I hate cummerbunds. Once included by default in all tuxedo rentals, I admit my child has never gazed upon one of the strange elastic belts. Only magicians skilled in the dark arts wear these throwbacks to yesteryear. At a dock-side restaurant, I watched the May parade of prom dates roll in single file. Nodding in approval, I realized the guys’ cummerbund metallic blues and greens now displaced by the vest. Sleek. Subtle. Vests mask a growing midsection, assuming you have one to hide.
Like all fashion choices, the world runs circularly. Do you throw your clothes away? Or, did you box up your old bell-bottoms, now carefully stored in the attic, with plans to reopen at Christmas? If you’re in possession of extra basement storage, this might be economical. Old clothes can go for real coin on eBay. And sometimes, you want that old bomber jacket to wear for old times sake. Jeans. White T-Shirt. Leather. James Dean never goes out of style. If only, I had kept my keepsakes. Whatever happened to my leather wonder? Sadly, I don’t remember. Too many moves, a box lost?
And would I show off the padded shoulder style again? Doubtful? I don’t know. I do believe fashion evolves. Try merging the brown bomber with the latest in fashion jeans. Boom! A new clothing line emerges. Leather is timeless, the material only evolves.
Words and language also evolve. The dictionary changes. This is why some books last forever, prove timeless, while others fade. Some creative works should die. Have you watched an episode of Friends of late? Monica fat jokes. NRA talking points. Chandler being gay. Let’s face the hard truth, the 90s might not have been funny. Time machines kill pop culture references. And mean-spirited jokes. In the realm of social media, what you put on a Twitter timeline can come back to haunt you.
But can a book?
Well, if you’ve ever written a novel, I can tell you what you publish cannot die. In 2012, I capped a lengthy writing process for Knights of Legend. The process proved painful, as it should-you want to earn a novel. Unlike a blog entry or news article, putting together a work of 30 thousand words is daunting. Try 100 thousand plus. This is a complex and massive undertaking.
After eight years and a half dozen rewrites, I had the book typeset. I had started down the path of no return. Printing reminds me of etching on a tombstone. On the opposite spectrum, digital mediums can evolve. If I don’t like how this post reads, I can adjust long after publication. Re-edit. Run a spell-check. Change a picture. Or, if I just don’t like how this resonates, I can kill the post (note, I rarely do and always with an annotation).
But if you print … well immortality awaits. Remember what Dr. Molly Griswold says to Roy “Tin Cup” McAvoy? “Nobody is going to remember who won the US Open in five years, Roy. But they will remember your 12! It’s downright immortal.” However, this can be a double edged sword.
Before finalizing Knights, I leveraged most tools and processes available, graduate assistants and full-time editors. Whatever I could try, I did. If a writing tool existed, circa 2012, I’m sure I ran that application through the paces. I refused to be the poor bloke who misspelled oxen in the fifth grade spelling bee.
During the final phases of the project, I found a fatal flaw with these tools and realized I had mixed my languages. English was born across the pond. But I can say, without a doubt, the language ends in Nashville, TN (I stole this from a joke at the Grand Ole’ Opry). I like to believe American English is somewhat pliable, defaulting to easy. This is why English is the most challenging dialect to learn. Nuance matters.
In British English, take the word theatre. Most -ter words in American English are spelled -tre in England. What’s even worse is most grammar tools refuse to catch the change. As I type this article, theatre and theater prove perfectly acceptable. Maddening!
As a Nashville-based author, am I misspelling the word if my friends and I go out to the theatre over the weekend? I revisited Phantom of the Opera at the Tennessee Performing Arts theater. Back in my college days, my favorite play was Phantom of the Opera; well, I can tell you the Phantom’s plight suffers from the Friend’s treatment. I used to be dazzled by his ability to vanish, toss fire from his fingertips, and transpose his voice from one part of the theater to the other. Now, I think he’s a creep.
Did you notice the subtle shift? I think this is an argument for consistency. I’d say my last theater should have been written theatre, as it has been throughout this post. I don’t think your geographic or intended audience matters, but I do believe the consistency does. In Knights of Legend, I pictured the war angel, Alfred Morgones, to hail from Europe. Why? No idea. The story centers on a baseball league in the Mid-Western United States. A British character makes little sense. I should have spelled gray!
However, I intentionally used grey as a homage to the war angel in my head. And as long as I follow my own fictional world rules, I feel I can stay out of literary prison. The spell checker in most online tools won’t take a stand, but I will.
What’s the takeaway in all of this?
Create rules and follow consistently. Apply to writing, business process and life in general. Try to only bend and not break. Unless you’re a dragon in Game of Thrones. They can do whatever they want. And why not? They breathe fire.
There are a number of these challenging nuances in English. Rarely, do we stop and think through the implications. That’s why writers write. To craft worlds. Define rules. And put words on paper. Mistakes happen. That’s OK.
Oh, and there is a hidden reason I hate the word cumberbund; yes, I made a mistake. Years later, an Amazon algorithm discovered my plight and sent the results my way. Thank you, Jeff Bezos, for pointing out the only misspelled word in the 105K plus work.
What’s worse, I remember making the correction before publication. At least, I thought I did. Human memory isn’t perfect. Most of the time, what we recall is plain wrong. After all, we choose … and … er … write our own reality.
Well, nobody is perfect. Are you itching to own a piece of beautiful imperfection? Why not go ahead and order Knights of Legend? If you’re willing to take the plunge, on sale for a limited time. One day, these will become a collector’s item. I promise.
Sorry, fans of Friends. Who am I to throw stones? The cast receives millions in royalty payments, and the show still resonates.