THE NIGHTMARE JOBS OF YOUTH – Marilyn Armstrong

I complain about getting old, but occasionally, I remember being young wasn’t exactly perfect, either. Mostly, it was work. Men were one problem (especially the men AT work), but work itself and some of the monsters who ran the companies for which I worked … well … they were a special breed. I hear it’s worse now. 

I find that hard to believe. How much worse can it be? Between the sleazy offers of sex behind the office door and the micromanagement, not to mention the realization that the harder you worked, the more work you’d be given to do — and realizing that as a woman, you’d probably never get a raise or even a high five — how bad can it get?


As a retiree, I had more than 40 years of work full-time work. Of the 40 years of work, 30 of them involved working for bad-tempered, sleazy, mean-spirited bosses.

Were they born that way or did they grow into their positions?

There was the job for which I was paid exceptionally well. I was being paid to do absolutely nothing. I was assigned to sit all day in front of a computer and look busy. I was not allowed to fall asleep or read a book. I could not play a game or write a personal letter.

I had to sit there and stare at the screen. Worse, I had to “work” overtime. A standard 8-hour day was not enough. I had to continue the farce for 9 or 10 hours. Because the contract agency that put me in the job had to prove we were “necessary” by forcing us to do overtime … or an extra hour or two of doing nothing.

I am told there are people who crave such jobs. For me, it was torture. I couldn’t wait to move on.

There was the job where I was paid top dollar, had a gorgeous office. And nobody cared what I did. They only hired me because one big contract needed a manual. My job was to write it.

No one read it. Not only didn’t they read it, they also didn’t edit it or check to make sure it was accurate. I could have filled it with nursery rhymes or doodles. All they wanted to know was “Is it big and heavy?” and “Does it look impressive?” People wonder why manuals aren’t as good as they should be!

Working under a micro-manager is a special experience, especially for a writer. I had a few of them.

These are the bosses who stand behind you. You can hear them breathe, feel their hot air breath on your neck. Yuk. They watch with eagle-eyes to make sure you are doing Your Job and Nothing But Your Job. For me, that means I can’t do my job.

I’m a writer. I can’t write with someone watching over my shoulder. The micro-managers also stands by the door in the morning hoping to bag any worker who has the temerity to show up a millisecond late. I was once called on the carpet — really tore me a new one — for being three minutes late.

The good part? When I made a serious mistake and forgot to insert a full-page color advertisement in the middle of the magazine — just omitted it entirely which no doubt cost the company serious money — it wasn’t any worse than the dressing down than I’d gotten for being three minutes late. It’s like when you yell at your kids or dogs all the time and you realize, they aren’t listening.

If you yell at your employees for everything, after a while, they become numb and nothing you do or say has any effect. To quote Teddy Roosevelt, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” That works better, though it didn’t get him re-elected.

I had a truly stupid job at college. Briefly. The work was easy. I was the receptionist. Some annoying women came in and asked me my name. I told her. She said, “I don’t like that name. Do you mind if I call you Jane?”

I looked at her, “Yes, I mind. My name is Marilyn. Mrs. Armstrong to you.” I got fired. I didn’t mind. It was a horrible job anyhow.

This is not the time or place to discuss the wonderful jobs, the terrific bosses, or the great work I’ve had the honor to do. The awful jobs — mostly — didn’t last long. The good ones (mostly) made up for the bad ones.

Retirement is the payback for professional suffering. I love retirement. It’s the bestest job of all.

SNOOPY AS A ROLE MODEL – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I read a unique article in the Washington Post by a writer talking about something from her childhood that inspired her to be a writer as an adult. Her name is Ann Patchett and her title names the motivating force in her career choice. The article is called, “Snoopy taught me how to be a writer.”

That’s right – the Snoopy from Charles Schultz’s beloved comic “Peanuts”. The perpetual loser, Charlie Brown’s dog. Ann says she read Peanut compilation books, as I did, in her formative summers and was smitten by Snoopy. She says that she was a nerdy, uncool kid who saw Snoopy as the essence of cool. He even raised the totally uncool status of his ‘person’, Charlie Brown, just by being so quintessentially cool himself.

Snoopy was confident enough to let himself become totally absorbed in his fantasies – WWI Flying Ace, Soldier in the French Foreign Legion, figure skater, tennis star, astronaut, and so on. He brought everyone else along with him in his fantasies to the point that they too heard the imaginary bullets flying by and the roar of the imaginary crowds.

Most important, Snoopy was a writer. He let his imagination run wild here too and then he sat down on the top of his doghouse and typed. He sat at his typewriter and plinked the keys to form hackneyed and repetitive paragraphs that he knew needed ‘editing’.

He had confidence and sent his manuscripts out to editors. He got lots of rejections, like all writers, yet he kept on trying. The best thing about Snoopy was that even when he failed and his doghouse was riddled with bullets, he lost in sports or his manuscripts were rejected again, he was still cool.

His superpower was that he remained cool in failure as well as in success.

Snoopy at his typewriter

Anne says that Snoopy taught her how to survive the publishing process; to deal with rejections and then get over them; to ignore bad reviews and move on. Snoopy turned out to be her perfect career mentor and he also led her into a life with dogs who enriched and fulfilled her. She says she always assumed that her dogs have an active inner life and are always cooler than she is.

I was never inspired to write. I just always did and so did my parents. My school required creative writing and analytical writing as well as research papers from the third grade on. My high school papers are indistinguishable from my college ones.

My father published seven books and numerous articles in the field of psychiatry and anthropology, many before I was born. He spent every summer locked in his study, writing, Every day he would present his writing to my mother who would edit it and encourage rewrites when needed. There was a lot of heated discussion about content, organization and writing style throughout my childhood.

My father in his fifties

When I was around fifteen, I joined my mother and we became my father’s editing team. As he got older, his writing often rambled and went off-topic and it was our job to keep him focused. We often had to outline material for him and even rewrite sections ourselves when he resisted our ‘advice’ and insisted on his now more stream of consciousness style. That may work for fiction, but not for an academic treatise.

Writing has always been a part of my life. I went through a period of anxiety and insecurity in my own writing when I was in high school and my mother did for me what she did for my father. She helped me figure out what I wanted to say and the most effective and persuasive way to say it. She taught me how to organize my thoughts and present my ideas cleanly and clearly.

Me at seventeen

When I started writing short audio theater plays with my husband, I had to learn how to write dialogue, which is a totally different kind of writing. I was used to writing analytical prose, which is not the way people talk. Dialogue has to sound like someone is actually speaking, not reading aloud from a non-fiction book.

So my writing evolved and expanded to encompass a new format for me. It is amazing and gratifying to hear actors bring your words to life. It’s even more awesome to hear audiences reacting to your words by laughing and applauding.

Title page of one of our scripts

I loved Snoopy too growing up, but I identified more with Linus and Charlie Brown than with the fearless, adventuresome Snoopy. I can imagine that if Snoopy ever wrote short plays, he would picture the adulation of audiences and bask in their approval. I’ve had that experience, so in a way, I’ve had my ‘Snoopy moment.’

Even a nerd like me can feel cool. But never as cool as Snoopy.

SAYING WHAT YOU MEAN OR PRODUCTIVITY – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Productive

Yesterday was a productive day. I decided to write about the kind of writing I do which I guess would be considered “opinion” or “informational.”  Judy (in New Hampshire Judy as opposed to Mexican Judy) commented that I write editorials, which was startling news to me. It fits, but I never thought of it that way.

Overall, I write to convey information. I try to avoid writing merely to display how well I write. I try to avoid confusing readers. Lately, I’ve noticed most of the information I read online seems to create more confusion than clarification. It’s not that the authors aren’t trying. It’s just they’re weak on editing.

Just when you think they’ve given you the major points, the author jumps to an alternative explanation completely at odds with what he said.

I used to do this on term papers in school. I said what I needed to say in the first few pages. The rest was filler. They demanded 40 pages and I had maybe five pages of worthwhile material. I think technical writing was comfortable for me because I could write without filler.

Too many writers are wedded to filler and proving how well they write. Most of the time, it is not useful to read more than the first few paragraphs because everything you need to know is in the first few paragraphs. That’s where you get the who, what, when, where and how of the story. After that, information diminishes as the author speculates on other ways you could look at the same data, and apparently, feels obliged to name all the other authors and give clips of their opinions.

Why? If you aren’t clarifying your post, what’s the point?

To make posts even more anti-informative, authors feel obliged to offer alternative interpretations of the material. At the risk of failing to appreciate opposing opinions, not all alternative opinions prove your point or for that matter, have anything to do with your post.

If you thought you had a grip on the subject, by the time you get past 1000 words, you know much less.

This is not the way it’s supposed to work. Additional information should expand and clarify. It should give you some precise information and backup data. It should not be there to fill extra space.

well-stressed-4It’s why I suggest writers edit, edit, edit edit. Then, put the draft away. Look at it later. A day or two later, if it isn’t urgent, but at least for a couple of hours. Not only does it help you find those slithering typographical errors you usually miss, but it enables you to see if you have managed to stick to your original concept.

This assumes you had a concept and weren’t just writing off the hip. If it’s not a rant, data should support your story and you should have backups to your supporting evidence.

Sometimes I feel as if a dozen voices are ricocheting around my head. I find myself thinking about the subject, then thinking about everything else I’ve heard about it. Then I see if it fits into my discussion or distracts attention away from the subject

What was the main subject anyway?. Where were you going? Are you getting there?

Yesterday I took this post which ran a whopping 1500-words. It felt disjointed. I let it rest overnight. When I got back to it, it ended satisfactorily at around 650 words. It said everything I needed to say. The rest had been repetitive. Irrelevant.

How much does my reader need to know? How much should I be explaining? If that paragraph is elegant and beautifully phrased, does it serve a purpose other than decoration?

dilbert information overload

When you get serious about editing, adjectives will vanish. Adverbs will run for the hills.

If this doesn’t work, try your hand at fiction. You can meander in fiction and, best of all, you can use adjectives and subjunctive clauses — and it’s okay. Pity I have no talent for it!

NO SPELLCHECKER – Marilyn Armstrong

There will be no spellchecker. I asked and they answered. This was WordPress’s response:


A. Jay (Automattic)

Jun 22, 07:25 UTC

Hi there,

Thank you for contacting us.

The spellchecker was a part of the publication process. I don’t like Grammarly and it interferes with other apps — and Google’s isn’t very good. What was the problem with including it? Was it in someone’s way? Was it harming someone? I do not understand.

Spell checkers are a specialty product, and it’s not something we specialize in. The WordPress.com spell checker was developed years ago when there didn’t exist any alternatives yet. Since then things have changed and a lot of other companies have started specializing in this, which led to the decision on our end to step back from the field and focus instead on the things we do specialize in.

Modern browsers now provide built-in spell-checking tools, so we have removed this feature from our product to avoid maintaining unnecessary dependencies. I read that you do not like Grammarly or Google’s spell checker, however, following are our recommendations as an alternative option:

        • the spell-checking built into most browsers
        • a browser extension that offers additional grammar checks
        • a third-party service that offers additional grammar checks

You can read more about some of these options here – https://en.support.wordpress.com/proofreading/

Please let us know if you have any questions or if we can help with anything else.

Best,

A. Jay | Happiness Engineer
WordPress.com | Automattic Inc.


I’d be interested to find out in exactly what WordPress does specialize. Certainly not in helping bloggers do whatever bloggers do … or creating functional software for bloggers to use. They have been forging ahead with their preconceived notion of what we are supposed to want for years.

None of us were ever consulted. No user surveys were ever taken among users. So with each “update,” they make the software harder to use. More awkward, slower. Essentially, dumber.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. It certainly didn’t surprise me.

DEFINITELY YOUR FAULT – Marilyn Armstrong

Brought to you by the heartland of the Internet: Facebook

So much of Facebook is made up of irresponsible bullshit written or “sponsored” by people who figure they have the right to shoot off their mouths, write drivel on public forums, and yet bear no responsibility for the results of their actions. These are the same people who would probably think that shouting “fire” in a theater was funny. If people were panicked, injured or killed? It’s not their fault.

So whose fault is it?

Here’s what I think. You are responsible for what you say and for making sure you are understood. You are responsible for what you write and how you write it.

William Strunk Jr. was a professor of English at Cornell University and, together with E.B. White, author of The Elements of Style (1918).

You are morally required to make a good faith effort to speak and write the truth in such a way that others can understand it. You need to be sure what you say makes sense. If you aren’t responsible, who is? If you write a pack of lies, or half-truths, or rumors — exactly who is responsible but you for whatever misunderstanding will inevitably result?

Everyone is responsible. You may not be able to 100% control how others understand, but you can make your best effort, to be honest, to double-check facts, and explain what you mean as clearly as possible.

The casual, widespread attitude that it’s okay to say or do anything and if other people don’t like it or “get it,” too bad for them. This is the definition of how we got where we are. It didn’t happen from nothing and nowhere. We did not act irresponsibly. We refused to admit mistakes. We blamed everyone else for the problems we caused, then wondered why we can’t trust anyone.

If all of us refuse to accept responsibility for our own actions and statements, why should anyone be more trustworthy than we are?  If “it’s not my fault” — or worse yet, “it’s your fault” — is going to be our national motto, when you hear a loud flapping noise, it’s your chickens coming home to roost. The result will be that we will live in a world where nothing anyone says or does can be trusted because honesty has been replaced by bullshit.

It really is the writer or speaker’s responsibility to communicate. It is not the responsibility of your listener to decipher your poorly written and badly expressed language.

It’s not a heartwarming thought.

USING THE NEW GUTENBERG EDITOR – REBLOG – Janice Wald8

How to Easily Use the New WordPress Gutenberg Editor

Big thank you to Martha Kennedy for spreading this around. These days, I don’t think I need it, but in case I change my mind, it’s nice to know that there’s somewhere to go for a rational explanation.

If you do a lot of complicated posting — especially if you are using cross-references and inserts from other texts, this might be exactly your thing. It’s similar to Framemaker, Adobe’s once premier text editing system, although not quite as intense (or huge) … but Frame was made for designing technical books with footnotes over multiple volumes with all appropriate indices.

This is not intended for that although, in theory, you could use it. I’d be interested to know how it works for you. Especially since Adobe abandoned Framemaker years ago. It was almost a thousand dollars for a single single-user purchase — updates cost less — more than a decade ago. Its audience shrunk, making keeping it up to date not worth the development time, or in any case, that’s what I assumed.

Adobe had stopped fixing the bugs a couple of years before they stopped selling it anyway and since it was THE tool for multi-volume documentation, maybe that’s why companies stopped writing documents? No software?

Good luck and have fun!


How to use the new WordPress Gutenberg Editor

Can I address the elephant in the room?

WordPress doesn’t look like WordPress anymore.

The WordPress Gutenberg Editor has replaced the familiar WordPress Editor.

Welcome to the world of blocks! There are blocks available for all kinds of content: You can insert text, headings, images, lists, and lots more!

This post will explain why WordPress switched to the Gutenberg Editor and offer a tutorial so you know how to use the new WordPress editor.

Why Did WordPress Switch to the WordPress Gutenberg Editor?

Bloggers were using third parties to build landing pages.

For example, bloggers and other content creators were paying to use DragDropr to move around content.

WordPress Gutenberg Editor

 

My landing page for new subscribers is an example of content moved around on that page.

As you can see, my image block and my text block are next to each other. Using DragDropr, I arranged the blocks this way.

WordPress wanted to have this functionality. By adopting this feature and more, WordPress will continue to grow. That was the rationale.

(NOTE: Gutenberg was created to help grow the business aspect of WordPress and was not designed for “regular” bloggers. They admitted this to me. Not even professionals need such a complex text editor. The good news is IF you need it, it exists. Hopefully, it will still exist in another year. You can never tell with WordPress.)

How to Use the New Gutenberg WordPress Editor

Are you familiar with Medium.com? Medium, a publishing site, works in a similar manner to the WordPress Gutenberg Editor.

You add blocks with different parts of your blog post in them.

WordPress Gutenberg Tutorial:

Once you click “Add Post,” you see a series of blocks on your screen.

Add your title, your blog post graphic, and the text of your post where directed.

The WordPress Gutenberg editor is intuitive. You don’t need to click the plus sign to add a new block. Each time you hit enter, a new block will be created.

Should you want to add a new element, click the plus sign.

If you drag your cursor to the left of the block, you’ll bring up the edit functions.

Look at your options for elements to add. Although they’re listed by most commonly used, you may find additional elements intriguing. These may be elements you never thought to use until you saw them as an option to add in the WordPress Gutenberg Editor.

To add an Image:

Create a new block and click the Image icon.

Upload your image. Notice the alignment and edit choices are directly above the block for your convenience.

Use the handlebars on the sides of the image to alter the size. You can also just drag the sides of the photo until they’re the dimensions you want. Write the caption directly in the draft if desired.

Don’t forget to put your focus SEO keyword in the Alt Tag.

Alignment choices for setting your image to the right, left, or center will be available as well.

Many of these features were available in the Classic Editor but were not so obvious.

If you want to create a new heading, after creating a new block, click the T (for text).

WordPress Gutenberg Editor

After typing, you see you are given a choice for what type of heading you want to add.

Under the block, you see you have choices such as adding HTML code to the block or an Image.

Clicking the 3 dots will enable you to choose additional options.

Did you notice the Grammarly editor appeared? You can now edit individual blocks with Grammarly.

Once again, you can add new elements by clicking the plus sign.

You can add YouTube or Vimeo videos simply by pasting the link into the block.

You can add blockquotes as well.

Do you like to embed lists in your blog posts?

You can also add numbered lists or bulleted lists.

To add Custom HTML in the new WordPress editor:

 

WordPress Gutenberg Editor

When you click the plus sign in the upper left-hand corner of the screen, you’ll be able to search for HTML. Look: The Custom HTML Code option came up when I searched for it.

Look: WordPress Gutenberg Editor Tutorial

The new WordPress editor is intuitive. I don’t have to search for HTML code. It “knew” I commonly use the HTML code and it came right up the next time I needed it.

Since I paste codes for embedded elements and throw a linky party, I use HTML code pretty often, so this feature was important to me.

You can toggle between the HTML and the preview so you can see how your text will look.

Click “Preview” to load a preview of this page so you can make sure you’re happy with your blocks.

Finished writing? Just click “Publish” and you’re good to go.

What if you need help with the WordPress Editor?

You can insert a plugin needed to get the classic editor back.

If you need help, there is a WordPress Gutenberg tutorial video. You can see how to use the WordPress Gutenberg Editor.

Fair warning: The video was made a year ago when the editor was still in the beta testing stages.

Advantages of Using the WordPress Gutenberg Editor

  • You can move the blocks around.
  • Resize your image by moving the handlebars on the sides. Just drag your image to the size you want it.
  • You don’t need 3rd-party tools like DragDropr to build landing pages.
  • You don’t need 3rd party plugins like tables since the editor allows you to insert a table.
  • The option to enter an image comes in when you add a new block. Therefore, you don’t have to keep going to the top of the screen to add media.
  • You have more options now.
  • The options you had before are more obvious now.
  • Using the Gutenberg editor is like using Medium. If you can publish at Medium.com, you can easily publish using the new WordPress Gutenberg editor since Medium uses the same concept of blocks.
  • If you’re not happy, you can install a plugin that will put the previous WordPress editor on your site.

Disadvantages of Using WordPress Gutenberg Editor

  • Bloggers now have to learn a new skill: Mastering Gutenberg.
  • You can’t use the editor on your phone and you won’t be able to until 2019.

Wrapping Up: Features of The New WordPress Gutenberg Editor and Tutorial

This post explained 

  • What Gutenberg is
  • Why WordPress switched to a new WordPress editor
  • How to use the WordPress Gutenberg Editor
  • The advantages and disadvantages of the new WordPress editor.

Your turn: What is your opinion of the WordPress Gutenberg editor? Are you used to it yet? What is your opinion?

Readers, please share so bloggers struggling to learn the WordPress Gutenberg Editor read this tutorial and learn how to use Gutenberg.

NON-FICTION: IT’S NOT ALWAYS A STORY – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I was taught how to write at an early age. In grammar school, I was very anxious and would get paralyzed when I had to write anything. My mom sat me down and showed me how to structure any piece of writing. The classic, “Say what you’re going to say, say it and then say what you said.” In other words, introduction, development, and conclusion.

Mom started me out by helping me write outlines for my writing. Once I had the basic ideas organized, I could expand on them on my own, with less anxiety. Mom would then edit my writing with me. That’s how I learned about style and sentence structure. Writing began to come easily to me.

By the time I was fifteen, I was helping Mom edit articles and books that my father, Abram Kardiner, was writing for psychiatric and anthropological publications. My dad was never a clear and concise writer. At this point, he was in his mid-seventies and was even less focused and coherent than before.

Me at about 16

Dad tended to write in a confusing stream of consciousness. Ideas just tumbled out in random order. He often buried the lead sentences explaining his premise, deep in the fourth or fifth paragraphs. He often went off on tangents for pages and pages, losing the thread of his thesis along the way. He had brilliant and innovative ideas. But you had to hunt for them and they weren’t always presented in the best way.

Mom and I would take his material and break it down into a detailed and sequential outline for him. Dad resisted us at every turn. He somehow felt that we were trying to get him to ‘write down’ to a more mass audience when he was aiming his writing at high-level academics in his fields. We argued that all writing has to be comprehensible, regardless of the audience. He would grudgingly go along with us.

Mom and Dad during Dad’s prime writing years

We would go over the outline with him meticulously. He would take it and go off to do a rewrite. He would stick to the outline for a few paragraphs if we were lucky. But then he would end up off on another rambling polemic. We never succeeded in improving his writing and he didn’t publish much after this point.

Many years later, I had another opportunity to help someone hone their writing skills. This time with better results. My first husband, Larry, was a brilliant litigation attorney. Part of his job was producing coherent and above all else, persuasive written arguments on behalf of his clients.

Larry had the same problems organizing his thoughts as my dad had. His arguments meandered, got muddled and lost emphasis and clarity. He was all over the place. This became a serious issue at work. It took him forever to get his writing done and he was never satisfied with the end product.

Larry as a young associate at a NY law firm

One day I was home sick from my own legal job. Larry was struggling with a pro bono criminal brief and was frustrated. I told him to leave his draft with me for the day so I could work on it. This was before computers. I spent the day literally cutting and pasting his brief into a whole new document. I added a few connective sentences here and there, but all the necessary material was already there.

Larry was very impressed with the document that I came up with for him. He was surprised to see how I had created a totally different result simply by rearranging and consolidating his material. A light bulb went off in his head. Unlike my father, he ‘got it’.

Larry and me in his early years practicing law

His writing improved. He was also smart enough to study the writing of two very good legal writers in his law firm. One of them had been a speechwriter for Bobby Kennedy in the 1960’s. The two men had very different styles and Larry forged his own style by adapting what he liked from both men.

Adam Walinsky – former RFK speechwriter and partner at Larry’s law firm

Larry became an excellent writer. One of the best in his law firm. In one major brief he wrote, he started each section with a relevant quote from Shakespeare. Brilliant! The judge in the case, who was a Harvard Law School graduate, was so blown away, he wrote Larry a letter. He told Larry his brief was the best the judge had ever read!

Quite a compliment for Larry, and obliquely for me as his original writing tutor.

So I succeeded in teaching one person how to be a good writer. Or I at least set him on the path to becoming one. I was very proud of Larry and of my accomplishment. It meant a lot to me because of my struggles with my dad’s writing. I guess one out of two isn’t a bad record.