Monday, May 26, 2014

What Everybody Needs

Last week I had an inspiring tweetversation with one of my twitter friends.  She was delighted to discover that I am an author because she is an aspiring author working diligently on her children’s book.  My fellow tweeter confessed that she felt stuck in her writing process. I offered some encouragement:


“You’ll have good days and sticky days.  Don’t give up.  There are people waiting to read your story.”


She responded:


“Thank you!! Coming from you it means a lot. :)   I’ll keep trying no matter what!!!”

Although I encouraged her to write, she encouraged me to be encouraging.  Her gratefulness reminds me that it’s okay to reach out and extend kind words to people.  Words are powerful, and you never know how they will change the trajectory of someone’s life.


I want to continue this words of hope movement.  I’d like to send you, my beautiful reader, a word of encouragement every week.  And, hopefully, you will pass the inspiration forward.  To have a dose of comfort delivered to your inbox, simply sign up here, or click the link below.  


In the meantime, spread a little joy and uplift someone today.




Be Encouraged

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Foul "G" Word


Grammar is inescapable.  We do everything in grammatical units.  We engage with nouns and pronouns — the people in our lives, the furniture in our homes, the hair or lack thereof on our heads. To engage with nouns, we need verbs.  We laugh at jokes, chat with friends, slurp our milkshakes, and marry our lovers. We use adjectives to identify and to add value to our nouns. We have bad dreams, and crazy ideas, pink lipgloss and aromatic herbal teas. We emote through interjections. Ugh!  Hey!  Yeah!  Shonuff! With adverbs, we adjust our energies.  We swear profusely and snore loudly.  We need prepositions to position our slices of coconut cream pie on porcelain plates between the chocolate cake and the key lime pie inside the refrigerator in Aunt Betsy’s house. And we need conjunctions to pull everything together or to break everything apart, but not too much or we might not be able to piece things back together again and again.

If grammar is such an integral part of our lives, then why do we run from it like a criminal on Cops?  Why are we so scared of it?  We avoid eye contact with it and feel belittled in its presence.  When asked to recite grammar’s guidelines, we stammer like a jittery witness on the stand.  Grammar isn’t legalese.  Grammar is clear.  It is the gospel of clarity, bringing us glad tidings of joy. This is its benediction: I will help you write clearly. Come as you are.  Its message echoes the confidence of Emma Lazarus’ poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Grammar’s doors are always open; its pathway is always lit via classes and books and experts. This isn't about training for the grammar police academy. I'm not advocating that we learn to nit-pick people's mistakes. Grammar isn't about being pretentious — it's about being empowered.  It's about understanding your own bloopers.  It's about knowing the rules so that you can break them effectively and consciously when necessary.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: As writers, as wordsmiths, as conveyors of truth, we are responsible for communicating our ideas, messages, and insights clearly.  We service the reader. Today, what step will you take to improve your craft and to improve the lives of your audience?


Monday, May 19, 2014

Chiasmus


Chiasmus is a type of parallelism that reverses the order of elements in a sentence. Consider the following formulas.

Parallelism

Formula
Example
A
B
A
B
AB AB
He gratefully accepted the money and quickly ran to the store.
gratefully
accepted
quickly
ran

Chiasmus

Formula
Example
A
B
B
A
AB BA
He gratefully accepted the money and ran to the store quickly.
gratefully
accepted
ran
quickly

Chiasmus offers an alternative route to balance your sentence.  To use it strategically, you should identify the most important element of your sentence, and place it at the end for emphasis. Remember, the last part of a sentence always carries the most weight.  For example, which of these two sentences sounds stronger?

a) Cassie smiles at the children, but she screams at the kittens.
b) Cassie smiles at the children, but at the kittens she screams.

Sentence b (chiasmus) sounds stronger than sentence a (parallelism) for a couple of reasons.  First, the rhythm of the sentence is such that the last syllable receives a strong accent. Second, it places the important element (she screams) at the end.  Say the sentences aloud and you can feel the differences.  

Parallelism

AB AB
A
B
A
B
Cassie smiles at the children, but she screams at the kittens.
smiles
at the
children
screams
at the
kittens

Chiasmus

AB BA
A
B
B
A
Cassie smiles at the children, but at the kittens she screams.
smiles
at the children
at the kittens
screams

Try using chiasmus to change these parallelisms. Have fun!  Sometimes alternative routes are more amusing than standard routes.

1.  Please take the trash out tonight and vacuum the rugs tomorrow morning.  
2.  When Tiffany visits her mother, she feels happy.  However, when she spends time with her dad, she feels sad.  
3.  Brush your teeth before you go to bed, and wash your face when you wake up.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Stream of Consciousness Pep Talk

I suppose it’s cliche for writers to blog about their moments of discouragement, and I suppose I’m no exception.  I struggle with writing. There are moments when I love it, and moments when I’m packing its bags and kicking it out of my apartment as temperamental lovers do in a romantic comedy.   Like right now...I’m feeling...dejected, uninspired, frustrated.  I don’t understand why I feel this way, and that’s part of my frustration — not understanding why.

Why is the operative word.  Why do I write?  What is my intention, my purpose?  I don’t know these answers certainly.  Sometimes I think writing was something I was born to do.  As a child, I loved creating stories on paper.  I still have many of those stories scribbled in my elementary penmanship on loose-leaf sheets. Writing and I had a beautiful relationship until I graduated from college.  For some inexplicable reason, I dumped it.  I didn’t even give it a dignified breakup — no maudlin dialogue like, “I love you, but it’s time we go our separate ways.” I just walked away — did an about-face and never looked back...until now.  And like a faithful lover, writing has taken me back with open arms, which is great except for the fact that it’s, ahem, so demanding.

It demands my attention, demands my time, demands my undying devotion.  Sometimes I feel like I’m not good enough, like I can’t meet its expectations.  Oh! A bright lightbulb just flashed in my head. Here’s why I’m feeling frustrated: because I feel that I’m not good enough.  Of course.  I’ve written about this before.  I must keep reminding myself that I am good enough.  My writing does serve a purpose even though I may not know that purpose right now.  If I keep at it, always striving to improve my art, its purpose will come to light. Don’t give up, Ebony.  Embrace the process.  Oh yeah...and don’t forget to smile.

How do you handle having the I'm not good enough blues?  Ever have to give yourself a pep talk?  I'd love to hear from you!

 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Being: My Trip to the Buddhist Temple

I scramble into the temple thirty minutes late. The thunderous roll of drums and the peppery aroma of incense greet me first.  It reminds me of the foyer at my childhood baptist church: laminated floors buried under rows of folding chairs; white walls tacked with bulletins and flyers advertising church events.  A tiny old man is seated at a large folding table adjacent to the door.  I assume he will greet me.  “Hi,” I say.  He looks at me, his stoic eyes suddenly bouncing to life when they meet mine, yet he remains silent.  I scan the table for a visitor sign in sheet or a printed program.  But there is nothing. Only the sounds and scents and the old man’s gazing eyes. I take a seat.

The stage looks like a posh decor store gleaming with light fixtures made of gold and copper, ribbons of lustrous metals cascading from them like wind chimes. A little further upstage, I notice a small statue of the Buddha.  He sits on top of a cushioned stool.  It almost seems like you’re not supposed to notice him; he’s so far in the background like a last minute addition to the opulence.

Further downstage, two monks sit in meditative postures.  One has his back toward the audience as he tends a medium sized fire positioned in front of a large gong.  I can’t tell exactly how they are maintaining a fire on stage, and I lean in.  The other monk is seated stage right. He gently strikes a small bell with a mallet while he and the fire monk chant.  

The congregation is still and reflective.

My mind starts to wander; the tiny voice of criticism begins ranting.  I can’t believe you’re in a Buddhist temple.  What do you call yourself doing?  You don’t even understand what they’re saying.  They could be saying anything — anything!  They could be dedicating their souls to Satan like those crazy elderly people in Rosemary’s Baby, and you are sitting here complying with their debauchery.  What would your family say if they knew you were here?  I’ll tell you what they’d say: They’d pray and lay hands on you, and maybe, if they’re feeling lucky, toss in some holy water.

I fidget in my seat and take a deep breath.  I understand that the tiny voice is scared and wants to be heard. So I hear it, thank it, and dismiss it.

A monk climbs on the stage and stands at the podium.  He is a younger monk, maybe in his thirties.  His smile is vibrant, and his face glows as he tells us that he and several monks from the temple recently attended a memorial service at Manzanar, the Japanese internment camp.  There was another religious sect at the camp: a Christian church. Both groups spoke and prayed at the same service.  “It doesn’t matter what religion you are or who you pray to,” he said. “Whether you’re a Christian praying or a Buddhist praying — all prayers are the same.”  

When I hear him say this, I am blown away.  Never, in a million years, would my pastor have conceded that a prayer to Buddha and a prayer to Jesus are on equal footing. While I was a kid growing up in church, there was one thing that my Sunday school teachers made clear: Jesus is right and everyone else is wrong.  Everything is black and white. Things are either of God or of Satan; there is no in-between.  I felt like we were always so busy striving to do good and beating ourselves up if we came up short.  But as I sit here in the Buddhist temple, I feel like the Buddhists believe more in just being instead of always doing.  There is no right or wrong way to pray.  Simply pray; simply give thanks; simply be still.  Simply be.

As I leave the temple, I am proud of myself.  Today I stepped out of my element and into the unknown.  I tried something new.  My journey has begun.