A few months ago, an admired mentor gifted me a lasting lesson in five profound words. At the time, I felt stretched on multiple fronts: spearheading a demanding project at work, keeping up with a pile of graduate school assignments, all while growing a new person. He gently asked how I was doing, not in the generic supposed-to-ask way, but sincerely inquiring on my health and happiness.
I honestly told him I was tired. I felt overwhelmed in the balancing act of being a professional, an academic, and soon-to-be mother. He nodded, understanding I had a lot on my plate.
His reply struck my heart:
“Enjoy it while it lasts.”
I remembered, momentarily ashamed, that he’d recently lost a loved one. His intent was not to make me feel bad, but remind me about the preciousness of each phase of life. I wrote down his words, putting them in a place I see them every day. I’ve thought often since about how fortunate I am to be in the midst of opportunities, enjoying great health, and wonderful associations. As he reminded me, I hope to enjoy each phase, and recognize at every season that I’m truly blessed.
You are too. The fact that we’re alive in this era of time, with technological advances in communication, medicine, transportation – you name it – allows us an ease of life never known before to humankind. It’s a good time to be alive. With Thanksgiving tomorrow, let us all take time to thank the people in our life who make it worth living.
To my admired mentor: a heartfelt thank you for your five words that mean so much.
And to you reader friend, wherever and whoever you are: Thanks for being here.
With Halloween around the corner, what’s better than a good ghost story (or ten)? I’ve known author Paul Rimmasch for a couple years here in Ogden, Utah. This Saturday Spotlight features his current project: a series of ghost stories, based on his experience as a local CSI investigator. Turns out, they don’t call late nights the “witching hour” for nothing and “tales of the paranormal” find their way into CSI fieldwork. Spooked yet?
Q. As a CSI investigator, you have the unique role of deciphering fact from fiction. How does that play into your current writing project?
My concept for the book I am writing is to not only spin a spooky yarn, but to place the story in the law enforcement context in which it was experienced. For example, when I paint the picture of the truly horrifying thing an officer saw in the Ogden City Cemetery one night, I will also explain why cops park in such secluded places in the first place. Or, why was it that when I was stuck in an elevator in a haunted hotel, the people I was stuck with were looking at me funny.
At first I was unsure of how this concept would play, but advance readers have been fairly positive, so I guess it is working. I love folklore, whether in written form or told around the campfire. When you think about it, campfire stories were the first form of literature, and even in this digital age, there is nothing quite as magical. This is my attempt to add to this wonderful genre.
Q. Do the ghost stories you’re sharing come from real-life experiences?
One might expect a career in the forensic sciences and an interest in ghost stories to be diametrically opposed. After all, one deals with verifiable evidence and the other delves into a realm where proof has proved to be more elusive.
The reality, however, is that CSI fieldwork and tales of the paranormal fit together like a hand and a glove. In this business, you spend a lot of time hanging around dead people and the places they died. And not just any dead people; we’re talking suicides and homicides. These violent acts, and the strong emotions associated with them, have traditionally been the genesis for many a haunted house. Spend enough time in these places and you feel and experience things that lead you to believe that there are things in this universe that can’t be measured scientifically.
Remember, law enforcement personnel are awake and about when honest people are home in bed. They don’t call the interval between midnight and 4:00 “the witching hours” for nothing, you know. One also finds oneself alone after dark in cemeteries, mausoleums, lonely country roads, and old abandoned buildings. Everyone has seen enough scary movies to know what happens in those places. When something happens to a cop or CSI that they can’t explain, most accept it at face value and don’t try to make it fit into a preconceived intellectual compartment.
Q. Tell us about your first published book.
My first book is entitled “The Lost Stones.” Quite a departure from what I am working on now, it is a fictional adventure story with a heavy dose of real-life archaeology mixed in. “The Lost Stones” is in the same spirit as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” or “National Treasure,” but with LDS themes. I thoroughly enjoyed doing the extensive research that went into writing the book and it is very gratifying to get feedback from readers saying they learned something new by spending time with my characters.
Q. What did the publication process look like? Did it take longer than you expected?
Compared to a lot of authors I have met since “The Lost Stones” came out, I think I had it pretty easy for a first timer. The publisher, Cedar Fort, was only the second publisher that I sent my manuscript to. As a first time author, I didn’t really know what to expect, but the time between acceptance and publication did seem to drag on forever. When you get that acceptance letter, you are about as excited as you’ve been in your whole life. You want stuff to start happening. You want to see your book in print… in your hand… yesterday. The trouble is, it takes time to get a book edited and put together. Not to mention the fact that the publishing company has a certain release schedule planned well out in advance. So all in all, you end up waiting. Needless to say, the 11 months between acceptance and release were the longest 11 months of my life.
Q. What led you to writing your first book?
Basically I wasn’t smart enough to know I shouldn’t try. I am by no means a strong writer, but the story for “The Lost Stones” so preoccupied my thoughts I figured the only way to get it out of my head was to write it down. Let me be a lesson to you would-be writers out there. Don’t let anyone (especially yourself) tell you that you can’t do it.
Connect with Paul Rimmasch
Oh baby, I’ve been reminded recently how much pronouns matter. Without knowing gender, it’s bothered me for months to not have a proper way to address our growing baby Beck. I consciously boycotted ”it,” and opted for “they” and “them.”
As an example, I’d say, “They’re moving. I can feel them!” This (understandably) prompted others asking over and over if I’m carrying twins. My dad suggested using the universal “he,” but that didn’t feel right either, on account that our he/she(?) could be a girl.
Solving my “lack of pronoun” problem
Yesterday my husband and I had our much-anticipated mid-pregnancy ultrasound. We saw baby’s heart, brain, ribs, and toes. I noticed the technician said, “There’s its bladder and its pancreas,” and the word person I am, out popped the question: “May we get a pronoun? I’m really wanting to know what this baby is.”
She smiled, moving the ultrasound wand down the perfect 12-ounce body. Then came an announcement that surprised me so much, happy tears started down my cheeks.
It’s wonderful to have a pronoun now: SHE’s a GIRL!!! She’s healthy and beautiful and we love her already.
Celebration of punctuation
To add to the joy, yesterday also happened to be the 10th annual National Punctuation Day®. It’s a legitimate holiday with its own website. Think of all the over-used apostrophes around the world; isn’t it right those little marks that make our language lovely get a shout out?
For my fellow contest (and grammar) lovers out there, you can enter the national punctuation essay contest. Here’s the prompt from the site:
In an essay of no more than 250 words, explain how National Punctuation Day® has affected the way you think about punctuation (or not), and how the holiday has affected your writing (or not).
Send your essays to <<Jeff(at)NationalPunctuationDay.com>> by October 31. Please use proper punctuation. Contest winners will be announced in December.
While I’m all about proper punctuation and respecting the lowly comma, some occasions do call for breaking the rules. Take exclamation points. I rarely use them in professional writing, savoring their value for truly dramatic moments. A former colleague of mine had the rule: “You only get two exclamation points in life. One is to announce your death!” When I usually use an exclamation point, I stick to one.
Yesterday I couldn’t help myself. I’m still busting out pronouns and punctuation all over the place: She’s a GIRL!!!
Benjamin Franklin is known for saying, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” I’ve been working on the later part of that statement the past few months.
Specifically, I’m currently growing a person.
My husband and I are becoming a trio.Yes, friends, I’m expecting my first baby! I’m now 17 weeks along, and pregnancy has been treating me well. In addition to baby-growing, in the past couple months since I’ve last posted here, I found myself being promoted to an exciting (and demanding) position at work and knocking out a few more grad school classes.
This left over little, if any, brain power for blogging. At times I felt quite behind and even chided myself, but then I thought:
Sometimes life gets in the way of blogging. As it should.
In a recent class, I made my first (ever!) attempts at video editing. I find the film medium a wonderful way to share stories, and decided to share my latest personal project with you.
Say cheese! Check out the surprised reactions we caught on video…
Why? Let me explain.
I spend much of my full-time job writing, editing, and analyzing marketing emails. Often these emails are crafted for Fortune 500 companies, spreading awareness about their tech products (you might even be reading these very words on one.) After getting up-close-and-personal with hundreds of these emails covering countless topics and audiences, I’ve noticed a crucial commonality that always makes them better: cutting to the chase.
With so much yadda yadda yadda filling up our inboxes, it’s crucial to narrow messaging to key points that stand out. There’s enough bland content in the world. When you really need to capture attention, it’s often best to get ink, and get out of there.
I use this philosophy when pitching ideas to editors or applying for freelance opportunities. This very week I reached out to a respected national brand calling for humorous women-friendly content. Although I don’t recommend such a playful approach every time, I showed I knew their audience. I sent the following email:
My name is Crystalee Beck and I’m responding to your call for freelance writers.
If I could, I’d put on a party dress, bring the kazoos and balloons to your office, all while holding my handmade sign: PICK ME, PICK ME!
Then again, I guess that’s what cover letters and resumes are for. (See attached.)
Let’s party, yeah?
I’ll bring the confetti,
Freelance Writer & Managing Editor
And guess what? Apparently they like kazoos too. Although they had hundreds of interested candidates, their reply appeared in my inbox two days later, with a contract for me to sign.
Your turn: How do you make your message stand out in the inbox?
Here’s a personal essay, written to honor the woman who brought me into this world. She taught me to see and hear beauty, and for that I’m profoundly grateful. Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, Chalice Carpenter. I’ll always love you.
My mom created an art class for my three-year-old pals and me, with hand-designed, laminated characters: Sunshine Yellow, Tree Green, Apple Red, and Birdie Blue. (And I still have them.)
Most kids hear their mother sing along with the car radio.
My mom’s melodious voice wows audiences in plays, musical programs, and church meetings – I’ve heard her perform many, many times over the years.
Most mothers read books with their kids and teach them to sound out words.
My mom wrote and illustrated original tales, worthy of any children’s books section. I followed her lead by authoring my own paper library – with handmade library cards for her to “check them out” – while I was still in kindergarten.
It never occurred to me as a young child that in her ever-creative way, my mom was teaching me to appreciate the finest of art and music.
That’s simply a built-in perk of being her daughter.
In my younger years, I admittedly took her talents for granted. The folly of youthful conformity, I remember being embarrassed as a teenager when mom harmonized hymns in church – why couldn’t she keep her voice down, like the other moms?
A matured decade later, her musical talent was what I wanted most at my wedding luncheon.
My mom has taught music to hundreds of children as a private piano tutor and elementary music teacher. I was eager to start lessons with her when I turned six. I wasn’t the best at practicing piano, but my mom encouraged me through the classic John Thompson’s beginner and intermediary piano books.
It paid off years later when I wrote my first piano piece at age 20. I practiced for weeks in my London home, where I was studying abroad. Mom’s timely visit came on British Mum’s Day, and I had her sit next to me on the piano bench as I played her a surprise dedication.
After my nervous fingers finished playing, I turned to see tears in her eyes, touched in a tender motherly moment.
My mom’s love for music is only matched by her attraction to art.
An equal opportunity artist, she strokes piano keys with as much skill as she covers a canvas.
I’ve grown up seeing her watercolor and mixed-media projects, working on at least a few at any given time. She paints with bold colors, bright designs, and intricate details. (One of her paintings hangs in my office cube at work, where I see it everyday as I type.)
My mom made sure her three girls never wanted for art supplies growing up. Even in financially tight years, when mom would forgo buying the latest kid cereal (and we snuck more than our allotted spoonful of sugar into our Cheerios), we never lacked crayons, colored pencils, markers, and paintbrushes, or notebooks on which to create our masterpieces.
With these supplies at hand, and my mom’s encouragement, I entered a handful of children’s art contests. Looking back, I realize my artistic confidence began budding when I won a few of them, including a Mother’s Day card contest sponsored by Hallmark. I even got to be on TV a few times for some wins.
That same confidence sparked other creative projects, and ultimately led me to writing. Now I paint with words, using a palette of verbs and nouns. I owe much of my appreciation of arts to her.
And I think of my mom’s faith in me when taking an artistic risk, like sending in an article query to a magazine editor. Her unfailing belief that I can do whatever I set my mind to has instilled a quiet determination in me. Step by step, my writing dreams will come true. Someday I’ll get my first book published – the grown up fulfillment of my own little books made decades ago.
And my mom will get a special inscribed copy – no handmade library card needed.
Or, art thou?
Indeed, some words are on their way to the literary grave. And “whom,” it’s your turn.
In the April 2013 issue of The Atlantic, the article “For Whom the Bell Tolls” caught my eye. I take that back. It was Megan Garber’s subtitle that entranced me: “The inexporable decline of America’s least favorite pronoun.”
While I’m not a fan of unnecessary formality, I felt a little sad to see this word obituary.
She goes on to explain that “whom” has been dying a slow death since 1826. Apparently Time magazine included 3,352 instances of “whom” in the 1930s, and only 902 in the 2000s. Garber insists “technology seems to be speeding up the demise” of the grammatically incorrect.
She’s right. We didn’t sing along with Ghostbusters theme song, “Whom Ya Gonna Call,” nor do we see “Whom to Follow” on Twitter.
Perhaps I have a soft spot for phrases without a future.
Or maybe it’s my defense of four-letter words. In any case, I call for a moment of silence for whom the bell tolls.
What would you like to add to my R.I.P.?
P.S. While we’re talking grave yards, here’s why I dance a little jig every time I go to my local cemetery.
Word nerdness and wanderlust are a dangerous combination. As my husband will attest, I can’t seem to get enough of either writing or traveling. As I’ve explained about the joys of sky writing, it’s often best to do both at the same time.
I’ve worn flight attendant wings since 2009, and for nearly two years I’ve written (corporate communications) by day, and flown by weekend. I’ve kept those worlds separate for a long time, but decided last week to reveal my weekend super power to my marketing co-workers.
Fresh from the SLC airport (I’d worked the early morning flight back from Fargo, North Dakota) I went to the Ogden, Utah office in my flight attendant uniform. Met by some surprise and requests for peanuts, it felt great to have my two jobs – and two passions – united for a brief hour before I changed into office attire.
If you’re like me, writing is a means to pay for travel, while travel supplies ideas for writing.
I keep a world map in my office cubicle, and look at it often, day dreaming up my next adventure. In the past six months alone I’ve perched atop the Empire State Building in New York City, visited my friends in San Diego, went running in Los Angeles, spent time with my family in Phoenix, rang in the new year in Paris, went on a bike tour of San Francisco, and played with my cousin’s kids in Sacramento – and this summer my husband and I will see first-hand why “all roads lead to Rome.”
I’m not saying we all need to this much travel to be inspired writers. To be frank, I’ve had a bit of travel overload.
I do believe all writers need to travel. We need to open our eyes (and passports) for inspirational recharge, and freedom from the humdrum of daily surroundings. Explorative adventure is in our nature as creative beings.
Recently my new writing friend Meg at Word Cafe wrote about why every writer needs a solocation. I couldn’t agree more with her sentiments. In fact, we’re two peas in the same writer/traveler pod.
On my most recent solocation, I found myself with an unexpected 19-hour layover in San Francisco. What a pleasant surprise to have an afternoon to get up close and personal with the Golden Gate City.
My adventurous heart pitter-pattered on the BART train from Millbrae to downtown, relishing that familiar feeling of childlike wonder. As I watched the cram-packed cityscape slide past me, it seemed my senses were on higher alert, able to soak in my surroundings away from deadlines. For this reason, I always keep a small notepad and pen in my camera bag, ready when inspiration hits.
In downtown I practically skipped my giddy self past spring blossoms in Union Square to Blazing Saddles, a popular bike rental place.
Bike selected and helmet secure, I made my way up Market Street. I wrangled through “The Wiggle,” and stopped for a photo op with the Painted Ladies, Victorian homes featured in 90s-sitcom “Full House.” Meandering through Golden Gate Park, I saw Sunday softball games and paradise green paths. The Pacific Ocean was in sight before long. After a quick splash, I jumped back on the bike for the final push of my four-hour tourist ride to cross the Golden Gate Bridge.
Big and red, the icon towered above me. No matter how many famous landmarks I see (Sydney Opera House, Eiffel Tower, Rockefeller Center, etc.), I still find such glee every time I encounter them in new ways. I’d driven over the Golden Gate Bridge before, but biking it was a new thrill.
About 100 yards over the bridge, I realized too late I’d taken the pedestrians-only side (oops) and had to dodge families and hand-clasped lovers. They didn’t seem to mind, and I wasn’t in any rush.
A couple hours later I was on a ferry with my bike, returning to the city, greeted by the gorgeous San Francisco sunset you see above. Inspiration, indeed.
Whether in your own city or in another land, exploring grants you a new look at life. Bill Bryson, one of my favorite travel writers, says it well:
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”
Amen. Now it’s your turn to share: Where will your next adventure be?
What makes a book feel like a friend? Or a news article share-worthy? Or a story cause you to take action?
I was asked what makes writing good in an interview last year, and here’s how I responded:
Great thoughts. Anyone can slap words on paper (or clink them out keyboard), but good writing materializes with the infusion of creative, authentic ideas. Writers paint with words, using a palette of verbs and nouns. When they get it right, they gift readers with power-punch phrases, such as this beauty from the September 2012 Real Simple magazine: “My ratio of tra-la-la to ay-yi-yi shifted noticeably.”
Since then, I’ve thought about the great thoughts and good writing in my life. I’m always paying attention: the plastic wrapping on my fruit leather, tweets from standout writers, and billboards I pass on my way to work. Words are everywhere. What makes some combinations more powerful than others?
Good writing resonates. It touches a piece of my soul, often connects me to something greater and inspires makes me want to act or think new thoughts.
Martin: I was always a huge fan of ee cummings. He did a series of lectures at Harvard or Princeton, and they were recorded. And they were incredibly moving. He does this long anecdote, and then he says, “To me, these are the most beautiful words ever written in the English language.” Suddenly you’re really listening. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I thought about that a lot. It’s like when you listen to a comedian, you think, “Well, what is your life?”
As the Three Amigos comedian alludes: We need writing that moves us, inspires us. Words grant us more than means of mere communication. They are the medium by which we define our lives.
Now it’s your turn: What makes writing good?
Well, at least according to comic Wiley Miller’s take on ancient history, Egyptians made grammar blunders too. Gotta love the kicker here: “Oh, for cryin’ out loud … you never end a sentence with a (bird figure)!”
Indeed, the art of word crafting and science of grammar rules can make writing seem almost mystical, a magic out of reach. I took a graduate course on editing last year, and learned a lot from my trusty When Words Collide. In fact, I keep it within arm’s length whenever writing, so I’m ready to take on (almost) any editing question.
Besides forever striking the word “irregardless” from our vocabularies, such a helpful grammar ally guides writing. If you’re serious about being a writer or editor, I highly suggest getting a reliable grammar guide. Keep it close. Let’s show those ancient grammar police who’s boss!
We all have our grammar strengths and faux pas. Here are my grammar weaknesses – the ones I have to look up often! I’ve personalized this mini grammar lesson, and included you’ll see links to my personal blog. You’re welcome to check out the ones (that/which) pique your interest:
Grammar Rules to Remember
that restricts meaning
which elaborates on it
who can be used in either case for people or things personifying humans
A free service that takes the headache out of budgeting.
The funeral procession for the officer, which involved Ogden’s community, made us remember.
A snowboarder who does tricks would be cool to see!
affect v. effect
affect means to influence or to pretend to have
effect means result or impact
“Create Distinction” giveaway winner
Last week I was delighted to share a Q & A with best-selling author and speaker, Scott McKain. Thanks to those who entered to win his book, “Create Distinction.” A signed copy of the book goes to…Gloria!
Here are her thoughts on distinction:
If everyone believed in themselves and their own truths, and told their stories with confidence and openness, while others received them with the same kind of openness and confidence, I think that we wouldn’t be stuck in a rut today where we have to force ourselves to be “individuals” … Growing to trust yourself is the most organic way to distinction.
Comic mage via Non Sequitur Comics