From the bus

I had to go into Toronto yesterday. On the way home I was fortunate enough to get the first seat on the right side of the vehicle, which gave me a chance to observe things that looking out a side window might have been missed.

I’ve previously railed against people who will stand at a bus stop for ten minutes and wait until they are on the bus to fumble around to find their electronic pass. I discovered yesterday these are the same people who will wait until they are at the exit to fumble around to find that pass so they can “tap off”. The system in the Greater Toronto Area works on zones, so on the intercity coaches it is necessary to tap on when you board, and tap off when you leave, otherwise, you’ll pay to the end of the line. Why people, why do you do this? You know you need the pass to both get on and get off, so why can’t you have it handy?

In the far east of Toronto, I noticed a sign I’ve never seen before on a lamp post, so naturally I had to read it. Doing so didn’t clear things up one bit. The sign read “monolith sidewalk begins”. It didn’t look any different from 100 other sidewalks I’ve seen both in Toronto and the area I live, so what the hell is a “monolith sidewalk”? It can’t be referring to some archeologic site for it was next to an empty field at an interchange from Highway 401. And there was no huge black rectangular monolith anywhere is sight either as described by Arthur C Clarke.

Finally, when did chrome bumpers on vehicles become a thing of the past? My trip covered about 20 miles during the early part of rush hour so I got to see many vehicles of various makes, models and years. Of the fifty or so vehicles I noted, exactly two – both of them Ram pickups – had chrome bumpers. The rest all had the current molded, coloured body panels. Is it for safety reasons, or aesthetics?

Okay, now that I’ve given you some questions to ponder, enjoy your weekend and remember to hug an artist, we need love (and answers) too.

Cat.

And who the hell are you??

I rarely check filtered messages on Messenger. Today I did and cleaned up about 18 months worth of attempted contacts. Most I just deleted but this one deserves a reply. I won’t reply to this person directly because I don’t want to encourage him, but I’ll do it here (damn, I should have kept his message so I could send him the link to this – oh well, I can always track him down through Facebook.)

Here’s his message from June 26. Keep in mind I’ve never communicated with this person and he is not anywhere among my friends.

Hi love
In a cold and sometimes cruel world, your sweet love lifts me up and gives me peace and happiness. You are the most precious gift that life gave me and I am so grateful I met you.

Odiugho Adaoro

First off, I don’t permit people I’ve never met to call me “love”. That implies a familiarity we don’t share. So unless you’re my grandmother or my significant other just don’t. As you can see from this, it just riles me.

Odi – you don’t mind if I call you “Odi” do you? – sending a stranger that kind of message is almost guaranteed to elicit a few comments, such as that in the title of this blog. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you saw my profile picture and fell in love. You should have gone beyond the photo. Had I received such a message from someone I care about, I’d love it, but from you, I find it creepy.

From what I could find out from the minimal contact information available through Messenger, I see he studied at some institute in Lagos. The fact he’s from or in Nigeria automatically sends up red flares. I know it’s a generalization, but so many online scams seem to originate in Nigeria (Nigerian prince anyone?) that I view any correspondence from there, unless in response to something I’ve sent, with suspicion.

One more thing Odi, such a message is not the best way to attempt to start an online friendship with someone. My first impression is that you’re infatuated with a photograph and to me it approaches stalking. So, in future, just don’t. This message assumes, falsely I might add, that I find, or will find, you just as fascinating as you apparently find me. No, I’m not flattered. The comment in the message “I am so grateful I met you” is also very off-putting for the only place we’ve met is in your mind.

Oh yes, also as I said above, I already have someone in my life.

Finally, as I said in the title “who the hell are you?”

Cat.

How can you not know this?

Yesterday I took part in a study at a Toronto hospital. Part of the intake procedure involved completing a questionnaire for the Ministry of Health.

There were eight questions in total, most of the multiple choice variety. For all questions one choice of answer was “prefer not to answer” and one was “do not know”. What incenses me with this answer relates to the nature of the questions. First question asks what language would you feel most comfortable using when speaking with a health-care provider. There were 34 choices ranging from Amharic to Vietnamese, plus “won’t answer” and “don’t know”. How the hell can you not know what language you are comfortable speaking?

Next: Were you born in Canada? “Yes”, “No”, “won’t answer” and “don’t know”. I have a problem with that as well. How can you not know where you were born – not the city necessarily, but what country are you from??

There were two questions dealing with income – how much do you earn in a year? with six income brackets to choose from along with “won’t answer” and “don’t know”. The second question was the number of people supported by that annual income. For this one, you had to fill in a number, not answer or say you don’t know. You don’t know how many people your money supports? C’mon now. At a minimum, the numerical answer is one – yourself.

There were also two questions dealing with gender identity and sexual preferences. Okay, I’ll give you these two. Depending upon the age of the respondent, they may not honestly know what gender they believe themselves to be. It may not be the one assigned at birth. As for sexual preference, same thing applies. The respondent may be uncertain.

The other six questions though, deal with concrete facts – the language you speak and where you were born for example, so how on earth can you answer those six with “do not know”?

Am I the only one who finds the choice of “do not know” frustrating when offered as an alternative answer to a question asking for definite facts? And no, “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer.

Cat.

For the writers among us

A few thoughts and observations on that demon that haunts us ink-stained wretches:

“… writers don’t like the actual writing bit.”

“Being literate as a writer is good craft, is knowing your job, is knowing how to use your tools properly and not to damage the tools as you use them.”

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Douglas Adams, (1952 – 2001)

The above three quotes are from Douglas Adams, best known as the author of the five books of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. (I know, but that’s how he described it.) And from personal experience I can say that first quote is spot on. As well, I have written many short stories that prove the third one as well.

As for the second, that would be for the reader to determine. I like to think I write well, and use, but not abuse, the English language properly. One piece of advice I was given is “write the way you speak.” In other words, if you don’t commonly use “ten dollar words” in your daily vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing, even if you can get them half-off. You’ll sound pretentious and will probably use them wrong. My writing always uses the vocabulary and speech patterns I use in everyday communication and people have told me that when they read my stuff, they can hear my voice reading it in their minds. I consider that a compliment. The only time I vary from that is if the character requires it.

There are several other “rules” of writing that make little sense to me at least, such as “write what you know”. That may be fine if you’re writing a technical piece, but doesn’t necessarily apply if you’re writing fiction. When it comes to my fiction, many of the stories start with me asking myself “what if …?” then answering the question. How bleak would the literary world be if authors only wrote what they know? We’d have been deprived of works like J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series as well as many books that are now considered classics.

“Write what you know.” I’m a blogger – sporadically recently because there are things going on that interfere with the writing as well as Douglas Adams’s first observation – and my blogs are usually about things or events that either interest me or incense me. And given the newly elected government in Ontario, I think there’s going to be a few things that incense me. In my more honest moments, I frequently describe my blogs as “rants, raves or reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.”

One thing I read somewhere (I think it was a writer I friended on MySpace years ago) was that in order to be a writer, you must write 600 words a day. What that writer didn’t add was that it must be six hundred words you want to keep. I don’t agree with that word count. You can only write so much and if only 10 words will come that are “keepers”, then that’s ten words you don’t have to worry about later.

Many people who don’t write and don’t understand writing will often joke about the process and sometimes point to the hoary opening “It was a dark and stormy night” as an example of writing. Actually, I used that twice in one story just to see if it was possible to use it without seeming trite. Here’s what I came up with:

It was a dark and stormy night – a real nasty one – the kind I’ve come to dread ever since that night. I was sitting quietly, enjoying my beer, when I noticed the guy staring at me. I ignored him as I do anyone who is rude enough to stare. Then I sensed him coming over.

After a bit of small talk, he stopped talking and just looked at me. I looked back. “What, you want to hear about the time traveller?”

“If you wouldn’t mind telling me,” he said, signalling for refills for both of us.

I thanked him, then said, “I don’t mind telling, if you don’t mind listening. All I ask is that you don’t interrupt too much, because I don’t really like talking about it.”

He agreed and, after a sip of the beer, I started.

“It was a dark and stormy night “ I stopped as I saw him glaring at me, then I said “I know, I know – any story that starts that way has to be pure bull, right? Hear me out, then you tell me.

In the introduction to this piece I wrote “I planted my tongue firmly in my cheek and here’s the result”. I know it’s hard to tell from this short intro, but what do you think? Did I pull it off? If you like, I’ll post the entire story later this week.

Okay, let’s try to get serious for a few minutes here. Writing is, by its nature, a solitary pursuit. When you’re working on a piece, be it fiction, a blog, essay or factual, most writers don’t want anyone around to derail their train of thought. I usually have classical music playing quietly while I work. In one short story, I destroyed an entire planet with “Ride of the Valkyries” in the background. Yes, some writers say that so-and-so is their muse, their inspiration, but that doesn’t mean that muse has to be present all the time. I’m fortunate in that respect as I live alone so there are minimal interruptions.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Very true. I can’t count the times I’ve started writing something with a plan in mind only to have the characters dictate what happens through their actions. I usually just leave it since on the occasions I’ve tried to bring the story back to my vision, it didn’t work as well.  And yes, it can happen that something you’ve written will send a story off in a new direction rather than following your roadmap. I think it works this way: You write something and your mind picks up on that and asks “what if I follow that line instead?” That is what I mean by the character dictating the ensuing actions.

It seems that many good writers are also voracious readers. Not to see what the “competition” is doing, but simply for the enjoyment of the written word. No, the excuse that it cuts into writing time won’t work. Without some kind of break or diversion, your mind goes stale and your work will suffer.

And, I think I’ve done it again – started off with one idea in mind, but ended up somewhere else. I could have probably spent much less time writing this if I’d simply said “write about what interests you; write it with passion and in cohesive sentences and the readers will come.” To finish off, a quote from Robert A Heinlein (1907 – 1988), the great science-fiction writer “You must write.”

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

How can you not know this?

My grocery store had a short survey link attached to the bottom of the cash register receipt. Since there was a chance to win a $1,000, I filled it out. I was doing fine until I came to this question:

On your most recent visit, did you have any problems that required assistance from Customer Service or other staff?

Yes
No
Don’t know

Seriously? Are you so out of touch with reality you don’t know whether or not you had a problem that required assistance from staff? It’s either “yes, I needed help locating a certain product” or “no, I found everything on my own”. This is one question that doesn’t need a “maybe” option. Or if you’re that unaware of what’s happening around you and to you, why are you out without a keeper? And, by the way, a keeper could have helped you.

I’ve seen similar questions on other surveys. Questions that should be a simple “yes” or “no” often have “don’t know” or “undecided” as options for something that either is, or isn’t. I can understand the need for a third option for some questions, such as those related to politics or world events, especially if the respondent doesn’t keep abreast of the news, but not for a question asking about a personal experience.

When your perception is based strictly upon what you observed or experienced, there is, or should be, no gray area. It should be black or white. Let’s pick a simple example: There is a certain vegetable you have tried and wouldn’t eat again. Are you going to answer “Do you like this vegetable?” when you know damn well you aren’t going to say “I don’t know.”

Is this third option on the above question a case of trying to avoid upsetting anyone or just a lack of thought on the part of the person who prepared the survey?

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love (and definite answers) too.

Oh, my answer was “No”.

Cat.

Could I have some logic with that?

I haven’t picked on commercials in a while, and there are two at the moment that bother me because they appear to treat the viewer as unable to think. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect these are being shown internationally. (I have a transportation background, so to me “international” refers to Canada/US, not overseas.)

First is a spot for the Chevrolet Malibu. The vehicle is in a showroom, surrounded by a group of people. They are asked to describe the car in one word. Among the replies is “fast”. Idiot! This is sitting in a showroom, so how the hell do you know it’s fast? It could be a real slug on the road? Case in point: back in the late seventies and early eighties, the Thunderbird had a reputation for being a car that could bring it. In the years I mention, it was powered by a 2.3 litre four. I had the same engine in my ‘81 Mercury Zephyr and even with the four speed transmission I had, there is no way I could characterize it as “fast”. So how the hell can you tell, just by looks, this Malibu is fast?

 

Next is an ad for ZZZquil. Man is lying in bed and a mechanic rolls his creeper out from under the bed and says something along the lines of (and I think I’m quoting accurately here) “your car’s in terrible shape. It needs parts I’ve never even heard of. And it’s going to cost a fortune.” Okay. Number 1, if you’ve never heard of these parts, how do you know the car needs them? As an addition to this, if you’ve never heard of them, I don’t think much of your abilities as a mechanic. And, number 2, if you have no idea what these parts are, how do you know it will be expensive to replace them?

In both these commercials, which I presume are meant to be serious, the one thing lacking is logic. In the case of the Malibu, unless that man has driven one, or been beaten by one at a stoplight drag race, how does he know how fast it is? In the Zzzquil ad, well, I asked the questions in the last paragraph.

Commercials such as these two, which talk down to viewers and potential customers, do not impress me, nor probably a lot of other people. Logic may be as rare as common sense, but some of us do possess it and don’t like being treated as if we aren’t intelligent enough to buy and use the products being hawked.

Cat.

 

Is that your high point?

I first wrote of this years ago, when I was using Blogspot, but it continues to irritate me, so here goes again.

Ontario is one of those jurisdictions that allow personalized license plates. Maximum of eight characters – letters and numbers only. Some show a lot of creativity, such as the Volvo I saw flying past me on the highway one day, well in excess of the posted limit (he must have been, because I was) with the personalized plate “NONE”.

Then there are the ones specific to the vehicle displaying them, like the white Volkswagen Rabbit with the plate “IM LATE”. Good, but if the next vehicle happens to be a minivan, the context is lost. Or “RED BMW”. As long as that person keeps buying red BMWs, fine.

But the ones that really irk me are those that celebrate a past event in the owner’s life. That is when I ask the question posed in the title. For example, I saw a vehicle one day with “SSGT RCR”, which to any former member of the Canadian armed forces can only mean the person was a Staff Sergeant in the Royal Canadian Regiment. For my non-military readers, the RCRs are a much decorated infantry regiment. As I said, with that plate, I have to ask whether the high point, the highest accomplishment of the owner, was being a non-commissioned officer in the army. What about all the years since? Has nothing else of import happened in your life since you left the service? I’m not denigrating anyone’s service to their country, I served myself, first in the Royal Canadian Engineers, then in the militia with the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. But, I’m not going to get a personalized plate that reads “CPL QOR” to celebrate that fact.

No, I have something else in mind were I to get a personal plate. When I drove a cab, one customer, also a friend, told me she had my phone number listed on her cell phone as “leggy bitch” (I wore a lot of miniskirts in the cab – helped greatly with tips), so in order to avoid the censors in the Ministry of Transportation, I’d ask for “LG BEECH”. At the time, my cell phone number spelled out “legs”, so that plate would have seemed appropriate. At the moment, I have what the ministry calls “tourism plates” because they have Ontario’s official flower, the trillium, on them.

If you want personalized plates, go for it! But I would ask you to consider not commemorating something from thirty years ago.

Cat.