Where Logic Meets Love

Am I The Only One Who Notices These Things?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

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Am I The Only One Who Notices These Things? | Faith Permeating Life
Having editor blood can be somewhat of a nuisance at times. For example, flinching at the abundance of badly punctuated signs in store windows or other advertisements (most recently, a truck with a Coke ad saying, "Lets drink two"), or groaning when yet another faculty member at work sends me an e-mail mixing up basic words like your/you're, their/there/they're, etc.

Worst of all is in books, typically consisting of finding a typo that made it through what should have been multiple rounds of editing. Because it's there -- it's so permanent -- forever wrong.

Less common is the problem I've come across in two different books in the past week, and that is character inconsistency. As an author, you're really responsible for keeping track of your characters. It's hard enough as a reader to keep all the names and relationships straight, but if the author doesn't keep track of their characters well enough, s/he can end up imbuing the same character with contradictory characteristics -- such as being both married and not married. At the very least, the copyeditor should have a style sheet that keeps track of character details and catches this sort of thing.

The first instance of this was in the book The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, which I borrowed from the community bookshelf at work. When the character Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is first introduced, he is described thus:

He was a comfortable man, and she wondered why he had never married. He was not handsome, but he had an easy reassuring face. He would have been the sort of husband that any woman would have liked to have about the house. . . . But he had remained single, and lived alone in a large house near the old airfield. [Emphasis mine]

Now, this is pretty clear: He has never married. He has remained single. This jumped out to me immediately as memorable, since it was Foreshadowing 101 that he was going to end up proposing to the main character. Therefore I was surprised to read later:

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni warmed to his theme.

"I have made hundreds of mistakes in my lifetime," he said, frowning at the recollection. "Hundreds and hundreds."

She looked at him. She had thought that everything had gone rather well in his life. He had served his apprenticeship as a mechanic, saved up his money, and then bought his own garage. He had built a house, married a wife (who had unfortunately died), and become the local chairman of the Botswana Democratic Party. [Emphasis again mine]

Hold up -- what? If you knew he had married, then why were you wondering earlier why he had never married? No new information had been revealed between these passages -- it was just given as background knowledge that the main character had. Did no one notice this glaring inconsistency?

That book was a relatively quick read, which I finished early in the week and then moved on to The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt. This book introduces so many characters is such a short span of time that even 200 pages in, I'm still struggling to keep them all straight. I try to create mental pictures of the characters and identify them with people I know so I remember who's who.

One particular character was close to my sister's age, so that's how I remembered her. On page 27, the narrator gives us some insight into this particular character, Dorothy, and tells us,

She was just eleven -- born in 1884, "the same year as the Fabian Society," Violent pointed out.

This scene happens a few days after the opening scene. When the book opens, it tells us that it's June 19th, 1895. So far, so good -- if Dorothy was born in early 1884, she would indeed be 11 years old. Then on page 36, we get the history of her parents and when all of their various children were born. And we read,

Dorothy was born in the late autumn of 1884.

Huh? But that makes her . . . 10 years old, unless you somehow consider June to be late autumn. (And no, they live in Europe).

Now a later scene, in January 1896. By this point, she is finally 11, right? And now she wants to go to school.

It turned out that Etta had an answer to propose. She herself did some teaching at Queen's College, in Harley Street, which gave classes to females of any age over twelve years. . .

Well, sorry, sweetheart, you're only 11. But apparently no one notices this.

Dorothy isn't the only character whose life timeline is screwed up. Eventually the narrator tells us about her mother, Olive, whose father was a miner. We read this:

There were five children, Edward, Olive, Petey, Violet and Dora, who had been an unexpected baby, and had died with her mother, of pneumonia, when Olive was twelve. Edward and Petey had both gone down the mine at the age of fourteen.

OK, Olive's mother dies when Olive is 12. Petey starts going down the mine when he is 14. Straightforward, yes?

Then we learn that Petey "was a year older than she [Olive] was," which is why he chooses to cling to Olive and tells her how freaked he is when he learns he has to start going to the mines. So he's 14 at this point, according to the above passage.

He had been tugging his string in the dark [his job in the mine] just under a year, when . . .

Basically he dies in the mine. So he's 15 or almost 15 when he dies, meaning Olive, a year younger, should be at least 13. Right? Which means her mother should be dead at this point, because her mother died when she was 12.

But no, Olive's pregnant mother is crying at her son's funeral.

Go ahead, argue that Petey was still 14, and Olive was not exactly a year younger but maybe 18 months younger, so she was still 12 at this point, almost 13. Well, six months later there's an earthquake and her mother's still alive. Then her mother gives birth. Then her mother starts to die and there's a long process of taking care of her. You really think Olive's still 12 at this point? No.

I think what's most annoying is how easily fixable these problems would have been with an attentive editor. Cut the line about that guy's wife dying. Change Dorothy's birthday to January 1884. Say that Olive was 14 when her mom died. Problems solved.

Am I just a freak who notices these things? Anyone have any examples from other books?

(Un)Happiness and Children

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

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Happiness | Faith Permeating Life
When I was in high school, I was really big on being positive and how your outlook on life dictates your happiness in life. I do believe that, still, but I especially think that it was important for me to have that attitude during high school, to get through it as relatively unscathed as I did. What I think is interesting, though, is that if high-school me had sat down with the me of, say, a year ago, I would have told me the same thing that every self-help program and book and whatever will tell you: You can't keep waiting for something to happen that will make you happier. If you keep thinking, "As soon as this happens, I'll be happy," you'll never be satisfied.

Because the me of a year ago, despite having grown up with this positive-thinking concept, was waiting. Waiting to graduate, move back home, get a job, and get married. And as much as I knew it was wrong, I couldn't help feeling that once I got there, I would be happy.

Here's what's so astounding to me: I am. I am happy. Now that I'm done with school, living as an independent adult, and married to the love of my life, I am so much more genuinely content that I've ever been. And part of me hates that, because I know that that's not true for 99% of people, that they can't just wait for happiness to arrive, and I know that my attitude did play a big role in my overall happiness for the past decade. But taking away the stress of school and the pressure of poisonous relationships (my interactions, outside of work, are now pretty much limited to the people I actively choose to connect with) has transformed my life, and I now have free time -- relaxing time, reading time, blogging time -- and the ability to love my husband as much as I want to without distance or other constraints getting in the way.

So what does it mean, then, to find at 24 the peace and joy that some people spend a lifetime pursuing? It means I'm sure I'll lose it.

I once read an article about a study that found that, universally, women are unhappier after they have children. It doesn't matter whether they have them young or old, or how many they have, or what circumstances they raise them in. Women's ratings of their own happiness go down after they have a child.

And it makes sense. After all, what did I just say made me so happy? Time for myself, a lack of things to stress over, an unrestrained relationship with my husband. What is the likelihood that will be the same after having kids?

The truth is, I do want a big family. Mike and I have more or less agreed on five kids. I don't want to get past 30 and still have it just be the two of us. But from the vantage point of 24 -- am I selfish or foolish to try to cling to happiness? Possibly. Do I think that children are the only possible drains on that happiness? Of course not. If I lost my job and Mike wasn't able to get one, my life would lose routine and I'd be worried about money. I know that. We want to move in a few years, and that could cause all kinds of complications. I just -- I'm so amazed at how happy I am right now, that my mind automatically projects into the future and what could potentially end the reign of such joy and peacefulness in my life.

So in a way, it's back to the drawing board. Will I be able to stay happy through a conscious choice, when circumstances in my life change? Probably, but about as much as I did in high school or college. I guess maybe that will have to be enough.

P.S. As if to punctuate my point, the toddler across the hall is throwing a tantrum.

On Being Sick

Saturday, April 3, 2010

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On Being Sick | Faith Permeating Life
Since high school, I've half-jokingly referred to myself as a "reverse hypochondriac." There's probably a word for that, but it seems to get at it so much more directly. Rather than being someone who invents illnesses where there are none, I refuse to believe that I'm sick without hard proof, regardless of how I'm feeling.

This can probably be traced back not-too-indirectly to my doctors growing up. We went to a pediatric office (complex? clinic?) where I often saw a different doctor every time. From what I can remember, they all seemed to have the same philosophy: If they couldn't immediately figure out what was wrong with me, it was clearly all in my head.

I realize this approach may be warranted with, say, an attention-seeking 5-year-old, but I went there until I was 18, and when you're in high school and your doctor's telling you "I don't know what's wrong, so there must not be a problem," it can be frustrating, to say the least. When I finally decided, junior year of college, to re-attempt an investigation into my cardiovascular problems, I was downright shocked to be taken so seriously and actually referred to specialists for further examination. I still have the feeling sometimes that I have to prove that something's wrong with me before I'll be taken seriously.

But mostly, I have to prove it to myself, and this is often the most difficult part. There have been more occasions than I care to admit where I've actually said, out loud, to myself, "Jessica, you are sick."

I finally devised a question I could ask myself, which was, "Do you feel the way you normally do on a daily basis?" And even if there was nothing concrete I could point to -- just feeling warm, or queasy, or having a "sick" feeling at the back of my throat when I breathed -- I would be able to answer the question, "No."

Still, I'm more comfortable when I have a doctor diagnosis, or at least something concrete I can tell people, like "I have a fever of ____." (Even this is tricky, because my normal body temperature is in the mid 97's, so a temperature of 99.5 is high for me but doesn't sound very high.) There's actually a weird kind of relief for me to have a stomach flu, because I can point to physical evidence of being sick. This is why I will often give people more information than they want to know, telling them, "I threw up three times last night," because I think they won't believe I'm sick otherwise.

This was especially the case in college, where -- despite all the friendly signs during flu season telling you to be safe rather than sorry and stay home if you felt sick -- professors often had a strict absence policy, dropping you points or whole letter grades after a certain number of absences. So if I was feeling off, but had nothing concrete and no diagnosis to point to, I would usually go to class, especially if it was the beginning of the semester and I didn't want to use up my absences too early. Staying home would have meant not only convincing myself that I was sick, but convincing myself that I was sick enough to warrant missing class, using up an absence and going through the hassle of getting notes, making up work, etc.

I tell you all this to explain several things -- why I showed up to work on Thursday and went home only after multiple people, including my boss, told me to, and why I told everyone, very specifically, that "the doctor said I have mono," even though technically that was not true. What was technically true was that the doctor said that all my symptoms fit with either mono or strep, that the treatment was the same for both (rest, fluids, and ibuprofen and warm compresses for the lymph node that was, as he put it, "not the size of a grape -- more like a golf ball!"), that I should get a strep test and then come back in a week if I wasn't feeling better for a mono test. It wasn't until I was back in the waiting room that an angry-looking receptionist (because I was interrupting her lunch) came out to tell me the strep test was negative, and then I left. What I read later said that a blood test detects things that only show up 5-14 days after the mono symptoms (which show up 50-60 after contracting it, for adults), which explained why he couldn't test for it yet.

I showed up to work for several reasons, but mostly because I only get 10 paid sick days a year as a paid employee (and while I can take unpaid ones after that, the employee handbook ominously warns that you can be terminated for "too many absences"). Including the day off to go to the doctor's, I'd already taken three, and it was only March. I guess I was afraid of being fired if I didn't come to work. What I realized afterward, after my boss told me several times that I should go home and finally said I was a grown-up and could make my own decisions, was that I was more likely to get fired for coming to work with mono and showing my utter stupidity, than for staying home.

The ridiculous parts of it are that I felt like I was lying the whole time, telling everyone I had mono, and I didn't feel like I had enough proof, even with the fever and the golf-ball-sized lymph node, to convince myself that I really was sick enough to stay home from work.

I'm glad I went in for a few hours, because I got a few things wrapped up and delegated my remaining duties for the time I would be gone. And you know what? I was planning on going back in on Monday, but I might as well take it off. And maybe Tuesday. I'm going to still be sick, I have a legitimate excuse in the eyes of basically everybody in my office (as hard as that may be for me to believe), and nobody's going to fire me if I run out of sick days.

That's what I have to keep telling myself, anyway. Damn reverse hypochondria.
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