Sunday, February 26, 2006

Gone but not forgotten (I hope!)

Hi. This is "ink." I'm sorry I can't take your comment right now. Unfortunately, due to the recent defection (I mean transfer) of a colleague, my workload -- and deadlines -- have just doubled. When combined with a very welcome (but somewhat ill-timed) mini-vacation later this week to visit the ever-delightful Sister Staceypatrick followed by my ever-entertaining-and-occasionally-frustrating parents, I am sure you'll understand when I say that I am up a certain smallish kind of highly-scented river without some of the required equipment to steer myself successfully past rapids and those bits of land that sit underwater but you still can't see them before you get stranded like a complete loser. Oh yeah, SHOALS, that's it. Or do I mean sandbars? Well, that's not important right now. What IS important is that while I am not available to take your comments just at the moment, I will be very pleased to hear from you when upon my return on March 7. Thank you for your patience. I apologise for any inconvenience. Have a nice day, and please come again! -- *BEEEEEEP*

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Not good at good enough

You may (or may not) have heard the saying, "Good enough for government work." Well, I may be good enough to work for government, but I’m not good at Good Enough.

[Ed’s Note – The phrase “good enough for government work” is a traditional saying, and should in no way be taken as a criticism of the public service or the government at large. We are proud to recognise the high standards and quality work of the vast majority of public servants. Please don’t sue me. Thank you.]

Perhaps a better, if less linguistically satisfying, way of saying the same thing is that I like to do things well (well, as well as I can anyhow), and I become profoundly irritated when I am rushed to complete a task in what I consider to be a less than adequate amount of time.

Ok, perhaps an even better way to say it is as follows: I don’t like deadlines, at least not ones I haven’t made myself.

This is a problem because I am, at heart, a plodder. I am “all tortoise all the time.” I would be a shoo-in (shoe-in?) for the Meanderer’s Olympics. I am kin to sloth, koala, and Heinz ketchup (anyone remember that old commercial “An-ti-ci-pa-a-tion?”).

In other words, I do things in my own sweet time. And I like it that way.

The world, by and large, does not.

On February 8th (Confessions of a Word Junkie), I wrote, ‘… in a society which sees speed as a virtue in itself, in which the art of discourse and rhetoric have been replaced by the sound-bite and bullet points, brevity has indeed become "the soul of wit"(Shakespeare) - even at the expense of meaning.’ I am convinced speed is the ultimate modern virtue: more important than truth; more important than skill; and certainly more important than quality.

You know what I say to that? “Bollocks!”

I am tired of being forced into doing a half-assed job because of arbitrary (and generally impossible) deadlines or because someone, somewhere didn’t think through the process properly in the first place. I CARE about my work, damn it. When I produce something, I want it to be the best “fill-in-the-blank-here” that I can make it. I want to do the research properly, to think about the appropriate structure, to use exactly the right words, to produce a layout that is effective and consistent. In other words, I want to make sure that the things I create will actually do the job they’re supposed to do in the first place.

And all that takes time. Too much time, mostly.

So, as a result I rarely get the opportunity to do a truly good job. “Good enough” seems to be all there’s time for – and everybody seems impressed with the results but me. Maybe “good enough” is all that’s necessary most of the time. Maybe it’s more productive not to waste time on excellence when it’s not absolutely required. Maybe everything doesn’t need to be up to that “gold standard.” I’m sure that’s all true -- but I really don’t care.

You see, my work is – under all circumstances – a reflection of who I am. And I am not, and will never be, “good enough.” I am better. Much, much better.

So there.

Friday, February 17, 2006

An everyday miracle

I'm in a sentimental mood today, folks, so here's a true story about an everyday miracle.

Last Friday evening, I was walking through the parking lot to pick up a few things at the grocery store when something caught my eye. A small plant was sitting all by itself on one of the yellow lines separating the parking spaces. There were no cars anywhere around it.

When I finished my shopping, the plant was still there. It was a Reiger Begonia according to the tag, which is warm-climate plant (think Florida or South Carolina) with beautiful glossy green leaves and masses of deep red or shocking pink flowers. In our neck of the woods, it is considered a houseplant or an annual (a plant that survives for one summer only) - a real domestic baby, in other words, completely unequipped to survive Ottawa's cold.

This particular specimen was in very sad shape, to say the least. The leaves were completely frozen - several actually shattered when I picked it up, and the soil in the pot was very cold, but not yet frozen. It had obviously been sitting there for some time.

I somehow doubted its rightful owner would turn up, and ... well ... to be honest, I felt sorry for it. I just hated to think of this harmless little plant -- brought out of its natural environment through no fault of its own -- sitting in a cold dark parking lot slowly freezing to death with no one to know or care, and probably getting run over by a honking great SUV or mini-van.

So I brought it home.

Bluntly, I didn't have much hope of actually saving it: as soon as it started to warm up, all of the begonia's leaves and most of its main stem turned (quite literally) to mush. Within a couple of hours, all that was left was a greeny-brown stick barely an inch long. At that point, I started thinking about giving it a decent burial. For some reason (I'm just a sucker for lost causes, I suppose), I brought it to work instead. [For the record, my office (i) gets a lot light; and (ii) is safe from our 5 delightful, but plant-munching, cats.]

For the past week, I've been watching this sad little green stick and hoping for the best. There was nothing I could do to help it survive, just cross my fingers that a little spark of whatever energy or spirit or whatever it is that drives all living things not to give up on life was still in there somewhere.

And, since this is a story about an everyday miracle, I'm sure you've already guessed that it was, and it is. Today, my little Reiger Begonia has started to sprout two new leaves - pale and tender and tiny still, but definitely growing.

Life sometimes astonishes me with its gifts.

Monday, February 13, 2006

10 things I have learned today

*Warning - This is not a deep, insightful OR particularly well-written post ... Deal with it. -- The Management.*

Blogdom is a wonderful place, simply chock-full of interesting nuggets of information. Here are just a few things I've learned today as I've been trolling around:

1. Tornwordo knits
2. Musicians really do put a lot of thought into creating their albums (thanks, St. Dickeybird via Tornwordo's blog)
3. Snooze is a librarian ... unless that was just a joke (again, via an old post of Tornwordo's)
4. The great metropolis of Toronto is strapped for cash -- and, as a member of the federal government, it is apparently ALL ... or at least partially ... MY FAULT (thanks, Sister Staceypatrick)
5. Greg the Surly does not think he is interesting or newsworthy (on this point, as I'm sure you will agree, he is in error)
6. Dantallion is either way smarter and/or way better read than I am (GRRR!)
7. Manja can create an interesting comment thread even when she's not trying
8. Epicurist is willing to share recipes ... just not with me ...
9. Under Georgia law, parental consent to an underage marriage (i.e. where one or both parties are under 16) is NOT required if the female is pregnant. (thanks to Grumpy Bunny)

and, ::drumroll::

10. There are clothes that can identify a person as gay* (thanks again, St. D.)

*NOTE: I realize not knowing this fact before now puts me in the realm of Completely Clueless. Don't worry, I'm there so often I have my own key to the executive washroom.

So ... what did YOU learn today?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Confessions of a Word Junkie

"I think you’ve managed, quite unwittingly, to inspire perhaps the longest blog comment ever, courtesy of Ink!" (Special K, comment from Dantallion's blog, Feb. 3, 2006)

"I made this letter longer than usual because I lack the time to make it short."
(Blaise Pascal)

"Be brief, for no discourse can please when too long." (Miguel de Cervantes)


Hi. My name is "ink" and I'm a word junkie.

It all started when I was a baby. My Mum talked and read to my brother and me ALL THE TIME, and there were books EVERYWHERE in our house: cookbooks, novels, home repair manuals, magazines, picture books, you name it. With all that temptation around, I suppose it was inevitable that I got turned on to words before I could even walk, and started reading when I was around three. I didn't have a chance. I was hooked ....

And now look at me.

Some of you might have noticed that I am, well, a bit long-winded. I admit it, freely if not with pride. This reality has been forceably brought to my attention on more than one occasion ... strike that ... People tell me this, one way or another, a lot. My problem, you see, is not that I'm hopelessly pompous (pompous, yes, but not HOPELESSLY pompous!), but simply that I am addicted to words. I am entranced by their sound, their look, their rhythm and nuance. I am fascinated by the architecture of language, absorbed by the nuts and bolts of grammar and punctuation, and excited by the evolution of meaning and the continuous drift of pronunciation.

But this seemingly harmless habit is ... well ... not. Harmless, I mean. Because
in a society which sees speed as a virtue in itself, in which the art of discourse and rhetoric have been replaced by the sound-bite and bullet points, brevity has indeed become "the soul of wit"(Shakespeare) - even at the expense of meaning. So, what's a word junkie to do?

Mostly, I ignore the world and continue on my own idiosyncratic way. I write full sentences (including salutations) in my e-mails; I bore people to tears over lunch with descriptions of mnemonic layering in "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" (hey, if they didn't want to hear it, they shouldn't have invited me, right?); I elaborate, explain and explore in depth the most trivial of matters; and, more often than not, I provide way more information than people are looking for.

But, I am also, sad to say, a working stiff, with a job to do and bosses to please. So, I have learned ... slowly and painfully, 'tis true ... how to be brief. I have learned to summarize, to work in point form, to edit and eliminate and delete. It takes me a while, but if I put my mind to it, I CAN be reasonably succinct. I can even (with my teeth gritted, and a growl in my throat) write bullet points if the occasion demands it.

You see, I have decided to look on brevity as a challenge -- to express, in the most elegant and efficient way, that which needs to be said. I am, in short, in search of my inner-pith.

So, wish me well on my journey into the linguistic hinterland. It could take awhile, but I hope, someday, to stand here before you as a reformed (if not recovered) word junkie.



P.S. For the record, that is not the longest comment I've ever made on someone else's blog. I think the record goes to the post entitled "Tragically Lived" on Sister StaceyPatrick's site.

Friday, February 03, 2006

What to do in Ottawa when it rains

I have declared today an official "Rain Day," and - thanks to the wonders of remote access - e-mailed my boss that it's too miserable to come into the office and I'll be working from home instead.

So, instead of being in my cramped ... er, cozy ... cubicle under florescent lights that make me look like the hag from hell, trying to decide what evil concoction to purchase for lunch from that strange place they keep claiming is a cafeteria, and ignoring the joker who sits on one side of me and the energizer bunny who sits on the other, I am at home in my pjs with a large cup of tea trying to keep the cats from "helping" me type. Oh yeah. Did I mention it's Friday? Bliss!

Well, almost.

I am - I'm sure you'll be happy to know (and just in case my boss ever runs across this blog!) - actually working. As a good federal civil servant, I am reading the Gomery Report - all two hundred pages of it - and flagging items which could have an impact on some of the activities I'm involved in. On the whole, it's not a bad read. Justice Gomery avoids most of the "government-speak" I suffer with on a daily basis (and, if I'm honest, occasionaly create). His conclusions and recommendations seem pretty reasonable and, what's more, practical -- that is, if they're actually implemented. Which, of course, remains to be seen.

While it's not precisely an "ideal" day, all in all, hanging with the good Judge is a small price to pay for a day spent with pjs, tea and pussycats!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

When is an apology not an apology?

This tidbit ran in our local rag a couple of days ago:

Denmark: Newspaper apologizes for Muhammad cartoon
The Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the prophet Muhammad linking Islam with terrorism has apologized for offending Muslims around the world. "We apologize for the fact that the cartoons undeniably have offended many Muslims," Carsten Juste, editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten, wrote late yesterday in a letter on the paper's website. But he said the newspaper wasn't sorry for running the cartoons. The apology came after Middle Eastern and North African countries demanded a boycott of Danish goods, protesters in the Muslim world burned Danish flags, and Islamist groups called for attacks on Scandinavia. The 12 cartoons published in September included one showing Muhammad wearing a bomb in place of a turban. Any visual depiction of Muhammad is considered blasphemy, according to the teachings of Islam.

It's been percolating around the edge of my consiousness since then -- not so much because of the subject matter (which is interesting enough in its own right), but because it encapsulates a growing trend: the apology that doesn't apologise for anything.

Clearly, the editor (and many of his colleagues, based on the fact the cartoons have been reprinted in several European countries) does not believe the newspaper has done anything wrong by publishing these cartoons. But he still felt obliged to offer an apology. So, the question is, what was he actually apologising for?

As far as I can tell, the editor's apology says nothing more than, "this paper is saddened by the fact that you (the Muslims offended by the cartoons) are upset." In other words, "I feel your pain." This apology, in sum, is simply an expression of sympathy (and a calculated and insincere one at that).

I don't know about you, but I see this type of apology all the time - both from public figures ("I'm sorry if my remarks offended anyone") to Joe and Jane Average ("I'm really sorry you feel that way").

So, my question is this: Is this kind of apology a cop-out? Is it just a sneaky way of denying responsibility for the consequences of one's actions? Or is it sufficient simply to acknowlege that someone is hurting because of something you have (or have not) done?

Ok, so that was more than one question. Still, what do you think?