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The Balancing Act® E-Newsletter: July 2004

Balancing Act® is in four sections this month:

  1. Techniques for balance
  2. The Human Condition: Goonsmanship
  3. Musings
  4. The Language Doctor is IN

  1. Techniques for balance

    • Read two books at once, one being something popular and easy, and the other being difficult but something you feel you should experience. Alternating makes it far easier.
    • When you install anything new on your computer, do not throw the installer itself away. Keep a file labeled "installers," and put them in there. Inevitably, some day you'll have to perform a "reinstall" and you'll have what you need without having to search, download, or buy something.
    • "Multi-tasking" is simply a rather pejorative, technical term to describe a highly useful endeavor. There is nothing wrong and everything right about watching your kids play and also jotting down some ideas for your next article or vacation plans.
    • If you like the restaurant, ask for the manager and make your happiness known. You'll be offered the manager's card, which will work like a charm should you need a future reservation when none are otherwise to be had.
    • Factor in maintenance whenever you contemplate a major change. You can't afford the house if you're intimidated by the utility bills or yard work; you can't afford the vacation if you're restricted to junk food every day; you can't afford the relationship if you don't have the energy or interest to sustain it regularly.
    • My response to anyone who calls me on the phone asking for donations: "I'm sorry, but I don't respond to telephone solicitations because I never know who I'm speaking with. If you want to mail me something on your letterhead, I'll be happy to look at it. Goodbye."
    • Once a year, read through your car's owner's manual and discover what you're doing wrong, what maintenance you're missing, and, most importantly, what conveniences you're ignoring.
    • If you're suddenly called upon to present something and you're nervous or unprepared, just follow this formula: WHAT it is you will explain; WHY it is important to know about it; HOW will the listener use it; and an EXAMPLE of how it works (or how others have used it). If school teachers used this simple approach, every student would learn faster.
    • If you're getting "edgy" during a meeting or conversation and you're afraid it's getting late, try to look at the other person's watch, which is less embarrassing (or potentially insulting) than looking at your own.
    • If you want to appear to be a brilliant conversationalist, instead of saying, "How are you?" when you see an acquaintance, ask, "How is that new car you bought?" or "How's your daughter doing in soccer?" Of course, this presumes you're willing to listen to the answer!

  2. The Human Condition: Goonsmanship

    Let me define goonsmanship at the outset: A goon is someone who, driving in a long line of cars at slow speed, sees you trying to turn across traffic, and refuses to stop to allow you to do so. That is goonsmanship. (In advanced goonsmanship, the other driver actually tailgates the car in front, to absolutely ensure you can't make your turn.)

    Have you ever sat on an airplane and had a seatmate ask to read one of your papers or magazines before you're read it yourself? That's a papergoon. (The rarer but more infuriating paperweaselgoon is the person who reads your paper and crinkles it beyond comprehension before returning it to you.)

    Many people refer to goon-like activities as "one-upsman-ship," but I feel that's deceiving and undeserved, since it vaguely implies a competition in which you've willingly participated. The essence of goonsmanship is that the activities are solely designed to make someone else's life miserable. The elevatorgoon does not hold the door, even when seeing you approaching (and the hated elevatorweaselgoon ignores your shouted request to hold the door).

    Cellgoons talk on their phones oblivious to surroundings, stopping dead in the sidewalk or driving at 17 miles per hour in the left lane. Moviegoons insist on dissecting the plot�invariably incorrectly�during the film and in stentorian tones, so that the back rows can be privy to their lack of insight. (One of my nominations to the moviegoon hall of fame was the guy who, as "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf?" reached its climactic ending, rumbled, "So, why haven't we seen the son yet?!")

    Meetinggoons wait to ask their sole (multi-part) question at precisely the time that the facilitator says, "Well, we've run 20 minutes over our time allotment. Are there any last questions that can't wait before we adjourn?" Bossgoons make unreasonable demands at 4:55 pm, late on Fridays, and just before your vacation is to begin. Employeegoons will tell you at the deadline for their assignment that it's your fault they have nothing ready, since they've determined just today that the request you made (and they acceded to) three months ago is, actually, quite unreasonable.

    Goons monopolize the flight attendant or restaurant server to the point that others' needs can't be met. Poolgoons run down at 6:30 in the morning to stake out the best chair locations at the resort, then go back to sleep, have breakfast, and show up to use the chairs around noon. Typogoons will write you to warn of the end of civilized society because they found, in your best-selling book (gasp!!), four typos. (I've had two of these goons write to me lately whom I've had to, ah, re-educate. Aggressively.)

    The goons are among us, and there's not much to be done about it, except taking pains not to fall prey and become a goon yourself, being transformed not unlike the work of the giant peapods in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Be strong, be vigilant, and don't let them get you down.

    Because sooner or later, one of us non-goons will come along in that line of traffic and pause to let you make your turn.

  3. Musings

    Why are we so frequently rushing around to save five minutes that we don't know what to do with later?

    I understand, perhaps better than most, that some events require haste: meeting deadlines when people are depending on you; defenestrating the window of opportunity; escaping from a fire; winning an athletic event. But seizing the day? What does carpe diem mean, anyway, for one seriously considering performing the seizing?

    Seizing the day may well mean lingering over a crimson sunset until it's extinguished by the waiting sea. It could mean investing time to watch the birds establish some hierarchy on the feeder. And it may mean throwing some snowballs at a tree until you can hit it successfully three times running.

    Time, which I believe comedian George Carlin observed was simply God's way of making sure everything didn't happen at once, is to be relished, not "used," thoughtfully chewed not rudely swallowed. A person who is constantly busy isn't utilizing time better than someone else who is daydreaming or playing a game, but is simply constantly busy. The last time I checked, there were no rewards for constant busyness, endless tasks, or unceasing activity. Time does seem to fly by at that rate of involvement, of course, but is that really a desired end?

    We have an abundance of wildlife on our property from eagles to wild turkeys, from turtles to snakes. I've watched a heron stand for hours in the same place, occasionally plucking a fish with immaculate precision, but mostly just standing and contemplating some unknown avian philosophy. The turtles sit on logs for most of the day, and while they are regenerating their heat supplies and boosting their metabolism, they seem quite introspective. (Since we all talk about the "reptile" core of the brain, what does it mean when you're already a reptile? Perhaps optimal usage?)

    Dogs, most authorities contend, are probably at their happiest when sitting and doing absolutely nothing. I've often sat observing the Wonder Shepherd, Koufax, in turn observing the squirrels. He has subsequently adjusted his hunting behavior and, I'm troubled to report, is now sometimes successful in his hunt, anticipating what his actions will create. This improved efficacy (canine, not squirrel judgment here) resulted not from incessant repeats of identical hunts, but from what seems like thoughtful observation.

    The great poems weren't created quickly, nor the fine novels written rapidly. Advancements in medicine, science, building, art, sports, and the gamut of human activity have more often evolved slowly and methodically than chaotically and frenziedly.

    By all means, we should grab opportunity, rush to prevent harm, and dash to catch the train. And, sure, who can carp with carpe diem? Just do it slowly, so that you savor the landscape of life.

  4. The Language Doctor is IN

    • Verbiage: This, courtesy of reader Barbara Escher, primarily means "excessive use of words"; superfluity. However, it does have a secondary meaning of "definition or type," as in "military verbiage."
    • In both "February" and "library," that first "r" is pronounced, though you'd never know it listening to newsreaders on TV.
    • Did you know that "amateur" can be pronounced either "amachure" or "amater"?
    • Adjectives can modify more than nouns and pronouns. They can modify other adjectives, as in "blue suede shoes."
    • The latest abomination I'm hearing too frequently: "We're delivering a training for our client." I don't think so. You're probably delivering a training program or training them to improve customer service, but "a training"? Stop the madness!

    (Give me five noun and three verb definitions of "train." Answers below.)