Monday, August 27, 2012

The God Pronoun

Word choice can be the most nitpicky and profound part of editing. I've had writers completely exasperated by it, and others with jaw drops of clarity. Both responses make sense.Word choice gets into the fuzzy world of implications and connotations. That's a very reader-oriented sort of editing, and sometimes you don't want to sacrifice your darlings to the drooling masses.

A single wrong word choice throws off the entire understanding of an audience. We see it all the time in politics: I surmise it's one reason political speeches have gone the route of vagueness. We see it in the the he-said-she-said arguments of wedded bliss--heaven knows the nuances in those fights would make an editor's head spin.

We also see word choice issues in translations. The Bible causes these more than any book I can think of. While I admire the populism which eventually saw it translated from its parent languages, translators make mistakes. This is a problem when the church tends toward bibliolatry (worship of a book). A healthy injection of Greek and Hebrew outside of seminary would be useful, but that's my other axe to grind.

In my personal worship, I often struggle with word choice. What did Paul mean by arsenokoitai? Was speaking in tongues xenoglossy or glossolalia? I got so tired of dragging my Classicist spouse over for New Testament insight that I began learning ancient Greek myself.

This morning, I was wondering about the most critical pronoun of all. Can God be a she?

I can’t imagine God having a problem with it. While many words and metaphors for God are masculine, most of the writers of the Bible were masculine. The Hebrew word for God’s presence, Shekinah, is feminine, and God is called a mother in several places (Luke 13:34, Deut 32:11-12, etc.), and even Jesus has been portrayed as mother in the spirituality of the Middle Ages. I know Jewish philosophy does not ascribe a gender to God. Madeline L’Engle thought God above gender, and so used “el” as a pronoun. I too think God is above gender, but I also think God is a personal God. If God is in me, should that mean God is my gender in my mind? Or should I just call God “God,” and avoid the problem entirely?

Why ask this? Isn't the masculine form also neuter? Technically, yes, though many in the writing industry are making the decision to alternate gender by chapter (e.g., using "he" in chapter 1 and "she" in chapter 2). Beyond the proper choice, however, is the matter of gendered understanding. When you think of God as father, what's your mental image?

What about God as mother?

See what I mean? I wonder if, by opening my inner mentality about a gendered God to the historically persecuted gender, I'd form a broader understanding of God, unfettered by rigid masculinity. God is, after all, a vast entity. I want to know more about her.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Balitmore Storms

When you move a fair distance, there are some things you expect to miss, like local restaurants, your mail carrier, your shortcuts on the back roads. The knick on the tree you made ten years ago while trying to catch a flyaway frisbee. Stuff like that.

Sometimes, though, you find yourself pining for lunacy.

In Indiana, the last three to four months of the year are overcast. Dismal gray. Within a year of moving to Maryland, my brother expressed my thoughts when he complained at the lack of gray days. Lunacy!

Another rabid lunacy is the number of Midwesterners I've met who miss storms. Not the paltry little booms people in Baltimore mistake for storms, but the regular, seasonal tornado warnings with all of the associated happy memories of hanging out in the bathtub or basement with a candle and a radio.

It gets worse when you realize your lunacy is a nightmare in disguise. Like the time I slept through an F3 in College Park because I assumed all advanced civilizations had tornado sirens. Or living on the top floor of an apartment with no accessible windowless rooms on the ground floor (let alone a basement). Or that lightning causes fires, like the one that burned out 24 apartment units nearby. Or that it can surge and fry computers. Leave people without power for weeks. Lunacy.

But come every storm, the moment I hear a smattering of thunder, I gleefully clip on my weather radio and watch the radar online, hoping this one will be a nice rumbler with a bit of hail. You can take the gal out of the midwest, but you can't take the midwest out of the gal.

It eventually got so bad that I actually baited the Baltimore sky on Facebook last night:

Enough random thunder, already! Everyone knows you're all bark and no bite. Stop whetting my anticipation and then failing to properly storm.

Naturally, this was followed by two tornado warnings. Last night, I loved Maryland and wanted the Midwest to stay far, far away. Anything is preferable to waking up your babies out of a sound sleep.

Friday, August 10, 2012

"Sorry about my grammar."

In face-to-face conversations, on the phone, and smattered all over the web, I keep hearing the same words. It must be a conspiracy. Aliens abducted my friends and clients and put a little doodad inside that goes off when triggered by an editor.

“Sorry—my grammar sucks.”

Grammar is the catch-all for writing mistakes. It isn't technically correct, but everyone understands what it means. When you say grammar, you might be meaning your spelling, your syntax, your usage, etc. Just like you might say “music” and mean pitch, tone, or beat.

“The grammar was off. Must really bug you, dude.”

It doesn’t.

Now let me qualify that statement: I will notice English mistakes if you’re paying me. I may even notice if you’re not paying me, but chances are, I’ll keep my mouth shut. This, as far as I have been able to discern, is profession-wide, for two reasons:

1) Why work for free? (Alternatively, I’ve heard,“It’s too much like work.”)
2) Editors have worked with people long enough to know that everyone makes mistakes. You do, we do—errare humanum est.

I won’t bring up that nonsense that the language is changing—of course it is, but that doesn’t mean we don’t conform to a style now—but language is about communication. If you understand, half the work is done. The rest is about getting it to be pretty. Editors are glorified interior designers. How could we possibly take ourselves seriously?

If you know someone who constantly corrects your English, he or she is probably not an editor. You’ve discovered a member of the vast underground of grammar police, or grammar nazis, so-named because they approach English like a fascist government. I usually don’t like to use “grammar nazi” to denote people who care about English, but some—especially people operating on the Internet—think correcting language is the trump card of argument. Like this gem of reasoning:


Ouch. To be candid, I have had my ugly moments as a grammar nazi. Back when I was a stupid teenager, I used to correct everyone, and my favorite? Adverbs. Shouting LY! at everyone, and not in the goofy Richard Henry Lee way. My poor mom got the brunt of my newfound grammar powers. Honest-LY! Glad-LY! Patient-LY! Mom eventually gave up and said everything was goodly.

Becoming an editor changed me. No matter how good you are at editing, something will slip through. Now there’s a cold dash of water to the ego! I just wish I could give that experience to the Internet grammar police, so they’d stop holding my friends and clients hostage over “grammar.” Take heed out there! You don’t want to end up like this guy. I spotted him while lurking in an English help forum. He was so utterly assured of his rightness:

Dumbass its Latin the plural of penis is peni.

(The plural is penises, if you’re curious. That'll be two cents, please.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How Can I Help NASA?

The checkout lady looked up while swiping packages of quinoa. She smiled, first at my youngest son, who had taken off his hat and was trying to give it to her, and then at my oldest, who was standing politely beside my cart (grabbing at the bags, candy, and his little brother). 

"Oh, a NASA hat. Is anyone in your family working there? They must be so proud."

I said yes, my father worked in the space industry, and yes, we were all excited about Curiosity.  I put back a Three Musketeers bar.

"So maybe you'll be astronauts!" she exclaimed happily to my sons. "With rockets and spaceships wizzing around--what an exciting time you'll live in."

If only. My parents used to think I'd live in that age. NASA is under serious pressure, I said, especially its manned program.

Checkout lady: "But if their funding keeps getting cut, something will blow up!"

I began to admire the intelligence of this woman. So many people look at Curiosity's billion-dollar pricetag and think NASA is getting too much, if anything. But as Neil deGrasse Tyson famously said, the US bank bailout exceeded the half-century lifetime budget of NASA.

"What can I do?"

The words actually felt like they echoed. And I, with two fidgeting boys, said the most expedient thing: Spread awareness.

Now this is good, and true, and helpful: letting people know, for instance, the vast number of technologies we owe to NASA, is usually an eye-opener for them. Or expounding upon the inspirational cultural power of space exploration. Or noting imperatives for the continued functioning of Earth: colonization as a valve for population pressure; monitoring climate and potentially hazardous near-Earth objects.

But spreading awareness isn't the only thing, and it isn't even the most effective thing, unless you're a celebrity.

Here are things I wish I had said:

*     Congress controls NASA's budget. Write to your Senators and Representatives.

*     Refuse to vote for politicians who spout nonsense like, "NASA does less for us than (insert government agency)" or "Manned space exploration is less important than robotic exploration."

*     Join a political action group so that your voice can be pooled with others. The Planetary Society is perhaps the best-known. I am a member of the Mars Society. There's also the  National Space Society and Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). 

*     Help NASA work by volunteering in scientific endeavors, like MAPPER.

At the end of our conversation, the checkout lady invited me back. "Working with groceries can be boring," she said.  "Please come back and talk to me about space."

And that's the point, isn't it? Life can be boring, or frightening, or sad. Think about what was happening when we walked on the moon. The Vietnam War, violent student protests, the Stonewall riots, Hurricane Camille, the Santa Barbara oil spill, the explosion on the USS Enterprise and the collision of the USS Frank E Evans, the Manson murders, and the first person dying of AIDS.

Sometimes, we have to look up for inspiration.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Curiosity Lives!

Curiosity's outline on the Martian surface.

For those who went to sleep at a decent hour last night: the Curiosity rover has landed on Mars! The landing was a complete success, and the first pictures are flying in. Space exploration enthusiasts are hopeful that this landing will put more positive focus on NASA, which is under unprecedented pressure. As the world gleefully cheers for the Olympics, it's clear that in space, the U.S. still takes gold. It's a primacy I hope we aren't willing to relinquish. Beyond mere patriotism, space exploration has done so much for the human race in general--creating technologies we use every day without thinking, inspiring generations of scientists (and writers), and providing crucial, life-saving information about our planet and its neighborhood.

+ Curiosity's chief scientist: "Everything just went so smoothly."'s article.
+ The Curiosity landed in seven minutes. Here's how it happened.

+ A Space News article on the political (and budgetary) impact of the Curiosity mission.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Curiosity Lands on Mars

The Curiosity rover will be landing on Mars, this evening at 10:30pm ET. NASA will stream it live, and you can see it right here.

Dare I hope? In the future, will we see an even cooler than Olympics in London? Olympics on Olympus Mons! What a high jump that would be.

Stealth Books

Do you find that some years, you just keep reading the same sorts of books?

In 2008, for instance, it was fantasy. I didn’t plan for it, and I didn’t follow a particular author: people just kept suggesting books, and I found them on the back of my bed, waiting. Books are sneaky like that. You’ll pile up a few to start the queue, and one of them will manage to stealth to the top just at the moment you’re groping for your glasses. No one can convince me it was an accident. They were words about wizards, after all.

Last year it was religious philosophy. I admit I sought most of them out, being tiffed at the lackluster offerings at local churches. Still, how did two books on Buddhism end up in my bags when I went to the hospital? I had been reading them, sure, but philosophy? While gargantuan with child? I should have chosen something less gravid–or perhaps that was the point. I ended up playing Civilization IV rather than reading. But my point is this: books of a type tend to pile up on me.

This year, I’m reading memoirs, and it’s making me feel quite contrary. Normally, I prefer history of a scholarly vein–the ones you find in the basement of some university library, their pages still uncut, no dates on the covers. Never underestimate what a few gift cards, a nook, and clever advertising can do to one’s convictions! I’m now up to twelve memoirs. Some have been delicious, I admit, but I will not let 2013 be the year of memoirs–especially not when my science-fiction count is precisely zero.

Tempt me! What sci-fi should I read next? I’ll duct-tape it to the top of my book stack.

The Mushroom Ring

A new blog; a blank screen. A mushroom ring beckoning uncensored thoughts.

It has been a long time since I had a blog of my own. I used to keep a blog, back when I had nothing to do. Or rather, back when I had plenty to do but too much agoraphobia to do it. Looking back at the old posts, still garish in their monochromatic green, I wonder at how easy it seemed then. To write a blog entry and press enter, with no consideration other than spelling. With blog titles like “Emotional Stuff,” “RIBBIT,” “Broth for Dinner,” or the psychologically deep, “Have I Become a Teenie Bopper?” (Hey, now! You’re only allowed to laugh if you comment with your own old titles.)

My old blog was tied, as blogs usually were in the nineties, to a pseudonym and persona rather than a real presence–and this was for the best, as I acquired several angry stalkers from my work as a game GM. Those experiences really diminished the fun of blogging. Eventually I abandoned my old Livejournal, showing up on Blogger in joint blogs with friends, another series of pseudonyms protecting my identity. Like those annoying group projects in college, someone did all the work. It wasn’t me. Is there a name for that? Blog-coasting? Bumblogging? Navel-staring? That’s what I did.

My last partner of this sort abandoned me months ago, and it was then I found myself staring at a mushroom ring. I had a Facebook account and a few tweets, a collection of photographs and a professional page–the usual things which formed a circle of links grown up around my Internet presence. But there was no longer a center. The gauntlet fell: how could I call myself a wordsmith without a blog?

Time to step into the ring.