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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tuesday's hodge podge

We don't teach to the test...
If that's true then why did my third-grader bring home six—count 'em, six!—practice Ohio Achievement Tests last week alone? We've had them coming home and notes about how best to prepare for six weeks now. Extra help sessions for an hour after school twice a week and the occasional phone call home. Ugh! I shudder to think about what they are NOT learning in order to prepare for this test.

Journalism students get better GPAs?
PD reports today that high school students who participate in some form of journalism—newspaper or yearbook—"earn higher grade-point averages, score better on college entrance exams and demonstrate better writing and grammar skills in college compared with students who were not involved with their school's newspaper or yearbook." This is from a study by the Newspaper Association of America Foundation.

I'm not sure how it is in high school, but in my experience college journalism majors tended to get lower grades because they were so consumed with writing for the newspaper at the expense of their class work.

Storyteller blogs
Some of my fellow storytellers in the rapidly ending KnowledgeWorks project are blogging. Check out Tiny Mantras, Prefers Her Fantasy Life and Goat Bomb. A quick word about each.

Tracy Zollinger Turner of Tiny Mantras has raised mommy blogging many notches with her blogging about her son, Declan. Nice to see such an intellectual blog about being a mom. She's a veteran blogger, having been online for many years. But this one is particularly great.

Peggie Cypher, and her red-headed alter-ego Meg, is outrageous, provocative, funny, thoughtful and somewhat obsessive about certain topics (namely Wilco, John Cusack, hoppy beer and Colin Farrell) on Prefers Her Fantasy Life. But she's always surprising and entertaining. Behind the wit and occasional rant is another mother of three just trying to keep all aspects of her life humming in tune.

Please, please encourage Phil Neal of Goat Bomb to keep blogging. He has recently taken a full-time job, which will hinder his time. But he's also one of the most creative writers and thinkers. When we experimented by building out scenes in someone else's story at a workshop, he ran away with the grand prize for creativity. Egg him on because I think he'll be a unique blogging voice once he's done enough to get hooked. C'mon, Phil! We want some more.

Journos aren't having any fun
Well, at least the ones who don't embrace change as a good thing. Reminds me of teachers. Both professions are being thrust into a role of ongoing change and neither seems to attract people especially equipped to handle it.

The cure, I believe, is to get out of the malaise of group think that permeates newsrooms. Step aside, take a deep breath and inhale the possibilities. Amy Gahran takes a look at this fun-less phenomenon in Poynter this week.
In particular, engaging directly with your community can be fun and rewarding. Learning to monitor and improve the spread and impact of your work can be fun. And the process of learning anything new at all also can be a lot of fun. In fact, that basic craving for continual learning is what drew many of us to journalism in the first place. Remember that?
What's new at Creative Ink?
You may have noticed the addition of a photo on the Creative Ink banner. Or not. In case you're wondering, that's the early morning surf on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It's one of my favorite places to relax and unwind. I first wrote about it here. I find tremendous inspiration at the beach and that's another reason I've added the photo, to illustrate a source of creative inspiration for me. Plus, I think the photo makes the page look more interesting. What do you think? Do you have a favorite place?

Busy, busy, busy week

I'm working on another assignment for the Christian Science Monitor, revising my 10,000-word narrative on education reform at Cleveland Heights High School, working on a grant application, preparing for my monthly writers group, and reporting on a market for a writing newsletter.

Word of the day
highfalutin: expressed in or marked by the use of high-flown bombastic language (I like the word bombastic. Very onomatopoeic.)

Monday, April 28, 2008

A gift from friends

Harper Lee's novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" was partly a magnificent gift from friends who in 1956 gave her a year's salary as a Christmas present so that she could devote all her time to writing. After writing, rewriting and nearly losing the pages to the New York winter, Lee's novel was finally published in 1960. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961.

Writers send their darlings out into the world with every hope and prayer that they won't be squashed on arrival. It is a most anxious time when the work leaves the writers hands and when it appears in its final form. Lee, who turns 82 today, had nothing to worry about. It was well received and included this from a Washington Post reviewer: "A hundred pounds of sermons on tolerance, or an equal measure of invective deploring the lack of it, will weigh far less in the scale of enlightenment than a mere 18 ounces of new fiction bearing the title To Kill a Mockingbird."

Her book is now required reading in high schools around the country.
"I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected."
Word of the day
denizen: one that frequents a place

Saturday, April 26, 2008

In springtime, LAX rules!

Springtime means lacrosse in our household. While Ryan has given up playing this year in order to bulk up and prepare for football, Patrick has taken to the sport like a duck to water. As a seventh-grader, he plays on the combined seventh/eighth team at Bay Middle School. We're still learning the rules of the game, but it is very fun to watch. Here is Patrick, a midfielder or "middie," under pressure from Mentor players as he runs down the field with the ball. The Rockets won both games in last week's tri-meet against Mentor and then Gilmour Academy.

A 9-year-old's assessment of the NFL Draft

Today's NFL Draft begins at 3 p.m., but Michael has been talking about it since he woke up about 20 minutes ago. SportsCenter has been on since he came down. So while I'm getting caught up reading the New York Times Book Review, Mikey is giving me a rundown on today's draft. He does this often, always quizzing me on where a player went to college or who plays the best spread offense.

First going to the Dolphins in Chris Long. (He's been fascinated with the story of Howie Long's son since the Easter Bunny brought him a Sporting News NFL Draft magazine.)

Second going to the Raiders is Jake Long, he's an offensive tackle, you know, from Michigan. (Because, of course I should know this.)

Third is Glenn Dorsey going to Baltimore. He's that defensive end, number 72 from LSU. He's really good at tackling and sacking.

Fourth going to the San Francisco 49ers is Brian Brohm from Louisville. He's a QB.

Fifth going to the St. Louis Rams from Boston College, Matt Ryan, a quarterback.

Sixth is Andre Woodson, that quarterback from Kentucky going to the Houston Texans.

Seventh is Colt Brennan from Hawaii going to New Orleans Saints.

Darren McFadden is a running/quarterback. He plays both but he'll go to the Denver Broncos.

Going to New York Jets is Rashard Mendenhall from Illinois. He's a running back.

Going to the Detroit Lions is Mario Manningham from the University of Michigan. He's a wide receiver.

Browns don't have a first-round pick.

Those are my predictions. I'm psyched to see the draft cause there are so many good players.

And there you have it. Mikey's 2008 NFL draft predictions.

Friday, April 25, 2008

New Catalyst Ohio on college access online

Preparing an entire issue of a magazine to address issues of access to college in the state of Ohio is a mighty big challenge. It becomes even more complicated when the governor announces a major new initiative during his state of the state address that adds a new program to the discussion mid-way through the editorial production cycle.

That's what we faced with the April/May issue of Catalyst Ohio magazine, now available online. I've been serving as consulting editor there while Editor Charlise Lyles is engaged as a Kiplinger Fellow at The Ohio State University.

You're not an editor if you're not flexible. So we regrouped and and got another story assigned to look at Seniors to Sophomores (when not many in the state really had any notion as to what this program would look like, how it would be funded and how far-reaching it would be). I hope you'll take the time to read the work of some pretty dedicated professionals.

Word of the day
idiom: the language peculiar to a people or to a district, community, or class

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

UB features and the end of an era

In addition to the Monitor story from yesterday, this has been a big writing month for me. I'm heading to Columbus tomorrow for the final KnowledgeWorks writing workshop, which will be a longer narrative on the past four years of education reform at Cleveland Heights High School. More on that later this week. For the third consecutive year, I've written mini-profiles of Judson's Smart Living award-winners. I'll link to those once they are posted online.

Friday's Catholic Universe Bulletin contains two of my stories, both are online. One is a profile of Tim Warneka, who has written a book about Catholic servant leadership. The other is a feature on Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in Euclid, which this year commemorates the 150th anniversary of the last apparition of Mary before Bernadette in Lourdes, France.

Though I'm sure it won't be marked in the annals of Cleveland journalism history, this issue also marked the last for editor Dennis Sadowski. Last week, as Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Washington, D.C., so too did Dennis. He's taken a position as a reporter/editor there with Catholic News Service.

I've known Dennis since the early 1990s. For the past three years, I've written regularly for him and I've gotten to know and respect his journalistic sensibilities. He trusted me to explore a new dimension to my writing when I approached him with a very vague idea I had about writing about Thomas Merton. He gave me permission to let my ideas wander and the freedom of time needed to make a story great. The Merton story went on to win first place in religion coverage in the 2006 Ohio SPJ Awards and I went on to become a regular contributor to the UB. Good writers appreciate good editors. It is a match made in heaven and is built on trust and knowledge of each other's strengths and weaknesses. Dennis knew how to match story assignments to the writer. His e-mails usually began something like, "I've got a great story for you." And he was nearly always correct.

Few people stay in the same job for the duration of their career these days, but Dennis was at the UB for 10 years, almost a mini-lifetime. So I thought I'd share a bit from his farewell column.
"After living my entire life within an hour or two of Lorain, God is challenging me to move from my comfort zone—yes, even working at the UB had gotten to be rather comfortable—to experience new horizons in a world full of hurt and hope. My hope and prayer is that I will continue to follow God's plan with grace and kindness and with as little anxiety as possible.

"Thanks, Cleveland, for putting your faith and trust in me to tell your stories."
Here are the latest stories.
Warneka builds on the principles of service
By Wendy A. Hoke

Tim Warneka has the peaceful expression of a Buddhist monk, approaching his Catholic faith in a Zen-like manner by giving his full attention to others. It’s a skill he’s been perfecting all of his adult life.

He combines all of his influences spanning nearly 20 years as a psychologist and black belt in Aikido to pioneer the concept of Catholic Servant Leadership, which takes the principles of servant leadership (service to others, collaboration, trust, empathy) and applies the Catholic faith as an overlay.

His book, “Black Belt Leader, Peaceful Leader: An Introduction to Catholic Servant Leadership,” provides a guide for discussion on how to use Aikido, emotional intelligence, servant leadership and tenants of Catholic faith to become a better leader.

“God was grooming me for a number of years,” says Warneka, a resident of Wickliffe and member of St. Noel Parish, Willoughby Hills. He spent his early years in Lakewood, attending St. Clement Parish and School where his parents were very active.

“I remember being in the church basement so often and realizing that there’s meaning here, that this place changes people’s lives and not just on Sunday,” he says.

Catholicism was like breathing, it was just there and his parents modeled faith and leadership in action. They led retreats, were active in the pro-life movement and hosted a Vietnamese family to live in their basement for six months.

But when he was in fifth grade, his family moved from the tight-knit Irish-Catholic community to Perry, where he first encountered peers with divorced parents, a Protestant community and public schools.

“It was rocky. I had my first experience of being marginalized because I entered a community in which friendships were made by first grade. I was on the outside,” he says.

He learned to appreciate different perspectives as a result.

But it was as a student at the University of Dayton that he found his calling. He met the Marianists and describes that as “life-changing.”

“They started handing me books to read and it was all over. I knew this was what I wanted to do,” he says.

He considered the Marianist novitiate for a while and even contemplated entering the Trappists, but one summer break he met his wife, Beth, who was working in a Catholic bookstore. He switched his major to psychology and never looked back.

Heavily influenced by the writing of Carl Jung, Thomas Merton, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Thich Nhat Hanh, Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, Warneka says he developed a deep respect for the individual subjective experience.

“To see the Marianists live that out was inspiring. They always had time for people. I came from a large high school and a family with eight people in the house. No one had time for anyone. But at UD, even the president of the university knew me by name. There, my reading and life experience came together,” he says.

After graduate school he became a psychologist, but today calls himself a life coach. “It’s therapy for people who don’t want to call it therapy,” he explains.

While he was in grad school at Loyola of Chicago, Warneka stumbled upon the other great influence in his life. He had been reading about Aikido, which is a nonviolent martial art that seeks to protect the person who attacks you. He walked into a center on All Saint’s Day in 1989 and found an international seminar taking place with one of the master’s from Japan.

“It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. The teacher moved like water through the students and around them. His movements were so refined and androgynous,” he says.
So what pulls his Catholic faith and his martial arts and his psychology together?

“Embodiment. Our culture is very anti-body. Being embodied is front and central to what it means to be Catholic. It’s in our basic prayers. People have the answers inside them. They just need to get clear and quiet long enough to hear what’s inside of them,” he believes.

Warneka hopes that his book and his Catholic Servant Leadership philosophy will take root and build awareness that we all have potential to be a leader if only we allow ourselves to be aware of our bodies and our emotions.

For more information on Catholic Servant Leadership, visit

Hoke is a freelance writer.

A hundred little blessings
Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine celebrates 150 years of grace, devotion
By Wendy A. Hoke

EUCLID-When Vincent Mancuso was 10 years old he was visiting Little Italy for the Feast of the Assumption when someone accidentally shoved him. He fell and the pair of scissors in his hand pierced his right eye, leaving him blind.

The next month, his parents took him to Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in Euclid for the annual closing of the grotto Mass. “My mother told me, ‘Wash your eye with the water.’ And so I did. When we got home I said, ‘Ma, Pa, I can see.’ They didn’t believe me. But when they took me to the doctor they learned that I could see,” says Mancuso, who turned 90 this month.

Over the next 80 years, that right eye has suffered from a detached retina and cataracts, but he still has vision. “Our Lady has always pulled me through,” he says.

Sister Rochelle Guertal, of the Sisters of the Most Holy Trinity, director of the shrine, says they don’t proclaim any miracles of healing at the shrine, but rather count a number of blessings or graces, much like Mancuso’s. Indeed, an enclosed case on the grounds holds a crutches, braces and glasses no longer needed by those who were “healed.”

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in France, where the Blessed Mother appeared in a series of apparitions in 1858 to a young girl named Bernadette. Euclid is home to the national shrine and is joining in the celebration.

Situated on top of a hill overlooking Euclid Avenue, the shrine stands today as an oasis of peace and devotion. When in full bloom, stately trees buffer the sound of the traffic below.

After the Civil War, the property was a vineyard, home to “Euclid grapes,” known for their distinctive flavor seasoned by Lake Erie breezes. Julia Harms, who owned the land with her husband, was a devout Catholic who always had a vision of the Blessed Mother on the property. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd would regularly pick grapes at the vineyard, so in 1920 when the Harms children decided to sell the land, the Good Shepherd Sisters took over.

Two years later, while on a trip to the motherhouse in France, the sisters were inspired to build a grotto similar to Lourdes on their site. And they were given a unique treasure from a Dominican priest--a piece of the stone being hewn into a statute of the Blessed Mother on the site where she appeared before Bernadette in Lourdes.

Today, that noted piece of stone is embedded into the rock of the grotto where the water flows over it and into a pool. The treasure makes Cleveland’s shrine unique among others throughout the country, including the grotto at the University of Notre Dame.

Over the years the Sisters of the Good Shepherd diminished in size and by 1952, the Trinitarian Sisters were looking for more property. They found the shrine, were given permission by Archbishop Edward F. Hoban, then bishop of Cleveland, to transfer their novitiate and continue the work of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.

Under their supervision the shrine has expanded to accommodate visitors from more than 44 countries and a number of regular devotees.

“Some people are hoping for miracles when they come,” says Sister Guertal. “I explain that sometimes the miracle is acceptance and that can be a bigger miracle than healing.”

More than anything, the shrine gives people an opportunity to silence to noise of modern life and to listen to God. “People come to be open to the Lord through the Blessed Mother. When they do, things happen,” Sister Guertal says.

Mass is held outside in front of the grotto at 9:30 a.m. each Sunday from May through October (weather permitting). Novenas, rosary processions and Stations of the Cross also are prayed regularly. The shrine remains open throughout the year.

Hoke is a freelance writer.
Word of the day
contemplative: a person who practices concentration on spiritual things as a form of private devotion

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Christian Science Monitor carries my story on John Boyd

My profile of Cleveland Ward 6 City Council candidate John Boyd just went live on the Christian Science Monitor Web site. The story is teased on the front page of tomorrow's print edition and will run on page 20 as the Backstory feature.

The Monitor also includes a two-minute audio interview with me, which was nerve-wracking on a Sunday morning when the whole family is home, but ultimately a very cool experience.

Thanks to Bill Rieter, whom I've worked with many times on Catholic Universe Bulletin stories, for being available to shoot photos on short notice.

UPDATE 4/21 / 8 am: I had hoped the article would generate discussion, but that seems to be taking place this morning over at Writes Like She Talks.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Review: "Wit's End"

I didn't read Karen Joy Fowler's book, "The Jane Austen Book Club." I'm not sure why, but I remember reading a book blurb and just feeling as if I didn't get the point. That's not to say, of course, that many others haven't read the book and enjoyed it immensely. I mean, it was on the bestseller list for a spell.

When I got a publisher's copy of her new novel, "Wit's End," I decided to give it a try.

Despite the creepy cover photo of a giant green eye peering into a tiny door (more about that later), I went into the story with an open mind because the subtitle said: "What happens when your readers steal your characters?"

And the press materials went on about her exploration of the online life of fan fiction. Cool. Seems new and provocative. A side of online life I've not yet experienced.

Except that I really for the life of me can't figure out what this book is about.

It starts out with Shaker Heights native Rima Lanisell, who has lost her mother (a long time ago, I think), her father (of a long illness) and her brother (suddenly when he crashed the car while drunk). Familial relationships were bizarre with her weirdly close relationship with her younger brother, Oliver, and her strangely distant relationship with her father, Bim, who was a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer.

She was horrified by her father's revelation of things in his columns like her first crush. One Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist once told me that after a certain age (say 12-13), permission is required to write about your children's personal mishaps. Old Bim would have done well to follow that advice.

Anyway, Rima has left all of this misery and her middle school teaching job behind to visit her godmother, Addison Early at her home, Wit's End in Santa Cruz, Calif. Addison is a mega mystery author known as A.B. Early. And the people who inhabit Wit's End are all a little bizarre and I guess serve as surrogate family for the grieving Rima.

Addison, who has her own bizarre upbringing in that her parents were actually brother and sister—a fact only revealed to her when her "father" announced he was getting married and would now be her "uncle"—holes up in her studio working on her latest Maxwell Lane novel. She's written a bunch, including one with the character of Bim Lanisell, Rima's father, in which Bim kills his wife (Rima's mom?).

Apparently that novel iced the relationship between the real Bim and Addison, who from near as I can gather became tight while reporters covering the same story. In fact, it is sort of revealed though never really explained that Addison had an unrequited crush on the much-older Bim.

Rima becomes obsessed with a fan from Holy City, home to a mid-20th century cult led by an overweight, charismatic leader named William Riker and a place where Bim and Addison first met. And there are references to what she finds on wikipedias and blog entries.

In fact, that foray into the online fan world reveals that her life (and that of her dead brother's) has been speculated on by some of A.B. Early's fans. How? Not really sure. Because fact and fiction all seem to roll together in this story.

Addison and Rima are strangers and it's hard to feel as if they ever actually bond. Rima goes on her own little adventure with a crazed fan and learns something about Addison's real father, which seems to cause the book to jump the shark at the end rather then pull the meandering narrative strings together. Why do I say this? Because at the end, the character of Maxwell Lane—Addison's star sleuth—becomes an avatar in a new Web-based story and Rima talks to him as if he were real.

Confused? Yeah, so was I. I'm not sure what story Fowler was trying to tell. But I'll never look at doll houses in quite the same way. I never had one, but my sister did—and does. Addison used them to stage the murders in miniature for her novels. Very creepy.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Getting a taste of the writer's challenge

Last night I printed off a draft of a story I'm working on for my husband to read. It was 2,000 words and needed to be shaved down to about 1,200. He balked at first. "I'm not a journalist, what would I know about what needs to be cut?"

"Just give it a read and see where there are places that don't move the story forward," I told him, with pleading eyes.

I've never asked this of him before, but this story is for a new (to me) national market and I really needed someone to give me another perspective. I know he's very interested in the subject, so I felt he was the perfect first reader. Well, there's that and the fact that I've threatened on occasion to leave him out of my book acknowledgments (when I eventually write a book) because he never reads what I write.

He was a captive audience and I took advantage. I'll hand you your dinner when you read my draft.

Immediately he started in and noticed a missing word or two. I handed him a red pen and the power that comes whence. He kept shaking his head and I'll admit I was worried. When he finished he said, "I don't know how you're going to cut this. Everything flows and it all seems to be so important to the story."

Welcome to my world, to the journalist's world. Where half is the most we are permitted sometimes.

He was good at identifying main themes in the story and really good and picking up those missed words (a, is, in, etc.), the ones we tend to lose when our fingers and brains move too quickly.

I was glad to have his comments. But I still needed to make cuts. So I slept on the story and ripped into it again today. It was tough, but there's a point in rewriting when you're less sympathetic to your own writing, but only a tiny bit and only because you eventually want to be finished with the story.

When he called I was just finishing the final touches. I read it to him over the phone. "What did you cut? It sounds like you didn't lose anything?"

That, my dear, is the point.

Word of the day
riposte: a retaliatory verbal sally

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

And one more today on writers v. editors

Couldn't resist sharing this gem by Michael Kinsley in Time.
When I was an editor, I reasoned like an editor. But these days I am a full-time writer, and I have put away the editorial mind-set. Now I say, before you criticize writers, you should write a piece in their shoes.

Did you say paranoid? Is it paranoid to wonder why an editor hasn't returned your calls for two weeks, even though she has been sitting on your piece for four? Did you say egomaniacal? What self-respecting egomaniac would put up with the enraging powerlessness of the freelance writer, totally dependent on the whims of half-literate editors for a pathetic drip-drip-drip of income. Oh, for a regular paycheck and health care, so you wouldn't have to suck up to some jerk of an editor for the next mortgage payment. ("Yes, I see. You want it to be iambic pentameter with internal rhymes. I've never read an analysis of the political situation in Pakistan done that way before. What a good idea!")

So this is an apology to any writers I may have treated callously over my years as an editor. If I didn't answer your e-mail, I'm sorry. If the check was late or the amount less than agreed on, please forgive me. If I shut my office door, turned off the lights and hid under the desk when I heard you coming, I deeply regret such childish behavior.

On the Internet, they don't have editors. Or they don't have many. Writers rule, and a thought can go straight from your head onto the Net. That used to sound hellish. Now it sounds like heaven.

Happy Tax Day!

I realize, of course, that the title of this post is an oxymoron, particularly for the self-employed. But, as luck would have it, somehow my hubby and I have managed to survive another tax season relatively intact. Of course, we have the benefit of a wonderful accountant who every year my husband says, "Whatever we're paying her it's not enough." Or, "That's the best money we spend."

And so it is with all good humor that I share this post from Salon freelance writer Catherine Price. Enjoy the chuckle. As for me, I am showered and heading to the coffee shop to finish writing a story.

Sleuthing through an ancient text

In some small way I suppose I fancy myself a bit of a detective, only I use my sleuthing in uncovering what's not been written about others. This story in today's Christian Science Monitor about the restoration of the Archimedes Codex is exactly the kind of work I'd like to do were I not a writer.

The Archimedes texts were copied in the 10th century by an unknown scribe in Constantinople, then a major center of the Christian world eventually to become a center of the Islamic world. Three centuries later, another scribe washed, scraped, and otherwise tried to remove the text from the book's parchment. This person undid the book, rebound it in the opposite direction, then, on the imperfectly cleared pages, wrote his Christian prayers in Greek over the original text, which was also in Greek, and still discernible in a faint rust-colored thread running beneath. This procedure was common in medieval times: Parchment was scarce. Thus, the Archimedes Codex became a palimpsest, a twice-used book.

The findings gleaned from it have raised Archimedes's status as a thinker higher than anyone might have expected. Noel describes him as "the most important scientist who ever lived."

Most significant among the discoveries was the knowledge that "Archimedes was the first to calculate with actual infinity in the mathematics of the West." That is to say, he was operating at an intellectual level that didn't become common in the mathematical world until the 17th century, nearly 2,000 years after his time. The Archimedean texts, Noel writes, make the mathematics of Leonardo da Vinci "look like child's play."

Will Noel, one of the curators at the Walters Museum in Baltimore who worked on the restoration, admitted he originally harbored a "simmering animosity" toward the person who defaced Archimedes original work. But as he later came to realize, this person protected the valuable information contained so that it would remain, albeit buried, some 2,000 years later.

Word of the day
equivocal: of uncertain nature or classification

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Swamped and loving it

When work is in the toilet and you're an independent, it's standard practice to start throwing stuff out to see what sticks. After about six months of not trying very hard to get new projects, I found myself in dire need of a kick in the ass.

I got one in the form of my taxable income for 2007. Tax time can be an eye-opener. Over the past six weeks, however, I've launched an all-out marketing assault. For the next few weeks, I may have limited posts here because so much has come in over the transom. Some of it I sought, others sought me.

I'm amazed at how certain organizational tools—marketing sheet, budget, revenue projections, invoice tracking—led to a stronger sense of purpose in the kinds of work I want to pursue. All pistons are firing (but I better not say that too loudly or I might jinx myself).

The next two months are going to require more time than usual to get it all done, but it's such delicious stuff. Here's a little taste of what I'm working on:

Five stories for the Universe Bulletin:
• Our Lady of Lourdes 150th anniversary
• Profile of pioneer in Catholic Servant Leadership
• Feature on high school student senior project
• Vatican Splendors exhibition at WRHS
• St. John's Bible at John Carroll University

Mini-profiles for the 2008 Judson Smart Living award-winners

Final editing for April/May Catalyst Ohio magazine

Copy editing for Kovel Antiques & Collectibles Price List 2009, published by Black Dog & Leventhal

Final KnowledgeWorks narrative (about 12,000 words)

Feature for new national Sunday newspaper insert

Feature for Christian Science Monitor

Market report for ASJA newsletter

Ideas beget more ideas and my pitching cup runneth over so I'm sure this list will continue to grow. Enough mini-celebrating; it's back to work. I'll be posting and linking to finished work here in the next few weeks. Don't mind if I give myself a little, "Woo Hoo!"

Word of the day
prolific: marked by abundant inventiveness or productivity

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Writing advice from Barbara Kingsolver

"I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer's block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don't. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done." — Novelist Barbara Kingsolver on her job as a technical writer
Last week I finished reading her book, "The Poisonwood Bible." While I don't have the time this week or next to give it an appropriate review, I will just say that it ranks as one of the finest novels I've ever read. The first 75-100 pages are slow-moving, but it picks up after that and for the next 475 pages. A riveting portrait of women's survival, a country struggling for independence and America's subterranean presence.

Ted Gup: "Attendance is mandatory"

CWRU professor, journalist and author Ted Gup has a terrific piece in the April 11, 2008, issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education titled, "So Much for the Information Age."

He begins:

I teach a seminar called "Secrecy: Forbidden Knowledge." I recently asked my class of 16 freshmen and sophomores, many of whom had graduated in the top 10 percent of their high-school classes and had dazzling SAT scores, how many had heard the word "rendition."

Not one hand went up.

This is after four years of the word appearing on the front pages of the nation's newspapers, on network and cable news, and online. This is after years of highly publicized lawsuits, Congressional inquiries, and international controversy and condemnation. This is after the release of a Hollywood film of that title, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, and Reese Witherspoon.

I was dumbstruck. Finally one hand went up, and the student sheepishly asked if rendition had anything to do with a version of a movie or a play.

I nodded charitably, then attempted to define the word in its more public context.
The timing of my reading this piece is interesting because I had just concluded a phone interview with a woman who was a native of England, but has lived in the states for 40-plus years. She was expressing her concern about the American educational system's lack of attention to civics, geography and basic world history.

Gup shares a similar concern, stating that for all its supposed connectivity, this cohort remains remarkably out of touch with the world.

In recent years I have administered a dumbed-down quiz on current events and history early in each semester to get a sense of what my students know and don't know. Initially I worried that its simplicity would insult them, but my fears were unfounded. The results have been, well, horrifying.

Nearly half of a recent class could not name a single country that bordered Israel. In an introductory journalism class, 11 of 18 students could not name what country Kabul was in, although we have been at war there for half a decade. Last fall only one in 21 students could name the U.S. secretary of defense. Given a list of four countries — China, Cuba, India, and Japan — not one of those same 21 students could identify India and Japan as democracies. Their grasp of history was little better. The question of when the Civil War was fought invited an array of responses — half a dozen were off by a decade or more. Some students thought that Islam was the principal religion of South America, that Roe v. Wade was about slavery, that 50 justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, that the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1975. You get the picture, and it isn't pretty.

These are college students at a prestigious university, presumably interested in pursuing journalism. And they don't know that Kabul is the capital of Afghanistan. Or that India is a democracy. Or that South America is largely Catholic continent!

Gup's point to his students is that attendance to his class is mandatory; it only works if everyone participates. The same, he says, can be said of a democracy.

High school—and probably middle school—history teachers should take the first five minutes of class weekly or even daily to have a current events quiz. Make it three to five questions, but use it as a test to see if students are reading, listening to or watching the news. Our democracy depends on an informed, engaged citizenry.

Word of the day
dunderhead: dunce; blockhead

Monday, April 07, 2008

Celebrating Lady Day

"Don't threaten me with love, baby. Let's just go walking in the rain." — Billie Holiday

Today is the birthday of Billie Holiday, born Eleanora Fagan, in Philadelphia in 1915. She is, quite simply, one of my all-time favorite vocalists. I love that she never sang the same way twice. Her singing reflected her mood. She led a tragic life, which led to an untimely death at the age of 44, but her influence lives on. She is a legend.

Here's Billie singing my favorite song. It's not so much the lyrics of this song as it is the emotion with which she delivers this performance. The longing is palpable and it's hard to listen without feeling it in the deepest recesses of your soul—the place where your heart is most vulnerable.

Billie's music is nighttime music. So tonight, turn out the lights, grab a glass of your favorite beverage, and put Billie on the stereo. And then offer up a toast to legends living and deceased.

Word of the day
luminous: emitting or reflecting usually steady, suffused, or glowing light

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Did you know?

The Pony Express only lasted 19 months. Pony Express Mail Service was started on this day in 1860, with the first run—from its home base in St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California— taking 10 days to cover 2,000 miles. It quickly became obsolete when Western Union Telegraph lines were completed in 1861.

Word of the day
obstinate: perversely adhering to an opinion, purpose, or course in spite of reason, arguments, or persuasion