The Nerdiest Poem Ever – #PoetryMonth 2018 – April 5

The Nerdiest Poem Ever

“I need a word!” I cried.
My cramped office replied with
nothing but the gathering chill
of a dusky rain
outside my triple-paned windows.

The internet tried its best to help.
“Cry wolf!”
“The jig is up!”
“Keep your eyes peeled!”
These, as any sixth grade boy forced to miss recess knows,
are not sufficient to summon Euterpe to anything more
than a dismissive eye roll.

Any random word would do.

Bottle! Inspired by the half-empty short-necked IPA next to my keyboard.
Chord! Taken from a slender reference book designed to nestle in the tall neck of a guitar case.
Guillotine! I had apparently had enough of necks.

Any random word—not chosen by me—would do.

Fate would decide.
By dice I’d have my prompt.
In seconds, hastily excavated relics littered my desk:
A dog-eared Monster Manual. A faded Dungeon Master’s Guide.
A crisp, bright dictionary… the paper kind.
And the treasure I sought: a musty leather bag filled with precious jewels.
By which of course I mean dice.

D10: Four!
D10: Zero!
D10: Five!
Yanking the dictionary open, I flipped to page 405.
D6: Five! The far right column.
D10: Six.

My word, the sixth down the column.
Finally, I would have my prompt to inspire a poem on the fifth day of
Poetry Month.
The rain’s chill vanished, the internet’s babble silenced,
my finger traced word after word until…

Dismiss.

I could feel Euterpe rolling her eyes and
popping open her umbrella
for the long walk back to the bus stop
where the number six bus would take her home.

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!
PS: Today’s poem prompt was provided by random chance, as described in the poem.
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Wicker Basket – #PoetryMonth 2018 April 4

Wicker Basket

A tepee that’s lost its Indians
A fire engine with pullback action
A riderless horse
An orange Spitfire
The handmade wood fighter jet
A battleship out of water
A monster truck
A police helicopter

Now the wicker basket
Knows only the brutish hands
Of cleaning ladies
Dusting the shelf
And
The fading memory of
Tiny, clumsy hands
Tumbling toys
Across the carpet

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!
PS: Today’s poem prompt was provided by Maria.
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Spring’s Fairy – #PoetryMonth 2018 April 3

Spring’s Fairy

Too cold for sweat.
“I am the harbinger,”
She grunts as she swings
One foot up, then the other.
Erigenia hauls herself
One leaf higher up the flowerstalk,
Rising above
The stubborn remnants
Of the final March snow.

Her hands blistered and torn,
Her rough clothes sliced,
Her chest heaving,
She stands triumphant
On the top
Of the tallest
Dandelion.

With a parched whisper
Made of long-dry oak leaves
And trampled corn husks,
Erigenia commands,
“The time is now, Spring,”
And a swish of her sword
Cuts loose the first
Raw blossom
To carry her up
Into the orange sunrise
On the last gossamer breath
Of winter’s spent fury.

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!
PS: Today’s poem prompt was provided by Aerin.
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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!

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.

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.

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.