Be a Genius Dragon, Not a Mean One

unicorn

Advice for unicorns needing money: I’ve heard you should always speak politely to enraged dragons.

 Accounting was not a profession I ever aspired to, but there is no getting around it. There is an element of accounting that must be done in life—no matter what your position. It is pretty simple really. There is a pot of gold. You are the dragon guarding that gold. You spend it carefully and try to have a little gold to spare at the end of the year. You fly around and collect more gold during the year so you continue to have enough for the future. Sounds easy, right?

As my week unfolded and I kept relaying my work finance issues at the dinner table, my husband reminded me of something Albert Einstein said. Thanks, husband. Now I can’t get it out of my mind. It hit me especially hard.

Intellectuals solve problems. Geniuses prevent them.

–Albert Einstein

I love this quote so much because it highlights the importance of strategic thinking. It is very easy to get wrapped up in our day-to-day firefighting and fixing of problems. But, carefully planning, predicting, and seeing the road ahead keeps problems to a minimum and prevents having to “fix” anything at all.

And, yes, it applies to taking care of a budget, too.

I think strategically all the time, but sometimes I neglect or am just too optimistic around the all-important budget end of the equation. So, to practice my belt tightening skills I decided to write a poem to express my feelings and spare my husband’s ear tonight. Not just any poem. One with a budget. Haiku, of course. You get seventeen syllables. That’s it.

Combing through dollars on spreadsheets.

Smart? Some days.

Genius? Maybe next year.

Say It Quick. Listen Long. Share Your Soul.

poetry

Just some of the pages and papers I’ve uncovered from years of writing poetry and tucking it away.

Poetry is amazing. It allows anyone to capture something humongous in a tiny little box. I like to think of a poem as the busy (or lazy) person’s novel. Poems share riddles of life and only take minutes to read, but much longer to digest and untangle.

I subscribe to very few email lists. There is one and only one I read every day – Poem-a-Day from the American Academy of Poets. You get modern day previously unpublished poems on weekdays and classic poems on the weekends.

Reading these poems day after day inspired me to share my own poetry on crossing the midline. Sharing is scary. It exposes my soul. It opens me up to criticism. What if people think it’s dumb? What if they think I’m too simple? Not smart enough? Not talented? Stop. The voices in our heads need to stop. Remember our stories and poems are US and we all have value. Our experiences and ideas are unique and they mean something.

Sharing also sometimes feels like giving up…like you are never going to get published if you share your work. But I finally came to this conclusion…poetry is rarely lucrative, but it is life. I’d rather share these verses with my friends and family and the world, for which it was written–even in this small corner of the digital universe—than lose more of it on failed hard drives or tossed away on dinner napkins. I encourage you to join me. Share your soul. Open your door just a little wider and watch what happens.

Learn It, Do It, Teach It …Preach it?

preach

Are you passionate about something? Learn it, do it, teach it, but don’t forget to preach it!

The learn it, do it, teach it method has been around for a long time. It is also known as see one, do one, teach one, especially in the field of medicine. In the Boy Scouts it is how everything is done. For example, you first learn how to tie a half hitch, then you actually tie one, and then you teach someone else to do it. It solidifies the knowledge in your head. If you have to teach someone to do it, then you better actually know how.

Recently, I’ve been challenged. And it has been a huge growth opportunity. What I have discovered is there might just be a fourth level to this learning style. Learn it, Do it, Teach it….and Preach It.

How is preaching it different then teaching, you ask? It is different in amazing ways.

Teaching something conveys an idea to help someone do or learn something new. Preaching takes it one step further. Preaching has to deliver the motivation to do the thing you are teaching. Preaching is about telling why the subject is so powerful or great.

A couple of years ago I did this at work with web analytics. I went on what I called my “analytics road show,” telling about why analytics are so powerful to inform strategy. There was teaching involved too, but really, I realized I was preaching. And I was passionate about it. Still am. That’s when this fourth level of learning really struck me.

Last year, I was asked to join a preaching team at church. The team preaches when the pastor is away. And wow how it has changed me!  Talking to people and expressing the passion behind the subject and why it is so meaningful to me personally and hopefully to others, too, is really, really powerful. It has taught me so much more about what I’m teaching and why it is important. I found preaching to be a lot like writing, which I’ve always loved to do, just much more public.

My last two sermons have been a bit on the “teaching” end of the spectrum…where I am more comfortable. But, I’ve been warned by my pastor that next time I might be asked to preach a sermon without such a strong teaching element. Scary. But I’m game. I’m always up for a challenge. Especially if I know I’ll learn something from it.

So whatever you are passionate about, go out there and learn it, do it, and teach it! But don’t forget to challenge yourself to preach it now and then! You might be surprised how much more you can learn and grow.

 

 

Editing Epiphanies

crs

1990s.  Floppy disks. Software sales. A communication explosion….and an exploding red pen that changed my life forever.

Writing has always been a love of mine. I love writing stories. I love writing poetry. I love writing a piece of informative prose that is so tight an atom couldn’t slip through it.

And the key to all good writing? Editing. I learned this lesson at 21 when I was hired for my first job out of college at a startup medical software company. I was blessed with a mentor who taught me more in three years about editing then I knew existed.  You see, I thought editing was all about making sure everything was spelled right, the sentences sounded good, the transitions were sharp, the ideas were well supported, and it was formatted correctly. Turns out, that is not editing. That, my friends, is proofreading.

And, I discovered I was (still am) a terrible proofreader. Thankfully, after years of retraining my red pen, I discovered I was a great editor.

So, if editing isn’t all those things above, what is it? Editing boils down to this–stepping back and asking questions. Editing is strategic. Editing is confidence. Editing is questioning everything that is said, why it is said, and who you are saying it to.

I remember the first piece of work I edited at my first company.  I thought it was pretty golden. I sent it to my managing editor and it came back a bloody red mess. I loathed that red pen. I remember feeling like a loser. How could I have thought my work was good?

Looking closer at her comments, I discovered she had done just a little proofreading, but the majority of her edits fixed much deeper problems. That’s because she had asked: Why are we saying this? What’s missing that the audience would want to know? She even questioned the science and the details provided by doctors – fancy pants doctors! ( I told you editing was about confidence.) Whole paragraphs that I had carefully crafted were removed with one swipe of her red pen. It was information that was simply unnecessary.

I was amazed by the comments. These were unlike comments I’d ever received from any English teacher. I was used to setting the curve in English classes. Who was this crazy lady with the evil red pen?

I set out to learn how to edit my own work in the same way. I tried to approach each piece of patient advice I reviewed by putting myself in the reader’s shoes.

  • Does the information make sense to me/parent/patient?
  • Do I know how to take care of my sick child based on this? Is it helpful?
  • What is missing?
  • Is the science still correct when I simplified the language?
  • Is the science wrong in the first place?

Then came an even more important lesson. I got back comments from my mentor like, “Consider breaking this into two documents on….” or “Maybe we should also write a document on  …..”  Now that was really big picture editing. There was a drive to continually consider and reconsider if what we were producing was the right thing at all. Wow! Who was I to be able to change everything? Turns out that is exactly who I was.

Writing Prompt from a 5th Grader #3: Zombie Friday

zombies

My favorite writing prompt author is now in 5th grade. Although he has graduated from writing prompts and is now onto something called Book Buzz, apparently graduation did not occur for me…because his prompts keep coming. Here’s the latest. Give it a try. How would you deal with this situation?

His prompt: What would you do if you came to church and the doors were locked and you were being chased by zombies? (He then added: ….And the doors were made of metal, not glass, so you can’t break them… and you can’t climb on the roof and break in because that’s what I would do and that idea is taken.) Write at least 3 paragraphs.

My response: It was not a typical day. I arrived at the church on a late Friday afternoon to pick up my guitar. I had accidentally left it there earlier in the week and I needed to bring it home to practice for the Faith Youth Frosty Follies. The church was vacant, as it always is on Friday—staff day off.  As I reached for my door keys, I felt a cold chill crawl up my spine. Something was different tonight. The chill wasn’t just from the cold. There was a stale stench in the air and the glow of the early setting sun over the mesa cast ominous shadows around the parking lot. I put the key into the door and turned. The lock didn’t budge. I tried again. My nerves started getting the best of me. Something didn’t feel right. There were no other cars in the lot, yet I could hear a dull sound like tires crackling slowly along the asphalt. I didn’t want to look back. I kept rattling my key in the door, a little faster now, and pulling on the door handle to see if I could jimmy the latch.

Just then I felt hot moist air hit the back of my neck. I turned in time to see a cold corpse with empty eyes reaching out for me. Filled with adrenaline, I whacked the creature in the stomach with my purse and sprinted toward the Cranberry Crush, pressing furiously on my car unlock button.

As I slipped into my truck, I peeked into the rear view mirror and saw not just the one, but ten additional zombies moving toward my vehicle slowly, relentlessly. I backed up hoping to run them over and slow down their forward progress. I knew this would only buy me a bit of time. After all, they were zombies so they were already dead. Bumping them with a car would hardly do the trick. As I skirted backward, Mr. Hot Breath (that’s what I now called him) and his ten buddies jumped in the truck bed. I floored the gas and flew down Old Golden Road carrying my payload of undead. It was only a matter of time before they learned how to slide open my back window. I had to think fast.

Think, Trish, think. What was it I read on Wikipedia just the night before? Oh, yes,…a zombie is already dead and the only organ still functioning is the frontal lobe of the brain. To get rid of a zombie, you must stop the brain. That’s it! I knew exactly what I needed to do.

I headed down Washington Street and up the hill to the Colorado School of Mines. As I reached the classrooms, I spun the truck around and backed up against an open classroom window. The zombies leaned forward into the window just as the calculus professor began to explain the finer points of logarithmic derivatives of multiplicative groups. The lecture was more than the feeble semblance of gray matter left in their craniums could take. One by one, the zombie brains were overtaken by the complex equations. And one by one, like a synchronized swim team, they fell out of the back of the truck and onto the campus lawn—immediately being swallowed up by the earth.

Finally, they had a place to rest in peace and a chance for their souls to crossover to a far better place. Heaven—where there is no homework!

Writing Prompt from a 4th Grader #2: Barfing Up Cookies or Brownies?

cookie

No, this is not a cooking blog. This post is about throwing up baked goods. Are you sure you still want to read it?

As previously described in my post Jar Jar Binks in My Bedroom…Help! I have received a series of writing prompts from my fabulous, young friend.  Here is another one of his crazy-wonderful writing prompts.  Although he said I needed at least two paragraphs, he informed me that only five would get me the A. So, of course, I gave him five.  How would you answer his question?

His Prompt: If you could eat either brownies or chocolate chip cookies until you got sick, which one would you pick? Write at least two paragraphs.

My Response: Vomit. Now there is something I do not like to do. It reminds me of having the flu when I was a child. It also reminds me of the time when I gorged myself on candy corn when I was ten. It took me about 20 years to be able to eat and enjoy candy corn again. So, if I absolutely had to choose between chocolate chip cookies and brownies as the next food that I would eat until I became violently ill, I would have to consider which of those I could live without for the next two decades. After considering some of my personal goals, the answer becomes crystal clear for me. Chocolate chip cookies. Why? Because they are ubiquitous, addicting, and replaceable.

Chocolate chip cookies were invented 77 years ago and became an instant favorite. Almost every bakery or cookie company has a chocolate chip option. This makes it a great choice as the confection I would want to make me sick. I am trying to eat healthier foods and if chocolate chip cookies were disgusting to me, there would be many opportunities to avoid eating this sugary food. That would help me say no to the cookie and hello to a sweet piece of fruit.

Another reason I would pick the cookie over the brownie is because of the addicting nature of cookies. Typically, when you eat cookies for dessert you can hardly ever stop at one. Think about it? No one ever offers you a cookie and milk. It is always cookies and milk. Brownies, on the other hand, are always offered as a single piece and can be cut into a sensible portion. This would help me with my goal of healthy eating, too.

The final reason I would choose chocolate chip cookies over brownies would be because there are so many kinds of cookies and only a few brownie varieties. If I was really desperate for a cookie and could not stand the thought of a chocolate chip, I could still find a cookie I would enjoy. The same is not true for brownies. I like a lot of cookies, such as oatmeal raisin, sugar, chocolate drop, coconut macaroon, or even a nice Girl Scout Thin Mint. I would be in a world of hurt finding a substitute for a brownie – there is only one ooey, gooey, chocolate, rectangular piece of deliciousness.

Writing this paper taught me a valuable lesson. I NEVER want to eat so much of anything that it causes me to hurl. I like my sweet tooth and want to keep it happy. Even the ancient Greeks knew this. The saying “nothing in excess” was inscribed on the temple of Apollo at Delphi. So here’s to 20 more years of brownies and chocolate chip cookies!

I Want to Hug a Comma

strunk-and-white

Thanks to my editing mentor, I own the illustrated version of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. An illustrated grammar book, you say? Strange, but true.

Commas give a lot of people heartburn. They have certainly given me my share. But, this weekend was different. This weekend I wanted to give that pesky punctuation mark a great big hug.

When my kids were growing up they drove me crazy with commas. They used commas where periods needed to go. When reading their school compositions, I would always have to take a really deep breath first. Talk about a run-on sentence!

I am also a recovering editor. Ok…I still edit…but I am doing my best to repress the silly arguments editors around me used to have over misplaced modifiers, nominalizations, and yes, punctuation, like commas.  Grammar nerds! You’d think there were better things to discuss in this world. My favorite comma debate topic: Should we use serial commas before and in a list? In case you are wondering, here’s my position: It isn’t technically wrong and it just might save you some serious embarrassment, so why not always use the comma just in case.

THE CASE FOR SERIAL COMMAS

I will eat apples, bananas, and figs. Comma not really necessary but it isn’t hurting anybody.

I would like to introduce you to my parents, Bill Gates and Martha Stewart. Yikes! Those aren’t my parents. Get a comma, STAT!

But, I digress.  You have either abandoned reading this post or you are still wanting to know why in the world I want to hug a comma.

It happened this Saturday morning when I was awakened by my oldest son. He had come over to our house after finishing his night shift. His new manufacturing job has been challenging, but it has provided him study work and he is discovering the benefits.

Shoulders back and head high, he stood like a giant at the foot of my bed and said in a monotone, nonchalant voice,

“Well, I got my first paycheck with a comma in it.”

He is a man of few, well-chosen, and subtle words where happy emotions are concerned. I’ll interpret his statement for you.

Woo hoo! Hooray! Let’s celebrate! I’ve done it! Take THAT adult world!

This was a major milestone. And, he came by to share it with us. He has struggled and fought and learned the hard way through life, and now at 22, he finally did it! He got a paycheck with a comma in it.

So, my dear comma, thank you for making us pause, slow down, and reveal your bounty. I have never truly admired just how remarkable you look in a number. Thank you, dear comma! You made our day.

bed

Illustrating grammar does make it a more colorful subject. From The Elements of Style.

Writing Prompt from a 4th Grader: Jar Jar Binks in My Bedroom…Help!

I never really wanted to meet Jar Jar Binks.

I never really wanted to meet Jar Jar Binks.

I have a fabulous friend. He is in 5th grade now, but last year his teacher gave him lots of writing prompts. Sometimes I would help him with his prompts (between massive Lego battles, of course).  This summer he decided to write his own prompts and give them to me to do. Yikes! Didn’t see that coming.  I indulged him and I must say his prompts were quite challenging and a lot different than anything his teacher could have concocted.  If you are looking for a prompt to hone your writing skills…ask a 4th grader, or try the one below. (Oh, and just so you know his grading scale, the more paragraphs the higher the letter grade.) Have fun!

His Prompt: What would you do if you woke up and Jar Jar Binks was sitting on the end of your bed? Write at least two paragraphs.

My Response: I often dream about meeting famous people—or even fictional characters—and fantasize what I would do or say to them if I had the rare opportunity to meet them face to face. For example, what if I could meet the Dalai Lama? I could ask him why he changed his name from Lhamo Thondup to Tenzin Gyatso. That would be interesting. Or what if I could meet someone fantastical, like Harry Potter, and ask him if I could give his wand a whirl. Expelliarmus! But what if I woke up one morning and instead of meeting someone I’ve longed to query, I was greeted by someone I hoped I’d never see in my lifetime. Meesa thinks that would be bad. That’s right. What if it Jar Jar Binks? I believe my first reaction would not be a pleasant one, but after I calmed down, I might learn something from that awkward Gungan.

Just the sight of Jar Jar would send most people running in the opposite direction. But imagine if you woke up, bleary-eyed, and tired, and he was the first “thing” you saw. I seriously doubt there would be an exchange of pleasantries or a “would you like a cup of tea and a scone” type of conversation. It would be more like a scream of terror. Out of pure shock and disbelief, I believe I would immediately grab my pillow and start whacking the poor creature as hard as I could. But knowing Jar Jar, he would probably cover his face and say something like, “How wude! Meesa gettin’ very very scared!” I would then start dialing 911 on my cell phone while yelling at him to please remove himself from my sleeping quarters. After I had calmed down and Jar Jar was behaving himself in my living room, I would get dressed and come out of my bedroom for a proper greeting. It is only then that I would attempt to make something good come of this chance encounter.

Even if he isn’t the fictional character or famous person I had hoped to meet, still, it would be unwise of me to not take this opportunity to learn something. I’d start by asking him something simple. First, I’d ask Jar Jar about his strange eyeballs. I’d say, “What is it like to have eyes on stalks on the top of your head? Can you twist them around and see behind and in front of you at the same time?” Next I might ask him something personal such as, “How did it feel to be banished from your home just because you were clumsy?” My guess is that it felt pretty awful. We all want to be loved, after all, even if we aren’t perfect. I’d love to hear his side of the story. That conversation may soften my heart a bit for that crazy character. So, after all was said and done, what would I do if I woke up one morning and met Jar Jar Binks? I guess I’d just love him despite his weirdness and hope he loves me despite mine—just like we should all do for everyone in the universe.