A POST-ALL HALLOWS EVE HELLO

Hey! HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAD. As for the rest of you out there, how was your Halloween? Sorry to say, I’m now of that ilk (yes, it’s a word) whose Halloween Rooteen amounts to turning off the lights and watching an old Hammer film. Simple pleasures.

images-5.thumbnail.jpg

Well, on the subject of writing and writers…Halloween or not, we all steal from each other. You know what I mean. But there are those grey areas that can’t really be classified as theft – even if you want to be brutal (and God knows, we all have our brutal moments). I’m talking about those items that fall into the “good-to-know-(and share)-even-if-you- didn’t-write-it” category.

Case in point (Did that sound like Rod Serling?): this little gem from Daily Writing Tips. It’s a great post demonstrating what happens when proofreaders go bad…or not at all. It’s all in the interest of underscoring the folly of depending on your SpellCheck.

Think you’re a grammar stud? Let’s just see about that. How many mistakes can you find?


The Impotence of Proofreading

Its a fact that a spell checker will not catch all the mistakes on your text. More specifically, it will not catch misspellings that form other valid words.

So how do you solve this problem? Proofreading, of coarse!
Just read again through you’re text trying to spot words that don’t fit, and make sure to not loose the focus while you do it. Proofreading is sometimes more important then using the spell checker itself.
You should proofread virtually any written piece, from emails to blog posts. Proofread your homework as well, since you don’t want to drive the principle of your school crazy.

Let’s be honest, misspelled words are defiantly a sign of ignorance.
The simple act of proofreading will have a great affect on the quality of your material, and I am sure that you’ll earn more complements from people.

Their you go my friend, and take this advice seriously. After all, you don’t want to look dumb in front of the general pubic!

If you came up with 13, I’m with you. Coarse, that doesn’t mien weir write.

Later.

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW? NO.

images-2.jpg

“Write what you know.” Common-sense common wisdom for writers. Headline advice…dispensed as many times as there are words in the dictionary.

What I have to say about that is certainly not news…nor is it in any way earth-shaking (or paradigm-shifting). Just an observation sparked by something I saw on PBS this week. I’ll get to that later, but the core of what I want to throw out there is this: writing effectively and evocatively is not a question of writing what you know. Good writing often rises from the still-warm ashes of memory and experience, yes, but it is empowered by passion and imagination and risk.

And “risk” is perhaps the most important element of all. Every time a writer sits down with a blank space to fill, he or she risks exposure, ridicule, and worse…indifference.

Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Sportswriter Red Smith said “Writing’s easy. All you do is sit down and open a vein.”

Ray Bradbury said “Find the Metaphor.”

All have bearing on this discussion, but finding the metaphor that drives your writing doesn’t necessarily depend on what you have experienced directly. It depends on what shapes, directs, fires and inspires your thoughts. your feelings and your imagination.

Which brings me back to PBS. A State Parks special on PBS this week opened my eyes to a view that I enjoyed most of my young life, without ever knowing the truth behind that experience. Angel Island.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. I occasionally visited Angel Island on a cub scout hiking trip or family getaway picnic. What I learned just this week is that historically, Angel Island was considered to be the “Ellis Island of the West.” In the early part of the 20th Century, Chinese immigrants were taken from the point of their arrival in San Francisco harbor and detained at Angel Island “for investigation under the auspices of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882” for weeks, months, sometimes years before either being allowed to enter the city or being deported.

images-1-3.jpg

In 1974 the forgotten, dilapidated station house and barracks were scheduled for demolition – an act that would have effectively buried all signs that what happened there did, in fact, happen. Carvings were found on the walls of the barracks…Chinese characters carved into the soft pine planks…poetry left behind by those held against their will – “detained” on Angel Island.

Like the story of the Japanese internment camps, this story draws attention to one of our less-than-prouder moments as a state (and indeed as a nation), but it serves a different purpose for my discussion here. These marks reflect an experience – pain, hope, loss, determination. Just seeing the pictures speaks to the writer in all of us…the writer that eavesdrops on such everyday experiences as conversations at a lunch counter; or notices interaction in an elevator; or pays attention to the way people walk, or laugh or cry. That writer absorbs the story of Angel Island and begins to write a thousand stories in his or her head…stories that speak to the human condition, the American Dream, the inspiration and pathos and sobering reality of who and what we are.

Look around you. You don’t have to live it to love it. Risk.

Find the metaphor.

Found on the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station and barracks:

images-3.jpg


Ox Poem

Instead of remaining a citizen of China, I willingly became an ox.
I intended to come to America to earn a living.
The western styled buildings are lofty; but I have not the luck to live in them.
How was anyone to know that my dwelling place would be a prison.

Revenge Poem

Leaving behind my writing brush and removing my sword, I came to America.
Who was to know two streams of tears would flow upon arriving here?
If there comes a day when I will have attained my ambition and become successful,

I will certainly behead the barbarians and spare not a single blade of grass.

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury

images-1-1.jpg

Ray Bradbury is dead. I knew him. I revered him for what he brought to his readers…and writing…and the world. If you ever heard him speak about writing and life and the human experience you know exactly what I mean. If not, you really missed something. Ray Bradbury was able to entrance you with his words; enthrall you with his optimism and positivity; win your heart and mind with his sense of wonder and his belief in the beauty and power of imagination. He was a shining light in this world and I deeply mourn his passing.

Like all young devotees of science fiction, fantasy and comics, I had read much of Ray’s work in high school…seen his stories brought to life on The Twilight Zone. It was cool. I was a fan. I appreciated the beauty and simple sense-stirring of his short fiction, the chilling magic of Something Wicked This Way Comes and the thought-provoking power, tragedy and hopefulness of Fahrenheit 451. But after I heard him speak at UCSB’s Campbell Hall in 1972, I truly and unashamedly loved the man. I left the venue full, inspired, transformed. Earth-shattered. Life-affirmed. Promise incarnate.

The next day, I started writing in earnest and living in color. I committed myself to the belief that there was nothing more important in this world than imagination. Nothing more sacred than dreaming. Nothing more fulfilling than living every day as if it were an adventure. I have strayed from the path since then, of course, but I have always returned. With every Bradbury book signing and every appearance and every new story or novel, I renewed myself.

I remember Ray’s command “Find the metaphor!” to get myself on track when blocked. I often return to a favorite story when my creative optimism is challenged. And I will always carry the experience of meeting him, talking with him, laughing with him in my heart.

I’m going to read “There Will Come Soft Rains” and “The Small Assassin” and “Fever Dream” tonight and meditate on the gift of Ray Bradbury. You out there, do yourself a soul-soaring mitzvah and read your favorite Bradbury story…or any Bradbury story…and remember.

Here’s to you, Ray. We’ll not see your like again.

HEROES

images-141.jpg

WHAT FULFILLS YOU? Is it far fetched or presumptuous of me to believe that each one of us wants to be the hero of our own life? Perhaps you’ve never examined your life journey in such context, but if not, WHY NOT? Perhaps you think seeing yourself as a “hero” is the ultimate indulgence…the height of self- absorption…the pit of hubris. But avoid outrage for just a moment to consider this: what is fulfillment if not the awareness of oneself as a hero, at least in some sense?

What does fulfillment mean to you when measured in the context of your own existence?

My mother would have put it something like “Scot needs to be adored.”
Perhaps that is all that needs to be said.

My wife said she had never seen me more alive, more involved, more purposeful, more fulfilled than when I was coaching swimming and water polo…and that’s a key part of it too. Because she’s right.

My daughter? Well, she thinks that it is simply the completion of things (any projects, etc.) that fulfills me, regardless of nature, subject or audience.

Coaching. Teaching. The imparting of knowledge. The sharing of skill, the reward of seeing my suggestions/instructions/lessons reach fruition. That’s very much a part of what fulfills me…and although swimming has essentially passed me by, it goes without saying that I have incorporated coaching into everything I do professionally. As a consultant, creative director, group leader and blogger.

Those convinced that people don’t change throughout the course of their life would point to the previous statements and maintain that I was where I should have been when I chose Teaching as a career. They would be right to a very real extent, but the core question here is one of scope.

My first career simply wasn’t enough.

I wanted more. I continue to want more. I want to impact lives on more than just one level.

Leaving a mark. Working with a team as part of a team (most often as the leader) to create something lasting and profound and meaningful… something of value. The coaching function feeds this need to make a difference, to be looked upon with respect and even reverence for what I know and what I provide.

My earliest literary favorites were illustrative of teamwork and groups of heroes (often of the unlikely sort) thrown together and winning against overwhelming odds – most notably OZ books; Tolkien; Greek, Roman and Norse Mythology; E.R.Burroughs, et.al; and, of course, comics. I still read comic books today – a testament to how important these concepts remain in my life.

To this day, my favorite movies are A Thousand Clowns and The Magnificent Seven — one espousing the importance of maintaining self respect and not following the crowd, the other the nobility of team play and sacrifice in the interest of achieving something bigger than oneself. At once complimentary and contradictive, but telling nonetheless.

In a very real and obvious sense, my greatest fulfillment comes from being a hero…from winning (or contributing in an important way to a winning effort). And in being recognized (adored?) for it.

Don’t we all want to be a hero?

Leading. Conducting. Masterminding a plan and managing resources and overseeing contributors to the plan’s completion. Shaping awareness and consciousness to a cause. When people listen, I am fulfilled.

As a writer I often create something from nothing. Meaning and metaphor from commonly unnoticed, underappreciated or everyday things. As a fiction writer, I champion the importance of memory and connection and feelings. In advertising I seek to communicate at least the semblance of truth. I open people’s eyes to value and significance and essential truths. And when the something I create has the effect of changing the way people think or feel or act or react, then I am a hero. I have spoken an ideal that is worth reaching toward – at least in some small way.

I have achieved many goals in my life. I have been many things to many people as a result of my numerous career and life choices. If I refuse to see at least some of my accomplishments and choices and experiences as heroic, then I am truly minimizing myself as a result.

I would postulate that we are all the heroes of our own life…and rightfully so. If nothing else, just believing it is a fulfillment of sorts.

Believe.