Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipsing terrestrial strife…temporarily

Double-eclipse image using binoculars
One of the best things about the solar eclipse on Monday was it also eclipsed all the troubling news that has become a staple of our world. Instead of bombast and confrontation, there was wonder and awe.

While not in the path of totality, the Philadelphia area experienced a partial solar eclipse—79.9 percent, to be precise. And, thanks to streaming video from NASA, I was able to clearly see the sun’s corona, the eclipse “diamond ring,” and the effect known as Bailey’s Beads.   

Later, I saw photos of International Space Station silhouetted against the sun, in perhaps the best example of photobombing in our solar system.

I didn’t have the requisite solar eclipse glasses, but people on the streets of Media were generous in sharing. And even though I had seen bigger and better images from NASA, putting my eyes on the small orange disk with a bite missing was an awesome experience.

So was seeing people spilling out of offices into impromptu gatherings. One law office I passed looked more like a tailgate party, with family and friends gathering in the parking lot—all wearing their eclipse glasses. One man called to me, cautioning against looking up without the right eyewear, so I’m guessing he was the personal injury attorney at the firm.

Once home, my husband and I broke out the cardboard boxes, white cardstock, and pins. We made all sorts of pinhole cameras, which worked amazingly well. As did using binoculars to reflect a double image onto cardboard.

The short window of the partial eclipse in my neighborhood lasted about two hours and 40 minutes. Enough time to remind me about the importance of putting daily distractions into perspective and keeping the long view. Think of the expression “can’t see the forest for the trees,” then take it to an astronomical level. Or, as my mother used to say, “This, too, shall pass.”

Monday, August 14, 2017

Three’s a crowd

Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Manny, Moe, and Jack. This, that, and the other thing.

The rule of three proves itself time and again. In writing, sets of three characters or events are more effective for engaging readers and telling a story.

More broadly, three examples are frequently used to prove a point.

Three things set a cadence, making the overall idea more interesting, memorable, and enjoyable. At least that’s the theory. But there’s always someone who doesn’t get the memo.

I recently received a donation thank-you letter from a local charitable organization involved in literacy. As a freelance writer, I tend to read such written materials more closely than others might. I pay attention to phrasing, grammar, and the rhythm of the language.

There was nothing wrong with the one-page letter, but it felt jarring to my ear. The rule of three went out the window. Instead, it hit hard on a diminished version—the rule of two—as excerpts below show:
  • With your involvement and backing
  • …providing open and free access
  • …to information and enlightenment.
  • …variety of materials and programs
  • …that you and your fellow patrons
  • …our lively and exciting summer schedule
  • utilizing and supporting
And there are more examples, but you get the point. None of these, individually, sends up a red flag. But after a half-dozen, they begin to stand out. At least to me.

I don’t know why the writer so heavily favored pairs of examples instead of the more common sets of three. Maybe three really is a crowd. Or maybe I’m overthinking this. I'm guessing the latter.

So, here is my delayed response to the thank-you letter: You’re welcome.