Wednesday, November 25

Lost in the Mail

Bad news: one of my letters was lost in the mail. This is always discouraging when it happens, and it's one of the inherent risks of postal service.

I was using some address labels from Red Horseshoe, and they're very attractive but not entirely practical. They place the return address directly atop the destination address, and my concern was that an automated scanner might interpret the whole thing as one big address. When my recipient e-mailed me to ask whether I'd written her, I knew something was wrong because anything I send from the Central Loop Station usually shows up within 48 hours, in the contiguous U.S.

Sure enough, she e-mailed again to inform me that only the address label made it to her, accompanied by a boilerplate apology from her local post office. I knew the adhesive that came with these Red Horseshoe address labels was weak and ineffectual in all cases, so I attempted to bolster it with glue stick, which is usually pretty secure. But perhaps the paper I used was too smooth or not porous enough to give the glue some hold, and the label still flaked off the homemade envelope.

While e-mail has none of the romance or hands-on appeal of penning a letter and handcrafting an envelope for it to ride in, it is still exponentially more reliable than postal mail. And I'm not advocating a switch from postal mail, no, for I've had many successes and relatively few failures using this system. (The failures have been pretty dramatic, however.) It's just that I'm not a gambling man, and sending something via postal service is always a gamble, no matter how good the odds, and sometimes I lose.

Friday, November 20

The Big Leagues

Ugh, haven't written in here for a substantial period of time. I apologize for that--I haven't abandoned this place, but I've been relatively preoccupied with other projects.

See, at work I've been recruited to try out copywriting, on top of my copyediting and proofreading duties. This is very exciting for me: I've always had all sorts of creative suggestions for copy crossing my desk, so to actually start with a blank sheet should be more inspiring than asking someone else to tweak something they've written, right?

Yes and no. A first step into copywriting is definitely a desirable direction, but the project I was given was fairly involved and intense. It would be like handing Dostoevsky to a gifted fourth-grade reader, with a time limit. He could certainly parse the bulk of it but would he be able to polish it off in two weeks? There are definitely other copywriting jobs I could handle, but this one was a bit over my head.

And I went from three hours of free time at work to six hours of solid writing. It was great to have more hours to tack onto my time card, but was I producing quality copy, or copy of the quality they required? I began to feel insecure, as though I'd bitten off more than I could chew and that I stood to let some pretty important people down. The project has since been shifted to a more experienced copywriter... and my schedule has lightened considerably.

I wonder whether it would have made much of a difference to take a copywriting class during my college career. I think it could have been helpful, but there were definitely aspects to this project that were exceptional to most copywriting tasks. I'm trying to say that I don't think I'm a bad writer for not pulling this off, and a formal class may have helped but that this situation was exceptional.

So I'm still learning. Maybe I'll practice with other clients--being a contractor, I can work with anyone--or maybe I'll redirect my energy toward short stories and freelance editing jobs. I'm just trying to stay positive about the whole thing. It wasn't my fault, it could've happened to anybody...

Thursday, November 12

We Want the Right to Abuse Our Rights

This is an old picture, I don't remember which protest it's from.  There was some kind of political event, and some batch of random college kids turned out to make sure their voices were heard.

And their voices demanded free speeck.

More specifically, they demanded "free speeck," instilling a sense of irony with the use of open and closed quotation marks.  They wanted their speeck to be "free," that is, not free at all, and what they wanted free was their right to speeck, that is, not actually speeck at all.  Whatever that might be.

This quotation mark scramble comes up all the time.  ALL THE TIME.  As a copyeditor working with adults on every level, it is surprising and discouraging how rampant this misuse is.  In fact, it has been abused so widely, so frequently, throughout such a protracted period of time, I'm a little surprised that Merriam-Webster hasn't canonized it and declared it yet another valid convention of speech.

I tried to create a little mnemonic device to help people remember what effect quotation marks have: fresh fish.  Would you eat "fresh" fish, or even fresh "fish?"  It helps if I'm there in person to do the hated air-quotes.  This drives the point home, and hopefully it gives them something to remember next time they're writing anything out.  It's just an interesting semiotic breakdown, to me, that someone could look at quotes being used ironically but interpret them as emphatic.  Fresh "fish," to them, means it's fresh and it's doubleplus fish.  The freshness is regular and the fishness is superlative.  But gods preserve anyone to whom that sounds especially delicious.

As for the egregious misspelling of "free speech," I don't know how to address that.  It is far beyond my ken what may have been going through his head when he thought he would defend the nation's right to free speeck, but first he should have made sure he knew what the hell he was saying.

Or!  Maybe that's what he was protesting!  Maybe there was a parade of editors and proofreaders, and he was defending his right to abuse spelling and punctuation!  That thought only occurred to me just now, and it makes total sense.

Tuesday, November 10

Daabs-Attest, 1888

This was a funny little project that went nowhere. I'm tying it into stationery interests because it involves an antique, old handwriting, and very old newspaper.

My wife brought me out to yet another thrift store last year--she's a great fan of these places and I can't deny she's come away with some impressive scores at local outlets like Saver's, Salvation Army and Ragstock. They're just not my thing unless I'm trying to assemble a Hallowe'en costume, though I used to hit Ragstock quite frequently as my source for military surplus coats and bookbags. Anyway, this time we went to ARC Value Village and I was surprised to find three very nice sweaters, a satisfyingly terrible Conan the Barbarian comic, and this thing.

I'm not saying I'm mystically inclined or anything, but when I pulled this frame out of a sloppy array of other frames, I couldn't put it back. It looked like an important document some family lost--I couldn't imagine someone selling it to a thrift store, so perhaps it ended up here after an estate sale, like, all leftover and unclaimed property could have been distributed to a thrift outlet. Is that reasonable? Does that happen?

It was a certificate in a stout wooden frame, and I couldn't understand the language in which it was written. Something about it seemed very important to me so I picked it up for a couple bucks. Once home, I immediately began to disassemble it into its component parts (with my cat's help, pictured). I polished the glass, which was unevenly cut on a couple corners, with jagged teeth extending beyond the intended dimensions of the pane. It's like someone wasn't paying attention or didn't like their job.

It had seen a lot of action in its day, as evidenced by the damage sustained to the wooden frame at the corners. When the glass was out I spent a lot of time polishing it up and saw that some flaws were inherent to the manufacturing process, like interesting little striations of bubbles and warps in the glass here and there. Time had also marred it with little stains and scratches, those couldn't be helped. As for the frame, I took to it with wood soap and tried to replenish this parched fiber as much as I could. I have no idea whether I improved it at all but it did look a little nicer when I was done.

I bent the tiny nails in the back, removed the wood panel behind the pane, and extricated the document. Online research suggested to me it was written in Norwegian and was a birth certificate for someone. That's quite reasonable: my area is typified by its population of Norwegian Lutheran settlers (see also: the Coen brothers' Fargo). I figured, once the frame was reassembled, I might contact Mindekirke and see whether they had any interest in this thing, or else the Minnesota Historical Society. Out of reverence for the object, I hope they do and that this testament to someone's birth isn't kicked to the curb yet again.

Behind the birth certificate, however, between it and the wood backing were a couple sections of folded newspaper. This is the kind of find I dream about but only hear about happening to other people, usually when they're tearing a house down or stripping the upholstery off an old couch. Someone had packed a couple pages of the now-extinct Minnesota Times. Research shows me this started as the Daily Times in 1854, then soon converted into the Weekly Times. Now, the information I'm reading, the Minnesota Historical Bulletin, says that the Times merged with the St. Paul Press in 1861, but the issue I scanned here shows the death of Colonel Albert Lea which occurred in 1891, suggesting the Times was intact three decades after it was supposed to have been subsumed by the other paper. I don't know what to make of that.

...Oh, wait, this is the Minneapolis Times, which ran from 1889 to 1948. Never mind, that's completely reasonable. Anyway, I scanned in the birth certificate--too large to fit my scanner, I'll reassemble it in Photoshop--and all the newspaper stored in the frame. I think these are all marvelous documents and I wonder whether anyone besides me will think them useful at all.