Poise Versus Panic By Patricia Smith Wood

imageSince I’m a Gemini, I have many “twin” features. Sometimes I’m one side, sometimes I’m the other.

I’ll give you an example. I can often take two different sides of an argument. Not as much as I once could (I think I’m getting set in my ways), but when called upon, I can. That means I can sometimes talk myself “down off the ceiling” when I get upset about something, or am too invested in one outcome over another.

I think most of us would prefer to respond to problems with poise, as opposed to panic, but sometimes, we just don’t pull it off. I’m going to tell you about two women who did.

I belong to the Croak & Dagger New Mexico Chapter of Sisters in Crime. As most chapters do, we have an interesting speaker (or two) at each of our meetings. For our February meeting, our program chair had secured two very interesting women who just happened to also be members of our chapter. One was a medical doctor with lots of emergency room experience, and the other was a Ph.D. in biology who had been a dean at the University of Wisconsin. They would talk to us about poisons—a subject they were both well versed in. They had given the same talk to a large group of writers at a conference in Las Vegas last summer, and they graciously agreed to provide it for us.

Well, naturally, mystery writers are interested in ways to kill people, so we were looking forward to the presentation. The two experts were going to give us a slide show to impart their information. Our intrepid program chair had contacted the officials at our meeting place (a community center) and requested a slide projector and a laptop for the night of the meeting. This was not an unusual request, and we had often asked for and received equipment such as this for a program. Everything was on track.

Until it wasn’t. Our program chair showed up early at the community center and found only a projector set up in the room—not the needed laptop. She immediately contacted the front desk and inquired. She explained she had been promised the equipment would be there, ready for the presentation no later than 6:30. The two young women (volunteers) shrugged. They knew nothing. It wasn’t their job.

I arrived within seconds of these revelations. I’m the membership chair (and immediate past president) of the group. I hadn’t known there would be slide presentation so was surprised at the problem. I called my husband and asked him to bring a laptop to me which we had used a number of times for slide shows. He did. I tried to set it up, there was a problem. Nobody there knew how to fix it, including me.

If you were a presenter, how would you feel right about now? What would you do? Say you’ll do it another time? Throw up your hands and pout? That’s NOT what our two ladies did.

They used their notes (and the laptop screen) to go through their presentation verbally. They took turns, went through the list of most potent poisons and where they come from. They explained the ways in which someone might be introduced to each poison. They answered questions and thoroughly captured their audience. It was a wonderful presentation.

No, we, the audience, did not get to see the slides. I’m sure that would have been wonderful. But that isn’t the point. Some people (and maybe even me) might have lost their cool, thrown a tantrum because the equipment they needed wasn’t available, or walked out and left us without a program. Not these ladies.

They didn’t pout—they were (and are) poised. They behaved like the professionals they are. They showed us all how to react to a minor disaster.

Which is, as it turns out, to do whatever you can to fix it, but if you can’t, do the best you can under the circumstances. I must admit I was inspired as much by the way they handled the situation as I was with the actual presentation. It’s a lesson I hope I don’t soon forget.

When I grow up, I want to be just like those two ladies.

Who is That Woman? by Patricia Smith Wood

Up until a couple of years ago, I never gave a lot of thought to a rather controversial subject. In fact, I didn’t even know there was a controversy. Most of us pick up our speech patterns as small children. It can undergo many changes when we attend school. We meet people who might make different word choices, have different speech patterns, slang, and customs.

Over time, we are “educated” either officially, or through our association with others, in the words of acceptable speech and writing. We learn new words and how to properly use them. We end up with a mishmash.

A problem can develop because language traditions change so often. Over time words come to mean different things. The years from 1890 until 1899 were commonly referred to as “The Gay Nineties” during that period. That was true even long into the twentieth century. Some folks remember the term “The Rebellious Sixties” and would be shocked if “rebellious” came to mean something very different in the future.

But what about other words—words we hear used and see printed all the time. Often there is more than one word choice. Sometimes rules of usage help us decide. But other times, it’s up to our personal decision. It can be a landmine. So what am I talking about?

Two words, “who” and “that,” are currently getting some attention.  In case you hadn’t heard, these two words are embroiled in controversy.

The word “that” is a pronoun, as is “who.” No controversy there. Ah, but think about it. How do you use these two words? There are two different opinions circulating.

I think of the two sides as the Grammarians and Humanists.

Here is the Grammarians’ argument: “That” refers to persons or things, and rarely to subhuman entities. The notion that that should not be used to refer to a person is without foundation; such use is entirely standard.

The Humanists feel otherwise: They say it is demeaning to use “that” when referring to a human being, or even an animal. Creatures with a soul shouldn’t be referred to as “that.” It’s dehumanizing. Since who isn’t used for an object, that shouldn’t be used when referring to living beings.

The problem is, I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to these competing thoughts. I was blissfully ignorant about the controversy. Then my daughter became an editor, and I became aware.

Once you think about it, there’s a good argument for referring to people as “who” rather than “that.” After my daughter explained it to me, I became an acolyte—a rabid one!

When I read the newspaper and see a person referred to as “that” rather than “who,” my hackles go up. Newscasters are the next culprits I’ve noticed. And apparently a large number of people all around me see no problem using “that” in almost all cases.

But here’s the thing. The grammarians are probably going to win this one. I’m not enough of an activist to make this my main crusade, even though I’m focusing on cleaning up my own writing and speaking. I’m using mindfulness to select the “who” designation for people and animals. (I drawn the line at assigning “who” to insects, snakes, and other crawly things!)

However, based on what I’ve seen since I became “enlightened,” I don’t think enough people are ready to jump on board. Most seem more than happy to grab whichever word strikes their fancy at that moment. They don’t recognize slights (real or imagined) by interchanging those words.

There’s one really good reason they might consider. If you’re a writer, overuse of certain words becomes truly annoying to the reader. The word “that” is one of those words.

So, next time you sit down to write (or read) see how many times you could substitute “who” for “that.” It could end up making you a convert.

Now, wouldn’t THAT be something?