Tag Archives: advice

Hyphens and Help

So, I was an editor, but I was not the editor. There were editors over me – way too many of them. The company I worked for published several magazines and each one had an editor. I worked on all the publications and for all the editors. Sometimes I felt like I was a bone, with a pack of dogs fighting over me.

Then there was the executive editor, nominally in charge of all the other editors and a really great boss. He was a pleasure to work for.

There were other employees that I had to please as well – art directors, production managers, the Big Boss, and any number of others. It was a balancing act, or more likely, a juggling act. But I thought I had mastered it.

One day, one of the publication editors decided to take a completely new approach to the hyphenation of adjectives. She was a little old lady, well known for sending in manuscripts hand-written on cash register receipts and soap wrappers. Still, she was the founding editor of that particular magazine and she knew the content, the authors, and the industry better than anyone alive.

But there was the hyphenation. It was idiosyncratic and defied all rules of grammar and punctuation that I knew. Nor was it the first time that this editor had gone off on a stylistic tangent. I had memories of the times she had insisted that her odd notions of punctuation and grammar be adhered to.

The first person I saw after the hyphenation edict came down was the production manager. I ranted. I explained exactly how weird her system of hyphenation was. I told him what was wrong with it and why the way we had been doing it was perfectly fine.

“Well, you’ve got to consider that she’s 100 years old,” he said. (She wasn’t quite, but close.) “She’s set in her ways. She’s used to being in charge.” With every word, he expressed how unreasonable it was for me to be upset and how I ought to give in to her notions of proper punctuation. “Let her have her way,” he advised.

I left his desk deeply unsatisfied. Then I went to the executive editor. I went through the same spiel – the magazine editor, the “novel” method of hyphenation, what a hassle it would be, and how ridiculous it would look.

“Tch, tch,” he said.  “Isn’t that awful?” He said it without a trace of irony or condescension. I truly felt that he had heard me and sympathized.

And that was all I really wanted. I didn’t need explanations of why the batty editor had come up with this idea. I didn’t need ways to cope with her insane notions. I didn’t need to learn how to acquiesce gracefully to her punctuation regime.

What I needed was someone to understand.

It’s like that sometimes. There are times when you need advice and there are times when you just need to vent. It is the wise boss – or friend or spouse – who can recognize which time is which.

J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, “Advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise,” and that’s the truth. Sometimes advice is unwanted; sometimes it’s unneeded; sometimes it’s intrusive.

I’ve noticed that men often have an immediate response that when something is complained about, it needs to be fixed, so they offer advice. (This is not always true. The executive boss who listened to my rant was male and he never proffered a single suggestion. But my husband, who has a “fix-it” complex, took time to learn this lesson.)

So did I, when it comes right down to it. I have friends who have lots of problems (and who doesn’t). Many times I tried to give advice to one of them or offer solutions to her problems, but they always met with stubborn explanations of why they couldn’t possibly work. Now I simply offer sympathy and a willing ear and I think we are both more content. She has a sounding board and I don’t sound like a know-it-all.

It’s a tough lesson to learn, especially for those of us raised on Ann Landers and Dear Abby. Sometimes advice is not what’s needed. Sometimes it’s just a little understanding.

 

 

Lies We Tell About Bullying

girl wearing black and white striped dress sitting on stair
Photo by Zun Zun on Pexels.com

Being bullied has taught me a lot over the years. Lessons learned in childhood run deep and last long. We learn to not be noticed. That we must try to fit in. That certain people and places and situations are hazardous. That being different is a sin.

But it is not only the things that children do to one another that cause harm. Some of the things that adults say to children about bullying hurt the most. These remarks may be intended to help the bullied child, but at times they do as much damage as the bullying itself.

Chief among the responses to bullying that adults come up with is “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This is a profound lie, as any bullied child knows. Oh, there are sticks and stones, even literal ones. As a third-grader I had rocks thrown at me and countless children have experienced physical bullying – pushing, tripping, hitting, and more.

But words are more than capable of hurting just as much. There are forms of bullying other than physical – emotional, social, racial, sexual. But these forms of bullying are much less visible than the physical kind. If the grown-ups responsible for the care and well-being of the child don’t see bruises or bloody noses, they may think no harm has occurred.

Socially or emotionally bullied children are often told “Don’t be so sensitive.” And it may be true that less sensitive children do not feel the effects of cruel words as drastically. But the underlying message is that there is something wrong with the bullied child – excessive sensitivity. And this is not something that children can change about themselves. It’s like telling a person not to be so tall.

Another piece of advice commonly given to bullied children is, “Just ignore them.” If becoming less sensitive is impossible, even more so is ignoring bullies. Bullies are in-your-face. It’s almost impossible to ignore insults and injuries, derisive chants or laughter. Humiliation is not something that can simply be shrugged off. Bullies rejoice in having an audience for their abuse. It’s beyond hard to ignore a room or playground of kids (or teens), all of whom have witnessed your victimization.

Similarly, bullied children are told, “Other people’s opinions don’t matter.” Again, this is a lie. Of course they do. The opinions of a child’s peers control whether other children feel safe being friends with a bully’s victim. Their opinions determine whether a child will be lonely or despised, or will develop self-esteem. Bullies affect the opinions of other children and make the circle of bullies and bystanders wider. Other people’s opinions make wide ripples.

Bullied children often hear, “Toughen up.” Again, this is an assignment given with no clue as to how it is to be accomplished. It may even be misinterpreted as tacit permission to become a bully too. After all, bullies are tough. And the saying, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” may come into play. Naturally, this only expands the number of bullies and can victimize other children. A bullied child who becomes a bully may experience not a sense of empowerment but a sense of guilt.

Another common reaction to bullying is to encourage or even to coach a child in fighting back physically. This has little chance of working if the bully is physically larger than the victim and takes a lot of practice if it is to work at all. In addition it teaches children that violence is an appropriate solution to a problem. If the bullying has been emotional or social rather than physical, the bullied child is also likely to get in trouble for striking back in a literal manner.

The problem is that the bullied child is not the problem. He or she does not need to change or be changed. The bully is the one who is demonstrating unacceptable behavior and needs to be stopped. Bystanders are bullying enablers and need to learn how to support and intervene instead.

There are no simple solutions to bullying, which will likely continue as long as children are children, though with awareness of the problem and concerted efforts on the part of adults, it may someday lessen and be less acceptable and less accepted.

But whatever the solution is, it is clearly not to tell the bullied child lies.

When You Have a Cold: Some Unsolicited Advice

Say you’ve got a cold or a light touch of the flu. Then keep far away from me. You feel awful and I don’t want to feel awful too. I know you don’t want visitors, but here I am. And at least I’ve brought a gift: a few suggestions for entertaining things you can do while you suffer in peace and quiet. Except for, you know, the coughing and sneezing and assorted other noises you’re making yourself. Relative peace and quiet, if you know what I mean.

Drink tea. It really doesn’t matter what kind, since you can’t smell it anyway. Earl Grey will smell just like jasmine. Peppermint and Irish Breakfast, the same. And if you want to, you can use it as the base of my father’s restorative tonic, which consists of tea, bourbon, and horehound candy (tea optional). Or boring old lemon and honey, if you insist, though my father would not approve.

Cuddle large, fuzzy cats. Even if you’re allergic to them. You’re already sneezing as much as humanly possible, so you have nothing to fear from dander. Bonus: A large, fluffy cat makes an excellent substitute for a heating pad or hot water bottle.

Read. Or pretend to. Actual reading may distract you from how miserable you are (unless you’re reading Les Miserables). Pretend-reading will encourage people to keep their voices low, plus it doesn’t matter if you fall asleep with the book elegantly displayed on your chest. (Make sure it has a classy dust jacket, even if the book inside is Fifty Shades of Grey. Which I don’t recommend, unless it’s for pretend-reading. It may lead to barfing, which may be in your future anyway.)

Eat chicken soup. Tell everyone that you need it for the fluids and the electrolytes. Egg drop soup is an especially good variety, since if you can’t convince someone in your household to make it and bring it to you, you can always convince the Chinese take-out down the street. Nibble saltines daintily, or the little fried things that look like Chinese tortilla strips.

Hit the Nyquil. And I don’t mean the non-drowsy kind. Sleep through as much of the cold as possible. Warning: Do not mix Nyquil with Southern Comfort or the bourbon-horehound mixture (see above). You’ll barf and you may be doing that already. Also, don’t mix Nyquil with cough syrup, which can cause unintended psychedelic effects and more barfing.

Squash tissues. Let them blossom all around you in a protective ring that no one will want to cross. If you try the ones with built-in lotion, don’t use them to wipe your glasses before actually trying to read (see above).

Call the doctor. Don’t go see the doctor. You’ve got a virus and there’s nothing she can give you for it. Just ask how long it is until you can get an appointment, then rest assured that your cold will be over before that. Unless you start making a sucky, moist kind of wheezing sound when you breathe. The advantage is it will keep people even farther away from you, but the downside is that you may have pneumonia, which is even less fun than a cold.

Use Vick’s Vapo-Rub. You won’t be able to detect the scent because your nose is busy with something else (snot), but other people sure will, encouraging them to keep a respectful distance. If you don’t have Vapo-Rub, try Ben-Gay. Bonus: Nice warm feeling on your chest. Note: If you use either Vapo-Rub or Ben-Gay, do not cuddle the large, fuzzy cats (see above). Unless you want to look like Bigfoot. Just sing “Soft Kitty” instead, or insist that someone else sing it to you.

Whine. Punctuate with coughs and sneezes. Again, the goal is to get people to leave you alone. If this isn’t working, move on to even more disgusting symptoms. Keep a bucket by your bed, just so people get the idea that you could use it at any moment.

P.S. I’ll give you one guess why I wrote this. If you don’t get it right, I’ll start whining. And coughing. And sneezing. And barfing. Just bring me some egg drop soup and leave quietly.

You wouldn’t want to catch what I’ve got.