Language That Makes Me Grouchy

Westie Snarling because he hates misused phrases

Lately I’ve found myself snarling when I see language usages that are blatantly incorrect. And I see them everywhere, every day. As a responsible writer, I feel it’s my duty to call attention to these mistakes.

I most often explode when reading one of my local newspapers, The Rapid City Journal, for which I was once an intern as well as a regular staffer. I worked and learned during the reign of the late Jim Kuehn, who would never have put up with any of these insults to the language we were taught to revere.

And when I worked for the Sioux City Journal in college, Harvey, the gravel-voiced local editor, would have bellowed the name of the offending writer across the newsroom and explained the error at the top of his lungs so that no writer in the place missed the message. He referred to this method as “educating journalists.” I wish more journalists had studied in those tough schools.

Here are some usages I’ve read lately which are incorrect or just plain annoying.

We’ve been experiencing some issues that have interrupted service.

No, your organization has had problems, it has had outages, or it has had interruptions, but it has not had “issues.” My favorite dictionary, The American Heritage, lists 8 definitions with some sub-definitions for the word “issue” and none of them makes “experiencing some issues” correct.

She shared with me that you would like a ride to the auditorium.

People seem to share all kinds of things these days– diseases, meals, spouses– but what “she” did was tell you that I wanted a ride to the auditorium.

The registration lives in a folder in the glove box.

Yes, the registration is in the glove box, eating, defecating, taking showers and calling its friends at 3 a.m.  Get a pet. This is paper; it is not alive. You risk dismemberment if you tell me your bicycle lives in the garage.

I’m adulting.

No you’re not. You’re adulterating a perfectly respectable noun with a confusing addition. Adult is a noun. Adding “ing” does not make it a verb, and might lead to similar attempts to turn perfectly good words into some cutesy cliché. We already have “I’m penciling you in,” which is more than enough. Stop it right now! From now on, I’m going to assume everyone who uses the term ADULTING is ADULTERATING the language by committing ADULTERY.

To my horror, I see that the Rapid City Journal of March 28 printed an advertisement from Black Hills State University offering an “Adulting Seminar.” Worse yet, it’s the second such day-long event, in which students are taught “life skills necessary for success after college.” The program’s host says, “Many students enter the workforce without knowing the basics of buying a home, purchasing insurance or borrowing money.” Apparently those who will be teaching those very necessary skills have entered the workforce without having any respect for correct grammar. And in two years of advertising this program, no one has corrected the advertisement.

“here here”

What you mean to say is “Hear! Hear!” The phrase “hear him, hear him!” was used in Parliament from late in the 17th century, and was reduced to “hear!” or “hear, hear!” by the late 18th century. The verb hear had earlier been used in the King James Bible as a command for others to listen.

“for all intensive purposes”

You mean “for all intents and purposes,”

The phrase “to all intents, constructions, and purposes” dates from sixteenth-century English law. Later, the shortened “for (or to) all intents and purposes” became more popular than the original phrase. It means “in every practical sense” or “virtually.”

“Intensive” means “characterized by intensity.”

these impulses need to be reigned in

It is highly unlikely that a ruling monarch will be restraining your impulses; instead, like an unruly horse, they will be “reined in,” or controlled, possibly with a couple of leather straps.

The older children reigned in the toddlers

I threw the mystery in which this phrase appeared across the room for several reasons but this was the proverbial last straw. In this instance, apparently the older children brought the toddlers under control by “exercise of sovereign power,” rather than by “reining” them in, or restraining, checking or guiding them.

My head hurts as if it were in a vice

The word needed here is vise, which refers to a metal tool with movable jaws that are used to hold an object firmly in place while work is done in it. This clamping device is typically attached to a workbench.

“Vice” on the other hand is “immoral or wicked behavior.” And certainly the vice of drinking might cause your head to hurt, but that’s no excuse for this mistake.

A crashed drone attached with bags of marijuana and tobacco was found. . . .

No, the drone had bags of marijuana and tobacco attached to it.

All this will help to grow the economy

No: all this will help to improve the economy, or make it better, or increase its profit margin. The economy is not alive; it cannot grow.

campaign to grow their space

This one gets another usage note in my American Heritage, which says this transitive use “applied to business and nonliving things is quite new. It came into full bloom during the 1992 presidential election, when nearly all the candidates were concerned with ‘growing the economy.’ The Usage Panel is decidedly less fond of this development than business leaders and politicians are. Eighty percent of the panel rejects the phrase grow our business.”  Again, I am delighted to be in the majority.

The note continues that “The Panel has no affection for the odd but occasionally heard phrase grow down: 98 percent reject ‘If elected, I shall do my utmost to grow down the deficit.’” Shudder. I will never vote for a politician who uses these phrasings.

The boy dreams of being an iconic figure in baseball. Lady Gaga is known for her iconic outfits.

The first definition of “icon” is simply “an image,” but the second is “a representation or picture of a sacred or sanctified Christian personage.” So the reader of this overused word might surmise that the boy would like to become a Christian figure in baseball, and Lady Gaga is known for dressing like a Christian

A State Department spokesperson walked back his comments about the crisis in Korea

He didn’t walk anywhere, though assigning a good long walk might give him time to reconsider his hasty comments and his grammar. The man changed his mind, or misspoke, or lied, or maybe really wished he hadn’t said that, or was ordered to retract the statement, but he didn’t walk anywhere. He wants us to forget what he said the first time.

He was pouring over the document

If he was “pouring” something over the document, we need to know what liquid he was using. If he was “poring” over it, he was studying it closely

People tell me that they reached out to me when I’ve never met them.

They did not stretch out a body part to touch me, and they did not touch me– the top two dictionary definitions of “reach.” If they want to talk with me, they could email, or telephone (if they can find my unlisted number), or use Facebook. But if they tell me they are “reaching out” to me, I probably won’t answer.

was found inside the burnt home

No, it was found in the burned home, the past tense of burn. Burnt sugar and burnt toast are both more common in published text than burned sugar or burned toast, but both are incorrect. Burnt is also used in color names like burnt umber and burnt sienna, so this common mistake is easier to understand. I, however, do not forgive it.

breaks silence

This term might be appropriate if a monk or a nun who had taken vows not to speak and hadn’t uttered a sound for 65 years decided to address the nation, but for some rock star to use the term to explain the lyrics of his latest song, or a spurned lover to call a news conference to talk about the unreasonable demands made by the ex– no.

I wanted to connect with you

If “connection” is what you have in mind, I consider your suggestion obscene and insulting, though all you really have done so far is to write me a letter. I do not “connect” with folks to whom I do not have a close romantic relationship.

a haunting first novel

When “haunting” is used to describe a first novel, the reviewer is using the dictionary definition of “unforgettable,” but I’ve seen few first novels that weren’t easy to forget. Rather, the overuse of this word suggests to me that the book being reviewed was a ghost of what a novel should be: a pale shadow of good writing, as if the writer had heard of the rules of good English but like some government officials, doesn’t believe in them.

Or perhaps the novel most resembled someone dressed in a sheet and waving their arms, a ghost of a novel composed of poor spelling, terrible grammar, flimsy plots and unbelievable characters who never come to life.

My vacay this year

If you’re too exhausted to say the entire word– “vacation”– you’d better stay home or get to a doctor.

she will graduate high school

I was fascinated to discover an extensive note in The American Heritage Dictionary about this usage. The preferred definition is this: “Graduate: to be granted an academic degree or diploma.”

At the bottom of the page appears the following:  “Usage note: The verb graduate has denoted the action of conferring an academic degree or diploma since at least 1421. Accordingly, the action of receiving a degree should be expressed in the passive, as in She was graduated from Yale in 1998. . . . In general usage, however, it has largely yielded to the much more recent active pattern (first attested in 1807): She graduated from Yale in 1998. Eighty-nine percent of the panel accepts this use. . .The Usage Panel feels quite differently about the use of graduate to mean ‘to receive a degree from,’ as in ‘She graduated Yale in 1998.’ Seventy-seven percent object to this usage.”

You may count me among those conscientious objectors– a clear majority!

An historian from this region wrote that the locals in one of South Dakota’s wilder regions “distain the sight of a tire track.”

What he meant to indicate was that these ranchers viewed a tire track with “disdain: To regard or treat with haughty contempt; despise.” I had picked up this book at my local library; I quickly put it down again and advised the librarian of its error.

body wash

I’ve even seen ads for “anti-cellulite body wash;” does anyone really believe that taking a bath will remove cellulite? Here’s an ad for “foamous” body wash– what in the world does that do? How about “energizing” or “calming” cleanser? “Age defying renewing” body wash? “Nourishing” herbal body wash?

“Virgin coconut oil”: well, we wouldn’t want coconut oil that had been around the block a time or two, now would we? “Shower gel” promises to keep your skin “fresh,” but I suspect that if you sweat when you work out, it won’t be “fresh” long.

When I want to get clean, I’ll still reach for soap. I just wish there was a “mouth wash” to clean these words and phrases off the tongues of the speakers who use them.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2019, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Westies happy about well-written work

Neither the snarling Westie who hates misused phrases, at the beginning of this blog, nor these two Westies who are pleased with well-written prose, are my dogs. These photos were borrowed from the internet with my thanks.

Book Remarks: How to Cuss in Western

How to Cuss in Western (and other missives from the high desert).
Michael P. Branch. (Boulder: Roost Books, 2018)

book branch cuss in westernBecause I have always—well, since I was four years old—loved and respected my local library, I do not write in books unless I own them, and intend to keep them.

Therefore, when I own a book, the page on which I begin to underline or scribble comments becomes a gauge to my evaluation and respect.

I started underlining in How to Cuss in Western on page 2, where Michael P. Branch explained the system of “restrained communication” embodied by the way Westerners wave.

“You lift only your pointer finger off the wheel for a routine ‘howdy’ to a neighbor,” he notes. “. . . Under no circumstances do you ever allow your palm to leave the wheel, which would be a greeting so effusive and emotional—so perfectly hysterical—that anyone foolish enough to display such loss of self-control would never regain the respect of their neighbors.”

Laughing, I recalled that today I received a full-hand wave from a female resident of the neighborhood who is practically giddy with her desire to be my buddy. Yet in several years of residence here she has not grasped this simple rule, one of the most basic principles of country acceptance. By the time children learn to drive here—at age ten or so—they all know enough to keep their hands on the wheel while greeting friends. If one is truly enthusiastic about the friendship, one might nod an inch or two while raising the trigger finger, but that’s all that’s acceptable.

“Oh, you’re so lucky to live in the country,” coo some of the folks who read my books or know I’m a rancher.

And some of these folks buy little plots of land from my ranch neighbors whose kids have gone off to college and now live somewhere else, so the rancher is retiring and moving to town.

Some of these folks who move to the country build a monster mansion on top of a hill where they can see from the Black Hills to the Badlands. They may not realize how well the rest of us can see them. They get a couple of SUVs, and erect a shed to shelter the horse, or the goats, or a cow or two. Their dogs come to visit me and to chase the calves in my corral until I can draw a bead on them. Rather than ranting, I’d like to mention these things politely in the local store or church or Bingo parlor but that doesn’t work because they shop and worship in the larger town to the north.

So instead of ranting, maybe I’ll hand out copies of this book with a bookmark at “Shit Happens,” one of my favorite essays. Folks used to living in town are also used to systems that whisk their personal wastes away without much fuss. If you live in the country, you soon learn there is no away for any of your discarded trash.  Living in the country means someone in the family must be the Fecal Sludge Manager, and study Septic Tank 101, a lesson in rural living rarely mentioned in real estate brochures or ballads.

Profanity? Here are Branch’s comments on the dwindling ability of Americans to cuss effectively and colorfully: “If we cannot communicate through the use of profanity, I wondered, what the hell is left? Have we been reduced to sonnets and tweets?”

One essay, “Such Sweet Sorrow,” centers on a topic tackled by such writers as Aristophanes, Dante, Shakespeare, Twain, Joyce and Edward Abbey, a topic Branch suggests was first written about in 1900 B.C., and which still challenges writers. Branch’s approach is a writer’s challenge; The Urban Dictionary lists 261 synonyms for this topic, and Branch attempts to use all of them, from “breeches burners” to “wee fluffy.”

Michael Branch photo from his websiteThese aren’t perfect essays, in part because Mr. Branch is a real working writer; he writes to deadlines, so he doesn’t have the luxury enjoyed by some writers of tinkering with a piece until it satisfies every editorial quibble. He meets a deadline, and then goes back to cutting cords of wood to keep his family warm, teaching, helping raise his children, and walking a thousand miles a year; clearly he uses some of that time to think.

Besides humor, Branch provides information about a wide array of fascinating country topics, from the extinct American cheetah, to the reason ranchers’ fences are hazardous not only to pronghorn but to hawks and owls—a fact that was new to me. In one quick sentence, for example, he sums up the Bureau of Land Management’s horse problem in Nevada: “We do not have too many horses; we have too few lions.” He understands that the prairie as it should be is a wild place, despite the domestic animals and people who dwell here, and to be healthy, it must remain so.

As a graduate of the College of Fecal Sludge Management, I highly recommend that anyone contemplating a move to the country read this book.

Now excuse me; I have to go find another one of his books.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2019, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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At the website http://michaelbranchwriter.com/ you will find information about the author and his books, his upcoming public appearances, links to essays (some of which are chapters in his books), and a note about how to get podcasts of his essays which appeared in High Country News.

book branch raising wild and rants from hill

Rendezvous Stories: Buckskinner Birthdays

Marrying George when I was thirty-five, I knowingly espoused a fantasy life as well. Buckskinners sincerely wish they’d been adults in 1840, when the most elite profession in the West was trapping beaver to be turned into top hats for Englishmen. We participated in the rites of rendezvous every July, when my birthday fell, so all my birthdays were unique.

RDV tipi smoke flaps dragonfliesOn my thirty-ninth birthday, we obtained a permit to cut tipi poles in the Uinta Mountains of northern Utah. An eighteen-foot tipi needs eighteen to twenty poles. Since we’d promised a set to a friend, we wanted to cut at least forty trees. While George and his friend Jim searched for perfectly straight lodge pole pine trees to cut, Jim’s wife Mavis and I were in charge of transport. We followed the men as they tramped miles through the deep woods. As soon as they’d cut two slender pine, our job was to haul them back to the van, while Jim and George strolled off in search of more.

The trees weren’t heavy, at first. But we soon discovered an unusual botanical fact: straight trees grow only on top of the highest mountains. A lodge pole pine that reaches thirty-five feet of height in this arid country always stands in a crowd. Mavis and I would each grab a tree butt and lunge in the direction of the van. Approximately thirty feet into the woods, I’d veer around a cluster of trees so closely packed I couldn’t slide between them. Turning while dragging a long, straight object isn’t easy; ask a long-haul trucker, if you happen to have one handy. Each detour hooked my tree’s branches on some protrusion, yanking me to a stop. I’d pull my log hard, and stumble on.

At first, Mavis and I kept track of one another by hollered curses. As our stamina waned, we were too short of breath to swear. Resting, we counted closely-packed rings– a sign of the climate– to determine the tree’s age. At two hundred, we gave up, and realized these slender saplings were mature when the real mountain men camped in these mountains.

Several times I reached the truck with a tree to find the men chatting comfortably, seated on a rock.

“Just drop it,” George would say. “Not enough straight trees here; we’re going to look somewhere else.”

RDVpole82“Don’t you want to load this one?” I’d pant.

“No. We’ll wait till we have enough for a whole set.”

We changed locations twice, abandoning five trees we women had hauled a couple of miles through the underbrush, before I managed to get back to the van before the men. I shoved my tree crosswise through the two front windows, and sat behind a bush to catch my breath.

“Hmmm,” said George. “I think the women are getting testy.”

“I expected it,” Jim declared. “We better make do with the trees here.”

RDV tipi poles on vanAs the van lumbered back to camp that night with forty tree tops sweeping its tracks from the road behind, I mentioned my weariness with this strenuous birthday.

Most women my age, George replied without missing a breath, were not in my superb physical shape because their husbands didn’t love them enough to provide such exercise. The day’s workout, he added, put roses in my cheeks. His deft combination of compliment with rationalization left me speechless until a neighbor singing birthday greetings came to our camp fire carrying a single cupcake lighted by one fat candle.

* * *

The summer of my fortieth birthday, George arranged to go fishing in Canada with friends, as a change from rendezvous and a surprise. I’ve written and revised many times the story of that birthday celebration, but it’s still unpublished. Even in this permissive age, some episodes– involving fly-fishing, northern mosquitoes, and mayonnaise– are apparently too revolting for most markets.

* * *

I turned forty-one the month we set up our lodge at nine thousand feet on a Colorado mountain with several thousand other buckskinners. Each morning, George dropped a handful of fresh grounds into the coffee pot, softly waking me to the scent of brawny campfire coffee. Each afternoon, gentle rain tapping on the canvas lulled me into a nap, cooling the air. Each evening, we wandered among glowing tipis until we found music to suit our moods, whether it was bagpipes, fiddles, or mouth harps.

On my birthday, we went out to lunch– to a leanto where two sweaty women sold Indian tacos. Unfortunately, right after lunch, George reported that the latrine closest to our camp was overflowing, an unnecessary announcement since he was holding at arms-length a four-year-old boy who’d fallen into it head first. The child’s mother shrieked, snatched the child and headed for the creek.

“If he was mine,” said George, “I’d have pushed him on down. Easier to have another kid than clean that one up.”

RDV children

Both George and I were dog soldiers– camp police– so providing a new latrine was part of our job. “I can’t ask you to help me,” George said, “since it’s your birthday. But digging is healthy outdoor exercise.”

First we removed the canvas privacy shield, along with the toilet seat and the open-ended fifty-gallon drum supporting it. We shoveled dirt over the remaining human wastes, and found a site for the new facility in a grove of aspen, where three trees served as a framework for the canvas wall.

Then we dug a deep hole in the Rocky Mountain soil. That name isn’t just a metaphor. We dug awhile, borrowed a pick to shatter bedrock, and shoveled some more. Operating a spade while wearing moccasins is painfully authentic to the mountain man era.

When the toilet was finished, we reflected on the thousands of people excreting in the vicinity, and considered the dog soldiers who were neglecting latrine duty. We swore an oath to tell no one the location of the new toilet. “Let ’em scout for it,” said one dog soldier, “like real mountain men.” Turning to me, he added, “You did a damn good job of diggin’, fer a girl in a dress!” I thanked him modestly, resisting the urge to curtsy. His was a compliment compared to other remarks I endured as one of the first female dog soldiers. Still, women who wear belt knives every day and beat their husbands at tomahawk throwing get considerable respect.

RDV LMH dressThen we closed the tipi door, knowing our gear would be safe in camp, and headed for Linda’s Birthday Revenge, a reunion of my mother’s family, a group of sober, law-abiding folks who drive recreational vehicles, shave, never drink liquor, and probably iron their camping clothes. My theory was that George, wearing a beard and shoulder-length locks that almost hid his earrings, might be nearly as uncomfortable for a day as I was for a week on his fishing trip. For maximum effect, and because we couldn’t find our civilian clothes, we wore our rendezvous garb– my long leather dress and his fringed leather suit. I didn’t think to remove the businesslike Green River skinning knife I used in camp.

As soon as we entered civilization and stopped for gas and cold drinks, I encountered a modicum of trouble. Relishing the chance to use a flush toilet and wash my face with hot running water for the first time in nine days, scrubbing at hands blackened by cooking over an open fire, I may have taken a wee bit too long. When the door handle rattled, I called politely, “Just one minute.”

I dried my hands and was grasping the doorknob when the door began to shake with violent pounding, in counterpoint to a woman’s voice yelling abusive curses of a distinctly vulgar nature.

Startled, I pulled the door open, snatching a short, red-faced woman into the small bathroom. Crashing into me, she lurched sideways, swearing. Then she jumped back and tripped over the toilet, perhaps startled by my attire. She grabbed at me, probably an instinct to keep from falling. Convinced she was attacking, I shoved with one hand, and grabbed at my knife with the other. She fell behind the toilet, jammed against the wall with her arms over her head. Her eyes bulged when I commented on her indiscreet language, and she breathed deep and tried to stand. I stepped out the door as she slammed and locked it.

Catching my breath, I heard a murmur in the darkness near my knees. A small boy trembled there, his eyes on my knife. I reached to pat his head, but he shrank away howling something about being scalped. More oaths gushed from the door, but it stayed closed. The kid was on his own. I slipped down one aisle as the manager rushed down another. George was peering over shelves, unruffled. Another man trotted a few steps toward the bathroom, and glanced nervously at us, but retreated from the wailing child. We departed in armed peace.

Once we got to the reunion, we found that the only family members attending were members of a single religious faction notorious for its sobriety. Not only was the camp free of beer, they hadn’t even brought coffee.

Various unidentified relatives of mine gathered around the van as we opened the doors, asking us merrily what we thought about “what the Democrats did this morning,” I explained that radios aren’t allowed in rendezvous camp, so we had no idea what the country was doing.

The benefits of missing two weeks of national news outweigh the flaws, in my opinion. However, once when we checked into a motel after a rendezvous, George headed for the shower while I snapped on the TV. When Richard Nixon’s face filled the screen, I yowled, “My God, it’s the revolution! He’s back!” Roaring, George thundered out of the bathroom, ready to defend me against a mugger.

Now, at the reunion, one of my cousins yelled, “The Democrats nominated a WOMAN for vice president!” The crowd whooped with laughter.

“Right on!” I cheered, waving my knife in case anyone disagreed.

RDV Knife in beaded sheath

Following a moment of horrified silence, they all laughed at my hilarious joke, and the survivalist in-laws gathered to look at our knives. The men pressed close, testing the balance of each blade and asking George how he polished the bone hilts. They shaved heaps of hair from their bulky forearms, and allowed as how George knew how to get an edge, so maybe he was an acceptable relative.

Whipping out their own concealed and semi-concealed weapons, they muttered about food caches, and the best places to be when The Big One drops. After awhile we opened the van door to show them the weapons and buffalo hide we’d put in the van in case buckskinners weren’t as honest as we thought they were. Long into the night, we all compared fire power and sharpening stones, and debated ballistics.

We were sober and clearheaded the next morning for breakfast, and the pancakes were delicious. But on the way back to camp, we stopped seven times for coffee, and proclaimed it one of my most unusual birthdays.

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Copyright 2008 Linda M. Hasselstrom

 

Rendezvous Stories: Afterword

This story is a slightly different version than what appears in my book Between Grass and Sky, in the chapter called “The Second Half of Life” (pages 145 through 150).

An explanation of Rendezvous Re-enactment from Land Circle

Rendezvous was the annual trappers’ meeting during the fur trade days [1824 – 1840]; a few days in summer when trappers brought in their pelts, were paid, and bought their year’s supplies. . . . The muzzle-loading weapons of that age, either cap and ball or flintlock, are still intriguing . . . In modern times, people interested in the weapons have extended that interest to the way of life of the mountain man, and instituted dozens of such rendezvous in the United States, Canada, Germany, and other countries. . . . Everyone’s objective is to reproduce, as nearly as possible, the look and feeling of a rendezvous camp of the period. A place is set aside for the primitive camp, with running water and firewood. Those who have authentic clothing but modern camping gear must camp in a spot reserved for modern tents and tin tipis: campers. “Pilgrims,” inexperienced participants or visitors, are sometimes allowed in camp if they make a serious attempt at dressing in period style.

The insistence on authentic attire and accouterments is not mere whim; the camp’s primitive look enhances photographs, paintings, and research, and adds to the enjoyment of people who truly live the period. The mood would be ruined by seeing someone in blue jeans, scorned by modern mountain men because Levi Strauss didn’t start making them until 1851. The rule keeps away folks who aren’t seriously interested; those who are will be treated with friendliness, and almost any buckskinner will take time to help a newcomer learn how to participate. When you put on buckskins or a long dress, you put on a different mood; . . . The whole tempo of the world changes.

— from Land Circle: Writings Collected from the Land
(Fulcrum Publishing, Golden CO; 1991; Anniversary Edition 2008)
excerpts taken from the chapter called “Rendezvous!”
pages 35 through 37 (Anniversary Edition)

For more information:
see the rendezvous page on www.windbreakhouse.com

RDV big white camp

 

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

 

© 2016, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Writing: Where I’ve Been — Dressing for Success in the Soggy West

Rain in the West is always an occasion for celebration, and this year we have a lot to celebrate.

People say, “How much rain have YOU had?” with their teeth gritted. To complain about moisture would be Against The Code of The West. Heck, the Code doesn’t let us complain about broken legs, either.

Several neighbors casually mentioned that they’d greased the haying machinery in May and by late June they hadn’t cut a blade of hay yet. No hay means no winter feed for the cows unless they go out and chew it off the hillside which might be difficult if we get the usual deep snows and brisk winds.

“I’m not complaining,” though, they all said heartily with a glance upward. “Maybe this will end that drought.”

Ranchers are always nervous about weather and we learn early not to count on anything. One day when the rain paused, two neighbors were trying to pull a truck out of thigh-deep mud. One observed, “This could be the first day of the next drought.”

When the rain stopped, everybody started chopping down hay with any machinery available. Tractors so rusty their original color is impossible to discern are chugging along the fields, hauling haying equipment made for hauling behind horses. One rusty rake I saw was towed by a sedan, with a passenger leaning out the window yanking on the rope that lifts the tines and dumps the hay in a windrow.

The foliage is so tall we can’t see the tractors, only hear the motors. A couple of guys started mowing our big hayfield three days ago and haven’t reappeared. We hope they didn’t run out of gas and try to walk out. The creeping jenny is so strong and lively that if you walk into a patch, it wraps around your ankles and drags you down.

Yesterday the dogs ran into the greenery and didn’t come when we called, though we could hear them yip. We hacked a path with a machete and found them so tangled up in creeper they couldn’t move. Of course, they’re small dogs; a Malamute might have gnawed his way clear.

And then there are the mosquitoes.

BugHats
Mosquito veils also help protect the face and neck.

I dress in the morning as knights of old prepared for battle, laying out each piece of armor that may protect myself from West Nile virus. Only one case has been reported this year, but like most people, I don’t want to be second.

First I don long, heavy socks; then winter sweat pants too thick for the proboscis of most mosquitoes. Boots laced up over the pants. Two turtleneck shirts. Since commercial mosquito repellents make me break out in big red blotches, I mix natural oils with unscented hand lotion and smear the mixture over my hands, face and neck. (Equal parts eucalyptus, lemon and citronella in a base of unscented lotion.) I rub lotion on the shoulders of my shirt and on a big scarf tied under my chin. Sloshing more lotion on my floppy hat, I jam it down and step outside.

A breeze helps deflect the mosquitoes, but as soon I walk, I sweat, and mosquitoes rise from the grass in squadrons, regiments, phalanxes. Their low humming sounds like the Hells Angels, on their way to the Sturgis motorcycle rally starting the end of July.

With a garden to tend, I march to the pump house, turn the appropriate handle, and gallop to the garden. There I dive into the heaving, throbbing mass of creeping jenny, hoping I’m not stepping on a rattlesnake, and grope around until I find the end of a soaker hose. I snap the supply hose into it and stagger out to the tilled area. Behind me, a black swarm of mosquitoes rises, and my arms and legs are covered in a moving veil of wings as the critters probe for an opening.

A swarm of mosquitoes rises from the underbrush howling a war cry: ZZZzzzzzzZZZzzzzZZZ. I swat a mosquito that has sucked most of the blood from my right ear. When I feel a throbbing at my jugular vein, I mash it, spurting blood. I laugh like Margaret Hamilton, Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. Imitating her banshee laugh was one of my first attempts at drama, and is today one of my few talents. Uttered at the back of a slow herd of cows, it moves them into a brisk trot. And it once got me out of a rather tricky situation in the dating game. But it has no effect on the local mosquitoes.

Economists are always urging Western ranchers to diversify. “Take in tourists who will pay to sleep in the bunkhouse! Make tourists pay to help fix fence!” So we have a diversification plan. As soon as we find the branding irons– we’re sure they’re inside the barn or under that tangle of weeds– we’ll brand a few of these monsters, and haul them to the sale ring: the new red meat.

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© 2010, Linda M. Hasselstrom

Originally published in “Writers on the Range,” July, 2010

Afterword to “Dressing for Success in the Soggy West”:

High Country News, the fine Western magazine, published this short article in “Writers on the Range” (a syndicated opinion column about issues that affect Westerners) in July of 2010, when we had a soggy spring. Even then we were concerned about West Nile virus and the story is accurate: so far this unusually wet year only one case has been reported in South Dakota.

Writing: Where I’ve Been

The writing that appears in this category, “Writing: Where I’ve Been” is a mixture of styles, written as I was searching for the narrative voice that most nearly suited me and the material that has become most important to me. Each piece is annotated with background information. Some stories were intended to be read as fiction though they were substantially true; in those instances I have explained what is fact and what is fiction. Some of these pieces were published in slightly different forms; I have noted any previous publication.

Re-reading some of what I wrote in past years has been useful for me, not only in matters of insight, but in matters of writing style. I can see things I would write differently today, but I have also discovered writing I consider good that has had few or no other readers. Technically, these are either unpublished works, or published and uncollected, meaning they have not appeared in a book.

Each of these writings was part of a thought process that resulted in other writing; readers may see the roots of ideas that appeared in later work.

I invite writers and aspiring writers to read these texts as part of your study of how writing develops. Remember, I think revision is the second most important part of writing (after thinking), so you might consider how you would revise and improve a particular story. Be inspired; be amazed; be annoyed! You might even comment, and I may— or may not— respond.

No matter what your response, I’ve posted these especially for writers in the hope they will help you to keep writing until you find the style and voice that particularly suits you. Then write your life with the variety and enthusiasm with which I continue to write my own

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2015, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Writing: Where I’ve Been — A Writer’s Best Friend: The Faithful Editor

Writers complain about editors as reliably as the sun also rises.

Here’s my secret: how I learned to be happy in a world full of editors.

After all, I’ve been writing for fifty years. I could do workshops on How to Be Happy In Spite of Writing. Can’t you just see the promotion? I’d favor banner headlines in red:

Learn How to Be HAPPY  —  In Spite of Writing
ONLY $289.95 or a MERE $29.95 a month for fifteen months
Instead, this secret is yours, FREE
No obligation. No guarantee, 90-day or otherwise.
If you are overcome with gratitude, I will accept gifts.

Once upon a time, I’d write an essay and revise it ten times, thirty times, maybe forty. Then I’d send it off to a magazine. And wait. And wait.

Months or years later, I’d receive comments that the editor had jotted down in five minutes, including reading time and making herself a martini.

I’d pore over the scribble for days. Even doctors write more legibly than editors, most of whom are too young to have learned penmanship by drawing millions of OOOs on a Big Chief tablet as I did.

Once I knew what the editor had said, I’d smack myself with The Compact Oxford English Dictionary until the ideas began to make sense.

Chicago Manual of StyleThen I would revise the essay exactly as the editor suggested, and send it back to her.

Invariably, her next set of observations would contradict the first.

I’d swear and throw The Chicago Manual of Style, narrowly missing my faithful dog. To express slight annoyance, toss a thesaurus; reserve the forty-pound Manual for expressing serious fury.

Still, following the editor’s suggestions, I’d revise again.

Thus for many years I humbly followed the advice of every single editor who deigned to supply it in my Self-Addressed, Stamped Envelope, returning the revised piece until the editor rejected it. When–and if–the essay was accepted elsewhere, I noticed that the accepted version often resembled my first submitted draft written years before.

Meanwhile, I noticed that I was getting older, and editors were getting younger. If we talked, many would burble, “Oooh, I just graduated from The State University of South Iowindialabama.” Several had never heard of the Chicago Manual.

Gradually, I stopped believing that editors are giants in the earth, though I understand that, like most writers, I learn something every day from a writer or editor.

?????????????????????????But these days, when an editor rejects my latest masterpiece, I don’t snarl and howl. I remember that not all editors are equal.

The minute I spot that rejected manuscript in the mailbox, I start my deep breathing exercises. Whistling to my West Highland White Terriers, I head for my reading chair.

Short dogs with thick necks and skulls, Westies are endowed with almost as much self-esteem as the average teenager, and with considerable more justification. They gallop into the room and sit, tails straight out behind them, heads tilted, gazing at me with big brown eyes, pink tongues dribbling. Closing my eyes, I inhale and visualize the editor sitting beside them, pink tongue lolling. I remind myself that I love the dogs in part because they think I am a better person than I know myself to be. I open the envelope.

Few editors can leave a line of manuscript unmarked.

FrodoPee94
Frodo the Westie marking his territory the way some editors mark up a manuscript.


Reminds me of the way The Bad Breath Boys behave on our rambles in the park. They lurch from side to side, sniff, yark, pee, yipe, pee, snort. Hmm, better sniff that again, yep, needs more; another squirt. Intent on making their mark on every foot of territory, they are one with the trees and rocks, one with the Great Leveling Moment of Peedom, unconscious of anything else in the universe. They don’t know their lives are short, don’t remember doing the same thing in the same place yesterday. Or maybe they think it needs doing again.

Just like an editor invading the brave new world of a manuscript.

No use telling the dogs they are minor characters, that their comments on tree trunks will be covered by the memoirs of the next leashed canine. Like many editors, they have no concept of the forest, because they are too busy demonstrating that this tree is theirs. And this tree. And that bush.

When I let the dogs inside in wet weather, they ignore my pleas to wait on the rug and gallop across the kitchen, scattering blobs of mud.

Just so, an editor’s remarks may obliterate the clean lines of the prose beneath, showing a blissful disregard for the meaning of a sentence or an essay.

When the dogs dig up my flowers, I remind myself that they are creatures of ancient instinct, unlikely to change their ways. I could yell at them and call my anger “training,” or put up more fences to make their world even smaller. But a Westie’s nature includes stubborn persistence; their ancestors dragged Scottish badgers out of their dens.

The same persistence serves a writer, or an editor, well in the long, long life that writing requires.

I also remember my father saying, when we couldn’t corral a difficult bovine, “It pays to be smarter than the cow.” If I cannot bear to lose the flowers, I move them to a part of the yard where the dogs do not go.

Similarly, when an editor misses a point, I no longer attempt to explain. I rephrase the idea, tucking it in somewhere else. Like the dogs, the editor may be so busy admiring or dozing in the hole he’s dug, he’ll never notice.

The dogs snap at each other when they disagree over who sits on my lap, whose treat is larger, and for a dozen other reasons, but they sleep piled together.

Similarly, editors display jealousy and distrust until a writer gets famous; then all of them use the same phrases to sell the next three or a dozen books by that author or a half dozen others.

The Westies are pretty ferocious when a Rottweiler strolls past, as long as they are safe behind their chain link fence.

Editors talking to writers from their own offices make a lot of racket and a lot of promises. When a writer is inside that office, the noise level drops precipitously.

So living with the Westies has taught me to lower my expectations about editors. The dogs, for example, aren’t wise enough to be afraid of cars, so I keep my instructions simple. “No!” I bellow at street corners.

When an editor told me to take the women out of one of my books, I used the same word at roughly the same volume. I hear he is now editing something on the Internet, not books.

If I speak harshly to the dogs after they have misbehaved, their ears droop. But their attention spans are short.

When an editor demanded changes I couldn’t stomach, I gritted my teeth and inserted them. Then I deleted them when I read the galley proofs. So far, he’s never noticed.

Watching my dogs lick each other’s ears makes me wonder if the shortage of well-bred editors is coupled with the way male dogs attempt to establish dominance over one another.

While I have not spent enough time in the company of editors to be an authority, I have noted that they seem to spend a lot of time whispering together at public gatherings. Their reasoning, I suppose, is that there’s no sense talking to writers, because fresh, naive ones are always available.

When my dogs sniff each other’s private parts, I realize that they can’t help it. Their inbred behavior requires deportment completely alien to humans. Well, almost.

Dogs Pursue Idea  Like Editors
A good editor will dig into your manuscript, uncover errors, and improve your writing.


Still, all writers need good editors to polish their written words, so it’s important that we understand how we can help create the editors we need. As all owners should understand, a dog’s most annoying behavior is likely to have been caused by the way humans have treated him. Editors, too, are abused not only by writers who should know better, but by the reading public.

Just as a canine’s feelings are easily hurt, and an apology may not restore its confidence, so it is with editors.

I’ve seen no obedience school inviting writers to bring editors, properly leashed, for remedial training, but let me carry this comparison one more step. Dogs learn best when they are handled with patience and rewarded with affection. A beloved and respected canine is capable of a loyalty we humans rarely find elsewhere.

So pay attention to editors. Take time to thank them for catching the errors you missed. Remember, a good editor’s labor improves your writing– and therefore your income, and your joy in life. The satisfaction you’ll derive when a good editor understands and improves the point you were trying to make is nearly as good as snuggling with your favorite Westie during a blizzard.

(c) 2015 by Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Afterword to “A Writer’s Best Friend: The Faithful Editor”

This previously unpublished essay emerged in the late 1990s after a particularly frustrating round of revisions and rejections. As I recall, I had submitted an early draft of Feels Like Far to a publisher who shall be unidentified but with whom I had a working relationship based on other books on which we’d worked. After the submission, I was able to meet with the editor, who said I was a good writer but — and here she patted my knee– “We’ve heard enough about your dead husband, dear.”

ReadingDogsI have no idea what I answered, or how the interview ended, but I revised the manuscript as she suggested, taking out elements she suggested omitting. After several months she rejected it again, and this time she suggested adding some of the material she had suggested I take out, making clear she had no recollection of her original suggestions.

At that point I resolved to stop submitting manuscripts to New York editors, and turned to regional publishers who might be more familiar with the ideas and attitudes of the West, as well as with my writing. That book was subsequently published by the University of Nevada Press in 1999, but not without more rejections, revisions, and discussions.

Besides feeling vindictive as I worked on this essay, I was feeling clever, so it’s full of plays on words referring to writing– “as reliably as the sun also rises,” and “giants in the earth.”

And I was cynical about the get-rich-quick writing schemes that were beginning to flood the market: How to Write a Best-Seller from someone who never had done so, for example.

But because I am a teacher at heart, the essay is not just cynicism; it’s full of suggestions about useful references, and includes good advice about dealing with editors. Far too many writers get angry at editorial advice and resolve never to send that editor another word. In so doing, they may lose the help of someone who could have helped them become a far better writer.

I enjoyed sly digs like my reference to being smarter than the cow, but once I hit on the dog comparison– no doubt because my then-Westies Mac and Duggan were staring at me from beside my desk– I felt I’d found the perfect vehicle for humor.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House
Hermosa, South Dakota

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