What’s ‘that’ all about?

Adventures in editing. [Revisiting this and that]

One of the words we writers tend to overuse is the word ‘that’. If you don’t believe me, use your search/find option in your word processor’s editing tool and see how many times you find it in your work. Obviously, it is sometimes appropriate to use ‘that’ in your sentences, but other times it can be eliminated. Here’s an example:

“I think that this gives you a chance to start over,” Vince said. 

It’s not grammatically incorrect, but it isn’t necessary, either. Instead, say:

“I think this gives you a chance to start over,” Vince said.

Here’s another example:

He arranged to add his name to the multi-business sign that graced the front lawn at the office building, and bought paint to cover the walls of his new space.

In this instance, ‘that’ should be replaced with ‘which’ (…which graced the front lawn…) but it sounds even better when written like this:

He arranged to add his name to the multi-business sign gracing the front lawn at the office building, and bought paint to cover the walls of his new space.

When I did a search for ‘that’ in Three Empty Frames, I found 806 of them!!! I’m in the process of finding all those ‘thats’ and eliminating or replacing them.

Two Minds, One Brain

A writer’s life and pondering…

The brain has two hemispheres: a left and right brain. The connection between the two is the corpus callosum. It allows information to be shared from one side to the other. When this connection is lost, either through trauma or surgical intervention [it can be severed purposefully in the treatment of some types of epilepsy], the two hemispheres act independently of one another. This can produce some rather bizarre phenomena and raises some metaphysical questions.

The separated hemispheres will have separate perceptions, concepts and impulses to act. One side of the brain can countermand the actions of the other. For example, while trying to dress himself, one split brain patient buttoned his shirt with one hand while the other hand [controlled by the other hemisphere] immediately undid all the buttons. The same happened when trying to put on trousers.

Not only does this make getting out the door to your job extremely difficult, it raises this question: if the two hemispheres are expressing different wants and needs, are they then two separate minds? And in fact, are all of us two separate individuals dwelling in the same body? I don’t know the answer to that question and I’ll leave it up to the neuroscientists and philosophers to figure it out. Nonetheless, this phenomenon made me think of the terms we [as writers and artists] use to describe the creative inspiration: the muse, the voice, etc. Is it possible we are simply talking to the other ‘mind’?

Some writers go so far as to attribute their inspiration to the supernatural. The poet WB Yeats was convinced that there was a collective consciousness that could be accessed and the revelations could be passed on through the written word. His wife, George Hyde-Lee, claimed to have access to the spirit realm via a messenger from whom the secrets of the other side would be revealed. The method of delivery, termed ‘automatic writing’ produced some 4000 pages of text which the poet poured over in search of answers. Of course, much of this writing is open to interpretation and would probably make little or no sense to most of us. Yeats however, formulated theories about life, history, love… and it greatly influenced his own writing forever after.

Ok, so then my question is this: is it possible that this ‘automatic writing’ was Georgie girl simply accessing the other ‘mind’ in her brain? I guess that takes the magic out of the story if that is what happened. Still, it’s a really amazing concept to visualize another person existing within you, prompting your actions, influencing your decisions, inspiring your art. Is that what happens? I don’t have the answers and so far neither do the metaphysicians, but it sure is an interesting question to ponder.

The Irish Way

I’ve spent my life to this point in a very stressed out, tough, angry part of the country. [You know I love you, Philly, but it’s true.] This is not to say the Irish never get upset or angry, of course they do. But it’s usually at the government, corruption, inequity, persecutors of people and of course the rival football or rugby club. As long as I stay outraged at wrongdoing and don’t start cheering for County Mayo, I’ll fit right in.

The village I live in is small and as a result, everyone knows one another. Even a transplant like me. For instance, the other day in taking my daily walk, I traversed a part of Main Street and as I did, I encountered the postman. I intended to wave hello and keep going but he stopped me and said, “Hiya, hold on I’ve got your post for you.” Now, mind you, I was nowhere near my house and I’ve only met the man twice in the time we’ve lived here. Granted, “the American woman” probably stands out in the small crowd, but already I’m familiar. That’s a wonderful thing. My mail carrier in Bucks County never addressed me by name and frequently mis-delivered my mail even after 14 years.

Riding the bus to and from Galway is always a pleasurable education, too. All the neighbors catch up on the news of their families and the state of the world. “Hiya, Mary. How’re ye keeping? Ah, grand, that’s grand. God bless ye.” The trip home is like being on the school bus —the driver, who everybody also knows— stops at all the old ladies’ houses so they don’t have so far to walk. “This next house on the left, Gerry, if ye don’t mind. Thanks a million.” How cool is that? It was a miracle if any of my Bucks County neighbors waved hello as I walked by. I only knew their names because their mail was so frequently mis-delivered.

And the local radio station: Galway Bay FM has its own funny charm. It’s always playing on the bus so I get to hear it often enough. They have call-in contests and the DJ always finds some connection to the caller. “Hi, we’ve got Julie from Loughrea on the line. How’re ye, Julie? Now, where do ye live in Loughrea? Northside? Say, do ye know the McGettigans? They’re two houses down? Ah, they’re great pals of mine. Went to school with Jamie, don’t ye know…” Eventually they get to the call-in contest question. It takes forever, but it’s pretty hilarious.

The radio also gives a rundown of the local death notices, the subsequent viewing location and the funeral arrangements. And on the other side of surreal they also provide the television lineup for RTE One, including plot synopses and teaser/trailers for each program. All I can say about that is, it’s no wonder everyone goes to the pub. Now, since I’m five hours or more ahead of you folks back home, I’m off to have a pint!