Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How I Say Things

This photograph doesn't really match the idea of the post, but I couldn't think of one that would represent this next project in my renovation year.

I am trying to watch how I suggest things to people. Most of the time, in the past, if I felt enthusiastic about something, my "suggestion" to people would start with one of the following:

"You HAVE to read...."
"You NEED to go see...."
You've GOT to come with me...."
You would LOVE...."

Imperative statements that probably leave the listener in a rebellious mood. "I have to?" "I need to?" Well, what if I don't want to, you pushy person?

When I am recommending something this year, I'm trying to rephrase my excitement.

"I loved 'Midnight in Paris.' It had so many interesting characters."

"This author is going to be at the bookstore and I'm excited because the book is amazing."

"I've noticed that you like bluegrass music. The Bluegrass Experience is going to be playing at the Q Shack."

It's taking some work to get the hang of the new way of talking, but I'm getting more in the habit of THINKING before I talk so that's helping.

So let me try it here: Tonight I went to see Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master's Son. Hearing Adam talk about North Korea and the writing of the book was fascinating. I wish everybody could see him in person.

I am still working on getting my passion for something to show through, and don't think that statement conveys it exactly. But it'll come, it'll come. Renovations are time-consuming; there are layers to be broken down and rebuilt. This make-over is a long-term project. I want to do it right.

I think I know why I subconsciously chose this picture: the pelican doesn't squawk, "COME SEE THIS SKY." He just sits in front of it, silhouetted against its majesty. And I admire.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Less Is More

A couple of months ago, I wanted to enter a writing contest. We were to choose a photograph and write a story to go along with it. After writing mine, I realized that my four-hundred words had to be cut by one hundred words.

Now you have to be concise to tell a story in four hundred words and the thought of taking out a fourth of them was daunting. But I did it, and I think my story was stronger for the purge.

I've been thinking about how that relates to my communications: email, conversations, letters, etc. Here is a typical conversation between my husband and me:

Me: What would you like for dinner? Do you want to go out or order in? I could cook that tenderloin or we could have breakfast for dinner. What do you think?

Hubby: Um...

Me: You're probably sick of leftovers. Let's see... there's a pizza in the freezer? Would that be good? But we did decide that we'd quit eating so much fatty food.

Hubby: Um...

Who can get a word in edgewise??

In conversation, critiques, and emails, I tend to say the same thing three or four different ways, or even the same way several times.

And one last thing I do: I always say one sentence too much. The last sentence is the one I usually replay over and over asking, "WHY DID YOU SAY THAT???"

In this renovation year, I'm going to try to be more concise. Stop repeating myself. Give people a chance to answer my questions. Write succinctly (and start by taking out every word that ends in -ly).

My husband used to work with a man who had a sign on his desk that pointed toward the person across from him. It said, "GET TO THE POINT." Good advice.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I'm not good with voids.

When I am with someone and the conversation dies down, I feel an obligation to keep it going.

When my husband and I are in the car for a while and nothing has been said, I ask, "What are you thinking about?" just to say something.

I will give someone a day or two to answer an email and then I'm prone to write and say, "Did you get my email?"

Waiting for rejections (and one day maybe an acceptance letter) on stories I've submitted is torture.

Stop lights, grocery store lines, price quotes, anything I have to wait for gets on my nerves.

This year, I'm trying to be comfortable with the voids. Wait patiently. Sit quietly with my own thoughts. I have to talk to myself all the time - another way of filling the void, I guess - but maybe soon I'll be able to shush that voice up too.

I know when I meditate, it becomes easier to quiet myself during the rest of the day. At night, I take a few minutes to read a poem or an inspirational message, or pick an angel card (written on each of them is one word, i.e. inspiration or trust or compassion) for tomorrow. I reflect on how the word I drew the day before manifested itself in the present day.

Maybe it's all a part of the process of being comfortable with myself. I've been with this person called Mamie almost sixty years. I hope to be able to sit peacefully with her in 2012.

Next week: Less is more (and I don't mean things....)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What's old is new

Definition of RENOVATE

transitive verb
1: to restore to a former better state
2: to restore to life, vigor, or activity : revive

I spent New Year's Eve at a house that is being renovated. The space was exactly what we needed that night: open and messy. I decided that a good theme for 2012 would be "renovation."

Today I embarked the first project of my renovation: Go back to what was working before (see definition 1).

I was tallying my reading list for 2011 and it came to a measly thirty books. Most years I read around forty books. But before the internet and reality television, I used to read at least a book a week. On vacation, I would read a book a day. At work, when I got caught up, out would come a book, and at night I would read myself to sleep. Now? The computer and the television take up way too much of the time I used to read.

See that wall of books in the photograph? My husband said to me one day, "I can't believe you've read all those books!" I replied, "Those are the ones I haven't read." And although that is a slight exaggeration (half the books are books I've read, textbooks, children's books, cookbooks, travel books), there are some darn good books waiting for me on those shelves.

Today I wasn't feeling well and stayed in bed and read. I finished one long book and read an entire other one. I haven't done that in a long time because my writing and photographs take a lot of my free time, but I'm going to make more time for reading. I'm going to quit wasting time on mindless browsing and nosing into other folks' business on reality television and get back to what made me feel like I'd accomplished something: reading sixty books in a year.

We try to discard bad habits - I've purged a few from my life in the past few years - but sometimes we discard a good habit too. And now, I'm going to bed to read. Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster. I'm starting at the A's....