Getting Blood Makes Sharing International Traditional Halloween Stories in Order

halloween    I’m posting from the hospital again. Nothing serious–it’s mostly maintenance, as always is the case lately. Better now than when it’s harder for me when I’m in my sixties in a few years (Damn. I’m old!). More candy for me when I get back to my suddenly vacant home Monday, though. But I digress.

Anyway, I’m having a blood transfusion now, which seems apropos somehow for Halloween. I’m taking a break from the demanding but rewarding task of both ghost writing and copy editing a book while I’m while winding down for the night. In doing it, I found this neat post on my feed while Facebooking a few minutes ago. It’s from NPR, which always provides good stuff for subscribers. I’m sharing this one. Thanks to Gene Demby for this compilation from everywhere!

http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/10/24/358555307/the-creepiest-ghost-and-monster-stories-from-around-the-world?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=2055

To paraphrase Larry The Cable Guy, them stories are purty creepy—I don’t care where you came from. Happy Fright Night!

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My First Poem and Art Published Today

Lobster Ephiphany   Hello. I’m still here. Glad you took the time to look at this tiny blog.

I have been away for a bit. No apologies. This is about fun. I love this communication blog, but life sometimes gets in the way of what I want to do. Does for everybody. Priorities, priorities.

This post is about new (to me) forms of communication. I started writing poetry and learning drawing techniques (“flat art,”as I call it) about a year ago. Learning good.

Both were published this morning: http://postcardpoemsandprose.wordpress.com/2014/09/19/lagniappe-by-john-baradell-jr/

Hope you like them. I’m like a proud papa. Though I have been published a lot for content writing and other technical forms,  fiction writing inspires a creative spark in me. Money? Right. That’s what the other forms are for.

Don’t get me wrong–I like nonfiction writing, too. True creativity, though, feeds the soul. To quote Alan Alda, “The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”

This stuff is me, however clumsy. Hope you like it.

Really Hobby Lobby? SCOTUS, Too?

Especially “distressed babies.”

But while AOL chief executive Tim Armstrong will not win any popularity contests with his latest insensitive gaffe, the real question is larger and more important: Why do we, as a country, insist on putting our CEOs between our citizens and their health care choices?

Deanna Fei, the mother of one of the babies in question, called Armstrong’s statement a “cruel violation” and said she detected a “whiff of judgment in Armstrong’s statement, as if we selfishly gobbled up an obscenely large slice of the collective health care pie.”

While it’s easy to make Armstrong a villain, it’s naive to think this case is unusual. For every instance where a CEO like Armstrong is candid about his decision-making on employee benefits, there are many other cases where executives make similar decisions based on similar sets of facts.

Just without the public fanfare.

And guess what? CEOs don’t like being in this situation any more than their employees do.

I can speak from experience. My company is small, with about 20 full-time employees in our Dallas offices. We are a tight-knit group and work closely together. And I offer everyone a pretty standard health insurance package through one of the big providers.

Unlike Armstrong, I haven’t attempted to determine who is “gobbling up” what portion of my company’s health care pie. But I can tell you that the arrival or departure of specific employees has had a sometimes dramatic impact on premiums, affecting costs for all of us.

Ultimately, employers and employees are locked in a spiral of costs that neither side can control. Since 1999, health insurance premiums have nearly tripled during a period when wages, by comparison, have increased just 50 percent and consumer prices 40 percent.

What’s the best way for businesses to manage these fast-rising costs? If employers pass along premium increases, employees call them greedy. If employers eat the costs, they consume company profit and make it harder to give raises and other benefits to employees.

A single employee’s health issues can even put a company out of business. Having one worker on dialysis, for example, can generate more than $400,000 in annual claims. A small, self-insured employer without adequate stop-loss protection can be devastated by this kind of catastrophic illness.

It’s a no-win situation.

So how did we get here? No other industrialized country has an employment-based health insurance system like ours. And there’s a reason for that: Our “system” came together almost by accident. It’s the byproduct of wage controls and tax breaks from a bygone era.

Wage controls were put in place during World War II so that Americans at home wouldn’t make disproportionately more than our soldiers fighting abroad. But these controls didn’t extend to benefits, which led to the emergence of employer-paid health insurance as a means of competing for workers.

Add in the fact that health insurance expenses were tax-deductible for employers and not considered taxable income for employees, and our employer-based system was off to the races.

Now here we are, 70 years later, with a monstrous Rube Goldberg apparatus that, sadly, isn’t too big to fail — but may be too big to fix.

The Affordable Care Act is at least an attempt, but in the short term is likely to aggravate tensions between employers and employees. Over time, we may see an increasing number of companies drop their health plans and direct workers to HealthCare.gov.

It’s easy to point a collective finger at Tim Armstrong, dismiss him as an insensitive boor and shame him into reversing his announced benefit changes. All those things, in fact, have happened during the past few days.

Fei even got a personal apology over the phone from Armstrong. Fei told NBC News: “His apology was heartfelt, and I appreciated it. And I do forgive him, and I understand that we all sometimes say things that we wish we could take back.”

But none of this is a solution to the larger problem. As long as health care spending continues to increase at its current rate, we can expect CEOs like Armstrong to look for any avenue available to reduce the burden on their bottom lines. And they will use all the information at their disposal, including patient data, to make these decisions.

 

Scott Baradell is owner and president of Idea Grove, a public relations and marketing firm based in Dallas. His email address is sbaradell@ideagrove.com.

Creative People Should Think Inside the Box

box   I stumbled across this piece a little earlier today. I consider myself to be a pretty creative person, but I’m not really artsy-fartsy. I was considered by some artistic circles to be a musical prodigy when I became a pro at 15, but 1) I was motivated, 2) had some talent, and 3) worked my butt off. My parents also paid for the best teachers, so my talent was a combo of things. I was also into sports and other “non-arty” subjects, too, so the label didn’t quite fit.Well, I still make a living in the arts almost forty years later–writing, this time. I am still motivated, have bit of talent (I’m told), and have devoted teachers. I still have many non-artsy interests. But I had to totally know both of the disciplines before i could improvise at all.The interesting thing (really!) is that I spent most of that time between the creative arts in the staid business world. My niche in it was learning a business inside and out, and then reinventing it. I became creative because of lessons learned in a box.Interesting.similarity. I have also noticed that most of my friends the “out there” creatives are, well. kinda nuts. They usually also lack the focus to keep more than menial jobs out of their field.On the other hand, two gifted poets that I know are doctors,  One of the brilliant artists/sculptors that I’ve ever met had a long career in advertising. A lot of prose writers were journalists before branching out. Hemingway, anyone? To a much lesser extent, my brother–the president of the second-fastest PR firm in the country. The list goes on and on. Google it:  http://www.thelmagazine.com/TheMeasure/archives/2012/11/30/famous-artists-with-day-jobs-part-two

Thought-provoking article from one of my favorite groups; “The Freelancer’s Union”. Check it out.

Why creative people think inside the box

BY:  – JUNE 30, 2014

Several years ago, a man named Drew Boyd walked into the offices of an “innovation consultant.” People were playing with frisbees, wearing sneakers, and using buzz-word-y trademarked terms to describe their methods.Boyd was impressed. It was the kind of office you could imagine creative, out-of-the-box ideas being generated and implemented without a lot of oversight. He hired the firm for close to $1 million to consult for his large business.The project failed miserably. Boyd learned the hard way that free-wheeling “creative” thinking doesn’t necessarily come up with the best ideas, and he set out on a mission to try to understand why he (and most people) think of creativity as open-mindedness, radical thinking, defying the status quo, coming up with something brand new — and why it doesn’t always seem to work.This is the subject of Boyd’s new bestselling book, Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results, which he wrote with Jacob Goldenberg.“Better and quicker innovation happens when you work inside your familiar world using templates,” Boyd and Goldenberg say. “These templates regulate our thinking and channel the creative process in a way that makes us more — not less — creative.”

This is why Agatha Christie wrote 66 books in the same template, each unique but all following the same structure (which made her the bestselling novelist of all time). This is how companies stop looking for original ideas and start getting to the business of innovating by modifying what they know.

Almost every innovative solution, product, or business is the result of one of five templates, according the authors:

Subtraction: Innovation in which something is removed, like subtracting all the complicated buttons off of cellphone to produce the iPhone’s interface (two buttons).

Task Unification: One item with multiple uses, like having a cellphone case that holds your credit cards, or your bookkeeping software that also sends invoices to clients.

Multiplication: A product with a component that has been copied but changed in some way, like a bicycle with training wheels.

Division: Anything where a crucial component of the service is separated out, which generally makes it more convenient; ex. a remote control that operates your DVD player, or a Surface tablet where the keyboard can be attached and detatched.

Attribute Dependency: Two attributes that seem unrelated are made dependent on one another. For instance, your keyboard’s light goes on when it gets darker in your room.

Boyd and Goldenberg suggest that if you’re looking for a creative idea, you should first try to think inside the box — by applying one of these systems to your field of interest. So if you want to start a mug company, instead of trying to reinvent the product, add a simple coffee level reader (multiplication), or make one that is also a french press (task unification), or one that turns on an internal heater when it’s out in the cold (attribute dependency).

Many creative business owners may have an instinctual negative response to this systematic approach. Isn’t creativity supposed to be more…well, fun? More spontaneous? Does the fact that you came up with an idea within this system cheapen it?

Yeah it’s a dichotomy, but much of life is. Speaks to me, though.

Top 7 Misused Expressions

grammar        I have subscribed to Freelancer’s Union for years now; it is an awesome mag for an important organization. It promotes the needs of the independent workforce through advocacy, education, and services. Their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/freelancersunion?fref=nf

Anyway, though they have a serious mission led by labor lawyer Sara Horowitz, they keep their sense of fun. I got this piece from Kate Hamill on my Facebook feed a little while ago. It works for me: I’m a stickler for proper word usage, have  a graduate English degree, I write professionally, and am a charter member of Facebook group “I judge you when you use poor grammar.” https://www.facebook.com/groups/IJudgeGrammar/.  Enjoy.

Dear Freelance Editor,

I’m a freelance digital audience development manager; a lot of my work depends on getting people to concur with what I’m posting on social media. Lately, I’ve been seeing some commenters writing “Here, here!” on my posts. This looks wrong, as if they’re children jumping up and down, trying to get my attention. Is it “Here, here” or “Hear, Hear”?

Sincerely,
There, There

Dear There, There:

I’m so glad you asked this question; I’ve been dying to write a post on commonly misused phrases.  Thanks for giving me the excuse; here are seven of my favorites, starting with your question!

1. Hear, hear!
Not: Here, here.

“Hear, hear!” (short for “Hear him, hear him!”) is a phrase from Parliamentary proceedings; it means “listen up, I concur with what this person is saying.” “Here, here!” is nonsensical – or, as you point out, looks like something castaways would say when waving at a rescue plane: “Down here! We spelled out ‘HELP’ with coconuts, and we’ve already eaten Fred!*”

2. Another think coming
Not: Another thing coming

Your Freelance Editor did NOT know this one until recently; I got into a long argument about its usage, insisting that I was right until I looked it up. I’ve been saying it wrong for decades. The original usage is “another think coming”; despite its faulty structure, it’s half of an old comical saying: “If that’s what you think… you’ve got another think coming.”

3. I couldn’t care less
Not: I could care less

This one first appeared in the 1950s, and has been regularly mutilated ever since. Think about it logically; you are saying that you are INCAPABLE of caring less – meaning that you are already at your nadir of sympathy.

4. For all intents and purposes
Not: For all intensive purposes

This phrase actually dates back to the 1500s, from an act espoused by the wife-switchin’ Henry VIII. “For all intensive purposes” is just official-sounding gibberish.

5. Champing at the bit
Not: Chomping at the bit

“Champing at the bit” is what a horse does when impatient or bored; the horse chews the bit (a piece of metal attached to the bridle) in its mouth. “Chomping at the bit” suggests a literal biting of the bit, which is idiomatically a bit mixed-up.

6. In line
Not: On line

Your Freelance Editor never heard “on line” before she moved to New York City, and at the risk of irritating 8+ million people, she’s going to have to agree with The Times Style Guide – this is a regionalism. It’s “in line”; I still love you, New York!

7. By accident
Not: On accident

We’re probably doomed to lose some of these grammatical battles eventually; “on accident” is becoming more and more common, especially amongst younger people. “By accident” is the more common usage, so I’m going to make a call – stick with “by.”

The good news, Letter Writer, is that your commenters are trying to agree with you; the bad news is that they are a bit confused; their usage of “here, here [sic]” suggests “look, look” rather than “listen, listen.”

*Alas, poor Fred.

Language is a liquid constant. Its only job is to communicate and, really, so long as it does this reasonably efficaciously, none of us have any reason to complain about the rights and wrongs of other people’s communication.

Right. Just kidding!

Husband and Wife (The Words) are Here to Stay

I read this article a couple of weeks ago in this month’s The Atlantic, the best mag on the planet. I have kept thinking of the piece at odd intervals since then. Why have the words “husband” and “wife” not only have been around for centuries, but continue to thrive? They are both so, um, moldy.
After all, 2013’s word of the year was “selfie.” Many words are “retired” every year.  The old ones become archaic; language is a vibrant, living thing,  after all. Yet , “husband” and “wife” remain, despite themselves. This excellent article by Jen Doll tries to explain why:
“Let me start by saying that I absolutely adore the man I married,” writes a blogger on the Web site A Practical Wedding. “I just don’t want to call him husband … It feels archaic.” Fair enough: The original meaning of husband is “master of a house”; the word and its counterpart, wife, respectively date back to the 11th and ninth centuries. Surely, in a time of cohabitation, same-sex marriage, and women who ably bring home the bacon, these terms must be on their way out?

Well, no. When, last year, the Associated Press advised reporters to “generally” limit the use of husband and wife when referring to people in same-sex relationships—couple and partner were to be used as default terms—a semantic firestorm ensued. Among those protesting the move was gladd. Wrote one of the group’s leaders: “If you are a man, and you are married, you are ‘generally’ a husband—regardless of the gender of your spouse. If you are a woman, and you are married, you are ‘generally’ a wife—regardless of the gender of your spouse. Period.” Husband and wife were worth fighting for. The AP eventually backed down: its reporters now typically refer to married men as husbands and married women as wives, regardless of sexual orientation.

One reason for the durable appeal of husband and wife is surely this: gender-neutral alternatives are sorely lacking. Many of them don’t feel special enough—take the bureaucratic-sounding partner. Or companion, which once referred to a drinking buddy and later became a coded word for someone in a same-sex relationship. Sometimes they feel too special, like consort, which has royal connotations. Significant other is a twee mouthful, and though it was once used as a synonym for spouse, today it doesn’t necessarily convey marriage. If we look still further back, we find a whole array of now-obsolete words that sound like they came out of Game of Thrones: fere, leman, yoke-fellow, half-marrow, paragon, helpmeet.

Spouse, one of the most constant terms, has been used since about 1200. But it has never seriously challenged the primacy of husband or wife, both of which appear much more frequently in the Oxford English Corpus, according to Katherine Connor Martin of Oxford University Press. “I don’t hear people using it in an offhand way,” says Ben Zimmer, the executive producer of Vocabulary .com, “unless they’re being funny about it—like ‘the plural of spouse is spice.’ ”

Partner, for its part, dates to the 14th century; its marriage connotation goes back at least as far as Milton’s Paradise Lost. In earlier times it “was often used to confer a sense of equality within the marital relationship, over and above wife and husband,” the Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper observes. “Interestingly, the ‘spouse’ use of partner predates the ‘sexual partner’ sense, and the first citation we have for it is ‘partner of my life.’ I am hearing, more and more, the inversion of that phrase: use of life partner is on the rise.”

Perhaps there is something to this refashioning of the old. Even as we come up with creative new phrasings for other facets of modern life, Zimmer predicts that husband and wife will continue to see plenty of use. “There’s a certain kind of comfort with those terms,” he explains. Maybe the simple fact is that we prefer to rely on the words with which we’re most comfortable to describe the paragons, fellows, and half-marrows with whom we feel most comfortable.

If you want to see the Old English of the time of these words’ origins, you’ll see why their continued use is unusual:
Now, if only real marriages were so resilient.

Erase these words. Please.

Less is more. Writing is rewriting.The economy of words.

eraserEverybody knows the above axioms because they’re the truth. Thirty years after my previous years at college and a later business career, I earned an English degree in 2012–a much different discipline from my business studies back then. In my previous career field of marketing management, there is no real thriftiness of words–we used them mostly because of their ability to make the best sales.

As I began my studies in the formal study of English, I discovered that there often was a bs factor that prevailed. Students were expected to use proper grammar usage and learn the material first. As far as professors of most of my classes were concerned, their main emphasis was on interpretation and writing a flowing argument rather than on superfluous wording.

Though I managed to earn English high honors for my undergraduate work and my work is published fairly often, I have learned more in the last couple of years since by being a full-time professional writer about the craft about the “real” world of writing. For me, those forms consist of both content and grant writing, my graduate studies in technical writing, and experimentation in my much-loved field of creative writing (by writing poetry).

I work daily to become a better writer. In doing so today, I happened upon the following recent post in “The Writer’s Circle.” Great info!

“Very” and Other Useless Words to Erase Forever

“And then the meeting was suddenly interrupted by a very loud noise that startled the board members.” If the previous sentence isn’t a train wreck to you, it’s perhaps time to analyze your own writing. The sentence should hopefully drive in this useful point: the best writing out there isn’t determined by what happens, but rather by word choice. Nothing takes readers out of the moment like one poorly worded sentence. To help your writing, we compiled a brief list of words to avoid along with our reasonings and a few suggestions to help you get around some messy phrasing. Oh, and if you were wondering, a decent way to rephrase the starting sentence would be “A deafening noise crashed through the otherwise quiet meeting, agitating the typically lethargic board members.”

1. “Very” or “Really”

Mark Twain said it best: “Substitute ‘damn every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be’. The words “very” or “really” (or truthfully any intensifier) are just another way of increasing the value of a word without adding anything descriptive. You’re also using two words when one would suffice, and unless you’re getting paid by the word, it’s best to avoid. Instead of saying “very loud” like in the first sentence of this article, use “deafening,” “thunderous,” or “piercing.” Not only do they roughly mean the same as “very loud” but they are much more descriptive. Here’s a great, if brief, list of words you can use in replace of “very”.

2. Suddenly

“Sudden” or “Suddenly” is another practically useless word. Anton Chekhov once said “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” The word “suddenly” tells the reader the moon is shining. It’s telling the reader what to feel instead of forcing them to feel it. Let the sentence or the action itself jar the reader into feeling the suddenness of the action. “Suddenly” ironically slows down the action and delays the actual suddenness of the sentence. There’s no actual replacement for the word, either. Just don’t use it. Let the silence speak for itself to convey your message.

3. “Amazing” or “Awesome”

Both of these words are meant to convey very specific feelings. “Amazing” means “causing great wonder or surprise” while “awesome” means “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.” There are two great reasons to not use these words. First, it falls into “telling and not showing,” that is: telling the reader how they should feel or how the character feels instead of actually describing it in a way in order to convey that emotion.

The second reason to avoid these words is simple: they are over used. Everything, these days, is either awesome or amazing. Seriously, ask yourself the last time you’ve used either of those words to describe something innocuous like a hamburger or a delightful chocolate dessert. To quote Louis CK, “As humans, we waste the [expletive] out of our words. It’s sad. We use words like ‘awesome’ and ‘wonderful’ like they’re candy. It was awesome? Really? It inspired you to awe? It was wonderful? Are you serious? It was full of word. You use the word ‘amazing’ to describe a [expletive] sandwich at Wendy’s. What’s going to happen on your wedding day, or when your first child is born? How will you describe it? You already wasted ‘amazing’ on a [expletive] sandwich.”

If you intend to use these words, it’s worth asking if what you’re describing really is ‘amazing’ or ‘awesome’ in its true sense. If it is, find a way of letting the audience feel that. If you aren’t using the true sense of the words, there are alternatives like “neat,” “delicious,” “outstanding,” or cliche hyperbole>.

4. That

“That” is a handy word and isn’t always useless, however it’s also commonly a crutch without a purpose. Whenever you’re about to use the word, ask yourself if there is a better way to avoid it. Consider this sentence: “I saw the grail that shined brightly.” The sentence is weak, right? Change the sentence entirely by avoiding the pitfall of the word “that” by rewriting it to “I saw the brightly shining grail.” The sentence sounds much cleaner now, right? Also consider “I think that all puppies are adorable.” Just remove the word from the sentence to make it cleaner once more: “I think all puppies are adorable.” Any time you’re about to use the word, ask yourself it there’s a cleaner way of phrasing your sentence, or if the sentence makes sense without it. If it does, just ditch the word entirely.

5. Started

“He started running.” “She started dancing.” “The dog started jumping.” All of these sentences are passive and slow. “Started” serves to slow down the sentence and little more. Instead, remove the word from your vocabulary. “He ran.” “She danced.” “The dog jumped.” Any action performed is one started. If you want to signal that the action is a continuing one, add descriptors after. “He ran tirelessly past the starting line.” “She danced all night long.” “The dog jumped repeatedly.” Each sentence provides a better scope of time than using the word “started”.

Started isn’t a word to avoid without exception, however, but it’s pretty close. The car didn’t “start”, it “roared to life,” for example. One time you can use the word “start”, though, is when there’s something that has a definite starting time. “I started writing in the 8th grade.” These opportunities occur rarely, and it’s much better to try to avoid the word as best you can. There are much stronger ways to communicate your point.

As always, it’s all about communication. Time to finish some Hemingway on this holiday weekend. Now, he was a wordsmith. 

Still Got Your Stationary Phone? How Quaint.

 cutlandline1-300x190    I admit that I have never been a true early adopter.Yes, I bought a Betamax in the 1970’s, but switched a few years later to VHS. After that waste of money bad gamble, I changed to become an early majority member. Too risky for this guy.

I did have a boxy car phone complete with a rear window antennae in the early 1980’s, but that’s another story.  With everything from buying a Sony Walkman and even having Lasik for everything afterward, I waited for early adopters to take the risk first. For everything.

That is, however, except for dumping my my stationary phone (home phone, for any other old people out there), which I did in the mid 1990’s. I started as a retail consultant at that time; in that career I traveled for about tens months of the year. Even when I resigned to become a full-time freelance writer from my home office a decade later, I kept up the habit. Just makes sense.

I understand the nostalgia thing. Frankly, I’d rather waste my money on more practical memorabilia. Like a Rubik’s Cube, or a Yo-yo. Even…..say……a Pet Rock.

Or pretty much anything else, for that matter.

I started this train of thought after reading an article today on NPR today by Alan Greenblatt. It’s entitled “Not-So-Social Media: Why People Have Stopped Talking On Phones.” I like it more than the many other clinical announcements of the stationary phone’s demise that I have read recently, so I snatched it. Great piece, Alan:

Emma Wisniewski felt exposed. The New York-based actress had moments where she had to open up in a way that made her feel particularly vulnerable.

She had to talk on the phone. In front of people — her fellow actors and the audience.

“I’ve done several plays now that required talking on landlines, and what always strikes me is the relatively public nature of it,” she says.

The desire to communicate privately is one reason people have largely abandoned talking on the phone as a social medium. What was once a major indoor sport, taking up hours of many people’s days, is now not only more limited but may be going the way of mailed letters and express telegrams.

“Now, calling on a phone is almost like a violation,” says Scott Campbell, a professor of telecommunications at the University of Michigan. “It’s very greedy for your social presence, and texting is not.”

Hiding From Mom

Wisniewski played a 16-year-old girl this spring in a play called Soups, Stews and Casseroles: 1976. As its title suggests, the play is set in America’s bicentennial year, nearly 40 years ago.

One detail that made it a period piece was Wisniewski grabbing the phone off the kitchen wall, dragging the long cord into another room. For audience members of a certain age, it was a tableau instantly familiar, yet completely distant.

Those of us in our 40s can remember fighting with our siblings to spend hours on those pea green and lemon yellow landline phones.

As it happens, the play had its premiere in Webster Groves, a suburb of St. Louis where back in 1944 Life magazine took a series of photos of a teenage girl talking on the phone as part of her “evening ritual.” She keeps a wary eye out for her mother, who can be seen occasionally looking on with disapproval.

Hiding from Mom is one reason texting took off in the first place, says Danah Boyd, the author ofIt’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Stretching the phone cord down the hall was no longer good enough to get away from hovering “helicopter” parents.

“This prompted an entire generation to switch to text-based media, starting with instant messaging,” Boyd says. “Texting is seen as even more private, because it’s harder for Mom to look over your shoulder.”

Don’t Call Us

Texting became the norm for teens and young adults, but has been adopted by older folks as well.

Boomers are still more apt to pick up the phone in professional contexts, but at work as well as home a ringing phone has come to be seen as an unwanted intrusion.

“I used to think the millennials were wrong about this, but it is an imposition to call someone and say put aside whatever you were doing and give me 30 minutes of your time,” says Neil Howe, president of LifeCourse Associates, which consults with corporations about generational attitudes and behaviors.

As Boyd points out, communication is a two-way street. Both parties in the pair have to agree to a plan. Fewer people are willing to engage in a phone conversation, which not only eats up more time than texting but has to be done in that very moment.

“Even if it’s someone I know well and love, I resent the intrusion,” says Amy Pickworth, a friend of mine who works as an editor at the Rhode Island School of Design. “The phone is so pushy. It’s just suddenly so there, demanding, ‘Talk to me, say funny things,’ or ‘I’m sad, cheer me up,’ or ‘Holy cow, listen to this.’ “

Can You Call Back Later?

By contrast, your friends don’t need to be available right this very moment to talk via text.

“Conversations can ebb and flow, and it’s no big deal,” says Boyd, who is a researcher at Microsoft Research and Harvard University. “You’ll see teens spend 45 minutes crafting the perfect ‘casual’ text message to send to someone they have a crush on.”

Landline use is down, while mobile phone use is up, according to the Federal Communications Commission. But that includes all the things people do on phones — talking, texting, playing games.

The onslaught of information and time spent with screens is another reason why people are talking less, says Campbell, the Michigan professor.

“You can get a little saturated,” he says. “If I’m going to be keeping up in this new, digital world, something’s gotta give.”

Getting Constant Updates

Most of the people I interviewed for this piece — largely through email — said they do engage in extended phone conversations, often with family members. There’s still an intimacy to a phone call that texting can’t match.

But those conversations have to compete with a lot of demands for people’s time and concentration.

When you’re talking on the phone, you’ve got to be all in. We’ve probably all had the experience of talking to someone and knowing we’ve lost their interest when we can hear them start to type in the background.

Or, maybe worse, we’ve tuned out ourselves, sounding a little drunk as we lose the thread of our own thought as we check out websites.

It’s not just that people have grown used to multiple stimuli. Much of what they’re looking at is social in nature.

We keep up with family and friends via Facebook, Instagram and other social media channels. Those we’re closer with, we might interact with almost constantly through group texts on WhatsApp or Kik.

For many people, there’s no need to pick up the phone to catch up. Your friends already know what you did last night.

“You constantly know what’s going on,” says Nick Politan, a student at Washington University in St. Louis, “so there’s no point in ever wanting to catch up with somebody, unless they’re really close to you.”

Hey, I have people who I need to talk to privately, just like everybody else.  A simple “You alone now?” or “When can we talk?” does the trick every time.

It’s a no-brainer.  Just like cutting the cord is.

 

After Work Creative Outlets Make for Better Employees

  woody I ran across this article about the importance of having hobbies by Maanvi Singh for NPR a couple of days ago, and think that its worth sharing. As one who has seen the demand for my own freelance writing work soar after taking up new interests recently like art and pottery making, it seems to be valid. Plus, it’s fun, too. Frankly, for a while before doing so last year, I kinda forgot. Now we all have a great excuses to ourselves to play poker or golf. Or collect wine. Or something.

Maybe you paint, keep a journal or knit. Or maybe you play bass in a punk rock band.Whatever hobby you have, keep at it. A little study published this week suggests that having a creative outlet outside the office might help people perform better at work.

Psychologists from San Francisco State University found that the more people engaged in their hobbies, the more likely they were to come up with creative solutions to problems on the job. And no matter what the hobby was, these people were also more likely to go out of their way to help co-workers.

The findings were published Wednesday in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.

“We found that in general, the more you engage in creative activities, the better you’ll do,” says Kevin Eschleman, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State and the study’s lead author.

The researchers surveyed about 350 people with a variety of jobs (and a variety of hobbies) about what they did in their free time and also asked about their behavior at work. Those who said they engaged fairly often in a creative activity scored 15 to 30 percent higher on performance rankings than those who engaged in creative activities only ccasionally.

The researchers also surveyed a second group of 90 U.S. Air Force captains. The psychologists knew that these folks were already trained to solve tough problems, and help others — so they wanted to see if having a hobby affected their performance in any way. In addition to asking the officers about their own work performance, the researchers checked performance reviews from the captains’ co-workers and bosses.

It turned out that for both groups, having a creative outlet boosted work performance. And that’s after the scientists took into account other things that might influence performance — like personality.

“Some people have a personality that’s more creative,” Eschleman tells Shots. To judge how naturally creative participants were, the researchers asked them, for example, to rate (on a scale from 1 to 7) how open they are to new experiences and how much they value art.

The study only confirms that having a creative outlet and being creative at work are correlated, Eschleman says. He can’t really say if one causes the other.

But, he says, he suspects that behaviors at work and home reinforce each other. “It’s very possible that those who are performing better at their jobs also have more energy to pursue these creative activities,” he says. And, in turn, participating in creative activities may help people feel more energized and engaged at work. “You almost kind of spiral in a positive direction,” he says.

And while the paper doesn’t pin down exactly how or why your weekend forays into the wonderful world of soap-making might help your professional life, Eschleman says it’s likely because hobbies can help people learn more about their own strengths and weaknesses. “Creative activities really can provide you the opportunity to learn something new about yourself.”

Hobbies can also provide an escape from everyday stresses. “You’re using that time to recharge,” he says.

So bosses should encourage employees to take up hobbies, Eschleman says. Maybe even consider hooking workers up with discount coupons for a pottery class.16

Poetry has Literary Muscles

Image   Though I have spent as much time researching various forms of communication as much recently as ever, I had to take a much hated (for me, at least) break from writing here. Why? I have spent a lot of time writing grants and content for clients and assignments for my grad English Technical Writing school, yes, but I have spent a great deal of time doing intensive speech therapy each week after a mild stroke last year.

While those demands are still present, they have slowed down enough for me to do some things that I had to miss. Writing in this blog regularly–like I did all last year–is one of them. Writing short stories, like this one, is another: http://www.deadmule.com/fiction/damn-tourists-by-john-baradell-jr/

The only creative writing that I have had time to do recently is trying my hand at poetry, a totally new craft for me. I started to study it last year to become a better writer in general. I am.

Why poetry? After all, I spent more than five decades pretty much ignoring it. Well, I have done work for West Florida Literary Federation (WFLF) here in Pensacola since last summer, so I became exposed to some good poets at their monthly open mics. I have also been fortunate to learn at a class led by poet Jae Bevin Murphy last year at WFLF. She is kind enough to give me advice even today (yesterday, even more accurately). A video example of my stuff from the WFLF: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ty5E_kBNTck

Some may not really like poetry, kinda like I felt before discovering it recently. The more I find out about it, the more I like it. My surprising find? Poetry really has literary muscles. Hey, I was such a novice before last year that I had to find out what poetry really is. Some thoughts:

Appreciating poetry is probably like appreciating anything else. It means having the generosity to let a thing be what it is, the patience to know it, a sense of the mystery in all living things, and a joy in new experience.”
M.C. Richards

Or:

Poets are soldiers that liberate words from the steadfast possession of definition.”
Eli Khamarov

As I was researching, I stumbled upon a guest blog from Vic Vosen on the Positivity Blog from 2008:

1. It builds your brain.

The power of the metaphor, simile, parallel… figurative language is not only a good way to put things into perspective, but metaphors are easier to remember than a complex set of interactions. This is a way to grasp deeper meaning from perhaps a very mundane, or complex identity. It builds an understandable identity with which to contrast that is easier to grapple and engage in, in the process building pathways in your brain that would have been stopped cold otherwise.

And poetry exercises this muscle by encouraging figurative language providing a sounding ground for your ideas, feelings, reminiscences by putting them into a concrete perspective.

2. It’s therapeutic.

A dialog of one is still a dialog, and like journal writing provides an amiable outlet to vent our feelings.Not only that but we end up with something that is tangible and durable product of the struggle while coming to terms with it.

It is something we can show off, or keep around for a rainy day to either entertain ourselves, work on, or reminisce what you were thinking that day when you wrote it. It’s a little snapshot of your soul and what you were thinking when writing it.

This can grow into something new as you revise and/or write more as a poem can be never really finished. Thus it has the possibility of being exhaustless, while providing a forum for expression & understanding.

3. That tool you’ve developed is versatile.

Once you get the hang of writing poetry, there’s almost nothing you can’t do with it. It is an alternative form of communication. If you don’t believe me just look at all the greeting cards out there with this wit or wisdom scrolled up in Gothic lettering on every subject. It is a font of the English language, it’s just up to you what you want to put it up to.

I’ve written poems to magazines urging articles, I’ve used them to barter services and better grades in classes, I’ve written them to girlfriends. I’ve gotten people to laugh. They can be as complex or simple as you want to make them into, and I’ve found any place that required a logical argument, could always be appended with a poem in favor/or against something as well to clarify the position/picture, because after all, it’s just communication if on a more deeper level.

4. It encourages deeper intrapersonal relationships.

As you write, not only do ideas bloom, but you do also. Your vocabulary gets broader, your understanding about relationships between ideas grows and how this affects you and the world comes closer together. My biggest problem in dealing with people was not knowing whom I was, somewhere between egoless and consumer. Writing poetry enables the I in Identity, from which you can clearly communicate the you to the you in someone else.

People aren’t always going to be able to understand you, but writing poetry gives you an opportunity for personal space in which to critically think while expressing yourself to others in a coherent picture.  Doesn’t mean you’ll come off all-knowing and wise, but that you’ll be given an opportunity to effectively communicate at your own pace which can come at a premium in this busy world.

5. You are opening yourself up to a wealth of human knowledge

By writing, you are doing the legwork in understanding other poets. There are as many ways to read poetry as there are people, but when you start thinking in a language are you more easily able to understand another in that language. There are thousands of poets and each of them write to different aim. Figurative language, prosody, sonics, description, narrative are all a language unto themselves and some will come easier for you to write than others, as well as understand. Poetry is a forum for exchange, not a universal language.

Writing poetry strengthens your reasoning and in so doing, your comprehension in just what that author means when he claims, all was “mimsy” in the “borogroves.” Best of all, it’s a free exchange of ideas.. there are thousands of websites and forums on the web and each have groups of people to interact and engage, both dead and alive, across the centuries from ancient Rome to the current Poet Laureate of the United States.

 

Nice post, Vic.

Oh, in the same effort to become a better and more versatile writer, I enjoyed a lecture/discussion yesterday by Stephen Dietz (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_Dietz). Dietz is one of America’s most widely produced and published contemporary playwrights. Writing poetry was new to me last year. Playwriting? Looks both fun and challenging to try this year. I’m doing it. Who knows? Immersion works for me. Worked in the past for diving (if I recall), too.