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(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Water brings out thoughts for me—if I’d written about everything that came to me while I was in the shower or the bath tub, I’d be a lot more prolific. If nothing else, water helps me to keep thinking—and sometimes even turns those thoughts into a new study direction.

What was yesterday’s thought that came out from nowhere while under the influence of a nice flow of water? About which ideas and topics I studied in college that really became part of my mindset and who I turned out to be. Keep in mind I first attended a liberal arts school before getting an MBA. If only I’d been baptized by this writing topic a week earlier, I might have been willing to commit to doing the Blogging A to Z challenge again this April. Instead I skipped it after spending the last three Aprils writing like a crazed fool.

So this crazed fool began by thinking she could write one simple post on what mattered most to her in her formal education—and then she realized just how much she gained from so many of those courses and how much there was to say. Instead I am going to write a short series of blog posts explaining why my education mattered and how it hasn’t been wasted, even if I have not spent a lifetime pursuing vocations that would meet some exacting formula for showing how the educational dollars spent on me have paid out. When I come to do the balance sheet of my life, my assets will always include the goodwill (intangible asset that it is) received from my education having taught me to open my mind to lifelong learning.

I am so, so sorry that pursuing a higher education has become so prohibitively expensive and so tied to what kind of money a person can make from what he/she has learned—if nothing else just to pay off the student loans so many have gained from the pursuit. Trust me, the piper is going to need to be paid in this household and that is going to hurt way worse than it hurt when I attended college since both my parents and I received so much more help for mitigating costs.

I can only hope that someday soon my daughter will not only be employed in a way that allows her to afford the education she received while utilizing much of what she has learned, but that she will also come to recognize the intangible benefits that came with that education. That even as she looks back on a particular course or topic that might have felt incredibly painful, she can still appreciate how that learning gave her access to whole new ways of thinking or doing—that will never leave her and that will allow her to continue to grow throughout her life.

You know your education really suited you well when you can be thankful not only for what you experienced in classes you loved attending but also for some parts of what came out of classes you either disliked or didn’t really care about one way or another.

It seems to me that in the midst of real learning, you more often feel baptized by fire than by water—the tricky part is not to be burned up by your experiences, but to become more like the flame on a wick—and able to pass on that fire to others.

I will never regret the fire kindled in me by those early learning experiences that helped make me who I am today—which is someone who cannot take a simple shower or bath without ideas and questions flowing from this brain trained so long ago to not only think for itself but also to always continue pursuing ideas and knowledge and all the intangibles that come with that pursuit.

P.S. The motto for my undergraduate college, Wittenberg University, is “Having light, we pass it on to others”, which is represented by the symbol of a torch. Coincidence? I think not.

(c) 2013

(c) 2013

Despite all the frustrations over scheduling and advising, our daughter is getting ready to graduate this semester. Yahoo! She is busy making certain all the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed so that she can leave with that degree—for which she will have an extra 14 credit hours. No, I told her not to accept the department adviser’s minor error on her graduation contract—it could matter. (My niece is marrying a man whose academic department started quibbling with him regarding his degree completion over two months after they said he had graduated.)

Besides completing her capstone art semester, which will culminate with a solo art show, she is also taking a professional practices course. She’s been working on tasks such as creating business cards and setting up her professional Facebook page. Somehow it’s hard to believe—despite the extra two semesters—that she is finally graduating.

Yes, we are those “crazy” parents who “let” our daughter declare a major in art—with a concentration in drawing in a small and highly competitive program. Will she be able to support herself solely with her art? That remains to be seen, but the desire to support herself is one of the reasons she is getting her art education within a four-year (make that five-year!) university program.

In these times so many people believe studying the humanities at all, let alone art, is a license to starve. And I have to thank everyone (sarcasm intended) who has pointed that out over the years, including some of her professors who think it is some sign of poor artistry to do anything with her art that doesn’t involve selling in a studio. Also, I would like to thank the many lackluster students in more practical majors who are shocked—just shocked—that she not only has a lot of work to do for her classes but also that she gets graded. How many of them could survive having all their highly unique work critiqued not only by the professor but also by their peers, every single time?

I happen to believe that being a passionate student in any subject teaches students more than they will learn if they only do the bare minimum in some subject they take because it is supposed to earn them money. Hey, I have an MBA (to go with that lowly humanities degree) but I’ve met a lot of former and current business majors who cared more about partying than balance sheets or P/E ratios.

When my daughter tells many students what she is studying, they say, “Oh, wow, I can’t draw.” As if somehow this has anything to do with them in the first place but I think they’re trying to point out how irrelevant her knowledge is. I’ll get to what’s relevant about her studies in a moment, but let’s just say that it’s too bad they can’t draw, because she can draw by hand and computer (plus edit by computer) as well as create spreadsheets, perform accounting, write, do research, and excel in math and science classes.

You see, she’s graduating with a bachelor’s degree just like all the other people at her university—they don’t give those degrees away no matter your major. Like everyone else there, she’s taken a variety of other courses besides those in her major and area of concentration.

Plus—and here’s where my liberal arts rant begins again—each discipline teaches valuable skills that apply to many situations.

In order to obtain a degree in art, for each project she does she has to follow a prompt—in other words, she has to design her finished product to some specifications. She must sketch possibilities from her ideas, research artists and works similar to her idea, investigate materials and see how well she can apply those materials to her specific project plan, and change the plan as needed. She has to manage her time in order to finish a long project by the deadline. When she is finished she must go through a group critique where the professor and her peers get to weigh in on how they perceive her finished project achieved its intent. At times she must create art in partnership or as part of a team. Keep in mind that few of her courses involve taking multiple choice tests by Scantron—most of the work she does is distinct and individualized.

So to summarize: For any given project she must work from directions, use creativity, perform research, practice good time management, remain flexible as her project develops, meet established deadlines, communicate ideas in writing and orally to individuals and groups, and receive criticism and feedback from multiple individuals.

Don’t discount her education—it’s been rigorous and has helped her develop the tools she needs to meet the demands of a variety of professions. Hey, I’d be happy if you’d buy her art and she could live as an artist. But just so you know, her discipline has taught her many skills and developed others that are valuable to many kinds of jobs and careers.

Just because she can draw a box doesn’t mean she isn’t able to draw outside the box.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Wondering if I dropped off the face of the Internet? Still here, but was limiting most of my Internet visits to searching for references for my most recent work project. And, boy, did I need references!

I realize that you’ve probably heard me yammering about the value of the liberal arts and how important I think it is to study a variety of subjects. I really do try to live the liberal arts; however, I do have to admit that some subjects are natural fits for me, while others continue to be a bit of a struggle.

But struggle is good for the brain, right? And my brain should be so much fitter than it has been after the last two weeks of proofreading a chemistry textbook.

Yes, chemistry was the course that derailed my quest for becoming valedictorian. You could say that chemistry was the teacher that started me on the road to understanding that education is not about the marks you get, but about what you learn. You can struggle with the concepts of a subject, but still learn quite a lot about what they mean, even if you don’t have the aptitude or desire to learn more.

Despite having a father who was a pharmacist and despite having a high school lab partner who is a big name on the Genome Project, my understanding is not as developed as I’d like. I was really glad my son Jackson was available to help me with some of my questions—even if I was asking more for my own understanding than for what was needed from me in the scope of the assignment. Finally I had to concede that I was letting past emotions get in the way of the work—I acted as if I personally had to know how to solve the equations even though my job was simply to look for discrepancies. People with deeper knowledge than mine had done that work—and I could check their work by using references.

After my asking several questions, Jackson said, “You really don’t get this (chemistry) like you do most things, do you?”

No, but I got it enough not to be bored while working through the textbook—which shows that I am much more interested in learning for learning’s sake than I was when I was chasing grades. It’s safe to say that while I am much better at understanding the theoretical aspects of beginning chemistry now that I am older, I am still not likely to understand the hows as well as I understand the whys.

I’m still not going to grow up to be a chemist—and that’s OK.

“What’s next?” you ask. Astronomy, baby. Seems my (lifetime) liberal arts education is taking a decided trend away from the arts and toward the sciences right now. To infinity and beyond! Yup, the sky’s the limit—or limitless—or something like that—and all sorts of other metaphors I won’t even pretend to understand. If you don’t hear from me for awhile, it will only seem as if I have fallen into a black hole.

Odds of my growing up to be an astronomer? As likely as odds of my becoming a chemist—which is zilch. Odds of stretching my brain? Somewhere further on the spectrum of possible than if I just stick with what I already know.

(c) 1998 Trina Lambert

(c) 1998 Trina Lambert

Before you decide I belong solely in the writer/editor box, remember that writers are observers and learners. We pay attention, often seeing both the forests—and the trees. Then we gather up what we have discovered from our observations and research in order to tell the stories of those forests and trees, through tools such as words, structure, facts, and anecdotes.

As for me, I embrace the principles of my liberal arts education—I truly believe my undergraduate studies prepared me to apply my skills and past experiences to any new opportunity I encounter, whether in a job setting or in living my everyday life. However, my formal studies go beyond the liberal arts—I am, in fact, an English/Spanish major/MBA who has worked with more than words.

Besides through writing and editing endeavors, often I have told the story of an organization through accurate numbers. Over the years I’ve also been paid to do magazine circulation administration, financial reporting standardization, and financial report preparation.

Though my background may sound fairly random, the specific positions point to how I work and think, as well as to the desired end results from my efforts. All those jobs required an eye for detail, analytical thinking skills, and the ability to do research, plus resulted in providing valued resources.

Yet what was missing in my early more analytical work years was a chance to perform really creative work as well as perhaps help solve problems while executing the detailed work. As I better understood just how much more of the forests I did want to see, I added accountability oversight, systems creation, and productivity improvement into my volunteer, as well as personal, activities.

I am more than the specifics of what I have done so far because, for me, my life is one big learning adventure—may I never stop seeing the forests, yet still take the time to discover the trees that lie within.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

I have an odd educational background: I not only earned a liberal arts bachelor’s degree in what we used to call English literature and Spanish (language), but I also followed that with a master’s degree in business. I am both seduced by the concept of standards and assessments in education, as well as a little frightened by how they can be used to narrow the scope of our educational topics and pursuits.

Oh, if we could only rely on just studying a certain percentage of this in order to achieve a certain percentage of that—for all students in the same way.

In an operations class titled Quality and Productivity, we MBA students studied how to tighten up processes in order to achieve the maximum production with the least amount of quality failures. However, we also learned that what worked more uniformly for manufacturing equipment and delivery systems was not so easily perfected in the service industries where the people we served might muck up our systems—because they had different needs and/or wants.

Education is a service industry where not all learners take in information in the same way and not all learners come from the same backgrounds. Nor should they if we want to continue gathering perspectives that show us insights from diverse viewpoints.

The Common Core Standards have specific suggestions regarding the balance between reading nonfiction and fiction sources. The thought is that by increasing nonfiction reading in secondary education, our students will be better prepared to understand the rigorous reading required in higher education.

I grew up reading—fiction—during every free moment I had and went on to choose to read more fiction as part of earning my degree. But reading fiction was more than just amusement for me—I learned that there was a way bigger world out there than just what I was experiencing in small town Nebraska—or than what I was learning in my classes. Sometimes what I found in my fiction stories caused me to read more—nonfiction—about a region, time in history, or concept.

Reading stories taught me to love all reading so much that sometimes I even cracked open the encyclopedia (yes, back in the Stone Ages when there was no Internet) or the dictionary for fun. Nonetheless, a lot of my classmates would have run screaming from most nonfiction reading, required or otherwise.

Some people almost have to be tricked into, first, reading at all, and second, starting to care about the bigger picture about the times and people in a story. They have to be drawn into what is happening before they can begin to figure out if they can trust a narrator or how a situation is portrayed. It’s quite naïve to expect those people who don’t choose to seek out reading to find their information only from the most applicable (nonfiction) sources. If you can barely get them to read in the first place, you’re going to have a very difficult time getting them to read nonfiction and read it well.

Like many schools today, my high school focused more on math and science courses. Truth is the school didn’t have a rigorous language arts program—I would have liked to have any standards in place for those classes. When I got to college I discovered I had missed out on most classic literature. I like to think my own “extracurricular” reading taught me not only how to interpret literature, but also how to apply my fiction-reading skills to understanding nonfiction texts in subjects such as philosophy, history, psychology, and political science.

The Common Core language arts standards focus on nonfiction reading may work for some student populations and not for others—does it make sense that there is only one nonfiction/fiction mix that will work to help all students across the United States reach the targeted standards? Or might states, schools, and teachers know better what the individual students in their classrooms need to study in order to meet the targets?

Repeat after me: students aren’t widgets. (But what are widgets anyway? Oh wait, I never cared enough to look that up.)

(c) 2008 Christiana Lambert (part of larger drawing)

(c) 2008 Christiana Lambert (part of larger drawing)

My husband Sherman has taken to reading dense fiction books written by authors who are certifiably (I’ll write the certificate, of course!) smarter than we are by a long shot. It’s his new obsession to dig into the references and search for the hidden meaning. I thought I was the English literature major here—perhaps there’s something about entering your fifth decade that means hidden meanings start to become more important to you.

Then again, Sherman always was the one whose ideas blew away our fellow Great Books club members who were mostly CPA auditors who longed to think less in black and white than they did. Give a programmer a lot of philosophy/logic classes and who knows what deep thoughts he’ll think.

And all of a sudden this liberal arts graduate/MBA is back to thinking about the big focus today on taking college classes that will help a person make a living, especially due to the excessive (oops—am I editorializing already?) costs of higher education today and the reduced funding sources available for those who cannot borrow from their parents. (And what about we parents who cannot borrow from our parents either?)

While it is a gift to borrow money at somewhat reduced rates for educational loans, having to borrow money is no gift. Of course, the logical thing for such a person is to pursue studies and professions that will pay off enough to pay back the money itself. Right?

As if the pursuits of education and/or knowledge were only about the pursuit of money. As if only certain disciplines were necessary in order to create a well-rounded society. As if all people would be successful in pursuing those “approved” disciplines that will supposedly pay off quickly. As if our fast-changing world doesn’t have a habit of making certain professions obsolete while bringing professions never before imagined to the forefront.

Education is more about creating lifelong learners who are able to apply their skills and knowledge to seemingly disparate situations than it is about teaching someone how to do a certain thing—unless of course we are talking about trade education. Graduates of those programs will still need to be people who are able to change as their professions change in the face of new technology and the fluctuations in society’s need for their services.

Not only can the student of life find a way to apply his/her so-called limited education to a variety of situations—work and otherwise—but also can that student find underlying meanings in everything from pop culture trends to political climates to how we perceive sporting competitions.

The real dangerous education is one that does not teach anything of life beyond a certain discipline or work situation. If I am only asked to parrot my professors’ words or choose the correct dates on tests versus having to explain why certain dates matter, then the applicability of my knowledge is limited to certain classes or sets of knowledge. If a philosophy graduate is only qualified to work as a barista, then that means that person has not figured out how to apply the skills learned in the discipline studied to skills needed in the world at large.

I, lowly English major that I am, learned my analytical skills while studying my discipline. They were good enough to ace an aptitude test at a financial services firm because I have been taught to read with care and to look for the hidden meaning; those skills were also good enough for me to perform my duties with accuracy at that financial services firm, before I ever embarked on my own business studies. In fact, my outsider background allowed me to see other subtleties missed by those who had already studied business.

At the same time, no one taught me how to do online research—my college research involved finding potential sources from card catalogues and from thick books that listed topics and related articles. However, because I learned how to discern the reliability of sources, I can transfer that information to the digital world that is now ours.

All disciplines have applications, all of them. But it’s up to the person to apply that knowledge, whether to the focused area studied in one’s college education or to any of the situations that person may encounter later in life.

Perhaps my philosopher programmer sees subtleties in the work he does because some of his studies fell outside his discipline. And conversely, when he feels limited by the workaday world that defines so much of his days, he knows that he can apply the thinking skills he learned in his college major to the larger world.

Much of programming is about creating meaning from chaos—and isn’t that really similar to the larger search for meaning?

So glad he never fell for the myth that his education mattered only as a way to earn.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

About a decade ago my local library sponsored a different kind of a book club: one where people talked about the different books they had read recently. After one woman described how much and why she hated one particular book, I knew I had to read it! (Yes, I was that kid who would get up to eat just one Lay’s Potato Chip just to prove that somebody could eat just one Lay’s Potato Chip. And, by the way, I really loved Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, just as expected.)

My husband Sherman and I read books aloud to each other at night—it’s a great way to spend time together—and have someone else keep you from staying up reading all night. Usually we take turns being the Sensible One in the matter. Thanks to reading together this way, we really do have our own little book club, although quite frankly, with the craziness of our own lives, we have been more attracted to formulaic mystery book series than ever before. These days we often don’t want to care about the person who is the Body in those stories that much, if you know what I mean.

You’re probably asking why I’m writing certain phrases in caps. I’m going to blame the most recent book we read—the one we just can’t stop discussing: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Turns out there are a lot of people out there on the Internet who can’t wait to tell you why they hate this book, which probably explains just why we couldn’t put it down, even now that we’ve finished it.

Now, maybe one of the things we like about the book is that the narrator seems to think in that oh-so-very-wordy way people who have ADD do. Let’s just say maybe we speak that language, if you know what I mean. Or, maybe, as Sherman suggested, it’s a lot easier to read that kind of language out loud versus silently. True, Sherman has a lot more trouble reading the long sentences than I do. I may be not only experienced but also gifted in Speaking ADD. That’s not bragging, is it? (I think I just admitted that the only reason I can follow this language pattern is because it is so familiar to me.)

The book runs over 500 pages so you know we didn’t get through it quickly, even if we were a wee bit obsessed with reading it. Lucky for us, after we’d been reading it for a couple weeks, we went on a close to 950 mile-round-trip road trip by ourselves. But reading it took longer than planned because we kept stopping and discussing the “what ifs” of the plot. We did not finish the story by the time we arrived home, but, since Sherman had taken off the day after we returned, we finished the book the next morning.

Now, of course, we both want to reread various sections and keep discussing possibilities.

Apparently the possibilities are one of the reasons many people hate this book—which is funny since at one point in the book one of the characters talks about how Americans despise ambiguity in their literature, preferring instead to tie up stories into neat little endings. Maybe it’s the English major in me and the computer science major who studied a lot of Philosophy in Sherman, but we don’t expect to know all the answers at the end of a story. In fact, maybe we like the chance to dig into the possibilities—trust me, I always preferred essay tests over multiple choice and/or True/False tests.

The final chapter really is a Final Exam, tying up the theme that began in the form of a syllabus with required reading. Some readers suggest the author is pretentious for sliding in erudite references throughout the story. They expected something different from a story with a narrator who is a gifted student attending Harvard and who was raised a little too closely by her professor father?

Hey, I enjoy many stories written for the masses, but when someone can throw literary references into tales with compelling plots, I am especially hooked. Believe it or not, but many of us continue to apply the lessons from college days to our everyday lives—heresy in these times when so many are suggesting students should only study practical degree programs such as engineering, science, and business—as if the liberal arts do not apply in any way to lifelong learning, especially in the work place.

And, if those critics read closely, they’ll see that though the narrator read constantly, her canon ranged from high brow tomes to books with numbers on them that she could find in any grocery store.

What she learned was that in so many ways Life is literature and vice versa.

Anyway, I remain intrigued by the book and am not quite ready to stop thinking about the imaginary people and happenings created within it—and the clues as to Who Really Done It and why.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert, Lion High Five

It’s about the learning, stupid.

Sorry about using the terminology—for many years in our house, “stupid” was considered almost a swear word. Because, really, who is to define what stupid means? Does it mean someone who can’t understand something or does it mean someone who puts the focus on our definition of the wrong things? The first person may not have the capabilities or outside help to understand so we shouldn’t dump our contempt on him/her. And the other person, well, I imagine one person’s stupid is another person’s smart and vice versa.

Thirty years ago Mt. St. Helens dumped ash on the cars, even in my home state of Nebraska, right before I graduated from high school as number two—we try harder, you know. Or so the saying goes.

I won’t deny that I worked hard for that accolade and that in many ways I deserved it. In many other ways, it just doesn’t matter.

What going for the grade-point and the ranking didn’t teach me was how to learn for learning’s sake. That educational path made me less of a risk-taker and more of a bean-counter. How many points did I miss? Was everything turned in? Did I study things because I could understand them? Was I good enough if I didn’t get the exact answer even if I understood the concept and why it mattered?

Those in charge of the G/T council I sat on for the last four years will say I was lucky—I got my first B when I lived at home. I didn’t have to go off to college for my perfect record to be shot down.

That helped me to have a wee bit better attitude toward not seeking perfection in college. I figured I’d do OK if I got one B a quarter—which isn’t a bad philosophy if you factor in a lot of other factors. But if you’re thinking you have to get all A’s in the other classes regardless of what you’re studying or who is teaching it or anything, you’re still missing the point.

I had a creative writing professor who tried to get us out living the liberal arts. He said it wasn’t enough to study them—we needed to make them part of our outside lives—and we needed to make experiencing those non-academic things as important as we did our academic learning.

Was he crazy? I had homework to do!

So it was I found myself with unexplained stomach pains and a lack of energy that did not lift until I spent a semester studying in Spain—where I was in a program designed to be less work based so students could learn outside the classroom. Besides, in those classes I could see the benefit of studying a topic in depth versus moving through the breadth of the material at a whirlwind pace that allowed little time for deep thoughts.

Oh, I didn’t quite heal myself, but I understood why I might want to do so. I got that learning is all around us and it isn’t the person with the highest grade-point who wins or even the person who does the most activities—it’s the person who learns with a passion and who applies it to all aspects of life—more power if you can do that with a high grade-point and living as a human doing, but don’t rule out those for whom passionate learning doesn’t convert to achieving conventional accolades. They matter, too.

That’s why I didn’t set out to raise my children as mini-me’s. Not that that would have been possible as they live in a different time, have different genetics, and came with their own abilities and difficulties. Nonetheless, I didn’t think they needed to be pressured to have the top grades. I wanted them to love to learn.

I believe they have achieved that success—through their own life approaches, through how we’ve lived in this house, and through guidance from a few wise teachers.

There’s often no “loving to learn” medal given at many end-of-school awards’ ceremonies, unless you can do it with a high grade-point or other outstanding contribution, but there should be.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Just as there is no medal for helping kids through an educational system that challenges them to work too often in their areas of weaknesses when they have powerful strengths.

Suffice it to say, Jackson isn’t the only one who felt the sting of last night’s awards ceremony. Even his sister, Christiana, who received the top visual arts award and was rewarded for her grade-point, knows that at a school with so many “above average” students, it’s hard to feel your contribution is ever enough.

I’ve got a secret for you—I bet many of those people at the very top don’t know if it will ever be enough. I promise you that a lot of them don’t even know what compels them to push themselves so hard. Parents, peers, teachers, society, habit—so many factors beyond the student’s own urge to learn.

But without knowledge of why learning for learning’s sake matters, it really isn’t enough.

Until a student learns to explore to fulfill a burning curiosity—regardless of the grade or the tangible societal reward—learning is like the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. It is so much less than it could be—in fact, in many ways it isn’t even true learning.

I’d prefer not to pack off another generation to college carrying stomach aches in their backpacks—and I’ve tried to start with my own family.

So don’t forget to congratulate the other kids, too: those who fell in love with a topic and pursued it, who figured out how to work around their difficulties, who didn’t give up when the traditional awards were few, who learned outside the classroom, who applied what they studied in the classroom to their outside world, who were kind, who got scholarships despite not having high grade-points, who have passionate work awaiting them, who are still learning who they are.

As a former conventionally high-achieving student, I can tell you that I finally know what matters. To you I may be an at-home parent whose house is messy more amount of time than it is clean—but I take care of what matters first. I never stop learning, only now I do more than try to find the answers someone else determined were the right ones.

I pray my kids do not let a few slights—major or minor—detract them from being the learners they are meant to be—with or without the rewards. Life is the real education—and despite what many want to tell them, there really are few set answers. Thank goodness there are many versions of the real world.

My kids are far braver than I ever was at their age—they already know what matters and they live that way, regardless of the consequences. I couldn’t be prouder.

To Jackson and Christiana, go forth and continue to learn. That’s how you really prosper.

(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

Remember how in school you didn’t always get to choose the topics of your papers? You might have had some control over the specific focus of your topic, but the teacher didn’t usually say, “Write about whatever you want, d’ahlings!”

Other than personal pieces you write and try to sell after the fact, most professional writing is like that. You might suggest the general topic, but the editor can change the angle or tone, whether or not you like it. Sometimes you get an assignment on a specific topic that you maybe never wanted to write about, like breast pumps or how to handle spider bites.

Yes, those are past assignments of mine that I don’t really care to delve into further, but I did a fine job doing the research and presenting the information as requested. So far I’ve written articles and essays on general parenting, raising twins, product usage in families with twins, multiple safety topics, and faith, as well as done profiles on journalists.

For the past year and a half I’ve been editing, coaching, and doing some ghostwriting on a family historical fiction book that required me to learn about 1,000 years of history on topics ranging from the Norman Conquest to the Wars of Roses to the difference between Puritans and Separatists and to events in Colonial America such as the Salem Witch Trials and the Revolutionary War right up to many of the important happenings in 20th Century America.

I’ve compiled charticles filled with numerous objective facts. I’ve waxed poetic about my newborn babies (OK—they’re 16 now and I’m a lot less poetic!) I’ve created fictional scenes that demonstrate characters’ personality traits. I’ve verified historical information, as well as researched facts that are disputed and come up with reasonable reasons for discrepancies. I’ve provided resources within articles and in sidebars.

But if I pursue the old saw “write what you know,” I haven’t even scratched the surface of my own personal knowledge base. For one thing, I can still read a financial statement—I didn’t need the government to tell me that the U.S. was in a recession. Here’s just a sample listing—in no particular order—of other topics that have been or are part of my life:

  • Gifted education
  • ADD
  • 21st Century Learners
  • Aging parents
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Helping a loved one with cancer
  • Running
  • Personal writing
  • Dogs
  • Guinea pigs
  • Family businesses
  • Container gardening
  • Living with teenagers
  • Being “sandwiched”
  • Book clubs
  • Teen drivers
  • Celiac disease

I could go on (and on and on) but I already have! Relationships, business, health, hobbies, education, writing, pets—and that doesn’t even include my faith, politics, and personal rants.

True to my liberal arts upbringing, I aim to be a lifelong learner and choose to study, even when I don’t need to do so. But every time Life throws me into something I never wanted to know, I put on my student hat and try to find out everything I can. And whatever I discover that helps me might help someone else.

In the end, providing that help for someone else is exactly what I want to write, even if I never wanted to receive the specific assignment or know that a certain need existed.

Did I mention I come from the Heartland? Nebraska, specifically. I can’t help but think about branding livestock when I hear the word “branding,” even if I was a town girl the whole time I lived there. Suffice it to say I know enough to know that branding is painful enough the first time, so there’s no way an animal wants to do it again.

OK—I don’t suppose it’s quite that painful to “brand” myself. I am prone to hyperbole from time to time.

Yesterday I talked about my liberal arts degree—and yes, I have read the book Jobs For English Majors and Other Smart People because let’s just say some people in the business community don’t appreciate generalists. Me, I’m an English/Spanish major/MBA. Put that in your box!

Over the years I’ve been paid to do magazine circulation administration, financial reporting standardization, financial report preparation, editing, and writing. I’ve also added accountability oversight, systems creation, and productivity improvement into my volunteer, as well as personal activities.

Are you thinking that’s a pretty random background? Truth is it’s not as random as it seems. All those jobs involve an eye for detail, the ability to do research, analytical thinking skills, and a desire to provide resources. Yet what was missing in my early work years was a chance to do really creative work, and perhaps help solve a problem, at the same time as I was doing the detailed-work.

Over a decade ago I finally realized that Renaissance Men and Women are my heroes. I’ve been trying to live my life that way ever since. I’m impressed with people who choose to pursue multiple knowledge areas or who can do seemingly opposite things well.

I guess I didn’t realize it, but my family is made up of these kind of people. Check out a few of them:

  • my pharmacist father who held leading roles in several Neil Simon comedy productions in our town
  • my musician mother who could improvise on the piano keys, but could follow the rules in her job deciding who should receive unemployment compensation
  • my brother who is a human resources director (paperwork king!) and whose singing voice stands out—for good reasons
  • my football-playing lineman nephew who does well in his science courses
  • my daughter who excels in biology and art
  • my son who can act and do abstract math
  • my computer programmer husband who blew away our Great Books group members (mostly CPAs!) with his ability to expound on philosophy
  • my English Springer Spaniel who can’t seem to find food that’s been dropped on the floor, yet can figure out how to open the gate (Whoops—not quite the same, is that?)

I guess I still didn’t get to the writing brand that says Trina. More tomorrow on that—just expect that it will be a little bit Renaissancy. OK, maybe I did make up that word.

Forgive me, it’s just the creative writer in me going a little too far after a day spent performing too many administrative details, like paying bills, arranging appointments, and trying to clear off my desk. Always the desk—and that, my friend is not a very Renaissancy activity.

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