.

Get my point?

These seasonings are okay when lightly sprinkled through the book, and I like stories about kind, thoughtful people. However, if superlatives appear too often it can sound like the writer’s trying to impress on forgetful readers what a wonderful, thoughtful, generous character this is. I don’t have to be told twenty times that the hero is smart, generous, and handsome or gorgeous. Perversely, this inclines me to dislike Mr/Ms goodie-two-shoes.

No matter what you’re saying about your characters’ qualities, more than three or four times is overkill. Don’t try to sneak them past the reader by embellishing their wonderful acts, either. Let the reader decide if that your character’s a keeper.

A Writer’s Cloud Nine

The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning is OSCILLATE

Seeing this word piqued my curiosity. What’s the difference between OSCILLATE and VACILLATE?

Pursuing this inkblot of thought has put me on a cloud nine a-puff with a plethora of delectable VERBS!

Over at one of my favorite hangouts, Merriam-Webster, I’ve learned that
Oscillate means to swing back and forth,
or move back and forth between two points
For example: an oscillating electric fan.
You can oscillate between opposing beliefs, feelings, or theories
For example, the way people’s moods and views on whatever tend to do.
Oscillate can mean a variation from a fixed or given point
For example: Stats, interest rates, test results that vary from the norm.
Or how clean your laundry actually get compared to those in the ads for new Blastout laundry detergent.

All the lovely & useful words explained for comparison sake:
swing, sway, vibrate, fluctuate, waver, undulate

When I hear the word OSCILLATE my mind automatically goes to a fan, because it carries the sense of a regular or timed back & forth.

Vacillate means:
– to waver in mind, will, or feeling, hesitate between choices
– prolonged hesitation from inability to reach a firm decision.
Pondering, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” is vacillating if you do it for long.

Or to sway through lack of equilibrium, to fluctuate, oscillate. When I think of VACILLATE, I automatically think of indecision.

More lovely and useful synonyms:
Hesitate, waver, dither, teeter

Word lover that I am, this is like a trip through the chocolate factory, inhaling the aromas. I hesitate to promise I’ll put all these useful verbs to use –and I may vacillate at times as to which one to choose – but it’s always good to understand the nuances.

Assignment for Schools: TEACH

Fandango’s Provocative question #104:
What do you think is the one subject (or thing) that should be taught in school that isn’t?

Since this touches on one of my big concerns, I’ll post a response. The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning, ASSIGNMENT, should fit into this topic quite nicely.

One day I was checking out at the local supermarket and the clerk asked if I’d like to donate some money toward the literacy program in local schools. “To help students learn to read.”

I was puzzled. “Isn’t that what they do in school?” I asked. She looked at me blankly; maybe she thought I was, like, totally out of it – which I am when it comes to today’s education.

Another time a friend told me that her niece was in Grade Three and couldn’t even spell the word “ARE.” She only knew the text-speak “R.” Fifteen years ago I listened to a group of about twenty grown-in-Canada adults under thirty puzzle over what country Ottawa is in.

For the past century or so, our schools have been places to try out social experiments in education. One of these was to eliminate phonics. Ontario, thirty-some years back, went even further and abolished the teaching of grammar, because having to obey rules hinders the free flow of the student’s thoughts. “We want them to be creative, not slowed down by following all the rules.”

A few years ago a teen told me students aren’t “on the same page” when it comes to studying literature. That is, there’s no novel to study and assess together. Students pick a book they want to read and then discuss it in class. Since no one else has read the same book, do you hear any other opinion than your own?

Back in 1987 the Southam News Agency shocked us all with the results of their nation-wide study on literacy in Canada: 24% of Canadians are functionally illiterate. To determine “literacy” the subjects were given reading and writing assignments as well as having to read bank statements, time schedules, and calculate the change you’d get at a store.

Immigrant or native-born didn’t make much difference. One of every three Grade 8 graduates and one of every twelve Grade 12 grads were functionally illiterate in day-to-day affairs. The study found that many students entering universities had to take remedial reading classes.

A study done in 1989 shows that 20% of Canadians have strong literacy skills. This is a diverse group of people who exhibit a broad range of reading skills and various strategies for dealing with complex material. These people can meet most reading demands and handle new reading challenges.

A report in 2020 laments that, although public interest in literacy was strong between 1980 and 2000… “Against this background, it is surprising that the Canadian literacy infrastructure was subsequently largely dismantled.”
From a report by the European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults, Vol.11, No.1, 2020, pp. 109-125.

Apart from the need to teach better Reading, Writing, Grammar, Literature, and Math skills in Canadian schools, I think our children need to learn some HISTORY. Not the dates part so much, but basic concepts of social history: something about the Colonial days, Victorian Times, the Wars, the Roaring Twenties, the Dirty Thirties, the Cold War.

I wish our children could learn enough history to help them understand how other people have lived on this earth and gone through tough times, too. That people once entertained different ideas, upheld various ideals that were valid. That peer pressure is nothing new. That Covid-19 isn’t the worst plague ever. I’d like to see them get a good general history of the world that would bring them through time to where we are now. It would bring them down to earth and ground them – and hopefully generate more appreciation for our privileged era.

The Peril of a Great Name

Today’s Word of the Day Challenge from Kristian is FIGMENT, as in FIGMENT of your IMAGINATION. Well, here’s one. 🙂

“When I Win the Lottery…”

How many times have you heard someone say this? I have. And I’ve read about people who did win the lottery, how it played out for them. I gather it does wonders for what people think of, or expect from, you.

If you were to win a lottery, your reputation for wealth would spread far and wide. If you win the lottery, you’ll have long lost relatives who remember you, show up and want to be fed. You’ll have the most sincere wanna-be friends with pressing needs who need to borrow “…just a few bucks. Come on, you have so much.” Sales people of all kinds will be trying to get their foot in your door.

Years back a couple in our town won the lottery and she kept on working at her sales job, one she really enjoyed. But some people resented that. “She’s got all that money now and she’s taking a job away from someone who needs it!” To avoid all these things, some lottery winners have had to move to a place where nobody knew them.

Yes, winning the lottery is a mixed blessing & curse.

And America Has Won the Lottery!

A few decades ago, back in Ontario, a tractor-trailer outfit (a.k.a. a semi) stopped on the weigh scale on the Canadian border, heading into Detroit. The log book said the truck was empty, and the trucker said the same, but Canadian Customs officers were suspicious. Their scale was telling them this “empty” truck weighed more than it should.

They insisted he open the trailer and let them have a look inside… And what to their wondering eyes did appear…
but two dozen people (give or take). People who barely spoke English. Who carried Polish ID + passports.

An Imaginary Figment

Frowning Customs agents turned to the trucker for an explanation and he admitted these people have paid him to smuggle them into the US. “They seem to believe America is so rich that money is just lying around on the streets,” he explained. “So they flew to Canada as visitors and hired me to take them into the States. They want to pick up some of this money that’s lying around.”

The Polish folks were sent home – probably under the allusion that they were so close to riches and weren’t allowed to get their hands on any. And, trying to make a quick buck, the Canadian trucker was charged with smuggling human cargo.

I think of this incident whenever I read comments about how America should open her doors to the poor and needy of other lands. With the fantastic reputation she now has, there’d be standing room only! I think if you go to just about any nation and ask around, people will tell you, “Of course we’re poor compared to those rich Americans.”

Image: DarkmoonArt_de — Pixabay

Easy Money to Be Made! Just Get In

Some people do know that money doesn’t just lie around on the streets, but they still have a pretty rosy image. I was talking to a friend lately, someone who’s lived in Mexico and, with her husband, makes frequent trips there still. She tells me that a lot of Mexicans have the same impression of America: everyone there is rich. If you can get into the States you’ll only have to work a bit and the money will come flowing in. I’m sure the reality is a shock.

There was a time when America meant hard work. It was a new world, with forests to chop down and land to clear, railroads to build, factories to work in. As she prospered, her reputation for wealth increased. People in other lands now believe Americans all have great jobs and yachts and vacations around the world. From what they see, money obviously comes easy in the US. And some American writers are quick to support this thinking.

One blogger, quoting the plaque on the Statue of Liberty, felt that the States should just open the borders and let people come. Lots of room! Lots of jobs! Another article writer claims the US has room for a hundred times more people that what are living there now. (Mind you, this writer said nothing about where all these newcomers would find work. A lot of manufactured goods seem to be coming from overseas these days.)

I get the impression that many Americans — those who blog and write articles — are saying, “America is so rich. We can share.” (Or rather, “Our govt can share.”) That seems to be the “Haves” perspective. Those folks with good jobs or pensions, those who’ve won their share of the American lottery and are enjoying it.

Unlike those hopeful Poles, I’ve been in the States, seen enough places, and read enough that I realize there’s a major “Have Not” section in the US, too. So how do the Have Nots – all those folks living in ghettos, tenement slums, on the streets, Appalachian villages, and homeless camps in Florida – look at this “y’all come” generosity? Folks who’ve missed out somehow on the big win, what’s their take on this? If they were allowed to share their perspective, they could tell money-seekers a thing or two.

To Whom It May Concern:
Canada is a tough place to survive; you have to work hard to make a living; we’re almost all relatively poor; precipitation is unpredictable; our winters can be bitterly cold. We’re glad for immigrants but not delusions. 🙂

Morning Musing on Religion

Every morning when I turn on my browser, I’m offered a selection of interesting articles from various sources, “Recommended by Pocket.” Yesterday a headline in one of these boxes caught my eye, and I see it again this morning. (Click here to read it.)

Why Religion Is Not Going Away and Science Will Not Destroy It

A very interesting question indeed! It’s bound to stir up some thoughts in most readers. Here are my thoughts, for what they are worth.

Seeing this headline, my first thought was on the spiritual side. Our Creator, heavenly Father, the One we call God, the Eternal One. Science can’t make him disappear. So my answer is:
“As long as our Creator keeps reaching out to us, his creation, and touching our lives – often in miraculous ways – there will still be believers. Those of us who have heard his voice, felt his touch – yes, some have even seen him – can never deny the reality of his presence.” I’ve heard thousands of examples!

This morning when the question popped up again, I looked at the world RELIGION and thought:
“Religion won’t ever go away because religion divides people, and people like to be divided.”

Specifically, people like to be divided by “I’m on the RIGHT side and you’re on the WRONG side.”

Read history. Any factor that can divide people into two groups has been very popular. And religion is so very versatile. Add doctrines, interpretations, attitudes…”And of course God thinks like I do!” Voilà, you have a whole new group that’s righter than all the others. The Southern Believers versus the Central Believers versus the Eastern Believers versus the Western Believers. This sect versus that sect, etc.

Color, gender, family, money, style, ethnicity, nationality, politics, religion. Just introduce any of these factors and you’re apt to get some division. This is the downside of our human nature: feeling that people who don’t think like we do are wrong. Then throw in the media. Propaganda. “We are RIGHT and they are WRONG. We are the faithful; they are the infidels. We’re the ones who want law & order; they are the rebels.” Give both sides guns and they’ll likely start shooting each other.

People won’t soon give up their Rightness for impersonal science.

Our Creator has not designed us to be at each other’s throats; these attitudes don’t please him. When we come to him, and focus on him, we can lose these divisions with their respective animosities. As the Bible states:

“For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:27-28

“Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

– Colossians 3: 9 – 14

John Lennon wrote in his famous song, “Imagine there are no countries, no religion, no possessions…” (One might add, no drugs — another thing people fight over.)

Sounds so idealistic in a song, but would you really want to live in a world like that? And where would we put our human nature, that “being” within us that wants our own space, our own place, our own roots, our own understanding? If it all were wiped out tomorrow, give us a month and we’d have a whole new set of separations.

Removing the spiritual side of us would take out of this world the only thing that can moderate human nature. The only voice that does speak for compassion and peace. Most religions, not matter how off-course or fanatic their followers may get, do hold up kindness and respect as an ideal in relating to fellow human beings. Religion – focusing together in a sincere worship of our Father-Creator – has the best chance of uniting us.

The original article, published in September 2017 on Aeon, was written by Peter Harrison, an Australian Laureate Fellow and director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland.

I didn’t read the article in great detail, but he starts with intellectuals once believing that science would eventually displace religion. However, this hasn’t proved true; religion is alive and well today. (I might throw in the fact here that in recent years a lot of scientists have admitted to some sort of “intelligent design” behind our world.)

He ends his article with an interesting conclusion: If science opposes religion, science will be the loser. So, advocates of science should quit making an “it’s him or me” enemy of religion.

Agreed! The One who created the world with all its marvelous synchronized workings should never be pitted against his creation as “one or the other.” They are in harmony.

Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.

Luke 12: 6-7

The Path of a Storm

Fandango’s One-Word Challenge today is OMINOUS

Which brings me to a sobering question:
Who Can Direct the Path of a Storm?

On June 30, 1912 the city of Regina, Saskatchewan, was swathed in a sultry heat, over 100̊F by mid-afternoon. People sweated; some women at a public meeting were fainting; flags posted specially for Dominion Day celebrations the next day hung limp. At 4:30 pm folks outdoors noted a strange phenomenon: two cloud systems, accompanied by ominous rumblings, were headed their way. One was coming in from the southeast and the other from the southwest. The sky turned and eerie green; weird purplish flashes of lightening streaked across the land.

These cloud banks met right over the Legislative Building in the center of the city. There was a terrific boom as they collided and a huge grey funnel dropped from the boiling mass. Screaming and zigzagging, the twister cut a six-block wide swath northward through the heart of Regina, mowing down entire blocks of prosperous homes and rows of businesses, sucking up trees. It hit the rail-yards, bounced loaded freight cars across the tracks like tumbleweeds and later picked up the Winnipeg Grain Company elevators at the edge of town and tossed them across the prairie like they were sticks.

The citizens of Regina hadn’t seen a tornado before, had no idea what was about to hit them when the sky turned a lurid green. And no one could have predicted the tornado’s erratic path of destruction.

Who can direct the path of a storm in the affairs of men?

Reading history, I see where storm systems have arisen in human affairs. Two or more groups or movements, unhappy about the status quo and determined to upset it, move toward each other. Though they are naturally not aligned in purpose, they come together to accomplish a common goal, with each side thinking they can direct the changes that are going to be made. But there are secret agendas and other voices that factor in. These unforeseen radicals can change the course of the whole scheme – to the dismay of the initial participants.

Shakespeare, in his play Julius Caesar, gives a great example of this. Brutus and his fellow conspirators see Caesar as a ruthless tyrant and believe that doing away with him will solve their problems. Brutus, persuading his fellow senators to join in the scheme, utters the famous line, “There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flow, leads on to fortune…”

So they go ahead with their dastardly deed. At Caesar’s funeral Brutus gives Mark Anthony a chance to speak, not seeing him as a threat. Caesar was the problem; with him gone, things will go as planned. And Mark Anthony starts his discourse on a compliant note:
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” He says that Brutus has given him leave to speak, “For Brutus is an honorable man; So are they all, all honorable men…”

Then, through crafty use of eulogy and rhetoric, he manages to paint Caesar as, after all, a benevolent ruler. By the time he’s done, he’s completely turned the crowd against the murderers. The senators, who had pictured themselves floating down that tide toward fortune, rather end up being tossed into a turbulent and bloody sea.

Rhetoric is a marvelous thing. It can persuade, get people fired up for a cause. It can also turn plans upside down. In the long run it’s iffy. Fine speeches rarely take into account all the angles, and before you know it, one pops up that no one considered.

Many a participant in some past movement, in retrospect, has wished they’d not been so swayed by the noble rhetoric and taken an honest look at all the facets of the movement. Who all was involved and what the real objectives were. They wish they’d had a better idea of where the movement was actually heading before lending their support — because where the movement finally ended up is far, far from where they expected to be.

In my next post I’ll write about the two women’s movements that came together in the late 1800s, both unhappy with the status quo, both with definite goals, and the path that the resulting tornado actually took.