Category Archives: Creativity

Fear the Reader

I only wanted to find out when we started reading – we humans, we non-royals, we non-clerics, we women. But as I pursued this information across 5000 years of Western history, I reached a conclusion much more compelling than just the when and the whom: Reading makes people powerful and dangerous – to institutions and to ourselves. And it always has.

The world’s very first readers (and writers) were the scribes of ancient Babylon, who recorded and read the data, news, and information that kings and administrators needed to make their civilizations grow and thrive. While these abilities made scribes powerful, they also made the scribes a potential threat to those in charge.

This dynamic continues today.

I don’t feel like a dangerous force when I’m enjoying a novel or bantering with other editors on Facebook. But the power that I, an ordinary person, can gain from reading becomes clear when I freely read whatever I choose from across the political spectrum. I can easily acquire information about joining with others to support change – potentially threatening the status quo. I also see that my reading could conceivably present a danger to me, if my government began to use data to constrain the reading of its citizens.

The power and the danger of reading are alive and well.

In the coming weeks, I will share a series of posts from my process of uncovering this idea.


Retreating to Write – at Home

A rustic mountain cabin or lonely seaside cottage might fit the fantasy of a writing retreat. But if the cost or personal overhead of running away to write is too high – and you hate the thought of working without your usual monitor setup – a home office retreat can be a great option. I just finished a two-week, at-home writing retreat. When all was said and done, I accomplished my goal of writing 500 non-awful words each day. And that was while fighting an intestinal thing the first week and a bad (but fast) cold the second week.

Here’s how I approached the retreat.

Prepare

I chose the retreat dates around my clients’ schedules and notified clients (and friends) several weeks in advance that I would be unavailable and would only check email occasionally. I unsubscribed from as much junk email as possible to keep the inbox cleaner. I also made a comprehensive dinner plan and did a thorough grocery shop so I wouldn’t have to make many meal decisions or extra trips to the store.

I established daily and overall objectives for the two weeks and set a daily schedule. All of these went up in plain sight over my desk. Each day on a small whiteboard, I listed the day number, some motivational words to myself, and the day’s tasks.

Greyhound with books

My alert assistant helps with research.

Take the Time

Two weeks worked out to be an ideal amount of time. By Friday of the first week, I was really glad that I still had another week to pursue my work. By the end of the second week, I was really ready to be done, take a break from my topic, and get back to my regular routine.

My daily schedule was, as always, constrained by my dogs’ walks, but that meant I took scheduled breaks and got outside. I also made a point of eating regular meals and snacks to help my concentration.

Remove Distractions

Making the deliberate decision to take a retreat put me in a new mindset. I posted a sign-off on Facebook and took the extreme step of uninstalling it from my phone for the duration of the retreat. Losing that tyranny of notifications was a surprisingly wonderful feeling. I don’t use Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat, but I would have taken similar steps with those. I also postponed meetings and other events during the week and avoided running errands that would break up my days.

Evaluate

Every morning I typed up goals and thoughts for the day, and every afternoon when I was finished, I wrote an assessment of the day. At the halfway point in the retreat, I read through my notes, looked at what I had accomplished, and identified what I still wanted to get done. Then I noted what on that list was realistic. At the end, I had quite a few unfinished goals, but this whole process was an experiment for me and I felt that what I did accomplish was satisfactory. Getting a fresh take halfway through was helpful and encouraging.

Unexpected perks:

  • World Cup Soccer! I accidentally scheduled my retreat during the qualifying matches, which were the perfect entertainment during lunch or snack breaks.
  • Giving up Facebook. Not having the blinking blue light and little F on my phone was liberating. I had other sources of news, and not being in the thick of responses to the day-to-day was such a break. I had to think hard about whether I wanted to reengage.
  • Fun tools. I did my morning goals typing on my manual typewriter and my afternoon summary using the Querkywriter typewriter-style keyboard for my tablet – it was fun to use these tools and get more comfortable with both of them.

Unforeseen challenges:

  • I worked hard to make sure I would be able to keep my focus but found that I got a bit lonely, in part because my husband had several evening rehearsals. One article about planning a group writing retreat recommended having participants gather and read some of their work out loud every evening. I think building in some professional camaraderie would have been helpful, so in the future I might partner with other writers and meet a few times for non-critical reading sessions.
  • Getting started with writing the first day was hard. It took some time to get into the writing mode, but having two weeks helped me not stress about some unproductive time.
  • My writing topic was way too broad and my research was inadequate, even though I had done a lot in advance. My goal was to write a long essay that I could publish as blog posts, but I’m wrestling with how best to handle references and sources in that. And I didn’t have time for the research and writing for several points I wanted to make. My second goal was to consider doing a book proposal on the topic, and I’m undecided as to where I stand on that.

Looking Ahead

To keep some writing momentum going, I’m planning to schedule two designated writing days every month for a few months and see how that works out. I’m considering another retreat for this time next year, so if you’re interested in joining me, get in touch!


If You Can Read This…

Woman readingI’ve been reading a lot about reading lately.

We’re told it’s good for us, that it’s crucial for editors, that we’re losing our ability to do it.

Reading is something I take completely for granted. To be able to function – to understand road signs, prices at the store, medication labels, the crawl on TV news – not to mention texts and social media – we have to be able to read. Here in the U.S., we automatically teach of our children to read. We worry about how soon they start reading, fuss over whether they’re reading enough, and compare standardized reading scores in our schools and across the world.

But when did everybody start reading all the time? A thousand years ago, reading in Western culture was pretty much limited to priests and monks. When did it stop being a privilege and begin to be a necessity?

And how has technology across the centuries transformed how much we read, what we read, and how we read it? Gutenberg’s moveable type led to an explosion of reading, and today’s devices are also making an impact on what, when, and how we read. I’ve laughed at postings of an 1800s screed about the dangers of women reading novels and neglecting their families, but how does that differ from today’s social media addiction?

Another compelling strand in this knot is the notion that having books around is beneficial, even if you know you can never read them all – maybe especially then. They are aspirational on the one hand, and on the other, they remind you that you can’t know it all, and therefore keep you humble.

My reading about reading has made me want to read much more about reading. And then do some writing. I’ve planned a writing retreat for next month to work on this, so stay tuned!


 

Cookies: Pride, Doubt, Decisions

It’s a tough choice: which cookie to eat?

Really, it shouldn’t be so difficult. I can just grab any of the batch of homemade cookies and take a bite. They’re not getting any fresher.

cookieYet still I hesitate. At Christmas, when I’ve baked decorated gingerbread or sugar cookies that I might share with friends, maybe it makes a little bit of sense to eat the uglier cookies first. Sure, take that tree that’s slightly dark and crisp on the edge. Eat that mitten where the icing ran off and the sprinkles didn’t stick very well. But that trumpet with the silver dragees? That sparkling snowflake? I almost can’t bear to see them go.

This kind of indecision does not make sense when I’m facing a batch of peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies. And yet my hand hovers over the tin. My brain whispers, “No, that one’s too perfect. Take that smaller, more misshapen cookie with not as many chips.”

Why am I saving the beautiful cookie? Sure, my husband or son would enjoy it, but not more than its less-perfect sibling.

Is it pride? Do I try to save my pretty cookies so I can show off my (not very amazing) food styling skills?

Or is it part of Giving Mom syndrome? When I was a kid, my mom always took the broken piece of pie, the slice of cake without the rose, the less attractive potatoes, and she always served herself last. During an angry teenager phase, I thought this reflected her submission to my father. But as a parent myself and a cook who loves to sit down with my husband at the end of the day to enjoy a meal I’ve prepared, I have a different perspective. Cooking is a gift to those you love, including yourself. We feed because we care and want our loved ones to be happy. We take the ugly slice of quiche because we want them to enjoy the beautiful one and we know the appearance doesn’t affect the taste. (And, if I’m being honest, we want to forestall any whining about the food by picky children.)

Maybe I just want more time with the beautiful fruits of my labors. In that case, maybe I should switch to a craft that produces something lasting. Ah, but then I wouldn’t have cookies, and that was the whole point of the exercise.

Recent Work | “Youth Apprenticeship: An Ancient Path to Modern Success”

I especially enjoyed the research for this feature on youth apprenticeship programs in the U.S., including an interview with the Swiss ambassador, Martin Dahinden. The article was published in ASCA School Counselors November/December 2016 issue.
Download the complete article

Excerpt

For the last thousand years, many young people seeking professional skills became apprentices. But if that word still evokes a plumbers’ union or a medieval guild hall, it’s time for a fresh look. Youth apprenticeship is an educational approach that is thriving in Europe and on the rise in the United States. To find the skilled workers they need, companies of all types are offering opportunities for high school students to learn in-demand skills while earning their diplomas. Participating in youth apprenticeship can help students clarify their objectives, burnish their college applications and gain an edge in the job market.

Wisconsin Snapshot: Co-op Program in Sheboygan

When the school counselors at Sheboygan South High School evaluated their national clearinghouse data, they learned that many of their graduates were not going on to college but were staying in the community. From local labor statistics, the school counseling department identified four primary employment sectors and laid the groundwork to build four pathways in the school’s curriculum. The new pathways would address a need in the community. “We can then, as a school, say with confidence to our community, ‘We’re helping to answer this labor issue,’” Schneider said. From this initiative, the new manufacturing co-op program was born. “Once we aligned our philosophies of our building with the community needs, then all we had to do was say to the community ‘We want to help you; let’s start talking,’” he said.

Recent Work | METAVERO Collection

In June 2016, I had the privilege of working with John A. Booth and Sarah Schwind of METAVERO as they were preparing their booth and materials for the Kscope Conference. METAVERO provides Oracle implementation and support services. John is the company’s founder and managing director (he wrote a chapter of “Developing Essbase Applications: Hybrid Techniques and Practices,” which I edited) and Sarah is their operations director.

METAVERO BoothFor METAVERO’s presence at Kscope, we developed a tri-fold brochure, banners for their exhibit booth and client event, website content, a PowerPoint template, and two informational postcards focusing on key components of their business. I edited or wrote text for these pieces, but the bulk of the credit goes to the outstanding artists who created the visuals: web designer Ella Hutchings and print designer Stewart Moon. It’s rare these days that I get to work on a project with so much visual emphasis—this was great fun. (Shown above are Larry Geraghty, John, and Sarah in the METAVERO booth; shown below is the horizontal booth banner.)

Metavero_HorizBanner

Tri-fold Brochure

MetaveroBrochure-combo

Cards: METAVERO Process and Fishing for Solutions

MetaveroPostcard-combo

View the Process card    View the Fish card

PowerPoint Template

MetaveroPowerPoint

 

Check Out that Figure!

Review of “The Elements of Eloquence

EloquenceSure, you know what a rhetorical question is and perhaps using alliteration is a particular personal preference. But did you know those are two of the figures of rhetoric? I didn’t, and I certainly never learned the names and definitions of the other 37 figures. I even attended Catholic high school (supposedly known for old-school methods, rote memorization, and emphasis on English) but neither Sister Mary Donald nor Sister Marie Immaculata ever brought up rhetoric. Until I read “The Elements of Eloquence” by Mark Forsyth, rhetoric was Greek to me. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. The figures of rhetoric have delicious Greek names, many of which are essentially unpronounceable to your average American. Epizeuxis or aposiopesis, anyone?)

I won’t spoil your enjoyment of reading Forsyth’s delightful and funny examples to illustrate each of the figures—he draws on classical and modern literature, the Bible, recent movies, and lyrics from pop songs. But here are a couple of my favorites to whet your appetite.

An old friend used to say that when you want to make something sound important, you should say it twice. Say it twice. Various forms of repetition loom large in “Eloquence.”

We encounter anadiplosis, well illustrated by Yoda: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hatred, hatred leads to suffering.” In this figure, you begin each phrase with the last word of the previous phrase. “There’s simply a satisfaction, half logical and half beautiful, in seeing the same word ending one phrase and coming back to life at the start of the next,” Forsyth says. St. Paul did it, Jesse Jackson did it, and Shakespeare did it.

And like my repeated use of “did it” just now, which brings up our next figure, epistrophe, Forsyth cleverly ends each chapter with an example that links to the next figure. Another player on Team Repetition, epistrophe happens when you end each of several sentences, clauses, or paragraphs with the same word.

When you begin and end with the same word, that’s epanalepsis. John Lennon used this in his song that starts “Yesterday…” and then ends, “…yesterday.” Forsyth says this figure’s act of taking us back to where we began “gives the impression of going nowhere, and it gives the impression of time moving inexorably on.” For circularity and continuation, use epanalepsis.

Forsyth works his way through all 39 figures of rhetoric, with a brief nod to scholars who dispute precisely how each figure is defined. “Eloquence” is not a textbook and won’t leave you with ready-to-use figures to whip out at your keyboard. The jacket promises to reveal stylistic secrets and show you how to write like Shakespeare or deliver the perfect one-liner. I wouldn’t go that far. Rather, this book is a linguistic dessert, an exploration of these ancient techniques that can enhance modern writing. We use many of these without realizing it—at least, when we’re writing well—and it’s fun to spot them in your own work.

For me, a special side bonus was the source of this book. That my not-quite-21-year-old son thought to pick out an entertaining language book for his editor mom warms my heart. The fact that he found the book amusing himself gives me hope for future generations of language lovers.