Thursday, May 19, 2011

To the anonymous lawn critic: You asked for it.

Over the past six weeks, as Bloomington has gotten record-shattering amounts of rain and we've been scrambling to work on the backyard lawn and the vegetable garden in any spare time/good weather we have, our front lawn has been, to put it nicely, neglected.

But today, we were fired up. We were going to get a quick run in and then head home and tackle that lawn. It would be tamed!! But first, we checked the mail. Among the usual junk, I found an envelope addressed to "Resident" at our address. No return address. I opened it and found a nastygram about how our lawn needs to be mown or the city of Bloomington might fine us.

No signature, of course. Allow me to emphasize that this letter was not just dropped in our mailbox. It was mailed. Using a stamp. Bloomington's local mail is not processed locally--it travels to Indy, then back to Bloomington. So this anonymous lawn critic not only spent $0.44 to send us this letter, but this thing traveled 100 miles round-trip to arrive in our mailbox. I can only conclude that the author was afraid to risk approaching our mailbox in person, fearing that his or her cover might be blown.

Now, let me explain why I'm angry. It's not about being admonished to mow the lawn. We deserve to be admonished! The lawn is pretty much a disgrace. We chose to focus on other parts of our yard this spring, and this was the price. It's weedy and and patches of it have gotten quite long. It definitely didn't look good, and I don't blame the neighbors for being upset.

Here's why I'm angry. The tone of the letter was condescending and officious, for one thing. It reminded me of an Internet forum--you'll say all kinds of things when protected by anonymity, but face to face? Doubtful. Why couldn't this person, if he or she was so worried about property values, simply knock on the door and ask nicely? Then I could have nicely explained how sorry we are that the lawn got out of hand, that we've been extremely busy working on other parts of the house and yard (not to mention working full-time), and that we'll get it taken care of as soon as possible. People in this neighborhood have otherwise been unfailingly nice, and have watched us working diligently on the vegetable garden for weeks now. It bothers me that someone is so concerned about someone else's yard that he or she absolutely MUST act, yet is too much of a coward to actually confront the problem and resorts to a nasty letter.

So there was only one thing to do.

And now, my response:

Dear Anonymous Lawn Critic,

You seem to require a refresher course in basic English. First off, polite people open letters with what we call a salutation. See above for an example of a salutation. Now then. Your first sentence is a question, and therefore requires a question mark at the end. See, you're just getting off to a bad start all around here. Good communication is very important when you're trying to persuade someone to do something--in this case, mowing the lawn. It's even more important when you're trying to convince an editor to do something.

Your tone is not appropriate for a persuasive piece. The first sentence was okay (please is the magic word!), but the second sentence takes on a condescending tone that implies that the reader is lazy and waiting for someone else to take care of the lawn. I am in fact aware that I no longer live in an apartment; I'm not sure if it was using our life savings for the down payment or the fact that no one else lives in the same building that tipped me off first, but somewhere along the line I figured it out. Thanks for your help though.

Throughout your attempt at a persuasive piece, you rely heavily on the passive voice. This is indicative of weak writing and should be avoided. Then again, it does seem to fit your personality.

Lastly, you should invest in a dictionary. Convents are where nuns live. I'm pretty sure we have none in our neighborhood and if we did, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't care about my lawn. I think the word you want is covenant, another word for agreement. I notice you didn't bother to include any sources backing up your claims, such as links to city codes and neighborhood rules, which is another big no-no when it comes to persuasive writing.

Well, Anonymous Lawn Critic, you certainly have a lot of room for improvement. Your piece wasn't very persuasive. In fact, we were sorely tempted to decorate our yard with a rusted out car on cinder blocks and maybe some beer cans. Luckily we are nice people and as planned, we did work on our lawn this evening after work. It's not all done yet, but rest assured that we'll finish over the weekend.

Miranda Addonizio 

P.S. That was called a closing. Another thing your letter lacks. Just saying.
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