After the Last Birthday – #PoetryMonth 2018 April 2

After the Last Birthday

Tick-tick-tick,
Like the pecking of pigeons on bare concrete,
Or the tapping of hail on windows,
Grains of beach sand tumble
Tick-tick-tick,
Driven by the relentless breeze
Across the weathered wood of
An abandoned picnic table.

Poetry Month 2018
I’ve resolved a few times to write a poem a day during the month of April, and I actually succeeded once. I’m again trying it out. No idea what each day will bring. Some light verse, some politics, some “oh shit I didn’t write anything today” haikus. If you read one and feel moved to comment, please do. If you want to share your poetry, please share!
Previous Post

Poetry Month 2018. Day 1.

Deceptions

This house
Crafted with love
From honest wood

The sacrifices we made
On this solid slab,
Aching over the labors
That our idealistic youth
Promised would build
A home

A home
That protected us
For twenty years
Though it needed paint
And a new faucet
From time to time

A home
A safely comfortable bed
Thick, trusted studs
The aromas of us

If only we’d understood
The termites
Chewing away the core
Until the only thing
Holding up the corrupted shell
Was the stubborn resolve
Of our shared denial.

Poetry Month 2018
I’ve resolved a few times to write a poem a day during the month of April, and I actually succeeded once. I’m again trying it out. No idea what each day will bring. Some light verse, some politics, some “oh shit I didn’t write anything today” haikus. If you read one and feel moved to comment, please do. If you want to share your poetry, please share!

A beautiful #rainbow #shield of love to protect all kids from hate

This morning some hateful people came from Kansas to harass students at an elementary school and antagonize parents and school officials over a bulletin board display that discussed gender issues.

It turned out to be a gorgeous (if slightly chilly) morning, and a fabulous day. Not only because there were twice as many sheriff personnel (eight by my count) as hatemongers (four that I saw in this NBC video), but because the rainbow umbrella shield created by parents and community members, to express support for and to protect all children, was so astonishingly robust. More than 20 showed up before 7 a.m., and I’d guess about 120 of us were there at the peak.

I heard singing. I heard a ukulele. I saw two people in rainbow-colored unicorn costumes, with two dogs–one black and one white. I heard laughing, chatting, and a lot of kind people meeting each other for the first time.

The organizer, the school and district authorities, and law enforcement officials did an outstanding job of making the hatemongers’ morning a total nonevent. But they made our morning one to remember by bringing so many kind, loving, supportive people out to let all kids know they matter. This is really how a show of support should look when hate comes to town.

Also, I was interviewed on live TV. I show up at about the 1:13 mark.

What does your tattoo signify to you?

Last week, my daughter and I got new tattoos. She designed hers two weeks ago, I loved it, and I asked for a modified version for me. Since she was visiting from southern California last week, we found ourselves under Aaron‘s needle at Zebra tattoo in Berkeley on Thursday, walking out with new ink in time to go to grandma’s for dinner. (She hates tattoos.)

My first tattoo

Most people are surprised to find out I already had a tattoo. Clean-cut white guy with no sense of style, very polite, very little cussing, worked for a bank… that guy has a tat? But yeah, it’s tiny and one color and in a place that’s often covered up. So.

Anyway. Emma modified her drawing to my specifications, and Aaron redrew it to make it more tattooey (for skin instead of paper).

It’s on my left forearm, so a lot bigger and more visible than the first.

Emma’s tattoo was the medical symbol of a staff with a snake wrapped around it, but she changed the snake to a rattlesnake and added the words Don’t Tread On Me. I decided a quill (for writing of course) suited me better, though I kept the rattler. The color pattern on the snake is blue-pink-white-pink-blue, repeated; this is the pattern of the trans flag. (As you know if you’ve read my blog much, I am the proud father of a trans woman.) While I don’t think of my writing as venomous, I do want it to have bite, and the rattler reminds me not to be timid in my writing.

Do you have one or more tattoos? Do they have significance beyond aesthetic appeal? Let me know in the comments.

Musings about Pi on Pi day

reposted from my old blog from 2015

I just watched the online World Clock turn over to 3/14/15 9:26:53, and it was… less moving than I expected. But I did take a screen capture to commemorate the occasion.

But all day I’ve been thinking, on and off, about Pi. Because I’ve been thinking a lot about life, and about spirituality, and about infinity. About religion and Religion, about God and god, about the connectedness of all things.

I have a theory that religious people and atheists differ only in semantics. Both are trying, in our finite and flawed human way, to get a grip on infinity.

Pi is an especially interesting representation of something that we mostly believe to be both infinity and perfection. Take a perfect circle and bisect it perfectly. Then divide the length of the bisecting segment into the circumference of the circle. You’ll get this magical number that never repeats yet goes on indefinitely. It really is a beautiful number.

Now, of circles and bisecting them:

Circles figure prominently in our legends and lore, in our metaphors and our rituals. We use rings to symbolize union in marriage, we have family circles and circles of friends, we discuss the circle of life.

Division and union also figure prominently in our lives. Two hands that oppose and complement each other. Two sexes, required to unite for procreation. Yin and Yang, black and white, attract and repel. Marriage and divorce.

Pi has this sort of magical place in, around, and through all of this. Pi is sort of the God number. It is perfect and infinite, yet patternless.

I know Pi can be calculated in other number bases, but I’m too lazy to look up whether anyone has really studied those to see if they have the same mystical properties as Pi. I assume they do, since conversion from one base to another is pretty straightforward.

So it’s not the number itself that intrigues me. It’s the perfection of the ratio of the circle to the straight line that bisects it, in a perfectly mathematical world. But we do not live in a perfectly mathematical world. Our world is imperfect. Our perception is finite. We live in more than two dimensions. In our world, the perfect circle does not actually exist; it exists only in the theoretical, as described by mathematics. I suppose I would say that the same is surely true for the perfect being: a perfect being can only exist in the theoretical, as described by theology.

Pi exists where the theoretical touches the physical. We can’t ever know the full extent of Pi because it is perfect and infinite, and therefore in its full and true form it can’t exist in our finite and flawed world. But we take comfort in its existence and wonder at its majesty. We know in our hearts that it is there, that it is bigger than we can comprehend.

Remind me, where do I look this up? #EditingPony

Do you ever want to reply to emails with, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Or, “Thanks for asking me about that. If only you had some way of finding it out yourself.”

Or,”Hey there’s this new thing called the internet. You should check it out.”

Please don’t be the person who makes me want to send you those replies. Because all of them basically mean, “Look it up yourself.”

When you’re sending an email or other written correspondence, stop yourself if you

  • … are beginning the email with, “Remind me…”
    This means you’ve already been told, but you think your time is better spent by having me look it up for you than by you looking it up for yourself. This is a great way to make your coworkers feel disrespected and resentful.
  • … are including or attributing a quote from memory
    As Mark Twain never said, “I’d rather be misquoted than languish in obscurity.” If you are including a quote from literature, history, or culture, it’s worth your time to get it right.
  • … are referring to historical facts
    You may have heard everyone you know talking about the Bowling Green Massacre, but if you’re referring to it in print, you should spend two minutes looking it up first to get the details right.
  • … are presenting data
    I’ve been guilty of giving estimates from memory in informal emails from time to time, but once these estimates are in the wild, they can grow to become more “real” than the actual truth in people’s minds. If that happens, these informal inaccuracies can haunt you. Don’t go from memory; look up the numbers. (And don’t send a note to a coworker asking them to remind you…)

The Editing Pony

The Editing Pony is a blog series about good business writing. I’ll post periodic tips and gladly critique and rewrite emails or one-pagers for you in a blog post. Contact me to learn more.

Why a pony? A writer friend said she hadn’t edited in ages, but she was “getting back up on that pony.” Thus, the Editing Pony was conceived, to trample your words with ruthless, plush cuteness.

Number one #WorkplaceGiving campaign 9 years running. Two million #volunteer hours. #MicDrop

I started my first job out of UC Berkeley in July, 1989, working as a tech writer at Boeing on the B-2. Six companies and 14 years later, on February 23, 2003, I was hired full time at Wells Fargo to work in community affairs. Today is my 15th anniversary as an employee. That means that sometime in the last few months, I officially passed the point where I have been a Wells Fargo employee longer than I have not been a Wells Fargo employee since graduating college.

 

Me accepting a national Summit award from United Way CEO Brian Gallagher (um… 2011?)

Five years after being hired, I was promoted to manage the team and then, along with dear friend Melissa Buchanan, I co-led the integration of Wachovia’s and Wells Fargo’s employee giving and volunteer programs. The next year, 2009, the employee giving campaign rose to United Way Worldwide’s #1 ranking in the US for the first time ever.

This week, Wells Fargo announced that our workplace giving campaign was recognized as #1 in the US for the 9th year in a row… every year I’ve managed the group. Also, in 2017 our volunteer program recorded over 2 million hours for the first time ever.

I’ve been privileged to work with an incredible team of wonderful people–each one brilliant, dedicated, hard working, high integrity, and overflowing with compassion. It’s hard to leave such a team of people I respect deeply and am proud to call my friends, but it’s time for me to “lose sight of the shore” to discover new oceans. I will enjoy an enduring pride for all I helped build at Wells Fargo, and I know I will take a wealth of knowledge and experience into whatever I build next. I go into a new, as yet uncharted, adventure with tremendous gratitude for all the wonderful people I have worked with the last 15 years, and all the opportunity and memories the company provided.

My Wells Fargo team in 2015

Plan for 2019 San Francisco Writers Conference now! #SFWC18 #SFWC19

You know what’s truly appalling? How few photos I have from ten years of volunteering at the San Francisco Writers Conference.

Ten years I’ve trudged up the half mile and (roughly) 73,000 vertical feet of Powell Street from BART to the Mark Hopkins hotel. I’ve introduced speakers, crawled under tables to plug in cords, set up a Whova app, got down with OPP (other people’s powerpoints), reprimanded best-selling authors for droning on too long, and made lots and lots of friends.

In those ten years, I collected numerous rejections, published five books, had stories published in at least four anthologies (including Julaina’s), held an author reading, and on and on.

All this is to say that if you’re a writer, or think you might have writerly tendencies, you should plan now to spend Valentine’s Day 2019 with me at the Hyatt Regency in San Francisco. Editing Pony is here to take care of you… Hey, Pony, give us the details!

Thanks, Pony!

I hope to see you there. All new location, even better content and networking.

Rabbit Hole Day

Lewis Carroll was born on January 27th.  The idea of blog Rabbit Hole Day is to stop making sense for 24 hours to honor the birthday of the guy who came up with Alice and the white rabbit and Cheshire Cat and all that.  I, however, take a different approach.  I honor the day not by being inane and insane but by penning a poem that attempts to mimic something.  You get to decide what it mimics.

Prior attempts at this can be found on my old blog.

The Candleship

Rekindling the stars

Timbers whine, creaking; sailors sweat, reeking.
The man at the watch checks his compass again.
He brustles his jacket against the wind’s stracket,
Alarmed by pitch darkness at quarter to ten.

“Prunch the pinjammer, and cease all that yammer!”
Demands Mister Stitcher with braughtery bluster.
“Shawlup and listen, there’s demons a-swissin,
So gather your courage, what all can ye muster.”

The ship glythers slow as cruel moanings below
Fill every lad’s heart with a dreckoning fear.
They gloomish their plight as they watch the last light
Sink into the black of the bottomless squeer.

“Now, man, let’s hear it, and sing it with spirit!”
Cries Stitcher while striking a match at the mast.
Its tiny spitsizzle belightens the drizzle
Like memoried starstorms from eons long past.

It’s too late, though, I fear, for the demons are here,
With their shashowy shapes climbing over the rails,
And their claws clickerclack as the wind has gone slack
And the night feels as flat as our dreakening sails.

With grim sword in hand, I’m ready to stand
And fight to the end of all life and all joy.
But soft in the glow, a lone voice starts in low,
On a song that is something I knew as a boy.

It windeshes clear through the rain far and near
And snatches up sparklets as skyward it drives.
And the demons, conchailling, leap over the railing
Bewailing their failing to capture our lives.

Then, magic surprising–the raindrops, they’re rising!
Constelling in patterns of glittery lightness.
We stand there like fools, agape at the jewels
Skembedding in heavenly swathings of brightness.

On the song’s final note, our draddeling boat
Belurches to glythe once more on its way.
The Candleboat crew, all seventy-two,
Now ready to kindle another new day.

Why you use the passive voice

Do you ever find yourself writing this

An email was written and sent to me by my coworker, and it was marked as high priority.

instead of this

My coworker sent me a high priority email.

Don’t worry. We all do it, and I’ll explain why in a second. But only one time in 10,000 should you actually send the first one.

The photograph of the picture that was painted by Editing Pony was taken by me.

 

The difference between these two sentences is that one is in passive voice and the other in active voice. If you don’t already know the difference, go learn, then come back.

My favorite reasons for avoiding passive voice are

  • Passive voice almost always uses more words. Although words are not a limited resource, your audience’s attention is.
  • Passive voice is usually harder to decipher because we live in a “Joe called me” world, not an “I was called by Joe” world.
  • In business writing, passive voice can erode the reader’s trust because they may think you’re trying to direct attention away from the real subject and verb. Most of the time, that’s exactly what’s happening.

In the first example, the email takes center stage, and the sender and recipient are secondary. In the second example, your coworker is telling you something, and email is just the mechanism.

Why do we write in passive voice?

I’ve only found three reasons people write in passive voice. First, they think long, wordy, circuitous sentences sound more intelligent and credible. (The opposite is true.) Second, they are trying to deflect accountability by moving the spotlight away from the agent. Third, they don’t understand the point they’re trying to make.

Here are a few examples from recent emails I’ve received. Do you have examples? Share them in comments.

An estimate has not been generated by the sales team.

The writer thought their audience was most interested in the cost, so they focused on the estimate and its status. This may seem logical, but the reader would still more easily understand

The sales team hasn’t generated an estimate.

In business writing, when you bury accountability in a grammatical labyrinth, people trust you less. Why are you letting the sales team off the hook? Have you followed up with them, or are you just waiting for an estimate to magically appear?

Challenges were created by not having a process in place to identify issues prior to launch.

Here’s an example where the agent doesn’t even appear in the sentence. Who was responsible for creating such a process? Was it one person or many people? And what should bother us here: that there was no process, or that issues weren’t identified in time, or that challenges resulted? Clearly, this example is taken out of context, but now I have to read a lot more just to understand what this sentence is trying to imply. And I’m also on high alert because I may need to work very hard to see the real meaning through the word fog.

Joe should have identified these issues before launch.

Far less ambiguous. And, although it may seem more aggressive to call Joe out like that, it’s actually less unfair to him because now Joe has something to respond to. Joe can agree with or rebut the second statement, but he can’t do anything at all with the first statement.

Write in active voice

For 2018, commit to writing your business communications in active voice. If you find yourself writing circuitous sentences where the agent is not the focus, ask yourself why. Is it because you aren’t clear on your message? Clarify your message before writing the email. Is it because you are afraid of blame falling on someone? Sometimes deflection can be useful, but be aware people will see right through it or be confused by it, and either they will trust you less or ask questions to get at the point anyway. Is it because you think the focus really should fall on the patient rather than the agent? Passive voice can be a useful structure in this case, but it should be the very rare exception in your writing. Almost always you can be more clear and concise with active voice.

Write courageously. Don’t hide your true meaning behind the verbal fog of passive voice. It doesn’t sound more intelligent; it just confuses and distracts.

The Editing Pony

The Editing Pony is a blog series about good business writing. I’ll post periodic tips and gladly critique and rewrite emails or one-pagers for you in a blog post. Contact me to learn more.

Why a pony? A writer friend said she hadn’t edited in ages, but she was “getting back up on that pony.” Thus, the Editing Pony was conceived, to trample your words with ruthless, plush cuteness.