Being Careful

At the risk of being confused with Don Mills I am going to rant: whatever the fuck happened to being careful?

Actually, one of the most charming lines in all Stephen King’s work (and is he not, after all, known for his charm?) is spoken by the pubescent boy in It who scoffs at King’s self-portrait hero: “You can’t be careful on a skateboard, man.” The perspective is lifesaving at that point in the narrative, when a leap into heady recklessness is the only hope left, but I am getting yea sick of a world where everyone seems to be on a skateboard 24/7 and sporting the snotty juvenile attitude to go with it.

Exhibit: texting while driving. Exhibit: air traffic controllers trading places with their kids. Exhibit: the rapidly disappearing English sentence. (I think we musing bloggers may be the custodians of that little treasure, which in my opinion has been murdered not by Twitter and texting, but by two or three generations of lazy people responding to all corrections of grammar and vocabulary with some huffy variant of “It doesn’t matter! You know what I mean!”)

Exhibit: The Deepwater Horizon.

Am I wrong? Somewhere in this toxic stew of information overload, adrenalin addiction, resentment of criticism, “spontaneity,” distractions and do-you-want-it-Thursday, all hell has been waiting with a balance book. The simple stodgy virtues of paying attention, being careful, doing things right, communicating clearly and reading the instructions would have been much appreciated by dozens of species in the Gulf of Mexico who have never heard of such abstract concepts themselves.

I’ve spent my life being called fussy and obsessive-compulsive and anal-retentive because I wanted to pack the truck now so we could leave on time, or because steam comes out of my ears when people misuse words because the incorrect term has such a grand sound. I get the message loud and clear that it’s uncool to care about how things turn out, or to imagine that they might turn out badly. “You have to trust,” a woman once said to me after scaring me into next week by tailgating in the extreme left lane at eighty miles an hour. “No, I don’t,” I said, and never rode in her car again. She didn’t take it well. Asking people to be careful with your life is so mean and uptight, y’know?

I hear a lot about BP’s corporate greed, and oil addiction, and those are problems, but the news accounts that stay with me are the ones which reveal the absence of little bagatelles like sufficient Federal safety requirements, adequate communication, and clear chains of command. Bets that anyone who piped up to point that out was, or would have been, scoffed at as a stickler and a moaner?

I’d give good odds that Tailgate Lady has already texted a half-dozen messages in traffic today to  the progressive homies she regards as fellow soldiers in the war against corporate greed. If memory serves me, they’d be misspelled.


14 thoughts on “Being Careful

  1. I don’t use txtspk when I twitter or send text messages on my phone. In fact, Twitter has become a very useful tool for learning to be concise with language, and is also great for editing practice. Txtspk always makes you look like a moron. Always.

    Likewise, being reckless in the face of danger is one thing, if that is your choice … being stupidly careless for no reason is quite another, especially when it endangers others.

    I admit to having an aversion to instruction manuals and feel that all gadgets should be designed to work out intuitively. Though oil rigs, cars and airplanes do not fall under the category of gadgets…

    I have often been called brave and adventurous, but truth is I am always scanning for danger and tend to make my decisions once several scannings have taken place and I’ve decided it’s worth a calculated risk. Other times I just jump in feet first and hope for the best, but only when it is clear nobody else might be hurt or injured.

    • Yeah. It’s not about being unwilling to be adventurous or take risks; my beef involves situations where there is a known way to do something correctly and safely and get a desired result, and people get too impatient or lazy to go down the checklist, or perhaps to restrain their ADD impulses.

      Txtspk is funny on cat photos.

  2. I give bloggers, text message and email users a lot of slack. We don’t have copy editors.

    That this is a problem in news organizations, even in books published by well established companies is truly unfortunate. This shows a dedication to cost cutting and quantity over quality, probably just to survive.

    • There’s also a huge difference between a blogger who just blows a few spellings and someone whose sentence structure is absolutely impossible to penetrate. Surf a few random Twitter feeds and Facebook pages and you get the idea. The Net isn’t the perpetrator, so much as it is the stool pigeon. People can’t write because when they were supposedly being educated, no one was willing to treat it as important.

      A quarter century ago I watched college students — who were going forth to teach the young — flounder pathetically in their use of language, and no one teaching the classes they were taking cared enough to deal with it. I realized why when those same professors collaborated on a grant proposal and Yours Truly, at that time the department secretary, had to turn it into graceful English at one-third their salary. We witness now the fruits of this line. Verily and forsooth I say unto you, Fuck And Damnation.

  3. I don’t have a lot to add to this except “Thank you and Amen.”

    I went through this struggle with my son when I was attempting to teach him proper grammar after we met him, and it was a very tough row to hoe. Now he has advanced to the rank of sergeant and suddenly when his reports are being read by superior officers and spelling may actually be important if he wants to advance further, it makes sense to him. Miraculously his spelling and grammar have improved.

    As far as tailgating and texting (and talking on the phone) while driving, these things just make me crazy. It also makes me crazy to see people putting on their makeup while driving. Once back in 1990 when I was commuting to an office job in Novato I saw a person actually reading the paper while he was driving at 70 mph. He was using the freeway lane markers as a method of staying in his lane. So I would say this sort of carelessness is not particularly new.

    The whole Deepwater Horizon thing is so disgusting and horrible I don’t even think that it qualifies as being in the same category, since the “proper way” to do things was known, and many of the actual worker bees who were doing the drilling kept pointing out to the corporate money people that what they were doing in order to save time and cut costs was potentially dangerous. Their caveats were consistently over-ridden by their corporate bosses in the name of saving time and money. See how well that worked out?

    • Whoever was careless (in a truly global sense) it was still carelessness. “Aw, we don’t need to fuss with all this, they’ll get it to come out right.” No one in charge of the drilling operation was choosing to take the chance of a mess like this — they were simply allowing themselves to imagine that God wouldn’t let that happen to their rigs, more or less. Just like the “you have to trust” tailgating lady. Everything will be fine. It’ll get done. When I hear phrases like that, I reach for my gun.

      • I try to leave my gun at home because the older I get the closer I am to going postal.

        You make a very good point. No one in charge could imagine that things would go so terribly wrong EVEN THOUGH they were getting signs for several weeks that they WERE going wrong. And the people who were actually the technicians didn’t have the moral certitude to say “NO! I won’t do this cost cutting time saving thing you want me to.” They wanted to keep their jobs at all costs. Then when things did go wrong they had their alibis in place. They should all have to go swimming on the beaches of Louisiana.

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