Friday, August 26, 2016

A Health Update


I've been walking five miles a day. Over the past week or two I've hit the pickleball court twice and the tennis court once. I appear to have hurt my left knee.

That damn knee really does hurt, without any obvious trip or slip or strain, but I'm sure you'll agree that all of the above is a pretty positive lede for a guy with Stage 4 intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma who couldn't hold down a bite of food a few weeks earlier.

As crazy as it sounds, I feel good physically and even better emotionally. The forced "vacation" that is short-term disability is part of it, no doubt, but there's more. The psychology of borrowed time? I'm manic without depression, racing to tend to laundry and dishwasher chores, and often just deliriously happy for no good reason. My appetite is back with a vengeance, thanks in part to the steroids that come with the chemotherapy. Don't be surprised if the next entry here is a detailed analysis of Popeyes vs. KFC.

Now, my treatment is still in its first stage -- just chemo -- and it might be several weeks before the doctors stick me in the scan-o-tron to see whether the tennis-ball-size tumor in my liver has assumed more golf-ball-like proportions. But the anecdotal evidence sure doesn't suggest any move in the other direction. My blood tests aren't showing anything alarming under the circumstances. I'm still on an opioid (it's the American way!), but the pain is minor, and it's almost always "referred" pain that presents itself as a backache, not a flashing YOUR TUMOR HERE! neon sign on my abdomen.

About that chemotherapy:

A handful of things about my diagnosis have emerged as "lucky," and one of those is that it came just as Johns Hopkins was about to open a branch of its cancer center at Sibley Memorial Hospital, much closer to my home in Washington, D.C. The photos here are from my first visit to the new facility, with its private infusion rooms. This was the second and final infusion of Round 2 of chemotherapy -- a round is two visits in three weeks (infuse, infuse, rest).

Five or six hours in a chair sounds boring, but I could sit there twice as long. It is truly a highlight of my week. The nurses are smart and capable and funny. I have my books and my music and my Jacqueline. And aside from a little fatigue, I've escaped the side effects: I've had no nausea since starting chemotherapy, and I still have all my hair!

Soon we should be talking about the second stage of treatment, the tiny beads of radiation bombarding the big tumor directly. And in 40 years, give or take, they should be interviewing me for the documentary.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The News Could Be Better


I recently learned -- gradually and then suddenly, like the bankrupt Hemingway character -- that I have cancer. Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, to be precise. Stage 4, with a tennis-ball-size liver tumor and numerous little sidekick tumors. Not one of your kinder, gentler cancers.

Believe me, I have every intention of fighting and beating this thing. And my wife, Jacqueline, is helping me fight and beat this thing. I wouldn't bet on This Thing, quite frankly. Still, the odds are not in our favor, and we are nothing if not realistic. We are putting whatever faith we can muster in science aided by determination, not sunny affirmations or soft-focus memes. We will not shy from gallows humor.

For several years now, Jacqueline and I have looked at each other and shaken our heads and marveled at our good fortune. If we had behaved this way in front of other people, it would have seemed smug and boastful. But we really were grateful, and we still are. I have had a great life. I have a great wife, a great family, a great job, etc., etc. I would not trade 55 of these years for 75 or 85 or 95 of what's behind Door No. 2.

And isn't it lucky to have some warning, at a relatively young age and with my mind intact? Not all causes of death work that way -- I could have been run over by a car. This way, I have time, maybe a little and maybe more than that, to take it all in. To savor the little things. I get weepy now when I see trees and cardinals and cardinals in the trees. Am I really missing all that much if I never get to be a doddering old man?

Speaking of smug boasts, have I mentioned that I can swing neither of my cats without hitting a world-class cancer center? I chose one of the very best: Johns Hopkins is less than an hour a way, with a satellite even closer to home at Sibley Memorial Hospital (SMH, as in "shaking my head"). I've since learned that "my team of specialists" is a phrase that doesn't sound nearly as good as you think it's going  to,  but still, I have a team of specialists. And that team has a plan. I've started chemotherapy. Soon, there will be radiation, in the form of teeny-weeny little beads sent directly into the diseased  area.

In other words, as lucky as I am to be escaping doddering-old-man status, maybe I'll be really lucky. Maybe I'll end up a doddering old man.


Monday, April 04, 2016

ACES 2016


By popular request, here is the slide show that accompanied my presentation at the 2016 American Copy Editors Society conference in Portland, Oregon. The usual caveat: I don't use PowerPoint (or do much else, for that matter) like a normal person. I put up slides to illustrate and punctuate my points, and to give the audience something to look at besides my shiny head. So you won't see bullet points spelling out everything I said. There is a fair amount of text, but in some cases you'll have to use your imagination.  
Rookie Mistakes That Even Veterans Make (PDF)


Thursday, January 14, 2016

[S]top [T]his

In academic publishing and other rigorously picky environments, single letters are bracketed to indicate a change of case in a quotation from written material -- a word from the middle of a quote being used to begin a sentence, or a word from the beginning of a sentence being used in the middle of running text.

Recently, the practice has extended beyond academia and taken the Web by storm. Some writers at Slate and Salon seemingly engineer their sentences so that the case at the beginning of a quote is never, ever in context, thus allowing them to use their [n]ew [t]oy.

Others seem to think the brackets are the new ellipses, to indicate that something came earlier but isn't being quoted. Any quote that does not begin with the first word the speaker uttered as an infant gets [T]he [T]reatment. Bizarrely, this happens even with spoken quotations, as though people spoke in big and little letters.

If you're writing or editing in a rigorously picky environment, go ahead and use those brackets. Otherwise, perhaps with the occasional exception, do not. If a case change leaves you feeling dirty, rewrite the sentence to put the quote in its correct case-specific context.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Acknowledging the Inevitable


It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to say that I built a (not-very-lucrative) second career on hatred of the email spelling of e-mail, or to say that the peeve I petted the most was the mic spelling of mike.

But back in my first career, the one that pays the bills, it's not about me. And so, as my Washington Post colleagues and I prepared to move out of the building where I've worked for nearly 19 years, I decided this time of change would be a good time to propose some style updates. My bosses had no objection, so the change is coming. The following is from an e-mail (yes, I'm still using the hyphen on my own time) that I sent to the newsroom. The newsroom was, uh, pretty happy about it. It's probably safe to say this is the most popular e-mail I will ever send.

Important changes in Post style (effective Sunday)

Greetings! Just in case you don’t have enough upheaval to deal with in the coming weeks, we have some significant stylebook updates to announce. In some cases, we are catching up with changes that many other publications and news organizations have already made. We had good reasons for standing our ground, but usage goes where it wants to go, and the older practices were no doubt increasingly distracting to readers.

Please read over the following and incorporate them into your writing and editing effective with editions of the coming Sunday, Dec. 6.

email
No hyphen in email, emails, emailed, emailing, emailer, etc., in a change from long-standing Post style. Capitalize at the beginning of a sentence. Other e- formulations get hyphens: e-commerce, e-books, e-learning.

website
Use website, not Web site, in a change from long-standing Post style. Retain capitalization of Web when it’s used alone as short for World Wide Web. Also: Web page, not webpage, but webcam, webcast, webmail, webmaster.

website addresses
In short (the stylebook entry will be longer), there is no longer any need to use www. with Web addresses unless the prefix is required to make them work. We long ago discarded http:// -- again, except in the rare cases where a site did not work without it (it will sometimes be necessary to specify https:// when we’re talking about the secure version of a site that doesn’t automatically apply that prefix).

mic
Not mike, in a change from long-standing Post style, as the short form for microphone. Try to avoid inflected verb forms, but use apostrophes and write mic’ed and mic’ing if they must be used.

Iraq War
Capitalize War, in a change from long-standing Post style. Use the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or similar wording to avoid juxtaposing a capitalized Iraq War and a lowercase Afghanistan war.

Walmart
Use this spelling for the stores and, in general, the company and its affiliated entities. Post style is generally not to use corporate identifiers, but use the Wal-Mart spelling if it is necessary to spell out Wal-Mart Stores Inc.or any unit of the company that uses that spelling in official filings.

ExxonMobil
Use this spelling, without a space, except in formal references to Exxon Mobil Corp. (Post style is generally not to use Corp. and other corporate identifiers.)

TV and radio stations
We are relaxing our insistence on old-fashioned call letters and allowing the use of branded names such as NBC4.

they, their, etc.
It is usually possible, and preferable, to recast sentences as plural to avoid both the sexist and antiquated universal default to male pronouns and the awkward use of he or she, him or her and the like: All students must complete their homework, not Each student must complete his or her homework.

When such a rewrite is impossible or hopelessly awkward, however, what is known as “the singular they” is permissible: Everyone has their own opinion about the traditional grammar rule. The singular they is also useful in references to people who identify as neither male nor female.