Monthly Archives: February 2014

Editing on a tropical vacation – be careful what you wish for

Near death by coconut, copulating iguanas,
and other impediments to a productive work day

By Arlene Prunkl, freelance editor

* NB: This article is not meant to make you envious or depressed. If you think you might not be able to handle talk of tropical beaches, sunshine, and warm climates, please don’t read on. This is about the reality of working under such conditions, and how it’s somewhat removed from the blissful existence one might imagine.

editing in a tropical location

Playa Carrizalillo, Puerto Escondido, Mexico.

For a dozen years, one of my biggest career dreams has been to edit book manuscripts on a beach beneath sunny, tropical skies, palm trees, and palapas, maybe swinging in a hammock. Well, this winter I’ve had the opportunity to do just that.

In mid-January, my husband and I left Canada’s harsh winter climate for a six-week tropical getaway to southern Mexico. He’s retired and the snowbird lifestyle appeals to him, and my work is not location dependent, so our plans seemed ideal for me to combine some adventures in Mexico while still working part-time. After all, last year we spent two months in Palm Springs and Phoenix, Arizona, and I had no trouble with keeping up with my work deadlines. So I held to my dream that as soon as I found that perfect beach and palapa, I’d be in editing bliss. I already have a perfect job; what more could I want but the perfect environment in which to do it? And for me, perfect means tropical beaches.

But temperate, moderately warm climates like Palm Springs are one thing. It’s relatively easy to stay focused on work while enjoying a few hours of hiking or lunching in town. However, a tropical vacation has turned out to be a little different from what my imagination had amply provided for so many years. There’s a lesson here: if you’re stuck in an office or suffering from the cold of Canadian or US or UK winters and are dreaming of working in a tropical locale, be careful what you wish for. When your dream comes true, it may not be everything you imagined it would be. Just as with many things, the reality rarely lives up to the fantasy.

Our trip began with a one-month condo rental in the rustic, authentically Mexican beach town of Puerto Escondido, on the southern coastline of Mexico. For the remaining two weeks, we’ve been in a lovely B&B and then a charming old-world-style hotel in nearby Huatulco, a more upscale, developed resort town with all-inclusive hotels and a cruise ship terminal.

Playa Principal, Puerto Escondido

Playa Principal, Puerto Escondido

Impediments to productive work
After spending a day or two getting our bearings in Puerto (as the locals call it), I tried to settle into a part-time editing routine: morning walk, editing for a few hours, afternoons off for pool and beach, dinner, and then a few more hours of work later in the evening. But it didn’t take long for that schedule to begin crumbling. Here are some of the reasons.

1. Internet problems
Many Mexican towns have relatively low bandwidth compared to what we’re used to in Canada. As well, cement and cinderblock walls are the main methods of construction in Mexico. These provide a cheap, effective way to build a home and keep it cool, since many homes often lack air conditioning and only use fans. (Wood construction rapidly deteriorates in the salt air and humidity.) But these thick walls are often the biggest impediment to attaining stable, reliable wireless Internet. Wireless signals can’t effectively penetrate the thick concrete walls.

At first I thought that poor Internet connection was only in Puerto Escondido, which has fewer conveniences than touristy Huatulco. But even in Huatulco, the connection is slow or disappears for long minutes at a time and the signal is annoyingly intermittent, forcing one to move outdoors, into a shady spot. Finally I can begin working, but unless there’s a power outlet or a very long extension cord handy, I have only about an hour and a half until my battery runs out. To make things more difficult, even in the shade my image reflects back at me in the computer screen, interfering with the text and making me squint. Which brings me to . . .

One happy editor

One happy editor.
A smaller computer would make her even happier.

2. Computer problems
I knew bringing a seven-pound laptop would be a nuisance, but without buying something new, I didn’t have much of a choice. Sure enough, the monster has turned out to be too cumbersome. When I posted this photo on Facebook, I was teased about the size of my laptop. I’ll be downsizing to a tablet for the next trip, providing fewer laughs but greater productivity.

Two other problems have been screen visibility, as noted above, and dust and sand in the keyboard. When editing outdoors, even in the shade, a matte screen is essential. At home I have one, but on this trip we brought the older computer with a glossy screen. On my next trip, my new tablet will have an anti-glare cover for the screen and perhaps a dust cover for the keyboard. And a good six hours of battery life, not one and a half.

3. The heat
The heat in southern Mexico is much more debilitating than I’d imagined. I’ve always hated cold and loved warmer climates, but as I get older I have increasing trouble functioning well in anything much above about 32° Celsius (89.6° F.). While here in Puerto and Huatulco the temperature is consistently around 30°, the humidity makes it feel eight or ten degrees hotter. We’re talking almost 100° F. And you can imagine that’s not comfortable to work in unless you’re sitting in a breeze, beneath a fan, or in an air-conditioned room (I usually manage to find one of the three). This constant humidity/high temperature combination is a real drag on energy, and it’s not something I’d counted on.

Sunset over Tangalunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico.

Sunset over Tangalunda Bay, Huatulco, Mexico.

4. Distractions
Besides the usual holiday distractions—shopping, exploring, dining, tours, and excursions—there were a few I hadn’t anticipated that interfered with my work productivity.

  • The aforementioned spectacular views and beaches. They’re everywhere, unavoidable and alluring, and once they draw you in, it’s hard to disengage yourself. In addition, sunset watching is a regular activity down here, which zaps another half hour or more from your day, especially if you join all the other sunset watchers for a margarita at Puerto’s Sunset Bar. Everyone is looking for the elusive green blip.
  • Facebook. I spend at least an hour or more on Facebook every day at home—time I can afford, chatting mostly with other editors. However, here, I can’t afford that luxury if I’m going to complete all my work. But even though I’m limiting my Facebook time, I have a hard time detaching myself from it entirely, especially when I’m posting vacation photos every few days. Invariably I find myself on there for longer than I budgeted.
  • Socializing. Going out to the pool patio isn’t usually a solitary endeavour. Other vacationers are out here, mostly Canadians, many retired. Nobody else is thinking of work and everybody wants to socialize. It’s all too easy to get caught up in a conversation with some interesting person.
  • Snorkelling. I’ve never snorkelled in a place with such a variety of exotic, brilliantly coloured fish. I love them! I simply must go snorkelling a few days a week, something I didn’t factor in when budgeting work time.

    Two very happy iguanas.

    Two very happy iguanas.

  • Iguanas. During our month in Puerto, three or four iguanas reigned over the pool and the landscaped grounds. Besides scurrying around the pool, languishing in the sun, and scuttling up and down palm trees, each afternoon for the entire month they’d appear like clockwork and begin, er, copulating. Day after day, I couldn’t stop my fascination with the iguanas in general and this activity in particular. Who can concentrate with a sex show going on in front of them? (At the Huatulco B&B, no such entertainment was available as the resident dog, Ace, likes to kill them for fun. We did see one, though, warily looking out for Ace, the serial iguana murderer.)

5. Hazards

  • Do not edit under palm trees. The other day, a huge coconut fell out of a palm tree from a great distance, landing just three feet in front of me as I strolled along a sidewalk. Yikes! A seriously close brush with disaster. I came home and did some research and learned that death by coconut is a real hazard in the tropics. People are warned never to sit or fall asleep under a palm tree. So much for editing there.
  • Iguanas fall out of palm trees regularly too. They scuttle up to the top then lose their grip and plummet; my husband witnessed this twice. Injury by iguana is real. In past years during freakishly frozen winters in Florida, iguanas froze in palm treetops, then fell out, causing car accidents and regaining life when they thawed. But I’m not likely to be in Florida during a freezing winter, so I guess I’m safe on that count.
  • Other things fall out of trees too, like unripe almond fruits. One dropped on my husband’s head. All in all, for health and safety reasons, sitting under shady trees is best avoided.
  • At the beach, wasps alight on the straw of your margarita. They find the nectar so sweet that they proceed to crawl down the straw, getting stuck therein. Unaware, you blissfully take a sip of your drink, and . . .  This almost happened to me. Needless to say, if a hard-working editor were to swallow a wasp, her work for the next few hours would surely be impeded.
  • The aforementioned heat. This can seriously get you down, even make you feel ill. It takes some getting used to. Clearly I must spend more time down here acclimatizing myself so I can become more productive at work.
  • And don’t forget scorpions. The other morning, one of these little friends turned up in our kitchen sink, and my reaction is best left to your imagination. Not the best way to begin the work day, suffice to say. If nothing else, it was a reminder to always wear footwear in the tropics.
Coconuts

Hazards of tropical editing.

6. Self-discipline
This is perhaps the least expected and the most difficult thing to deal with. I am a disciplined editor. I began the trip obsessed in my usual way with checking my e-mail and getting in a few productive hours of work a day, despite the lure of splendid beaches, views, luxurious pool, iguanas, etc.

But gradually I found it increasingly difficult to apply myself to work, even though I’d set time aside for it. Routine is important for work, and it’s hard to establish one in just a few weeks. Just as I was finding a rhythm in Puerto, it was time to move to the B&B in Huatulco, where our one-week stay was too short to begin a new routine. Ditto with a hotel in Huatulco’s marina for five days.

I knew I would need a lot of self-discipline with my near-addiction to Facebook. While I managed to maintain my distance fairly well, I still can’t seem to go even a day without lurking for at least a little while.

On the whole, trying to fit in beach time, pool time, exploration time, shopping, dining, socializing, and Facebook with three or four hours of work daily is very difficult. Not to mention that heat, which only increases lethargy and lack of concentration.

Fortunately, my innate self-discipline helped me to complete the work I had planned for the duration of our trip and even some extra small projects that came in. But next trip, I’ll need to summon even more. A new tablet computer and a new efficiency plan should help.

7. Leaving
The thought of leaving is depression-inducing. In a few days, I’ll return home to snow and minus 10° C. (14° F.) daytime temperatures. In a way, this may be harder to take than never having been away at all. I may fall into a serious funk. The only thing that will keep me going is the thought of summer—and coming back to Puerto and Huatulco next year. I love it that much. And a couple of great editing projects that will make life in my frozen Okanagan city much more palatable.

Bacocho Beach, Puerto Escondido, Mexico

Bacocho Beach, Puerto Escondido, Mexico.

Final thoughts
Of course, these are hardly the worst problems an editor, writer, or anyone else could have while trying to work on vacation. But I’ve learned that my fantasy of a professional life editing beneath a palapa on a tropical beach just isn’t realistic, and I’ll plan my future trips to the tropics accordingly, with even more disciplined time in a cool room or under a covered patio with iguanas and palm trees a safe distance away.

If it sounds as if I’m complaining, I’m certainly not. As they say, the worst day in paradise is better than a good day anywhere else. And sometimes the things we wish for do come true in unexpected ways. I can now envision buying  a small home in the tropics at some point in the future, and then every day would be more “normal” and I’d fall into a regular rhythm of work. Now that would be paradise.

And now, if only those fascinating, fornicating iguanas would take a break so I could tear myself away and get that margarita refill (virgin, of course—I’m working!) that’s awaiting me poolside. That will help my concentration. Except there’s that alluring view of the spectacularly beautiful Pacific, where hundreds of exotic fish await me on my next snorkel outing . . .

sunset at Carrizalillo Beach

Sunset at Carrizalillo Beach.

♠ ♠ ♠

book and manuscript editing

Arlene Prunkl is a
and the owner of PenUltimate Editorial Services
You can find her on , , , and Facebook
February 27, 2014

 

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#$%&*!$ those bloody expletives!

Expletives in English grammar explainedBy Arlene Prunkl, freelance editor

Does an editor exist who doesn’t have a few pet peeves about the English language? I sometimes loftily like to think mine are better described as a passion for educating writers on how to improve their craft. But truthfully, they’re also eccentricities (and often mistakes) of the English language that annoy mesometimes more, sometimes less. In this article I’ll focus on just one of mine: a certain type of expletive.

Most people, if they think about expletives at all, probably think these are curse words. That’s correct, but incomplete, and I’m guessing some readers will know that the definition of an expletive is much broader, but may not know exactly why.

The word expletive derives from the Latin “to fill out.” In fact, an expletive is any syllable, word, or word phrase that is either unnecessary to the correct syntactic structure of a sentence but can help to “fill it out,” or it has little value except to perform a syntactic function in a sentence. Four kinds of expletives can be defined:

  1. Interjections: curse words or profanity
  2. Expletive attributives (profanity): adjectives and adverbs
  3. Syntactic expletives (profanity) as verbs and nouns
  4. Syntactic expletives as subjects

1.  The first is self-explanatory and obvious; curse words are filler words. Most of us know an interjection can be eliminated from a group of words while keeping the syntactic structure intact. For example, the word damn can be removed from this sentence without any change to the syntactic structure:

  • Damn, this banana pie is delicious.
  • This banana pie is delicious.

2. Expletive attributives are equally self-explanatory. They can also be eliminated without spoiling the syntactic structure of the sentence, but they perform the function of adjectival or adverbial intensifiers, like the word bloody in the title of this article. These words can easily be replaced with other, less offensive adjectives, depending on the style, subject matter, and audience:

  • This banana pie is damned delicious.
  • This banana pie is quite delicious.

3. Profane expletives acting as verbs or nouns are necessary for the syntactic structure of the sentence, although they can also be easily replaced with other, less offensive words if necessary. The use of “#$%&*!$” in my title is a typical example of an expletive as a verb, where I could easily substitute the verbs curse or banish, or even damn:

  • Curse those bloody expletives!
  • Banish those bloody expletives!
  • Damn those bloody expletives!

Profane expletives acting as nouns don’t need much explanation. To avoid getting too graphic in this post, I’ll let your imagination replace the #$%&*$!:

  • This camera is a stupid piece of  #$%&*$!
  • You crazy #$%&*$!
  • I don’t give a #$%&*$.

4. But the fourth kind, expletives as subjects, are the ones I want to focus on herethe ones that make me a little peevish. These fall under the general category of wordiness, one of the biggest problems I encounter in stylistic and copy editing. I’m always cutting unnecessary words, recasting sentences in such a way as to use the fewest words to obtain the greatest impact. Sometimes this is called vigorous or robust writing (as opposed to flabby writing), and it’s really not that difficult to achieve.

This type of expletive’s great offenders are the words there and it when used as subjects followed by a verb form; e.g., there are, there is, there was, there has been, there were, it is, it was, it has been, etc. These words perform a syntactic function but often do little else except weaken the sentence.

Yet often, an easy fix exists. A rule of thumb I use is that if an easy fix doesn’t quickly come to mind, the construction can remain as is. Otherwise, banish the expletive! Here are some examples, followed by their more robust fixes:

  • Weaker: There is a full moon shimmering in the evening sky.
  • More robust: A full moon shimmers in the evening sky.
  • Weaker:  There is an easy fix for this problem.
  • More robust: An easy fix exists for this problem.
  • Weaker: There are many exceptions.
  • More robust: Exceptions are many.
  • Weaker: It has been a memorable day.
  • More robust: The day has been memorable.
  • Weaker: It is raining today.
  • More robust: Rain is pouring down today.

Constructions that force a related expletive, the words that or who, are sometimes even more annoying. “There is . . . that . . .” and similar constructions serve only to sabotage sentences and contribute to flabby writing. Similarly, although names and pronouns are not generally considered expletives, they function as expletives in this kind of construction: “He is . . . who . . .” Here are some examples:

  • Weaker: There is something in her character that worries me.
  • More robust: Something in her character worries me.
  • Weaker: It is an indisputable fact that Canadians are a polite bunch.
  • More robust: Canadians are indisputably a polite bunch.
  • Weaker: He was a person who was quick to empathize with others.
  • More robust: He was quick to empathize with others.
  • Weaker: There has been a recent spate of brilliant writing that can surely be attributed to editorial excellence.
  • More robust: The recent spate of brilliant writing can surely be attributed to editorial excellence.

Interestingly, as in one of my examples above, an expletive form is commonly used to describe the weather, as in “It is raining today.” An argument can be made that it in this case is a pronoun for the weather, even though the word weather has not been mentioned. In these cases, it is sometimes referred to as “the weather it.” This construction is so common that I’m not bothered by it, nor would I necessarily call it flabby writing. Yet ways around it are usually not hard to find.

Exceptions abound to my above examples of expletives, particularly in poetry or stylized prose, where expletives are used to “fill out” the meterfor pacing, rhythm, tone, or for emphasis:

  • There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio/ Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
  • It is he who deserves to be rewarded, not his father.

You may have noticed by now that I’ve easily avoided using any subject expletives in this article. In my initial draft, I had at least four, but revisions were easy. Whenever you see a sentence begin with “There is” or “It was,” a red flag should go up in your mind. The point isn’t to avoid subject expletives altogether, but to become aware of them so that, if an easy fix quickly comes to mind, you can recast the wordier, weaker construction to a more concise, vigorous one.

____________________________

I originally wrote this article for the October 2010 issue of West Coast Editor, the newsletter of the Editors’ Association of Canada’s British Columbia branch. It has been reproduced with permission here, with a few modifications.

♠ ♠ ♠

book and manuscript editing

Arlene Prunkl is a
and the owner of PenUltimate Editorial Services
You can find her on , , , and Facebook
February 13, 2014

 

____________________________

I welcome all comments. Please note that Disqus is a secure commenting system requiring moderator approval, and it may be a short while before I receive notification of your comment, approve it, and reply. Thanks for your patience!

 

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