Day 29 – Monday Monday

Day twenty-nine of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

Words: 1,050

Tomorrow is the first day of school for my kids. I’m not sure how this is going to affect my writing project, but I’m sure it will. For one thing, there will be no more sleeping past 7:00am. In fact, sleeping past 6:30am will be a luxury. I should hopefully be able to start writing earlier in the evening since the kids will be in bed early. This could be very nice, but we’ll see.

My writing tonight got interesting because I ended up writing a piece within the piece. I can’t think of another time when I had to do that. The main character in the story was reading a newspaper article. It felt odd to me to attempt to write the article as though she was reading it. This will be a piece that I will need to re-work a few times. To write a fabricated article as an experienced journalist for the New York Times is quite the…stretch. It needs work, and I will be sure to revisit it tomorrow. 

Day 23 – Efficiency is improving

Day twenty-three of my 365 Day Writing Project.

Time: just over 1 hour

Words: 1,300

After more than three weeks of daily writing, I have noticed improvement in my efficiency. This is partly due to my continuing effort to refrain from editing while writing. I often have to remind myself that I can always edit later because over-editing is a downfall of mine. I get obsessive-compulsive about it, which is why this project is so good for me. It forces me to write, really write, even when I don’t have much time. That means I can’t waste time on editing. Just get the raw content down now, edit later.

It seems to be working. Not only am I getting more words down in less time, but the substance and quality of my writing in the raw is also improving. What does that mean? Well, I think it means that editing too much can take away from the writing. Not only because the writing can get watered down or even disconnected, but also because trying to write and edit and re-write and edit mid-stream is counter-productive. It obstructs the flow. Focusing on one task at a time in the creative process produces a purer result.

Breakthrough

I enjoy writing but I am terribly critical of my own work. I often read something I wrote months or years before and think, “meh” or “total crap.” I will edit and edit again and edit some more and still feel like I haven’t gotten it right. My over-critical reading and editing process distracts me from the content, which can leave me convinced that I will never accomplish writing a story worth reading.

For the first time ever, I read a chapter I wrote several months ago and got lost in the story as I read it. I enjoyed it, like I do when I read a good book written by someone else. And when I came to the end of the chapter, I wanted to turn the page and keep reading. Then I remembered, “Hey, I wrote this.” I didn’t feel like I wanted to edit it. I didn’t feel like it was total crap. For the first time ever, I wasn’t distracted by my own writing. I was involved in the characters and the plot and had no awareness of the words, sentence structure and flow. I wanted to read more. For the first time ever, I felt like I was the author of a story worth reading.

Breakthrough.

 

Hey, Gen X’ers: Let’s not become generation bashers too

Reality Bites

Reality Bites – Generation X’s anthem film

I remember when I was twenty-two, brimming with excitement to start my life as a self-sufficient adult. With my resume primed to showcase my newly-earned Bachelor of Science, I was ready to join the rat race. Like an open runner’s track, the workforce was beckoning me to spring from the starting blocks and find my stride. I was youth, hope and optimism, ready to run with life. But I was naive. Oh, so naive.

Leaving my childhood and college years was easy. Stepping out into ruthless adulthood was not. I had the desire. I had the skills. I was responsible and hard-working. What I lacked was a stiff upper lip against adversity.

You see, it was the 1990’s and I was a member of Generation X. Time and time again as I tried to find my stride out of college I was hit with the broad-stroke stereotypes of my generation. I was disheartened to find that older generations – the people to whom I looked for guidance, wisdom and (gulp) job opportunities – looked at me and my fellow Gen X’ers as a bunch of slackers. They labeled us as authority shirkers, MTV-watching latchkeys, deviating skeptics and generally hopeless, direction-lacking grunge hounds of the future. The Gen X stereotypes were haphazardly tossed about by Baby Boomers and Traditionalists like a bad joke that was amusing only to the ones telling it: the ones I call “generation bashers.” 

Generation bashers are the folks who belch out criticisms such as, “Kids these days. They wouldn’t know responsibility if it knocked them flat on their asses.” And, “Our generation knew what hard work was all about. Our parents didn’t coddle us into mediocrity. WE had to WORK for what we got.” And, “The next generation is a joke. These kids don’t have a clue about what real life is and one thing’s for sure, they won’t be able to handle it when it shows up on their doorstep.” The worst of this bashing was unleashed when my fellow Gen X’ers and I were just starting to enter the workforce. Unfortunately, statements like those perpetuated negative stereotypical views which traveled world-wide, as if zipping along a taut, endless web of tongue-wagging. And this was before the internet.

In 1990, Time Magazine ran a story about “twentysomethings,” calling my generation lost and frustrated, among other, far from flattering generalizations. In 1991, Douglas Coupland’s novel, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture was published. Coupland, on the cusp between a Baby Boomer and a Gen X’er himself, wasn’t necessarily joining the generation bashing, but his novel followed the stories of a handful of “lost” Gen X’ers and popularized the name Generation X. Things really took off from there. Many print articles and commentaries about our lost, hopeless souls found their way to publication during this time period, and as if they weren’t enough, the movie Reality Bites joined the cause. At least the film’s portrayal of a group of friends showed some positive aspects of being a Gen X’er. While it depicted us as cynical and lacking direction, it also made us look kind of cool.

Unfortunately, our elder Baby Boomers and Traditionalists didn’t see anything cool about it. They still considered us slackers. They held tightly onto their purpose of derogating our generation with white-knuckled fists, waving their contempt in our faces. Over and over. I can’t speak for my fellow Gen X’ers, but for me it felt terrible to be ridiculed and labeled as a hopeless slacker. When you hear it enough…well, you know the outcome. It was hard not to believe it. And when I couldn’t get my career started right out of college, the effect was compounded: I started to feel like I really was a hopeless slacker, letting everyone down.

My personal story trying to overcome the Gen X stereotypes is somewhat cliche, so I won’t bore you with it. Fast-forward from a few years of waffling and wallowing in defeatism after college to finding the inner strength to change direction, go back to school, work hard to build a productive career, raise a family and so on. The point is, the bashers were wrong. I am not now and never was the hopeless slacker they painted me to be. And guess what? It turns out that Generation X never was either.

The statistics prove it. Now in our 30’s and 40’s, Gen X’ers are established, productive and generous. Our generation is the most-employed generation in US history. We are also the most technologically adaptable. We have lived through numerous advances, such as vinyl records, 8 tracks, tape cassettes, CDs, MP3s, VHS, DVD, BD (Blu-ray), everything “I” (Ipod, Ipad, Iphone), smartphones and whatever may come next. We adapt to these changes readily and with zest for the possibilities. Looking back at a defining moment during our generation’s history, we don’t really have one. Instead, we are often saddled with being the generation of divorce and AIDS. But we also experienced the most casualties on 9/11. Many of those casualties were first-responders, which speaks to our dedication to community. We have been the most affected by the tough economic times of the past several years, making Gen X’ers the ones who have struggled more than any other generation, according to Forbes. But look at us now. Despite our struggles, Gen X’ers are far more committed to volunteering than our predecessor generations. Despite loss and adversity, we have a healthier work/life balance and a stronger commitment to marriage and family. We are self-reliant, entrepreneurial, and community-oriented. In short, we’ve done well.

Some say Generation X finally grew up. We know that we grew up long ago and had we been given an honest chance when we first started out – had the Baby Boomers and Traditionalists let our lights shine through before stomping them out with their unfounded contempt – we may have been able to stretch our legs and find our strides sooner. Even Time Magazine recognized this in 1997 when it ran a retraction article about its mischaracterization of Generation X. Keep in mind, that’s a mea culpa about the mischaracterization of an entire generation – about 84 million people. That’s a pretty big oops.

We deserve some positive recognition now. We certainly have earned it. My fellow Gen X’ers and I may not be a part of the larger generations between which we sit. The Baby Boomers and the Millenials have their own culture or “defining moment” (Vietnam for Baby Boomers, the Gulf and Iraq Wars for Millenials). But we’ve got substance. We are making our mark. I like to think that our shiny counterparts serve as our bookends and we – well, we make up the story.

Which brings me to my point in calling to other Gen X’ers. Since our story tells a tale of rising from adversity and proving the naysayers wrong, let’s not be generation bashers too. We know what it is like to be the downtrodden. We know what it’s like to be doubted. To be misrepresented. To be dismissed as a whole. We know how lousy that feels, especially when we always knew what we were capable of and have generally delivered much, much more. As we become the elders, let the light of the next generations shine through. Don’t bash and trample them. Don’t discourage and defeat them. Guide and share your wisdom with them. Hire them for jobs. They are different than us and that’s okay. Let them be different. Let them grow into the generation they are supposed to be, without the disdain, without the criticism, without the burden of negative stereotypes.

Gen X’ers, we have a duty to believe in the next generations more than our predecessors believed in us. We proved them wrong. Let’s continue to do so. Let Generation X be remembered for more than they made us out to be. Because we are.

Coca cola serves up the Real Thing: diversity and tolerance

This morning I had one of those “aha!” moments. It was more of an “okay, okay” moment if I am being honest, but it hit me as abruptly as an “Ow!” You know the kind, when you are sitting there minding your own business and, without seeing it coming, “THWAP!” goes the sound of a Nerf football hitting you up-side the head. It is not one of your finer moments as your hair flies everywhere from impact and your face contorts into something unrecognizable. Then clarity and anger ensue when you look up to see your brother rolling on the ground, laughing hysterically at you. That’s the one.

That moment hit me this morning. I was in a bit of a snit after reading a couple of Facebook posts about the Coca Cola commercial played during last night’s Super Bowl. The ad is bold and inspirational. It is a colorful montage of video clips of people of many different ethnicities, religions, ages and backgrounds. It shows images of different things such as: a cowboy on his horse in the mountains, kids eating popcorn in the movie theater, a large group of family and friends in a restaurant, kids and adults street dancing, a family camping out in the desert, a wise old man laughing, a young girl rollerskating with two men (presumably her dads), women buying vendor food in a city, friends surfing together, and so on. It shows people living life with their friends and loved ones.

If you haven’t seen the commercial, here it is in all its beauty.

http://www.hulu.com/adzone/591363

It can appear at first to be a portrayal of people from all around the world, but it is set to the music of “America the Beautiful” sung in different languages and the background scenes are places in the good ol’ USA. One quickly realizes it is a depiction of the rich diversity of our own country. It closes with the text, “America is beautiful.” I found it to be an intelligent and artful way to honor what and who make up this great country. After I saw it I thought, “Well done, Coca Cola.”

And then I went on Facebook. Between the many posts about the demise of the Broncos and Peyton Manning, there were some posts calling for the boycott of Coca Cola products. What? To my dismay, I realized that some people were offended by the commercial and its portrayal of America. I was truly shocked. Then I was disappointed. Then I was angry. I could not believe that people I knew – people with whom I was friends, at least on Facebook – could be so narrow-minded. It was unbelievable to me that anyone could find it offensive that our country is made up of people from all around the world. I mean, that has been a fact of this country for centuries.

As well as the Native Americans originally here on this land, this country was founded by people who came from all corners of the world. Like me, the folks disgusted by Coca Cola’s message are descendants of people who came to America from other countries. Confused by what they think would be accomplished by boycotting Coca Cola, I thought, “Angry, ignorant hypocrites.” Perhaps they think, “If I stop buying Coca Cola products we can keep our country more white.” Well, that’s just ridiculous. Even more perplexing is the notion that diversity hurts our nation. I am white. Diversity damages my life, my liberty and my pursuit of happiness no more than same-sex couples getting married affects my marriage. Again, ridiculous.

I considered “unfriending” these friends because our views are so disparate, so opposite, I could not bear to be aligned with them in any way. Then the proverbial Nerf football hit me. “Ow. Aha. Okay, okay.” I was the one acting like an angry, ignorant hypocrite now. I was ready to champion diversity except when it came to people having diverse views about diversity. You can’t get much more hypocritical than that. I realized that I could hardly choose to shut out someone else’s beliefs just because I did not agree with them. How would I learn and appreciate different perspectives if I only keep in my circle of friends the ones with the exact same views as mine? What good does that do me? None. None at all.

I love diversity. I really do. I believe that one’s tolerance grows out of appreciation for differences. Tolerance is an invaluable life tool. I give myself the opportunity to become more enriched in life because I appreciate differences. That is my choice. It doesn’t have to be everyone’s. But if I make that choice for myself, for it to really ring true and teach me tolerance, I must also appreciate the differences I may not like. Not just the ones I do. So, no “unfriending” for me based on differences in opinions and views. Keep them coming, teach me tolerance and enrich my life. Thank you.

Steamrollers

Steamrollers are merciless, hard steel machines that demolish anything in their way.  Whatever unfortunate thing is in their path gets flattened into a compacted mash of confusion and defeatism.  All that is left is hot steam rising.

Some people are steamrollers.  They routinely do what they want, when they want to do it.  Ironically, steamrollers tend to act interested in the opinion of others as they ruthlessly crush them beneath their own intentions.  No matter what one contributes in the way of insight or ideas, the steamroller keeps right on rolling.  Slow and deliberate, pressing on.  Splaaaaaaaaagggghhhtt.

This may seem like a bad thing but sometimes a steamroller is just what is needed.  Some of the most successful people in the world are accomplished steamrollers, like some CEOs and entrepreneurs.  They get what they intend to get.  Things get done.  They are efficient, decisive and they follow through.  Martha Stewart is a classic example of a steamroller.  Nobody gets in Martha’s way – arguably, anyone would be crazy to – and look at all she has accomplished.  She is known for her keen eye and sharp business sense. People laud everything Martha, which is why she is the owner of a solid, highly successful enterprise.  She steamrolled her way to build it, there is no doubt about that.

It is hard work to be a steamroller and it certainly is not for the faint-hearted.  It can ruin relationships, hurt one’s reputation and even make one’s life a pale, lonely existence.  The worst kind of steamroller is the passive-aggressive one.  These people are amateurs, pushing into hard drive at selective moments designed to make a statement.  These are the ones who steamroll with the intention of hurting others as opposed to the intention of accomplishing a task.  These are the steamrollers to avoid.  When you see them coming, either get out of the way or find a way to shut them down.

Be wary of the co-worker who has an agenda to look better by making his peers look bad.  He will not be steamrolling his ideas because they are in the best interests of the company.  Watch out for the relative who ignores your opinion about what is best for grandma. She does not believe her opinion is better, she just wants grandma to believe she is helping her more than you.  Stay away from the parent who consistently has bad things to say about other people’s kids to make her own look good.  You can bet she is bad-mouthing your kids to other parents too.

If you are a steamroller, which may or may not be a bad thing, remember to watch the road.  There may be something in your path worth braking for.

Sounds

For the first seven years of my life I lived in a place where a train passed daily behind my house.  My infant ears heard that train, unaware of what it was or why it whistled and chug-a-chug-a-rattled in the background.  As a toddler and a young child, those sounds sent me into a rush of excitement and anticipation.  I remember running with my brother and neighborhood kids to watch the train go by and wave to the engineer.  My brother would vigorously pump his arm and the train would whistle.  I thought it was magic.

Then my family moved to a house where we could not hear the train anymore.  I missed it.  Sometimes we traveled to my grandparents’ home in New York.  They lived in a house less than a mile from the Long Island Railroad.  I loved hearing the train again.  I would lie awake in the middle of the night in a neighborhood with strange and unfamiliar sounds and I would hear the train.  It would blow its whistle and I would smile, thinking it was an old friend saying hello.  Those sounds gave me comfort and reminded me of happy moments.

Recently I moved with my husband and three kids to a home not far from the tracks.  Once again, I hear the whistle and the train chug-a-chug-a-rattle down the tracks.  I watch the excited expressions on my children’s faces, their eyes going wide when they hear the sounds.  “I hear the train!” they exclaim, tilting their heads to listen more closely.  I am blessed.  I get to experience happy moments because of those sounds again.  My old friend, visiting me often, still gives me comfort.

Words

I love words. I especially love words when they are used correctly. Most of us are exposed to a daily massacre of the written word, whether it be a consequence of lazy use of social media, email or even worse, professional correspondence or documentation (for shame).  I work in the legal profession so I see it all.

The worst examples of grammar gaffes are found on social media. One of the most common is a butchering of they’re, their and there and you’re and your. When I see this kind of misuse, I cannot read the person’s post without fixating on THEIR (notice what I did THERE) incorrect usage of the word as if it is shouting at me. I find it excruciatingly distracting. And THEY’RE happily oblivious. Maybe I’m the only one who openly cringes. Maybe I’m the only one who finds it painful to “like” an otherwise entertaining post because of a grammar violation. I just cannot believe I’m the only one who notices.

On behalf of all of the silent observers of this rising epidemic, if YOU’RE an offender and YOU’RE old enough to drink a latte, use Google and check YOUR grammar. Please.