Grammar crush

I absolutely love my job as a copy editor, and not just because I get to work from home (or from anywhere that has an Internet connection), but because I work with some of the best people I know. And because I get to fix stuff, and stew over stuff, and look up stuff to see how other people are doing (or writing, or saying) that stuff.

good morning, from my office

Yes, I’ll admit, sometimes it’s tedious. Like when I have to remove extra spaces because my coworkers are reluctant to adhere to our one space after punctuation style (but I still love them, and I don’t judge). But 99% of the time it’s fun, I get to flex my grammar muscles, and I get stymied by and also learn something every day.

Like today. I had to do some searching to see how the word “flip-flops” should be used. Hyphen? No hyphen? It’s not in my own product style guide so I didn’t have precedence. So I googled “flip flop hyphenate” and came across a Q&A article in the Washington Post* with a guy I’ve followed pretty much since the Internet showed up at the publishing company where I was working as a writer at the time. I admit it, I’ve had a grammar crush on Bill Walsh for 21 years. He’s quippy. He’s a bit flippant, but not condescending. He doesn’t stew over the rules. Be still my heart.

I love grammar. I love its conventions and rules, but I also love how it’s never static, and shifts in sometimes surprising ways. I love the things I dislike about it, even, like acceptance of certain usages that annoy me. I try, I really do try, not to be a snob about it because I am wrong sometimes often and I’m certain there are typos and incorrect usages in my own work. Feel free to point them out, even, if you’re so inclined. But ask me something about grammar, or usage, or style, or punctuation, and I will totally be in my element searching for an answer for you.

I’m smart enough to know there’s a lot I don’t know. So I’ll rely on the style books and websites like Bill’s and Common Errors (another favorite) to keep my writers sounding like the knowledgeable and intelligent people they are. Even if the grammar and usage bits only matter to me and a handful of other people.

*The article didn’t answer my question about hyphenating or not hyphenating flip-flop, although I opted for the hyphen based on other resources. And I was using flip-flop as in the footwear, not as in to be wishy-washy (ack! hyphen?) or indecisive, in case you were wondering (because you might be like me and wonder about these things). Or, more accurately, I think anyway, to change one’s mind. See? There’s a lot going on here. But aren’t we having fun?

I’m a lot of things

But I’m really not a gardener.* I’m a big fan of gardens, however, and especially a fan of the people who tend to them.

I’m in awe of those who seem innately to know what to do with plants and earth. I have no issues with getting dirty or digging in the dirt, but I need a lot of direction. In fact, put me to work in your garden if it means you’ll grant me permission to wander at will (just hold my hand a bit, and be patient with my questions).

yellow daisies?
this might be yarrow…

I guess if I stayed in one place I could probably learn to tend a garden, but until then I will appreciate other people’s gardens.

lamb’s ear in fading light

I could sit in this particular garden all evening and listen to all the humming of activity, watch the sun move over this plot as it tucks in for the night.

late evening shadows under the trellis
shadows cast over the lavender labyrinth

*I might have identified some plants incorrectly here. Again, I’m no gardener. But I’m trying to learn the names of the things I appreciate.

Lovely little film surprises

I only waited a little over one week for three rolls of film to be developed, which in the scheme of things is so completely unimportant. I am not a patient waiter, however (is anyone?). I get a little obsessed about waiting. In fact, when I sent my rolls of film across the country just over a week ago, I became fairly obsessed with tracking the package.

I sent it from Michigan on Monday and it landed in California on Wednesday. It then went to four different cities before it started to circle back through these cities again, at which point a notice popped up on the tracking site saying there was a “delivery exception.”


Were my precious rolls of film ripped from their prepaid envelope, rolling around individually in the backs of several different USPS trucks, now never to reach their destination?! Heartbroken, I prepared for exactly this. I promised myself that next time I shipped film, I’d drop a small piece of paper, maybe even a few dollar bills, into each canister with my name and address. Some wonderful person would find this and lovingly send my film back to me and I’d start the scary process of sending it for developing once again, maybe even drive it to its destination myself. In the meantime, I emailed USPS and hoped for the best, which of course occurred the very next morning when my envelope, intact, was delivered to the processor.

But by then it was the weekend, so more waiting.

Then today (Tuesday), the email arrived with news that my film was developed and scanned and images were ready for me to download. Hurrah! Prosecco for everyone! (Yes, I really am this excited.)

Who wouldn’t be excited about this?! Be still my heart. Pentax K1000, Portra 400

Okay, maybe not everyone gets giddy over these things. But thank you to the neighbor who discarded the toilet, and to the other neighbor who had the foresight to fill it with lilacs.

There was also a roll of Ilford HP5 400 ISO shot on the Pentax, which I was just as excited about, but seemed a little extra grainy. I’m still learning, so there’s that.

mama goat and babies
not goats, or babies

But then there was also this:

open Tues – Sat

The new (to me) half frame camera, one of the first models of the Olympus PEN. Good lord, the camera itself is cute. And the images, oh yes, yes, yes. You can keep them in twos, or threes, or however many you want depending on how you cut the film. Or you can make individual images. Oh, the possibilities. And the lovely surprise of not quite knowing what you’re going to get back. That’s what film does. At least for me.

zone focusing is new to me


Is it just me? Or is this not awesome?

double cute
didn’t even plan this symmetry

The camera could probably use a cleaning, but that isn’t stopping me from using it. Now that I know it works and my guestimates (and occasional light meter app use) weren’t too off (there’s nothing automatic here), I’m feeling a little more confident about it. I’ll get it to a camera repair shop when I feel like I can take a break from it. Which I can’t right now. Because I love it.

Did I mention how cute it is?

Sigh. I’m smitten. I guess I better get used to waiting.

(Edited because I inadvertently lied about the film I used. It was Portra 400 for the color roll, not Ektar 100 as originally stated. And I didn’t mention it, but the film I used in the PEN was T-Max 100. I should write these things down. Really.)


And COLEaboration, part 2

As promised, more images from the weekend with talented dancer and friend Margi Cole, who I’m just so grateful to have spent time with. And more thoughts on the process of creating. Or, really, editing.

As a copy editor (my job), I know how to edit other people’s work. There’s a process. If the deadline is tight, I have one chance to sharpen the writer’s work, clean up mistakes, tighten up concepts, make the work clear, concise, error-free. If I’m lucky and I have a little more time, I’ll do a first edit and then step away before I come at it fresh for a second edit. I usually find a another round of things I can make clearer, a mistake or two I missed, something that can be tightened up. As a writer, I self-edit–sometimes forever. I have a hard time knowing when it’s just right, when to stop.



In the process of blogging, I’m trying to be a little softer on myself. Of course when I go back and read a post I find things I want to edit, but I’m really trying to leave things as they are. This is a moment, right? And moments are rarely perfect.


Like writing, I find a similar struggle when editing photos. So many different directions I could take. And when I put my work “out there,” I often get advice and suggestions about how to edit. Sometimes I feel insecure about this advice and my choices. Other times it’s a learning process and I’m grateful for the advice. In any case, how you choose to present your work, I am finding, is awfully individual and dependent on all sorts of things… your mood when creating or editing, your frame of mind, your securities or insecurities, what kind or how much booze you’re drinking (and I’m only half kidding on this).


Anyway. I bet I’ll re-edit many of the photos from this weekend. But I am still on a high of inspiration and creation, even if imperfect, and I’m owning it (and this blog post, possible typos and grammatical errors and all).

COLEaboration, part one

I had an idea. Or, more of a spark of an idea. A vision, maybe.

I am near Silver Lake State Park, which is a section of land that separates an inland lake from the big lake (Lake Michigan). Legend is that after the Great Chicago Fire, this piece of land was deforested to provide lumber to rebuild the city. Now, I don’t know for sure if this is true, but what I do know is it a vast, open landscape of moving, shifting, shape-changing, tree-swallowing, rolling, blowing, lunar landscape-looking, absolutely stunning sand dunes that I find infinitely compelling to photograph.

Twenty some years ago I met a dancer in a geology class in college and we were instant friends. I had never even heard of modern dance, let alone seen it performed, until I met Margi and she opened my eyes to it. We lost touch after college (pre-Internet days) and got back in touch in recent years via Facebook. She teaches dance and has a 20-year-old dance company (The Dance COLEctive), which I’ve seen perform several times and have always left these performances a bit shaken up–awed and inspired and full and just wowed. So many beautiful and talented dancers and creative voices.

I had a vision of photographing Margi on the dunes.

Movement, dance, shapes, shadows, sand, the driftwood as architectural element, human and stark nature. I don’t generally photograph people unless they are incidental to an image, but I’m trying to get more comfortable with it (directing people is not my strong suit). And this vision persisted, so I asked. Not only was she willing, she brought up the word “collaborate.” That felt safer–it wouldn’t be just me experimenting photographically with a willing participant, but it would now be two people creating something artistic, an experience, planting a seed. So we finalized a date.


deshantzcook_20160617_IMG_7869We spent the weekend catching up, laughing, drinking, taking photos, and comparing vision as I started the editing process. I found she was drawn to some of the images I might have dismissed, and I was drawn to some she would have overlooked. In general, though, we gasped at the same images as I uploaded them, which I took as a very good sign that we had some stuff we were both happy with.

I think we have some of the same sensibilities, and while she has the artist’s vocabulary to describe these things, I am still working on developing that language, those senses. In these few days I learned just a little of this language as well as a new way of looking at movement that is more organic and artistic. What a weekend of inspiration, of rekindling an old friendship, of creating. I feel full. And again wowed.


This is just a little of what we ended up with. I am having trouble moving away from black and white edits for these dune images, but I’ll sit on them a while and let the ideas percolate.



There’s much more, but I’m still processing (photos as well as the whole collaboration process). I’ll follow up with another post.


Because there might be

Today I left the beach briefly in the middle of my workday to go to the post office in town. It’s a short drive, just a few miles on a two-lane paved road, a straight shot east through farmland and orchards. I drive carefully because I know there are farm dogs, raccoon, chipmunks, deer, porcupine, field mice, all manner of living creatures and being the sensitive person I am, I don’t want to take a life (ticks, mosquitoes, black flies, and Very Big Spiders excluded).

And what I was thinking about on this drive, out of nowhere, was my mother.

Of all the ways I didn’t want to be like her, I am most like her in sharing this heightened sensitivity. It just about drove me crazy when I became a driver and I realized how painfully, impossibly slow she drove through the streets of our suburb. Like, 10 miles an hour slow, sometimes (although I may be exaggerating). I remember a conversation with her where, when I complained about the pace, she said she would not drive faster because you never knew when a squirrel or a dog or a cat or a kid might run into the road. She said nothing beyond that, and I probably rolled my eyes and sighed and slumped into the seat like a brooding teenager. But I get it. Because if one of those things did cross her path suddenly, and she couldn’t stop her car in time, it would have been too much for her. Too much for her to hurt or kill something, someone.

And just as that realization began to crystallize in my head I saw, in the dry, earthy field to my right, the young deer that was about to cross my path at breakneck speed. I already knew there was no one behind me so I could safely slow. No one was coming in the opposite lane. She flew across the road at a safe distance in front of my car–I mean really flew–and bounded away through the green field to my left. My breath left me for a moment.

It was these what if’s, the might be’s, that made my mother drive slowly and carefully despite any annoyed passengers. In her driving and in her words, she would have rather stayed slow, quiet and purposeful, than hurt anyone or anything. While it’s not easy to share her sensitive nature, I don’t balk at sharing her refusal to purposely hurt. She believed in love, even though she was wounded, and in weighing her words before speaking. I carry her wounds and her nature if not always her skill at holding her tongue. I believe in love, and peace, and the refusal to be the cause of any being’s pain.



Necessary distractions

I don’t want to say anything today for fear of the sadness.

Can I just live in a world where I think people want to live just like me, seeing only the good and the beauty around them, loving others for their differences or at the very least assuming a “live and let live” attitude?

I can’t wrap my brain around the events in Florida last night–I don’t want to spend a moment trying to understand that kind of hate. I hope, in not giving any more of a voice to it in this post, that I will read this later and wonder what I was writing about, if only for a moment. I am neither trying to make light nor be too heavy, I’m just too sensitive sometimes for this world. And so the proverbial blanket goes over my head for protection.


And then I drive or walk or ride my bike in search of things to shoot. Actually, I don’t think that’s a word I even want to use anymore. Capture? Or does that sound equally jarring? How about just photograph? That’s a mouthful sometimes, though. I’ll work on a better word choice, I guess. Anyway I often find myself on this particular road because of this tree. Er, former tree. I think it was struck by lightning some years ago. It sits at the edge of what last year was a corn field, and there are often crows, wrens, other birds hanging around it, maybe nesting in it. I don’t know why I’m so drawn to this tree, but I am, and I probably have hundreds of photos of it from all seasons but the deepest winter. The sky behind it today made it even more compelling.

Across the road from the tree is a grain field. I’m seeing more grains planted around here in the last several years, and some fields that used to be fruit trees or corn are converting to grain. I’m not sure if this is wheat or rye or some other grain, but I liked how it’s still young and thin–you can still see the grooves in the earth through the stalks.


I’ll admit I photograph many of the same things over and over, and I don’t even mind that because they never look the same depending on the season, the sky, the clouds–but I’m always looking for something different, something I haven’t seen before, something I might have missed.


Like a former school, now used for storage, and its forgotten basketball courts. I have a soft spot for the abandoned and unloved. Probably all part of that whole sensitivity thing.

Tomorrow morning I’ll send several rolls of film out for developing. For someone who isn’t great at waiting, I’ve probably made a lousy choice in this burgeoning interest in film photography. It’s all about waiting and the element of surprise, neither of which I’m particularly good at. (I say I like surprise, but that’s just me convincing myself mostly.) Or maybe it means learning how to develop my own film is in my future? Oof. Another thing.


Summer, sweet summer

I’m in the place on this earth that I love best. The place my dad dreamed of, scrimped and saved for, and plopped down a shell of a house in 1972 that has been evolving ever since.

the view

I know how lucky I am to have this legacy handed down to me, to be the caretaker–with my husband–of this sacred place. I know how lucky I am to have a career that has evolved so that I can live and work here. I am lucky, grateful, honored to care for and live in a cottage on Lake Michigan for a good chunk of the year.

And like the shores of this lake, which ebb and flow and deposit (or demolish, as is the case this year) sandy beaches, treasures of driftwood and perfect skipping stones, my experiences here change. This summer, after two years of learning to live with no kids in my home, said (grown) kids are here with me for the month.

There is a music festival not far from here that happens in a few more weeks. My kids are working to build the experience for the 40,000 or so people who will hopefully attend this four-day festival safely. My kids wake up to coffee here and spend the day onsite at the festival grounds, then come back to the cottage tired and hungry and not always cheerful (but mostly they are). It’s hard work, and they’re good at it. I am the coffee supplier, the occasional breakfast maker, the baker of brownies and cookies. The goodbye-er and hello-er and the hearer of stories after long days. It’s a little like it was before they left, but different because they are adults. We navigate the sometimes tricky path of communicating in a different way.

I am different here, too. It’s a stripped down way of life, different from the city both physically and emotionally. The days are longer on the lake and the distractions are fewer. I have said it before: I am most myself with sand in my hair, the lake water in my pores. And like the changing relationship with my kids, and the ebb and flow of this shoreline, I am navigating a changing relationship with myself. More acceptance, less chatter, nicer words, less worry. I’m working on these things, anyway.

oh, hi.

Here’s another thing I’m working on. Or working with. It’s one of the first generation Olympus PEN half-frame cameras. This one is probably from 1960 or ’61. The whole half frame thing intrigues me… You get an image on half of a frame of 35mm film, which means you get double the shots per roll. Who doesn’t like that? I spent the week trying it out and will send my test roll for processing on Monday morning. I’ve got my fingers crossed, because wow, this little thing is fun to shoot. Hopefully I’ll have something to show for it next week.

So that’s where I am. In my favorite place, working, enjoying my kids, trying out a new camera. A divine start to summer.