S.O.S.: Save Our Sentences!

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As much as possible, I like to consider myself a silver lining type of girl these days. I wasn’t always this way, and it still doesn’t come naturally, but I try.

Generally my mind works like this: I see or read something alarming, disturbing or simply annoying, and I initially react with alarm, disturbance or annoyance. Then, after what ideally is a brief time, or even almost immediately, I try to look for the silver lining in what I’ve just seen or read.

Take this article that I came across last week.

In a recently released report, the business consulting firm PayScale found that almost half of all hiring managers surveyed stated that the skill they see most lacking in college graduates today is the ability to write.

And I thought, “Wha-a-a-t?”

Then I realized that, sadly, I wasn’t truly surprised.

I mean, I see it on Facebook all the time. Not typos, which I sort of can live with because I am the Typo Queen (although there’s really no reason for them either, because you can edit a published post) but out and out grammatical and spelling errors, and an over reliance on texting abbreviations.

I see the same things at work, in emails, and in external communications I review as part of my job. Punctuation errors. Incorrect capitalization of common nouns. Participles and modifiers dangling everywhere. I.e. when it should be e.g., for heaven’s sake! (Okay, I forgive most people that one. I looked it up myself many years ago, as I didn’t recall learning it in school.)

So, back to that article I read about college grads. After my initial reaction upon reading it, I came next to the silver lining–think about the opportunities this opens up for those who can write and write well!

Businesses need us.

And I’m not just talking about communications departments; in fact, those jobs are probably filled by some of the more than 50 percent of college grads who do possess solid writing skills.

Many other departments in an organization need solid writing skills, as does anyone aspiring to a leadership role in most companies. As I wrote about a number of years ago in an article entitled “Corporate Roads Less Traveled: A Guide for Freelance Writers” which commercial writer Peter Bowerman included in his second Well-Fed Writer book, Back for Seconds, departments that need competent writing skills include Customer Service, Marketing, Training,Human Resources–even the code-crazy folks in IT departments need to communicate in writing. And I wrote that article well before the emergence of social media and blogging platforms, which provide even more opportunities for the enterprising writer.

Besides offering services directly as freelancers and consultants, writers can also put together business and executive writing courses, then deliver them online, as webinars or in person, filling in the gaps that our education system obviously missed. And, remarkably, these courses can cover pretty basic elements, from the proper use of punctuation (oh, that poor apostrophe and semi-colon!) to when and when not to capitalize nouns (yeah, I realize I’d already griped about that one). You’d be amazed by what people don’t know about writing well. Or maybe not.

Of course, finding or creating these opportunities might take a little chutzpah. You won’t necessarily come across them by searching through online job boards–you’ll need to network and promote, actions that don’t always come easily to the introverted writer. But I’m as convinced that the opportunities are out there as much as I was back when I wrote that article. Maybe even more so.

The English language, while always wonderfully morphing, doesn’t have to be reduced to a twisted heap of hooked on phonics. This is a call to action for writers who are in search of work, to go out there and rescue the written word from the clutches of those who unwittingly but nonetheless brutally abuse it.

After all, we’re its last line of defense.

 

Chance of Fulfillment, 50 Percent

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My partner John owns a seasonal business, a marina, bait store and lodging in Henderson Harbor, New York, on Lake Ontario. Like most, if not all, seasonal businesses, we are weather-driven–ours is busier than all get out when the weather graces us with beautiful, sunny days, and deader than the proverbial doornail when cold, wet and windy weather blows in.

But sometimes the forecast, not the actual weather, does more harm to Henderson Harbor’s businesses than good.

Take this morning as I write this. According to both local meteorologist Joe Blow and weather.com, today was supposed to entirely suck.  Yet when I glance up from my keyboard to look out the window, I see a hazy but sunny sky, and a calmly rippling denim blue bay of water.

And I wonder, how many people based their plans for today on the forecast, not the weather?

Not everyone, come to find out. But my guess is business would have been much better if the forecast had accurately reflected a pleasant Saturday morning, followed by some rain in the afternoon, rather than an entire day of rain and occasional thunderstorms. So much for triple Doppler.

This made me think about life in general, and the doom and gloom we often see forecast in our daily news. It can be so easy to get caught up in that, to postpone treating ourselves for fear we won’t have enough when the economy collapses, or to decide not pursue dreams because they may be risky.

Then we look back, unlike the young couple in a current Suburu television commercial, and see how we decided to take the safe path rather than the adventurous one when we came to that fork in the road. That we ended up buying pants in Walmart instead of camping out under the stars.

I have a nephew who has an idea for a business he wants to launch. I’m quite certain other friends and family members would tell him it’s a pipe dream, but not me. I’d rather see him try and fail than not try at all. In truth, I hope he succeeds beyond his wildest dreams, and keeps his dear old aunt in mind once he’s rich and famous.

But yes, I do wish I had taken Robert Frost’s “road less traveled by” when I was younger. I had started to, putting myself through college with part time jobs and loans…but upon graduation, faced with all that debt, I grabbed hold of the first steady paycheck I could find.  Not at all the future that the young me had planned.

And though I certainly don’t regret the people I’ve met, places I’ve seen and many of the experiences I’ve had along the road I did choose, there’s this small, persistent voice inside me that still urges me to go for something bigger and more fulfilling.

Do you hear that voice, too? Not mine, of course, but your own, wondering aloud if you could still pursue an old dream, a calling, or even just a long lost pastime?

If so, that voice is there for a reason. And my guess is that it’s a more reliable indicator of how we should live out the remainder of our lives than triple Doppler. Or meteorologist Joe Blow for that matter.

Peas and Corn

Frozen-Peas-and-Corn Do you consider yourself to be a fairly mature, rational person–that is, until something you do or say proves completely otherwise?

I’ve had to face this realization about myself in the frozen food aisle. Twice.

And also behind the wheel of my car. All too frequently.

But first let’s talk about frozen foods.

For a number of years, my sister and I have taken annual vacations together, bringing along various friends and family members who are able and willing to come with us. When her sons were younger, we rented summer camps, first on nearby Oneida Lake and then at Brennan Beach on Lake Ontario. Later we took a few trips to different parts of Florida, and for the past several years we’ve rented oceanfront beach houses in North Carolina.

We have always been very close, my sister and I. Although like many siblings, we fought like cats when we were younger, our adult vacations have been pretty much drama-free; in fact, these trips give us time to bond that we don’t often get during the rest of the year.

Once settled into our beach house, we make a trip to the nearby Food Lion for groceries. Now when I say I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to food, that’s a monumental understatement. Oh. there are things I don’t like, but I’m far from being a fussy eater, so I’m usually like, “That sounds good,” or “That works for me” when my sister or others make menu suggestions.

Until, it seems, we get to frozen vegetables.

Now, to give you some perspective, my four siblings and I grew up in a household where pretty much the only vegetables we ate were peas and corn, probably because my mother knew they were the only veggies the five of us could agree on. Occasionally we had spinach, wax beans or green beans. But mostly it was peas and corn.

Once I was on my own, I discovered the wide and wonderful world of yummy vegetables outside of my limited realm of experience–carrots, broccoli, zucchini, summer squash, asparagus, cauliflower, eggplant, peppers, etc., etc., etc.–and that garden salads could consist of so much more than iceberg lettuce.

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I happily sampled a wide variety and, except for my long-term reluctance to try Brussels sprouts {which I’ve since overcome) and a continued aversion to beets and lima beans (eww–OK, I can deal with lima beans in a bag of mixed vegetables), I crave variety in my veggie intake. I love them steamed, grilled, stir-fried and sauteed, or in baked dishes like stuffed peppers and ratatouille, and I always buy them fresh or frozen, never canned.

I continue to eat spinach and wax or green beans now and then. But I’ve left peas and corn off my personal menu unless they are part of a veggie mix, or the occasional corn on the cob.

So there we are, on vacation, in the frozen food aisle–my sister B.J., my brother Jim, and I–and it was time to pick out some vegetables to include with our upcoming meals. Now my brother is a tad (understatement) more fussy when it comes to food in general and, I quickly learned, vegetables in particular, as he wrinkled his nose or voiced reluctance over each one I suggested.

Eventually my sister stepped in. “Do you like peas?” Jim said yes. “Do you like corn?” Again he nodded, so she tossed a bag of each into the cart.

“How about this?” I said hopefully, grabbing a bag of mixed vegetables that contained peas, corn and then some.

He shook his head. “I don’t like carrots.”

“Well for crying out loud, I want some real vegetables!” I fumed, tossing the peas and corn mixture back into the freezer and grabbing the first veggie mix I saw that contained absolutely no peas or corn. I threw that into the shopping cart, then turned on heel and stomped off to get something we’d forgotten in an aisle we’d already passed.

It was during those moments alone that I realized what I had done. I was establishing a pattern, and not a pretty one at that.

See, a year ago, in the same supermarket, same aisle, I reached for a bag of the same mixed vegetables my brother had just nixed, figuring they’d be a crowd pleaser (Jim wasn’t with us on the trip last year). When he saw me place them in the cart, my sister’s fiance Joe shook his head. “I won’t eat those. They’re store brand.”

“What’s wrong with store brand?” I asked.

“I won’t eat ‘em. Only name brands.”

“Well, that’s silly. They’re the same.”

“No they’re not.”

“For crying out loud, yes they are!”

My sister didn’t try to mediate that one. She just took off for another aisle.

When I realized that I’d made a frozen vegetable aisle scene two years in a row, I felt sheepish. I rejoined my brother and sister in the dairy section, and apologized to my sister, who’d witnessed both outbursts. And although I explained to both of them where my disdain for peas and corn came from, I still squirmed at the thought of my over-reaction.

Who knew I felt so inordinately passionate about vegetables? As I said to them later, you have to acknowledge you have a problem before you begin to address it.

So much for being the wise and rational person I’d like to think that I am. But I guess we all have our triggers. Mine just happen to be peas and corn, I guess.

And people who tailgate, or don’t use their directional signals, or cut me off in traffic…

OK, so clearly, at 60 years old, I’m still a work in progress.

What about you? Are you totally self-actualized, or do you have specific things that reduce you to your five year-old self?

Remember, (I’m smiling as I write) you have to acknowledge you have a problem before you begin to address it, right?

A Writer’s Salute

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It was 1999 and I wanted in.

An increasing number of television advertisers were referring to their company’s dot-com. The very concept of eBay fascinated me. And AOL kept offering me 1000 free hours.

That about sums up all I knew about the World Wide Web the day I drove over to a nearby Radio Shack, bought a phone jack, drove home and dialed up for the very first time.

I decided upon my AOL screen name, hahnmah, an online moniker I use to this day. My 15 year-old nephew gave me the names of a couple of sites he said I could use to search for things on the Internet–Metacrawler and Dogpile. Through them I quickly learned that you could shape your online landscape any way you chose; go down dark alleys and you’d find the evil lurking in every corner, or build your virtual world around pursuits you love and create a friendly, welcoming global community.

Naturally I chose the latter.

I initially primarily sought the company of other writers. In this time before social media, we found each other on forums, or on websites dedicated to us. Eventually I set up one of those myself, a website for writers, as I learned that there was plenty of room on the Internet for all of us. We swapped ads, articles and resources. Cheered each other’s successes. Promoted each other’s books and services. The bonds we formed on our screens and through our keyboards often seemed stronger and more enduring than ones in our offline world, where so many of our friends and relatives just didn’t share our passion for the written word.

After a number of years, I dissolved my writer’s website. But other writers I met online way back when have not. Today I want to salute those pioneers who stuck with it and who continue today to share information, ideas, inspiration and resources with other writers:

  1. Hope Clark: Her Funds for Writers website has deservedly made Writer’s Digest’s 101 best websites for writers over 16 consecutive years, and she continues to send out both free and paid email newsletters–all this while writing books of her own, teaching classes and doing book signings. I applaud both her tenacity and the wealth of information she provides. Truly one of the most remarkable women I ever crossed paths with on the Web.
  2. Yuwanda Black: She blogs. She writes ebooks. She’s all about how writers can make a living writing search engine optimized content for websites. She moved to Jamaica several years ago just because she wanted to–and took her freelance writing career with her. I’ve respected her worked for years, have learned a great deal from her. You can, too by going to her Inkwell Editorial site.
  3. Steve Slaunwhite: Steve is a Canadian copywriter who also provides marketing consulting to businesses. Moreover, he’s eager and willing to share his knowledge with other copywriters and wannabees, and has been doing so for years through both books and article. Just an all around nice guy.
  4. Anne Wayman: About Freelance Writing is another one of those venerable websites for writers that has been around since, like, forever. Anne continues to fill it with fresh tips and encouragement through her blog, and sends her subscribers a weekly email newsletter, while at the same time providing coaching services for writers and website development and ghostwriting services for those who need a professional. I love Anne’s work.
  5. Alice Wisler: I just want to give a shout out to this particular writer who, in the wake of her own personal tragedy, has worked for years with other writers trying to find their way  through grief and loss. Alice has also written tender novels filled with characters seeking healing and wholeness. I’ve known Alice, and have admired her work and spirit for years.

I owe a great deal to these dedicated writers, as well as to hundreds of others I have followed but never personally engaged with. Non-writers will never know or fully understand how remarkable an achievement it is to stick with one’s writing through thick and thin. I am both humbled and inspired by their perseverance.

Who have you “met” online whom you’ve admired, or who has inspired you? Feel free to share your experiences–we can never have enough positive influences in our lives.

 

Beware the Silent ‘P’

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Have you ever noticed how many wonderful words begin with the letter ‘p’?

There’s passion, purpose, playfulness, plentiful, potential, poetry, prayer,  partnership, positive, peace. So many wonderful words.

Then there are the not so wonderful ‘p’ words. Psychosis, pneumonia, pseudo, ptosis, psoriasis, psittacism (yeah, I didn’t know what it meant, either). Notice what those have in common?

The ‘p’ is silent.

So I began to wonder—could we relate to the difference between the pronounced ‘p’ and the silent ‘p’? Could it be that, as years go by, through conditioning or neglect, so many of us lose touch with the things we feel passionate about is that we’ve learned over the years to silence them?

During my teens I wrote poetry.  The ones I remember most vividly spoke about hope, love and possibilities (ah, another wonderful ‘p’ word!).  

Then, as life began to present me with its inevitable challenges, disappointments and setbacks, my poems began to take on darker tones. I wrote of loss, frustration, heartbreak, disconnection. Eventually, I stopped writing them altogether.

Around that same time, I also began to lose sight of my dream to make a living as a freelance writer.  Months would sometimes go by between one writing project and the next; attempts to submit my work or query ideas grew even more staggered. I left a trail of half-written stories in my wake, along with a few that I even finished, but that never saw the light of day.

After college I snapped up the first stable nine to five job I could latch onto and, relieved to receive a steady paycheck and benefits, I hardly even noticed as the dream faded.  I had college loans to pay back, an apartment to furnish, a car to maintain and insure.  I was living the dream, right?  Never mind that it was not my own.  My life seemed fine.  My chosen path seemed safe. Most writers never make a living wage anyway…

My ‘p’ grew silent.

In Walden, Henry Thoreau famously wrote that most men “lead lives of quiet desperation.” A dismal worldview? Maybe…but look how it plays out in the “Thank God it’s Friday” existence that so many of us lead, lives where relaxation, adventure and fun are all packed into one or two weeks a year, or where we live vicariously through the success and joy of those who dared to do or be what we did not. These results stem from letting our ‘p’s’ go silent or, worse, by intentionally silencing them in order to gain the acceptance and approval of others, or through fear that we if we took a riskier path, we might fail.

I’m trying to decide how to bring this post to an optimistic close. The fact is, I continue to cling to the safe and familiar, and still need the approval of others more than I care to admit. So it’s not like I am a shining example of self-actualization.

But I guess simply being aware of that is a start. That’s the optimistic closing I was looking for and would like to share here because, as I am beginning to learn through the reading and exercises I’ve been doing lately, awareness changes everything. The first step in solving a dilemma is admitting that the dilemma exists.

Time to take the next step. Care to join me?