…but you can’t make him cross … unless you’re persistent….
Writing can be like the allegory I’ve decided to share about the two baby goats we got a few weeks ago. Buster and Charlie aren’t little babies anymore. Although still smaller than the other goats, they’re quite strong for their size, and part of that might have to do with their training.
If a goat is going to help carry your gear in the backcountry, odds are you’ll occasionally need to cross streams. Goats, however, can be kind of like cats: They’re clean animals, but don’t like getting into water. Maybe they think that’s where el chupacabra (aka the monstrous goatsucker) hangs out.
You thwart this tendency by taking them through water before they’ve heard enough chupacabra stories from their elders to get set in their ways (watch the movie Jaws and see how soon you feel like swimming in the ocean).
Each weekend we’ve loaded them into the back of the pickup and visited a nearby stream. You see, streams are crooked, so if you try to walk it in a straight line, you’ll have to cross the water several times.
Now Buster is the more athletic one, but Charlie is braver. The first time we took them out to get their feet wet, we waded into the ankle-deep stream the length of their leashes, the next gravel bar right behind us, and encouraged them to follow.
They’ll follow us anywhere … but had to contemplate this particular venture. Somewhere deep in their capricorn instincts lurked murky images of a kelpie/vampire chimera that would drag them beneath the surface while gnawing on their necks. They uttered soft bleats to each other.
Buster: We’re gonna need a bigger boat.
Charlie: What boat? I only know that our milk-givers still look okay.
Buster: That’s just because it hasn’t decided which one to eat first.
Charlie: Oh no – then there’d be nobody to feed us our bottles!
With his priorities in order, Charlie stepped in first and marched right to us. Seeing that his brother didn’t get ripped beneath the ripples, Buster quickly followed.
They can still have instances of hesitation, but by far our pair of pack goats in-training are coming along quite well. Buster prefers to leap over any part of the stream that’s narrow enough, but Charlie will usually trudge through. Despite what chupacabra tales the old goats in the pasture might be telling them, their confidence is growing.
Sometimes writers have their own demons to face as distractions/block/deadlines confront us. I haven’t heard if there’s such thing as a writer-sucker (Would you call a creature like that a logographage?), but we’ve got to get across that stream of consciousness somehow. So we wade in and get our feet wet, but it’s up to us whether to trudge or leap to finish the journey … unless we can find a bigger boat….
One of the … hmm … interesting aspects of writing is when you’re typing along and your document program claims you rendered those words incorrectly.
Most of the time I fix it, politely thank the program, and move on. But, for example, the sentence you just read has been flagged as a fragment. And it is all because of the phrase politely thank the program. If I take that out, the program is happy….
This is when I stop being polite.
Hubby does plenty of writing in his work, but because I’m the writer in the family, he’ll hit me with grammar and usage questions when the words don’t add up for him. His latest inquiry made me scratch my brain….
The clause in question was Worms, minnows, and other bait is not provided. Word liked the singular verb is over the plural are, although my first impulse when he asked me about it was “We have a plural subject, so the verb must match.” Then I wondered if the conjunction or made a difference.
(I apologize if this sounds like high school English class … but this nerdy stuff is indispensable if you want to write coherently.)
In other words, I started overthinking it. Grabbing my trusty Elements of Style proved fruitless at first (Oh, Strunk and White, I never thought I’d see the day….), until I began to apply logic to the matter.
Kirk (the computer killer) and Spock would have been proud … I think.
The trusty handbook had nothing to say about the conjunction or causing an exception to subject-verb agreement. And when I changed the order of the words in question to bait, worms, or other minnows, the program decided it was happy with the plural are after all. My theory is the algorithm was hung up on the noun closest to the verb, and the conjunction or might have caused an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Great, not only are writers of questionable sanity, but the equipment we use might also be neurotic….
I advised Hubby to rudely plunge ahead with the plural are. But the more I think about it, the more I compulsively ponder if that’s correct … and it’s starting to become an obsession….
One of the aspects about language that makes it so amazing is how we can recombine new words to mean the same thing, but we can choose to be serious or lighthearted in our communication. Introducing someone as your sister is straightforward. But introducing her as your parents’ other daughter will cause people to blink rapidly.
When it comes to animals, colorful nicknames often seem more appropriate than their proper designations. Since we’re playing around with language this week, I thought I’d share a few metaphorical monikers often spouted in the locale around here:
Mini Bears – Known as chipmunks to the uninitiated, campers and backpackers are more apprehending (Or would that be apprehensive?) about the dark side of these furry marauders. Looking cute is their method of distracting you while their brethren run off with your Cheetos.
Trash Panda – More well-known for their dumpster diving habits, raccoons don’t waste time trying to look cute. Outright assault and battery is more to their liking, and I’m going to stay away from the mask jokes.
Ditch Crickets – That term for crayfish (or crawdads) isn’t as common up here as it is farther south, but it has more of a ring than creek crickets. Some folks say water-dwelling crustaceans are just bugs in a different environment, but I say they’re still good eatin’….
Toe Biter – No relation to the ankle biter, this giant water bug (certainly a bug in a different environment) has a habit of attacking anything that moves. I don’t think anybody would claim these are good eatin’, but it’s possible it thinks we are.
Tree Rats – Even though squirrels are a pretty large rodent, I’d honestly be fine if they were even bigger. Although they can be a nuisance, they are good eatin’….
Possum on the Half Shell – Once a confirmation that you’d entered the state of Texas, armadillo carcasses now litter the highways in my neck of the woods, too. They didn’t migrate here until the last couple of decades, and I didn’t hear of this designation until then, but I’m pretty sure they brought that nickname with them. But for the love of God don’t eat them….
Danger Noodle – When I first requested some familial input to help me remember these animal names, one of the kids immediately insisted this designated snakes. Honestly, I thought he’d made it up on the spot. But further investigation confirmed this term is out there, although it’s probably more recent in origin. I like it enough to call it a keeper, and we won’t discuss if calling it a noodle makes it edible.
And although this last one has nothing to do with animals, its style of description seemed to fit the topic, so I’m throwing it in for free:
Tornado Bait – Trailer houses. I’m sure you can figure that one out on your own.
These are just the names for my local critters, although I’m sure kangaroos, camels, and capybaras have earned nicknames as well. It might be fun to go visit your parents’ other offspring, sit down at the table to enjoy a tasty animal, and see what appellations you can come up with….
It wasn’t her grandfather Ita was upset with … at least not directly. Although he was somewhat to blame for the mangled mess of emotions that wrestled within her, she kept a tight rein on the anger that threatened to steamroll everything else.
“I refuse to work with that thing.” She spoke even as her hands gestured the words, and had to focus on not signing too quickly. Although Oswald had a communication device that translated her speech into text, her deaf grandfather preferred to give her his full attention.
“He is a man.” It was only in the last decade he lost his hearing, so Oswald had no trouble speaking, except the inflection of his words tended to fall a bit flat.
“It’s a genetically engineered –” Ita caught herself nearly making the mistake of using the term human. “– creature. We can’t trust it.”
Her grandfather leaned back in the easy chair and sipped from the cup of tea she’d given him. The upholstered seat was one of the few furniture items in the rather Spartan quarters they shared. When she first gave it to him as a gift a couple of years ago, he’d gently protested she was spoiling him. But it pleased her that he enjoyed the subtle luxury it offered.
His gaze leveled over the cup and on her. “We must.”
“The Red Sea was coming together just fine without that thing’s involvement.”
His lips twitched. “The Elite haven’t discovered our project … yet. If they do, Deuce may be our last chance to keep them from destroying it.”
The Elite … barely human themselves anymore, yet representing the worst humanity had to offer. When Oswald was a young man they began their tyranny of demanding every person submit to the biotechnical improvements they deemed necessary. During the ensuing war they engineered several atrocities to capture or kill those who resisted, including this thing that now called itself Deuce.
It was one of several Intellectual Militant Prototypes, more commonly called IMPs. She admitted technically it was a man, but designed to be stronger and faster … and as cunning as a serpent. This one in particular killed her father three years ago.
Her father … Oswald’s son. On a certain level, his loss was greater than hers, yet somehow he managed to discover enough grace to forgive that … brute.
And now it claimed to no longer believe the Elite ideology, and offered to help her people….
“It’ll betray us. How do we know it’s not here precisely to sabotage the Red Sea?”
“He’s cast his lot with us. Only a handful of IMPs have ever defected to our side before, and the Elite immediately targeted and killed them. He’s already lasted longer than the others because he’s laid low, helping to train and plan instead of getting involved in battles.”
How unfortunate it had learned from its predecessors’ mistakes. “That sounds like a convenient scheme to destroy all our work. It already knows too much.”
“He yearns to atone. Understanding the project in more depth will help him to best develop the means to defend it.”
“I’m not going to help it bring us to ruin. Have one of the other team members do it if you insist on taking this gamble.”
Oswald’s features loosened. “Working with him will be helpful to you.”
“I don’t need its help!” As soon as the words burst from her, Ita wished she could retract them. She didn’t like showing anger to him.
His somber expression swelled her remorse, and Oswald drew a deep breath as he set his cup on the broad arm of the chair. He held out both hands, palms up, and she placed her own there. The warmth from the tea seeped from his skin into hers.
“I ask this of you not only because I know you can do it, but because I pray it will also help you find peace.”
Ita couldn’t imagine how any of this could work. The IMP couldn’t be trusted and she had no interest in making peace with it. Yes, she understood she was supposed to forgive it … but what practicality was there in forgiving the snake that struck down her father?
Still … as much as she wanted to spurn her grandfather’s request, the awe and respect she’d always regarded him since childhood had wavered little over the years. His mind was still sharp and intellect undimmed, but that wasn’t why she reconsidered giving in to his request.
Ita softly pulled her hands from his in order to sign her words. “Is it worth taking this chance?”
He regarded her steadily. “Is it worth saving humanity?”
Ita drew a deep breath and shrugged her shoulders before locking her gaze on his. There was no getting out of this. Well, there was, but continued refusal would wind up haunting her. She thought of that reluctant prophet who stood before an unfathomable fire and argued with God that He’d picked the wrong man for the job. That was an event she could really relate to now….
“All right, I’ll do it,” she grumbled, “but only because you’re the only person who could ever get me to say yes. But if that Deuce so much as fidgets in a way I don’t like, I won’t be held accountable if he stumbles off a catwalk.”
“I know you’re a better person than that.”
Truthfully, she wasn’t so sure herself. “Let me freshen up your tea.”
As Ita carried the cup into the kitchen, she pondered how much civility she would have to maintain around that creature. Maybe her grandfather was right. Maybe practicing patience around a personification of the devil would be restorative for her.
But she was still going to carry a blaster at all times while it was around.
The word for the short story this month on #BlogBattle is Tea, which turned out to work in quite nicely with this installment of the serialization I’m writing. If you’re new to these stories, you can go to my BlogBattle Short Stories page to catch the previous chapters. And be sure to check out BlogBattle for all the other tales using this prompt!
One factor of these interesting times we live in now continues to be a nuisance: Some items persist in being difficult to find at the store. When I had yet another run-in with such a dilemma, I groused to myself that it feels more like living in a socialist country than a democratic republic. Then my contrarian ego decided to shake up that monologue with a question.
Am I spoiled?
Spoiled usually brings to mind the image of a pampered princess who pouts because she was asked to put her own plate away instead of somebody else doing it for her. But I have a hunch that if you nabbed a fellow from 1880 and dropkicked him into the present, he’d find us pretty spoiled….
And he’d probably also ask to stay.
We get to toss our clothes in a washer and then pitch them into a dryer instead of building a fire, heating the water in the cauldron, stir in soap (made ourselves from lye) with the clothes, wring them out, hang them on the line, chase the birds away….
Our lives are definitely easier than they were a century ago, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Necessarily? Yes, it’s pretty standard that everything comes with bad and good mixed together. It seems our lives have become so easy we’re more readily annoyed by little things. We have in a way become the pampered princess.
But if making our lives easier is a good thing, then why is being spoiled a bad thing? The difference all lies in attitude.
We can be grateful … or we can be entitled.
Literature has its share of stories about princesses who start with nothing and appreciate deeper meaning over shallow pleasures when the crown comes to them. It’s one of the ironies of life that we can’t truly enjoy what we have until we’ve done without: You don’t realize how wonderful it is to be warm and dry until you’ve experienced being cold and wet.
Are we spoiled? Well, yes, but if we’re grateful for the good in our lives it will also make us more vigilant about insuring our posterity enjoys life at least as good as we have it, and preferably even better. If we’re entitled, we only care about ourselves and leave posterity with a mess to clean up.
Speaking of messes, I sure will be grateful when the store gets those darn paper towels back in stock….