You Don't Say
John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Wednesday, June 20, 2018
They graduated from high school in Elizaville, their twelve grades in the same school I entered, with eight grades in five classrooms. My mother was the Elizaville postmaster for a quarter-century. My father worked for many years as an engineer for the state highway department; I have driven on roads he helped to build.
And when I went to school at Michigan State University, they were a little apprehensive, fearing that they would be seen as "country" by the cosmopolitans of East Lansing. (That distant rumbling is the sound of thousands of Michiganders snorting.)
I bring this up because a little while back I got into one of those fruitless online political discussions with some people back home in Fleming County. One of them ultimately accused me of dismissing him as an ignorant hick. The interesting point is that I had not said that. I had chivvied him about being too credulous about right-wing memes of questionable accuracy, but I had not disparaged his origins.*
I know who I am and where I come from. I am the child of Raymond and Marian McIntyre, who were devoted and supportive parents, and good citizens. Also good Democrats: Roosevelt, Stevenson, Kennedy Democrats, progressive Bert Combs and Ned Breathitt Democrats.
My father's mother had a sister who was in the DAR, so I suppose if I did the research I could claim an ancestor who fought in the Revolution. My great-great-grandfather on my mother's side bought the land that became the family farm in 1862, so the family link to that land lasted a century and a half.
I am a child of Appalachia, and I had the benefit of growing up among good people. I had teachers like Frances Dorsey and Linda McKee, dedicated to the profession. (The people I was arguing with had some of the same teachers; they had the opportunity to learn how to think more independently.) I had as employers Lowell and Jean Denton of the Flemingsburg Gazette, where I began to learn journalism. They helped me become who I am.
I have never been ashamed of where I come from, have never attempted to conceal my Kentucky heritage, though I am aware of the stereotypes many people have about Kentuckians. (It's not just coastal elites; there are people in Ohio, who think that way, if you can credit it.)
It doesn't do any good to be ashamed of your people, and it doesn't do any good to shame others because of their people.
My Scotch-Irish ancestors chose to live in a scorned backwater like Appalachia because they weren't wanted back in Britain. Our founding colonists were mostly considered trash by the people back home.
The Germans who fled the draft and endless eighteenth-century European wars were not esteemed here; Benjamin Franklin worried that they would ruin Pennsylvania, in part because they didn't speak English. You know if you're Irish that your nineteenth-century ancestors who fled famine were openly despised in this country; a political party organized against them. And the same with the Italians, the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Eastern European Jews, the Chinese and Japanese in California, the latter of whom we interned in concentration camps during the Second World War for no reason other than blind prejudice.
And today people from Mexico and Central American are being called vermin by the descendants of people who were called vermin in their own time.
It doesn't do any good to be ashamed of your people, and it doesn't do any good to shame others because of their people.
* One of the parties to the conversation thought it a crushing retort to call me a "libtard," but I long ago took the measure of the type who is noisy in the schoolyard and mute in the classroom.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
The conference is at capacity, with seven hundred editors registered. Among them will be many old friends with whom to reunite and see the marks the years have left on us. And there will be people to encounter for the first time, which is always stimulating.
Some of you at the conference will be numbered among my readers, and I hope that you will take advantage of the chance to speak with me. Writing is isolating, and it is always good to put a face and a voice and a personality to a reader.
Herewith my annual advice to first-time participants: Don't hang back. The grandees of editing will be there, and they are approachable. Everyone at ACES will be happy that you are there, happy to get to know you. Go to the sessions; go to the bar. These are your people, the people who love what you do and understand who you are. Don't be shy.
And, of course this conference will allow me to see once more my grandson, Julian Early McIntyre. Another opportunity not to be missed.
Sunday, March 18, 2018
In my native state, Kentucky, there have been extensive protests over a bill in the legislature that would reduce benefits for retired teachers. The governor, Matt Bevin, expressed himself last week: "If they get what they wish for, they will not have a pension system for younger people who are still working. And that to me is remarkably selfish and shortsighted."
I stand with the teachers.
Coming from what one would discreetly call modest circumstances, I can see that a good deal of what I am today I owe to underpaid Kentucky teachers. I entered the first grade in a school that had eight grades in a building with five classrooms. One grade studied while the teacher taught the other, and then reversed. But my fourth-grade teacher, Frances Dorsey, opened up the wider world to me. In high school, Lynda McKee drew me out of my introversion with public speaking and drama, encouraging my writing in her senior English class.
It was the instruction and encouragement of underpaid public school teachers that enabled me to come out of Elizaville, Kentucky, and become a National Merit semi-finalist, go on to become an honors graduate of Michigan State, earn a master's degree from Syracuse, and eventually become as an editor part of the East Coast liberal media establishment.
Some of my classmates went on to become underpaid public school teachers themselves, and I stand with them.
We live in a time when legislatures focused on austerity are unwilling to fund public education, when we have a national secretary of education who appears neither to support nor understand public education.
But public education, adequately funded and properly structured, is the means to achieve our future. Neglecting it, making teachers bear the brunt of misguided austerity measures, will shortchange students, leaving them less ready, less prepared to take on adult responsibilities in the world developing around us. It's bad judgment and bad policy. It is, to apply the words properly, selfish and shortsighted.
Stand with the teachers.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Though I had done so numerous times this semester, I got an error message. The printer, which is networked did not recognize that I was supposed to be connected to it.
I though for a moment to call the technical support office, but then I noticed that the telephone in the office was not working. Perhaps a coincidence, or perhaps an additional symptom of some network disruption.
I might have sent an email to the technical support office, but that was not possible. The Communication Department is housed in the bowels of a campus building in what used to be a swimming pool. There is no cellphone reception in the offices, which leaves me unable to use the two-factor authentication to sign in to my campus email.
In more than twenty years at Loyola, I have noticed that nearly every technical advance makes it just that much more difficult to get anything done.
I walked to my editing class and wrote the information for my students with chalk, on a chalkboard.
Some technologies are enduringly useful.
Saturday, December 30, 2017
Friday, December 8, 2017
Though we took him to a vet for his first shots and were assured of his good health, he developed feline leukemia anyhow and was with us for only two years.
I don't want to be mawkish, but he was a cat with a big personality. A boulevardier, he sauntered along the streets of our neighborhood, paying calls at various houses. And he was affectionate. Every time he returned to grace us with his presence and I picked him up and slung him over my shoulder like a baby, he purred so loudly he could be heard in the next room.
My plan was that after I left the paragraph factory, Mr. Saunders would be the cat of my retirement. As I sat on the porch reading (don't tell Kathleen I was going to be sitting on the porch reading books instead of doing yard work), he would doze companionably on the chair across from me.
But he is gone into the realm of what would have been.
Miss Massie lives with us now, and she is an excellent cat, though perhaps not as enthusiastic for me as her predecessor. It is a good thing to have a cat in the window.
We suffer great griefs, major losses, and learn to bear up. But the little losses, too, leave a pang.
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
It has been a wet spring, delaying planting, and a farmer has been out in his fields from sunup to sundown, hastening to get his crops in.
One day his little boy comes down to the field and says, "Daddy, Daddy, Mama says the 'Piscopal preacher has come to call."
His father says, "Son, I can't leave the field. Go back to the house and tell your mama to make him a cup of coffee and send him on his way."
The next day, his little boy comes down to the field and says, "Daddy, Daddy, Mama says the Presbyterian preacher has come to call."
His father says, "Son, I just can't leave the spring plowing. Go back to the house and tell your mama to fry him a chicken and send him on his way."
The day after that, his little boy comes down to the field and says, "Daddy, Daddy, Mama says the Baptist preacher has come to call."
His father says, "Son, you run back to the house as fast as you can and you sit on your mama's lap till I get there. I'll be right behind you."
Note to readers: If you find this offensive, please feel free to adjust the order or substitute denominations of your choice. This is not a canonical joke.
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Lists of important or best or essential books are going to be so arbitrary, idiosyncratic, or boringly conventional that they are a waste of your time. I have a better idea for identifying important books: Tell me which ones you have read more than once.
I'll go first.
As winter approaches, I'm hoping for a snowed-in day, on which I can brew a pot of tea and settle down with Trollope's Barchester Towers, which I re-read with profound satisfaction every ten years or so. (Or perhaps I will pick up Eliot's Middlemarch, which I read forty years ago. I can't stand any of Eliot's other novels, but I loved every word of Middlemarch. And if it is more than one snow day in a row, I may pick up Boswell's Life of Johnson, one of the best books ever written.)
I have read Randall Jarrell's Pictures From an Institution three or four times since discovering as an undergraduate at Michigan State in Roger Meiners's class on the midcentury American poets. It's an academic novel, urbane and epigrammatic.
The other academic novel I've returned to repeatedly is Nabokov's Pnin. Lolita, Pale Fire, and Ada, splendid as they are, require some work from the reader, but Pnin is pure delight throughout.
All of Barbara Pym's novels, particularly Excellent Women. Very British, quiet and understated, like Jane Austen, and, also like Austen, merciless about her characters without being cruel.
I go back from time to time to John Cheever's collected short stories and Joan Didion's essays.
For the low tastes that every writer and editor should cultivate, since high school I periodically re-read my way through Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe murder mysteries. As I have said before on a number of occasions, at the end of a long day of working with professional journalists, nothing gives greater pleasure than a comfortable chair, a good light, a drink at your elbow, and a book in which disagreeable people meet violent death.
Thursday, August 17, 2017
I plan to be at Ryan's Daughter at Belvedere Square on Sunday, approximately 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., for a restorative pint or two (I believe they also serve non-alcoholic beverages) and would welcome conversation with any reader of the blog who should happen by.
Some days there's live Irish music.
Friday, July 14, 2017
As winter wore on, Kathleen found it increasingly bleak to come home to an empty house in the evenings while I was at work. So, though we had thought not to rush into finding another cat, she began researching.
And she found a notice of a rescue cat, a female ginger tabby who had been abandoned at a gas station in Winchester, Virginia, after the death of the woman in whose house she lived.
We applied to the rescue agency, we passed muster, we were granted an interview, and we met Massie.
The young woman who was fostering her named the cat Massanutten for the mountain near Winchestewr, "Massie" for short, and the name stuck. She was very shy with us at the interview, and we wondered whether we would be congenial if we adopted her.
No worries. She is very much a lap cat. She dozes in the afternoons on the cat tree by the window in what was once our son's room. She will scramble up and down the hall for the red dot of the laser pointer, which she understands that we operate. She has quite an odd quirk: When in one's lap, being stroked and purring, she will lash about with her tail and thwack the human repeatedly.
We are, for good or ill, cat people. We knew that no other cat could be to us what the late Mr. Saunders was, but Miss Massie has made a place for herself in our home and in our affections.