Excerpt from Real Life, a Sunday Kind of Drive…

I live on a coastal island in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. It’s been largely unspoiled for most of its history, but that’s unlikely to last. It’s likely to disappear in the next ten or twenty years without diligent, concerted effort by its residents.

It’s really strange to see the Charleston area take off in my lifetime the way it has–I can only imagine how the multi-generational ‘Binyahs’ feel. I think the area you grow up in is like a member of your family, albeit a silent one. Like your human relatives, you have mixed emotions about it–what is was like in the past, what it has become, and what you want for its future because it’s a part of you, and you love it.

I can accept change, but I can’t accept foolish change. Other places have been there and done that, and it’s unsustainable. I think the South and other less urbanized regions have a lot to learn from regions that developed earlier in our nation’s history: the ghost towns that were once hallmarks of progress and thought it would never end, the ever-evolving metropolises of the West Coast, Chicago and New York City, and the agrarian parts that stretch from the Midwest out to the West Coast.

My big issue is sprawl. I know we live on a lot of islands here, but sprawl should be controlled as much as possible. We don’t need new subdivisions or strip malls until their predecessors are filled–especially in the wide wake of the housing crisis and the commercial real estate crisis. Sprawl demands constant car travel, gas consumption which creates air pollution and a massive carbon footprint. There’s no reason we need to encourage all three of those any more than we already did last century.

Since moving over this way, I’ve noticed traffic is worse South of Charleston (West Ashley, Folly Beach, James Island, Johns Island, Wadmalaw Island, Yonges Island) than it was North of Charleston in East Cooper (aka Mount Pleasant).

For those that don’t live here and don’t know, most people live West, Northwest, and South of Charleston because it is more affordable than Downtown or Mount Pleasant. West Ashley (via Hwy 61) connects to Summerville, a bustling inland city that is also rapidly growing and sprawling outward as well. At this rate, one day in a few decades, this whole area may be called “Charleville” or “Summerston” (the Charleston folk will prefer to be in the name first, but we’re phonetically confused with Charlotte enough as it is.). We need to ask ourselves why do our communities need to be so spread out and keep right on spreading? Why do we need to build communities away from the urban areas, just so those urban areas can grow outward and absorb those communities within 20 years anyway? Why are brand new buildings so important, when we have so much old construction in need of a facelift and upgrades? ‘Especially in the wake of a real estate crisis, both commercial and residential, there’s a lot of empty buildings out there in need of new ownership. It would seem reasonable to level buildings that have sat around for five years, and just let the property return to a greenspace.

Technology has made it possible to work from anywhere. GoToMeeting and a home office makes it easier for far fewer people to commute to work every day by car. On so many levels, it just doesn’t make any sense to spend hours on a commute, to and from work. “That’s the way we’ve always done it, for a couple generations anyway” is really not a good enough excuse. [Have you heard Zig Ziglar’s Ham story? Here’s NJ native Dennis Budinich telling it.]

People working from home reduce daily traffic congestion, prevent car accidents, injuries and deaths. Add to that, lots of ‘work at homers’ appreciate concentrating without constant interruption that an office environment invites. Working at home also means less fancy office clothes and spending half the weekend laundering those clothes, which means even more saved energy–less waste water, and less cash devoted to that bill at the end of the month. And then there’s all that gas not being wasted commuting five days a week. I would think cutting these costs could really add up for the average struggling family, not to mention the environmental payoff.

Another thing about sprawl–if Portland, Oregon can be more pedestrian and bike-friendly, why the hell can’t we? Why recreate the wheel, or act like this decision is so monumentally hard to make, when another state has a major city that’s making it work? It’s not that bicyclists don’t exist here, they always have. For a bicyclist or cyclist in Charleston, though, it’s a very perilous journey every time you run an errand. Our streets, for the most part, are very poorly lit from sunset to sunrise, and have fluctuating bike lane quality. You might have the income to outfit yourself and your bike with bright clothing, more than adequate lighting, a helmet, and know all the hand signals; even with all that,  your life is still at risk compared to a motorist. There’s no guarantee motorists know what the hand signals mean–chances are if they were born before 1999, bike safety wasn’t in the SC drivers manual, so they do not know hand signals at all. Here’s hoping those drivers aren’t preoccupied with their phone while driving (don’t get me started on that trend). I can think of at least three cyclists who’ve died in this city in the last 10 years, needlessly, and they were experienced riders.  For example, Wonders Way on the Ravenel Bridge is named for Garrett Wonders, a well known cyclist in this area in the 2000s. Rather than spend money on more roadways, I would rather we improve existing roadways for bicycles, and legally require more lighting on all bicycles and roads. I think we could save a lot of lives, improve a lot of public health (if it was safer I think more people would participate), and cut the air pollution we’re creating using all these cars right now. And Downtown, with all it’s colonial charm, could easily have no cars at all, just 100% walking and bicycles, 24-7.

I hope growth on Johns Island, and other rural islands is controlled. I would like Johns and the other islands to encourage more farms, vineyards, wineries, breweries, and agribusiness to move in. I think it would be incredible if Johns could be the Provence of the Lowcountry.

Napa. Vermont. Amish country–all three are unforgettable places to visit, and I truly believe something agricultural could happen here, Southern style, with equal beauty and equal community support and response. We just have to have the integrity to respect the environment we have instead of bulldozing it to make way for suburban mediocrity.

If 526 must expand, and the vote said it should go forward, I hope they choose a mindful design that isn’t an eyesore and tracks through a lot of poor people’s property to create an expressway to more affluent areas. If more affluent people, or visitors, need faster transportation, they should learn to fly and buy a plane or helicopter.

I hope expansions on Folly Road don’t destroy a POW hill monument that currently exists.

I hope old ‘oak tunnel’ country roads that make the South and west side of Charleston so charming, natural and beautiful to travel aren’t destroyed. Roads like Hwy 61, River Road, Main Road are why people come here. Roads like that are filmed in movies.

I hope driving can go back to being a less harried, less A to B, more leisurely activity. People taking Sunday drives through rural areas like Johns, Wadmalaw, Yonges Island for leisure, with their friends or family. Checking out nature and the beach. Enjoying the greenspace. Taking farm or wine tours. ‘Wouldn’t that be awesome?

There’s no reason to look at our backyard and think of all the ways to make it just like everywhere else. People take a vacation from everywhere else to go to the really wonderful, natural places. Rural parts of Charleston offer just that, just the way they are, right now.

The time to realize all that we have isn’t right after we’ve lost it, or given it away.

Public Service Message: Avoid Sloppy Work, Take a Break

If you stumbled on this blog post, you have my permission and encouragement to logout, and/or turn off the screen, and walk away for at least five minutes. 

Five minutes feels like a really long time in a world that runs on nanoseconds.

We all know the consequences of not taking breaks, but I think we feel guilty about taking them, myself included. It’s ironic that we respect our technologies’ needs to recharge (the phone, the computer, the tablet), but neglect our own.

But after hours of pushing ourselves harder, and staring at a screen–producing words, code, computations or other content, we become fatigued.

And it reveals itself pretty quickly. We start to get sloppy–we leave out words or punctuation, compose fragments, write information that contradicts a previous paragraph; we produce incomplete code syntax; or miscalculate numbers.

We’re tired. Tired of looking at a screen–optometrists call it computer vision syndrome. Maybe we’re also malnourished, dehydrated or both, maybe we’re sleep-deprived, and just tired in general. Any task that is repetitive or bores us on some levels seems to take that much longer to complete.

We can only play the denial game so long with another swig of  energy serum, drip coffee, espresso, soda or a carbonated energy drink.

So take that five minutes. The American Optometric Association (AOA) actually recommends 15 minutes away from the screen (“off”) for every 2 hours looking at a screen (“on”).

And don’t hit send or submit just yet. It’s a relief, but it’s only short term. Hitting send or submit our work before taking a break is likely to guarantee some embarrassment in the very near future. We return from the break are met with an agitated coworker’s response (see the link for etiquette hell’s messageboard), or our mistakes have been pointed out by someone else in another way. Just because we want to be done, it doesn’t mean we are done.

So take that break. When you return, you’ll be amazed at what you notice when you turn the screen back on, and log back in. I always am.

Easily Confused Words: Ornery and Awry

“Henri became ornery when non-natives’ French pronunciation went awry.” #currying_favor

Today’s tweet refers to commonly confused, mispronounced words ornery and awry. At first glance you could suspect they rhyme, but they do not. [Forcing the rhyme is just tawdry, Audrey.]

It’s a common error, even by native speakers, to say “on-ree.” “Ornery” is the real word, and it’s pronounced ‘orn-uh-ree”.

It’s also common to pronounce “awry” as “aw-ree,” when it’s really “uh-rye”.

In French, “Henri” is pronounced with a silent H: “ehn-ree”. In South Carolina, streets and one town are named “Huger”. You can always tell someone isn’t a local when they say, “where’s Hyooge-err?” It’s actually “yoo-gee”.

Homegrown vs. Domestic

It’s been a few days since the explosion in Boston, and no one knows who’s responsible for what happened. It’s still anyone’s guess if it was caused by a foreign or domestic entity, an individual or a group. This time, though, instead of using the word “domestic”, someone decided “homegrown” was the term to use, and that trend caught on.

‘Being a wordgeek, I am miffed. And maybe it’s just me, but…

I don’t know what was wrong with using “domestic” in describing terrorist-style acts that occur within our borders.

“Homegrown”?We’re not talking fruit and vegetables cultivated locally for sale and consumption. We’re talking about human beings in the US, who committed a violent act against a lot of innocent people at once. In spite of all the violent acts that have happened within our borders in the last 20 years, I don’t feel anyone, American or not, is born a terrorist.  While some people are raised to have hateful beliefs about others, I still think “homegrown” is a poor word choice. I think “indoctrinated’ is more fitting–there’s always the possibility that a person can overcome indoctrination. People are capable of a lot change and evolution in a lifetime, much more than say, an heirloom tomato.

As a writer, I feel words matter immensely. If you care about what you have to say, and want to be understood, I think you have to choose your words with care. Just because a term is used frequently in one sense (agriculture), it doesn’t mean it should be used in every other situation (violent attack on a mass gathering) for the sake of sounding “trendy”.

American English has thousands of words, there’s no reason to use an ill-fitting one, or take a “one size fits all” approach to communication.

Legacy

In the last 2 weeks, it seemed that more than an average number of famous people died. Among them, the first female prime minister of Britain, the first indigenous American major prima ballerina, a socialite fashion designer, an improvisational comedy pioneer, an American movie critic, and a movie star who was one of the original Mouseketeers.

The broadcast media remembered those famous people for a few minutes. It’s a little sad and scary to think that anyone’s whole life can be summed up in a video montage lasting just a few seconds, isn’t it? When we die, all that’s left is our belongings, our online presence, what the living remember of us, and what the living choose to share with younger generations about us.

It’s worth noticing that living a life that you can “live with” is the most important thing you can do, in your relationship with yourself. I deliberately haven’t mentioned those famous people’s  names. Do you know who they are just by those references? ‘Without checking Wikipedia’s recent deaths list? I am not saying you are obligated to know them. I am curious that, if you left the planet tomorrow, how would you want people to remember you? How do each of us want to be remembered, and how can that make better decisions about the life we have right now?

It’s really convenient to give in to our generation’s group mentality, do what we’ve been told, just do our jobs, meet family expectations, or follow some other ‘script’ we’ve been handed. While that’s the safe and rational decision at the time, in 60-80 years, it’s highly doubtful that anyone will remember you or me for going out of our way to blend in and follow all the prescribed rules.

The only person who really knows what each one of us is capable of is ourselves. Are we listening to that inner voice, or pretending we didn’t hear it?

No one will ever know us, judge us, or remember us, for ideas or dreams we never pursued in reality.

‘Are we okay with that? ‘More importantly, will we still be okay with that, years from now?