The Eagle and the Woman (Part 1, or all that I have at this point)

Far off in the Northern lands, where the sun stays awake in the summer and sleeps in the winter, where the sea marshes spread as far as the eye can see, and the sea gently caresses the land, there lived the Woman and her husband, Eagle.

Many years ago, before the story I am about to tell you takes place, Eagle had been flying outside of his usual territory, far away from the green sea grasses, far away from the deep blue sea. He had flown so far that he had reached the place where the sea marshes turned to grasslands and then to rolling hills and then to steep dark mountains. Tired from having flown so far away from his sea sprung nest, he started to look for a resting area so that he could recover his strength for the journey back home. He entered one green sun-filled valley and it looked so warm and inviting that he circled lower and lower, to find the perfect perch to rest. He realized that what he thought were large boulders were in fact buildings with people living inside of them. In one such building, higher than all the rest, he espied an open window out of which a warm energy flowed. He flew nearer to the open window to see what was inside.

Inside, Eagle saw a room upon whose walls were hung brightly coloured tapestries depicting scenes from ancient stories of love and friendship. On the floor there lay a thick green carpet, and it reminded him of his sea grasses.

He thought to himself: “This is where I shall lay and rest awhile, until my strength recovers” and he flew into the energized room.

As soon as he landed on the floor, Eagle realized that the room was not just filled with fine tapestries and the green carpet but also with a fine white covered bed and objects made of glass, precious metals, and other fineries. Though Eagle had heard of such things as a fledgling, he had only ever seen them in his mind, and to see them in actuality with his own sharp eyes amazed him. He lifted soft cloths and tapped on hard boxes and so looked and learned as much as he could.

Eagle was so engrossed with his curiosity of the wonderful room that he did not hear a door open, nor did he hear delicate footsteps tread on the floor.

“Who are you?” a musical voice asked?

Eagle turned around. “I am Eagle. I come from the place where the sea marsh meets the deep sea, the place where the sun dances in the summer and sleeps in the winter. I have flown for a long time and I was tired. I saw this room and a curious energy coming from it so I thought that this would be a good place to rest and to recover my strength for my journey back home.”

“Do you not know that it is not right to enter an empty room that is not your own?”

“I did not know as my home is my aerie, which is open for all.”

“What a strange habits you have at home!”

Consistency in Writing: Proper Nouns

This topic will probably be the theme of the blog for the better part of a while. One thing I keep coming across at work is the need for consistency in what we do. I just had a report sent back for some edits, albeit minor ones, some of which were persKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAnickety items that were more the whim of the Clerk than grammar/syntax edits, but she had one good catch: the title of the committee about which the report was written was presented in two different formats. Now usually I catch this sort of thing, but as this is a bit of a confessional, I’ll admit that I missed noticing the second format.

Errors happen: never pleasant to have them pointed out (at least they are caught!), and one needs to be gracious enough to admit to them.

When these sorts of things happen,  I do mentally give myself a swift kick in the rear end, as I pride myself on catching (almost) all such lapses of consistency. Such a lapse is the equivalent of missing a period at the end of a paragraph (another lesson once made, quickly learned).

One thing though is not to let any error rue your day, as it could always be worse, and greater organizations than you and yours have made grammatical errors on official documents (and feel free to share any doozies that you have come across using the form below, they are always priceless!).

Feall (Betrayal)

Thrice denied by Saint PeterSt. Peter Statue in Antigua, Guatemala
By the time the rooster crowed,
I stood shackled, bruised, and bleeding,
Immobilized by betrayal,
Head bowed, shoulders stooped, core broken.

 

The sting of the whip,
Welcome relief to the knowledge
That the one to whom I was closest
Chose to turn his head and heart away from me
At the very moment that I needed him most,
My suffering, my pain, unwelcome reminders
Of a promise made in a happier times.

Executioner's Block in Cartagena, Columbia
There will be wailing, and gnashing of teeth,
But I will be cleansed by the light of day,
And you entombed in the darkness.

 

 

Stand me (minutes) to the end of time

With apologies to Leonard Cohen.Old Face

Meeting minutes/notes are one of those painful realities of office and organizational life, and a reading set of poorly written minutes is more painful than having your foot run over by a clown with a high pitched laugh in a zamboni. Basically, your minutes should be a snapshot of a brief moment in your organization’s life at which some decisions were made or actions set out to be undertaken; the minutes are a historical record for posterity.

Do’s:

List who was in attendance.
Follow the outline of the agenda (yes, it is helpful to have an agenda) to help define the sections of your minutes.
If it is pertinent, note the main speaker(s) of a section.
Capture each main speaker’s thoughts in one or two sentences.
Note the decision and/or action that came about as a result.
If somebody is speaking in circles, which usually happens more often than not, as it is human nature to try to communicate the same idea through a variety of different combinations of words and examples, it is okay to sit back and not type/write for as long as necessary.

And so on to the next section….

For example:

L. Cohen spoke about the importance of songwriting as a bastion for poetry in the twenty-first century.

E. Harris asked whether songwriting could be considered poetry. L. Cohen advised that poetry and songwriting were the same thing.

Discussion ensued relative to songwriting.

Action: L. Cohen and E. Harris will collaborate on a new song.

_________

Note that I broke up the sentences with a lot of white space (i.e., left a line in between sections of what would likely have been significant chunks of conversation) to help make the minutes easier to read.

Which leads me to the Don’ts:

Don’t write long paragraphs (this was the impetus of my blog today as I came across minutes that were overly wordy, and unnecessarily lengthy).
Don’t write every single little point; you just want the gist of things at best.
Don’t write down emotional statements (be objective!).
Don’t feel obligated to give everyone a soapbox in the minutes; if they aren’t saying something pertinent, they’re not making the who’s who.
Don’t write a narrative, let alone verbatim. The only time Hansard (verbatim) minutes are used is in parliament, and your meeting is not that (even if the meeting chair thinks it is).

Hook, Line, and Sink

You have less than five seconds to impress your audience with your first sentence (ten if they are a slower reader). Aside from the title, your opening is absolutely critical to engaging your readers, so you really have a lot of pressure to put something good together. There are various methods for creating an engaging opening, and I’ll run through a brief list of some of the most common:

1) Open with a quote: ““There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” (Ernest Hemingway)

People have been saying great things for centuries now, and sometimes, they said it better than we ever could. Just be sure to put quotation marks around the quote, and to give credit, where credit is due, otherwise you are plagiarizing someone else’s work.

2) Use an interesting statistic or fact: The average modern book is made up of approximately 64,000 words (Gabe Habash, Huffington Post).

Be sure to cite the source of the statistic or fact, and be sure that the information you are citing is accurate (to the best of your research). Also, remember to be consistent in the way that you cite information, and using a good style guide will be of immeasurable help to you. The basis of most of my style comes from the Chicago-Turabian way of presenting information, although I’ve tweaked that style for whichever organization I work. Other popular styles are AP and CP for business, and APA and MLA for academia. I’ve provided a couple of links but a quick Google search will show more resources. Ultimately, style is about consistency.

3) Pose a question: Why is good writing so difficult to achieve?

Questions have a subtle psychological hook that makes people instinctively want to come up with an answer of some kind to the question, even if that answer is, “I don’t know.”

4) Be creative: The following example is one my favourite openings of a novel, from Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Creativity is in some ways the hardest method of trying to lure in your reader. A good measure of success is if you like what you wrote and, be honest with yourself, if the sentence was drier than the last chapter of a book on criminal law and the common good, or if your sentence on repeat would constitute torture in a third world country, then you need to rework that hook. If you can’t think of something witty or creative to write, reread parts of your favourite books, flip through your favourite magazines, pick up a newspaper for inspiration; the reading will inspire you to greatness.Fishing Boats in Northern California

The Pull of the Abyss

A door is open,
And the abyss yawns before it.
One step, and I will fall right in:

image

Head first, eyes wide open,
One hand outstretched to the other side,
Where you lean against another doorway,
Cigarette dangling,
Cynically examining the drifting ash,
Snowflakes on the updraft from the Lethe below.

I am determined to find the fisherman’s ferry,
And, unlike Orpheus, I will not look back.

Consistency in Style

image

This week has been a report-heavy week for me, which is great as I love creating the skeleton of a report for those with more in-depth knowledge to flesh out, then give that report its final makeover before sending it down the runway. One thing that I noticed missing in all of the reports was consistency in formatting.

One key element in an accomplished document is consistent formatting, whether that document be your resume, an essay, a presentation, a speech, or a report. Things to look out for:

– verb tense
– parallel structures (for lists, verbs, and otherwise)
– key repeated elements should look similar (i.e., date formats: if you start using the format of “April, 2014”, don’t suddenly follow with “April 10, 2012” as people will wonder if you’d missed adding the day in the first version)
– tone (if you are using informal language, don’t introduce formal language all of a sudden)

It is always good practice, as well, to have someone who has a good grasp of the English language (a good check is whether they like to read, do crosswords, and/or play scrabble) to review your work. All good writers have a good editor under their belt, who plays a crucial role in making good writing, great.

Animal Thoughts Part 1

Two birds sat together.South eastern oregon
One turned to the other:
What makes the world turn?
The mad hatter,
The other replied.

Why hats,
Bird one asked?
If the hat fits the rat,
You see,
And the rat is best at skivvying.

What about the lead?
With any luck,
Bird two said,
It’ll get ‘em dead.

_________________

The sea otter is a curiosity,South oregon driftwood
Who, to eat his dinner, sits atop the rolling sea;
And uses a rock
to slam his clam,
Atop his furred tummy.

_________________

Why, pray sir, do you raise your arms at me?South oregon beach
Because you appear to be running carefree,
And my carapace is rather fragile
When contending with a Labrador’s smile,
And your paw about to step on me.

Grant Writing: Dividing Paragraphs and Lists Makes Mathematical Sense

I had to edit the final draft of a grant at work today, prior to a 9am submission deadline looming tomorrow. Coming from an English lit and university-heavy background, I have a tendency to being verbose and to wrote long paragraphs ad nauseum. I do like long descriptive paragraphs, and figurative language – our English language has such a rich and textured vocabulary – but there is a time and a place of such a style, and municipal government is not it.

It has taken me several years to develop a secondary style of writing, parallel to a high literary style in the sense that it comes from me and is unique to me, but is more succinct and simple. My current director taught me the usefulness of breaking out lists that appear in sentences, whether those lists be of single nouns or phrases, and bulleting them. I was quite resistant at first, as this goes contrary to what a good arts-based university essay would incorporate, but it does make sense when you think about your audience in terms of local government.

Firstly, if you think that most newspapers are written for a Grade 5 or 6 literacy level, you really have to keep your language simple for an audience made up of a varied set of individuals who may or may not have a high school diploma, a degree, like to read, hate to read, love textual shortcuts, hate having to look words up etc…

Secondly, lists help to break out ideas, that inexperienced readers would otherwise have a difficult time identifying. I will stress here that it is a good rule of thumb to assume that you have inexperienced readers, and I by that I mean that they likely have not had the opportunity to learn how to analyze text through a critical lens, and really want to read in a WYSIWYG style (What You See Is What You get).

Thirdly, lists are visually easier to take in.

So how does this all relate to grants? It is almost a good rule to not have paragraphs that are more than four or five sentences in length; if they go over, chop them in half. If you have complex lists embedded in sentences, break those list out into bullets and I usually err on the side of including punctuation. Just keep in mind that you need to retain a parallel grammatical structure at the beginning of each bullet, so always have the same type of noun, or same verb tense at the start of each bullet.

If you can make it easier for the grant reviewer to read your application, you’ve already increased your odds of success, especially if they’ve already been drudging through tens of applications at the point that they start to read yours.

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