Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What Chances Can I Take To Live Life More Fully?

1.  Open my heart.  
2.  Spend more time with my family.
3.  Meet new people more often.  
4.  Speak my truth to everyone.  
5.  Write every single day.  
6.  Count my blessings every single day.
7.  Tell my family and friends, no matter how awkward it may feel, that I love them.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Short Story: Polished

The train arrived.  Nervous and dripping with water, she stood in the lobby and waited.  The clamour confused her: footfalls and squeaky shoes, luggage carts that sounded like roars of thunder, people speaking, babies crying, children teasing.  For a second, she lost her balance, dropped her umbrella, and grabbed the arm of a man standing beside her.

“Are you alright, Miss?”  He placed one hand on her back to keep her steady.

“Yes, yes.  I’m sorry.  I think I just need to sit down for a minute.”  She felt damp under her arms, and a thin layer of salty moisture graced her upper lip.

“Sure, let me help you.”  He walked with her to a vacant chair and didn’t let her go until she sat down.  “Will you be alright, Miss?  Perhaps you’d like to take off your coat?”

“I’ll be okay.  Thank you so much.”

He tipped his hat and walked away.

She checked her watch.  At any minute, he would be arriving.  She fumbled through her purse and found her silver compact mirror, a gift from him.  Flicking it open, she flinched at her reflection.  Flushed cheeks and tired eyes gawked at her.  Her chapped lips looked like withered flower petals, and her hair looked as though she had just stepped out the shower: straight, stringy, and wet.  She gasped,“Oh, my!”  Her fingers searched frantically through the chaotic contents of her purse until they found the pale lipstick.  With the agility of a mouse, she untwisted the top and swiped a coat on her lips.

“Jane!” His voice was rich red velvet cake.  Her mouth felt dry suddenly.  She watched him walking toward her.  He was tall, had confident shoulders and creamy, wavy hair. Somehow, he looked different to her; she couldn't put her finger on what was the difference exactly. It was subtle and soft and auric.

Slowly, Jane rose from her seat.  She inhaled the way she learned in aerobics class: breathe in, breathe out. He was getting closer.  She clutched her purse.  He was closer.  She closed her eyes and inhaled again.  She opened her eyes; he was there, towering over her.

“Hi, babe!” He dropped his luggage and wrapped his arms around her. He felt warm and sturdy, yet Jane stood stiff as a tree, silent as the tiniest leaf on the the skinniest branch.

“Richard,” she whispered.

“I’m so glad to see you,” he said, his arms still swaddling her.  “I missed you so much.”

“Richard,” she said, her voice tenuous and frail.  He froze, pulled back, and held her shoulders.
“What is it?  Are you okay? Jane?”

“I’m pregnant,” she said.  She gazed down at her kitten heels.  They were shiny, so shiny she could see her reflection.  Earlier that day, her sister, Clara, had teased her. “You’re the only person I know who schedules time to shine her shoes. Honestly, I don’t see how you enjoy doing something so mundane,” said Clara as she slid her emoryboard back and forth, back and forth over her nails. It was true -- Jane took pride in shoe shining. She loved buffing and scrubbing, burnishing and glossing.  She liked her shoes to look brand new and polished.  Now here she stood, looking into her sad reflection, standing in front of the man she loved, wishing, for once that she hadn’t polished her shoes.

“That’s excellent news!” Richard beamed as he engulfed her in his arms again.  “Were you worried that I’d be upset?  Well, I’m not.  This is the best news I’ve had in a long time, babe. We’ll be married soon. It will all work out.”

“It’s not yours,” Jane said. Richard’s grasp weakened, and a chill shot straight to his bones.

“What do you mean?” He tried looking into her eyes, but her gaze remain fixed on her reflection. “What do mean, Jane?  Look at me!”

Passersby stared at the couple. Children holding their parent’s hands slowed down and asked questions. "Why is the lady sad, mommy? Why is she crying, daddy?”  Mommy and daddy didn’t know the answer; in fact, they felt embarrassed for the couple, or perhaps they felt embarrassed for themselves because, in some small way, the couple’s public display of shame and sorrow exposed a fragile piece of mommy and daddy, a piece they dare not disclose. “Come, Danny,” mommy said, “It’s rude to stare.”

Jane continued to stare downward. She wept.  She felt ashamed and relieved.

“We have to get out of here so we can talk,” said Richard. His words were tinged with bitterness.  Fury pounded its fists inside his chest. He felt vexed, confused, annoyed. He thought, “How dare she stand here and cry. How dare she!”  He grabbed his luggage.  “Come,” he told her, “Let’s go to the car.”

Inside the car, Jane spoke.  “He walked into the library and asked me for a copy of Lolita. I thought he was being forward -- trying to be fresh with me.  But he was serious.  I walked him to the shelf and handed him the book. He smiled at me and looked at my engagement ring.  Then he asked me the most peculiar question: he asked me if I were happy.  I didn’t know what to say; no one had ever asked me that before, at least not the way he did -- as though he was looking straight through me.  I know this sounds weird, but I could feel him inside me, not sexually, but intellectually, like he was studying my thoughts.  Standing in front him, I felt naked, yet I didn’t feel embarrassed.  I wanted him to see me.”  Richard squirmed in his seat but held his tongue. The rain pounded on the car, and streams of water flowed down the windows like tears. He let her talk.

“I told him you were traveling for business, and then he asked me out to lunch.  One thing led to another; before I knew it, I was in his apartment.  He was a professor and had a small library room.  It was so captivating, Richard! The shelves ascended to the ceiling of the loft. They were dressed in white paint — so spacious and calm.  Upon each shelf, there were stacks of books. Some stood vertically; others, horizontally, acting like book ends.  The book covers were personalities; each wore a different color palette -- rich shades of orange and gold; earthy tones of green and brown; and flirty blushes of pink and purple. The fonts were the voices of the books, and they scripted the binders boldly, daring me to overlook them.  Curvy letters teased me, and muscular letters provoked me.  On the second shelf sat a picture draped in a thick black frame.  In the picture stood a young lady carrying a tethered suitcase.  She stood between two escalators in the lobby of a train station with shiny copper floors and walls.  She stood assuredly, holding her suitcase with both hands, gazing upward, over her shoulder.  She was prepared for her journey.  I didn’t know who she was, and I didn’t care.  All I knew was that I wanted to be her, to stand in her shoes.  And so I spent the night with him -- and I became her.”

Richard sighed.  He didn’t know what to say.  He had no words, only pain.  He felt as though she had reached into his chest, ripped out his heart, and stomped it over and over and over until it was a bloody, lifeless pulp.

“Here,” Jane said.  She handed him the engagement ring.  “I can’t do this, Richard; I can’t do us.  I don’t know what I’ll do, but I know I can’t do this.”

He stared at the tiny ring in the palm of his hand. It was lustrous against his dry skin. Richard was dumbstruck and outraged. Who was this woman?  Who was Jane? He didn’t know that ten years from now, they would meet again; and that she would be bold and courageous and sexy; and that he would marry her and love the child as though she were his own.  He didn’t know that twenty-one years from now, Jane, wearing her leopard pumps,  would go out with friends and die in a car accident and that their daughter would keep all of her mother’s shoes and polish them weekly.  And she would wear them.  She would stand in her mother’s shoes.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What's One Thing You Learned That Blew Your Mind?

When you smile, you can trick your brain into believing you’re happy. The first time I heard Shawn Achor say this, it went in one ear and out the other.  I had been listening to his book, The Happiness Advantage, on my Audible app half-heartedly during my drives to and from work.  I was in dire need of a change in my disposition.  Years of failed relationships and unrealized dreams had rendered me frustrated and bitter.  I knew that I was the problem and the solution, but I always focused on me being the problem and gave little regard to the solution part.  My thoughts were doused in toxicity, cluttering my brain like useless relics crowding a hoarder's home.

One day on my way to work, I was listening to The Happiness Advantage for the second time.  I was stuck in traffic on the 710 freeway overpopulated with big-rigs.  My mouth wore a frown; my eyebrows were furrowed, and my fingers tapped the steering wheel incessantly.  I heard Achor say, yet again, “Smiling...tricks your brain into thinking you’re happy, so it starts producing the neurochemicals that actually do make you happy.”  I considered what he said and decided to try it.  What did I have to lose? So I started smiling right then and there, on the freeway.  Sure, it was fake and forced.  But I figured I would just have to fake it till I make it.  I know I looked like a freak — but it worked.  Within seconds, I started to feel happy.  It was a weird cognitive experience: I didn’t want it to work because it sounded ludicrous, but I felt happy when, much to my disappointment, it did work.

I continued smiling all the way to my job.  I smiled all day in my classroom. My students thought it was funny because I was obviously forcing it.  But it made them laugh, and it lightened the mood the room.  I didn’t get nearly as irritated as I used to when a student was disruptive.  I was calmer, and I handled challenges with clarity.  When I taught a lesson, I felt passionate.  I was articulate and present.  The students responded to me differently; they were more polite and courteous towards me.  I felt amazing.

I continue to smile.  Believe me, it works, and it never ceases to blow my mind.

Monday, March 31, 2014


Parallelism means listing words, clauses, or phrases of the same grammatical unit.  Consider the following sentence.

Not Parallel: The cat was huge, furry, had big eyes, and was purring softly.
Let’s look at the items that are listed in this sentence.

Part of speech
had big eyes
verb phrase
was purring
verb phrase

This sentence lists items about the cat.  The problem is that it lists adjectives and verb phrases, making it a bit messy.  If you attached each item separately to the main element of the sentence, the cat was, you will see the problem.

The cat was huge.
The cat was furry.
The cat was had big eyes.
The cat was was purring softly.

See the issue?  Both The cat was had big eyes and The cat was was purring softly make no sense.

The Solution

Change the items to same part of speech.  

Parallel: The cat was huge, furry, wide eyed, and content as it purred softly.

Consider this sentence.

Not Parallel: Jane reads books, wrestled in high school, sings in the choir and paints on the weekend.

Part of speech
reads books
simple present tense
wrestled in high school
simple past tense
sings in the choir
simple present tense
paints on the weekends
simple present tense

Although the main element of this sentence, Jane, attaches to each verb phrase comfortably, it isn’t parallel because the phrases are in different tenses.  Wrestled in high school is in simple past tense while the other phrases are in simple present tense.

The Solution

You may be better off dividing this into two sentences.

Parallel: When she was in high school, Jane wrestled. Currently, she reads books, sings in the choir, and paints on the weekends.

Now you try.  Rewrite these sentences using parallelism.

1. I need a new suit, shoes and go to the grocery store.

2. Matthew competes in pie contests, and apple pie is what he is known for.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Nominalization Exercise Answers

Here are possible rewrites for yesterday's sentences.

1. The teacher explained the assignment, yet I don't understand.
2. He suddenly appeared on my doorstep and startled me.
3. John earned high marks on his research paper because his information was accurate.