Today’s the shortest day of the year. In observance, maybe I should try writing some short sentences. Not fragments. These should be real sentences. Let’s see how long I can keep it up.

Not long.

Still, though, it is the winter solstice, and through a coincidence of sun time, I distinctly remember that I started back to work at my newspaper right around the time of the summer solstice. My last full-time day is Thursday, which means I did a six-month hitch as a copy editor, and all things considered, I can’t say it was a bad time. It’s not my calling, but it was a useful interlude. At times it was like being shovel man on a coal sluice. At times I think I actually turned a sow’s ear into, if not a silk purse, perhaps a pigskin purse. I saved a few writers from themselves, couldn’t save others, wrote some good headlines, learned a bit about sports. (Yes, I was the primary sports copy editor. Talk about the blind leading the…never mind.)

My fave headline was on a story about plans for Notre Dame’s basketball teams to play more games in Fort Wayne, because they get such good crowds here: Irish I may, Irish I might see the Irish here tonight

So it’s not HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR. But I liked it.

My friend Adrianne did a summer internship on the Boston Herald copy desk. She received high praise for getting “sex phones” into a head on I-forget-the-story. Probably something about sex phones.

Headlines aren’t hard to write, but they’re hard to write well. You learn a new set of rules, and you find yourself developing strong opinions for entirely crackbrain reasons. If I weren’t already inclined to prefer the term “gay” to “same-sex” as it applies to civil unions, I would simply because it fits into a tight headline space. You learn to hate educators, because they prefer the multisyllabic and hyphenated over the simple. You develop pet peeves about certain words — “mull” and “probe” and “feds.”

But you really hate page designers who favor one-column heads. The Barry Bonds grand-jury testimony story had a one-column head order. He didn’t say he used steroids, he said he used substances, and he didn’t know what might have been in them. “Substances” didn’t fit in one column; “steroids” wouldn’t have been accurate. So I ended up writing:

I used

Sounds like he got a rubdown in the Tenderloin. I’ve had better days.

OK, enough copy editing. Soon I’ll be an unemployed writer again, and won’t that be fun.

Because it’s the solstice, and because we can always use a new holiday, go read the NYT story on Festivus, the “Seinfeld” holiday that makes as much sense as anything. Turns out there really is a Festivus:

The actual inventor of Festivus is Dan O’Keefe, 76, whose son Daniel, a writer on “Seinfeld,” appropriated a family tradition for the episode. The elder Mr. O’Keefe was stunned to hear that the holiday, which he minted in 1966, is catching on. “Have we accidentally invented a cult?” he wondered.

…The original Festivus was constantly in flux.

“It was entirely more peculiar than on the show,” the younger Mr. O’Keefe said from the set of the sitcom “Listen Up,” where he is now a writer. There was never a pole, but there were airings of grievances into a tape recorder and wrestling matches between Daniel and his two brothers, among other rites.

“There was a clock in a bag,” said Mr. O’Keefe, 36, adding that he does not know what it symbolized.

“Most of the Festivi had a theme,” he said. “One was, `Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?’ Another was, `Too easily made glad?’ “

And I thought my family was strange.

Oh, and thanks to David Edelstein, film critic for “Fresh Air” and Slate, who gave us a little shout-out today. He’d asked for the world’s worst lines from biopics, and in reporting the original results (scroll down), neglected my personal favorite. If you want to know what it is, you’ll have to hit the first link.

But it was in an Oliver Stone movie. That should tell you something.

Posted at 6:06 pm in Uncategorized |

10 responses to “Solstice.”

  1. Bob said on December 21, 2004 at 7:45 pm

    Wanna see some dandy headlines? Just pick up a copy of the Bluffton News-Banner:

    “Losses $35,000, But Firefighters Halt Blaze in Cruel Cold Conditions; Occupant Transported Over Smoke”

    Reading the article carefully a couple of times, I figured out that EMS took the home’s occupant to the hospital for treatment for smoke inhalation.

    An excerpt from the article:

    “The fire report said that food left unattended in the kitchen was indicated to have caused the fire, which burned into kitchen cabinets and then spread to the wall and up into the attic.”

    News-Banner editorial policy requires the use of passive voice whenever possible, and stipulates that “was indicated” must appear in at least half the paragraphs in an article.

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  2. ashley said on December 21, 2004 at 7:50 pm

    Nance, you were the copy editor for the Sports crew? No offense at all, but it kind of reminds me of the old Zappa quote about rock journalism.

    “Rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.”

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  3. Nance said on December 21, 2004 at 8:44 pm

    Yeah, I know. Many’s the day I had to ask for translation. But my boss was a patient teacher, and I was a quick study. Among the concepts/terms I’m now comfortable with:

    The walk-off homer, the solo shot, the double-double, the triple-double, all-purpose yardage, the use of “audible” as a verb, ohhhh, I could write a book. Maybe someday I will. The use of stats in sports just baffles me. Brett Favre, I learned earlier this week, dropped to 41-3 at home after Dec. 1. Yes, someone’s keeping track of his stats at home after Dec. 1. I ask you.

    My favorite copy: Baseball, followed by the Tour de France and the Olympics. Least-fave: NASCAR. Don’t even get me started.

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  4. Nance said on December 21, 2004 at 8:45 pm

    Oh, and Bob: Sometime during this move, I’m sure I’ll come across my News-Banner headline file. I’ll be sure to share.

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  5. ashley said on December 21, 2004 at 10:26 pm

    “The walk-off homer, the solo shot, the double-double, the triple-double”.

    If nothing else, you could get a gig writing porno scripts.

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  6. brian stouder said on December 21, 2004 at 11:30 pm

    Speaking of sports page lingo – I can understand most of it, and the arcane baseball stats are good for a chuckle….

    but why does the paper print the (indecipherable) betting lines and so on? All the sports (at least officially) eschew that industry, and in fact banish participants who engage in it.

    Why not every day re-publish the best steroids for whichever sporting event is being discussed?

    Or for that matter, why not a daily update on what the local prostitutes are charging for their services?

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  7. juan said on December 22, 2004 at 12:23 pm

    Congrats on the Dave Edelstein mention!

    David Edelstein is da bomb, and a MUCH better film commentator than that pretentious John Powers that Terry Gross used to prop up.

    When Powers would review a movie, I’d sit hunched in my car waiting for the inevitable use of his trademarked word, “solipsistic.” Then I’d scream.

    David Edelstein coined the hysterical renaming of the recent Mel Gibson flick, “The Jesus Chainsaw Massacre.”

    I don’t always agree with him, but I always anticipate his reviews. You were well-reviewed by a most respected reviewer, Ms. Nancy. Congrats.

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  8. Maureen said on December 22, 2004 at 12:42 pm

    Have you checked out the 2014 vision of media?

    It is at

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  9. deb said on December 22, 2004 at 2:47 pm

    it’s not a headline, but still a keeper. a friend who recently moved to florida writes:

    “so a sports story in the naples daily news said, ‘whether caused by the threat of a lawsuit, or changing morays, or both, the NFL seems to have made strides on the issue of minority hiring.’ two letters in the paper today remark on the advent of eels in the NFL. no correction, though.”

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  10. Caleb said on December 24, 2004 at 2:30 pm

    One of my friends celebrates a made-up holiday. He’s not very interested in Christmas, so he and a roommate initiated White Trash Holiday (usually celebrated the same week as Christmas). They dress in wifebeaters, drink cheap beer, eat spam and other, even more nauseating fare, and catch it all on video. I should ask him to write about it on his blog.

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