I think people who can't laugh at themselves are insufferable. And in fact, I don't suffer them, gladly or otherwise. They are vexing to my soul, and I'll have none of them.
I laugh at myself all the time. By that I don't mean I laugh at my own jokes, although I have done that. Hey, sorry, sometimes they're funny, even if just to me. But what I mean is, I pride myself in being able to take it at least as well as I dish it out when it comes to ribbing.
I was driving one day with my daughters - they were ten and thirteen at the time. It was a long drive and I was swigging warm Coke - with the attendant side effects. After one particularly resonant belch, my thirteen year old piped up dryly from the back seat, "Hands off, girls. He's mine." I loved it.
Today I took a great hit. I was talking online to a good friend in Alberta, and teased her about something silly she once did. Then came this:
Her: Great. 10,000 comedians out of work, and you can't stop yourself.
Me: Ah, but you forget. I'm one of those 10,000 comedians.
Can we all just agree that retro-fitting an old farm house with insulation under the floor is one of the crappiest crap jobs in the history of crap jobs?
Jaysus. Being all hunched over like a monkey screwing a football (so I can manoeuvre around in a dimly lit crawl space with less than six feet clearance while ducking past jutting nails, suspended ducting, pipes, wiring, and half-assed, ill-conceived home renovations courtesy of countless "Gee, maybe I can save twenty bucks if I do it myself" owners over the past 150 years). Working over my head with 15 decades of dust and detritus (not to mention Fibreglas Pink) showering down into my eyes, nose, mouth and any other uncovered orifice.
And all for the sake of warmer, cosier floors. What ever happened to wearing frigging shoes?
Sometimes I hate being handy.
On the plus side, since nobody else wants any part of the job, nobody says much when you emerge from the basement and declare "That's it for today ... unless somebody else wants to try it for awhile." Silence is golden.
So now, I get to sit here and look for friends and surf around and read some blogs and generally just waste what little is left of my Sunday afternoon. So that's what I'm gonna do.
Unless one of you wants to come over and do some insulating ...
Okay, I’m going to peat a promptu statement, and I hope it will be completely flammatory: “The English language can be very confusing”.
That was a promptu statement, remember. I prepared it ahead of time. Unlike impromptu statements, which are completely off the cuff. I peated it because you had never heard me say it before. The next time I say it, I will repeat it. And since I don’t want to say anything inflammatory, I deliberately chose something everyone can agree with - something absolutely flammatory.
What got me thinking about the English language was my daughter. She's an English major, and because I've spent her entire lifetime posing as a smart person, she sometimes asks me questions.
"Lead" was the word. She wanted to know why “lead” as in “lead balloon” was spelled the same as “lead” - as in “lead her down the garden path”. And why the past tense of lead was led when the past tense of read is ... well, read. Which I am, which is why she asked.
I wanted to have an answer. I mean, I write for a living. I should know this stuff. I should be able to say “Well, dear, it’s because the past pluperfect calls for a subjunctive gerund”. But all I could give her was “I dunno. It just is”.
Whoa. Excellent answer, Yoda.
There are all sorts of nooks and crannies in the English language that have me utterly baffled. Let’s get back to inflammatory. Similar to the word inflammable - doubtless they share the same etymologic origins. Inflammable is clearly the opposite of flammable, right? Not right? How can something that is inflammable burn just as brightly as something that is flammable? And where does that leave non-flammable? Or even - and I saw this once - non-inflammable?
“Hey, you kids ... be careful with those matches! They’re not non-inflammable, you know!”
"Uh, somebody want to call 911?"
Why would a language need four words to describe a simple concept? Either the damn thing flams or it doesn’t.
If you don’t respect something, you have disrespect for it. If you’re getting off a boat, you’re disembarking. Fine. I get the concept. So you and I have a dispute. When we resolve it, have we puted?
If I’m no longer distressed, how come I’m not tressed? “Hey, did you see Linda today? I guess she got that raise she was after - she really looked tressed. Her and the boss must be having a pute.”
If my actions are not voluntary, we say they’re involuntary. If I’m not sensitive - I’m what? Insensitive, right? So when I break up with someone, are we volved? We’re no longer involved, so we must be. They fluence me, where once they might have influenced me.
What kind of language is this, that allows us to get on the "down escalator"? If something escalates, it goes up, dammit. Don’t get me started about "self-help groups". Either you help yourself or the group does.
So why is our language in such disarray - and is there any way to array it again?
Eight cords of wood. One person in the household who can lift and swing an eight-pound maul. Do the math.
I love wood fires. The old farmhouse in which I live has two wood stoves - one in the living room and one in the parlour - and every day, around four o'clock, I stoke them up so that by the time the rest of the family gets home the fires are roaring, the coals underneath are glowing, and the house is suffused with that gentle, embracing warmth. The cats congregate - woodstoves with glass doors are CAT-TV. ("Oh, quick, you're missing it! Fat Log With Stump of Branch is on! And it's a new one!")
All this warmth - physical and spiritual - comes at a price, of course. The wood gets delivered in May, cut and blocked but not quartered. I let it dry over the summer, then spend a back-breaking week in September loading and stacking the seasoned wood into my woodshed, which adjoins my office. Some of the pieces are small enough to fit into the stoves without being split. But more - many more - await the axe, hatchet, and maul.
I probably spend a half hour a day splitting wood before my back protests and I have to stop. I use the maul for the bigger logs - broad, heavy, blunt, no finesse at all (the maul, of course, not me. I'm broad and heavy and blunt, but I do have a teensy bit of finesse).
Unlike a sharpened axe which slices cleanly into the wood, a maul is perfectly designed to concentrate the energy of the swing at one point and violently force the fibres apart without sticking. You don't sharpen a maul. It's not a precision tool. It's a thug, a brute. The axe is fine for smaller pieces and the hatchet for kindling. But the maul does the heavy lifting in this equation.
I take what is probably an inordinate amount of pleasure and pride in splitting wood. Those who think of it as something any dolt can do ("I mean, how complicated can it be, you're just chopping wood, for God's sake. It's not rocket science.") are right, to a point. But where some dolts might take four or five swings to split a piece of elm or beech as thick as your thigh, this dolt can do it in one.
I know exactly where to strike, my aim is true, and all my energy is focused on the task. If only those qualities were transferable to the rest of my life ...
One of my absolute favourite songs is about wood and living in a culture where firewood is important - "Raise the Dead of Wintertime" by my friend and erstwhile writing partner Allan Rankin. I sometimes sing it while I'm working.
My voice is not as good as Allan's. But the spirit and heart and joy are there. I like to believe that counts for something.
I was up early (for me) this morning (whose idea was TWO eight o'clocks in the same day?) and decided to start my day off with one of my favourite things - grocery shopping.
It's true - I do love to grocery shop. I love any kind of shopping, truth be told, but grocery shopping is one of my real pleasures. I understand how people can hate it - because so often we go when everybody else is at the market, so we're dodging other carts, trying not to run over children set free to forage in the candy aisle, picking over thrice-picked-over fruits and vegetables, trying to get the damn shopping out of the way so we can go on with REAL life.
But at 8 AM, there's none of that. My day hasn't really started, so there are no real time constraints. No screaming children. No shopping partner, so no "Come on, hurry up, one head of lettuce is just like any other!" (patently untrue, by the way). Just me, my shopping cart ... and aisle upon aisle of food, glorious food.
I love having that kind of freedom ... and that almost obscene array of choices. I love comparing portion sizes and prices, picking over ingredients lists, rolling eggs, tapping on melons, squeezing fruit and fresh bread and Charmin and anything else you can squeeze in a supermarket without getting arrested. Today, since I was stocking a spice rack I recently built, I spent a fair amount of time in the bulk spices, agonizing over which 16 would make the cut. I chose dill weed over cumin, and I don't want to hear anything about it. Hard choices must be made.
I even love standing in line at the checkout, reading all about Britney's smoking and Michael Jackson's molesting and Rosie's trial until you realize the person in front of you is all done and you're holding up the works. So you load up the conveyor belt, then remember you forgot ONE THING, so while the nice woman is checking your stuff through you dash the length of the store and get back with your missing item just in time.
Just caught "de Compass" on CBC, and Bruce Rainnie's debut as Host. He'll be great ... the right balance of tone and smart humour, and the poise to shrug off the inevitable technical glitches (such as Boomer getting caught like a deer in the headlights as his segment ended - me, sitting on my chair, finally saying "For the love of God, cut away from the poor man"). Anyway ... Bruce will make an impact here, and he's a welcome addition.
Above me, even as a write this, there is a party going on. I was not invited.
I have, living in the space above my office, unwanted tenants in the form of a bunch of squirrels.
(I do not know the proper collective noun for squirrels. I know that there is a murder of crows that resides in the woods nearby, and possibly a parliament of owls. I don't believe "bunch" of squirrels can be correct. "Herd"? Too weighty. "Pod"? Too marine. "Pride"? Too leonine. I am open to suggestions, but in the meantime, I'll use whatever is to hand.)
These squirrels - and I have no idea of their number - are generally quiet during the day, but in the evening, they perk right up. They scurry. They scamper. They frolic, carouse, skitter, skritch, and skreek above my head. Last night, it sounded as if they had invented a new game which entailed rolling some form of nut along the beams, then racing after it and fighting for possession. Then arguing the call.
Loudly. These are not your light-footed, prancy, girlie type of squirrel. They are more your Northern Clubfoot Squirrel. If I'm reading the sounds correctly, at least one of them is wearing cleats.
I live in the country, so I've grown used to sharing my space with a variety of creatures. Some have come and gone - others have moved right in. "Live and let live," says I, although I draw the line at rats.
Squirrels are rats on the Ritz ... they've parlayed a bushy tail and friendly chirp into a generalized immunity. "You can't kill squirrels ... they're so cute!"
Well, maybe. But Chip 'n Dale (I know, they were chipmunks, but still) are on notice: one more game of Roller-nut, and you're gone.
I was at the PEI Music Awards tonight at the Harbourfront Jubilee Theatre in Summerside. It was a great show, hosted by this guy (who was, as always, hilarious), and featuring some terrific young talent, only one of whom I was related to. It had all the makings of a lovely evening, had it not been for the fact I found myself sitting a row away from a woman being worn by her painfully inexpensive perfume.
Oh, ma God, ah though ah was gonna dah.
Do people not realize they smell like a flower farted? What does this woman do at the beginning of a night - have a bath, do her hair, then reach under the vanity for that $8 a gallon (and grotesquely overpriced at that) bottle of L'aire Du Merde that her nine year-old gave her for Christmas, then apply it with a turkey baster?
Note to women who insist on wearing perfume: as a rule, you stink. There are some women who have mastered the art of smelling nice in perfume. They follow two simple guidelines: pay a lot for perfume and apply it as if that tiny bottle needs to last till Christmas. 2010.
The vast - incalculably vast - majority of women wearing perfume just sit there all night and reek. The only saving grace is that if they're ever caught in an avalanche, the St. Bernards will find them first. Whether or not the dogs would dig them out or run away yelping is a coin toss.
Hey, stinky lady - look in the mirror. If you have those little cartoon smell lines emanating from your body, the kind that Henry used to be attracted to when they were coming out of a pie on the window-sill ... you're wearing too much perfume.
Here's a guideline: if you must wear perfume, wear just enough so that people will wonder if you're wearing perfume. Just enough so that people will know you're there. Not that you were there half an hour ago, or plan to be there soon, if you can fight your way through the almost palpable toxic cloud you're emitting.
And guys (lest we focus too much on one gender) there was a time to stop wearing smelly stuff. We call it "prom".
OK. Here's the thing: If you are writing in the English language, there are rules, dammit.
They are not top secret rules. Nor are they particularly complex. They are important and worth following, if only because failing to follow them marks you as at best, sloppy and careless and at worst, an illiterate jackass. Which is fine, except a disproportionate number of illiterate jackasses seem to have found work in the field of sign making or newspaper ad copywriting. And it's making me crazy.
And yes, the English language is a living thing, and yes, there is room for creative expression. Within the rules. We can have fun, follow the rules, and nobody gets hurt. Or we can throw the rules out the window, and then where would we be? I don't know, that's where.
Probably France. Yeah, France. For sure, France. They have no rules to their language. Except that every word is either masculine or feminine and they don't tell you which until you make a mistake and call it "la chapeau" and they all laugh and chuckle in that annoying Gallic way, that "Hnyeh, hnyeh, hnyeh" sound, and you feel like an idiot. Is that what we want? Well? Is it?
Ok, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to put the fear of God ("Le Pas de Dieu") into you. Relax. We'll review some of the rules.
We'll start with this little guy: '
Isn't he cute? He's called an apostrophe, and he has a very important job. It's his job to stand in front of every random goddamn "S" at the end of any random goddamn word to magically make it plural. So that you end up going to a store named "Party's Galore!" to buy "CD's" or "DVD's". Yeah, and while you're at it, why don't you just go to the market and buy a baguette and a beret and a bottle of wine and stop taking bath's and smoke cigarette's that smell like a camel's ass caught fire?
You're right, it was a trick. Because that isn't how apostrophes are used at all (I once read an article where they were referred to as "apostrophe's". I wanted to crumple the magazine and shove it up the writer's as's).
RULE: Apostrophes are never - NEVER - used to pluralize ANYTHING.
Apostrophes are used with the letter "S" to form the possessive singular of a noun. No matter what the final consonant of that noun. So: Nils's Blog. The witch's broomstick. Ray Charles's music. There are exceptions, but not many. If in doubt ... find a longer way to say it. Personally, I happen to like the music of Ray Charles almost as much as I like Ray Charles's music.
Incidently, pronouns that act as possessives (its, hers, his, theirs, yours, ours) do not contain an apostrophe. Ever. ESPECIALLY the word "its". Every dog does not have it's day. EVER.
Apostrophes are also used to create contractions, such as "they're" for "they are". Or (wait for it) "it's" for "it is". The next time you type "it's", try saying it the long way. If it makes no sense as "it is" ("The fire continued along it is path") you know you shouldn't use an apostrophe.
There. I know, it was cute for a while, then it got boring. And maybe its a picky little point. (Did you catch that? Good.)
But there have to be rules. And dammit, we have to start following them. Or I promise you, somebody's going to end up putting an eye out. And then where will we be?