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A Lesson in English a.k.a. don’t mess with an English major

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I’ve been working as a freelance editor and proofreader for the noteworthy freelancing website Upwork since July and I will now be deactivating my account.

It was truly a wonderful experience while it lasted, working odd transcription jobs here and there to supplement my current income. I got myself enough to buy my very own Samson Meteor mic to record better quality songs which I will love and cherish for eternity and nobody can take that experience away from me.

But I just got ‘fired’ from a job that has left a very lasting and bad impression on me. At least I’ve gotten an anecdote out of this whole ordeal, one that has taught me to never underestimate the power of ignorance especially when it comes to the English language. I guess this is a way for me to vent. For the sake of protecting my client’s identity, I will rename him Mr. Taco Bell. So here it goes:

It all began last Sunday when Mr. Taco Bell, after a month’s absence, informed me that he now had new work for me. I was simply ecstatic. Not that my current job at a very well established publishing house isn’t good enough – I actually cannot believe how lucky I am to be doing something I genuinely enjoy – but, you know, millennials. We like to earn money and find ways to retire early, am I right or what?

So, here’s how Mr. Taco Bell phrased his offer:

Dear Echo,

I hope you’ve been doing well. Congrats on your first experience at one of my many chain fast food joints. I know, the tacos are shit small.

I have new work for you, if you’re interested.

  1. Chopping up fresh ingredients for our delicious tacos and assembling the tacos for delivery.
  2. Quality control of said tacos for utmost quality of quality-ness.

Let me know if you’d like to do 1 and/or 2.

Kind regards,
Mr. Taco Bell

Obviously, Mr. Taco Bell didn’t offer me those specific tasks to perform but the content of the tasks does not matter. I want you to keep this part in mind:

Let me know if you’d like to do 1 and/or 2.

My response, being eager to work again and earn extra cash, was that I chose to do 1 and 2. Simple, right?

So, I picked 5 different tacos and I chopped up all the ingredients for the 5 tacos as well as assembled all of the tacos and plated them up and made the hell sure that they were of the utmost quality of quality-ness. I sent the 5 delicious tacos Mr. Taco Bell’s way and asked him how much I could charge him for the two tasks.

I was adamant in getting this clarified because in the past he’d only asked me to do task no. 2, quality control, and I knew that rate very well but I didn’t know what the rate for task no. 1 was. His swift response was utter confusion. Huh after huh after huh, he finally said, “You realize one freelancer won’t be doing both task no. 1 and task no. 2?” Does that baffle you, dear reader? Because it sure as hell baffled me. But wait a minute, Mr. Taco Bell. Didn’t you just give me the choice of doing both task no. 1 and task no. 2?

Let me know if you’d like to do 1 and/or 2.

Also, isn’t that the reason why this messaging thread is called, “Task no. 1 and task no. 2”, as opposed to all the previous messaging threads that were called, “Task no. 2”? (Upwork has a chatbox in which clients and freelancers can either text or voice chat or video chat. Mr. Taco Bell and I text) I was really finding it difficult to try to make Mr. Taco Bell see my point. It almost felt as though he was scrambling for excuses not to pay me for doing both the tasks which infuriated me to hell and back.

All this back and forth of confusion and feeling like a headless chicken took place just this past week. That is, until today, when I decided to put my foot down and get to the bottom of it.

Mr. Taco Bell mentions that the rate of payment of task no. 1 is the same as that of task no. 2. My response, as any normal person’s response would be, was to repeat myself for the hundredth time: “So that means I can charge you the same for task no. 1 & 2, right?” Finally, I get a semblance of an answer, but not the one I was hoping for: “What do you mean?” he says. “I never told you to do both task no. 1 & 2.”

Let me know if you’d like to do 1 and/or 2.

Uh uh, Mr. Taco Bell, you ain’t doing me like that. Not today.

I rummage through our chat and directly quoted him thus:

Let me know if you’d like to do 1 and/or 2.

I thought if he saw his exact words, quoted and everything, that the whole confusion would be done away with and we could both skip happily away into the sunset and continue working on them delicious tacos. I was dead wrong.

He repeated himself. Literally, he said, “Yeah, I asked you if you could do 1 and/or 2, that doesn’t mean I wanted you to do both.” And that, dear readers, is when the record stopped playing and that god awful record scratch noise echoed in my head.

Let me know if you’d like to do 1 and/or 2.

The whole world came to a screeching halt as his words rang in my ears. I finally understood what had happened. Mr. Taco Bell thought he was in the right all along and that I was some money hungry freelancer who wanted to get paid for work she wasn’t asked to do and which, therefore, was null and void. Mr. Taco Bell thought he was completely innocent and I was the culprit trying to twist his words and change her stance. Mr. Taco Bell thought he knew the English language very well and thought he, presumably not a student of English literature, could one up me, a student of English literature.

I told him, “If you wanted me to work on just one of the tasks, you should have said ‘1 or 2’. ‘And/or’ implies that I have the choice to pick one or both.” andor.PNG

We argue back and forth about this terminology when he finally utters the words, “You are an English major, I would hope you would know better in this profession.” Okay, so, you’re telling me, that I – an English literature major with a clean track record on this website and working with you, Mr. Taco Bell – am in the wrong and you – a non-English literature major who always makes the mistake of assigning me work that I have already done – are in the right? Well – excuse my French – fuck me!

Avoiding the subject entirely, Mr. Taco Bell asks, “Remember the bonus I gave you last month?” I said yes. He says, “Did you say thank you?” I thought, hang on, what are you implying. I said yes. And showed him the receipts, thank you. He continues, “Then I can’t believe you would accuse me of avoiding to pay you…” Now, I really thought someone was pranking me. It clearly must be the language gods playing a big joke on me for being so annoyed by people who say “should of” instead of “should have”. I explained that that was not the issue at all and that I never doubted him and bla bla all the while biting my tongue wishing it was socially acceptable in a business setting to say things like, “bitch, are you out yo mind?” Or, “U wot m8?”

In the end, Mr. Taco Bell agrees to pay me the amount due but not before writing a very saucy message, which I didn’t bother to fully read. I’m not wasting my eyes on your words if you can’t even English, m8. The gist of it was that:

  1. One person cannot be assigned both task no. 1 and task no. 2 because it may result in a biased piece of work. A freelancer who chops up and assembles one taco may be biased towards the quality of his/her taco as he/she is the creator of said taco.And,
  2. If I would have just told Mr. Taco Bell that I had done both tasks of assembling tacos and quality control of said tacos, he would have said sorry for the confusion, clarified me on the subject, and moved on.

He then told me he could not work with me again as this experience has left a bad taste in his mouth.

I wrote him a short and sweet message thanking him for the payment and subsequently defended myself thus:

  1. I did not know this was the case as you had never mentioned it to me before, my dearest Mr. Taco Bell.
  2. In fact, I did tell you I had done both tasks. Remember the agreement? Or how about that time I asked you what I could charge you considering that I had done both task no. 1 and task no. 2? Or maybe that time after you tried to mansplain mathematics to me – an individual whose favorite subject in high school was maths and who was selected to participate in a maths competition in the 10th grade – and I said, “Please, sir. Let us not stray away from the issue; that I did both task no. 1 and task no. 2 (see the correct usage of ‘and’, and how I didn’t say ‘and/or’).” Not once did you, Mr. Taco Bell, get off your high horse and correct me when I was begging you for your correction and clarification.

I found myself about to write more and more saucily. But I refrained as that would have been a very petty road upon which I would bump into Mr. Taco Bell, and I think that sort are best to avoid in life. I only hope, and I genuinely hope, that somebody corrects you one day, Mr. Taco Bell, and you do not respond with the ignorance which you chose to smother yourself in today.

And that’s that chapter of my life.


I am by no means a grammar nazi. Context is something that matters to me. I understand many people don’t speak English as their first language and that some people may not have known about certain grammar rules or word spellings or certain diction, etc, and so I excuse you when you make a mistake but I will also try to correct you and hope that you can be your best self or close to your best self one day. Or, I would hope that the human spirit of perseverance were burning bright enough in you that you would find ways to correct your mistakes like, I dunno, maybe Google?

People learn the things they learn to either grow for themselves or help others, or both (<– a situation where the use of and/or would have been correct). When I come across a peer or friend or family member who uses a certain phrase or word incorrectly, and that I know certainly that it is incorrect because I have learned it somewhere, then – if I’m up for it – I will not hesitate to tell you how to do it right. Nor should you hesitate to tell me if I’m doing something wrong. Mistakes are the most potent things that help you learn; without mistakes you cannot learn. And that is a philosophy that I hold dearly to my heart.

I don’t hesitate when my mother asks me if a simple text message she is sending that’s been written in English is correct or not. Even if it really irks me.

I didn’t hesitate when that one Manipuri politician and I got into a debate over Facebook about the many tenses of the verb ‘to write’ and I totally pwned his ass while family and friends watched. I wish I still had a screenshot of it. That was a glorious day.

It’s one thing to write something incorrectly, it’s another when you write it incorrectly, somebody lets you know of it, and absolutely refuse to acknowledge that maybe what you’ve written is incorrect. If you don’t want to hear it from me, fine. But at least, at the very least, give yourself some wiggle room because we’re not all perfect, and look it up yourself. We are in a generation where information is so readily available. Literally, all it takes is a single swipe and a few taps and you’re there.

I just cannot understand how people can still be ignorant about certain topics that they can easily un-ignorify themselves from. It baffles me.

The English language is great. But it will also be the death of me. Don’t be surprised if one day you find me dead from a heart attack because I’d come across an image with the two deadliest words in the English language: should of.

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Genie In A Candle

Day 13 of Flash Fiction Month!

Today we were given a horror genre challenge. My personal challenge was to use the monster/creature trope, using a birthday candle, and lastly ending it on the “The End…Or Is It?” trope. 


Having nothing better to do after school was let out, Alexander, Paul and David sat in a dimly lit garage holding their breaths as Alexander held the striped birthday candle.

“Jimmy sold this to me for five bucks,” Alexander said. “If nothing happens, we go get my money back alright guys?”

“Sure,” Paul agreed. David answered with a nod. “And what exactly is supposed to happen?”

“He said a genie’s soul is trapped in this candle. And you know what genies do.”

“Yeah, I’ve seen Aladdin,” Paul nodded. “So now what? You supposed to rub the candle?”

“We light it.”

Alexander struck a match and lit the striped birthday candle. The three boys looked at each other for a second before the flame began to flicker. The flame moved from one side to the other and flickered from yellow to green to blue. It grew larger and large till it touched the ceiling.

“This is it, boys,” Alexander proclaimed, rubbing his hands.

The flame that was now well above their heads suddenly shrunk to the size of a fist and out of it came a voice that said: “What?”

Alexander cleared his throat. “Oh ye wise genie of the candle. I am your new mast—..”

“Now just who the hell do you think I am?” Out of the blue flame emerged a tiny round head that peered up at the boys. Two tiny arms emerged from either sides of its round bulbous blue body.

“You’re the genie of the candle right?” asked Paul.

“Genie?” The blue entity rested a hand on one hip while the other came up to point at the boy who spoke. “I am no genie. I am a monster from the deepest darkest depths of your innermost fears sent to eat you up.”

“So,” Alexander started, “you’re not a genie?”

He turned his gaze and his little pointed finger to Alexander. “Hell no,” he spat out a tiny spark of blue that hit the ground with a fizzle.

“So,” Alexander continued, “you’re not gonna grant my wish?”

“Your wish?” The blue entity looked incredulous. “No, I’m not gonna grant your wish. I ain’t a fuckin’ fluffy ass genie. Who do you think I am? I’m a spawn of the devil. I am Beelzebub and Behemoth combined. Some call me Asmodeus, some call me Azazel. I am Lucifer’s servant and I am here to eat your sou—..”

Alexander blew the striped birthday candle out and the blue entity vanished leaving behind a trail of smoke.

“What a waste,” Alexander said. “Come on boys. Let’s go teach Jimmy a lesson.”

Alexander snapped the striped birthday candle in two and threw it on the ground. He stomped off with Paul following closely behind.

David, who’d sat there quiet like a ghost the whole time, stared at the broken candle. He got up to leave but not before picking up the broken striped birthday candle, carefully placing it in his pant pocket. He smiled, gave his pocket a light pat and followed his friends.

 

5

Fly Me To The Moon

Day 12 of Flash Fiction Month!

I only used one prompt today, which is:

“I was in love with a man the world did not want me to have.”

It’s a quick and silly one.


“I’m going to marry him some day.”

“Who?”

“The man on the moon.”

That was about how every conversation went when Millie Matherson was around.

Nobody knew when her obsession with ‘the man on the moon’ began but her parents would often joke that when she was born, she did not cry but she howled and that was on the night of the brightest full moon of that year.

From age three to twelve, she always set a place next to her on the table for tea with the man on the moon. From twelve to sixteen, the man on the moon was there to keep her company on the days she felt loneliest. Somewhere around seventeen, she started to notice the way that boys looked at her and her parents breathed a sigh of relief.

“Millie, remember the time you couldn’t stop talking about the man on the moon?” they’d laugh.

“Yeah, I remember,” she smiled.

And then life continued normally the way a normal woman’s life pans out.

That is, until Millie Matherson’s 100th birthday celebration. She was surrounded by friends and her growing family and so much love to celebrate a century of living. As they brought out the birthday cake and sang ‘Happy Birthday’, she smiled. She patiently blew all the hundred birthday candles that filled up the vanilla frosted cake one-by-one and when she blew the last one out, the room turned dark. After a few moments of fumbling about and hey-who-turned-the-lights-outs, a beam of bright yellow light shone on Millie and Millie alone. Sat in her wheelchair, her body slowly lifted up and out the front door. Some family were screaming, some friends were gasping but all Millie did was laugh.

She lifted off into the moonlit sky, bellowing from above: “See ya later, suckers!”

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Flame In My Bloodstream

Day 11 of Flash Fiction Month.

Today’s challenge was “Hybrid Genres”. I had to choose two genres and write in a non-linear narrative style. I chose Western & Slice of Life.

The prompts I used: 

“He was a bastard and a drunk, but he was her only hope.”

S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Jolene” by Ray LaMontagne

This is my favorite one I’ve written so far. 


As fist connected to jaw with a crackle and a crunch, Ray was home at last.

Word got around that a bandit died with a smile on his face. Some say he was mad, others say he died doing what he loved. Most folk believed that his poor unfortunate soul had finally found the peace he’d been searching for his whole life; a real redemption story.

Do bandits go to heaven?

He was twenty-six when he first met Jolene. She was a real angel. She lit a fire in men who weren’t too deserving of her love and Ray was one of them.

He sits at the bar holding his whiskey drink and takes a sip. His throat burns the way his soul did when he’d first kissed Jolene. He chuckles when he thinks about the way she pushed him away. Was it the way the hair on his face prickled her delicate ivory skin? Or was it the stench of alcohol that stained his tongue ever since he was a boy of sixteen? It was hard to tell then and now it was just a memory.

His momma was a real angel too. She had fiery red hair that went along with her fiery spirit and when that fiery spirit got out, she’d earn herself another fiery brand on her skin. Ever the momma’s boy, he’d run to her side trying to cool her down and sometimes he’d get caught in the crossfire. “Boy, you got your momma’s spirit,” she’d say to him. “Ain’t nothing getting in the way of your fire.”

Maybe that was why Ray loved that fiery sensation burning in his throat and through his whole body every time he took a sip.

Jolene’s fire burned blue. She was the type that you love loving until she disappeared on you like a will-o’-the-wisp. He found her face down in a ditch near this very saloon two years back after a fight had broken loose.

It was too late for him to do anything so he poured himself another one.

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Nirvana

Day 10 of Flash Fiction Month.

The prompts I used today are:

Dictionary Prompt: exigent (adj.) – requiring immediate action or aid; urgent; pressing.

Flashback Prompt: The universe ended ages ago, but everything in it keeps going. 

Standard Prompt
It’s time for the annual sacrifice to the garden gods, the petunias are looking peaky.

Audio Prompt
Breezeblocks by alt-J

Visual Prompt
Endless Sands


Maybe it was a long time ago. Maybe it came to be.

He was the last man. Agonized from the lonely path he walked, he wanted to perish, he wanted to be with his brothers and sisters. But she would not let it be.

Every fatal step he took, she was moss to pillow his feet. With every cut and bruise he endured, she was water to ease his pain. Whenever he hungered, she bore fruit. On every sleepless night, she was a light shower to sing him to sleep.

When he wanted to die, she breathed life into his lungs.

“Why do you keep me here?” he exclaims desperately to the great unknown.

She answers with a soft breeze that caresses his body and sends a light shiver down his spine.

“Please. Let me go.”

She answers with a single droplet that falls gently down his cheek.

He falls to his knees and takes a deep breath. With an exhale, he dies.

It is an exigent matter that she saves his dying breath.

She readies herself for a storm. It lasts for moments that cannot be defined. The winds rage and she expels all the dead things up from within her core. With a sudden gust, his body explodes, releasing new life. She begins to create.

Maybe it was a long time ago. Maybe it came to be.

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Rain Song

Day 9 of Flash Fiction Month. 

The prompts I used today were:

Dictionary prompt: solander (noun) – a protective box made in the form of a book, for holding such items as botanical specimens, maps, papers, etc.  

Standard Prompts
1. “That’s definitely NOT the way to properly set off fireworks.”
2. Snails where snails should not be
3. Every album by a metal band (heavy, dark, gothic, etc) is actually a grimoire

And yet again, there’s Led Zeppelin references.


Last week, a Hungarian couple moved in across the street from me. The morning of their arrival, they came in two fully loaded trucks. And that was Saturday.

Sunday morning, they set up a garage sale.

I was one of the first people there, then came my next door neighbour Mary, then came a few of the Johnson children, then came Todd Foster.

The Hungarian couple were selling foreign wares and goodies; they had boxes and boxes of books and vinyls, a couple of odd ceramic animal sculptures and dishes, racks of robes and other colourful clothing and more ornaments.

There was a table full of empty black solanders in pristine quality. On each box, they’d written odd and unusual names such as “Tome of Toadstool”, “Guide to Ozymandias”, “Book of the Living” and “Pandora’s Box”.

“Pandora’s box, huh?” Todd uttered as he stood next to me. He was clutching a vinyl of Led Zeppelin’s “IV” and a book titled Gardening 101. Todd Foster was a collector of novelty objects and knick knacks. He scuttled about the neighbourhood where you were sure to find him at any garage sale, flea market, Salvation Army and pawn shop. He’d occasionally introduce himself as “Todd Faustus” for his love of collecting knowledge. Mostly, the kids called him “that one hoarder guy”.

“Yeah,” I said. “I suppose they’re cool and catchy names.”

We stood there in an awkward silence till Todd Foster reached out and grabbed “Pandora’s Box”, headed straight towards the Hungarian couple, paid for his items and left.

I didn’t think much of it. I myself bought a simple brass tie pin which I wore to work on Monday and it did manage to garner a few more compliments than I was used to from my co-workers; I think even the cute receptionist noticed. I just thought it was a lucky day.

Tuesday evening as I made my way back from work, I saw Todd up on a ladder picking at the side of his house. Todd’s house looked like any other house in the neighbourhood only that day it looked as though it had caught a sudden and very aggressive growth of moss or mould or something like that. Nobody believes me but I swear to God, that black mass was moving. Slowly. I knew something was up when he pulled a chunk off and, clear as day, it left a residual thick string of slime. He cursed loudly and then he turned to look at me. I stepped on the gas pedal.

Wednesday midnight, I woke to a booming sound. It had been overcast the entire day but I could have sworn that was not the sound of thunder. Maybe I was dreaming.

It happened again on Thursday. I was definitely not dreaming.

It rained Friday night and with the weekend ahead, I decided to stay up and figure out what was going on. I sat next to my bedroom window and watched the rainstorm. At around 11:43pm, I heard a quiet riff. It was muffled by the rain but it was music. Then I heard a melodic voice singing inaudible words that grew more imperceptible as the showers intensified. Then there was lightning but no thunder. They came in flashes of red and yellow and burst like fireworks in the great celestial skies. I texted my next door neighbour Mary but she didn’t reply.

I stopped by Todd’s house on my Saturday morning run to see if the mouldy, mossy thing was still there but it was gone. Todd stepped out of his house in a robe, a powerful guitar solo playing behind him as he shut the door. He muttered a faint “morning”, stuffed a couple of things into the garbage bin and stepped back into his home, shutting the door and the increasingly powerful guitar solo behind him. “Pandora’s Box” stuck out the garbage bin.

“Well, we can rule that one out,” I said to myself. I put my earphones in, played “Black Dog” on my phone and carried on my morning run.

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When The Levee Breaks

Hello friends!

I recently decided to participate in Flash Fiction Month over at Deviant Art. I’ll be posting my flash fiction pieces this whole month of July so stay tuned if you like reading short short stories!

The theme for the 8th of July was ‘The Hands of Fate’. The protagonist in this piece is based off of my Fate Core character, Ripley, who is a water bender.

Enjoy!


She did this before and she felt just as powerful.

Ripley lifted one hand up and felt a fiery heat between her fingertips and within her sweaty palms. She could feel the water move and pulsate all around her. Every trickle, every droplet obeyed her every command; they swayed when her fingers moved.

The scars on her body seemed to twitch and throb beneath the skin-tight black suit she wore. Years of being submerged under water, held by different hands, some gentle and some tugging hard as they pushed and pulled until she could feel the tingles running down her spine as her vision blurred from being covered in patches of raven black hair. Ten lashes for every child who screamed. Ten more lashes on open palms for every child who could not soothe the waters around them. The scars adorned her pale body like second skin; stronger, tougher and unfeeling.

Ripley stood motionless and stoic. Her raven black hair fell behind her shoulders like a dark waterfall reaching down to her feet. She was calm like the ocean.

She turned her open palm up and water obeyed. She felt the gushing of liquid flowing faster and faster like a raging river.

In the back of her mind, she saw eyes of emerald green, jewels in muddy water. Ripley could not remember her name but she would take her away every night, when the horrible hands were asleep and there was no one around to catch the pitter-patter of scurrying feet and muffled sounds of childhood amusement. The girl with the emerald eyes would place her hands on her open wounds and it made everything better. They were sisters-in-arms sworn to protect each other till death did them part. Hooked at the hip, they kept each other’s secrets and the girl with the emerald eyes was the only one who witnessed Ripley’s darkest secret.

Ripley’s hands vibrated from the heat that surfaced all over her shivering body. She curled her fingers slowly to make a fist, tugging at the river before her, willing it towards the sea. She remembered this feeling. She was powerful then too.

She remembered standing over the lifeless body of a master, covered in warm liquid that slid across his glistening skin. Water was the source of all life; she felt it in her veins as much as she felt it in that lifeless body. The girl with the emerald eyes watched her, hand on her face, blood dripping down the side of her cheek.

“What did you do?” her voice quivered. Ripley felt the vapors around her shifting.

“I won’t let him or anyone else hurt you,” she said defiantly.

When the other masters found out what had happened, a swift punishment followed. The girls were separated. Caring turned to ignorance and love turned to hate. In her years of solitude, Ripley knew she had to escape the masters and she knew that she would need her sister. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew she was too late.

As her fingers turned in to meet her palm, the river burst forth and released into a great sea of red. Warm liquid was washed over and oozed over the surface of skin as pale as hers.

What did you do? echoed a small voice in her head. She felt the soft touch of a child’s hand on her open palms.

“Something wicked,” she whispered.

Green eyes stared back in an ocean of red.