THE GIFT OF WORDS – Marilyn Armstrong

And thus shall I bestow upon you the gift of gab, the talent of words, the ability to write with clarity and precision.

Congratulations. You are a writer. But — how do you know?

Because you write. Could you be a better writer? Probably. We can all be better writers. I’m a much better writer now than I was when I started blogging and I was a pretty good writer before that. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write because as soon as I could read, I could write.

Every style of writing has special ways of handling issues.

For children’s books, much is made of making sure kids never have to look at a word that’s too “hard” for them. With which I disagree because that’s how I got a vocabulary. You see a word you don’t know. You ask someone or look it up. Now, you know a new word.

Technical writing, when I started doing it, was a wholly different. With a few other people, we sort of invented it since it was a new field and the “rules” didn’t yet exist.

I learned to write tightly using few adjectives or adverbs unless those words provided a specific definition. It produced something that has served me well — an extremely clean style of writing that is easy to adapt — except as fiction. Non-fiction, mostly.

The baseline for technical writing is making complicated information easy to understand for anyone with any background, technical or not. That includes old people, little kids and everyone in between. It also means I give good directions.

You are a working writer, even if no one ever sends you a check.

Maybe now you want to join a writing group or take a seminar. As you are already a writer, you are many steps ahead of where you were. Writing classes can be useful, though I’ve never had the patience to deal with them. They can help you focus on refining and organizing your work and most importantly, help you find a publisher. Seminars won’t teach you to write, but they might teach you to market your product.

I never took courses, per se, but I needed to learn a lot about style and design. I read books. I also read many other documents to see how other writers handled this kind of material. I also needed to learn to design books the physical book. In big corporations, they hire designers to do that, but I didn’t work for people who had that big a budget. Instead, I did it all.

It turned out, designing was the most fun I ever had while getting paid.


As for whether or not blogging “is writing?” What a silly question.

Writing is.

Blogging is very much like writing short features for newspapers or magazines. All kinds of writing are writing including advertising, for radio, television, and the Internet. We give them different names, but it’s all the same creative process. How you apply your talents has a million applications.

Ignore the people who feel like they need to put everything in a box. Keep doing what you’re doing!

You GO!

YOU’VE EITHER GOT IT OR NOT – Rich Paschall

Style, by Rich Paschall

Perhaps you have noticed that it seems to have died out.  You are probably glad of it too.  You did not like it.  You may even have been insulted by it, so it is so long and farewell.  It should be like many style statements we have seen over recent generations.  It is here for a while, then reason sets in.

Of course, we are talking about that so-called “fashion trend” that saw young men wearing their baggy jeans below their rear ends so that we could see their boxer shorts.  I am sure this did as much for makers of boxer shorts as it did for sellers of baggy jeans.  Perhaps these guys have started to realize just how crazy this was.  There may have been some cheap thrill in letting us see their underwear, but as a practical point of view it could not have been dumber.  At least you know these guys were not going to cause trouble.  It is tough when you have to waddle away from the scene of the crime.

Maybe the lack of a Justin Bieber tour helped to kill this idea.  Let’s hope that his next tour (if there is one) does not bring it back, or some equally strange wearing of clothes.  The alleged singer-songwriter stopped his Purpose tour without performing all the shows.  We are not sure of the Purpose or style yet, but we know he is unpopular at certain venues, but I digress …

rollingstone.com

When I was younger we had our strange fashion trends, which I am sure were heavily influenced by the entertainment industry.  If someone looked cool in the movies or on television, then I guess we wanted to look cool too.  I was too young to be influenced by the first wave of the British Invasion.  It did not matter to me what John, Paul, George, and Ringo were wearing.  For clothes choices, I got whatever my mother thought I should have.

As I got a little older I realized, as all kids do, that a little (or a lot) of whining would probably get me a few of the things I liked.  By high school, it was white Levis, madras shirts (plaid) and penny loafers.  I thought this ensemble was cool.  I guess I still do.  For a while, it was “skinny jeans.”  I don’t think we called them that, but they were the type that was difficult to put on and the opening at the bottom of the pants leg was barely big enough for your feet to go through.  I guess we thought we were sexy, like the boys showing off their boxers in more recent times.  Skinny jeans also seem to be quite popular at present, but mostly, it’s young girls.

It was just a few years and then that whole “preppy” look I loved so much was out. A whole collection of things that would not stand the test of time followed.  When skinny jeans gave way to “flares,” that is pants that had wider leg openings at the bottom, and then bell-bottoms we had a whole new look.  Yes, I got those, including the “hip huggers” style.  Those had a lower cut.  Neither my parents nor my grandparents ever wore any such items.

Your wide pants might go with a variety of looks, but maybe not with your Nehru jackets or shirts.   These items may have retained their popularity in India, where they are named after  Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who served from 1947 to 1964, but they were a brief trend here.  The jackets and shirts with the “mandarin collar” would make you look like a priest if you wore something dark.

Your 70’s hippie look did need “tie-dyed” t-shirts.  I guess those just keep coming back around the style block.  They were always popular with the Grateful Dead crowd and then with Phish, the Grateful Dead for the 21st Century.  I am glad to say I never owned one.  You may think that picture of you with beads, tie-dye shirt, bell-bottom pants and sandals that one of your friends posted on facebook on “throwback Thursday” looks really cool, but I have news for you…

All of this was followed by the regrettable trend we called “leisure suits.”  The polyester creations featured jackets that looked like shirts trying to be jackets.  Unfortunately, a number of pictures of my youthful self in these suits can be found.  My friends who escaped the camera at the time are pleased to point out how unfashionable that look is today, using one of my pictures as an example.  The worst looks were the ones with the leisure suits featuring a polyester, flower-patterned shirts with big collars.  Thanks to the internet and some Boys Club photo albums, I may never live that down.

It would have been easy to be an Urban Cowboy next.  Who does not love a classic American western look?  Following his success in making us all want to look like something out of Saturday Night Fever (which I saw more than once), John Travolta soon convinced us we should change to jeans and ride a mechanical bull.  Yes, the fashion bull kept galloping through our lives and many of us got trampled by it.

It probably would have been better to stick to standard looks that stay in fashion generation to generation.  Frank Sinatra always looked cool.  He has style throughout the ages, even if it was all pretty much the same.  A sharp suit and a fedora hat would have been good, but not as good as a tux with a carnation or other fresh flower and a hat tilted to the perfect angle.

If you do not understand, here’s your primer:

BESTOWING THE GIFT OF WORDS – Marilyn Armstrong

And thus shall I bestow upon you the gift of gab, the talent of words, the ability to write with clarity and precision.

Congratulations. You are a writer. But — how do you know?

Because you write. Could you be a better writer? Probably. We can all be better writers. I’m a much better writer now than I was when I started blogging and I was a pretty good writer before that. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write because as soon as I could read, I could write.

Every style of writing has special ways of handling issues.

For children’s books, much is made of making sure kids never have to look at a word that’s too “hard” for them. With which I disagree because that’s how I got a vocabulary. You see a word you don’t know. You ask someone or look it up. Now, you know a new word.

Technical writing, when I started doing it, was a wholly different. With a few other people, we sort of invented it since it was a new field and the “rules” didn’t yet exist.

I learned to write tightly using almost no adjectives or adverbs unless those words were a specific definition of an item. It produced something that has served me very well — and extremely clean style of writing that makes it easy to adapt to other styles. Non-fiction, mostly.

The baseline for tech writing is making complicated information easy to understand for anyone with any kind of background, technical or not — and that includes old people, little kids and everyone in between. It also means I give really good directions.

Just remember: You are a working writing, even if no one ever sends you a check.

Maybe now you want to join a writing group or take a seminar. As you are already a writer, you are many steps ahead of where you were. Writing classes can be useful. You can focus on refining and organizing your work — and on finding how to get a publisher. Seminars won’t teach you to write, but they might teach you to market your product.

I never took courses, per se, but I needed to learn a lot about style and design. I read books. I also read other documents to see how they handled material.

I also needed to learn to design books. In big corporations, they hire designers to do that, but I didn’t work for people who had a budget. Instead, I did it all.

It turned out, designing was the MOST fun I ever had while getting paid.

As for whether or not blogging “is writing?” What a silly question. Writing is. Blogging is no different than writing short features for newspapers or magazines. All kinds of writing are writing. We give them different names, but it’s all the same creative process. How you apply your talents has a million applications.

Names don’t matter. Ignore the fools who feel like they need to put everything in a box. Keep doing what you’re doing!

You GO!

I AIN’T MARCHING ANYMORE

Am I the only person in this country to have never worn a uniform? I never competed in sports … except as a bench-warmer for the high school swimming team. They didn’t have uniforms. I don’t think the team was good enough to compete anywhere.

I wasn’t in the marching band or any kind of military or nearly military group. I went to standard state schools through high school — so no uniforms there — and a private college. No uniforms there, either. I haven’t even worn a costume for a play.

If I want to look at uniform in another way, I don’t think I ever did anything in a “uniform way” either. I was always too young to do what everyone else was doing when I was a kid. I never followed the main stream in anything and it wasn’t because I didn’t want to, but because I wasn’t the kind of kid that got swept up by friends. I never joined a party except the Democrats … and they are such a fragmented bunch … no uniforms. Nothing even organized, much less uniform.

I suppose getting together with friends and (briefly) wearing our Serendipity shirts is almost like a uniform. Does baseball gear count too?

So, I’ve never marched and now that I’m 70. I have trouble walking, much less marching, I guess it isn’t going to happen. Not they I ever had a secret yen to become a marcher. Okay, I admit, a marching band was a cool idea, but as a pianist, that didn’t seem likely.

My husband joined the Marine Corps. That probably counts double, so I can claim secondary rights as someone married to someone who joined the Marine Corps.  Semper Fi!

TELLING YOUR STORY – RICH PASCHALL

Finding Your Own Voice, Rich Paschall – SUNDAY NIGHT BLOG


What is the best way to relate something?  When do you communicate well?  What is it that gets your point across?  When does your voice stand out in a sea of voices?  How can you be heard?  I like to think that I can write about anything, but the truth is some stories and essays are more widely received than others.  Why is that?  When you tell a story or try to make a point, when are you at your most effective?

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Certainly those with debating skills know how to line up evidence, organize their material, give weight and structure to their arguments and drive their points home.  For some that comes rather naturally.  They can readily see how point one leads to point two and on to point three.  They can see what supports each point along the way.  They understand when something needs extra support.  If they have a particularly effective quote, they know whether to play that card up front, or hold it back for a rebuttal in such a way that it is not “extra topical” but right on point.

For others this skill is acquired through study of argumentation as well as study of opponents.  If I say “this,” what is the likely response?  Will it be more effective to address this audience in a bold, out-spoken manner, or a soft and persuasive one?  Does my voice sound sincere?  Combative? Rude? Respectful?  When am I at my best?  When are people listening?

What if it is not an argument at all, but a simple point that is to be made?  When are you at your most interesting?  How do you capture the imagination of your listeners or readers?  There is not much point to advancing an argument if no one is listening, or reading, as the case may be.  What do you need at the open to get people’s attention?  Whether you are speaking to an audience or writing your point for Word Press, a good opening line is essential.  What is it though?  How do you find it?

Perhaps you wish to tell a short story.  Certainly there is a great oral tradition of story telling.  The earliest written stories were likely those that were passed along from generation to generation verbally.  If you sat down to write Beowulf out for a newly literate segment of the population, how would you begin?  Is the same opening effective on paper as it was sitting in the mead hall with your friends, having a glass of whatever (really, what was that stuff?), listening to a tale and wondering if that was Grendel or the Rolling Stones making noise outside?  How can you make yours words stand out?

By now, you have noticed that I have thrown out a lot of questions. I suppose you might think that this is the part where I start answering them.  OK, wait for it … Sorry, I don’t have the answers. I really don’t.  What’s effective for you, may not be effective for me and what is effective for me …

You get the idea. Different people are successful in different ways. That’s because we are unique.  St. Paul would have told you in his unique letter writing style that each has his own gift. It is up to us to find that gift, that voice, if you will, and use it to be your most effective voice.

In looking back over recent weeks on Sunday Night Blog and Serendipity, I wanted to find the most read, liked and commented upon pieces.  What voice is heard?  I notice there was much interest in the personal stories.  Last fall Marilyn encouraged me to write about my trip to England and I posted several pieces.  Much to my surprise, they continue to be found and read.  I am sure it is not so much the personal story, but the adventure of it.  Don’t we all love to look at articles on travel and the pictures they contain?  Short stories and social commentary find varying success, and everyone has a comment or story about politics lately.

Recently we posted the importance of telling YOUR STORY.  It is not something you have to publish on Word Press or facebook or any other social media site.  We may be interested in your personal antics, but you may not be prepared to tell them.  Should you tell them at all?  If you are not a writer here, should you not pass on your stories of ancestry to your family anyway? What do you remember that this generation may want to know?  What about the next generation?  Can you find the words to tell them?

Whether you are writing a blog or telling a story at a family gathering, you will find your voice and it will be a good one. It may take a long time, years in fact, but don’t stop telling your story.  Some day you may be the best storyteller at Aunt Martha’s Christmas party and every gathering will bring friends and relatives to your side to hear your voice.  Or you may some day be the best writer in the blogosphere, and I will be reading you faithfully.  By the way, if you have answers to any of the questions above, please leave them in the comments below.  I really want to know them myself.

YOU’VE EITHER GOT IT OR NOT

Style, by Rich Paschall

Perhaps you have noticed that it seems to be dying out.  You are probably glad of it too.  You did not like it.  You may even have been insulted by it, so it is so long and farewell.  It should be like many style statements we have seen over recent generations.  It is here for a while, then reason sets in.

Of course, we are talking about that so-called “fashion trend” that saw young men wearing their baggy jeans below their rear ends so that we could see their boxer shorts.  I am sure this did as much for makers of boxer shorts as it did for sellers of baggy jeans.  Perhaps these guys have started to realize just how crazy this was.  There may have been some cheap thrill in letting us see their underwear, but as a practical point of view it could not have been dumber.  At least you know these guys were not going to cause trouble.  It is tough when you have to waddle away from the scene of the crime.

Maybe the lack of a Justin Bieber tour helped to kill this idea.  Let’s hope that his next tour does not bring it back or some equally strange wearing of clothes.  The alleged singer-songwriter will take his “Purpose” tour on the road this year.  We are not sure of the Purpose or style yet.

When I was younger we had our strange fashion trends, which I am sure were heavily influenced by the entertainment industry.  If someone looked cool in the movies or on television, then I guess we wanted to look cool too.  I was too young to be influenced by the first wave of the British Invasion.  It did not matter to me what John, Paul, George and Ringo were wearing.  For clothes choices, I got whatever my mother thought I should have.

As I got a little older I realized, as all kids do, that a little (or a lot) of whining would probably get me a few of the things I liked.  By high school, it was white Levis, madras shirts (plaid) and penny loafers.  I thought this ensemble was cool.  I guess I still do.  For a while it was “skinny jeans.”  I don’t think we called them that but they were the type that were difficult to put on and the opening at the bottom of the pants leg was barely big enough for your feet to go through.  I guess we thought we were sexy, like the boys showing off their boxers in more recent times.  Skinny jeans also seem to be quite popular at present.

It was just a few years and that whole “preppy” look I loved so much was out, and a whole collection of things that would not stand the test of time came in.  When skinny jeans gave way to “flares,” that is pants that had wider leg openings at the bottom, and then bell bottoms we had a whole new look.  Yes, I got those, including the “hip huggers” style.  Those had a lower cut.  Neither my parent nor my grandparents ever wore any such items.

Your wide pants might go with a variety of looks, but maybe not with your Nehru jackets or shirts.   These items may have retained their popularity in India, where they are named after  Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who served from 1947 to 1964, but they were a brief trend here.  The jackets and shirts with the “mandarin collar” would make you look like a priest if you wore something dark.

Your 70’s hippie look did need “tie dyed” t-shirts.  I guess those just keep coming back around the style block.  They were always popular with the Grateful Dead crowd and then with Phish, the Grateful Dead for the 21st Century.  I am glad to say I never owned one.  You may think that picture of you with beads, tie dye shirt, bell bottom pants and sandals that one of your friends posted on facebook on “throwback Thursday” looks really cool, but I have news for you…

All of this was followed by the regrettable trend we called “leisure suits.”  The polyester creations featured jackets that looked like shirts trying to be jackets.  Unfortunately, a number of pictures of my youthful self in these suits can be found.  My friends who escaped the camera at the time are pleased to point out how unfashionable that look is today, using one of my pictures as an example.  The worst looks were the ones with the leisure suits featuring polyester, flower patterned shirts with big collars.  Thanks to the internet and some Boys Club photo albums, I may never live that down.

It would have been easy to be an Urban Cowboy next.  Who does not love a classic American western look?  Following his success in making us all want to look like something out of Saturday Night Fever (which I saw more than once), John Travolta soon convinced us we should change to jeans and ride a mechanical bull.  Yes, the fashion bull kept galloping through our lives and many of us got trampled by it.

It probably would have been better to stick to standard looks that stay in fashion generation to generation.  Frank Sinatra always looked cool.  He has styled throughout the ages, even if it was all pretty much the same.  A sharp suit and a fedora hat would have been good, but not as good as a tux with carnation or other fresh flower and a hat tilted to the perfect angle.  If you do not understand, here’s your primer:

HARMONY AND BALANCE

Style. My style.

What an odd concept. I think I left “stylish” in the dust more than a decade ago. But, I suppose style and stylish are different concepts. Not stylish, never was that, but …

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Does “eclectic” count? Is “anything goes” a style? Perhaps.

In my world, I need balance. Colors, sizes, and shapes need to go together. Harmony. No jarring incongruities in form, shape, or color. The size of the TV needs to have a healthy relationship with its base. That’s why even if it fits, you can’t put the black 50-inch flat screen on the small, square, blond oak DVD cabinet. That would keep me up at night.

Hallway

I need colors to not clash. They don’t need to match (I prefer that they not match, actually), but I can’t have them screaming angrily at each other. Any art goes with any other art. Of any era, by any artist.

I need art. I need beautiful things so when my eyes roam, they find something to rest on.

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I need to be comfortable. Both of us need it. From head, including brain-space, to feet, which scream for cozy, we want soft, accommodating places to rest. Easy, mobile furniture. From the adjustable bed with its cloud-like mattress, to the reclining love seat, everything is soft, forgiving, back-friendly, and comfy. And movable. Nothing is fixed or rigid. There are no hard corners or rough edges.

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All my clothing is loose. The car is boxy, easy to get in and out. The closet may seem random, but everything is hanging. Nothing is just stuffed in. The floor is free of clothing. Dressers are tightly packed, but contain no junk. Cameras are lightweight, each carefully put away in its own protective case. And it’s a dog-friendly world.

Meals are simple, nutritious, easy to throw together and even easier to clean up afterward.

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All things added together, I guess it could be considered a style. Cozy, comfy, easy. With occasional hints of elegance and mystery.