Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Lead, Follow, or Sit There and Hope it Goes Away?

How to Handle the Press in a PR Crisis:

If you’re reading the news, it certainly seems as though Pope Benedict has a PR crisis he needs to deal with. You know, the ongoing (this has been happening for decades, though it’s out in the open now, comparatively speaking) scandals involving priests and allegations of sexual abuse of children.

As far as PR crises go, it doesn’t get much worse than this. There is not a more unconscionable act than raping an innocent child. The Catholic church has lost many followers because of this. How many more Catholics may be lost?

The Pope needs to make it go away. As soon as possible.

Of course, the church sex abuse scandal as we know it does not involve allegations against the Pope himself. But, as the leader of Catholics worldwide, he is expected to do something about it—or, at least, say something about it to show that he cares.

All I can hear is the squeaky chirping of a few demoralized crickets.

That’s understandable to a certain extent. What can even be said to help solve this problem?

(This just in--Church fights back, but still Pontiff is silent on the scandals)

Should the Pope say, “I’m so sorry this happened?” Yes, he should—we can all agree, however, that’s a relatively lame response. It will not do enough.

Should he punish the priests who’ve been charged with sometimes hundreds of  counts of sexual abuse?  If possible, sure. They certainly weren’t punished before, and the Pope needs to show that he’s serious about solving this crisis, that he knows how to take action. (Here's an idea: if he doesn't want to do this within the Church, then how about letting local law enforcement handle certain cases? That is, if statutes of limitations haven't yet run out.)

Should the Pope then make up some new rules for priests that will also help to protect children, and say something meaningful to assuage the public? Definitely. I hope someone is drafting a workable plan for action and a touching, heartfelt, public statement right now.

There are a million possibilities for how to end the church scandal, really.

Yet so far, we’re not seeing the Pope dealing with this at all.

A leader has to deal. That’s what comes with the job. Even if the crisis is not of the leader’s making, he or she has to eventually get in there and get messy and take charge of the situation. 

We saw the consequences of Not Dealing with this past fall’s Tiger Woods Saga.

From a journalistic standpoint, some people and I discussed the case (as did people everywhere, I think). There were disagreements about whether or not the disgraced golfer needed to make a statement.

I advised, “He needed to say something yesterday.”

Someone else disagreed. “He doesn’t have to say anything.”

Yes, technically, he did not have to say anything. But it all gets worse if he doesn’t talk. Then people fill in the blanks. Rumors are spread.

The scandal would be nipped in the bud, as it were, if the people involved would make public statements.

There’s nothing more devastating to one's credibility—from a PR standpoint—than a terse, “No comment.”

Hiding from the press makes the press think you have something to hide. 

(It also gives people more time to gossip and dig up dirt.)

When one does finally comment on a crisis, never lie. About anything. Ever.

Journalists can smell a lie, and a public figure’s credibility can be destroyed with one exaggerated, impossible-to-prove or Just Plain Wrong statement.

From a PR perspective, the best approach is quick, proactive, truthful, short and sweet.

“Tell the truth—the whole truth--and tell it fast,” as they say.

Explain what you’re going to do to fix the problem, whatever it is. And then simply do it.

People forget good things quickly, but bad memories of mishandled crises? Unfortunately, those linger for years.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

It's Hard to be Happy When you See and Hear Errors Everywhere

Last week, my daughter won a trophy for a story she wrote. At the award ceremony, the school's reading specialists showed a poetic PowerPoint to explain the contest.

The title slide read--and I do not lie--"Young Author's Contest."

Deep many young authors were involved in this contest? Try 500.

So why the apostrophe? If anything, it should have read, "Young Authors' Contest"--though I don't think an apostrophe was necessary at all.

Earlier in the year, I attended Back-to-School Night at my kids' grammar school, and one of the activities we parents enjoyed was filling out questionnaires about our kids.

"What is your child's favorite food?" one question asked.

My youngest child's favorite food is lobster. So I wrote that.

The mother of the little boy who sits next to her dutifully filled out her card. She wrote "Hot dog's."

I don't care that the boy's favorite food is a processed meat product. To each his own. I care about the mom's punctuation error. I hope the child grows up to be a better writer.

Why do mistakes such as these happen? I think it's because people can't hear the difference in usage, and may not have visually noticed the difference enough (through reading) to recognize that plurals and possessives are not the same.

Speaking of plurals--my yoga teacher, who is very sweet, is a woman probably in her 40s who doesn't know, apparently, that the plural of "foot" is "feet"--not, as she says, over and over, "feets."

After years of teaching yoga, I wonder why has no one (seemingly) ever said anything? I would certainly never interrupt my yoga teacher to point out her error, but every time I hear it, I cringe.

I am trying to let it go, but it worries me that she just doesn't get it.  If she hasn't gotten it by now, then it seems she never will.  

My final gripe: erroneous quotation marks. Do people not understand that quotation marks are used to indicate speech, or what was said?

Why, then, do my kids' milk orders read as follows:  Interested in ordering "MILK" ?

Milk is just a noun. It isn't a unique way of describing white stuff that comes out of a cow's udders. It doesn't need quotation marks around it.

Neither does a person's name. I am not "Elizabeth." I am Elizabeth. So I would think that people running for office could take the quotation marks away from their own names on their campaign signs (got that, "Laura?").

Just to be clear--I understand that writing and grammar and rules about punctuation aren't everyone's thing. I know the rules, mostly, because I grew up reading so much and that helped me to absorb proper grammar without ever even specifically trying (don't get me started on how useless I think sentence diagrams are. Total waste of time, for the most part. I believe in the whole language approach).

Still, I worry how future generations are supposed to learn more, be more, do more if their parents don't understand the basics.  Who will teach them--especially if elementary teachers don't know, either?

I have had to re-correct misspelled words on my daughter's spelling tests ("corrected" by her teacher) a few times now. That's awkward. No, my daughter didn't misspell the words; her teacher did. Yikes.

Another daughter's teacher says, in conversation, "Her and I..."  Many people do this. I don't interrupt them to point out the error because that would be mean, and because I realize by now that I can't change everyone.

Grammar and Punctuation Maven out (for now)!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Now We're Cleaning Up Reagan's Mess--Dismantling the Nukes

Today in the news

If you didn't click above, the bottom line is that President Obama and President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia signed a treaty today to drastically reduce their nations' nuclear arsenals.  

Well, finally.

How did we get so many nuclear warheads in the first place? Seems Ronald Reagan had (as some people have shoe problems, as some are hoarders) a nuclear arsenal issue. He spent ridiculous amounts of money building up the American arsenal to deter a Commie attack.


Never mind that we couldn't ever even USE all those weapons--or that it would have been utterly unethical to use even one. Under Reagan, massive deficits built up, along with our stockpiles of nukes. 

I realize that many people still revere Reagan, but in my opinion--however avuncular and charming he seemed--the man was a one-trick, anti-Communist pony. Also, he was clearly not a humanitarian (recall his statement that "Ketchup is a vegetable" and thus fits the bill for healthy school lunches) and do I even have to mention how he had been convinced beyond reason (back in the mid-1960s) that Medicare would lead to Communism and the "death of America"? 

Wrong, Mr. Reagan. Absolutely wrong.

Anyway--many parallels could be drawn between Reagan's past rantings against the proposed Medicare bill and today's brouhaha over healthcare (HCR). If we learned anything, maybe we should learn that inflammatory rhetoric is sometimes made up only of angry, misguided words.

We're still cleaning up Reagan's mess when it comes to nukes, so while he comes back to mind, let's not forget that if we remember our history we can avoid repeating it.

The anti-Communist obsession for which Reagan was famous is something else we can talk about. How many videos have I seen where someone is holding a misspelled placard and shouting angrily, "Obama is a Communist!"

Seriously?? Which is more absurd: the Communist label, or the accusations that he is a Muslim? Just thinking about that is upsetting. To know that there are people that misguided and ignorant and they can vote... Ugh. I need a bucket.

Originally, I wrote a long post connecting nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war with Reagan, Einstein, ethics, and research on Gifted and Talented children...but those words got lost.

So this is simpler. And now I need to take a rest.

Read up on the breaking news, though. Read everything. Knowledge is power, after all (and I hate nuclear weapons).

Today's nuclear reduction treaty was a Good Thing.

Be well,


Thursday, March 25, 2010

More Hideous Demonstrations of DemoCRAZY

One good thing about being stuck in a hospital bed is that you get to watch TV. My kids like that part. Never mind the needles and the wires; you have a remote control in your lap! What can be so bad about that?

I got some TV time in last night. I saw Bill Maher and I watched the general news (on several channels). The gist of everything was the threats of violence that Democrats have been enduring in the days since healthcare reform passed the House.

Right-wing bloggers are calling for vandalism; lunatics are leaving death-threat voicemails for members of Congress; Michael Steele was frantically writing ominous Tweets; some Congressman was filmed smacking the (posterboard) face of Nancy Pelosi and then ran away like a sissy when a reporter asked him about it; leaders like Boehner are being blamed for inciting violence after making barely-veiled calls for it--later claiming, when pressed, that they were misunderstood and that of course, violence isn't reasonable; Tea Partiers are advertising home addresses of Democrats and urging people to "drop by;" Sarah Palin posted a graphic of the U.S. with cities in the cross-hairs on Facebook and called, via Twitter, for her supporters to "RELOAD!" and "aim for" Democrats.

Charming, isn't it? And undeniably dumb.

I've spent a long time working in journalism and PR, and I know that anything can be spun, or re-spun, that there are countless sides to every story. But I also know that Thuggish and Just Plain Mean behavior is pretty apparent and cannot ever be explained away, not even by the most talented flack on earth. 

As Forrest Gump and his mother both wisely put it, "Stupid is as stupid does."

Pundits are talking about a backlash against Democrats in November.  Oh, please, is what I say to that. It's just bitter, sore-loser talk; it's only speculation. 

First of all, November is way too soon to vote on whether or not HCR is working.

Also, I think when it comes down to it, when people realize that HCR is meant to help all Americans, when the screams fade away and the true story is finally understood, then that good, generous, thoughtful, humanitarian action (the one made by passing the bill) will speak for itself.

Finally, when the truth comes out, as the truth almost always does, I think the backlash will be against those who freaked out about HCR.

Did you see that video of the man with Parkinson's sitting on the sidewalk amidst Tea Partiers? They were screaming at him, calling him a deadbeat, a scum, a loser. Why? Because he was lazy enough to contract Parkinson's and now can't work. As Bill Maher said, "I hope that video goes viral,"--more people need to see the cruelty and utter lack of compassion behind the anti-HCR rhetoric.

Catch the video here (from Columbus Dispatch, not embeddable):
Scene w/Parkinson's man starts at 0:58.

That video is truly sad to see, but what's even sadder than the savage epithets and lack of caring recently shown by some protesters is the fact that some political leaders are trying to stir the pot here and make it even worse. They know there are people out there who are just foolish enough to listen to them and do their dirty work.

If and when something bad happens, the people who originally made the crazy comments will, of course, claim it's not their fault.

But I also just saw on TV that some kids were charged with homicide in Philadelphia for scaring the pizza delivery guy so much that he had a heart attack.

Hmmm.  If kids can get charged for a tragic accident caused by their own lack-of-judgment and moral lapses, then what about Congresspeople?  There's something to think about.

In the meantime, I am trying to relax and recover.  In case I don't post again for a while, the below essay from the past summer may serve as good coffee break reading.

Be well,


FROM SUMMER '09 (still entirely relevant):

I keep checking the weather report just to see, to better understand, why I feel so ridiculously hot. I feel uncomfortable, like my head is burning, like I might-be-getting-sick kind of hot.

Yesterday, the pool felt like a lukewarm bath, and it did nothing whatsoever to cool me off. My children were cranky. I was short-tempered. The day was miserable, as such late summer days can be.

So I checked the weather for today--after a very sweaty, and early, dog-walk.

For a while, my local weather was set on some strange part of California (why, I have no idea. I haven't been to California in ten years), so no wonder it hadn't been making any sense. I fixed that. But it still doesn't make sense. It is oppressively, ridiculously hot outside. Yet, says the temperature is 87 degrees Fahrenheit (but notes that it "feels like 92 degrees"). What???

If it FEELS LIKE 92 degrees, then why don't we just call it 92 degrees? Or are we trying to pretend (as usual) that the Earth isn't really any hotter than it used to be? The system of how we decide what the temperature is seems a bit crazy.

There is so much crazy stuff--beyond the weather--happening out there in this too-hot world. It's more than simply global warming or a temporary heat wave. It's an epic national inability to see and articulate what isn't making sense, and simply fix the problems.

Here's a problem for you, here's some more craziness: people I might classify as "disturbed" can openly tote assault rifles to President Obama's appearances (imagine that happening in the Bush years). Does that make any sense at all?

I remember my father cajoling me into seeing President George H.W. Bush speak on the last day before the election in '92, when he knew he was losing. I remember the tingle and the palpable smell of the electricity emitted by all the metal detectors trucked in for the event; I can still see, in my nightmares, the looming black-clad SWAT team on top of all the buildings in my hometown. That whole presidential security scene was truly frightening, surreal.

What made it even freakier (and noteworthy, for me, as this amused me highly at the time) was that during this president's speech, a lone protester slowly raised a very tall homemade sign-on-a-stick that read simply, LIAR.

That sign waved in the air for approximately two seconds. The protester was summarily tackled by Secret Service, and I never saw him again. He remains, however, a sort of hero to me. I believe in freedom of speech. I also believe in nonviolence. I hate guns and cannot understand why any rational person would walk around with one (besides police officers).

So Obama is in Arizona the other day and certain people were taunting him by milling around with ASSAULT RIFLES on their backs. People are, apparently, legally allowed to carry weapons in public in Arizona (and in New Hampshire). Even to a Presidential appearance.

This is absolutely the dumbest thing I've ever heard, read or seen. It's also downright dangerous. And if I recall correctly, even people in plain old T-shirts (albeit emblazoned with anti-Bush slogans) weren't allowed anywhere near Bush; in fact, they were arrested...pre-emptively.

If you have been reading (or watching) the news, you can see that we in America seem to veer from ignorant (and planted), annoying protesters at Town Hall-style health care reform meetings to these violently racist and scary Obama-haters who are essentially threatening to assassinate a Really Good Guy, our President, because he isn't an idiot, because he wants to help people have health insurance, and because he wants banks to lend money so people don't lose their homes! Think about it: by lugging a weapon to a presidential appearance, these people are each saying, "I could kill you. I could kill anyone who disagrees with me. And I just might!"

I can't deal with this sometimes. I can't believe I live in a nation where this hideous demonstration of "democracy" can happen. Let's just call it what it is: demoCRAZY. A demonstration of pure craziness.

But maybe I should forgive the people who are making my head hurt. It IS pretty hot outside.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

SAT Debriefing. Get the Scoop After the Exam to Help Kids Perform Better Each Time

Good news--my students took the SAT this past weekend and I am pleased to report (as they told me first thing Monday in class) that they heeded my exam advice of last week and feel good about their recent SAT performance.

What was my advice?  It comes in several forms, according to different portions of the exam--though I am skipping math here, as I am an English teacher.

Essay: These are read and graded very quickly (try less than a minute). Therefore, students need to focus on opening line and thesis (which can be one and the same, if time is short, as it always is) along with a few other important areas.

First, I recommend leaving the first couple of lines blank so that students can think of a more killer opening when they're done with the rest of the essay.

THIS ADVICE REALLY HELPS; I am not just tooting my own horn. Seriously, it works.  Even my students who claimed they could never, not ever, not begin at the beginning...well, they tried it and reported success.  (I told them to "write as though you are beginning at the beginning, but just leave the first couple of lines blank and then go back and add a better first line." They said that worked well and helped them to overcome their personal obsessions with starting at what they assumed would be the beginning.)

We don't know their grades yet, but the point is that they feel good about their openings and believe that they managed to craft something catchy and original.

Also important in the essay: Transitions!  TR, as I write them over and over and over again in margin notes, are key. Students at least need basic ones such as "First," or "Next," but if there's one thing I want my students to learn about writing, it is how to take it to the next level.  So, instead of utilitarian transitions, students should try upping the level of sophistication with "Not only....but also..." phrases and their ilk.

Essays need a stance (see thesis), and I urge my students to pick a strong one--Yes or No--and never waffle or try to play both sides with a weak, "Sometimes it's good to follow the crowd (typical SAT essay topic) and sometimes it isn't" response. 

Even if the student doesn't believe the Yes or No stance selected, just choose one. It makes for a stronger thesis, and more cohesive, pointed essay. A thesis should also always respond to the prompt.

Not to skip the meat of the essay, but examples are important. I tell my students they have a few options: pick a historical example, a literary one, or a personal one.  Ideally, try one of each (or two of three).

While there have been strong SAT essays written solely on personal examples, I tell my students to seize the opportunity to show off what they know, and their ability to make connections.  Even though that aspect of writing isn't expressly graded, a quickly-scanned essay that contains, say, references to Galileo or Gandhi and Huck Finn (along with Grandma), is unequivocally better--or, at least, perceived as better--than one that discusses conversations with friends at a mall.

Miscellaneous advice: I tell students to write 4-graf essays, for the most part, but not to write too short, and to PRINT NEATLY. I myself have read so many horribly-handwritten essays that I know readers hate them and will feel much more positive about a clear, easy-to-read piece. Readers are only human, after all...

In conclusion,  conclusions are absolutely key. Even if the conclusion (as the intro may be) is only one line, it has to be sharp and sum up in new words the entire point of the essay. Bonus points are awarded (metaphorically speaking) to conclusions that leave the reader with an interesting, long-lasting mental image (or, as I usually note it, "new thoughts to ponder").

As for Reading Comp (aka, Critical Reading), I  tell my kids to mark up their test booklets like crazy. Margin notes should always include thoughts on the MAIN PURPOSE and TONE of the passage. There will certainlybe questions on these aspects of the readings.

I tell my students to SKIP the questions they simply don't know (write a faint pencil line through the row of bubbles on the answer sheet that correspond to the question skipped so as not to mess up the entire thing). Why? Because it's better to leave it blank (within reason; a student expecting a strong score can't actually skip all that many questions per section) than it is to get it wrong and lose points.

Vocabulary is what Reading Comp is mostly about. Most of the questions are veiled vocabulary tests. Therefore, students need to know the standard SAT vocab.

After years of doing this, I have a pretty good idea about which words usually appear on the exam. Hint: many of them come from Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter." I also give my kids lists with smatterings of legal/government and scientific words. ("Ennui" is another typical SAT word--as I just noted, "expect to see ennui." And it was there!)

Getting a good score on the Verbal sections of the SAT exam really boils down, however, to READING. The more you've read, the more you know, the more words in your vocabulary, the better you understand things and how to write.  Students who are widely read get better scores on the SAT than reluctant readers.

And there's always next time (practice makes perfect).

Sunday, March 14, 2010

When a Birthday Doesn't Feel Like a Day to Celebrate

It's almost my birthday. I don't mention this because I want anything; it's just the reason for this post.

I am turning 39, which seems crazy.

I can't believe I'm that old, and yet, I also can't believe what a ridiculous late-bloomer I am.

All I want for this next year is just to never have to ask my parents--who have always been so good to me--to float me a loan again.

Financial independence and security by 40: that's my goal. I also want to do something big--and pay for it--for their 50th anniversary.

Now, I usually don't mind mentioning my age because I don't look 39, or so I'm often told.  (What's the secret? It's somewhat complex and entails having good genes, living clean, avoiding the sun and using topical Vitamin C. I also like every single skin care product made by Philosophy. I almost became a Philosophy professor, so maybe that's another reason why.)

But back to the impending birthday: I don't get excited about my birthdays, and there's a reason why, one that has nothing to do with age.

I am adopted, and I know (or, I feel, and I've heard) that my birthmother cries every year on my birthday.

She probably spends the entire day in bed, crumpling tissues, possibly keening. I myself think about this and feel--across the miles--a bit of this same pain.

I don't think that my birthmother cries because she misses me, really. She doesn't know me well. We only met once.

I think she cries--if she does, as she once told me that she did--because the day reminds her of loss of control, of a time when her parents made sure that the problem (the baby, me) would be taken away, never to be heard from or spoken of again.

I feel terrible that she cries. If I were much of a crier, I might do the same. Instead, I just feel guilty. I feel, especially on my birthday, that I never should have been born at all.

What's the point of causing others pain, and of feeling as though you don't belong?

It's hard to be happy about life when that sort of pressure is always weighing upon you.

Still, as one Asian blog reader wrote to me once (and this is not an Asian proverb, necessarily): "Cut your coat from the cloth you are given."

I do understand that we all have to make the best of things; no one should make excuses or wallow in self-pity; we should all seize the opportunities that are given to us and try to become the most worthwhile people we can.

In honor of my birthmother (and my birthfather, who I know much better and for whom I have tremendous admiration--for him and also for his amazingly generous and open-minded wife and for my half-brother who seemed to take the news of my existence in the coolest stride, and I hope we get to know each other better, especially as we age!)--I considered posting an excerpt from an essay I wrote about knowing and meeting some of them.

Quick background: I found my birthmother 14 or so years ago. I have basically no idea how; it's hard to recall all the details. But I found her, which was quite miraculous and is a story for another time.

This essay won me a huge academic writing prize about nine years ago. I don't mean "huge" as in the amount of the prize, but rather "huge" refers to the honor of it. I did get money; I used it to buy some fancy camera that still lives in its bag, for the most part.

Some of my grad school acquaintances seemed to hate me for winning this prize. But I can't help the fact that I've had an interesting life that tends to make for good reading.

What I tried to do in this essay was to focus on tone.  How does one write about emotional subjects without being whiny? It all comes down to tone. The harder the subject, the subtler the tone needs to be.

Some criticized my resulting, prize-winning essay as "flat" in tone; others have raved about it. Whatever--to each his or her own.

I decided, however, NOT to post the essay excerpt. I know it would just make my birthmother cry harder, and I don't want that.

So, for my birthmother who I think reads my blog: M., I think of you almost daily. Every time I look in the mirror, even if I am not expressly thinking of it, I see part of your face. We are an inextricable part of each other, and as you wrote to me once, "You are MINE. That will never change."

Don't cry on Thursday, okay? I'm doing fine. I think you would be proud of me (and I have two of the most beautiful children ever born). Know that if I could, I would hug you.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

You Already Have a Personal Learning Network (PLN)--You Just Don't Know It

PLNs are the rage, lately, among Teachers Who Like to Learn. If you haven't guessed already, that's definitely me.

I have always been a voracious reader, out to learn all I can about virtually everything (though some things--such as birds...I'm truly sorry, birds...and fire trucks--don't interest me much. I also hate morning talk shows or Spoiled, Stupid, Surgically-Enhanced Hausfraus on TV. Those programs are my idea of torture).

So what is a PLN? It's just a handy way of saying how you get information.

What are your sources? What do you read? Who mentors you? Where/how do you have intellectual discussions and perfect your profession or craft?

I personally have many sources. First, I listen to NPR (yes, I am the NPR type). I read BBC news. I scan CNN.  I change the channel in disgust when FOX is on. It's just a poor news source, in my opinion. I think I know--reasonably well--how good reporting and writing is done, and crackers, that surely ain't it.

Then I check Twitter for interesting links and discussions. I chime in on #edchat and #litchat and Gifted and Talented--that's my thing!--(#gifted) tweet-fests.  In case it's new to you, and don't be embarrassed as we all have to learn at some point, the # symbols denote hashtags--ways to find topical discussions on Twitter.

I meet (virtually speaking) new and interesting people that way. I read their blogs. They read mine. We send each other messages about what we're learning and doing.

I am also part of several NINGs, both for AP teachers and educators in general (The Educator's PLN).  On the NINGs, I can read discussions, add my thoughts, or ask questions that other members answer. I might answer someone else's question (I once gave a fellow teacher tons of info about teaching poetry).

What I like about all of these sources besides TV news (which is passive) is the fact that they are interactive if you want them to be.  You choose to tune in; you choose to read; you choose to pose questions or raise points. Other people respond to you or spread what you're saying and you gain--exponentially--much more insight and feedback.

Now that we have so many fabulous ways to learn almost everything we ever wanted to know--THANK YOU, INTERNET!--I can't even remember how we coped before.

Remember the world of phones attached to curly cords, of pencils and paper and file cabinets and ditto machines? Wow--seems like ancient history.

The truth is, though, that like-minded people will always find each other and always find ways to connect and share knowledge.

As E.M. Forster, one of my very favorite writers, once said, "Only connect."

Wise words.

Happy learning!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Why Everyone Should Have a Blog

There are many compelling reasons to have a blog. Among them:

• It forces you to write.

• Even if you don't write a blog post every day, you'll probably write at least once a week.

• Writing is good for you...everyone can become a better writer by writing (and reading) more!

• You will begin to figure out what to say (and, in the process, you'll become more conscious of what's most important to you), as well as the mark you'd like to leave on the world.

• Your work will build up, and after a year or so, you'll look back at this body of writing and feel pleased with yourself!

• You can be a good influence through a blog.

• Maybe you want to show your students how to write and think and start interesting discussions.

• You can also preserve your thoughts for your own kids or relatives.

• Either way, creating an online footprint that is noble forces you to act like a better person.

• With your blog, you can interact with like-minded people from around the world. You’ll feel less lonely; that’s a given.

• Having a blog gives you an audience (once you self-promote a bit) and really can expand your world view.

• You can also do whatever you like, for the most part.

• You have control; no one else decides if your work is worthy of publication!

• Every day becomes a little more interesting when you're blogging.

• Someone might post an interesting comment, send you an e-mail, or start following your blog.

• Or, maybe you'll just become more observant of the world around you.

• When you have a blog, after all, you're always on the lookout for good material to blog about.

• Once you start blogging, you'll surely begin to read more--news, Twitter, and at least other blogs.

• You will also learn more each time you post.

• You'll figure out what topics get people talking, and how can you use visuals most effectively.

• Maybe you'll also be inspired to create artwork to go with your blog.

• Blogging is fun--or maybe I should say it's satisfying.

• It's certainly more worthwhile than watching TV.

Happy blogging!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For; You Might Get It

A year and a half ago, I started this blog. I started it, but I still wondered what the point was.

Would anyone read "Pretty Freaky?"  It sure didn't seem as if anyone was reading it (not that I knew, at the outset, how to calculate hits).

I remember attending an Edtech (that's educational technology, or teaching with technology) conference and hearing a lecture about how great it would be if more teachers blogged.

"Hey, I'm blogging," I wanted to pipe up. "But how do I get readers?"

Seven or so months later, I "met" a fellow writer online (we sometimes write for the same blog, not the Pretty Freaky blog) and I asked him what the secret was to self-promotion.

He (his name is Nick Belardes, and he wrote a very popular serialized novel, "Small Places," on Twitter! That was cool) seemed to understand it very well. He had plenty of readers/followers and people who commented on his postings.

It's basically a part-time job, he told me. It should be a full-time job. It's a big pain in the neck.

You do it to get readers. You do it to establish your career.

Nick convinced me to start Tweeting, and it took me a while to see the point of that, too, but I did it.  Twitter has helped me to get many more blog readers.

While I don't like to Tweet too much about my own blog, I will do it when I have a new post up. Once, maybe twice. I don't want to be ridiculous.

Read the blog or don't; I'm sort of too busy to care. (All that much.)

I do want readers, though, because I want to know that my words are reaching people. I want to know that I've made a difference, however small.

In a perfect world, the point of the blog would be to sell my book(s).  Maybe it will come to that. If so, great.

In the meantime, however, sometimes I think it's too much trouble. My own blog makes me feel paranoid, lately, and I know that other people sometimes feel paranoid reading it. Was she talking about me, they wonder?

Was I? Well, I didn't name anyone, and I never will, so how would you know?

And anyway, it's not all about you. The blog is about me. It's about my life; it's about my teaching, my writing, my ideas.

I would never want to embarrass anyone through my blog posts.

I am not averse to embarrassing myself a bit, if the need ever arises, because I find self-deprecation (in small amounts) to be refreshing.

In case you haven't noticed: I have a good sense of humor.  My head is screwed on straight.

Still, the other night, I finally Googled myself (which I only ever do every once in a great while).

I was alarmed to see myself pop up all over the place. There was "Pretty Freaky;" there were other essays; there were my AP NING postings.

I made myself sick.

There was even my picture.

"It's Mommy!" one of my daughters yelled. "She's famous!"

I hope not. Not for this, anyway.

So what changed? The last time I Googled myself, I didn't come up for 20 or so pages. I have a rather common name.

But now: there I am. I think that you make it to the top of the list (in Google searches) when there are many searches for you, for your blog.

I can't be sure if I should be happy or scared.

It's a little of both. Or a feeling of resignation.

I asked for this. I established this platform.

Now the pressure is on: keep it up. Make it worthwhile. Serve a purpose.

Time will tell.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Meatball Says Yes...Accurately, and Fully, Depicting Characters

Actually, this post is not about meatballs. It's just too good--and intriguing--a title to pass up.  My kids got magic meatballs tonight (some silly toy that talks and works like a Magic 8 ball and cracks me up, actually), so I have meatballs on the brain.

What I've also been thinking about: how writers describe characters. Characterization requires several elements--physical description, description of action, dialogue, and sometimes even thoughts.

Let me explain what I mean: If a character exhibits specific behavior such as shouting, finger wagging or pointing, banging tables, staring, spitting, etc., that all speaks for itself. There is no need for a writer to ever even say something like, "Mr. John Bratwurst was a cantankerous coot."

That would be too obvious, and anyway, there are better ways to say what you mean.

Quotes speak for themselves, as does action and description. Readers don't need everything spelled out--in fact, that's insulting--so writers should always show and not tell.

Do I even need to mention at this point that Show, don't tell is a cardinal rule of writing? So, too, is Trust your reader to figure it out.

The writer illustrates a character with thorough description and reporting.

Here's an example of what I mean:

Mr. Bratwurst got up close to Miss Petunia Fluffyglow, who remained quiet and placid. Raising his fist along with his voice, he boomed, "Watch me sue you for every dime you have!" 

Spittle formed at the edge of his mouth. His stubble seemed to be popping up by the second, almost exponentially, as his rage increased.  The swarthiness lent  him a dark, ominous look.

"You are a pathetic woman! Pathetic! You will die in the street, and I will enjoy watching that!" he kept shouting.

So what sort of character is this Mr. Bratwurst? The dialogue and description says it all.

That's what a writer needs to do--create a round, real character by using deft characterization techniques. Dialogue is perhaps the most telling facet of characterization, but body language also works wonders.

Take this, for example:

Pulling up a chair, our co-worker reached for the candy bowl with both hands, dragging it towards himself. He proceeded to dig in the bowl, dredging up handfuls of Jolly Ranchers, taking all the Blue Raspberry baubles and planting them on his lap while carelessly tossing the Watermelon ones on the ground.  

Again, the reader gets a pretty good idea of the "co-worker" depicted above, even though the only thing this character has done is dig around in a candy bowl.  The point is: even such a seemingly inconsequential action can speak volumes about a character.

Whether writing fiction or reporting on the facts, good writers use the same techniques to makes scenes come alive and to help their readers infer what the characters are really like.

Happy characterization!