sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

May 8, 2021

saturday plans
posted by soe 1:19 am

Rudi and I had a nice final evening before he headed out to Salt Lake City to spend 10 days with his mom and sort some things out there. Despite the cool drizzle, we strolled down to the library and then on to Trader Joe’s. With pizza dough in hand for the night’s supper (along with salads made from greens from our garden topped with delicious Green Goddess dressing from the bakery at the farmers market), we moseyed home. While Rudi was cooking, I put on a livestream of authors Amor Towles and Chris Bohjalian chatting, courtesy of one of our local bookstores, Politics & Prose. It ended in time for us to watch the season finale of Magnum, and then we rounded out the night with Now You See Me 2.

Rudi’s flight leaves from Dulles early, so I anticipate needing to come home for a nap before starting the day for real.

Quite a bit of rain has fallen this week, so I expect there will be a correlative quantity of weeds to pull out of the garden and more twine to put up for growing pea vines sometime this weekend. I don’t mind. I’d much rather Mother Nature take care of watering the garden, although it’s easier this year than ever before, thanks to the faucet installed last year and the Y splitter we added this spring.

There’s a neighborhood arts walk/craft fair across town tomorrow, so I may head over that way in the afternoon. And, of course, I can take in the Saturday night park concert from our local band.

If I have any energy left, I’m putting it toward reading and knitting — and maybe replacing all the batteries of my jar lights. I told Rudi I was going to do some spring cleaning while he’s gone, but I don’t see any reason to tackle it on the day I already have to get up before sunrise.

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May 6, 2021

weighing our words
posted by soe 1:32 am

One of the projects I supervise at work involves making short informational videos of 90 seconds or less. That amounts to 200 words on a subject. You can say a lot in 200 words, but you have to choose them carefully.

First, you have to know a lot about your subject (or work closely with someone who does). The less you know, the more you’re able to obscure that fact, intentionally or otherwise, by wrapping them in a blanket of clauses and phrases.

Second, it helps to be able to wordsmith on the go. I am here to declare that your experts are never, no matter how many times you emphasize there are constraints, going to give you which tradeoffs you should make when they edit your text for accuracy. They will only ever give you more words they think need to be included.

Third, people have different styles when it comes to removing words. I tend to get there by wielding a scalpel, cutting a word here, a word there. My colleague approached it with a big kitchen knife, taking whole sentences with her as she went. Both techniques can be mighty to behold, when you watch someone remove a fifth of the words without losing the meaning. And, in the end, the goal is to leave your audience without a clue you excised anything.

Fourth, don’t show off. Because we’re aiming our videos at the general public, our rule of thumb is to keep our language at an 8th-grade reading level or less. That means using shorter sentences, but more to this point, fewer long words. The easiest way for experts to keep their word counts down is to use long words with some frequency. If you’re talking to other people in your field, it’s a great hack! That’s why lawyers and accountants and tech experts exist. Laws and tax codes and computer manuals are written for others who already understand the same basics, even if your specialty is different. Keeping your reading level lower means using more words, but it also means widening your audience.

Fifth and most important, you have to use your thesaurus with care. Remember back in middle school, when you first learned what a synonym was, your teacher said that you couldn’t always substitute one for another in any old sentence? You had to consider context. When making educational materials, you have to also consider the baggage your audience is bringing with them. When you say “prove,” you might be intending to convey that research is overwhelmingly in support of what you’re saying. But if your audience doubts your sources, they may hear “prove” as indicating what you’re saying is in need of defense and extrapolate that to mean there’s reason for suspicion. “Make sure” is twice as many words, but causes way fewer red flags in many people’s minds.

Getting rid of those final words to hit your target is painful and takes time. But when someone watches your video and says it was a great introduction to a topic and made them want to learn more, there’s nothing better.

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May 5, 2021

posted by soe 1:56 am

I got my second dose of vaccine yesterday. I felt so fatigued after the first shot, I’d expected to feel terrible this time around. But I didn’t. I felt fine.

So, yay! Now I get to start thinking about seeing my family, about eating outside, about going to movies and to baseball games, about hugging friends. I’m ready to shake this past year off and move on, even if I don’t quite know what the future looks like.

12 more days…

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May 2, 2021

spring afternoon
posted by soe 1:59 am


Rudi had a call this morning that allowed me to catch up on some sleep without a cat dropping a lamp on my head (Corey’s discovered that’s the only way to wake me up, but I refuse to give in to extortion and just shift further down the bed).

After a lazy start to the day, we headed to the Georgetown waterfront, passing by a family of nine ducklings on the canal. We had some snacks, soaked up some sun, chatted with friends, bought a book (a collection of Zadie Smith essays from the discount table in front of Bridge Street books), and then stopped at the Rock Creek Kings concert on the way home.

Tomorrow, I’m planning on an early trip to the farmers market (strawberries!); some time at the garden stringing my peas up further; park time with books knitting, and chatting with my folks; and an evening of excellent tv — The Equalizer, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, and His Dark Materials. (Our internet company has given us free access to a number of premium shows for a week and the first season of the Philip Pullman adaptation is one of them. We’re going to have to hustle, though, because we’ve watched four episodes in five days and now need to watch the last four in two. It’s excellent, but filled with tension, and, having read the novel, I expect that only to ratchet up for the remaining episodes.)

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April 28, 2021

mentoring in a time of covid
posted by soe 1:12 am

Sunset from the Park

Tuesdays are always a late night for me this spring, because one of my interns, a junior at a college in the Central Time Zone, has a class this term that occupies her daytime hours four days a week. To let her stay on with us, I’ve arranged to let her work evening hours thrice a week, and we meet Tuesday evenings after her class lets out to discuss priorities for the week and to check in on how she’s doing.

One of the things that has come out of the confluence of a shift to remote workplace and some colleague departures is that I ended up supervising our interns. We have four, two undergrads and two grad students, and I’m the main point of contact with our organization for them.

Add in the colleagues that I supervise/have supervised, and I’ve been a mentor to six young adults in the first half of their 20s in the past year.

Even when I’ve been failing/flailing at other parts of my job, I’ve taken this role seriously. I meet with each of them weekly to check in on their lives during the pandemic, ask about classes and extracurriculars, and try to provide career/workplace advice, even as I’m handing out assignments and supervising projects. I’d like to think I’m pretty good at it, and our interns have been very kind with their comments about what a surprisingly positive experience this has been for them.

We are currently in the process of doubling the size of our department and included in that is the realigning of certain job responsibilities. Supervising interns is going to be one of those roles that shifts away from me, and selfishly it’s the one that I’m having the hardest time recognizing is the right thing for the department, despite knowing it’s a necessary change.

I have to recognize this doesn’t mean that I can’t still provide mentorship, but it does mean that I’ll need to give more thought to what that looks like moving forward and do a better job of being proactive in my approach.

It will look different, but different doesn’t have to be bad.

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April 26, 2021

late-april weekending
posted by soe 1:45 am

Digging Up

I could have been more productive this weekend, but it’s not like I completely shirked off:

The apartment is still a mess, but I made some more progress in the garden, dislodging more of the bunching onions and violets. (The violets grow tall and wide, meaning that plants that were in a fine spot a couple weeks ago are now overshadowing the plants I put into the garden. The onions have just been allowed to linger in a metaphor for all the things that were once a good idea in my life but that have been allowed to root deep without consideration to how much they’re still wanted.) I salvaged all the violets off the plants that came up without dirt, picked a bagful of salad greens (tomorrow’s lunch!), and strung up some ladders for my peas to climb.

I didn’t get to any bookshops, although I did make it to two grocery stores.

I picked up enough quarters to do a load of laundry, but have yet to take it out of the washing machine.

I finished an audiobook, but not the pair of socks that’s sitting on my table.

And I finally determined that it wasn’t that you all suddenly hated my posts, but that adding a new security certificate to the site is eating all your comments. I just haven’t figured out a fix yet, but I’m working on it (tomorrow’s task!).


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