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The first time I saw the Eiffel Tower, I stopped in my tracks, astounded. It’s so BIG! For some reason, in my mind, it stood much smaller over Paris. But walking toward it, seeing it close up, standing under it and looking up, the thing is massive. Thousands upon thousands of pieces of iron — each had been perfectly cut and angled, then riveted together in a lacy pattern. When it was completed in 1889, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world at the time. At 984 feet, it nearly doubled the up-until-then tallest structure, the 555-foot tall Washington Monument (which opened in 1888).

Paris

That’s me on the left in my awesome wide 1970s pants, my mom, and my little sister in front of the Eiffel Tower circa 1974.

I’m currently reading a book titled Eiffel’s Tower (Jill Jonnes, Penguin, 2009) about the building of the tower, which went up iron piece by iron piece during 1887 through 1889 as the focal point for the Exposition Universelle, the World’s Fair in 1889.

But as it was ascending — the four legs at the base going up separately and slowly uniting at the first platform — Parisians were not too fond of it. They feared that it would draw lightning, change the weather, or fall over (indeed, without the intensive and minute calculations of Gustave Eiffel, it well may have). Many tried to stop it. A letter signed by several important Parisians said this (with a slight insult to America):

For the Eiffel Tower, which even commercial America would not have, is without a doubt the dishonor of Paris. Everyone feels it, everyone says it, everyone is profoundly saddened by it, and we are only a weak echo of public opinion so legitimately alarmed. When foreigners visit our Exposition, they will cry out in astonishment, “Is it this horror that the French have created to give us an idea of their vaunted taste?” . . . And for the next twenty years we will see cast over the entire city, still trembling with the genius of so many centuries, cast like a spot of ink, the odious shadow of the odious column of bolted metal. (27)

Ouch.

It was supposed to be temporary, the tower; then it was given a reprieve to stand for twenty years. And that was in 1889. Clearly, the tower has come to symbolize Paris itself and, if the plethora of Eiffel Towers on everything from lamps to stationery to jewelry is any indication, it has become a well-loved icon. (I have little Eiffel Towers everywhere. Ahem.)

The point is that Gustave Eiffel kept building. He believed in his structure; he saw the beauty when those watching its slow ascent across the Parisian skyline couldn’t see it.

Thinking of nay-sayers, I’m reminded of F. Scott Fitzgerald. When The Great Gatsby hit fitzgeraldthe shelves in April 1925, a review of the book in the St. Louis Dispatch said, “Altogether it seems to us this book is a minor performance. At the moment, its author seems a bit bored and tired and cynical. There is no ebullience here, nor is there any mellowness or profundity. For our part, The Great Gatsby might just as well be called Ten Nights on Long Island” (Reach).

In June of 1925, the author Edith Wharton weighed in, fancying herself a better editor than Maxwell Perkins: “To make Gatsby really Great, you ought to have given us his early career (not from the cradle—but from his visit to the yacht, if not before) instead of a short resume of it. That would have situated him & made his final tragedy a tragedy instead of a fait divers for the morning papers” (Reach).

By the time Fitzgerald died in 1940, he had made a little over thirteen dollars in royalties on the book.

But like the Eiffel Tower, The Great Gatsby has become an icon to later generations.

The point? Don’t give up on what you’re doing — your book, that poem, the painting, whatever creation is before you. Don’t worry about the nay-sayers. If you believe in it, if you’re doing what you perceive is your best work, then just keep on doing it.

You just never know what will happen.

Jonnes, Jill. (2009.) Eiffel’s Tower. New York: Penguin.
Reach, Kirsten. “Ten Nights on Long Island: The Great Gatsby’s Early Reviews,” 9 May 2013, mhpbooks.com/ten-nights-on-long-island-the-great-gatsbys-early-reviews/. Accessed 24 Jan. 2017.

 

 

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The students in my Social Media Strategy class are required to create a blog and post on it at least four times during the semester. I’m always amazed at their interests and how they want to present themselves. Last semester, one student began a blog about, of all things, letter writing!

A woman after my own heart.

I have long been a fan of letters — pretty stationery, matching envelopes, a return address, an address, a colorful stamp. In my junior-high days, I even had a kit where I could melt a little bit of wax on the back of the envelope and press it with a brass monogram to create a seal (so very royal of me, I know). Letters were how I stayed in touch, how I let people know I was remembering them. And I wanted to do that. It was important to me.

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Pretty stationery is the best! (Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash)

As a college student in the 1970s, seeing that diagonal line of a leaning envelope through the window of my college mailbox meant — YAY! — mail! It meant a card from a high school friend, an update from my parents or grandparents or numerous aunts and cousins. Once in a while I received thick updates from my high school friends. They usually wrote on notebook paper, pages and pages (I recall one 17-page tome), front and back, numbered pages, with their familiar handwriting. They were the friends who had scattered to the winds after high school in Bonn, Germany. Some came back to the States, others stayed on in Germany or elsewhere in Europe, or if they were ambassadors’ kids they often went back to their home country for college. We missed one another and were hungry for news. We’d been deep in one another’s lives for years — formative years — and we cared about where life was taking us in our various corners of the world.

Later, after college, by far the BEST mail was another thick envelope, a round-robin letter. Two sets of my college friends started these letters to keep us in touch. Instead of writing separate letters to the other three in a group, we could write one letter, pop it in an envelope, and send it to the next person on the list. Then each person put in a letter.

When the round-robin envelope came back, I sat for an entire evening reading three thick letters overflowing with news from my dearest friends. Then I pulled out my old letter, re-read it, and wrote a new one with news picking up from where the last one left off. I added my new letter to theirs and sent the whole batch on. Sometimes it took a few months for the envelope to arrive back. Sometimes photos were included — an engagement ring, a wedding, a new baby. We hugged one another from afar, again caring about lives who had become so much a part of our own.

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Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

Then along came email and Facebook and our letters went out of style. With a click we could upload pictures. We could follow one another’s lives. We could email and copy everyone else and not have to wait for months.

As nice as that is, I miss those thick letters. Probably for the same reason that I love books over e-books, I love letters over e-mail.

But if it means communication, I’m happy for anything.

Yet there IS something about a letter. As it says in this post from The Pen Company, “8 reasons to send snail mail today,” sending a letter shows you care, it’s “on a whole other level.”

I am a sucker for stationery and note cards. I try to send handwritten thank-yous at least. But I’d like to get back to taking the time to connect with the people who matter most to me. The ones who shaped my life in one way or another.

Because a letter shows a whole other level of caring. And that’s what I want to show as well.

What about you? Do you still write letters?

 

When we moved from a city in Chicagoland that boasted a “Top Ten Library,” I somewhat despaired. That was the library where I diligently took my children a couple times a month. We routinely checked out and returned and checked out and returned piles of children’s books. This library did indeed have a stellar selection, the latest technologies, and wonderful ambiance.

We have since lived in two small towns in Indiana, both boasting libraries. I was thrilled to locate the first town’s library. I paid my twenty-dollar fee to be a member, only to look around and find rows and rows of romantic paperbacks. “We take donations,” the elderly volunteer behind the desk informed me.

Obviously.

This was not the “Top Ten” library I had made use of for the last 26 years of my life. This was a little town library with just enough money to keep going. That’s okay, I told myself. There were a few biographies and memoirs here I could read. I checked out Stephen King’s On Writing, returned it on time, went to check out another, and a new elderly volunteer asked me if I still had On Writing at home and would I please return it.

“I did, last week,” I told her. I had dropped it off across the street in the plastic box under the desk by the entrance to the video store—the after-hours drop box. “Look, it’s here, on the shelf.” I didn’t want her to exert herself, so I walked over, pulled the book from the shelf and brought it to her. “See? Returned and back on the shelf.”

“Oh, okay,” she said, as she clicked around with the mouse on the computer and tried to find the screen she needed. I didn’t want to start out my sojourn in this little town as the lady who didn’t return library books!

We’ve since moved to another small town that boasts a library as well. Again, mostly donations, but this one I could join for free — just needed to prove my town address. “Do I need a library card?” I asked naively.

“No, we’ll recognize you.”

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Our local library. Courtesy of swayzeepubliclibrary.com

The library is in a repurposed brick two-story building that appears to have once been a church. (The bricked-in arches above what are now square windows give me that impression.) The library has been serving this and the surrounding communities for almost a century.

My grandsons and I recently walked the two blocks from our home to visit on a chilly Saturday afternoon. They enjoyed the large Lego blocks and the plastic car track. I wandered the stacks, excited to find many actual readable books (sorry, paperback romances do not translate into my world as “readable”). There are enough current books, memoirs, and reference books to keep me busy.

“We’re not fully computerized yet, but we’re working on it,” one of the volunteers told me.

The library is a gathering place — offering a knitting and crocheting circle, activities for elementary children, and various and sundry lessons.

On a shelf beside the front door are “free” books. (Isn’t that sort of like offering candy to a baby?) The librarian told me they were mostly duplicates among donations. I found a memoir to add to my reading collection. My grandsons each found a book to take home as well.

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I love this little library. It’s clean and bright, and the folks are friendly. People drop in to make use of the free WiFi, pick up and return videos, send a fax, or read a magazine. While I was readying my grandsons to leave at closing time, the librarian kindly told me to take my time. “Someone just called and needs to use the Internet. I’m waiting for him.”

Yes, I have access to three huge university libraries, and I use them diligently for research and the love of my life: “inter-library loan.” Yes, there are websites that show me the “most beautiful libraries in the world” (swoon!).

But I think when I want to simply wander smaller stacks to find a new book to read, or when I want to repeat my earlier process and now take grandchildren to check out piles of books, we’ll walk the two blocks to our little local library.

A Song of Syllabi

I never appreciated the syllabi my professors handed me at the beginning of each of those college classes. I’m sure — studious and perfectionistic student that I was — that I lived and died by them during the semesters. I’m sure I monitored homework and project due dates in my student planner. Rarely was I late on an assignment. Rarely did I miss a class.

Now, forty years later, I am sitting with eyes crossed in front of my computer finishing the fifth of five syllabi. How did I never know or begin to appreciate how much work these things were for my profs? I’m grateful to do them because now my classes are organized for the next four months. These little sets of papers are — dare I say it? — works of art!

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When creating a new class, the syllabus is my way of planning it, start to finish. I need to know what I will be doing during each class period, what homework I expect from my students, and then I want to prep all of the required material in the appropriate spot on Blackboard. Beside me as I do the syllabus is my notebook where I fill in the detail for each class period that goes with the general info on the syllabus.

At least, at this point, I’ve taught all of these classes before, so I can begin with last class’s template. But I have a new textbook in one class, another class went from meeting Tuesday/Thursday to Monday/Wednesday/Friday (which meant spreading out the material to fill the new number of class periods), and minor revisions I wanted to make to the other syllabi based on class feedback and my own desire to offer a class that is that much better each time.

It’s self-editing! I try to make my syllabi so thorough that the students can know exactly what will be happening every day of the semester in class — what’s due when and what to be prepared for.

So the self-editing part often includes:

  • dumping bad ideas that didn’t work (a class activity that fell flat, for example)
  • revising homework assignments from hard copy to online quizzes and reflections (saves paper, makes grading faster)
  • checking the links for required reading of online articles to make sure they’re still live, and then replacing some older material with more recent articles
  • revising point structure on assignments to reflect level of work and level of importance to the overall class
  • sometimes I remember how I thought at the time last semester, “I should make a PowerPoint for this section,” and now I need to make a PowerPoint for that section
  • finding new memes for said PowerPoint, as well as to put on the syllabus itself (because, face it, memes are hilarious)

yoda

But suffice it to say, I really love both the process and the completion. And it makes me excited to get started teaching. I mean, that’s the point. The class should excite ME so that my enthusiasm can overflow to the students.

I went over to the university today and photocopied my works of art for each class (23 in Communication Writing Essentials; 19 in Public Speaking; 12 in Social Media Strategy; 18 in Manuscript to Book: How It Happens; the fifth syllabus is for my online Freelancing class). Next week, I will carefully and joyfully hand these to my 72 students . . .

. . .  who won’t have a clue how much work and care went into them.

But that’s okay. My job is to make sure they know where we’re going and to get them there. And hopefully, along the way, they’ll read the syllabus.

Note from author: This post is republished from last December 7, 2016, another reminder of what freedom costs and how words well written can change the world.

I’m all about self-editing. I’m all about encouraging writers to write that first draft, get down everything they want to say, then go back and massage the words. It’s at that point that you determine if you’re saying what you really want to say. It’s at that point that you can search to replace a blah word with the perfect word, play with some alliteration, try an unexpected metaphor or simile.

I teach a Public Speaking class this semester, and I encourage my students to play with words as they write their speeches. I also require them to watch and study several great speeches.

I mean, what if Martin Luther King, Jr. had said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by what they look like but by who they are.”

Instead, look at this brilliant alliteration: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Now that’s a memorable line!

Speaking of memorable lines, we have a great example of President Franklin Roosevelt self-editing a speech that made it one of the greatest speeches of all time. This year, December 7 will be the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The surprise military strike by Japan on the United States Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, resulted in the loss of 2,403 American lives; the sinking of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers; and the destruction of 188 aircraft.

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USS Arizona Memorial, built over the sunken ship and the graves of 1,102 sailors and Marines killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The next day, December 8, 1941, President Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress. The first draft of his speech began this way (italics mine):

Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in world history, the United States of America was simultaneously and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

Instead, by editing just two words in this first line, FDR gave us these stirring words (again with my italics):

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

You can see a copy of the typed speech with FDR’s handwritten edits here at the National Archives website. On the three pages, you’ll see several places where he crossed out typed words, wrote in new ones, wrote in new words, and crossed those out.

In the end, on that day of great shock and fear, the president offered strong words of resolve that united a nation.

So there you have it. Now watch the actual speech. And remember those who died 75 years ago on December 7 and those who subsequently died fighting for freedom on both sides of the globe–in Europe and in the Pacific.

And remember the power of words.

Whatever you write, take the time to edit. Go back and look at every word, making sure it is the right word, the best word, the perfect word.

It will make all the difference.

 

Thank You, Veterans

Note from author: I am reposting my Veteran’s Day post from 2016–still as true today as it was a year ago.

Today is Veteran’s Day. Today we honor the men and women who are part of our American military.

I know that so many people wish that we just didn’t need you—that there were no wars to be fought. That we could all just get along.

One day, yes. But that’s a description of heaven. That’s not what we have here on this imperfect planet. Have there been unjust wars? Yes. Have wars been fought for stupid reasons? Yes. Is war terrible? Yes.

We could get into a big discussion about that here. But I’m not going to.

I’m also not here to talk about the merits of various wars. I’m not here to honor or condemn any particular commander-in-chief.

I’m here to thank the men and women who swore to protect our freedoms. I’m here to thank the men and women who, answerable to their commander-in-chief (for anyone who might not know, that’s the president of the United States), do what they are called to do. I’m here to honor the men and women who take that job seriously, who are compassionate when they need to be and deadly when they need to be. I’m here to thank the people who fight for freedom.

I wish that we didn’t need you, that everyone in the world could just get along. Unfortunately, that is just not a reality. The best way to preserve freedom is for our country to have a strong enough military that says, “Don’t mess with us.” You who go into harm’s way to help preserve that freedom, who protect us, who help the rest of the world know that to mess with us is to bring the greatest nation in the world down on them—thank you.

I wish that more people understood the sacrifices you make—in families separated for long stretches and, when not separated, in families uprooted and moved to new places; in facing enemy fire; in PTSD and things you can’t unsee when you close your eyes to sleep; in doing all of this for pathetic pay.

You make these sacrifices because you believe in America.

Thank you.

dad

My dad, Col. Philip Chaffee (USAF-Ret.) circa 1967 while serving in Vietnam.

We just came out of a very divisive election. The country is split. But you know what? That’s what voting is all about. Some win; some lose. I have cried my eyes out over a few elections; I’ve sighed with relief at others. To those of you out there protesting that the new president is not yours, look around for two seconds and realize that you are allowed to do this. You are allowed to feel this way. No one’s going to put you in jail for your opinion (unless you start doing something illegal). You live in the greatest country in the world. You’re FREE!

You’re FREE!

And here’s the bottom line: One election cannot destroy a free people.

Take a look at our history to see what we’ve survived.

This is what you thank a veteran for. Too many people just don’t seem to understand that freedom isn’t free. It has to be protected.

But here’s the other side of the coin. With freedom comes a huge amount of responsibility. We’re free—but not to hurt one another. Not to make fun of one another. Not to badmouth those who disagree with us. We’re free to express opinions, but we must always do so respectfully, realizing that the person across from us with a very different opinion came to that opinion in his or her own reasoned way just as we did.

Has America had some very bad policies? Oh yeah. Have some presidents made some really bad decisions? Heck yes. Does America have some really big problems to work on? You bet.

But it has always been that way. Always. No country is perfect just as no person is perfect. We are all fallible and the best we can do is, when we see a problem, decide that we need to fix it. And we start to figure out how to do that.

We need all of the voices in the conversation—but there is no conversation if everyone is offended or upset or name-calling. The way we get to the best decisions is when we sit down and hear one another.

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He’s my hero; he’s my dad.

And for everyone upset about this election, realize that for the rest of your life, you’ll win some, you’ll lose some. Also, realize that most voters look at a way larger picture and take into account way more things—especially those of us who are older and try to look at the office and the nation and the future, which are way bigger than a single man or woman. And take a quick look at history. This country swings back and forth between Democrat and Republican presidents and Congress. If we don’t like what we have, we are able to vote them out next time around.

That’s what you thank a vet for. Helping preserve that freedom for the last 240 years.

Many of the greatest changes that happened in our country have not been top-down decisions from a president. That’s the genius of our system of government—a system people have fought and died for. Change happens when FREE people voice their opinions and work for change and vote in the lawmakers who could make the changes happen. In at least one case in particular, we fought a horrifying war on our own soil because of those differing opinions.

And if those lawmakers don’t win? Then stand strong on your principles, keep your respectful voice being heard, and keep working for the change you feel needs to happen.

Thank a vet for that.

Thank a vet that we are still a free country where we can have vastly different opinions and live together, work together, serve together, worship together.

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The best way we can honor our veterans is being worthy of their sacrifices.

So instead of letting our opinions divide us, instead of being angry that there are actually people who think differently than we do, why don’t we instead find ways to make positive change—in our personal lives, in our families, in our communities and workplaces, in our world? Why don’t we now take a deep breath, listen to one another, learn from one another, understand the very deep feelings on both sides, and work together to make whatever needs to be improved better?

Our country has made a lot of mistakes, but I can say without hesitation that the United States is the greatest country in the world. But FREEDOM is a privilege that must be handled with great appreciation and great care. We have come a long way. We still have a long way to go. We will always have a long way to go. There will always be huge new problems to face. But we won’t face them down by refusing to listen to one another or refusing to learn from our own history.

Today, I thank my Uncle Howard (who has passed away) for his sacrifice in World War II, and I thank my dad, who bravely flew a hundred missions over North Vietnam and faced enemy fire.

Thank you, Dad, for serving our country. Thank you, Mom, for providing a haven wherever we moved, for making each new house a home.

So why should you thank a vet? Because these men and women sacrifice for an ideal—the ideal of freedom.

So you can be FREE.

Thank you, veterans, for serving and preserving this great country. May the rest of us learn from your example.

I can’t help it. I see them everywhere.

I suppose it comes with the territory of being a professional editor; yet, I don’t think one needs to be a professional to see (and be bothered by) the typos that appear everywhere in everyday life since fellow word lovers often make me aware and send me photos. Following are a few recent ones.

You have to have a sense of humor.

At the local Dollar Store, some enterprising employee put these extras out on sale, marking them thusly:

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Seems like if you are going to misspell a word, you wouldn’t do it the hardest way possible. Overstalk?

Really? Now this is “overstalk”:

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Sometimes I wish I could carry a black marker and make fixes wherever I see them. That is, in fact, what Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson did–literally traveling (travelling?) around the United States to correct typos–and wrote the book The Great Typo Hunt–Two Friends Changing the World One Correction at a Time (Crown, 2010). They fixed some, weren’t allowed to fix others, and even got taken to court for defacing property.

Someone’s gotta do it.

My sister found this on highway 30 somewhere in Ohio. I do not understand the whole “let’s make a plural with an apostrophe” thing.

autos only

 

Here’s a brochure for a recreational area near where my extended family lives. There are so many things wrong on just this panel of the brochure. Between spelling and font and consistency issues, my eyes are twitching. And I’m so glad to know that Kinzua (which is misspelled) Dam is so da** near Warren, Pennsylvania. And it’s “Niagara” …

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Even our clothing isn’t exempt. I saw these at a local Walmart. After I posted this on Facebook, the T-shirts disappeared by the next day.

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Last evening as I trolled Amazon for Christmas ideas, I was looking for stationery — the pretty kind, you know, with pieces of paper and matching envelopes. However, apparently they don’t just sell the kind to write on but also some special kind that stays in place as I use it:

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Menus are often hilarious — especially at small mom-and-pop diners. There are at least 8 errors in this menu from the Muncie Gyros and Pancakes House (which in itself is pretty funny) . . . I really want the “frries” and a second “tirp to the sald bar.”

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Have you found some good typos in your travels? Send them along and I’ll do a part 2 from my alert readers.

After all, we must protect the world from typos!

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