Now that I am considered to be a writer, I continually get asked the same question over and over again:
“Do you have a certain “rule of thumb” that you follow when you write?”
I always have difficulty with giving an answer to that question. What does my thumb have anything to do with my writing? There are four other fingers. Do they get their own rule? Ok. I can understand not having a rule of pinky. Nobody would take that rule very seriously. However, for someone who writes about crankiness, one could certainly imagine that the middle finger would get the “rule” award. Of course, that certainly would be much better than the “rule with an iron fist,” or perhaps a “velvet glove.” The middle finger knows how to make a point.
“Rule of thumb” is a phrase that many people use, but give little thought to where it came from, or even think about whether it even makes any sense. We like to tell people about the “one good rule of thumb to follow.” Yet, there is no such thing as a “bad rule of thumb.”
I do remember, as a toddler, the thumb did have a special place in my heart, or in my mouth. I would love to suck my thumb. I had no interest in any of the other fingers. If I got bored with one thumb, I would take it out of my mouth, and then stick the other one in my mouth to start sucking on.
Perhaps, that was where we came up with the phrase “rule of thumb.” Of course, my parents had a different rule of thumb which was to keep the thumb out of my mouth. Maybe, that was where “rule of thumb” came from.
I started to research the origins, and surprisingly, it has nothing to do with thumb-sucking. According to Wikipedia, apparently, it 17th century England, a judge ruled that a husband was permitted to beat his wife as long as the stick that as used was no thicker than the man’s thumb. There were also references to this “rule of thumb” in court opinions in the 1800s in both North Carolina and Mississippi.
Oy!!! And, Unbelievable.
As I was reading about the origins of the “rule of thumb” phrase, another phrase popped in my head that alo needed some examination, in particular, when we look to how we can effectively manage our crankiness.
“You can’t make this stuff up.”
When I read about the origins of where the “rule of thumb” phrase came from, that was my reaction. “You can’t make this stuff up.” I noticed that I have had the benefit of seeing many strange things happen during the course of my lifetime, and everytime something weird happened, there always was one person who would make the same comment:
“You can’t make this stuff up.”
It then hit me. It is not the bizarre, strange and weird things that happen when it is appropriate to say “you can’t make this stuff up.” It is the exact opposite. We go day after day doing the exact same thing, dealing with the exact same stuff (or crap), and then, when a loved one asks you how your day was, the common response of many is “Same Stuff (or Crap), Different Day.” This then turns into another kind of CrankaTsuris that has to be dealt with. It is called “Can’t Make This Stuff Up CrankaTsuris.”
This about it for a moment. It is another day. Your alarm goes off. You drag yourself out of bed. You make coffee. You get the kids ready for school. You then head off for work and deal with the same boss, the same customers, and the same headaches. You come home. You get dinner ready. You eat and clean-up. You get the kids ready for bed. You then plop in front of the television. It is time to turn off the television. You then get ready for bed.
It is a day like this that I would have to make the comment:
“You can’t make this stuff up.”
Do you see now what I am saying? You string a few of those days together, and you are guaranteed to come down wit a bad case of “Can’t Make This Stuff Up CrankaTsuris.”
The cure to Can’t Make This Stuff Up CrankaTsuris is rather simple, and happens to be a lot of fun. All you have to do is spend some part of your day to make stuff up. Or, when you describe your lousy day, make stuff up!
Imagine how much fun it would be to have this family conversation:
“Husband: How was your day today, honey? Or, let me ask it this way. Can you make stuff up?
Wife: After I dropped off Johnny at school, I got into the truck onto the Interstate to begin all my package deliveries. It was a freaking parking lot. Apparently, a chicken truck turned over, and all the chickens, who were still alive, escaped from the truck. There were hundreds of chickens crossing the road to get to the other side. Me, and a few other people, got out of our vehicles, and we all chased the chickens back in to the truck. If it wasn’t for us doing that, I would still be sitting in traffic.
Husband: That was some day. I am impressed. You can make that stuff up.
Wife: I am not done. I may have delivered three packages at most, and then, I got a call from school. Little Johnny, our adorable five year old, was apparently reciting Shakespeare again during nap time. I was told that the teacher got scared again that it would freak out the other kids and I had to take Johnny home. Johnny! Come here and tell your father what happened!
Johnny: You know that I want to be a Shakespearean actor when I grow up so I was practicing Hamlet. It was nap time so I thought this would be appropriate:
“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despis’d love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns.”
Husband: Johnny, didn’t we tell you not to do Shakespeare in class. It scares the other kids.
Wife: That is not all that happened. When the teacher told Johnny to stop it, Johnny puts on his invisibility cloak, and everyone was scared that Johnny ran away.
Johnny: It is the teacher’s fault. When I said “To be or not to be: That is the question,” the teacher said, “Not to be. That is the answer.”
Wife: Actually, it was not all bad. Afterwards, I got calls from the other parents. It turns out that all the other kids loved Johnny doing Shakespeare. So, they are all getting together. Your son and the entire kindergarten class!! They will be performing Romeo and Juliet for the school play.
Husband: Wow. Now, I have to tell you something.
Wife: Yes. You can make stuff up!
Husband: Okay. I am not your husband, and Johnny, I am not your father. This morning, my people, or who you would refer to as aliens, abducted him. I am here on a temporary basis. My people are here to study the human species because we find you to be quite unusual. We will return him after we have completed our study.
Johnny: That is so cool! I can’t wait to tell my friends!
Wife: You are an alien?
Husband: We would not refer to ourselves as aliens. In fact, we have met with people from many other planets, and we consider Earthlings the most alien creatures in the galaxy.
Wife: Hey! Why do you say that?
Husband: I understand that you are your husband work for the same company. You deliver boxes, and your husband boxes the boxes.
Wife: Yes. What is so alien about that?
Husband: And, you both work for the richest person on the entire planet? Is that right?
Wife: Yeah. So what?
Husband: So, does he box a box or deliver any boxes?
Wife: No. Of course not. He gets in a spaceship, and goes into outer space. That way, he can see all of us working.
Husband: I see. You Earthlings have a saying for something like this. I believe it is “You can’t make this stuff up.”
Wife: That is right. You can’t make this stuff up.
Johnny: Wait a second! Didn’t I do a great Hamlet? And, I am not even from another planet!”
See. That was a lot of fun! I picked this particular Hamlet soliloquy because of the question “to be or not to be.” Sometimes, we create stories to put us to sleep. But, it is just as important to tell stories to wake us up. It is time to wake up! Try to spend a bit of time everyday doing something creative, or take all the stuff that you really can’t make up, and start adding in all the stuff you can make up. You made a cup of coffee? How about getting bitten by a radioactive spider at the same time? Didn’t feel like cooking dinner? Well, a fairy god-mother came and delivered fresh pizza! Go to town, and be a bit crazy! Get yourself abducted by an alien or two.
Now, this not meant to be training so you get to be the world’s greatest pathological liar. This is about enriching ourselves with stories that light up our own and each other’s lives. We all have the ability to really make this stuff up! We all get a chance to be! That is the answer!
Hey! I think I found myself a new “rule of thumb”!
Or perhaps the cure to “Can’t Make This Stuff Up CrankaTsuris.”