Because I could not … change the tense

My first semester of graduate school courses has been full of highs and lows. The lows relate to the workload being overwhelming, though now that I know what to expect, subsequent semesters (if I make it that far) should be more manageable.

The highs are plenty. I have never worked on a group assignment before and doing so (for an editing-related podcast) has so far been a thrill. The thrill should continue when we finally start recording our material. We will use Camtasia Relay  – a software that I have never used – to record our podcast. I will be one of two presenters in this podcast.

To practice, I thought I would add a podcast to this blog post. However, something went really wrong. I saved this folly for the blooper reel. That link is not worth clicking (I need to buy a microphone because the internal microphone on my laptop is broken).

The point of the podcast was to describe another high of this semester: looking at the subtle verb tense shifts in “I Have Dreamed,” from the musical The King and I. That assignment was something I delayed but it became very engrossing. It was a pleasure researching this assignment because I got the opportunity to listen to dozens of other versions of the song. While most of the cover versions used the same lyrics, I felt a dramatic change in tone when I listened to the Jazz singer’s Jimmy Scott’s version.

Hearing the shift gave me goosebumps. It was haunting and I read Scott’s Wikipedia page. He suffered from Kallmann syndrome – a genetic disorder that “results in the failure to commence or the non-completion of puberty”  that left him with an androgynous, haunting voice. Listening to Scott voice, and reading about his personal history, made his version of the song even more heartbreaking.

I wanted to see if I could find something else as shaking. I looked for cover songs on YouTube, but nothing gave me the same sense of melancholy that Jimmy Scott’s rendition of “I Have Dreamed.” But I found the mood somewhere else – in the Emily Dickinson poem “Because I Could Not Wait for Death.”

No one on the Internet was sacrilegious I was though to change the verb tense in a classic poem, but I did anyway. While I did not achieve the same effect as Jimmy Scott, changing the tense from the past and conditional tense to present tense, it makes it sound like I am riding in a cab with Death. I guess, in a way, we all are from the moment we’re born. In any case, here are the two version of the poem:

Because I Could Not Stop For DeathBy Emily DickinsonBecause I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,

And I had put away

My labor, and my leisure too,

For his civility.

We passed the school where children played,

Their lessons scarcely done;

We passed the fields of gazing grain,

We passed the setting sun.

We paused before a house that seemed

A swelling of the ground;

The roof was scarcely visible.

The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries but each

Feels shorter than the day

I first surmised the horses’ heads

Were toward eternity.


Because I Do Not Stop For DeathBastardized by Navid IqbalBecause I do not stop for Death,

He kindly stops for me;

The carriage holds but just ourselves

And Immortality.

We slowly drive, he knows no haste,

And I put away

My labor, and my leisure too,

For his civility.

We pass the school where children play,

Their lessons scarcely done;

We pass the fields of gazing grain,

We pass the setting sun.

We pause before a house that seems

A swelling of the ground;

The roof is scarcely visible.

The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries but each

Feels shorter than the day

I first surmise the horses’ heads

Are toward eternity.


Plain speak vs. Incspeak

I recently attended a virtual Plain Language Seminar at the NYC Chapter for the Society of Technical Communication. As a graduate student in technical communication, I found myself with a group that I hope to learn from as I continue my studies. The workshop was organized, efficient, straightforward, fun, funny, and while I did not get a chance to enjoy the free food, I am sure it was delicious.

The Plain Language Seminar takeaway was to get rid of jargon in speech. With well over 20 years of experience as an educator and a plain language expert, Dr. Deborah Bosley is an enigmatic, smart, witty, and engaging speaker. Her presentation was informative. I was particularly surprised when Dr. Bosley shared a story about being called as an expert witness during a hearing.

One example from her presentation demonstrated the power of plain language.

Provision in fee agreement: BEFORE Provision in fee agreement: AFTER
The client understands that any estimates provided by the Firm of the magnitude of the expenses that will be required at certain stages of any litigation asserting a cause of action are not precise, and that the kinds and amounts of expenses required are ultimately a function of many conditions over which the Firm has little or no control, particularly the extent to which the opposition files pretrial motions and engages in its own discovery requests, whether in the nature of interrogatories, depositions, requests for production, or requests for admission, or any other type of discovery allowed by the rules of procedures in the forum in which the dispute is th grade pending. A firm’s estimate are just that: estimates. Conditions outside the firm’s control, especially the other side’s pretrial motions and discovery requests, may raise or lower expenses.

I don’t envy the writers who have to read corporatespeak and translate it for us normal laypeople. As English is not my first language, I have a good understanding of what it feels like to look at a block of text and not have any idea what it means. I remember feeling perplexed by words when I started grade school. I would hate to present someone else with a big block of undecipherable text, which is why I hope I will get my writing as plain as possible.