When I was grading science papers this Spring, I was reminded about life cycles. I saw many drawings of caterpillars to butterflies and tadpoles to frogs.
At Miller Farm I get to witness the life cycle of a chicken.
Of course, they start as eggs in the incubator. That part is pretty boring and lasts 21 days, usually. We always have at least one overachiever who makes their entrance early. Then they cheep loudly to encourage their friends to join them.
After they hatch and dry off they become “fuzzy butts.” These are quite cute and represent what most people think of when they picture chicks.
After a few weeks they enter the “ugly stage”. This happens as they lose their baby feathers and start to get their adult feathers. They are truly ugly.
Shortly after this stage they are in the “piglet” stage where they eat all the time. I guess that helps them grow to be full-sized chickens. Soon these guys will join the rest of the flock.
Hopefully we have enough hens to replace those who have died this summer and we won’t have to go through this life cycle again any time soon.
Right now I’m more interested in the life cycle of a grandson who will never have an ugly stage!
Alan Greenspan once said, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
To me, the quote describes the biggest issue in communication—written or oral.
An obstacle that’s brought home to me every week with my critique partners. The way critique groups work is pages are shared weekly then participants meet – pre-COVID-19 in person, now via video chat – and discuss what was sent.
Greenspan’s quote becomes reality when we discuss what we’ve sent.
Way too often what my critique partners read is not what I wanted to convey. Sometimes it’s the way I wrote something or the words I chose. Other times it’s a total fail because my critique partners didn’t get what I meant.
It’s no mystery why this happens. Each of us brings a distinct perspective to our critiques. We’re all from unique backgrounds and geographic areas and grew up during different time periods (age span of our members is over thirty years).
Misunderstanding what’s on the page can be the kiss of death for a writer because a reader will stop reading. It’s the reason fiction writers spend hours scrambling for the perfect word and rewriting a sentence a gazillion times to capture the perfect nuance.
Reading an incorrect meaning into words–whether written or spoken–happens too often.
Finding, and using, words—spoken or written—that are mutually understood is critical for effective communication, especially in this tense, trying time with COVID-19 hovering, hurricanes lining up, and important elections on the horizon.
So, let’s disprove Mr. Greenspan’s quote and make what we say, or write, match what we mean to eliminate misunderstanding.
The East wall of our chicken coop fell down last week. It is not surprising. It has been slowly deteriorating over the past year. In fact, I was quite amazed when the recent hail storm did not knock it down.
In fact when it fell, there was no wind at all to blow it down. There was no chicken running into it to knock it over. It simply fell.
The chickens ran and squawked in fear. Rachel said they probably thought the sky was falling. She is so clever!
As I looked at the rotting wood on the ground I thought it to be symbolic of our society right now. We have weathered the storm of a pandemic, the darkness of isolation, the fear of uncertainty, the anger of civil unrest yet we remain standing – at least for now.
I believe there are some who are ready to just fall over at any moment. The sheer exhaustion of existing in such uncertainty has worn them down. They have withstood the storm and now they are tired and ready to rest.
So what does this mean to me? It means I must treat everyone very gently because I can’t tell by looking which person is done standing.
I should encourage everyone I see, offer help when I can, write notes and mail them, bake cookies and take them. Anything I can think of that might make people smile even if I can’t see it under their mask. Hopefully I can see it in their eyes.
We will rebuild the chicken coop. When the time is right, people will rebuild their lives, also. I will be standing by with a hammer and nails, and chocolate chip cookies.
I recently read a blog for writers discussing disembodied body parts. It got me to thinking. Do readers even notice such minutiae?
For example, do you stumble over sentences like these?
Their eyes locked across the room.
His eyes zeroed in on the man lurking in the shadows.
The man eyed the chocolate cake with the longing of a starving man.
In the first two sentences, I don’t picture actual eyes flying across a room to collide or zoom across space. I guess some people might and do according to the blog I read.
In the third, eye is being used as a verb, which it can be, and should cause no issues.
Some writers would substitute gaze for eyes in the first two sentences. And that’s the writing communities’ preferred word.
Sometimes, I will use gaze too. Other times I go with eyes. It depends on how the sentence reads. Consider this sentence:
The softest green eyes he’d ever seen rambled from his head down to his toes and back again.
I picture eye movement (something you’d see) traveling downward then back up. To substitute eyeballs which is actually what’s moving would sound ridiculous. Using gaze instead of eye would work but, in my opinion, decrease the subtle tension.
Eyes aren’t the only body part that roam.
Fingers fly: Her fingers flew to his cheeks.
Jaws drop: His jaw dropped to the floor.
Arms get shot: She shot her arm out to catch him.
Hands get thrown: He threw up his hands.
Faces fall: Her face fell.
Flying or roaming body parts don’t trouble me. If I read the character “swims through the crowd,” I don’t see splashing water. Or if someone writes “a lump of ice settled in her belly,” I don’t picture actual ice. Describing a character’s eyes with “pools of molten chocolate,” I don’t think he’s got Godiva eyeballs, just deep brown eyes?
A writer’s job is to provide a satisfying experience for the reader by creating a vivid movie in their head. One that combines the richness of language with remarkable stories. I believe being too literal can destroy the richness of language.
So, what’s your take on flying body parts? Do you cringe when you read those sentences? Are you pulled from the story?
As a writer, and avid Scrabble player, I pay attention to the definition of words I use. This COVID-19 pandemic has introduced lots of words. I looked up these to be sure I understood the meanings.
Coronavirus refers to a large family of viruses that includes SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). The first identified SARS strain caused a two-year outbreak in 2002.
Corona comes from the Latin word for “crown.” The virus’s physical shape resembles a crown.
Virus is from the Latin for a secretion, poison, or venom and any of a type of submicroscopic agents that cause disease, or a disease caused by such an agent. For example, the common cold is a virus. It’s caused by various viruses not related to coronavirus or flu strains.
The adjective form – viral is something widely spread within a culture, primarily through social media. Think how a Facebook post or Twitter post is said to “go viral.”
The dictionary definition for viral is something with a metaphorically poisonous effect on the mind or the soul.
A novel coronavirus means a new or different virus. In 2019 SARS-CoV-2 appeared as a new/different virus and named as COVID-19.
The acronym comes from the first two letters of each word in coronavirus and the first letter of disease, followed by the last two digits of the year in which the virus strain was identified.
Pandemic, which comes from Latin for “all people,” describes a disease widely dispersed geographically and common among populations. COVID-19 is both and therefore called a pandemic.
An epidemic is different from a pandemic. Epidemic means “among or within people” and refers to an invasive but local disease.
Pandemic is used exclusively in a scientific context, while epidemic can be used in nonscientific references.
Asymptomatic means “presenting no symptoms of disease.” The connotation for the COVID-19 pandemic is what’s significant. A person, unaware of having the disease is a risk, may spread the disease to others, who are also unsuspecting.
Morbidity— I was surprised to learn in scientific and medical contexts refers to the rate at which a population contracts a disease, not death. Mortality which measures the number of people who die from a disease.
Quarantine is the policy of restricting movement of people or goods to prevent the spread of disease or pests. To self-quarantine is to voluntarily isolate.
Vaccine is familiar word—a substance injected into the body of a person or an animal to protect it against disease. It’s generally a weakened or killed form of a bacteria or virus, and the injection forces the body to produce antibodies without suffering from full-blown symptoms or succumbing to the disease.
Herd immunity is the concept of reducing the infection risk by mass exposure to the contagion or widespread immunization. Nice concept for an ideal result, but a strategy of exposing a large population to a disease to produce herd immunity only helps the survivors. Not the many people who die or continue to suffer from chronic symptoms.
These next phrases have been used so often we all know the meaning, but just in case.
Flatten the curve is the strategy of minimizing the number of cases of a contagious disease so as not to overwhelm healthcare resources and avoid an increase in cases.
The curve is charted on a graph showing the increase in cases. Flattening is visualization of the effect on the curve so that it is a long, low hump rather than a steep spike.
Flattening the curve in a pandemic is not only about mitigating the impact on hospitals and healthcare personnel but also keeping cases down.
Shelter in place originally referred to staying inside a structure when a biological, chemical, or radioactive contamination emergency is announced rather than going outside to a shelter or evacuating to another area and being exposed.
Nowadays, the phrase means staying socially isolated as much as possible to avoid contracting (or passing on) a contagious disease.
Social distancing, meaning the interpersonal interaction of individuals, is actually 200 years old. Today’s meaning refers to physical space between oneself and others to avoid contracting a disease.
Six feet apart will likely only prevent contamination through breathing and accidental exposure from coughing or sneezing because airborne solutions can project greater distances.
That’s why wearing a mask and social distancing is recommended.
I have a confession to make. Several weeks ago I wrote about being fearless. This is not entirely true.
I opened the door to the garage a couple of weeks ago and saw a snake slithering along a milk crate. This was not a small, cute rough earth snake.
This was a huge unidentifiable snake and I slammed the door and screamed. I did not stop to take a picture but here is one I found:
This is what I imagined: Here is Beekeeper Brian’s rendition of the story sent to our children:
“Ok, so….. I just got the beejeeebus scared out of me. Mom is screaming from the kitchen like something is killing her!
I drop everything, run in there with no shirt or shoes (I don’t know how I will ever get service here, but that is beside the point, I digress) and she is screaming there is a SNAKE in the garage!!!
Well, being the loving husband and desiring to protect, I go to investigate. Sure enough, there is a little snake tail in the milk crate by the water heater.
Resisting the urge to just grab it (since I couldn’t see enough to be sure), I take the milk crate to the patio and start removing things. Sure enough, just a little Texas rat snake. It starts to leave so I let it. All four feet of it. Off it goes into the yard next door.
Well, I might have a few more gray hairs now from the excitement.”
He’s not the only one with additional gray hairs. I’m just hoping the snake told all his friends to avoid the garage on Miller Farm.