Three Steps to Website Revision

I recently completed the three stops to website revision: Procrastination, New Headshot, Revised Content.

Procrastination

I’ve needed to revise the Writing Services section of my website for almost two years. During the previous iteration, I called myself a pen-for-hire. I do have reliable and lucrative clients who pay me to write for them, but the truth is more people hire me to teach and to talk, activities that build audience and allow me more time to write what I want. I kept planning to revise the content on these pages – as soon as I had a new headshot to go with.

New Headshot

Moose

Camera shy charismatic mega fauna photo by my friend Kathy Lena

Like most charismatic mega fauna, I don’t like to stand still for the camera, so I kept “forgetting” to ask my friend who’s a wildlife photographer to snap a new headshot. Then, I lost the names of the two professional photographers my hairdresser recommended. I put it off, cleverly combining this task with procrastination.

But on a leadership retreat in February, I met Kelly, someone I knew by sight and got to know better. I liked her a lot. It turns out, she’s a free-lance photographer. Even before I saw her spectacular portfolio, I hired her.

alternate headshot

I love this shot, too.

Working with a professional photographer was a revelation. It taught me new respect for both photographers and models. Posing is exhausting, but working with Kelly was a blast. She put me at ease; I trusted her; she encouraged me. We spent most of two hours and ended up with more than a dozen really good shots. She took so many good pictures of me, it was hard to choose which one to use.

In this case, procrastination paid off. Or maybe waiting for the right photographer wasn’t really procrastination. Maybe procrastination is really just another way of saying, Readiness is all.

REVISED CONTENT

Once the headshots were done, I doubled down on revising Writing Services, which now includes Manuscript Development, where I can help you tell your story, as well as Pen-for-Hire, where I can write your story for you. New sections on Teaching and Speaking are in the works.

The goal is to make it easy for  visitors to find out how to hire me to tutor, teach, or talk. It’s a work-in-progress. Ultimately, it will include some new headings in the navigation bar, and some changes in the sidebar, including notice of upcoming speaking events. Stay tuned!

My webmistress is Codewryter, who does the customized coding. She’s also teaching me how to navigate the back end of the site, which is surprisingly user friendly. Even though the site upgrades aren’t all finished, I’m pleased with how they’re taking shape. I hope you’ll visit and let me know what you think.

Deb wearing purple

Another great photo!

Deborah Lee Luskin posts an essay every Wednesday on a variety of subjects centered around Living in Place in rural Vermont. You can visit her at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Paid to Talk

Photo courtesy of Phyllis Groner

An unintended consequence of being a writer is being paid to talk.

Never shy about sharing my knowledge or opinions in print, I now speak them out loud to just about anyone who wants to listen, and I do it in a way that’s not just informative but also entertaining. And yet – just as in my opinion pieces – I challenge my audience to think about current problems in new and not always comfortable ways.

I have a collection of popular off-the-shelf talks, and a nearly limitless willingness to talk about anything about which an audience and I have a mutual interest. Give me a topic; I’ll give you a speech.

Currently, I have four off-the-shelf talks: Lessons From the Long Trail, about my transformative end-to-end through hike of The Long Trail when I turned sixty, and three through The Vermont Humanities Council Speakers Bureau:

Getting From Here to There: The history of transportation and settlement in VT

1964: A Watershed Year in Vermont Political and Cultural History

Why Are We Still Reading Jane Austen?

I make customized motivational and celebratory speeches to groups who want to hear what I have to say. After teaching reluctant writers, leading Weight Watchers, and raising three children, I’ve developed some serious motivational skills that can be translated into a celebration and/or call to action.

I’ve also spent the past ten years learning about restorative practices as well as Roberts Rules of Order, so if a group needs a facilitator, I’m good at making sure everyone in the room has a chance to be heard.

Of course, I’m always ready to talk about and teach writing and literature, from blogs to biographies. Earlier this year I lectured on Virginia Woolf for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and I’m currently teaching a grant-funded memoir-writing class at my local library. We’re having a blast.

Between writing, teaching, and public speaking, I’ve fallen behind on other tasks, like keeping my website updated, but that’s next. In the works is a calendar where anyone who wants to attend one of my public lectures can find out the what, where, and when. And for those who may be interested in a custom-made talk, just contact me.

At the end of the Long Trail, 9/8/2016.

Deborah Lee Luskin posts an essay every Wednesday at www.deborahleeluskin.com

 

How to Sustain Political Activism and Write a Book

Activism and Writing both take persistence and self-care.

Like at least half the American population, I’ve been distressed by current national politics. I went into a deep funk of disbelief back in November; then I became hyper-active, making phone calls and writing letters. After that, I needed a vacation from both work and politics. Now, I’m trying to find a sustainable way to continue to support issues I care about, like civil liberties, social justice, and ethical government.

Jen Hofmann’s Weekly Activism Checklist

Lucky for me, a friend forwarded a link to Jen Hofmann’s Weekly Activism Checklist. It’s been a big help.

As I read it, I realized immediately that the ways to sustain political activism are almost identical to the methods necessary for tackling a long writing project.

The Weekly Checklist

Hofman’s Action Checklist for this week starts with current congressional bills and issues that need immediate attention.

My writing checklist for this week includes a meeting, a phone call and a writing assignment for my long narrative about learning to hunt. This checklist helps maintain forward momentum on a project that will take at least another year to complete while I continue to write, broadcast, teach and talk.

These days, I also create a checklist of the political phone calls I will make:

  • Senator Leahy about the Supreme Court nomination;
  • Senator Sanders about the Budget and Healthcare;
  • Representative Peter Welch about the unresolved conflicts of interest between this president’s private businesses and public office.
The Rule of Three

I’ve written about the Rule of Three before: Choose three manageable and achievable goals each week.

Every week, I limit myself to three projects, and every day I limit myself to three tasks related to those projects. More than that and I’ll just stare out the window and not lay down the words. Same thing with phone calls to politicians. I can make three every week.

Three phone calls won’t change the world quickly, but if I make three phone calls every week, they add up, just as writing three sentences, paragraphs or pages adds up.

Worse, not making phone calls equals silence, as in “everything is okay.”

Everything is not okay. So I make three phone calls each week, minimum; more than that’s gravy.

Take Good Care of Yourself

You can’t write from your heart any more than you can change the world if you don’t take care of yourself. Self care includes measures to maintain your general health, sustain your emotional health and nourish your spiritual health. So do whatever it is that keeps you whole, whether it’s reading a book, sleeping, eating well, fishing, sky-diving, going to church, or some combination thereof.

Persistence and Self-care: They make a difference when it comes to writing book or changing the world.

In addition to making phone calls, Deborah Lee Luskin frequently comments about current affairs on her blog and on Vermont Public Radio.

Are Writing Contests Valuable?

blueribbonLast Sunday, I attended the awards ceremony for Vermont’s Scholastic Art & Writing Contest at the Brattleboro Art and Museum Center.

The art and writing on display was fantastic; no wonder The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are considered “the most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in grades 7 – 12.” These kids have talent!

The museum was buzzing with teenage energy as kids and their parents from all over the state saw their work hanging on the museum walls or read award-winning writing published in binders for all to read.

At noon, the crowd sat for the ceremony, which included exhortations from both Danny Lichtenfeld, the museum director, and from Roberto Lugo, a potter, social activist, spoken word poet and educator. Each in his own way, they told the kids to keep breaking the rules and fixing social and global problems they’re inheriting from us.

Vermont Scholastic Awards

Roberto Lugo

Lugo’s remarks were, well, remarkable: In a combination of rap, poetry and prose, he conveyed the story of his trajectory from urban poverty to academic and artistic achievement in language bordering on song – and received a standing ovation. Truly inspirational.

Then came the awards. Those earning Honorable mention were asked to stand; then the Silver Key winners; finally, the Gold Key winners came forward for a group photo.

This is where the event went sour for me. I wished all three groups had a photo op.

I attended the awards ceremony because this was the second year I’ve been a writing judge. Even though judges are given guidelines, which are very helpful, the process is still, ultimately, subjective. But more than that, I wanted the Honorable Mentions and Silver Keys to stand in front of the audience and have their photos taken in acknowledgement of their efforts. I didn’t want the awards to be quite so stratifying.

This has brought the entire enterprise of contests for artistic creation to a head for me. Even though my first novel won a prestigious award, I’m suspect of contests turning literature and visual arts into a kind of artistic World Series.

Scholastic Awards

Artistic expression is not a horserace; it’s neither limited nor competitive.

Artistic expression is not a horserace; it’s neither limited nor competitive. And while the Scholastic Awards are meant to acknowledge excellence and encourage youthful talent, I fear that the way in which we do so will backfire, on both the developing artists and writers and on the very essence of artistic expression, which creates its own rules, shows us a new way of seeing, and tells its own story.

Is making art its own reward? What do you think about writing contests and awards?

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin posts an essay every Wednesday at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Punctuation Changes Meaning

Punctuation Changes Meaning.

Without punctuation, words strung together lack meaning.

dear john i want a man who knows what love is all about you are generous kind thoughtful people who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior you have ruined me for other men i yearn for you i have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart i can be forever happy will you let me be yours jane

Punctuation turns this string of words into a love-letter.

Dear John,
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior. You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart. I can be forever happy–will you let me be yours?
Jane

With different punctuation, this string of words becomes a Dear John letter.

Dear John:

I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior! You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn! For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we’re apart, I can be happy. Will you let me be?

Yours,

Jane

Here’s another string of words without punctuation. See if you can add punctuation so it makes sense.

that that is is that that is not is not that that is is not that that is not.

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin loves a well-punctuated sentence; she’s especially fond of the semi-colon, both when it’s used between independent clauses, and when it separates items in a series.

Coordination and Subordination

Coordination and Subordination

In graduate school, I had a professor who said, “The hardest word in the English language to use properly is the conjunction ‘and’,” and “The key to success is subordination.”

Coordination

I just used the coordinating conjunction ‘and’ in the sentence above to join the two quotations, which are independent clauses.

coordination

Balanced scales illustrate the concept of coordination in grammar.

A good way to think about coordination is to visualize a scale in balance, or kids balancing on a see-saw.

There are seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, yet, for, or, nor, so. Used properly, they join equal parts: two or more words, phrases, clauses or sentences of equal rank. Each of the seven coordinating conjunctions has a different meaning.

  1. And: in addition, also, moreover, besides

2&3. But or yet: nevertheless, however, still

4. For: because, seeing that, since

5. Or: as an alternative, otherwise

6. Nor: and not, or not, not either [nor is used after a negative]

7. So: therefore, as a result

Using the accurate conjunction betters a writer’s chance of being correctly understood.

Subordination

Since ideas are neither all equal nor merit equal emphasis, it’s important to subordinate the lesser elements to make the primary idea paramount. This is called subordination.

subordination

Subordination allows for emphasis of the main point – the subject’s face.

A good way to visualize subordination is to think of a painting where the compositional elements are toned down in order to bring attention to the focal point, as in Rembrant’s self- portrait. Everything in this painting is secondary to the artist’s face.

Things that are subordinate are secondary; they have lower rank than the main idea, and their placement in a sentence, paragraph or essay should reflect that.

Subordination allows a writer to emphasize the main idea, to combine lesser ideas in the service of the main idea, and to combine supporting evidence with clarity and elegance.

You can read more about subordination here.

Deborah headshotDeborah Lee Luskin is an author, speaker and educator who loves winter.

 

 

Axes to Grind

Axes to grind

Two axes to grind

I have two axes to grind: a two-and-a-quarter-pound Boy’s Ax, and a Fiskars 28” Splitting Ax.

Tim gave me the Boy’s Ax for Christmas in 1984, my first winter in Vermont. I was living in a poorly insulated cabin smaller than my Manhattan apartment. I heated the cabin with a small, wood stove. The ax came in handy.

Last year, the ax flew off the handle. This had happened before. As previously, we bought a replacement haft of hickory. But it was also time for a new, heavier, axe, because for the past six years I’ve been splitting wood to heat my writing studio. The building is only a hundred square feet, and the wood stove is tiny; it takes six-inch pieces of wood. So Tim bought me the Fiskars 28, a highly engineered Finnish beauty that cuts wood the way a hot knife cuts butter.

Axes to Grind

A load of logs; my studio in the background.

He should know. Every year, he saws a load of logs to stove length, then splits it all with one of his ever-growing collection of axes and mauls.

AN AX, A PEN, A COMPUTER

A good ax makes a big difference, and not just in cutting firewood. My two axes are as critical to my writing as either a pen or my laptop. Splitting wood, building a fire, stoking the stove, and listening to the chuckle of the fire — these are all part of my writing ritual, and appropriately so. Humans have been using axes since the Stone Age; they predate writing, as does storytelling.

I like to think that after those early ax wielders chopped down trees and split logs and built fires, their clans gathered around that source of light and heat, and told stories. I need both the ax and the pen to follow in this long and distinctly human tradition.

Axes to grind

The tiny wood stove that heats my studio.

Deborah Lee Luskin is an author, speaker and educator dedicated to advancing issues through narrative and telling stories to create change. She blogs at www.deborahleeluskin.com, where this essay was originally posted.