A day at the Boston Marathon

It wasn’t the day we’d envisaged. Arriving at breakfast, too early to check in, we dumped our bags and went for a walk. Boston in the spring was nude—the shutters and lace skirts of the grand old ladies sweeping the boulevards visible through the bare branches of the trees. Taking in the old city, walking the riverfront, eating in style at a restaurant with tablecloths, and perhaps a sommelier, were on my list.

Within a few minutes, at virtually the end of our street, we almost fell over the stations at Mile 21. In that indulgent, touristy way of needing to be nowhere else, we embedded ourselves in a kerbside position, warmed by strengthening sunshine and coffee. It was to be one of the most exhilarating days I’ve experienced. Raw emotion was laid out before us in a tableau of pain, pride, humour, strength and vulnerability. It was a privilege being there.

The first through are the leads in the chair races who are a blur of angled spokes and elbows. They’ve just climbed Heartbreak Hill and glide a few metres down an infinitesimal decline before thrusting forward again. The crowd goes wild.

Then the runners appear. We are standing near a support crew, friends, compatriots of the Ethiopian runners. They wave flags and cheer ecstatically when the male and female leads appear, Ethiopians both.  On our other side is Team Japan waving a poster, friends of a runner who streaks past in an early wave, sweat-slicked, smooth. We cheer them all.

I could have reached out and touched those who hugged the barricades, sticking close to the shade as the sun rose high. Could they could even hear us over their interior machine? Foot over foot over foot. Some people did reach out, holding out for a high five.

It seemed borderline voyeuristic at times but, later, some talked of how grateful they were to the crowds, that it did help them, even expressing astonishment that we could go on for hours! Us? And how, with the slightest encouragement, even a smile, we would get louder! Sometimes a runner would whoop up their arms, revving the crowd, and we responded joyously.

If a runner was in distress, we became anxious, heads turned to the nearest aid station. When a man stumbles towards the barricades near us, cramping badly, he is supported, fed a banana, continues to a chorus of: ‘Yeah! You got this! Nearly home!’ Gestures of shared humanity brought the tears; we were with them.

We can’t get close to the finish line, security is tight, the barricades close. This is where the bombs went off in 2013 which changed the marathon for ever. But you don’t need to see the finish to feel it. The vibe is all around. Runners sit, draped in their space blankets, children and partners nearby. In the subway, we offer seats.

Writing is another endurance sport—unforgiving hours with only one’s thoughts and a manuscript for company. Cheer them all.

Plain English — the search for meaning goes on

I’m old enough now to see convoluted language for what it is—a waste of my time. It took a few decades before the uncertainties of youth were overridden by the weariness of having to make sense of just too many words. Yes, I can do it, but why are you asking me to?

It’s a formidable ego that expects me to read 100 word sentences with multiple clauses, parentheses and ideas (unless written in lyrical prose that soothes and transports.) Sometimes I’ve been so bewildered by sentence constructions, I’ve almost given up, thinking maybe I can ignore that bit—what does that one clause matter anyway? But they do matter. It’s not always the vibe.

If we have to read it, we trudge on, befuddled.  If we don’t need the information, we just turn away.

I know about writing to dominate, to intimidate, or just to keep at bay. I cut my teeth professionally writing letters from executive officials to the public.  We called one template the ‘stuff-off’. That’s a different woe.

But if your material is there to be read, if you want it to do something, give your complex ideas space to let the reader reflect.  With technical, operational, or business writing, banish anything that makes the reader work too hard deciphering your sentences—they need their energy to understand the topic.  Let them see what lies ahead. Don’t trigger anxiety.

Mix in some short sentences, connect your ideas. Let your readers form meaning from your words. It’s not treating them like idiots. It’s not talking down to them. And it doesn’t diminish your expertise.

Here’s a beautifully written article on why clarity matters and jargon is such an impediment.

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/10/complex-academic-writing/412255/

Hyperlinks and other sexy tools

hyplink illustration

I love hyperlinking. Opening up a portal to another world through the simplest tools of highlighting, cutting and pasting has always been a special piece of magic. I am writing and editing suites of technical documents for a legal company and adore playing in the references sections. All those arcane statutes with their Parts, Divisions, Sections and Sub-sections are thrillingly express-posted to Go (collect $200) under my fingers.

I am musing on this because recently came across the term ‘immersive reading’ for the wholesale, complete transportation into the written word, being able to draw the reader into the writer’s world. I like the term for all reading where the goal is to come away with more than you started. Compliance documentation for management of aged care homes? Gotcha. Build my comprehension, give me a process to follow, let me see what to do, and how. Or perhaps it’s your favourite author’s new novel and you feel a pinpricking sense of a character’s inner self or your stomach drops with a plot turn…. Vastly different pursuits for different goals but immersion in the act of reading is required for both.

Be vigilant with hyperlinks. Be alert to their overuse or misuse. Peter Meyers is a builder of digital publications. He says: “Exercise restraint. The challenge can be in what to leave out. The first wave of experimentation was all about adding things, which can mess with the immersive reading experience. Don’t eject the reader from the experience of reading through distracting hyperlinks.” (Morrow 2011).

I feel this. I deplore the scraps of information we are fed, often with a hyperlink attached which says ‘over to you, dear reader. Work it out for yourself.’   Tie them into your text, interpret their best, their juiciest bits for your reader and leave them feeling a warmth towards you, the host, rather than like a refugee.

And hyperlinks are just the beginning of interactive tools. What makes you swoon?

 

 

 

References

P Meyers, blog, http://newkindofbook.com/about/

J Morrow (2011), ‘Going Digital: An Australian editor’s observations of developments in US publishing’, Beatrice Davis Editorial Report 2011-12, https://www.publishers.asn.au/documents/item/110, viewed 18/3/16.