An ode to Jane Austen

I really ought to put pen to paper and send some thoughtfully composed lines to friends. My handwriting, alas, has deteriorated significantly over the years. These days, I must concentrate to make my scrawl simply decipherable, let alone artistic, though mine never compared to the wondrous curves of one friend’s cursive or the modernist angles of another’s. The latter friend attended school in Switzerland when we were teenagers and I delighted in receiving her well-travelled letters, living vicariously through these chapters of her overseas escapades and eagerly awaiting the next instalment every few weeks. Her personality illuminated the lines on the delicate stationery, the tales coming to life as the blue ink cast a shadow through to the other side, now part of a cinematographic dream sequence in my memory.

Letter-writing has of course long been a literary and film device, with dramatic deliveries of news from afar, invitations to effervescent balls, or kiss-offs sealed dramatically with red wax, which, once broken, forever change the plot and fate of the characters. Imagine a Jane Austen novel without letters! It was the catalyst of understanding between Lizzie and Darcy, for pity’s sake! Or that heartfelt – though dreadfully late – letter of confession from Thomas Hardy’s Tess Durbeyfield to Angel Clare, which stays ominously hidden, quite literally kept under the rug, and becomes a clear harbinger of doom.

There is both a literal and figurative – and certainly tactile – difference in the nature of electronic communications that is dramatically less satisfying, even with stylized fonts. And indeed, a whole generation of young people has never experienced the exquisite pining wait for a piece of personal handwritten correspondence. Nor have they enjoyed the anticipation and elation of unfolding the stationery to reveal the physical beauty of the written word and the romance of the art that someone took the time to create just for them.

The idea of waiting for anything in this world of rapid-fire discourse is perhaps what is really at issue. We’ve become addicted to the immediate gratification of the latest buzz of electronic snippets. When I’m in a cell dead zone or my battery is out of juice, I sometimes feel the adrenaline shoot through me and the fear grow in the pit of my stomach that I must be missing something important, whether relevant to my existence or not.

Eventually I succumb and put the phone away, defeated. Next time this happens, I hope that I dig out pen and paper and write a letter about it. Perhaps I’ll even do so in a park under a tree. I know of a bench that has a metal plaque with the apt quote: “To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment.” Yes, those are indeed Jane Austen’s words. Who better to inspire a letter?


A penny for your thoughts

We’ve been phasing out pennies for quite a while now, the pretty ones and the dull ones, ‎emptying pockets, purses and piggy banks. Cashiers no longer sheepishly hand over three or four into the hands of sighing customers. Gone are the Have a penny? Give a penny. Need a penny? Take a penny. containers where we pooled our resources with strangers to avoid inconveniencing those in queue behind us.

It’s an efficiency, for certain, ridding ourselves of those cumbersome coins that cost too much to mint. Instead, we have an abundance of bright and shiny nickels to create a more satisfying plink into tips jars, their actual consequence disguised by volume in a deep sea of bulky silver.

Our rounding up and down for cash transactions is slowly but surely influencing other areas, too. Retailers are overhauling pricing strategies, because ending with an eight or a nine to evoke the sense of a bargain is passé in our penniless society. Things are mostly rounded up, of course, and not just for cash transactions. I pay exactly $2.00 for a certain kind of coffee in a certain size of cup, regardless of whether the transaction occurs by cash, credit, debit, gift card or e-card. It used to be nifty when that happened “by surprise” at the till – when the all-in price was an even dollar amount. Now it means I’m paying more. And I’m paying more‎ attention as well.‎

On another score, math homework about counting and currency has yet to catch up. Sketches of pennies still abound in exercise hand-outs representing the ones. “Sweetheart, that’s a penny. It equals one cent. Yes, they still exist but we don’t really use them anymore. This exercise must be from an old textbook.”‎

Oh, I know, it’s just a penny, right? I admit that I’ve regarded them with disdain, too. But I miss them just a little, for their metaphorical and poetic value, if nothing else. They used to buy someone’s innermost thoughts, rained down from heaven, and brought good luck when you happened upon them. These things were worth something in terms of sensibility, if not cents ability.‎

You can still rub two Canadian pennies together if you can find them, perhaps at the back corner of the kitchen utility drawer with the rubber bands and transparent tape. Their presence, though fading, is actually less tarnished in memory because of the sentimental yearning for a time when a handful of pennies actually bought something. If I find a penny on the sidewalk now, you bet your bottom dollar that I pick it up. ‎There’s still a bit of magic in the whimsy of a wish – the copper-hued, tactile promise of a better day.

A few words about poetry

The words of ancient poets danced and droned as they spun tales of delight and dread about gods and goddesses; fight, flight and plight. Legends were borne brilliantly through metaphors, dreamscapes and visions, illuminated by wit and wonder.

Language was precious then and remains precious now, but for different reasons. In this day of short attention spans and information overload, what place has poetry?

In our glut of words, we need to find a new efficiency; an essential epiphany. Those lines that stay with you – that provide the visceral, evocative, poignant and resonant meaning to create a lasting impression – are the essential epiphanies. This is how poetry can help us cut through the clutter in an art of language that creates understanding and connection.

Here, too, less is often more. It’s not about absence, but intensity; where themes and ideas are expressed through the eloquence of essential meaning. Here are a few reminders from 100, 200 and 450 years ago…






And one from me: Demarcation: A Riddle.


Six More Little Communication Pet Peeves

Fulsome. It is not a spiffy way of saying “thorough” as some believe (i.e. “We will conduct a fulsome review of this issue”). It actually means “flattering/excessive/lavish” (likely not the intention of any review). Sometimes people substitute “wholesome” for “fulsome” which adds something healthy to the discussion.

Irregardless. Use “regardless” and save yourself two characters.

Very unique. “Unique” requires no modifiers; if it’s truly so, it is.

Compliment/complement. If you talk about your “staffing compliment” you’re not talking about the number of your staff.

Gambit/gamut. One means “strategy” and the other means “range.” You can say “the full gamut of our gambit” but the reverse borders on nonsensical.

Tortuous/torturous. If using them to describe a process, keep in mind that one means “full of twists and turns” and the other denotes something a bit more painful.

Six Little Communication Pet Peeves

Decisions, decisions. If I had my druthers, everyone would make decisions rather than take them. While I reluctantly concede that either use is acceptable, every time I hear someone say they are “taking a decision” I want to ask: “Where are you taking it? Out for lunch?”

Impact. Impact is far better as a noun than a verb. “We experienced a significant impact because of this decision.” vs. “This decision impacts us in a significant way.” Also, please leave “impacted” for discussions about wisdom tooth extraction.

Embedded. Embedding should stay behind the scenes. When using this term, keep it to strategy discussions as an outcome of what you hope to accomplish (i.e. “Through this initiative, these concepts will become embedded in our policies.”).

Engagement. Like embedding, engagement should be an outcome and stay behind the scenes. It should inform strategy, but not be part of final communications. You shouldn’t have to tell people you’re engaging them; just engage them!

Passive vs. Active Voice. Passive voice, despite what you hear, still has its uses. Trying to morph everything into active voice sounds odd and contrived. Modern written communications should reflect a balance of the spoken language and reasonable grammar. (It is also okay, on occasion, to end a sentence with a preposition, particularly for informal conversational narratives.)

Acronyms. Introduce acronyms for projects or initiatives at the earliest opportunity in a text and then stick with the acronym the rest of the way. But OMG, please leave text-message acronyms for text messages.


An ode to the classics

There was a time when people kept up appearances. Things could get a bit stuffy, even. Then along came the great soul-baring revolution of social media, which pretty much obliterated the idea that some things, perhaps, should remain off limits.

Fashion is no stranger to this tell-all aesthetic with its almost competitive sport of hemlines, second-skin cuts and see-through. The once half-smile relish in a certain je ne sais quoi has become a wide-eyed stare of incredulity.

But with the decline of mystery comes the decline of elegance and the unique narratives told through subtlety and charisma. The signature look is going the same way as the cursive signature itself and what a pity.

This is not a plea for Victorian necklines, but for a renaissance of the classy and the smart – a wardrobe that evokes intrigue and allure through tailoring, hints and suggestions, such as ballet-neck styling instead of fashion reminiscent of other kinds of dance. Remember Audrey Hepburn? Grace Kelly? Right.

1. Mini-skirts always seem to be on the menu, but here’s the test: upon sitting, if the fabric of the skirt doesn’t cover your knickers, it is too short. Pencil skirts and A-line midis, on the other hand, are always chic, whether the hemline hits just above the knee or just below.

2. The sheer layer is meant to be worn over another layer, such as a tank or camisole. This trend comes and goes but common sense should not.

3. Tunic shirts are shirts, not dresses, and require some kind of leggings or trousers. Please don’t skip your trousers. Similarly, leggings are meant to be worn under something. 

4. Oh, those pesky lines! What you wear underneath should be your own business, regardless of posh brand.

5. What will it take to stop the madness of super-skinny jeans? Slim-fit jeans are one thing, but can we please bid adieu to those that leave seam indentations all the way up your legs and incite other unintentional and unflattering results?

6. Super-short cut-off jeans or shorts? Unseemly, even with tights underneath, and the cause of much personal injury to the hapless souls following up the stairs. A minimum three-inch inseam should be maintained at all times. (Preferably five.)

7. Zippers should serve a functional purpose and for most pieces, be hidden or downplayed (i.e. blend in with the fabric). The look-at-the-giant-zipper-running-down-my-back thing is distracting (not in a good way).

8. Neon should be for signs or for your aquarium, not your wardrobe.

9. There are high heels and there are running shoes; never the twain should meet in a bizarre hybrid.

10. Pyjamas in public? Is it such an ordeal to put on actual clothes?

There are so many phenomenal fashion designers in the world and beautiful, flattering, and yes, elegant pieces to be found at every price point. It takes a bit of effort, but so does getting to know someone. Imagination is so underrated.